On my three-month anniversary with China, it was time to renew my visa. This was complicated enough in the US, a system that doesn’t run entirely on bribes and connections. Dealing with UMass administration for five-and-a-half years of college was good preparation for dealing with the Yantai Public Security. The Yantai Public Security Office is a nightmare, specifically the kind you’d have after reading Orwell and Kakfa right before bed. It’s a day-long process full of “Mei you”, “bu fan bian de” and “The procedure has changed,”
To renew my visa, I needed a small photograph for an ID, not a photo ID as I was originally told. Lily took us to a photo place nearby.
“Maybe the man feels a little nervous to take a picture of a foreigner,” Lily told me as we entered the combined tailorshop and glamourshots headquarters.
“If he does, then he’s the only person in China who does,” I said. I am photographed daily. Strangers wrap their arms around us while their friends take pictures, and Fresca was once handed a squirming baby for a photo op. A group of Chinese tourists ignored the flag-lowering in Tianamon Square in order to take pictures of Fresca and me sitting and breathing. I was filmed one day buying bananas while the cameraman narrated the movie (“Now the lao wei is asking the price. Now she’s saying she wants 6 bananas,”). And of course, the open-minded businessmen in Qingdao took pictures of the American girls who wouldn’t sleep with them.
The photographer agreed to take my picture, but I couldn’t wear my sweater because it’s black and too dark for a photo. I pulled it off, but I wasn’t allowed to wear my white blouse either, because the background is white. Beneath the blouse, I had a burgundy tank top, but when I pulled off my blouse, photographer and his assistant were shocked that I wanted indecent shoulder porn for my visa.
Like most little girls, I wanted to be a fashion model. But usually when I daydreamed about an entire entourage preparing me for a photo shoot, I imagined them speaking English and sharing some of my ideas about personal space.
Once the picture of me in a towel was taken, the photographer started photoshopping my hair. I asked why I needed to look hot, I mean, if I have to impress someone in the visa office, can’t I show a little neck and shoulder? But all my requests to hurry up and print were met with “Just one moment!” “Just one moment!” is apparently a Chinese euphemism like “Ming tian!” and we sat there until the photographer had edited my half-Italian curls into straight Asian hair.
Stick collects unflattering photos of me, the way normal people collect shotglasses or stamps. I think this picture, from the towel over my shoulders to my photoshopped Chinese hairstyle might knock off my GRE ID pictures as the centerpiece of his collection.