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martes, 24 de mayo de 2011

Chinese adventures (1): Looking for a job

It's been more than two years living in China, and I think it is about time to write down some of the stories that have happened to me in this complex country.

The stories that I am going to tell won't follow any chronological order, so today I will start by last year, when I decided to look for a job in Beijing.

Things in China seldom go smooth, and my story is no exception. Last November I visited a Chinese wine-importing company for a job interview. They were looking for a foreigner who spoke Chinese and, preferably, a bit of French. The interview went very well and they told me right away that they wanted me. The only problem was the salary, but I didn't ask for too much, and so we reached an agreement. I was flying to Japan in a week before flying to Spain for Christmas, with a 3 days period in Beijing in the middle, so the boss (young Chinese guy, about 28) told me to that all the documents for the visa would be ready after my trip to Kurosawa's homeland.
While in Japan I wrote an email to this person to make sure that the visa procedures were going well. He assured me that everything would be ready in time. Yeah, sure, a Chinese promise is worth oftentimes as much as Chinese products, and so after I was back in Beijing the boss told me that he had been too busy to arrange the visa. Apparently he was also too busy to meet me, and so I met his secretary, who told me there was nothing to worry about, since they would send all the necessary documents to Spain.

I guess most of you have already guessed this story doesn't have a happy ending.

While in Spain I had some hope, since quite soon the secretary sent me some of the documents needed to apply for the visa. Meanwhile I tried to contact the Chinese embassy in Madrid, but they didn't seem to answer any e-mails, and every time I tried reaching them over the phone the line was busy.

The Chinese secretary also told me that in order to get some of the needed documents they had to wait for some time, although they couldn't tell me how long. Visa procedures in China are indeed a pain in the ass, so at that point I wasn't 100% sure they would not be able (or willing) to manage. But days turned into weeks, and my stay in Spain reached a month. In the meantime a previous university teacher and good friend of mine introduced me to some of his Chinese students. We got along pretty well, and I told them about my issue with the Chinese company. They listed carefully, and one of them told me he would ask his father in Beijing, who had some guanxi (Chinese word for "having contacts", something of a tremendous importance in China). After few days he got in touch with me, and he had no good news. His father had found out that some times working visas for foreigners were not granted to small-middle sized Chinese companies (or the documents necessary to apply for one). The thing was, companies could apply for them, and depending on their size and guanxi this process could take days, weeks, months or never happen at all. His father advised me to start looking for another job.

So there I was, having waited for nothing, pissed with the fact that the company didn't have the decency of telling me what was actually happening (all they said was one of the most used expressions in China: bie zhaoji-be patient). But still I had one last bullet, and although I had no hopes to succeed I still have to try. I wrote an email to both my boss and his secretary telling them about what my friend's father had found out, and I proposed them to pay the 4500 RMB necessary (almost 500 euros) to pay for a 6 months business visa through a Chinese agency (a very common thing for foreigners to do in order to extend their stay in China). The fuckers didn't even bother to reply the email.

Some weeks later I am working at a Taiwanese recruiting firm. My visa is about to expire, and after some inquires the company told me they couldn't provide me with the working visa, since for that foreigners needs to have at least two years working experience, which I obviously don't have. It's interesting how no one seems to know about these things in China, neither Chinese nor foreigners. It is a good indicative of the little transparency of this country.

So after they told me this I proposed to apply for the business visa, easier to get, although only valid for a period up to 6 months. I went to the Beijing Public Bureau (government building to apply for visas) to make inquiries about the business visa. When I asked the lady in the front desk about how to apply for a business visa she just told me I could not do it in China. After realizing that she was not going to add any more information I asked her: "Can I do it in Hong Kong?" "Maybe", she said. "What do you mean by maybe, I asked". "We don't know about that, we can only tell you that you can't do it in China. You can go to Hong Kong, and if that doesn't work you can try somewhere else". I couldn't believe it, the lady in the front desk was telling me to try different countries to "see" if they could provide me with a visa to work in THEIR country! They "lady" didn't add anything else, so I asked her for official information about the process. Her answer was epic: "We don't have it, but you can google it".

Fortunately, my boss (Taiwanese, not Chinese) decided that "googling it" might not be the most trustworthy method, and he agreed to pay the fee necessary to get the visa through a Chinese agency. God bless the Republic of China.