Leaving Mr. CEO’s office, after he told me — indirectly — that I no longer had a job (and, by extension, no visa or apartment), was like a march to an exile to China’s far West, just as the country used to do for its rogue criminals. I used to be a part of Mr. CEO’s inner circle. But, now, I could have been in a border town, for all he cared.
I might need to run for the border, in fact. The morning of January 23 — one day after that confrontation with Mr. CEO — I finally retrieved my passport from the secretary, only to find it expired January 21, two days ago. I was now illegal.
When you’re illegal, you do desperate things — like leaving the workplace entirely, without informing anyone (except for my closest friend, Caroline). John, who I had called the day before, returned from his hometown the morning of January 23 just to help me. Once I received his call, I quietly dashed out of the office, down the stairs, to meet him and make the march together — to the Public Security Bureau (PSB).
The Hangzhou Public Security Bureau felt dangerous, like visiting a jail in a rough border town. What do they do with foreigners who overstay? Even though John and I had consulted some materials online — about foreigner residency issues — and felt confident I would not be seriously punished, I still couldn’t help but worry.
The main room in the Public Security Bureau had the pin-drop seriousness of a corporate bank. On one side sat a row of bureaucrats, processing and stamping paperwork without a hint of emotion; on the other, primarily Chinese, with some foreigners, waiting nervously to renew an ID card or get a visa. None of it reassured me, as John and I lined up to speak with someone.
After John explained my situation to a woman behind the desk in the main room, the staff asked us to enter an office to the left. The office, dimly lit, had a velvet sofa beside a few desks next to the window, one occupied by a sturdy young Chinese man with a red turtleneck sweater and receding hairline. I slowly fell into the chair, wondering what this office meant for me.
The man turned to us, and began speaking perfect English. “Could you tell me what happened?”
So I did — in my best Mandarin. I told him everything, from the many times Mr. CEO stonewalled me about my contract, to the visa documents that were never processed, to the vague confrontation yesterday.
The PSB man nodded, and then handed me a piece of paper. “Please explain, in writing, how you came to reside in China, illegally, for two months.” I committed everything I knew to paper, my hand quivering as I relieved the past 36 hours through this impromptu affidavit. I signed it, and returned it to the man, who read it.
The PSB man sat next to the sofa, where John and I awaited his verdict. “It looks like the situation is 95% the company’s fault — and 5% your own fault. I’m going to need to call the company, and talk with this Mr. CEO.” As he walked into an inner office — to keep his conversation private — John and I could hardly keep our relief private. I wasn’t in trouble after all — while Mr. CEO was about to get a troubling call from the PSB, guaranteed to make him lose face.
“You might still have to go to Hong Kong, and come back,” the PSB man advised me, after finishing the call. “The best we can probably do is simply extend your visa another 10 days, allowing you to leave the country and return on a traveler’s visa.” Still, it was better than an exile.
But just as John and I were about to exile ourselves — to my apartment — this PSB man stopped me. “So, what do you think you’re going to do next?” he asked, in Mandarin.
“I thought about studying Mandarin Chinese,” I confessed.
His dark brown eyes met me with a strong, piercing glance. “You don’t need to study Mandarin Chinese. Your Chinese is perfect.”
I smiled in gratitude, even as I shooed his comment in modesty, just as the Chinese would. Because, even if Mr. CEO didn’t see my value, Mr. PSB did.
I left the office with John, hand-in-hand, as we marched home together, like troops preparing for battle — a battle of negotiations with Mr. CEO, the following day.
Were you ever on the border — legally — in China, or another country?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.