The Good, the Bad, and the Survival Tips (Part 3)

The Good:

People dressing however they want

When you think about it, on a fundamental, really-who-cares level, what’s the point of clothes? To cover your body and protect it from the elements? Yep. To display color and individuality? Less important, since we’re not peacocks, but fine. To show our affiliation with a designer brand name? Not so much. My late grandfather refused his entire life to wear anything with a brand logo on it. “Why should I pay a company to advertise for them?” was how he put it. I thought that was hopelessly square at one point in my life, and now it looks positively revolutionary. Anyway, that’s all to say that when you get right down to it, the Chinese understand clothes better than westerners. I say this because the vast majority of people here just. . .dress. And many times they dress with an idea in mind that no stylish, or even quasi-stylish, westerner would ever dream of having. Is it still according to a socially-accepted sense of “style?” Yes, but what I’m saying is, that socially-accepted sense of “style” includes some truly remarkable things. Pyjamas in the supermarket, complete with fluffy bedroom slippers (yes, I’ve seen this)? Go for it! Long underwear for the morning jog? Sure! Hilarious Chinglish shirts? Definitely! (Much more on this wonderful, if unintentional, blessing later) Really: in China, anything goes. Especially if you’re old. And I personally believe to the bottom of my soul that if you’ve survived to old age in a place like China, which has seen three or more violent revolutions in one century, as well as decades of famine, oppression, and upheaval, then you’ve earned the right to wear ANYTHING YOU WANT. Leisure suit, chain mail, druid’s cloak, whatever. And really, when you think about it, why shouldn’t we all feel the same way?

The Bad:

Negotiating three different national bureaucracies

Ho.Ly.Cow. Go ahead and think of the worst day you ever had at any of the bureacratic institutions of your choice. Go ahead. The DMV, perhaps? The notary public? Now multiply that by three, and you’ll get my last few months. One of the profound truths I’ve taken away from the process of getting married to a French national, and then getting her a visa to America, is that no single country has the worst bureaucracy. I have wondered at times if there’s some kind of handbook or clinic all governments must have in which is explained the most effective way to inconvenience, confuse, or outright piss off the average person. The arbitrariness, or seeming arbitrariness anyway, is almost awe-inspiring. What with all the weird things my wife had to produce for her immigrant visa application, I would not have been at all surprised if the actual visa interview had included some kind of physical challenge, where an applicant strolled up to the window and the interviewing officer slid across a nondescript cardboard box, and said, “Yes, Mr. Wu, you can have this visa. . .if you eat this goliath beetle,” then whipped the top off and dared Mr. Wu to contemplate just how much he wanted to go to the U.S.  And for all I know, they’ve done that before. I’m just saying, it wouldn’t surprise me. Since sometime in October, we’ve had to get legal documents translated from French into Chinese, from Chinese into English, from English into French, and from English into Chinese. I’ve also spent many wonderful hours in the local notary public office, Marie has had to do some cannonball runs to Beijing for medical exams and nonsensical paperwork, and we’ve had to deal with countless people who seemed to have no clue either what to do, or how to tell us what to do. The cherry on top was when we finally got to Guangzhou, proceeded to our super-crappy budget hotel in the Russian import-export district, and I realized, purely by the grace of God, that the address I’d Google-searched for the Consulate, the one on our official appointment letter, was not the right address. Yep, there are two consulate addresses, and the powers-that-be didn’t figure that was important information. The actual interview address is only available if you click on the TINY “contact us” link at the top of the web-page, then scan through and find the address. We weren’t the only people in line who had gone to the wrong address first.

So let’s be fair, as I get ready to leave China. Yes, I’ve gone into paroxysms of rage over the utter insanity of the official bureaucratic apparatus in China, but the U.S. is just as arbitrary, and although I don’t have time to get into the French, they have their brand of insanity which is every bit as maddening. It’s a titanic blessing to have all of our paperwork finished. You have no idea. Unless you’re applying for citizenship or something yourself, in which case, you have my sympathies.

The Survival Tip:

Don’t rely on your contract

If you really want to succeed in China, be it at a university, a law firm, a corporation, or wherever, start sucking up and complimenting people early because contracts in China are completely flexible, but only for the people at the top. I’ve appealed many times to universities in China on the grounds that something wasn’t written in my contract, and was told something along the lines of, “Oh, but when it says 14 hours per week, that means an average over the whole year.” If you’ve taken the boss of the financial department out for drinks many times, and given gifts of tea and other things to other higher-ups, you’re golden; if you haven’t, then those in charge will interpret your contract in whatever way most benefits them, if in fact they don’t ignore it entirely. So sign that contract. . .but don’t count on it.

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1 Responses to The Good, the Bad, and the Survival Tips (Part 3)

  1. James says:

    Congrats on getting all that red tape sorted out, and surviving.

    About dealing with your superiors in China – if they say something along the lines of, “We’d like you to do it, but you really don’t have to.” If you do it, you’ll be in their good graces, and they probably meant to say – “We really want you to do this.”

    If you don’t, and I knew people who in similar circumstances didn’t, they didn’t get anything they wanted for the rest of the year, and soon they were gone.

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