Monday, June 23, 2014

Some Traveler!

Gary and I got back to Wuhan a little after noon on Sunday. A quick snack of grilled bratwurst and crackers, and he was on his way. He only had 2 days to visit all his friends and take care of his business before the solo drive back. As comfortable as his car is, I feel for him. Twelve hours is a long time to be on the road by yourself.

The extended car ride had taken all my pep and vigor. It was all I could do to prop myself on the couch and admire my shiny floors. After 4 years here I've finally figured out the secret to beautiful, dust-free floors: Pledge laminate floor care. A few blasts from the trigger spray a few whisks of the dust mop and I can call my home Gleam City.

Before leaving for Hangzhou I wanted the house clean because this trip was to be the start of my vagabonding. A few days at home and then I was due in Beijing for a celebration activity with the expat blogging community on Saturday. I had cleaned everything except for the kitchen floor and washed all my clothes in anticipation of only popping in and out all summer.

I resisted unpacking, reasoning that all my clothes are clean – washed at Gary's house. It would only be 5 days, and then I'd be gone again. I even balked at grocery shopping. Why should I? In just a few days I'd be gone again, and I had enough to last that short time.

That's when things fell apart.

China and Google have had a tenuous relationship ever since their issue of copyright infringement a few years ago. It appears neither side is willing to back down and China has, at the very least made it uncomfortable, if not impossible to access any Google sites or functions. That means I was blocked from accessing my email.

That wouldn't have mattered if I didn't have my own computer to fall back on. The university provided computer crapped out. It simply wouldn't boot up... AGAIN!!! For the 4th time I need our school's IT department to fix it. Unfortunately, this close to year's end they are either very busy or dismissed for the summer. Fortunately I have my own machine, so I am able to get online. But I cannot access Google or any of those functions.

All of my contacts! All of my email chains: inaccessible! Google Chat, the program I use to connect with my kids for everyday conversation: permanently blocked!

And more of an immediate concern: how was I to know when and where in Beijing to meet the expat bloggers? Quickly I logged into my ChinaDaily account to change my email address and notify the coordinators of the change. When they acknowledged the change they also informed me the event had been canceled for lack of planning.

Lack of planning???

I had plans! I was going to meet the Beijing crowd, enjoy the activity and then take off to one of the two Ikea stores in that city. I don't remember how I caught the Ikea bug but I am... 'obsessed' is too strong a word. I am fixated on Ikea just recently.

That led me to investigate the Ikea website. There I found that there will be an Ikea store in Wuhan! YIPPEE!!! I resolved the very next day to go find it. The website said it was not open for business yet but perhaps it had not yet been updated. Besides, as long as I was just laying around, waiting to travel I might as well go and have a look.

That was Wednesday. I had been home for 2 ½ days and still had not unpacked, reasoning I would be traveling by the weekend. However, I didn't have a train ticket yet, either.

In spite of my Beijing hopes being dashed I reasoned I could still go, if only to visit Ikea. Reason asserted itself. I don't really like Beijing and there are other cities that have Ikea. Why not go to one of them?

Because Sam still has my passport: that's why. I could get away with buying a train ticket on an expired passport but I wouldn't be able to rent a hotel room. Adventurous as I am, spending the night on some sidewalk is not the type of escapade I seek.

It is now  Friday. I should have been on a train, or at least in possession of a ticket. I'm still not unpacked and my food supply is meager, but I'm not starving... yet. I should make a trip to the grocery store soon.

Sam finally messages me about getting together. I am due for a blood test to measure how effective my thyroid is and, as long as the hospital is literally a stone's throw from his house, why don't we have a visit?

Let's think about this: I had computer woes and wanted/needed my passport: why didn't I contact him?  Because I know he's busy. Other than a short message letting him know I was safely back and asking if there was anything he needed help with, I left my friend alone. Come to find out, it was good that I did.

Last year the Chinese government enacted stricter guidelines for foreigners. Essentially it boils down to restricting foreigner activity to the visa they hold: if one has a working visa, s/he cannot run a business. Conversely, if s/he holds a business visa but doesn't not own/operate a business, s/he is in violation of the visa laws. As with every country, the people had time to adjust – one year in this case, before being held to the letter of the law.

Victor has owned and operated a business since he came to China. Under these now enforced laws, he is in violation because our school – his sponsor only affords him a working visa, not a business classification.

Poor Sam! Imagine the impact such a breach could cause our school! We could lose our charter for foreign teachers: that would mean that Victor and I are out the door. Our school could have to pay a heavy penalty for aiding and abetting. At the very least it is an embarrassment to have a foreigner flout the law. Sam, responsible for foreign teachers told me he did not sleep for 2 nights, struggling for a resolution.

The visa office provided a work-around: extend Victor's visa for only 6 months under the condition that he transfer his business to another party. He is still welcome to work it but cannot own it. After that time the government will make sure he is in compliance with the law. If not, he's gone – booted out of and barred from the country, and Sam has to scramble to find another foreign teacher in the middle of the school year.

Dean Tu, the school's CEO swung between 2 poles: furious at Victor and proud of me (for being a top ten blogger in China: did you know that?) If it were up to him, Dean Tu would fire Victor on the spot. However, we have already signed our contracts for next year and, as long as Victor complies with the law there will be no legal penalties. I can guarantee you this: Victor will NOT receive an invitation to teach next year. 

It has now been 2 weeks since my return from Hangzhou. I finally unpacked but have not yet gone grocery shopping. I will HAVE to go tomorrow.

All things considered: Sam needing to vent, my needing a blood test, the visa issue made more complicated by Victor: it is a good thing I didn't hit the rails again. All Sam needs it to come bail me out of jail for trying to book a hotel room with an expired passport. Besides, I had to clean my kitchen floor.

Vagabonding will resume as soon as my papers are in order and back in my hands.

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