Sushu's Travel Journal

July 29, 2009

Meeting Ex-pats at the embassy

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:11 pm

So going to the Embassy was cool because I was in the special “American Citizen” line, which meant everyone else there was American. It was cool to see Indians and Koreans who were Americans, and to remind myself of the diversity in America. (In China you start to get used to seeing homogeneity of race everywhere — although I suppose I shouldn’t be thinking in these racial terms.)

Talking with people at the embassy was strange because on the one hand, I was glad to be with Americans and associating with them in a way that I’m familiar with — small talk and general friendliness, and speaking in English. On the other hand, I couldn’t really relate to their China experiences because I don’t feel like an ex-pat when I’m in China. It is my motherland, afterall. I suppose they feel about China the way I’d feel if I’d been living in Spain or Egypt for a year — “I’ve learned so much and had my world expanded by my experiences in a foreign land!” Whereas I feel like both countries are a homeland of sorts, so I mostly feel the need to educate one about the other — making the learning a 2-way street instead of an “enriching life experience” for solely myself.

Beijing vs. Shanghai

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:11 pm

- Beijing people are more friendly
- Shanghai people are more effective at getting things done.
- Beijing people care a lot about social relationships, even with random strangers
- Beijing people like dogs. A lot.
- Beijing people like squat toilets
- Beijing people care about appearances and privacy of their homes. On the other hand, they also spend evenings out socializing on the streets
- Shanghai has a more robust night life

I met a guy at the Embassy who said when he visited Shanghai 10 years ago, he loved it, but now after being in Beijing for a few years, he hated Shanghai when he visited it again.

I think the reason is that there’s a friendliness <-------> effectiveness spectrum. When you are new to China and have no connections with anyone, Shanghai is better because on the surface it’s more professional/better at dealing with Westerners. However, as you get used to China’s way of dealing with things and start building relationships, you like Beijing more because relationships matter more here.

Part of it, too, is where the US is on that spectrum. Perhaps 10 years ago Shanghai was a closer approximation to US levels of friendliness, but now Beijing is closer because Shanghai has gotten less friendly to the non-residents… ?

July 27, 2009

SUCCESS!!!!

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:09 pm

I left at 7:15am and got to the Embassy a little before 8. After waiting in line for a while (although it’s the short “Citizen Services” line), went in, said I needed Emergency Passport, presented forms, took oath, and then waited for about an hour. At the end of which, voila! My passport is ready! It’s a super-patriotic passport, with quotes from JFK and stuff, and each page has an iconic image of America on it — bald eagle, mount rushmore, statue of liberty, francis scott key gazing upon the star-spangled banner, etc.

So at 10am I arrive at the Visa place. They say it’ll take until next Monday (apparently the note that the embassy gives us just says “yo, this new passport is like the old passport”), unless I can show plane ticket, and a note from my workplace proving that it’s an emergency.

So I go back to the hostel, and email my mom to ask her to write a work thingie as the principal of Chinese school. Then I told Jono to call my mom to tell her to check her email. Such that by 11am, my mom was able to send me a formal letter. Since the visa office closes for lunch break at noon, I hurry to print the stuff and rush out.

At the visa office, I first talk to a 领导, a superior officer, who tells me to fill out an emergency visa form. Then I get back in line to talk to him again, and he tells me to photocopy everything and take it to a normal visa officer. Then the normal visa officer tells me that my hostel didn’t update the online residence database to show that I’m still rooming there. So I call the hostel and they fix that. Then I get back in line and the officer approves everything!!! YAY!!!

So I pick up the Visa on Thursday, and leave Friday. :D DDDDD

July 26, 2009

Step 1 and 2 completed

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:06 pm

So yesterday, I dealt with 4 Beijing offices with varying levels of competence and friendliness.

We walked to the closest police station. After explaining the situation, they told me that I needed to go to the police station in charge of the 西直门 station where I lost the passport. Then they spent about 15 minutes trying to first figure out which police station is in charge, and then calling 411 for the station number and then asking them for directions to the station.

We stopped at a hole-in-wall photo place that happened to be next door. The girl there was watching 还珠格格 and playing some sort of online farming game. After taking my photo, she tried to “fix” my hair in photoshop by erasing all my stray hairs and making me look like I have straight hair. I had to correct her. Then she tried to print me rectangular photos after I explicitly told her I needed 2″ square. Then she printed out photos that were 3.6cm square. I was like “That’s not 2 inches. 2 inches is 5cm.” And she didn’t believe me, so she IM-ed someone to ask about the size of passport photos. That someone had to tell her *3* times that it’s 5cmx5cm before she believed it. And she charged me 20rmb! The police visa place did them for 5rmb per photo. I recommend doing it on-location in these circumstances

Then we went to the police station by where I lost the passport. They were friendly and competant! After filling out some forms, I got me a police report. Then they called and got directions to the 西城 district Entry/Exit Visa place.

Then we went there, where they sat me in a conference room and took my documents and processed the appropriate forms. Competent and courteous, but not so friendly. For example, I had to ask for my passport photocopy back. And they didn’t really explain what they were doing.

They also said to call the main Exit/Entry office to ask about Visa times, etc. So I called them, and the conversation went like this:
Me: “Hi, my passport was stolen. I ahve 2 questions: I’ve gotten an Official Loss Report, so do I still have to come to your office? and…”
Them: “Did you get a police report?”
Me: “Yes, and an Official Loss Report”
Them: “Okay, bring your police report over so that we can issue you an Official Loss Report”
Me: “Wait, I got that. At your branch office in 西城. It has your stamp on it, and the title is …. and the code is…”
Them: “Wait, let me ask.”
Them: “Okay, you still need to bring it in and get a new report. That one doesn’t count.”

So I go into my 4th office, which had a large area with 30 windows all devoted to different tasks, but none of which was labeled “Official Loss Report” or whatever. The receptionist pointed me to window 11, which turned out to be for students. They pointed me to window 31, which was for Visas, and then they pointed me to window 25.

I showed the person at window 25 my police report and my Official Loss Report. She said, “okay, this one doesn’t count. We need to issue one.” Then she made me fill out THE SAME FORMS as the last office, and was asking me questions that were already on the forms that I handed her. Then another person walks by and says to her, “She already as the Loss Report.” And she was like, “Really?”
And the new!competent! person was like, “Yeah, just take this to the Embassy. You’ve done all this already”
And I was like, “That’s what I’ve been trying to say!!”

AAARGH.

So then Saturday afternoon I call the Embassy after-hours number. I didn’t call earlier because I figured my problem doesn’t count as an emergency like getting beaten up or kidnapped or in trouble with the Chinese government or something else that couldn’t wait until Monday. But by Saturday afternoon I figured there’s no harm asking.

Anyway, I call, I speak English, and the person on the other end was just like, “The embassy is currently closed.” And I was like, “What about my flight? Do you have any recommendations?” And she was like, “Um… You need me to connect you to the airport??” Utterly unhelpful.

After dinner, I decided to try again. Got the same lady, but this time I spoke Chinese, and she grasped the situation enough to say, “Okay, I’ll transfer you to the Embassy.” Then I talked to a series of helpful Americans who told me that they can get me an Emergency Passport first thing Monday morning, and that the expedited Visa will take 3-5 days, so I should expect to go home Friday/Saturday earliest.

So this morning I went to the airport with Jono, and sent him off. The airport ticketing agent told me to call a phone number after 8am, which brought me to this helpful guy who told me that the earliest normal ticket he can get for me is 8/23, and the earliest standby ticket is 8/7. o.O;; GAH

So I went online and got a United Airlines ticket for 7/31, which is Friday. It’s a direct flight, too! I know I’m cutting it a bit close re: Visa, but hopefully it’ll all work out!!

What to do when your passport is lost or stolen in China

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:05 pm

My pain is your gain, hopefully?

1) Get a police report at the police station local to the incident (not local to your residence)

2) Take the police report to the 出入境管理局 Public Security Bureau in charge of Exit/Entry Visas, where they will create an Official Loss Report based on the police report.

You need to have:
- police report
- proof of residence (hotel check-in certificate)
- some form of ID (hotel should have made passport photocopy, otherwise, driver’s license, etc)
- 2″ photo

3) Take the Official Loss Report to the American Embassy/Consulate, where they will issue you an emergency Passport (1 day) or normal passport (2 weeks) as needed.

You need:
- Official Loss Report
- DS-11 and DS-64 forms
- 2″ square photos x2
- Proof of Citizenship (ranging from someone vouching for you to any sort of ID or photocopy of ID to a consular interview)

4) Take the Passport and some sort of “Please expedite Visa” note back to the 出入境管理局 Public Security Bureau in charge of Exit/Entry Visas, where they will process a new Visa (3-5 days) for you.

You need:
- Official Report
- Passport
- ID as before

Don’t forget to reschedule your flight!
If it’s a last minute change, the next few weeks might be fully booked, so call to check ASAP.

July 23, 2009

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:03 pm

I have 22 mosquito bites on 1 leg, and 19 on the other leg. :(

Went to Lao She Teahouse tonight. I’d reserved these tickets to what is basically a sampling of various Chinese performing arts. They were the cheapest available, which was still 180rmb each. But anyway, we saw some Chinese opera, some shadow puppets, some dance, some face-changing that they did to the 360rmb/seat audience. I’d link to a video but youtube isn’t accessible here. oh wait here’s a youku video:

It’s interesting all the China-specific website clones there are. For example, Facebook is only sporadically accessible, so what do we have? http://xiaonei.com .

Oh, 2 hilarious things from the Lao She “Chinese performance potpourri”

1) “To welcome the coming of the Beijing Olympics…” the teahouse choreographed this long-spout teapot dance/act with 5 people dressed in the 5 Olympic colors. They swing the teapot around and then pour into things.

2) “Kung fu demonstration” — OMG such self-orientalization. Like, the dudes were wearing Tai Chi outfits, but had SHAVED HEADS. It’s obvious that the only people who can perform authentic Chinese “kung fu” are shaolin monks. ::headdesk::

July 20, 2009

Beijing Day 1 and 2 — (Mis)Adventures

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:00 pm

Note: Images here are stolen from the internets because haven’t uploaded mine yet.

We got into Beijing by overnight train on Monday morning. The person who reserved our train tickets for us did it wrong, and we were placed in bottom bunks in different rooms, so we had to do some mild ticket trading. But otherwise the train ride was pleasant and uneventful. I took lots of pictures of Northern villages and industrial stuff. It was really interesting that the crummiest houses would still have satellite dishes. For a country with state-controlled media, Chinese people sure like their media. There’s also fewer bathroom tile houses and more shabby brick.

So we got to our hostel after navigating the subway system. I’d gotten fairly familiar with the subway system during my stay last year, but at the time, I had this magic pass that allowed me free onto all public transit, so this was the first time I had to buy tickets. The system was really confusing because it was obviously designed to charge variable rates depending on distance travelled (you’re prompted for your destination station), but really, all subway tickets are just 2 rmb.

We went to the hostel, and they said “come back at noon to check in”. So at 10am we stowed our luggage and headed to the Forbidden City. I wanted to go in from the front for the maximum effect, but the taxi driver could only drop us off at the east gate, so a lot of walking happened. Then we had to stand in line for half an hour to get tickets. (There were many ticket scalpers, and under normal circumstances I’d gladly pay an extra 10rmb for the effort of waiting in long lines in the sun, but I was afraid that they’re used tickets or otherwise invalid. Man, I’m so distrustful in China)

Anyways, we get into the Forbidden City. It’s ginormous, which is good because there were like 1300 people milling around us at any given time. I saw at least 40 different tour groups.

This picture is from October, but accurately represents the 人山人海

Things were going well — I would send Jono ahead to peer into hallowed halls and meet him at the right corner of the next hall in the row. But after 3 halls of this, just as we were about to enter the second half of the Forbidden City (the first half is the public, guest-receiving, pompous part where you have 8-10 beastie buildings, the second half is slightly less pompous and has actual living areas), I lost Jono!!

We were rounding this corner and headed for these stairs that went down into a big square type thing. I was following Jono, but then I realized that it wasn’t Jono, just some other guy. So I went to the balcony and looked out for a while, trying to be conspicuous, and also trying to find him. Failing that, I figured that he was probably ahead somewhere because I was hobbling and he didn’t realize that I wasn’t following directly behind, so I went ahead through the rest of the Palace, following the crowds, and loitering at every sign post (Jono likes reading Signs) and every right corner of a building. I waited for him for a while around the exit, but he wasn’t showing up, and I was getting anxious.

The offending balcony area

Meanwhile, Jono had apparently left me to take a picture on the balcony, and when he discovered that I wasn’t there anymore, he decided to go back to the earlier meeting point, figuring that I would go there since I’m not good at walking. (This was when I was looking all over the balcony for him). Then he went up and down the balcony area looking for me (this was when I’d moved on). He loitered in that area for a while, and then decided to head for the exit, hoping I’d be there.

At this point, I’d noticed that there’s an announcement/paging system that was audible in the rear of the palace, and had found out that the broadcasting room was all the way near where we had separated. So I was making my slow way back towards the front.

So the broadcasting room as this service window that they open, and you can fill out a form with relevant information, and they’d broadcast the information, like “XXX from YYY, please go to ZZZ to meet up”
So I was like, “Hey, can you broadcast in English?”
Dude: “English? Who did you lose?”
Me: “His name is Jonathan DiCarlo” (Figured to go with the familiar oldie-but-goodie instead of Xia Zhong Nuo)
Dude: ::makes a face:: “Okay… show me your ID card”
Me: ::digs out USA passport::
Dude: ::sighs, rolls eyes in the ‘omg what is up with this girl?’ way:: “Fine, fill out this form.”
Me: (while filling out the form) “Um.. I don’t remember properly how to write 殿…”
Dude: ::sighs as he writes it for me:: “You could have just written a homophone… this form is perfunctory anyway.”
And then he lets me into the broadcasting room because he doesn’t speak English. I think he sighed/rolled his eyes again when he saw my hobbling ways.

So anyways, I did the broadcast, and then went to the meeting place and sat down to wait. After about 10 minutes Jono showed up! He had gone to the exit and had turned back when he heard the announcement, and so he rushed over. So after some quiet rejoicing and calming of nerves, we walked to the exit and left the park. By this time it’s 2pm and I’d walked the length of the Forbidden City 3 times. :( My foot was none-too-happy

So we skipped the Coal Hill and went back to the hostel.

At around dinner time, we packed an overnight bag and headed out again. Here’s the deal: I’d reserved one night’s stay at an expensive SiHeYuan courtyard that’s supposed to be all traditional and homey and cool. It was 780rmb per night, versus the 200rmb at the hostel. So we stopped at a Meat On a Stick place nearby that was kind of Med-like in the wall scribbles (“In an attempt to stem X’s shopping addiction we ate from Y street all the way here. Next up, the bars of Z!” “Here on Valentines’ Day after a big fight with my husband.” “Food is Zen”. “X is extorting me for food again.” “Best of luck to me getting into U of Sydney!”). It was kinda expensive, though, 80rmb.

After dinner, we got a taxi to the SiHeYuan place. It was down this hutong (in contrast to Shanghai’s Longtang), and we found this tiny metal door. We were like, “ummm?” But then a guy came up and was like, “Are you Sushu?” And he opened the door to a tiny narrow alleyway. At the end of the alley was a small courtyard with a tree and a long table off to the side. In the shade of the tree was a large goldfish basin. The courtyard floor was soft gray stone tiles. The four sides of the courtyard were different rooms. It was very quiet and peaceful in the courtyard. We paid the money, and settled down in our room. The room was pretty awesome, a mix of classy old-timey decor and modern amenities (air conditioning, CFLs everywhere, and a ginormous shower area with one of those super big shower heads). We had a very quiet night there, working on our respective comics.

They had the cutest dog ever

The next morning, the hostess made us a really yummy western style breakfast, and then after some more loitering about, we headed by subway and then by taxi to 圆明园, the old Summer Palace which was destroyed by various foreign peoples first in the Anglo-French war of 1860 and then during the 8-Alliance occupation in the 1890s.

It was much bigger than we expected! We walked past a whole lotus festival thing. And then we rode on a boat through one of the 20 lily lakes there, and then we went to see the Western Building Remnants. On the way back to the exit we got lost among the network of islands and bridges and lakes. But we eventually found our way out, snagging some Meat On a Stick on the way out. We also bought a cup of 酸梅汤, which is this cool sweet and tart plum drink popular here in the summer. But it turned out to be watered-down vinegar. D:

My foot was not feeling that great after the second successive day of walking for 4 hours, so we caught a taxi all the way back. Except that the taxi driver got lost. 3 times. :(

I think we missed some major sights in Yuanmingyuan because I was too tired to walk by the end. There were signs saying that the 12 bronze zodiacs were on display somewhere in the park, but I didn’t look very hard. We also didn’t go into the maze. :(

On the other hand, we didn’t lose each other!

Then in the evening, even though my foot was really feeling it, we managed to meet up with some of my friends from Shanghai and then we watched HP6!

That brings us to today, where Jono headed off to work, and I forced myself to stay in bed all day to rest my foot. Much lolling on the internet and napping happened.

Next posts:
- Things I learn from Beijing Taxi Drivers
- Quick HP6 reaction.

July 16, 2009

Ningbo Countryside

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:59 pm

Back from 2 days in the Ningbo countryside. Ningbo has mountains on one side and the ocean on the other (with a very shallow continental shelf that allows for very shallow-water fishing during high tide). We had lunch with relatives, and then Jono got to pick peanuts and corn and watermelon, while I hobbled nearby. Jono also discovered a dead wild boar off the road. After another scrumptious dinner, we escaped the heat and drove back to the nearest civilization — a seaside resort. This morning, Jono swam in the Pacific and I waded in a bit. Then after a lunch, we headed back. The drive was 5 hours each way, so we had a lot of time in the car and at various downtimes to do Chinese practice. Jono went from lesson 4 to lesson 9 of the Chinese year 1 book!

We also had 10 different types of fish over the course of 3 meals. Plus some very yummy crab, 2 types of snails, and 3 kinds of shrimp. Everything at the meals was super-fresh from the fields or from the ocean. We ate the peanuts and watermelon that Jono picked.

Took lots of pictures of rural-ness. Noted with sadness that most of the Communist slogans have been replaced with billboards advertising local services and products.

July 9, 2009

Japan Day 4

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:58 pm

So yesterday morning Jono borrowed some crutches from our local friendly byouin (They apparently made me a medical card. I’m In Their System!!), and we got a taxi to Hanamaki Station, and from there, onto the train the Kamaishi. It was a beautiful 2 hour ride with lots of bucolic fields, etc. (Jono has more pictures at http://www.evilbrainjono.net/blog/ ). Jono got this really happy genki that I haven’t really seen before. He really likes the 田舎, the simplicity of the countryside. I wonder if he gets the same way about rural Vermont or anything…

Anyway, we get to Kamaishi, and after some scouting, Jono finds Sano-san’s sake shop, and we go and hang out in his shop. He’s this lively old Japanese man born in 1931, so almost 80 years old. His English is remarkably good, and we chat about random things. When Jono asked about a bus to the Dai Kannon, Sano-san offered to drive us around. We were like, “But you’re running your sake shop!” And he was like, “Well, business hasn’t been good, so it’ll be fine without me.” (His son came to man the front desk)

So we went to a beach, and then had some onigiri nearby. When the hostess heard that it was our honeymoon, she brought out these special gyoza-shaped mochi cakes that had this really yummy walnut/brown sugar filling. Mmm!

The KamaIshi Dai-Kannon 大観音 was cooler than expected. It was built after WWII to “pacify” the seas — too many bombs and tsunami. The inside can be climbed up, and as info about the 7 lucky gods (七福神), as well as more models of Kannon. (I didn’t climb up, but the photos looked pretty cool. Nearby was a small building dedicated to fudomyoo, and a stupa that has one of the Buddha relics, apparently a gift from Sri Lanka.

While there, Sano-san pointed to a blur in the distance and told us about how the American navy bombed Kama Ishi from that island, and that on the day that Nagasaki was bombed, his house was, too. He was 14 at the time.

On the way back from the DaiKannon, we stopped at a small Zen temple with an expansive graveyard going up the slope of the hill. It was breathtaking. Most of them seemed to be family grave sites, and were sized for cremation boxes. It also made me really sad because Kama Ishi is a city in decline — It used to be a major industrial city, but the coal mines ran out, and so people have been leaving. Schools and school districts keep combining. Jono says much of the population is either over 50 or under 15. Even though the steel mill is still running, it is definitely a city on the decline. We passed by a dilapidated school that I thought was closed until Jono pointed out elementary schoolers cleaning the windows outside.

Kama Ishi is also a city with a lot of character — There’s the industrial aspect, of course. It’s also neatly wedged between two mountain ranges, so it’s about 3 miles long and 5 blocks wide. If you walk along some streets, you run smack into the ocean. On one end, it opens up to a fjord, and the city curves along the beach. No wonder Jono did a lot of hiking around here!

Sano-san drove us to the KamaIshi station, and we rode the train back to Hanamaki, where we met up with Peggy, an ex-JET who married a Japanese guy and stayed, teaching English in universities. We went out to a yakiniku/reimen place (焼き肉/冷麺), and both were very yummy. It was this special Morioka Reimen that is a local specialty. They’re chewy thick vermicelli noodles in a light broth, with some meat, egg, and a slice of watermelon. Then you put in kimchi and kimchi liquids to taste. It was really good! It made me wonder about Korean presence/influence in the Tohoku area.

Then today we had a relaxed morning of watching Venture Bros (got the season 3 disc). Then I packed up while Jono ran some errands (sending another postcard, returning crutches), and then we took a taxi to the eki and Shinked our way back. Now we’re sitting in the Mozilla Japan offices enjoying the internet like the dorks we are. ;)

All along the way, everyone had been so helpful with my sprained ankle! The station officers would always bring out their wheelchair on a moment’s notice, and then call ahead to the destination station to make sure there’s someone waiting there for us. The taxi driver drove around the block 3 times until he found the closest possible drop-off point, all without charging us for the extra driving around. Yay Japan!!

July 7, 2009

Japan Day 2

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 10:55 pm

So today we woke up at 6am instead of 5am. Yay! After putzing around, we had an awesome buffet breakfast. There was a plate of thin white strip stuff that I got thinking it was cold noodles. Turned out it was squid. Oops?

Anyways, after breakfast, Jono pushed me around a rose garden nearby. There was a Kenji Miyazawa statue, and they’re very proud of this garden sundial designed by him. They claimed to have 450 different types of roses, including local varieties such as “Hot Hanamaki” and “Hanamaki Bijin 80″. They played a music-box version of Lion King in the background.

Then we went to the post office so that Jono could mail a postcard to his sister (he promised 9 postcards).

We went to the top of the onsen hotel (the 12th floor, which is reaaaally high, considering that most Japanese buildings around here aren’t >3 floors due to earthquake-ness), and had mediocre lunch to an awesome view of the valley.

After lunch, we went to the small hanamaki onsen hospital which was 1 kilometer away down and up a hilly road. Jono was very brave and pushed me up the steep hill for 15 minutes all the way to the hospital. The doctor was out for lunch, so we had to wait until he got back, but once he was back, we got an x-ray, and he told me that I have a torn ligament, but no fractures. He gave me a half-cast and anti-inflammatory medicine and cold packs. They couldn’t give me crutches or wheelchair because I’m leaving the area in 2 days. We were really worried about the price of the whole thing, especially since we didn’t have insurance… Turned out it was 15600, (around $160, less than what we’re paying per night for the hotel), which is wholly reasonable for x-ray, cast, and the doctor/nurse face time. Yay functional medical system!

One other thing I really liked about the hospital are these colored lines on the ground that you can follow to the various departments. So instead of consulting maps or whatever, we just had to follow the yellow line to the x-ray area, the red line to the 外来 patient area, etc.

So now we’re back at the hotel, and Jono is headed to the rotenburo 露天風呂 for some soaking. The doctor said I should stay off that foot for 2-3 weeks, so we’re not sure what to do next. Having crutches would be nice…

On the other hand, last time this happened, I just hobbled around and it eventually got better, and at least I don’t have a fracture, so I’m somewhat tempted to just hobble around…. Jono, on the other hand, is wondering if we should scrap the whole Japan/China thing and just go back to the States. My parents, on the third hand, is still in the plane to China, scheduled to land in 5 hours…

We shall see what comes of it!

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