The first part of your expat experience is often referred to as the honeymoon period, usually by other expats who have lived in the place longer than you have and can’t believe you are so excited and happy to be there. People are constantly reminding you it is going to end! Mine may have ended on Tuesday when it was discovered that the boys and I are in China illegally. We have overstayed our Visa. Needless to say, China really frowns upon this sort of thing!
I was told I had to get the police station right away!! Slightly hysterical, I headed off to our local police and tried to explain that I had mixed up the type of Visa. I though I had a six month visa. But, in fact it was only good for 30 days at a time. We were 24 days over the expiry date! Everyone was pretty nice, but no one was going to stick out their neck and say “don’t worry, it will all be fine”. I had to sign a confession, while being video taped, for both the boys and myself. A little unnerving, as I could not read what I was signing… it was all in Chinese characters.
I was then told to go to the big station in central Beijing ASAP where I would find out what my punishment was. I was furiously trying to reach the boys and give them all sorts of instructions in case I didn’t come home that night.
After waiting at the big station for what seemed like an eternity, but was only a couple of hours, I was told it was too late to punish me that day, and that I should come back the next. Home, in a panic, I searched the Internet and found out what the possible punishments would be… 40 days in jail, expulsion from the country and/or a fine of 500 rmb per day. I checked flights back to Vancouver and prepared my self for the worst.
Where was John through all this, you may ask? Sailing in Panama! Yes, I was (am?) a bit cranky about that!
Wednesday, I put on my big fur coat (I didn’t want to get cold in jail) packed a snack, toothbrush, glasses and a book and headed back to the Station. Luckily, a wonderful colleague of John’s offered to accompany me. She is from Beijing, and it was such a relief to have someone who could communicate in Chinese on my side! She was so charming with the officials. After reams and reams of paper work, with me signing document after document, the man in charge looked up at me and said “I am not going to send you jail”. In fact John’s colleague had persuaded him to let us stay in the country (because it would be awful for the boys to miss school) and to pay a substantial fine, but less than the maximum he could have charged me. I almost cried! Luckily I have become very proficient at saying Thank you in Mandarin and put this skill to great use! I thanked everyone!
Thursday was my birthday and the boys and I had a wonderful dinner, complete with champagne, to celebrate both me turning 49 and that we were staying in China. While we are not sure we want to stay forever, we all agreed, we were not ready to leave quite yet!