Everything I write in this post is personal reflection. This post is not under any circumstances to be read as anything else, but a personal account of personal experiences.
So I’m back from Seoul. I didn’t die from nuclear attacks, nor did my plane crash. I did, however, almost have a heart attack from stress due to my visa conversion (a process which is still going on, and will be going on until end of April/ beginning of May). As a new employee of the embassy here in Beijing, I was equipped with medical forms and a letter from the embassy stating that I had to convert my study visa to a work visa. This has to be done abroad according to Chinese law. Thus, I was off to Korea. I was given the impression by the embassy that this was going to be a piece of cake: because of my letters and official forms, I’d be in a special line for international and diplomatic representation. My embassy had even faxed the papers to the Chinese consulate and embassy, already.
However, when I got to Seoul, everything ‘flipped a shit’ as they say. Be ready for this, because It’s quite a treat:
On my first day in Seoul, I went to the Chinese embassy where I found a place with 30 policemen patrolling the area. I stated my case after which they referred me to the consulate which was in a different part of town. Apparently, the consulate handles all visa business these days. There was no way I’d be let in to the embassy. Fine. Located and went to Myeong-dong and climbed the hill as the instructions said. Somewhere around ~500 m up the hill (also according to the instructions I got from the embassy) I saw an office with the sign ‘Chinese Visa service’ on it. Went in, handed over my forms thinking cool, this is finally happening. There, they explained that my letter of invitation from the embassy didn’t correspond to the format of a Chinese invitation letter. I explained that of course it didn’t, because I will be working for a Swedish authority in China, not a Chinese one. The agent further remarked that these forms were not sufficient. My patience was starting to run low. I pointed to the invitation letter, which was written in Chinese, to their convenience and asked exactly what was wrong with it as well as explaining that I had been told that this visa- procedure does not correspond to the normal way of issuing visas, due to my work place. The agent said that the letter was addressed to the embassy, and that I had to take it up with them.
Went back to the embassy. Once again, I had to go through the ludicrous security work force outside (they were quite nice, though). I waved my papers, but it was absolutely clear: I could under no circumstance enter the Chinese embassy. I pointed out but I even live in China! I have a Chinese residence permit! How can you not allow me into the embassy? The words were in vain. If you don’t look Chinese, you’re not Chinese and thus you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. It is China contra mundum. After waiting for 20 min outside the embassy, an officer in a suit came out. After chatting a while, he asked me why don’t you just convert your visa back in Beijing? That’s when I went OH MY GOD(!!!!!!) and suffered from heart attack #1. I had to contact my embassy from Seoul asking I do have to convert my visa abroad, right? After which I got the response of course, it’s explicitly stated in Chinese law! The officer yet again reaffirmed that the embassy does not have anything to do with visas and referred me back to the consulate.
That evening, I wrote back to my embassy expressing concern and confusion about what was going on. I asked for advice and let them know that they might get a call with specific instructions about what needed to be done in order for me to do this conversion.
End of day #1.
Day #2: Got a reply from the embassy in Beijing. They had tried to contact me without success because my Chinese phone does not work abroad. They had also tried to call the consulate in Seoul, but they didn’t respond, even when the embassy called.
Went back to Myeong- Dong, but was lead to a different office. I thought this was a tad strange, but my stressed out brain just wanted to see anyone who could help me with my visa. Once again, the officer in the office showed me how my letter of invitation didn’t correspond to their templates. When I heard this, I asked do you have a phone? I called the embassy back in Beijing, where people where wondering just what the problem was. When I got the administrative staff on the line, I gave the phone to the officer so that he could explain. He said no, no and waved his hands. He was afraid to ‘lose face’, speaking a language he didn’t master so well. I freaked out and stated this is the EMBASSY! YOU. WILL. TALK!!!!!!! And shoved the phone up his ear. After some minutes of chit-chat, it appears that the ass- holes (pardon my French) had neglected to tell me that the actual consulate was located 50 m further up the hill. This was just an affiliated office. OH MY GOD!!!!!!!! #2
Went up the hill to the actual consulate. Now, everything has to work out, I thought. Presented my forms to a guard there. He said no, you can’t enter, you’re not Chinese. I explained further. He asked if I had a diplomat’s passport. I said no. He said go away. I said no. He said yes. I said no. He said yes. I said no. He said yes………………………………………………………………………………. I said no. I asked him to call anyone who actually works for the consulate. He said no. I said yes. He said no. I said yes. He said no. I said yes……………………………………… he said no. I said yes. See a pattern here? He got pissed off, but I had invested too much in coming here to back off now. I simply posted myself outside the consulate and was damned set on not leaving until I had spoken to an officer. After 20 minutes of obstinateness, someone came out and uttered the unbelievable words I can help you. His name was Wang and he was a young fellow who apparently worked with/ for the consulate. He said hurry! Hurry! And he took me down the hill from where I had come, to a third office where I filled in some papers very hastily while Wang ran around making copies of my documents. After the documents were filled out, we agreed to talk later that day to see what the status was. This is easier said than done in a city and a country to which you came two days ago, without a functioning phone.
Later that day, I rang Wang from skype (located a spot on the street with Wifi) to hear what was up. The consulate wasn’t happy with my papers. A letter from the embassy in Beijing didn’t suffice. They wanted one from the embassy in Seoul too. Went to Wang’s office. Asked them to look up the number of the Swedish embassy. While they were doing so I heard them speak of a word that kind of sounded like ‘Sweden’ in Chinese, but wasn’t. I underlined several times wo shi ruidien- ren (I am Swedish) to them. Was given the phone where the operator spoke a language I identified as French. Hung up. This is the Swiss embassy, not the Swedish one!!!! OH MY GOD!!!!!!! #3
Got the right number. Talked to the operator who was sweet as sugar. They just said come to the embassy Erik, you are welcome. Rushed off to the Swedish embassy, which was a haven of organization and calm. There I talked to saint-like Anette Ljungberg who was waiting for me. She knew my bosses and helped me formulate something that the Chinese would accept. My deepest, deepest gratitude to her. Back to the consular office. Handed in the new letter to Wang along with EVERY document I had of my Chinese existence (student ID, rent receipts, copies of flight tickets). In the morning he would go to the consulate again.
End of day #2.
Day # 3: Went to Everland with Emelie and Wegard. Got on the world’s steepest wooden roller coaster (not to mention the helicykle!)and took my mind off things. Called Wang from saint #2 (Wegard)’s phone. My visa would be ready on Tuesday. Thanks, puss och kram. Enjoyed the rest of the day in that fantastic place and rebooked my flight when I came home to the hostel (original flight was booked for Saturday).
That night, North Korea declared something which I guess comes close to a state of war.
End of day #3.
Days #4-7 spent in agony thinking God, will I actually get this on Tuesday, or will something else come up. They are obviously not operating under any set rules whatsoever, so they can do whatever the F they want.
Day# 8 Got visa. Almost cried from happiness. Thanked Wang from the bottom of my heart. Went to national museum of Korea, ate incredible risotto and looked at art. Bought everything I saw and liked on the town that day, as to compensate for the utter shit I’d gone through until that point.
Day #9 Home to Beijing. Swung by office at uni to talk about my visa business. They explained that they had to cancel my old residence permit as it had ‘purpose: study’ on it and not ‘work’. As such, I only had one entry to China and CAN’T GO HOME TO SWEDEN FOR WEEK 17 AND MY MOM’S DISPUTATION as my new residence permit (which allows you to travel in and out of the country) will not be ready in time.
I cannot explain how fed up I am with these Chinese authorities. The procedures don’t really seem to be governed by rules, no one knows what’s going on, you’re always hanging by a thread and the people at the various authorities generally don’t speak English (at least not the Beijing ones). Only Chinese. I have probably spent more time, money and energy sorting out my visa(s!) than I have fulfilling my actual purpose here: to study and to work. Something is very rotten in this system of bureaucracy and I generally loathe when admin (which everyone actually hates) prevents you from living your life. My life is generally quite fab, but guess what’s not fab? Queues, not speaking any understandable languages, indecipherable systems of rules, putting ridiculous trust in paper work rather than people, not being able to talk to people, but constantly being referred to some robot which you are supposed to email et.c.
PS: Seoul was fantastic in all other regards, and I had a grand time with Emelie and Wegard. Just a shame I had to be there under those circumstances.