This has been the week of engagement with the chinese authorities as my visa is/was only until 4th October and that is in the middle of the chinese October holiday, so is not a good time to be considering renewals. I had been told that what I needed to do was go to the local police station, and take it from there. Well, I went on Tuesday. First, apparently I should have gone to the police station and registered that I was in China no later than three days after arriving – last June 6th. This being at least my tenth visit, I have been illegal on all the other times as I have never registered. The poor girl – sorry police officer – who attempted to understand my chinese version of who I was and what I wanted, was horrified, and launched into rapid fire chinese of which I understood only lai guo san ge yue 来过三个月, arrived three months ago… and I gathered this was not what she was used to dealing with. Having got over the initial shock, she went off into the depths somewhere – with my passport – and eventually returned with the only person around who has a little English. I tried to tell this second woman that I was staying with my son and chinese daughter-in-law and not working so no-one knew I needed to register, and she said it didn’t matter, I “had to be punished”, and my daughter-in-law should know.
Needless to say I did not mention that same daughter-in-law and her mum and dad and her sister and all the other in-laws I have stayed with from time to time had never said anything about registering, nor told me to go and do so. Donal later said that he had thought you only did it if you were working, because his various employers had always registered him. Similarly, we all now realise that most visitors are in fact registered automatically by their tour guides or hotels, but if there is some info somewhere about innocents abroad who visit and stay with family, and leave before their visas run out, it has not ‘registered’ ha ha with me. I didn’t know if I would get Cindy in trouble too, so I told the official (truthfully) that Cindy had been in New Zealand at the time I arrived. This exchange being too much for both of us (which I really truly think is because people here do not listen at all) she said I had to bring someone chinese to help me with the next step. I phoned Cindy, she left her course and arrived within an hour.
The rapid chinese starts between Cindy and yet another officer, a man this time, with asides from Cindy to me. I will be fined about 500RMB, roughly £50. We have to go upstairs and fill in the forms. I think this is OK but then there is another hushed though equally rapid conversation – about ten minutes discussion. The officer has come up with alternatives – I can get a train ticket to Hong Kong [cheaper], so when I come back, I have just arrived, or, I get the ticket and say that I went. Or, I can go and stay in a hotel [cheaper still], and they will register me, assuming that I have just arrived. “What about the stamp in my passport” says miss innocent/naive, and what about the original problem, I am looking for a visa extension, if I have just arrived what happens about that? I say “just pay the fine”, thinking it is less bother and also with some sort of confused mix of not liking the corruption – what would we give the officer for this advice? – and its opposite, genuinely believing the ethics I have tried to teach students for years, and of course the ordinary old fear that I would be found out and then in worse trouble. Cindy kept offering me the alternatives and I didn’t get why, so we were brought upstairs to do the forms. It took three hours. I happened to get a seat, she did not. There were three officers, all filling in forms and going off to print duplicate, triplicate. They had never done it before! One very young officer who typed with two fingers, had the forms where my name had to be entered at the top of each page. I heard him say ‘its a very long name’ when he was on his fourth or fifth ‘Elspeth Mary Gabrielle’ and of course it is, most chinese names being very short. Cindy had to leave to get the boys from school and I was still sitting there at nearly 5pm which is when I surreptitiously took the photo. Those of you who know about the other photo taken of my darling boys in Guangzhou at a place which happened to be beside the army camp, and which meant we got banned from the recreation ground there, will now know I am an idiot, but my mood at this point was not good. This photo does not convey the heat, the smell of stale and recent cigarette and the mosquitos don’t show up. I now know why Cindy was thinking the hotel idea was better.
Then, the fine: I was asked for, and paid, 500RMB. The young officer was sending me with some of the triplicates and the 500 to the bank down the street, where I would hand it all in, to some named account I suppose, wait for receipt and return with it to the station. Then they would issue the registration – note not the extension to the visa, I am still at step 1. But, on going out past the front desk, the officer now there [Rosa Klebb lookalike] grabbed the 500, and told the young officer something, and I had to stay inside and sit down. Someone else will pay in and get a receipt. [I understood all this in chinese so part of me is very pleased with myself.] Then the person who spoke english eventually re-emerged and she had a few more forms to add to those which had just been filled in. Hurray, she has found Donal’s registration, and Louis’ and Ali’s. Is this your son, she asks, pointing to the photo, it is the same name. Yes Yes I say, though it could have been anyone and I certainly can’t read the maze of characters. Now everyone believes I am indeed a Granny, and do have a place to stay, and the red stamps are stamped all over my forms. I am told I do not need a receipt for the 500, which is still sitting on Rosa’s desk, and I have the registration. She even gives me the address of the Exit and Entry Bureau where I must take these forms to get my visa extended. It is in Pudong, the other side of Shanghai. I will go tomorrow, Tuesday. I can leave now.
PS – what did happen to the 500RMB? And, what on earth would all these officers have been doing if I had not made their day different from usual?