I arrived in Shanghai for the beginning of the second year of my master’s last week. I landed and met a friend from Paris, everything went incredibly smoothly. The first day we shopped for essentials, the second day we set up bank accounts and bought bikes and SIM cards, the third I collapsed into bed with a fever. Lesson learned: rest a little when you arrive in a new country with a vastly different climate from your own. After a couple of days of recuperation, I was back to life again, though, so all was well.
For the past week there has been at least one administrative task to fulfil each day. Most have been simple, but the hard part is the queueing. One hour for the student card, one hour for course registration… I almost always need a little lie down once back in my room before being ready to even think about socialising with new or old friends. Luckily socialising with my Paris friends usually involves food so I have motivation to drag myself back out the door.
Whilst most administrative tasks have been easy, a couple have made me sweat. Firstly, in the first days I decided to put off buying a Wi-Fi pass. When I eventually decided to get one, the shop in my halls had sold out and sent me to the Unicom shop on campus. I went there to find it closed and was told to come back the next day. I went back the next day and was told they had run out. The following day I went again and was told ‘tomorrow, come in the morning’. So the following day I got up at 8am and joined a queue of at least 100 people. After a two-hour wait with my French friend, during which we got to know two Belgian girls, took turns going to buy fresh juice, getting an umbrella to shield us from the scorching sun, and running back to the dorms to satisfy the document requirements people around us were mentioning, we finally made it. They took our details and told us to come back later. I had to lie down in my room for a couple of hours to recover from the heat, and sure enough when I went back later my Wi-Fi pass was waiting for me. Thus a task that took my friends all of five minutes at the shop in our halls consumed a good five hours of my life with a lot of going back and forth. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Secondly, the medical check. Our predecessors had given us some tips on this important administrative task. Here in China, students staying for more than six months need a full medical check in order to apply for a residence permit to replace their 30-day entry visa. I was given an appointment which would have really pushed me for time in getting the results in order to go to the police and apply for my residence permit before my visa expired. This was also the case for some of my friends, so we took our predecessors’ advice and went on the first day of appointments to see if we couldn’t get it done earlier. After one hour in the queue, someone checked our appointment dates and three of my friends were taken out of the queue. I somehow managed to get through unnoticed and obtain and fill out an application form. Although time consuming, that was the easy part. Once in the queue for the actual medical check I was told ‘no, come back next week’. I begged and was sent to the appointment room. There they told me I couldn’t change my appointment. I went back to the queue and begged again. Then I was taken to the ‘teacher’ (head nurse in charge, I guess) who walked me around for a while. We ended up back in the appointment room where the appointment lady told me again, a bit louder, that I just couldn’t change my appointment. At this point I went upstairs feeling defeated. My Dutch friend told me to stop being so British and get back down there and argue. When they reopened for the afternoon, I went back. I started chatting to a Welsh lad who heard my situation and asked if I would like him to ask in Chinese. I accepted his offer and when the lady who had already sent me away to the appointment room twice returned to her desk, he chatted and laughed with her for five minutes before casually throwing in a request to change my appointment date. Without even hesitating she took my form and changed it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. At that moment the appointment lady came to the desk and asked why on earth she was changing my appointment. She reassured her that it would be fine. Suddenly, I was whisked off to the medical bus parked outside for blood tests, an x-ray, ECC, ultrasound (?!) and blood pressure checks. On my way back I bumped into the appointment lady who gave me a hearty laughed and asked ‘hao de ma?’ (all ok?).
It’s easy to get frustrated with the bureaucracy and slowness of everything here, but it’s getting easier for me to just laugh it off and accept that this is just what I’m in for for the next year. Also, while it’s exhausting to stand in a queue for two to three hours, that feeling of relief when you can finally sit down and relax is rather nice.