Chapter 39: On the Border, at the Public Security Bureau

PRC Police Station
I was on the legal border when I went to the Public Security Bureau, after my visa had expired for two days. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, user Gzdavidwong)

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.

Did you enjoy this article?
Sign up now and receive an email whenever I publish new blog posts. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
gifts to china

7 thoughts on “Chapter 39: On the Border, at the Public Security Bureau

  • March 16, 2010 at 7:27 am

    This story makes me have flashbacks of mine and my husbands immigration interview. We had actually prepared very well for the interview as far as paperwork and documentation, but I don’t think anything would have prepared us for the actual interview. I had read a lot online that made me think that it wouldn’t be too bad, but it was quite like a scene from the spanish inquisition. All we were missing was a very bright light pointed our way.

    My husband’s Visa had technically expired in November, however, he had already filed for his change of status and permission to become a legal resident. But, our interview wasn’t until January. Technically he was illegal for a few months. This is a grey area with our federal government. If they really wanted to they could deport you, however the fact that your paperwork is in limbo, most of the time they turn the other cheek. That didn’t keep the interviewer from grilling me. He made me read from a paper on the wall where I was sitting that outlined all the punishments for lying to him or the US government. He not so gently reminded me that my hubby was currently in the US illegally. He also proceeded to ask me questions ranging from what color underwear my husband wore to why we didn’t take a shower together that morning. It was crazy. He separated us early on in the interview and grilled me for about 20-30 minutes. Then he brought my hubby in and escorted me out. We weren’t even allowed to pass eachother in the hallway. 5 minutes later my hubby was done and the guy was stamping some papers as well as my husband’s passport.
    All in all things had a happy ending, but man it was crazy. And it really stinks knowing that your fate is in the hands of a government that might not particularly care what happens to you or your loved one.

    • March 16, 2010 at 6:02 pm

      Dear Melissa — thanks for the comment. What a harrowing experience! When the law gets between you and the one you love, in any way, it definitely makes you super-nervous. Reminds me of when my husband went for his visa interview in China. I couldn’t concentrate all morning, until he returned with the visa in hand!

  • March 16, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Hey — Glad you found my site and left a comment, because it led me here! Sounds like you have some awesome stories to tell. I hope you’ll join us in the Ning group. I don’t think we have anyone writing about China!

    • March 17, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Alexis, thanks for the comment love! And thanks also for the Ning group — looking forward to connecting with other writers. 🙂

  • February 27, 2012 at 2:37 am

    That is the best compliment a fluent speaker can ever give to a foreigner! Fantastic!

  • December 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I have been in a similar situation in the last months, but not as sad as yours.
    Since when I moved to Shanghai I got a contract with a small size company, we did all the paperwork with an agent.
    Visa agent n.1:
    Popular in Shanghai / They say 100% effectivity
    – Girl speaks no English
    – She did 3 huge mistakes:
    1. She did not handle the papers in time ( She usually finishes work at 1pm so she went home at 1pm, without any paper)
    2. She forgot my papers at home so in the company we printed, signed again
    3. She handled to the Authorities the wrong paper and I got denied, not even permit to apply for visa, my info was in the system.
    I shouted at her boss and told them to give me back all my documentation on Sunday, no waiting, Sunday.

    Visa agent n.2:
    Said she was working for X company, she got me the paper to go to HK, while in HK I call her company to explain an issue and guess..she was not an employee, fortunately the real visa agency helped me anyway (for free), they tracked from their HK id card my visa and told me not to worry cause it was ok.

    When I came back I told her I knew she was a liner, she got mad at me, but she was a liner. The rest of the paperwork (resident permit) I did it by myself!

    It was painful, I needed to stay in Hong Kong 6 days, alone, but finally I was able to return and get the so lovely resident permit, which I hope I can renew easily in Spring.

  • April 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm


    I stumbled on your article above and cannot help but to feel the pain that you and John must have felt. You wrote that you were prepared for battle by negotiating with Mr. CEO the next day. So, what happened? Did you negotiate with him? What was the outcome?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: