Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Visa Run 

Almost 2 am. I am in Hong Kong. You can't get a work visa for China in China (unless you buy it from a black market visa broker), you have to go out and come back in. I suppose every country has this rule, but fortunately, in the case of China, you don't need to go all the way back to your home country. The train ticket to Hong Kong or Shenzhen is not expensive. I chose to go to Shenzhen this time, because the train got in early Sunday morning, so it was easy for me to go to church. I was last here the end of July, to extend my visa by going out and coming back in just before it expired. A one year multiple-entry tourist visa gives you the right to enter China as many times as you like in a one year period as long as you don't stay more than 90 days on any one visit. Since I last entered China just before the expiration date, I automatically had another 90 days. When I got my current job, I thought I would have plenty of time to get my work visa before the 90 day stay had expired. But the government office in Beijing was way too slow about getting my paperwork ready, so I had didn't get that until the 10th. To minimize the number of class days I would have to miss, I waited until last Friday to leave so that I could be in the visa office first thing Monday morning. So I walked into Hong Kong from Shenzhen Sunday morning on Day 89 of a 90 day stay. Why does it always seem to come right down to the wire?

I decided to use a travel agency this time, partly because a Z visa is a little more complicated than a tourist visa, and because I really did need to have express service so I could get back to Beijing as soon as possible. I don't like paying a middle man to do stuff that I could just as easily do myself. But using a travel agency has the effect of putting you at the head of the line. I was in the visa office about 15 minutes turning in my application materials, and there was no line to stand in when I picked it up. Travel agencies are convenient, I will have to say that. But they don't do it for free. After I picked up my visa I was berating myself for paying someone else to stand in line for me, but when I got back to the youth hostel shuttle, another lady from the hostel who had decided to save money and do it herself told me that they were queuing way out into the street at the visa office.

So I sit here on Mt. Davis on a cool, quiet evening. Or I should say morning. But my mind is far from here. I had planned to be in Afghanistan right about now, but I decided to put it off, partly because I'm broke, and partly because I can't really afford it. Outside of my travel account, I was pretty bone dry. It's probably better this way, because in the initial stages of putting together an NGO, it isn't really appropriate for people to be supporting me when I'm not really doing that much. In fact, if there was a way to avoid being supported at all, I would strongly prefer it. I am not independently wealthy, so that may not be possible. But I am going to run it that way for as long as I can.

There is something else, and that is the visa situation. I have been living in China this past year on a tourist visa. A couple months ago, a guy from the US alerted me to the fact that China had revised their application process for the tourist visa. There's nothing really unfair about the new application, but it does seem that China doesn't want people to use a tourist visa to live in China. The actual fact is that they have never minded that, but they really seriously do mind people using a tourist visa to work in China. So they seem now to be addressing that problem by clamping down on people using tourist visas for anything other than scheduled, itinerant travel. But even before the change, tourist visas have always been problematic (especially for Americans) if you tried to get them outside of your home country. Usually the most you can get in Hong Kong is 30 days. That can be extended to 90 days, but that's it. I had a one year tourist visa. I have never heard of an American getting a visa like the one I had without going back to America.

Afghanistan is different. I went to the Afghan embassy in Beijing, and those guys were really friendly. They seem quite enthusiastic about giving visas to someone who is coming to help. So I could have gotten to Afghanistan, but I would have had trouble getting back. I don't even know if the Chinese consulate in Kabul would give me a visa at all. I tried to contact them, but they did not respond. So, I sit here in Hong Kong instead of in Afghanistan. I guess it just isn't time yet. God has his perfect time for everything, and it is always best to wait for it. Always.

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