We have been in China now for just over a month. Life has been good. We have reconnected with friends and gotten into a rhythm with teaching, playing and socializing. Rich is particularly settled into his many writing classes and I love my graduate course, Psychology for Language Teachers. Other than a few logistics frustrations i.e., internet inconsistency and censorship that prevents access to Google, YouTube and Facebook, we are pretty content. In fact I had mentioned to Rich just last week that I was surprised that everyone had been unconditionally helpful. That was until Sunday.
Foreigners who come into China for an extended stay are required to do two things within the first month of their arrival. They have to have a medical exam and they have to report to the local police station to register as a foreign resident. These two appointments are usually arranged, in our case, by IMNU’s foreign affairs office. Having been here four previous years, Rich is familiar with this process. He had a warm relationship with the foreign Affairs officer, Qing Long who accompanied Rich to both the medical clinic for his physicals and the police station. Qing Long served as intermediary and interpreter, which made the process go smoothly. The two men became and are good friends.
This year, Qing Long has been busy with his own graduate studies and a promotion within the department. His successor is a young man whose father holds a position within the communist party. For reasons, which we do not understand, neither the Foreign Affairs office or the English Department communicated with each other. They forgot us. Only after Rich texted the English department administrator letting her know that our month would be up in a few days, was any action taken. Sunday was our 30th day in China. Almost everyone in the city on the previous Thursday, Friday and Saturday were away celebrating the second biggest holiday of the year, Mid-Autumn Festival. In fact we were not in Hohhot on Friday and Saturday. No worries. A young, competent teacher/administrator, Renfunan (Wrenfoonahn) was tasked to get us registered a.s.a.p. She took us to the clinic where we entered the most fascinating medical assembly line; moving from office to office, up and down stairs, standing in lines for blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound, EKG, weight, height and a check of our necks. She competently communicated for us both and saw more of my body than both she and I were comfortable with in the process. This last minute approach to obeying rules was not good, but Renfunan exuded an air of confidence that all would be well. After 2 hours in the clinic we walked to the Foreign Affairs office to find out how soon we could register with the police. The young man in charge explained that we would have to wait for the medical results to be sent to him, a few days. We also asked about being paid. I have not mentioned this before, because Rich has had a history of an initial delay receiving pay for his work. It was then that my whole experience took a radical turn here in Hohhot. This young man, barely taller than me, with a soft gentle voice that belied his rigid unimaginative attitude about regulations informed us that I was not employed by the University. We showed him our letter of intent from IMNU and both our visas that indicated we were here to work. He insisted that I was here only as the spouse of a foreign teacher. Forget the fact that I was now teaching, Rich and I had begun giving workshops and I had been asked to provide presentations to other professors regarding psychology in America. This twit was firm in his opinion and had no interest in trying to sort out the situation. The English department administrator was in England and unreachable. Renfunan tried to speak on our/my behalf but was unsuccessful. To add salt to the wound, my airfare, the required medical exam and police registration that we assumed would be covered equal to Rich were all now out of our pocket. In less than 15 minutes we went from a financial break even venture to my paying IMNU for the opportunity to teach. More importantly I felt betrayed. I felt as if I did not exist. How did this happen? At the very least there had been a colossal communication failure. My frustration, disappointment and hurt were and are palpable. The young man for whom I have little regard, texted Rich yesterday informing us that we need to provide a valid marriage license. He backed off when Rich asked if he really thought we could provide the 1974 document.
As I write, we remain in limbo. We are now late to register with the police and have no idea when that may occur or how the police with respond to our tardiness. We continue to teach our classes all of which are pleasant diversions…. even Western Civilization. The English department administrator returns from England in 2 days. In the best of all possible worlds, like many things in China, this situation will resolve in a way that works for everyone. In the worst of all possible worlds I will be returning home much sooner than I intended. If you ever saw the movie “Breaking Away” you may remember the main character, who was so enamored with Italian culture, he learned Italian and trained for a bike race to be like his Italian heroes. He was in love with all things Italian. This radically changed when, during a race, he was pushed off the road and out of the competition by the very same Italians he aspired to befriend. He sustained minor physical injuries but suffered a significant emotional shift. I still have affection for our friends. I still love teaching the eager, hardworking, sincere students at IMNU. I still enjoy learning the language and observing how other people live. But there has been a change.