Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Big brother is Chinese

Like I mentioned in in recent posts, I spent a couple of hours over 2 days getting an extension on my Chinese visa to be able to see a little bit more before I move on to India.

I wasn't really planning on it until I got to Xishuanbanna and I was told by the local cafe where foreigners hang out (Mei Mei Cafe) that the cost to extend it would only be $25 while in Banna. Up until then I was told that it would cost the full $130 again and so I felt that it was too expensive.

I went to the Public Security Bureau (PSB) around 9am on Monday morning and found 1 lady working the counters. Let's call her lady #1.

I walked up to her , told her I wanted an extension of my visa and gave her my passport. She tried to bring me up on the computer but I wasn't in there so she asked me to go to the other PSB office in town to get my name in the town's computer system. She wasn't able to tell me where the other PSB was though, so I went back to Mei Mei's and asked the girls that work there. They pointed it out to me on the map.

Then as I was about to go look for the PSB, I overheard somebody talking about having gotten her visa renewed, so I looked at her and asked her if she had gotten registered at the other PSB. She said yes and ended up giving me a note that she had gotten from somewhere that said in Chinese that I need to register.

I walked to the other PSB and showed the note to the lady. She helped me out with the process in 10 min and I was back off to the first PSB. Except I had hit their 3.5 hour lunch hour (go figure) so I had to come back at 3pm.

At 3pm I came back to the PSB and found lady #1 in the midst of about 100 chinese people trying to get something done there.

She finished off my processing now that I was in the computer and then told me lady #2 was going to create the visa for me because she was busy. She gave my stuff to lady #2.

I waited about 30 min when lady #2 gives the stuff to lady #3, the cashier. Lady #3 says it's done and tells me to pay her $130! I asked her what happened to $25? Lady #3 doesn't speak english so she asks lady #2 over and I ask her the same question. She says that it was never $25, it was always $130 for US citizens.

I told her that lady #1 told me it was $25 and that was the only reason I had done the whole process. If it was $130 I would not have wasted my day. Lady #2 asks #1 if she told me $25, she says no but doesn't look at me. Lady #2 keeps repeating to me th I must pay $130. I tell her I would like her to cancel the new visa. She tells me she can't because they canceled the first visa in the process already so I would be illegal if they canceled it.

I told her I'd rather be illegal and go to the airport like I had planned and try to explain it to them then. She says she can't do that and says that I have to talk to their manager. She calls her manager and then tells me to follow her to the back building.

I meet the manager guy. He seems like a nice guy. Lady #2 gets me some green tea (I was surprised by that). He asks me to explain to him what happened. He writes down a written complaint for me on a sheet of paper in chinese. He asks me if there was a chance I misunderstood lady #1 when she told me the price. I said no because she had told me the price in english.

He tells me that they record every conversation to me at the counter and will check the security record to listen to what happened. He then looks at me like, "did I just call your bluff?" Which was pointless because I wouldn't lie about this kind of stuff. I said, "ok that's great!" with a big smile on my face.

I was surprised that they recorded everything. The office doesn't look very high tech and there's no obvious location for a hidden mic on the desks they use. but then I remembered I was in China.

He said to come back the next morning so that they have time to look over the recording and talk to his higher ups. I said thanks and left.

The next morning I walked in at 10am. Lady #1 seemed to be ignoring me but wasn't sure. She had her hands full anyway. I motioned to lady #3 to call her manager to tell him I arrived.

He came out to the front to meet me. This was his story. He said the recording had some kind of malfunction and therefore he was not able to verify the conversation. But that he would solve my problem for me immediately. He asked me if he gave me 10 days longer for $25 if that would be ok. I said sure, and he got lady #3 to get it done for me.

What I think really happened is that he listened to the recording and either 1. Figured out his employee had lied and wanted to save face for the Chinese government, or 2. This is their procedure for attempting to rip off foreigners from the US every single time, and lady #1 was in on it the whole time, or 3. Lady #3 has always been taught to never admit wrongdoing even if she has and the government will cover if she gets in hot water.

Either way I had my 10 day visa extension for $25 and I was out of there. What an interesting experience. It prevented me from going into the Mumbai situation so that part was priceless.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all but many Chinese got iron mask on their face. I think their system of country made them like that to survive.
They have different price for foreigner and domestic from old time. Some 3-4 times different but some over 10 times different.
One foreigner calimed them, "why". Their reply, because you are a foreigner and a rich man.

In foreign business like international trade, it was tougher. Now, may be becomes somewhat better but old times they just insist what they want to say and if they are in the corner, just pretending not understanding English.

November 26, 2008 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

that was an awesome story Jimbo

December 1, 2008 at 12:56 PM  

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