Breakthrough

أُولَـٰئِكَ عَلَىٰ هُدًى مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

THOSE ARE UPON [RIGHT] GUIDANCE FROM THEIR LORD, AND IT IS THOSE WHO ARE THE SUCCESSFUL. [Al-Baqarah 2:5]

On March 17, 2017, I, Cairene, finally got on a plane from Cairo to Guangzhou. The days before I received my visa, I had been busy with checking flight schedules and prices. After some digging, I eventually found the perfect connection: a direct, red eye flight from Egypt to China on Friday, a hotel for the night near Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, and an onward flight to Xi’an on Saturday morning. I could have found cheaper options, but they would have been less convenient, as not only would they have been very exhausting due to several long transits, but also would not have allowed as much luggage as Egyptair does – 46 kg plus carry-on.

As I had reserved an emergency aisle window seat, I had all the legroom I could wish for, and was able to get about 5 hours of sleep above the clouds. This amount was enough to get me through Friday afternoon and evening, and ensured that I could go to bed in a timely manner in the evening. I spent the remaining flight time eating and watching the Academy Award winning musical “La La Land”. Despite the high praise from critics and success with the audience, I found the movie a little boring, and the music average; I think there are much better musicals out there, “Dancer in the Dark” is one example.

Once I reached Guangzhou, it was time for immigration, baggage claim, and customs. As Guangzhou is quite a busy airport with many flights arriving simultaneously, the waiting time to go through immigration was about an hour; reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies helped pass the time. The immigration officer was friendly and quick, something you don’t find at every border, and there was no further wait for luggage or customs. Make sure to have a pen ready to fill out the arrival form.

I then proceeded to the hotel information desk in order to find out about where to board the free hotel shuttle. The nice lady behind the counter told me where to find it and I followed her directions, only to find out that her directions didn’t make any sense. The next person I asked was from the bus ticket office, and her directions – different ones – weren’t helpful either. Fed up with being misdirected, I figured I could just as well take a taxi for the short distance. The nice driver helped me with my luggage and asked me whereto I was headed. In response I showed him the address on my phone and asked him to call the hotel for directions. They connected us to an English speaking lady who told me to get out of the car and wait for a few minutes where I was, a driver from the hotel would come and pick me up. The taxi driver unloaded my bags, we said goodbye, and a very short time later I was picked up by the shuttle. I would like to note that the taxi driver did not ask for any money for his help – in Egypt the same situation would have required some baksheesh.

Another thing I would like to mention is that the hotel I originally booked for the night is one that only accepts Chinese guests, not foreigners; a fact I wasn’t aware of at the time of booking. Nonetheless, they arranged a room at another hotel for me that would accept foreign nationals, albeit at a somewhat higher price, but with great service. (I’m speaking of a price difference of roughly 15 Euros, so no big deal.) The hotel provided the airport shuttle both ways, a wakeup call, and a private ensuite room; all in all it cost around 25 Euros and proved to be more convenient and only slightly more expensive than spending the night at the airport on a bench, eating expensive food, and paying for a shower and luggage storage over night. After a long, hot shower I was quite refreshed, and got a good night’s sleep. The time difference between China and Egypt is six hours, and I was easily able to adapt to the difference.

On Saturday morning the hotel staff woke me up, I packed my bags once more, and was taken to the airport. All went well and I boarded the plane, a Hainan Airways flight to Xi’an. Rarely have I been on such a turbulent flight! There must have been strong winds above the clouds, as we were shaken about half the time. Regardless, the plane was comfortable with enough legroom, and the staff professional and courteous. The pre-departure flight safety video was more interesting than that of many other airlines, as it showed the beautiful Hainan beaches, and emphasized protecting the environment. On arrival there was no wait for the luggage, and I proceeded to the exit, where I was to be picked up by Rita from Buckland.

I was in for a surprise!

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Setbacks (May 2016 – March 2017)

إلا الذين صبروا وعملوا الصالحات أولئك لهم مغفرة وأجر كبير

“Except for those who are patient and do righteous deeds; those will have forgiveness and great reward.” [Hud 11:11].

May 2016

Encountering setbacks is not as bad as it may seem. We recently had one on our path to imbibing China. It could have been easy, we were rejected, now we need to get over it and find a better way, even though it might be more challenging.

Sabr is the Islamic virtue of “patience” or “endurance” or more accurately “perseverance” and “persistence”. […] It teaches to remain spiritually steadfast, […], specifically when facing opposition or encountering problems/setbacks/unexpected & unwanted results. Source: Wikipedia

What would have been easy? Well, we applied for teaching jobs with my former employer, Buckland, and we would have known exactly what to expect from our new life in China. We would have known how reliable they are, what would be expected of us, and we had already built our plans for imbibing China on the presumption that they would hire us.

We did not get a response.

We were rejected.

But we didn’t give up!

I, Cairene, applied to other schools. Very quickly I received positive answers from possible employers. All seemed to go well, until one recruiter pointed out that I would need the original of my university degree certificate in order to be granted a working permit, and that the certificate had to be notarized. In May, however, I had only just finished my exams and was still waiting for my results and the certificate. My university was unable to expedite my results and certificate, and we thus decided to postpone our move to China from September 2016 to February 2017.

August 2016

Exam results came out, and I was officially done with my studies. No certificate in sight, though. According to my university’s website, certificates would be issued THREE to SIX months after graduation. In other words, I could expect to receive mine some time between November 2016 and January 2017.

December 2016

My degree certificate finally reached my mum in Germany, who mailed it to a friend, who then brought it to Cairo a few days later. I sent out applications again and posted my resume on Dave’s ESL Cafe. Within a short time I had many great offers, much more promising than half a year earlier. It took me several days to work through all the responses and weed out the uninteresting or unsuitable ones. Not only had I received many offers based on my applications, but my resume also created a lot of interest from other employers. One of those e-mails put a big smile on my face – from my former employer.

In my answer I told the recruiter that I was happy to hear from them again, after my previous application had not come to fruition. Knowing their salary range, however, I thought they would not be able to offer me the position I was looking for at that time. Imagine my surprise when two or three days later I received their answer that they could match all my expectations with a position in Hunan province!

January 2017

After thoroughly discussing all options with my husband Rora, and secretly having made up my mind probably as soon as I had the first e-mail from Buckland, we decided to sign with my former employer at the end of December. I spent all of January collecting, translating, and certifying all the necessary documents that were requested in order to process the working permit. On top of that, I was busy selling all our belongings, which, fortunately, worked out surprisingly well. The plan was to finish all the paperwork and be ready to leave Egypt in mid-February.

I encountered several setbacks when I was trying to get information from the Chinese Embassy in Cairo. From their not very informative website I knew they are open until 2:30 pm on workdays. I reached the embassy at 12:05 pm, only to be told that the consular section closes at 12 pm. The next day I visited the embassy much earlier. I was glad to find out that the waiting times are minimal, compared to other embassies and government offices I had dealt with in the past. The clerk was friendly and able to give me a lot of information, but, as it turned out later, missed telling me several important steps that caused further delay.

One such delay was trying to get my university degree certificate notarized. At first I wasn’t told that I needed some stamps from the British authorities, as that is where my degree is from, and from the Egyptian authorities. Imagine my annoyance when I went to the Chinese embassy to have my certificate notarized, only to be told: “Not today. Get some other stamps first.” Taxi. British Embassy. “Can’t help you, go to the British Council.” Taxi. “Hello, yes, we can help you. Go online to pay 15 GBP, get the confirmation number, then come back.” Taxi home. Online payment. Sleep. Next day: taxi. British Council. “Ok, we see you paid the fee to your university. You also have to pay us money. Come back in one month when we have confirmation from your university.”

Wait, what?

ONE MONTH???

There must be some other way.

I have an eye for detail, and noticed that the sample notarized degrees my employer sent me both said “this document is a true, correct, complete and unaltered COPY”… I tried to clarify this with Buckland, and while in their answers they still wrote about a “notarized degree” but their samples clearly said something different, I thought why not give it a try, and find a notary who can notarize a copy of my certificate. This was easily done and set me back 50 US$. I handed in this notarized copy as soon as I had it, and Buckland said it was all right that way. By the end of January it was confirmed that I had handed in all necessary documents, and that my working permit could be processed. This was supposed to take around one week. Enough time to ensure a mid-February departure.

Shortly thereafter I received another e-mail that informed me that we had to have an official health check after all. “Oh, and Chinese government offices will be closed for a week because of Chinese New Year.” Good-bye mid-February departure!

February 2017

We surpassed this obstacle, too, and once more were told that all the documents were in order, and the working permit would be taken care of within a week. On the day I thought I would receive an e-mail that says “Good news, we have your working permit!”, I received an e-mail that said the following instead: “Bad news. We can’t process your working permit for Hunan province. They say you would have to notarize your degree in your home country.”

ARGH!

This, however, was not all. “We can send you to Shaanxi province instead! We’ll get your working permit in a week!”

Another week… By now it was already February 20th!

While I did not mind the change of place, I was shocked when I saw the pictures of the supposed teacher’s apartment: no more than one room that included a bed, a microwave, a fridge, several tiny classroom desks, and a locker. How are two people supposed to live in such a small space?

Fortunately this misunderstanding was quickly cleared up, and it turned out that the foreign teacher’s apartment is actually a 2 bedroom apartment with a huge dining/living room and a separate kitchen. Much better for a couple! We agreed to this change of place, and, believe it or not, on March 3rd the working permit was issued and on the way to Egypt!

By this time the British Council was able to certify the authenticity of my degree certificate, and Rora took it to the Egyptian authorities to do the same. They managed to get ink all over the front of my degree. Not nice. Really not nice! Eventually I got the notarization from the Chinese embassy, too. Not that it was needed anymore at this point, but who knows what the future might bring.

March 2017

The next plan was to go to the embassy as soon as the working permit and invitation letters arrived and apply for the visa. I would have liked to get the next-day visa, then book a flight, then be off to China. By this point you can imagine that, once more, things did not go according to plan. Rush service for work visa was not available, as issuing the visa depends on a confirmation from the Chinese authorities.

We were told the visa might be ready in a day or in a week.

I got it on March 14th.

And some more problems at the embassy.

Let’s just say that if you need submit proof of payment for several things to the embassy, it is best to get several invoices from the bank, as one invoice with the total amount confuses embassy employees.

The only thing left to do now was to book a flight to China and say goodbye to everyone.

Sabr!