We arrived at about 9:20 (it opened at 9am) and there was a queue of about ten or so people, all holding a small mountain of paperwork. This made us nervous initially, but the line started moving soon after we arrived.
After waiting about 40 minutes in line, it was our turn to go to the window. Ian asks the woman (a Czech national, not Chinese as we'd expected/hoped [Czech customer service is famously poor]). She asks us to separate our documents into individual piles (one for each of us) and as we do so she says, "Most importantly, are you long term residents of the Czech Republic?" Ian and I reply in unison, "No."
The woman explains that we cannot apply for a Chinese visa without residency in the country from which we are applying. We try to tell her that we've been told otherwise from our Z-Visa sponsor. To that she says, "I'm sorry to tell you that the information I am giving you is the correct information. You'll have to find your own way, we cannot help you." She waves us out of the way and calls for the next person in line.
Before Ian and I left for the Czech Republic, I made it a point to talk to our school (in China) about our visa application process and whether it will be a problem for us to do it from a third country (in which we have no visas because they are expensive and we're here for less than 90 days). I was told that they had spoken with officials and that it would be no problem. This made Ian and I happy because it meant we didn't have to run down to San Francisco (the nearest consulate) to apply for our visas.
So we came straight back to our apartment from the embassy and called ALWAYS English. Much to my surprise, we were actually able to get Shane (our liaison) on the phone. A good sign, indeed. We spoke via Skype and he asked us for the phone number to the embassy here in Prague so that he may speak with them about the situation. We'll talk to him again tomorrow morning to see what he found out.
A little Google searching has taught us that the visa laws in China have become much stricter and that visa runs to Hong Kong (which once were the norm) now only have a 50% success rate. Many people have ended up returning to the States (or their country of origin) to apply for their visas after similar mistakes were made. So, here's hoping we can find a solid solution that doesn't involve thousands of dollars in airfare.
To make us feel a bit better, we did have a lovely meal at Moment again today.