Chinese VISAs and Locked Doors: Settling into Mongolian Life

The main drama this week was applying for my VISA at the Chinese embassy I am going to Hong Kong September 12th for professional development. For those of you not familiar with teacher speak that means a three say conference to re-teach me how to be a teacher. The International School of Ulaanbaatar where I work uses a very specific international curriculum that I am not trained into so off I have to go. And to go I need a Chinese VISA. 

The Chinese are insane! Or at least their government is. First of all I had to get there about two hours before the door open to get at the front of the line. Of course then you have to make sure that there is an actual line forming as when you are in Asia shoving to the front is an art form. After that when the doors open I had to shove (really shove) and push my way into the building with what was hopefully the first lot. Somehow people who were at the back of the line manage to shove their way in. I ended up plastered up against an armed Chinese guard unable to move back while he is blocking the endurance. Onon, who is Mongolian and know the ways to work the system, managed to talk us into the building with the first lot. Then you have to get in line again and again you have to guard you place in line with your life as the people around you are amazing and sneaking ahead of you. Then I finally got to the guy to apply for my VISA (and here you have to do it in person) who spends approximately 30 minutes grilling me about where I work, and why I look so young, and why am I going to Hong Kong and on and on... Finally I got though but for paying them. Which it must be noted has to be in cash. Exact cash. Exact cash in Us money. Exact cash in US money with bill no earlier than 2000. I serious. I saw a woman go through everything and then be unable to get her VISA because her money was too old! After I finally got all that done I still had to fight my way out of the building past the guards and the scary crowd and ended up being pushed to the ground and skinning my knee. The moral of this tale? I am avoiding China like the plague and I am going to have to go through that every time I go through China, even if I am not staying there! 

The other drama this week was the lock on my door. Or rather the lack on one. I came home from work Monday unlocked my door and somehow got my key stuck in the deadbolts lock. Not only is it stuck in the lock but the deadbolt is stuck open! So I go downstairs to get help. That of course is always entertaining as I speak next to no Mongolian and the staff at the building I live in speaks next to no English. So I do my little spiel. In mime and very limited Mongolian. “New!” “Key” ” No!” Needless to say I am met with blank looks. I try several more combinations and finally hit upon one that at least alarms them enough (“She must want something!”) to follow me upstairs. After an hour and a half fiddling with it with the receptionist, one of the building guards, and the owner we finally get it out. I receive what I assume is a promise to have it fixed the next day (“Tomorrow…fix”) and I go about my evening. 

Tuesday: I don’t lock the deadbolt just the lock on the doorknob before going off to school. When I return I discover that my key won’t work on the lock on the doorknob today. So downstairs I go to mime some more in a desperate attempt to get into my apartment. In this instance the group follows me without too much drama but has no way to get into the apartment and they decide that breaking in is the best idea. So they spend about an hour trying to force my door open with every tool that is is in the building and an office chair. Actually, the whole thing made me more comfortable with the security of my apartment. If only I could get inside. After an hour they are ready to give up and the owner drags my upstairs to talk to Annie (who is Mongolian but who works at the same school as I do) get her to translate that the door is not opening and that I should find somewhere else to say that night. Needless to say I wasn’t having that and neither was Annie. She comes up with the plan of my going down the ladder of the fire escape from the apartment above me and getting in that way. The apartment above me incidentally is inhabited by about 6 Chinese men who have no idea what is going on and like me speak no Mongolian. Annie steamrolls her way in peels all this packing tape from around their door and gets me to the fire escape while six Chinese men and the manager watch. I climb down the ladder (to the accompanying “Be Carefu” from the very worried Chinese men) and into my apartment. I wish that I was making this up. Finally, I unlock the door easily from the inside and after promises to again have the door fixed am again left on my own. 

Wednesday: I come back to discover that I have no doorknob. The deadbolt is locked so my door is secure but there is NO DOORKNOB. I could have lived with that for a night if I had been able to lock my deadbolt from the inside. But no… Now I can’t even keep my door shut let alone locked. I finally called Tuul. She is the deputy Director of the school. She demands to talk to the receptionist who is a young girl tonight and all alone. Tuul manages to make the receptionist cry. Then the receptionist and I spend another hour going up and down the elevator trying to find a solution to the problem without tools or the ability to communicate with one another. At one point she puts the owner of the building on the phone with me who tells me (in her limited English) just to leave me door the way it is as the building is very safe. Needless to say that raised my blood pressure a bit. I just keep repeating into the phone “The door won’t SHUT!” Needless to say we thoroughly frustrate one another. Meanwhile Tuul is on the phone telling whoever she can reach to fix my door and fix it now! After much fiddle with the door on my part and the part of the receptionist we discover that my key will open the deadbolt from the outside and that her key will lock the door from the inside. That is enough of a solution for me and armed with two keys I finally am able to go to sleep. 

The next day I have a new doorknob and a new lock. I suppose if there was a moral to this story it would be that I need to learn to mime better. 

Stay tuned!