Monday, April 28, 2008

The Change

A lot of people, my husband included, have had difficulty renewing their visas. First, we couldn't figure out why he was having such a hard time. Then some of his colleagues related similar stories. Next, a few of our other friends started telling us that they were having difficulty. And then some of the students we know began having trouble. Suddenly, the requirements got stricter. Without any notice, the rules changed. In short, many people were being told that they would have to return home in order to renew their visas. This is not something that was a problem before, at least not with those on student and business visas. But now, it is a problem. Officially, there has not been a change in China's visa policy, but the word on the street tells quite a different story.

Then today I read some blogs and news, and discovered that the problem is as wide spread as I thought. And when a company can not send their employees to do business, the issue becomes more than just the problems of a few scattered individuals. A recent Tim Johnson (China correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers)
blog headline reads "Biz opportunities are being missed." China won't change, and hopefully it will return to normal after the will be interesting to see what happens next.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ethnic Profiling...


I don't know what it is. Trying to get rid of the "bad elements" before the Olympics, anger about the protests in other countries when the Olympic flame was there, the recent Tibet drama or what, but to be honest, none of that has any direct correlation to my life. Or so you would think.

A few weeks ago, when returning to China, I was the only person, out of the hundreds that walked through customs within 15 minutes of me, to be stopped. The only one. There was only one customs official, it was 7am, and no one else was stopped before me, or, of course, while he was asking me questions.

"Where are you from"
"Yes, A-me-ri-ca".
My flight had been delayed over 12 hours, I was tired, and if I did not catch the 7:00 bus, I would be late for work. I had no patience.
"Give me you passport."
I hand it over.
"You from America? But this flight from -"
"The flight is from Singapore. I am American. I was visiting Singapore. OKAY?" I said, clearly agitated and with my voice raised.
Usually, I am calm and respectful, but that morning, I was just pissed. All these people, and the only one you pick out to stop happens to be the only the brown person in the bunch. Yes, I was not pleased.
He said "Okay" and let me go. I made the bus just in time.

And then today.

I get to immigration. The woman looks at me, the cover of my passport (not the inside, the outside where it says United States of America), and then my husband (who was still in line, they make you go one by one). She makes a stern face, and then proceeds to inspect my passport. Every page, every visa, the picture, the cover, the seams, EVERYTHING. I have 24 used pages in my passport, 5 of which are taken up by visas, the rest have an average of 5 stamps each. And she inspected every single one. Analyzed the picture on the info page, the picture inside (on one of the visas), investigated the seams, the visas, again. Then, she looks under the microscope type thing, at EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Slowly. She thinks my passport is a fake.

Then, her colleague comes over, she explains to him what the "problem" is (I couldn't hear them). So, he sits down next to her, and begins to do everything she just did. While the guy is looking at my passport under the microscope, with infrared, she told my husband he could come. Thankfully, his passport is newer, and not as full, so the super inspection is not as intense. And, his is also not an American passport, so less likely to be forged. She took her time, and investigated, and scanned it four times, but at least she doesn't have to look at over 20 pages of visas. All the while, the guy is still looking at my passport. My husbands passport gets stamped, and when the guy finishes, he says "it's ok" in Chinese (I could read his lips) and left. She takes my passport. I think they are finished, he said it was fine and they have both throughly investigated it. I was wrong.

She proceeds to it check, AGAIN.

At this point, I have been standing there for over 20 minutes. I really wanted to shout obscenities at her. Is my passport old? Yes. It is due to be renewed next year. But I can't be the only person with a nine year old passport she has ever seen. Do I understand that immigration officers have to do their jobs? Yes. I have traveled enough to know that I might have to answer questions, produce documents, etc. But, I have traveled to Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America on that passport, and NEVER, not once, has anyone thought it was a fake. Not once. Do I think it is, plain and simply, a case of racism/ethnic profiling/discrimination. Yes. Especially because I watched all of the white people and non-Chinese Asians go through without any problems, and then I had to stand there for 30 minutes while two people checked every aspect of my passport more than four times. Yes, I think it is because she saw brown skin and blue passport, and assumed that it is not real. If there was something suspicious about my passport, I'm sure it would have caused a problem earlier in the nine years I have used it. It has never been a problem. I do not think she is some amazing eagle eyed immigration officer that is serious about her job. I'm sure you can guess what I think. While I'm standing there waiting for them to finally give it up and admit that my passport is real, they probably let 50 people with light skin smuggle drugs into the country. Not to mention the human traffickers. But a brown girl with a US passport, a Chinese residence permit and a legitimate job, let's stop her.

Can you tell I am pissed? In the end, she let me go. Cause well, my passport is real.

And then, of course, we get stopped in customs. At least there wasn't a body cavity search.