March 21st, 2013, 6:56 am PDT by Greg

I have been trying to get another Chinese visa, so I can leave and re-enter the country. ZJU has a midterm break, and I’m hoping to make the most of it. There is a one week turnover to get the visa. I’m doing some travelling next weekend and the one after. The break is at the end of April and I need the visa before I can make any travel plans.

Long story short, after waiting for the various paperwork, I needed to apply for a visa today so I can get my passport back and leave town next Thursday afternoon.

A staff member from the University was going to go with me. (I don’t really want to name the staff member because it’s nobody’s business: I’ll call her X and if you think you know her, then yes, it’s her.) The department’s driver, Mr. Li was taking us.

After driving 25 minutes across town, we get to the visa office. We wait around for a bit, my number is called, and there is some defeated-sounding discussion between X and the visa person. Apparently, the University never checked me in with the police as living in ZJU residence. That means I have been living vaguely-illegally in China since foreigners have to register their address. It’s not a going-to-jail thing, but it’s clearly a no-visa-for-you thing.

Phone calls are made. Residence checks me in, but we need paperwork to confirm that it has been done. It’s 3:00 at this point, and the office closes at 5:00. Back in the van with Mr. Li: 25 minutes to the University, 25 minutes finding/printing paperwork.

During all of this, I’m doing the calculus of how bad it could be: basically, I’d have to cancel my trip next weekend, possibly eating the train and hotel costs, and annoying some people at SFU. Nobody else seems particularly worried, so I’m trying to assume things are going well, but am pretty sure today is a failure.

Towards the end of the paperwork-printing time, X starts talking to a student that has wandered into the office. Apparently, X has to go home and the student is being dispatched to go back to the visa office with me and make sure I get my visa.

His name is Frank. He had come in to ask something about his upcoming exchange to Singapore and apparently didn’t have anything else to do this afternoon. He seemed very good-natured about spending his afternoon helping me.

Back in the van with Mr. Li and Frank; 25 minutes back to the visa office. For those keeping track, it’s now 4:15 and I’m starting to wonder if it’s a “nobody gets in line after 5:00” or a “at 5:00 we leave and screw you all” closing time.

We take a number, but Frank wanders up to the counter “to see if we can go first”, for… reasons, I guess. It turned out the answer was yes. After more discussion of a nature I didn’t understand, I was given a receipt that said I could pick up my passport next Thursday. They totally promise that it will be ready in the morning.

As we’re driving away, I’m starting to feel optimistic about it all working out. Then Mr. Li turns around for some reason. At this point, I assume I’m screwed. Obviously, something wasn’t done, and the visa won’t happen until August. It turns out they just wanted to make sure I knew how to pick up my passport next Thursday.

Finally, a much slower drive back to campus in rush hour. Nice kid, that Frank. And I’m really starting to feel an affection for Mr. Li.

Will my visa and passport be there next Thursday at noon? At this point I’d give 3:1 odds on yes.

I remember a former DDP student characterizing things this way: “China, the land where anything is possible but nothing is easy.” Those words have been bouncing around my head a lot in the last month. Today they rang loudly all day.

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