I’ve Started Talking To My Mint Plant

I’m having dreams about talking with people. About sitting in beer halls and talking about normal things. About meeting people for dinner. About speaking to people in English and in Italian and Spanish. I desperately try to find a seat, but there are so many people all together that it’s standing room only.

And I wake up every morning and say hello to my plants. I ask them how they slept and tell them that I will make sure to give them water in a few minutes. We have a snake plant we’ve had for almost a year and a new arrival, a peppermint bunch.

“Hold on just a minute,” I say. “I’ll be right back to talk more after I have a shower.”

It’s day 53 here for us.

This post is continued on the place it was actually supposed to be posted, but I have to post it here to get around a Facebook ban (undeserved and unresolved). CLICK THROUGH HERE PLEASE

How to Get Notarized Documents for Fuzhou, China (Working as an English Teacher)

If you’ve been hired by a company in Fuzhou, China you need to read this article carefully! 

Welcome! You’ve entered the fray just at the time that the requirements for documents became somewhat more stringent. Lucky you.  

Don’t worry, there are several teachers who have been through this process already and we’ve put our heads together to help you out. This guide will:  

  • Help you juggle terminology like “legalization” and “true original”  
  • Prevent you from freaking out when something goes wrong 
  • Provide useful strategies for negotiating with your local authorities in the US  
  • Act as a checklist for what you may need for your visa for China  

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Documentation requirements are completely up to the Chinese government and the local authorities in Fuzhou. Their rules may change at any time, without warning. If you have any questions about this process, please consult your HR contact for more information.  

In addition, your personal circumstances may be different to other US teachers who’ve gone before you. Pay close attention to the rules and adapt as you go.  

Before You Start

Just a tiny bit of preaching. This is a complex process with a lot of stressful and expensive steps. Keep in mind these important points:

  • Nobody is specifically out to get you. Bureaucracy just crushes everyone beneath its wheels.
  • Immigrants are required to do all this (and MORE) to come to the USA for a visa. Keep this in mind when politicians spout bullshit about “open borders” and how “easy” it is to get into another country for work.
  • You need to have extra money set aside. This whole process can cost upwards of $1000, especially when you consider that you will have to go in person to the Embassy or a Consulate when you actually apply for the visa.
  • Use good Bureaucratic ninja skills! I wrote about this here. 

Terms that you need to know  

Notarization: the process of going to a State-appointed person who can place a stamp onto a document for you  

Legalization: the full process for each required document, which includes at least four steps  

  1. Obtain the documents needed  
  1. Have a local notary certify the document is true and original 
  1. Obtain a state-level apostille stamp from the secretary of state from your home state   
  1. Send the documents to the Chinese Consulate with jurisdiction over your hometown  

Apostille: official documentation stamp that is used for international immigration  

Consulate: official document and services center in a country that is subject to the government of the embassy of another country  

Embassy: official center for diplomatic relations and services within another country, which is technically a part of the nation that has jurisdiction over it  

First Steps  

There are several ways to obtain a work permit and residency card for Fuzhou. You will most likely follow one of the following two paths, although your circumstances may change what documents you will need and how to process them.  

Inexperienced Teachers  

  • A four-year degree from a University  
  • A clean criminal background check from your local state (NOT FBI Background Check. We’ll explain why in a moment.)  
  • A 120-Hour TEFL at minimum (or the equivalent certificate), preferably from a US-based company for authentication purposes  

Experienced Teachers  

  • A four-year degree from a University  
  • A clean criminal background check from your local state (NOT FBI Background Check. We’ll explain why in a moment.)  
  • One or more letters of recommendation from previous employers (THESE DO NOT NEED TO BE LEGALIZED, but you do need to send them to the HR department in Fuzhou to obtain your work permit)  

Obtain these documents, and follow the specific steps below for the background checks.  

State Background Check  

Every state has an equivalent of the FBI that does investigations within the state. You may want to call them before asking for your background check to ensure that they are able to help you with all the following steps. (Please note that some states refer to this as an arrest record, or by other terms).  

Degree Notarization  

I sincerely hope that you went to school in-state. If not, I apologize to inform you that you may have to drive/fly to your university to obtain the necessary signatures in this case.  

TEFL Certificate  

This is why it’s important to obtain your TEFL in your home country. This document will need to be put through the same treatment as the others. If it is from another country, it may be very difficult indeed to get the legalization done.  

The Problem(?)

The local government of Fuzhou is very strict about the requirements for these documents. You must be very careful with the wording of the documents in order to get through and make it to the plane and to your new life in China.  

The government will reject any document that has the wrong wording on it.  

The government will reject your documents if they are not signed for properly.  

You may have to pay up front for multiple rounds of legalization in the case that things go wrong (Companies should compensate you for the cost of the documents).  

They only recently made these changes, and the wording is most likely based on a misunderstanding about how notarization works in the United States. The wording that is required is most likely based on the wording for UK, Canadian, or other English speaking countries’ practices. In these countries, the role of a notary public is much more like a lawyer in the USA. They cannot affix their seal to a document without first authenticating its veracity.  

However, in the US, the notary public CANNOT typically verify that a document is authentic. They simply witness a signature, or administer a legally-binding oath, and then affix their stamp. Typically, US notary public procedures are done on “True Copies” which certify that the original was present and that the notary saw the person who signed it give their oath.  

Unfortunately, this is not adequate for the local government’s requirements. Even if you’ve done a visa for China before, or even a visa for Fuzhou before, the requirements are likely to be different from the previous times.  

In Fuzhou, the documents must have the following wording:  

I have verified that the original document is genuine and I have no reason to doubt that the facts set out therein are true and correct.  

For Fuzhou, the documents MUST NOT have the following wording:  

‘Swearing’ wording can’t appear on the notarization documents  

This is where we get to the possible problem. Your notary public may tell you that they cannot put the correct wording on the documents.

Rejected Examples  


Approved Examples 


It may feel like a catch-22, but we’ll get you through it. Follow the steps below for examples of how the wording must be done, and how to finesse your way to success in this epic documentation journey. Let’s start with the criminal record check. 

Criminal History Check (Background Check) Notarization  

You need to obtain a record of your arrests in your state of residence. Please do NOT obtain a national FBI Background Check. If you do, it may be impossible to get the wording required for the notarization. The FBI is notoriously difficult to contact and they are not very flexible about their documentation.  

Here are the steps to obtain a state or local criminal history record:  

  1. Contact the local Bureau of Investigations Identifications Unit. Calling by phone is best.  
  2. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL background check BEFORE they return it to you.  
  3. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement.  
  4. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from your HR Department.  
  5. Confirm what you must do to obtain the check (fill out application forms, possibly obtain fingerprints from a police station).  
  6. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  7. Wait about one week.  
  8. When your background check arrives, CHECK it very carefully. Scan the document and send it to your HR Department.  

You should be prepared to obtain a new background check and pay once more if your first one does not have the correct wording. In some cases, teachers have been the very first in their home state to request Fuzhou’s required wording.

Be polite, but firm about the wording. Without it, you won’t be able to stay in Fuzhou.  

University Degree Notarization  

  1. Contact Office of the Registrar at your alma mater. Calling by phone is best.  
  2. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL DEGREE (either on the front or the back).  
  3. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement. Some universities may not have processed this type of notarization before. You can mention that the United Arab Emirates and South Korea require this type of notarization for teachers in addition to the local Fuzhou government.  
  4. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from the HR Department.  
  5. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  6. Most likely, you will have to appear IN PERSON to obtain this notarization.  
  7. Before the notary and registrar official apply their signatures, CHECK the wording one more time against the exact wording sent to you from your company.  
  8. Once you have the notarization on your genuine, original degree you need to scan the degree and send the file to your HR representative.  

Keep in mind once more that you may be the very first person in the history of your university to request this form of notarization! Trailblazing is often fun, but can easily get a little bogged down in the weeds. Stay polite, but be firm about the wording.  

TEFL Certificate Notarization 

  1. Contact the TEFL Certificate issuing authority. Calling by phone is best.  
  1. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL CERTIFICATE (either on the front or the back).  
  1. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement.  
  1. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from the HR Department.  
  1. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  1. Once you have the notarization on your genuine, original TEFL Certificate you need to scan the document and send the file to the HR representative.  

NOTE: Many TEFL Certificate companies are not based in the United States. If you need to go through the legalization process with a TEFL Certificate from a different country, please note that this ENTIRE process must be completed in that nation. This includes the official stamp from the Chinese Embassy/Consulate. This is likely to be very expensive and a real pain in the mass. Talk closely with the HR Representative from your company about this situation.  


It’s possible that a notary public will tell you that this wording is not possible. There are a few things that you can do to try to work around this problem.  

  • Ask if the word “sworn” can simply be omitted. Check with the HR Department first, but in some cases a “signature witnessing” statement may be a workaround.  
    • In this case, the person who made/issued the document signs a statement about its true and genuine nature in front of the notary public, and the notary witnesses that the signature was done by the person who signed the statement on the date they did so.  
    • Make sure that the person whose signature is witnessed does NOT include any “sworn” language! 
  • Ask if the wording could be changed to “I certify that this is the original” on the notary public statement. “I affirm that this is the true original” may also work. Think of synonyms for the word “swear.”  
  • Appear in person at the office whenever possible. Negotiation in person is often more effective than over email or on the phone.  
  • Everyone hates to be “that guy,” but you may have to ask to speak to a manager. Go up the chain of command at your local Bureau of Investigations if necessary.  
  • Contact your local State and Congressional representatives’ offices and ask them for assistance. This may take a long time, but in dire need it might be worth a shot.

The Age of Instant Contact

I launched my stand up comedy alternative universe career last night. It was at a Hanoi Slam, a thing where people stand on a table in a garden and tell stories. It’s a fun thing, but I have to admit that I was probably crazy when I decided to tell a story three days before my 30th birthday last October. Just before Tet, I told this story of Noroparty 2017 in Iceland and won a chicken, some wine, and some sausages.

This time, I shared the table with comedian Russell Howard’s mum. Comedy Central UK was filming. I had to sing a waver so that they can use the B-roll of my awkward-as-fuck secret handshake attempt with the 3rd place speaker.

The theme was “First Time” and I talked about my first ever boy-girl party, where there was a lot of potential for first times of everything but none of them really materialized. I included the anecdote about how I have a picture of the morning after that party, on the first day of 2006. It was one of the first photos of me that ever went on Facebook.

I came of age in the prime of Facebook. Suddenly, we had a Wall to write on. Then status updates. Then ways to change the verb in status updates that dropping the copula Be and suddenly made everyone sound like a cavewoman (“Coleen sleeping. Coleen out with friends. Coleen reading a book.”).

I came of age as a traveller, too. 2007 was the first time that I travelled abroad alone. 18 months after that first picture was uploaded to thefacebook.com, I stepped off a plane in Rome and promptly realised I didn’t know how to flush an Italian toilet. I had never seen a toilet with a chain before.

Travelling became motion became inertia, and here I am in Hanoi in 2018, twelve and a half years after that first photo of that first party was uploaded. It’s oddly silent on Facebook these days.

Of course, I’m living 12,000km away from the city of my birth. The opposite side of the planet. It’s my seventh (at least) international home in those twelve and a half years since New Year’s Eve 2005, and I find that the Cambridge Analytica news cycle really does seem to be having an effect on Facebook use.

Facebook was going away even a few years ago, when people my age, who had it first, realised how much of a minefield their old postings were and purged them. I left the first photo.

At some point, you and everyone’s mum had Facebook. This meant that being part of a group called “I like to stare at shiny stuff” was a bit faux pas.

At some point, potential employers began asking for your Facebook password so they could see all your drunken college photos and even the ones you don’t have a clue who snapped in the aftermath of a party where no one really got all that drunk because you were all so square that two bottles of Zima tasted like rebellion.

At some point, people my age just stopped posting.

It’s not that I’m some Facebook apologist. I hate the fact that it stalks me night and day, listening in on snippets of messages and recommending really poorly-targeted adverts for me (You are a Chinese grandmother who loves japanese video games, living in Korea, right? Have some more diapers.) It’s the mark of my nomadic life that I kept in touch with most people via Facebook over the years, scattered as all my friends are around the world.

I have 522 friends on Facebook, but I probably know the phone numbers of ten of them. I don’t know anyone’s address. I didn’t know that some friends who I considered to be close were pregnant or married or living in NYC until years after the fact.

Let’s be honest. People just don’t use Facebook much anymore. It’s more scrapbook than addressbook.

Because I came of age at the time that it was blooming, right on the crest of Social Media and the openness of the Internet of the late 2000s…I knew Facebook before it was cool. I know it now, full of curated pictures or ones from 2014 or inactivated or filled with posts about what new product to buy. I don’t see it being used for what it once was. I don’t see people keeping in touch.

Sean, my old colleague in Shanghai (and never my Facebook friend) is a nomad of a different class than me. He’s older, wiser, and he’s been to Iran. He’s been on the road for more than 20 years, seeing the world and living a life much like the one I aspire to on my bravest days. We used to chat over coffee at 8AM on Saturdays and Sundays in the Teacher’s Room, Shanghai’s sunlight streaming in on the days we spent 10 hours indoors through the barred windows of the fifth floor.

“You know, before the Internet I would just say, ‘I’m going to Africa. I’ll be in touch’ and my family wouldn’t know where I was for six months,” he once told me.

“Now you just see people ‘travelling’ but sitting in their hostel kitchen on their iphone on Facebook.”

I’d often thought of that. It might be in my Camino Chile blog somewhere, from when I moved to Patagonia but stopped off in Santiago to get robbed and learn approximately five Spanish phrases in a crash course that elicited the worst deja vu I’ve ever felt. Something about the blue walls. Like the blue walls of the Teacher’s Room in Xujijahui, five years later.

Sean heard me say, “It’s almost like there isn’t real travel anymore. That part of the adventure is gone.” He nodded.

“I don’t bother with photos,” he stated. “My travels are for me and those with me.”

I nodded, but I felt torn. Facebook connected me to everyone back home. The Great Firewall of China had felt like a real barrier to knowing what was happening with whom.

My grandmother, before she passed, was super active on Facebook. She was the most computer illiterate of my relatives in that generation, but something about it appealed to her social side. She commented on everything. She interacted with me on a daily basis through the site.

Her photos are mostly gone from there now. Her account closed. Where she commented for the last time on a photo of me in Busan, posing as Botticelli’s Venus, it now simply says my mother, father, and “one other” liked the shot. I wish I had the comments she left me. I don’t know what they said anymore. The words are gone now, at least from me.

But this misses out the fact that new updates just aren’t coming from those 522 souls scattered round the world. My Facebook is quiet now, and everyone is turned more inward. I feel self-conscious, updating my status. I don’t get news anymore. I find myself stumbling into conversational revelations that clearly have been said aloud or by phone or by letter to everyone, but that don’t reach to me.

It’s very strange to feel compelled to feign pleasant indifference to a huge surprise that you are assumed to have already known about. Congratulations on _________’s safe delivery! I knew you’re due date was soon, but not this soon (read: I had no idea you even had a partner, and I’m over the moon for you and this is your news and your moment, so I don’t want to ruin it by reminding everyone I live really far away and simply didn’t know!).

Sean appealed to the nomad in me because he was from the era before the Internet. He was the last of a kind of real Adventurer, not the pansies who sit with the AC on in their Hanoi kitchen. He went to Iran and hitchhiked! I’d never hitched when I knew Sean.

That there is the difference, parsed by a pseudolinguist. In 2018, I can once again say, “When I KNEW _________.” Facebook evaporating into fogs of Snapchat and Instagram made that sentence possible once more. I knew people before, but I don’t think that I can truly say I know them and their goings on now. When that first photo was uploaded in 2006, I would have been able to say that sentence, too. Now, it’s not through deliberate unfriending that it comes about. Just more of an old-school full-circle of the Internet Age.

The connections are just as strong, and I’m hopeful that any one of the 522 friends I have on Facebook might be inclined to sit down and have coffee with me. We can surprise each other with all the things that social media doesn’t tell us.

But it’s not how it was anymore. Facebook is the only was I had to connect with so many who I’ve met on four continents and over nine years. I don’t know how to find someone without it.

My friends are all over the world, and I want to keep travelling. I want to keep writing. I want to keep sharing. I want to be able to see what’s happening in the lives of people I care about, even when they’re 12,000km away. It was a special form of cultural hubris, in the age of Internet idealism, that we thought thefacebook.com would always be our own space to share with friends.

But if it goes, maybe I’ll be re-invented as a kind of real Adventurer. Someone who keeps travelling, even when it’s hard to get in touch.

They say that blogging is dead, too. Maybe I’ll switch to notebooks only.

Indoor outdoor

There’s something I’ve noticed in much of Asia. The distinction between inside and outside is just not what it is where I grew up. In the West, we have a phrase for people who leave the door open:

“Were you born in a barn?”

In China, Vietnam, and some of the older parts of Korea, the door is always open. Today it is cold enough to close the schools in Hanoi. It’s only 10C (a balmy Summer’s day in Iceland). Still, sitting in a cafe with the door wide open is pretty cold even for a Colorado Native.

I’ve tried to work out why I don’t have shared door culture with people living in this part if the world. Is it an adaptation to keep the mould from overtaking everything? Is it bad luck to close out any visitors? Or is it just one of those things that they do without knowing why they do it, and only seems weird if you’re an outsider?

It’s a triple whammy, really.

No heating.

No insulation.

And the doors and windows are wide open.

All I know is that it feels like camping all winter long when you live in Asia. If I don’t have a coat on at all times, even when sleeping, it’s too cold. People in Hanoi keep saying how cold they are while the door is open and they are wearing sandals. Seems like there are relatively simple fixes to this. Then again there are still mosquitoes biting my knees, so it’s not that cold I suppose.

I tried to think of things like that from my own culture, but I’m too steeped in chickens at Cafes and no distinction between indoors and outdoors to remember.

Luckily in two weeks I’ll be back stateside and it will be all weird again.