If you haven’t yet read Part 1, you should do that first.
How could I have been so careless?
In my defence, it is the responsibility of my employer (at least it should have been) to ensure that my documents are up-to-date, and they have never failed to remind me of my renewal date (until now). Evidently my trust in their competence was misplaced and I should have payed closer attention.
Now I realise of course that this defense would never hold-up in court (especially as a foreigner in China) and at the end of the day I only have myself to blame, as a few less-supportive fellow expats were kind enough to remind me:
“You must be an idiot then! 2 months overstayed”
“I always find it somewhat puzzling how an expat in China can blithely carry on with their lives while at the same time being unaware of the expiration date of their most important document.”
“I’m also wondering if idiots like that really exists.”
“I can’t understand this as well ! Thats always the most important date in China after the birthday of your wife 😂😂😂 Just regocnized on the airport. Come on. Either he is completly stupid or he doesnt give a shit of anything !”
“The only reason you are in China is because of your visa..this level of ignorance is too much. At least you are prepared for the consequences.”
Fair cop. I’m not usually one to take notice of the judgments of others who don’t know me personally, but in this case they’re totally right.
I fucked up big time!
I received plenty of support from friends and family, and complete strangers too who heard of my plight, and at least one person managed to spin it in a positive way:
“If you are so careless that forgot about your working visa expiry date….. I can only be jealous and learn from you to be more careless and light! So… will you be able to enter China again after all?”
While I certainly do lead a fairly carefree life, I’m not sure that’s necessarily something to learn from, but to each their own…
In answer to the question, yes, I think so. I was told that I would not be ‘blacklisted’ as a result of this most unfortunate of oversights and could reenter the country on a new visa, so I guess we’ll see how that goes.
Needless to say, this isn’t how I pictured myself celebrating 2018…
Happy Fucking New Year!
The first day was undoubtedly the most exciting where new experiences were concerned. It was your classic ‘take your socks and drop your jocks’ encounter, if you know what I mean *wink*.
Like the Spanish Inquisitions, few people ever expect the full strip-search, at least until the disposable gloves make an appearance.
The guards attempted to show me the ropes and instruct me in basic Chinese, and I got by for the most part, but there were more than a few awkward situations.
Although I’ve lived in China for four years, I have not (to my shame) made much of an effort at learning the language. I could make excuses as to why, but it really boils down to me being lazy. I’ve picked up enough to get by in most day-to-day situations, but since I’ve never really needed it at work I’ve been kept satisfied in my ignorance.
If ever there were a situation in which Chinese might have been handy, this was it.
My cell mates were all working class Chinese men who had likely never spoken to a foreigner before in their lives. Presumably they had been unable to afford the fine or simply been denied the option as I was.
My cell could house up to 7 inmates, all guilty of similar minor infringements to my own (not actual criminals, thank fuck!) but I had no idea how many there might be in advance. I could potentially be serving my time in isolation, or perhaps I would be making new friends with my cell-buddies. Who knew?
Although I did learn some of their names, for the sake of my story I’ve elected to designate each of my cell mates with a nickname to reflect the dominant attributes I came to know them by.
When I was first shown to my cell, I met Happy and Sleepy (yes, we’re doing a 7-Dwarfs reference).
Inmate 0209 and the 7 Dwarfs
Happy, as you may have guessed, was a chipper fellow in his early 30s and a truck driver by trade. He was very welcoming and helpful in getting me set-up and familiar with the various routines, all of them very particular.
Happy’s command of English extended as far as the word ‘hello’ which to his credit, he was able to use to communicate anything from ‘it’s time for dinner’ to ‘give the guard your glasses’ or even ‘open the window, I need to shit’ all with an array of accompanying gestures to fill in the gaps.
Miming turned out to be the most useful means of communication during my time, but of my cell mates, Happy was by far the most proficient.
Sleepy was an old guy in his 60s. As an old guy, he was permitted to go to bed early. Like Happy, he too was friendly and helpful, although his old-man bowel was a less than welcome cellmate to share a room with.
Later that night we were introduced to a new cell buddy. As he entered, I saw the unmistakable expression of anxiety on his face; the very same no doubt on my own mere hours ago. It was interesting to look at a reflection of myself from the other side.
I greeted him as warmly as I could manage and soon afterwards dubbed him Sneezy. Sneezy was a laborer in his 30s and father of 2. I could be mistaken of course as Sneezy was less adept at miming than Happy and didn’t even have the word ‘hello’ mastered yet. He was a nice enough guy though and tried his best to talk with me, difficult though it was.
Sneezy was also a fairly typical example of the Chinese working class where hygiene was concerned. I can say with confidence that I have met only a few individuals more revolting than him in my lifetime. He was a heck of a nice guy though…
Of the other characters I had met thus far, I had been able to pick out another couple of dwarfs to fill out the squad. The two wardens (or counselors, as they preferred) I dubbed Doc and Grumpy.
Doc was a kind middle-aged fellow with cross-eyes and a little English under his belt. He was kind enough to lend me a (English) newspaper and wish me well.
Grumpy meanwhile was the well-built and stern mother-fucker who took a gander at my asshole. There’s not much else to say about him so let’s leave it at that.
That night was the most difficult. Long, cold, and miserable, the hours passed by at a crawl and I learned the meaning of boredom and captivity like never before.
Having lived in China for four years, barred windows are something I’ve become accustomed to. It was a curiosity at first that the Chinese were so security conscious, especially given the relatively low crime rate in the country (including the cities) but the knowledge that these bars were intended to keep people out was at least reassuring, if an eyesore.
Prison bars on the other hand are a whole different experience. It was during my first night in my cell that I gained a new appreciation for my barred window; that unlike every other set of iron grids I had ever been behind, these were the first which were designed to keep me from getting out.
It was an altogether unnerving realisation that these bars were not for my protection, but for the protection of everyone else.
There’s really not a whole lot one can do in a cell. Sometimes I stood. Sometimes I sat. Sometimes I paced back and forth in what little space I had. Thank god for the TV…
idiot-box TV was by far the most popular form of entertainment available and I was glad to have it, if only to distract myself from my own thoughts. If you’re unfamiliar with Chinese television, I highly recommend you watch some to get a glimpse of just how bizarre and downright inane entertainment can get.
I’ve previously stated that Chinese culture is not particularly nurturing of the creative arts, and the quality of television shows I witnessed during my 5 days more than confirms my greatest fears.
Evidently police action-dramas are particularly popular, although don’t expect a whole lot of action. Rather it seems that sitting around tables eating, drinking and talking more than qualify as a thrilling episode, occasionally mixed-in of course with the odd (and irrelevant) explosion and car-chase sequence.
There’s also this odd tendency for characters to drop random English words every now and then for absolutely no reason.
Don’t do that, China. It’s weird.
Despite my disbelief at how anyone could possibly find any of this even remotely entertaining, my cell mates couldn’t get enough of it. They’d stay glued to the TV for hours as it barraged them with hypnotic garbage of the lowest calibre.
There was only one time when we got to watch something that wasn’t Chinese, and I’m pleased to say that it was none other than X-men 2. I’ve seen the movie enough times to know the dialogue by heart, and I was thrilled to watch a Chinese dubbed version. And yet, for the first time, my cell mates could not have been less interested.
Clearly China knows its audience.
It was during my first night that I also became familiarised with a few of the strict rules of my temporary home-to-be. Given that the beds took up most of the floor space, it seemed reasonable that it was permissible to use them at any time. Not so, as I soon learned after having laid down for barely 5 minutes.
Doubtless the guard had spotted me on one of the two security cameras setup on opposite ends of the cell before coming down to scold me.
Apparently beds were for bed-time and chairs were for not-bed-time. I still curse the faceless government drone who decided 7 single-beds were a more cost-effective choice over bunk beds. Although I suppose comfort and personal-space for inmates was fairly low on their list of priorities.
Nighttime is a quiet time for inner-contemplation, or so I’ve been told. Having watched my fair share of prison movies, I was expecting a ‘lights out!’ call followed by, well… lights out.
Yet again though I underestimated China’s obsession with security. No such lights were turned out or even dimmed. It was as bright as day and we were expected to sleep. I don’t know about you, but I personally require absolute darkness to fall asleep. Even a small light is enough to keep me awake for hours, and so as you might imagine, sleep did not come easily that night or indeed the next few.
Thank goodness I had a hoodie.
to be continued…
Now on to Part 3