June 28, 2008

Visa to the Other Revolution

Bureaucracy has a 'rational' character: rules, means, ends, and matter-of-factness dominate its bearing. Everywhere its origin and its diffusion have therefore had 'revolutionary' results... The march of bureaucracy has destroyed the structure of domination which had no rational character.
--Max Weber

I thought twice about writing this post. First, I didn't want to seem like a culturally-insensitive, whiny tourist. Then, coming to grips with reality, I thought the information herein may be of some use to others of my demographic.

I wrote most of this post earlier from a hotel computer. I needed the computer because my laptop had quit on me and was in the shop. I needed the hotel room because I needed to be registered with the local police. This is the law in China. Within 24 hours of visiting any city (and each time you return after leaving said city), foreigners must register their presence and place of residence with official affidavits from the host/landlord at a local district office. This is also a taxation mechanism. The prevalent easy route is simply to check into a hotel. Most visitors don't realize that they're satisfying these obligations as they peruse the breakfast buffet.

In major cities across the country, officials are stepping up security in time for the games. I was getting doubtful that I'd get an extension at all, but they at least entertain the idea here in Jinan. In Beijing, it's pretty much out of the question right now. All foreigners staying long-term on extended tourist visas and weird work-arounds are being cleared out by July 1.

It turns out that Shandong Province (of which Jinan is the capital) is hosting the Olympic sailing and some other water events. Jinan is not a typical tourist destination, and after the games, it will continue in that tradition. Government workers are not particularly accustomed to dealing with foreigners. The online address for visa issues was given as the Jinan City People's Government offices. After some confusion, they sent me up the street to a Police Bureau for Entries and Exits. [I had to go back to get clearer directions, though. As is typical, the clerk pointed in a general direction (in this case the wall) and said, "it's right over there." After going outside and turning the corner, i realized i had no idea what he'd meant.]

After arriving at the sparkling new Police Bureau, I was directed to a touch screen for a number (though there was no one else there). My number was called and after explaining my situation, I was given a slip of paper with the address of another Police Bureau for Entries and Exits office. A cab ride through tiny alleys later, I found my way to another touch screen. My slip read: 3004, there are now 02 people waiting ahead you, please wait peacefully until you are called. I did, and I was.

I asked the handsome, nicely demeanored policeman how one would hypothetically extend one's tourist visa. He demanded my passport and instead of following my instinct and saying i didn't have it with me, I complied. He wrote down my passport info in a ledger and started to grill me about the details of my trip. I answered evasively, but more-or-less convincingly. He said that I had broken the law by not registering, and that I was to register right away.

Things started getting complicated from there. He said I would have to bring my friend who I'm staying with in and that she
would have to show her registration and certify that I am staying with her. She isn't registered because our landlord is avoiding taxes on our rent. So, I found my way to the Runhua Century Hotel, where guests receive phone solicitations for in-room massages, a complementary plate of fruit and a glass of "OJ" [read leftover Tang from the Challenger].

On day two, I checked out of the hotel and requested a certification of my stay in the hotel. The clerk assured me that the credit card receipt would suffice. After pulling number 3008, I found out that she was wrong. After a trip back to the hotel, I returned again as number 3010 and was given a form to fill out. It requires a photo. The clerk that operates the camera was not there. After returning home to get a photo and drawing number 3012, I sat down to wait for the 01 persons waiting ahead of me. I sat watching the officer as his neighbors attended to several people. It looked like he was playing solitaire or checking his email, but I assumed it was official. Ten minutes later, 3011 wasn't called. So, I approached and placed my completed form down in front of him. He glared at me as he snatched it, scattering other papers across the counter.

He told me that, after all, they cannot grant new visas at this office. I explained that I didn't want a new visa, but only an extension. He asked, incredulously, what I would be doing in Jinan for so much time. When I explained that I would indeed visit other places, but would be returning to Jinan because my friends are here, he told me flatly that it was his suggestion that I apply for the extension in whatever city I was in when my visa expired. When I asked him if it was too early at this point to apply, how long the process would take, and when I'd be eligible for an extension, he firmly reiterated his suggestion.

That is a long account of how I have yet to receive a visa extension. My conclusion is that you'll have better luck if you have all your papers in order and only go once. They don't want to see you more than that, especially right before lunch. I had to duck under the lowering roll-up doors as I left.

UPDATE [7/3/08 ]:
My visa is being processed. It required an additional five trips. I had to provide: 1. Additional photo, 2. Recent bank statement showing at least $100 per day of extension, 3. Signed affidavit explaining where i had been in China to date, purpose, purpose of extension and planned itinerary, 4. Documentation of registration with the local police bureau (hotel registration documents), 5. Air tickets and itinerary, 6. CNY 940 (~$138).

This process allows you an "extension visa." You cannot apply for any other type of visa.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So, what was the ultimate outcome?
You've just got to let us know.