Monday, June 18, 2007

Getting things done

Getting things done in China can be very time-consuming, very tiring. Even the littlest things. Sometimes I think especially the littlest things.

My new employer is applying for a work permit on my behalf this week. The Foreign Affairs Administration should really only need 2 photos of me for that - one for the permit itself, and one for their files. However, with the Chinese passion for redundancy, they have decided to insist that applicants submit 4 photos. I have a whole bunch of 'passport-sized' photos I got done when I renewed my British passport a couple of weeks back, but.... the British government currently prescribes that such photos should be shot against a white or grey background, while the Chinese government demands photos on a blue background. I do still have some photos with a blue background from last year's visa renewal ordeal. Some. 2, not 4. Bugger.

So, I've had to go to my local photo shop to get some more done, before the employer can set all the paperwork in motion. I forgot to get around to this all weekend. (I fear I was in fact just subsconsciously funking out of doing it, because I know that venturing into a photo shop can eat up such a surprisingly large number of minutes - sometimes even an hour or more - from your day.) This morning, I had to get in there bright and early, so that I could deliver the photos to my office as soon as possible after 9am.

I got to the shop just after 8am. And waited. And waited. Around 8.30am a couple of girls showed up to open the shop. "Are you late?" "No, we open at 8.30." "But the sign on your window says 8am-8pm." "Yes, but we open at 8.30." Ah, so that's clear. Well, they took the photos without too much fuss, and did not even - for once - faff around in Photoshop for too long, resizing and recentring the image. But then there was a problem with the printer (I knew it was too good to be true....). Out of ink, apparently. They plugged in a new cartridge. It still didn't work. Ah, they needed a second kind of ink as well, it seemed. Where was this ink? They weren't sure. Maybe it was in this cupboard. (Foreigners soon come to dread the word 'maybe' in China - it is used ubiquitously, and seems to imply: "We don't know, and probably don't care very much, and certainly can't be bothered to find out for you; or perhaps we're just culturally programmed to avoid ever giving a straight answer to a question even when the information requested is utterly straightforward and within our certain knowledge.") Then why don't you get it out of the cupboard? The cupboard is locked. Why don't you unlock it? (In China, you always prompt like this, because it seems quite possible that they simply hadn't thought of that.) We don't have the key. Who has the key? The laoban (=boss). Where is the laoban? He doesn't get in till 10.

As you might imagine, hair was being torn out by this stage - making my bad haircut look even worse.

As luck would have it, the laoban - or someone else with a complete set of keys - turned up shortly afterwards, my photos were printed without too much further ado, and I was on my way before 9.30.

However, this simple operation - something that in the UK would take only a few minutes in one of those automated photo-booths - had here stolen nearly 80 minutes of my life. This is China.


Tulsa said...

This pretty much describes why I haven't submitted my new office ID form, yet. About 2 months ago, my office building instituted a new registration process for all foreigners working in the building (why only foreigners? was there some legislation passed about this recently? or is some existing law finally being enforced? or is it just the whim of my office building's management?)

to get our IDs, we need to submit 2 photos. Okay. what size photos. Oh, you know, the small ones. Hmm, okay. So what measurements should this "small" photo be? and on and on...

Well, I finally discovered the measurements and coloring (I did not want to risk going to a photo shop and spen 1 and half hours getting the wrong type of "small" photo) and stopped off at the photo shop on my way home. After about 30 minutes of no discernable activity and still, no service, and certainly no picture taking, I decided to try it again another day.

That was about a month ago.

I hope I don't show up to work one day and have building management assume I'm a fur'ner and demand to see my ID... Do you think I could pass for a local?

Caren said...

I take my comment back about missing China...

Before we left we had to submit EIGHT photos to our foreign affairs person. Then they day before we left she asked if we had any extras. Thank goodness we had some leftovers from when we had some taken when we first arrived...

Tulsa said...

Yeah, they called us up after you left and wondered, if by chance, you hadn't left an extra four photos with us to deliver to them for "supplementary forms."

Froog said...

Hey, Caren, nice to hear from you. Sound like your waiban is particularly clueless!

So, how did N get on in his 'LeSat"?

Caren said...

Sorry I fell off the earth. Jetlag, doctors appointments, studying for the GRE & wedding planning will do that.

N is still waiting to hear, probably another week or so. Will definately keep you posted!