Ok, so finally, here is the story of Jean and I's trip to Guangzhou for her visa interview.
This first part is irrelevent, just, the morning of the day I left for Hangzhou to go to Guangzhou, the fog outside was crazy. Again, not relevant to the story, but it was mad thick.
When we arrived in Guangzhou, we first went to the hotel, which had been arranged by a woman who helps people coming to Guangzhou on visa matters. Jean asked her a few questions about it, and the woman answered to the best of her knowledge, and then Jean and I set out for a late lunch/early dinner. We searched online for a buffet and found one called the “Las Vegas Buffet” at a mall not far from where we were staying.
The mall was called Zheng Jia Guang Chang (正佳广场) and was rather large. You could enter on the ground floor or outside they had an escalator that would take you directly to the 4th floor.
There was even an ice-skating rink inside the mall.
When we entered the mall we passed by an electronics store and walked by a 103” Plasma TV. The price tag was something like $100,000. Here's a picture of me standing next to it for some scale.
We went to the Las Vegas Buffet for a late lunch (3:05pm) only to find that they were open for lunch from 10am to 3pm and open for dinner from 6pm till 10pm. We had just missed the lunch session. As we left, I grumpily made the comment “This isn't like Las Vegas. Las Vegas would be open 24 hours.”
We decided to grab a small lunch, try and kill 3 hours there at the mall, and then go back for dinner.
On the 7th floor of the mall we found a video arcade. We played a few games. They had “Drummania,” a Japanese drum game I had played before, but I kept failing because the machine's bass pedal was messed up.
There was also a Mario Kart arcade machine, and the game would take your picture while you were sitting there so you could see you as a Super Mario character. This is what I would look like if I were Super Mario's brother Luigi:
When 6 o'clock came around we went back to the buffet. It was a little bit expensive, but it was a pretty decent buffet too, so it evens out. Overall the food was above average for a buffet, but not uber-fantastic. The pizza was your typical Chinese style fare: bread with an inkling of tomato sauce, topped with onions, carrots, peas, corn, mushrooms, and a sprinkling of cheese. Yeah, not the most appetizing pizza. They did, however, have these excellent chicken filets that they made right in front of you.
After we ate, we were over-stuffed and we left the mall to return the hotel room. We turned in early because we would need to show up at the embassy at 7am the next morning. There were a lot of people already waiting there and they finally let people start to filter in around 7:30. The embassy was inside an office building, but you could only enter the embassy part with a letter showing that you have an appointment. As such I waited for Jean in a coffee shop in the office building, right outside the embassy, passing the time by talking with a guy from Nevada whose fiancee was also there that day for a fiancee visa interview.
A few hours later, I guess it was about 11, Jean called me, said she was done, and asked me to meet her out at the front of the building. She told me the interview actually went really well. Her interviewer was a young woman, she guessed perhaps late 20s to early 30s. Near the end of the interview the woman said to her, "Well, everything seems in order, you don't have any problems with you case." Then she said, "Now, let's talk about your party membership."
For those that don't know, by U.S. immigration law, if you are a member of the Chinese Communist Party, that is an automatic bar against immigration. When Jean was in her junior year at college she was invited to be a party member. Now, for some context, for a Chinese citizen, membership in the Chinese Communist Party is somewhat of an honor, only about 5% of the population is actually a member, so membership offers are generally only made to the best students. And not only that, but it can be advantageous in finding a good job, especially the stable and coveted government jobs, a fact not lost on imminently graduating college students. As such Jean accepted membership in 2007.
Now, for immigration to the U.S., if you are or ever were a member of the Communist Party of China, waivers can be, and are often, granted. In those cases it is beneficial to both quit the party, and prove that your involvement with the party was relatively inconsequential. This was essentially the case for Jean; she merely did the minimum required which was basically to pay the monthly dues (about $1 a month). All she had to do was quit the party (which was easier than she had initially anticipated), provide proof of her resignation, and prepare a statement explaining her involvment with the party. And she could claim that it did indeed help her find a job, as she does have a government job (she works as a clerk at the Hangzhou city Uptown district Financial Office).
Since she had these documents prepared and ready, they were able to immediately take them to be used in processing. Because of the fact that she had been a party member, it is policy that she could not get approval for the visa that day. However, the interviewer insinuated to Jean (I say insinuated because I don't remember exactly what Jean said she said to her) that it wouldn't be a problem and that we would be contacted by the embassy in a month.
So, the interview was about 5 minutes total and it was finally done. Jean was relieved a bit because of how stressed she was leading up to the interview, but still felt a bit disappointed that she couldn't succeed that day. I told her not to worry about that, that the interview went as well as it could, and that there was nothing she could have said or done differently (short of lying about Party involvement) that would've resulted in approval that day.
Neither of us had eaten breakfast that morning, so stuffed from dinner the night before, so by the time Jean left we were both ready to eat. We found a Southern style hot pot place to eat lunch. The meal was pretty good and Jean commented on how much cheaper it was here than it would've been back in Hangzhou.
Afterward, we wanted to relax for a bit so we walked around the block and found a StarBucks. The vanilla or creme or whatever it is they add to the top of these drinks made a heart shape, so Jean wanted to take a picture. Next to the coffee mugs is the photo album that Jean made in preparation for the interview. It was not required, but was something that would help to prove our relationship. Aside from that it was an extremely heartfelt effort on Jean's part, and I was quite moved the first time she showed it to me.
While in the StarBucks, I did a bit of web surfing, and, knowing that Guangzhou was a fairly international city (not unlike Shanghai), searched to see if I could find a place nearby that sold genuine Wii games. Now I say genuine because, just as the movie and music industry and China are overrun with piracy, the video game industry is equally as copyright unfriendly. The end result is that it is difficult to actually find genuine video game discs anywhere in China because they out numbered by pirated discs by at least tens of thousands to one. With a price differential of $60 to $2, it's not difficult to understand why. In China, however, the video game systems must be modified to be able to play these pirated discs. My Wii was bought in the U.S. and was never modified, and so cannot play pirated games, only genuine discs.
So I started searching and I found a message board of someone mentioning that they thought they had seen some genuine discs in a video game shop at the mall we had gone to the day before. It wasn't a sure thing, but since we had nothing else to do, and had some time to kill (it was then 3 o'clock and our flight back to Hangzhou was scheduled at 10pm), we caught a cab back to the Zheng Jia Guang Chang.
Something we happened to see there that we hadn't noticed the last time we had come was one of those 3D sidewalk art pieces that you sometimes see in e-mails and such, and we took some pictures to share.
From the wrong angles:
From the right angle:
Anyway, we got to the mall, found the video game store, and they did indeed have some genuine Wii games. Three to be exact: Wii Sports Resort, Wii Mario Kart, and The New Super Mario Bros Wii. Luckily, the one I was looking for was the last of those three. The original price they had listed was 478 RMB, about $70, which I was a little hesitant about considering the price in the states is $50 + tax. Jean asked if they could discount it, and they were willing to go so far as to give me the membership price, a 10% discount, and so I did finally buy it for 430 RMB, about $62.
Afterward we perused through the mall a bit more, and found a subsection that was more like a Chinese mall, and less like the American-style mall the rest of the place resembled. The advantage of these Chinese-style shopping centers are that you can often find some real bargains.
After we finished there it was about 5 and we decided to head to the airport. Even though we didn't need to go back at that moment, we didn't really have time to go do anything else, especially not knowing where anything is in Guangzhou. We hunted for a cab for about 30 minutes, at which point we were sweating even without wearing our jackets, a welcome feeling in the dead of winter compared to Huzhou and Hangzhou. After finally getting one, we found our way back to the airport bus, then to the airport, and then to our gate. The plane was already a red-eye, 10 o'clock departure, and actually took off about 40 minutes late. When we landed back in Hangzhou, it was nearly 1 o'clock, we were exhausted and nabbed a cab back home rather than try and find the bus.
Anyway, Spring Festival is coming up, the students here at campus have all already gone home, and this Saturday Jean and I will be flying up to Harbin to visit her family. It's going to be so cold. Harbin is latitudinally equivalent to Minneapolis. It's a city famous for its snow and ice sculptures. It's going to be a lot of fun, but it's going to be very, very cold, with daytime highs in the teens (Fahrenheit) and nighttime lows below zero. I have no idea what that will be like, but I will soon find out. To the Frozen North!