Since the following post was written by my room/business-mate as a funny story to send home to her friends, anywhere that you see her mention "K" she is referring to me.
As a special Thanksgiving surprise, K and I got a call from the latest office where we had left our growing pile of registration papers, telling us to stop in on Friday morning to visit the head of the department and sign a few more papers.
Meeting department heads is always a big deal; getting them to like you can cut down on official requirements, speed along important paperwork, and generally make life a little easier. Incurring their suspicion, on the other hand, can cause turn a two-day requirement into two weeks or more of head-scratching waiting.
Upon entering this particular office, I immediately glanced around the room to try to determine who the main person we were going to see was, and what kind of assistants were helping him. Everyone looked about the same -- Asian (of course), male, middle-aged, even a promising comb-over or two. We were immediately told to sit down by the man stationed closest to the desk, which I took to be a good sign, since acknowledging your presence usually means the leader know why you're there. The lone open
chair was sitting next to a computer with a huge fluffy stuffed bunny sitting in the middle of a pile of fall leaves as the screensaver; an odd choice in the middle of the solemn dark wood office furniture and
sparse decorations. I commented loudly in the majority language to K about how I thought the bunny was cute, hoping to score a few points. K, as the senior business partner, took the seat while I stood attentively behind her, trying to look like someone competent enough to open and run a business.
After a few minutes of sitting awkwardly, some kind of meeting between the middle-aged men concluded. They shook hands and shuffled out the door, leaving (I assumed) the leader we had come to see. He looked up at us."So, which of you two can write in characters?" he asked.
K and I looked quickly at each other."I guess that'd be me." I answered timidly.
Here's another thing you should probably know -- the business we're trying to open isn't just another restaurant or coffee shop. It's a translation company. And when you've lived in this country for as long as we have, and you've written all of your documents in the local language yourself, there is a certain expectation of your language abilities. In America, this means being able to chat and joke and understand what's going on around you. But in Central Asia, where crowded classrooms and a
dislike of making mistakes influence education, written fluency is the far more important.
"You can write?" the leader said, looking directly at me."I can write a little," I answered. This is the standard response of every student, regardless of if they are completely fluent or can barely write their own name. Unfortunately, in my case it was also true.
"Come here," he said."I need you to write one more thing."He gestured to the leader-chair looming behind his huge desk. Normally, crossing to the official's side of a desk during an office visit is a faux pas that will cost you an extra week or two in document processing time, but his gesture was unmistakable. I lowered myself gingerly down into the chair, half-wondering if there wasn't some kind of trapdoor that was about to swallow me and all of our pages of detailed paperwork.
"Here," the official put several blank pieces of paper and a pen down in front of me."You brought your passports, right?"
"Of course! And copies, too."Please. Only an amateur would come to a high-ranking official's office without multiple copies of everything from passport and visa, to rental contracts and every official stamped document we've received so far in the process. I dug for the copies in our document bag while K covered for my momentary shuffling by drawing the official's attention to her actual passport.
"Yes, well as you can see, here," he pointed to K's visa page, "You entered our country on..."
"August 16th " K filled in quickly, in case the official didn't know how to read the page filled in entry and exit stamps.
"Exactly. And you came on..."
"August 2nd ," I added, pushing the copies across the desk and pointing to my own visa page.
"Yes. So all we need from you is a document saying that."He looked at me again.
I stared at the blank pages in front of me."You want me to write..."
"Just put your names at the top, and then write 'we entered the country on August 16th and 2nd , respectively, and have remained here until today's date."
My hand was shaking as I wrote our names, first in characters, and then in English."We... en-ter-ed..." I was suddenly very conscious of how sloppy my writing must look, like a 4th grader's printing. And on a
business document, no less."... entered the country on..." the official's gaze never left my hand. "re-spec-tive..." wait a minute, how was that written? If I wrote the wrong character, would he kick us out of
his office? Or make us do everything over?
"Re-spec-tive-ly," he said, slowly and clearly, as he drew the outline of the character in the air.
"Right," I nodded, copying out the character stroke-by-stroke.
The official waited for me to finish the sentence, and then continued dictating, "We hereby apply to the Business Bureau to register and open our translation and consultation company. Then sign both of your names and date it at the bottom."
I nodded again and continued scribbling away as fast as I could. Despite having written most of these characters recently, at least on my computer, many seemed to have flown out of my head. The official
continued to stare at me, which only caused my hand to shake even more."We... hereby... apply..." crud, is it with the little radical that looks like an 'i'or without?
The official raised his eyebrows."Like this," he said, drawing in the air again.
"Of course. We hereby apply... to register..." K pushed her registration card to me across the desk so I could copy the correct character for "register" from that."...to register... our translation..." K nodded toward the paperwork stack on the right side of the desk."That stack is ours, all the characters are on there," she whispered. I breathed a sigh of relief, and pulled the top paper on the stack toward me.
After what felt like several days later, I signed my name at the bottom of the page, and passed it over to K, who signed as well.
"Okay, just two more to go," said the official.
"Two more?"I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
"Here," he pulled a blank sheet of paper to his side of the desk. "Just copy this sentence above your passport and visa copies, and sign your names underneath."I thought I detected a tiny smile as he wrote out, in printing as clear as any elementary school teacher, exactly what he wanted. I didn't even stop to try to read what he had written, but immediately went to work copying it out on the other two documents.
With everything copied and signed and dated, the official thanked us for our time and sent us on our way."We'll call you when this is processed," he added as we headed out the door.
I didn't let myself breathe again until we were out of the office."He was actually really nice," K observed."And patient!" I added.
We were still chatting away our nervous energy when we got on the elevator going back down to the lobby. Since it was lunch time, we were squished in with all sorts of different uniforms, all making awkward small talk about the day so far.
Suddenly, at the tenth floor, the doors opened, and everyone but us abruptly left the elevator, while a new group of officials got on in their place. They continued to wait for the next elevator while ours,
only about half-full, continued down.
When we stopped at the seventh floor, the doors opened again. The group of officials waiting there saw who we were riding with and immediately stepped back away from the elevator."No, no, you go ahead, we'll catch the next one," they all exclaimed in their most polite tones, smiling and nodding all the while. The doors closed again.
K and I looked at each other."Should we have gotten off the elevator too?"I whispered."Who are we riding with?"
I guess even scary high-ranking officials are scared of people who are ranked higher than they are.
We never found out the identity of our elevator buddies, but did we manage to make it out of the building without further incident. So now we're just waiting for news on this latest batch of documents. If we get approval, we'll have two of the three main certificates done, which would be huge.