Sushu's Travel Journal

July 23, 2010

World Expo Day 3

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:41 pm

Got there earlier today — noon. After a short digression at Slovakia (we’re suckers for pavilions with no lines, but they generally turn out to be unmemorable), we went over and lined up for the America pavilion. We really wanted to see how America would choose to present itself. Yesterday we were trying to figure out what “American food” would be, and had been excited about the possibility of mac-n-cheese, chili, and deep-dish pizza. The American Pavilion was … disappointing. First, the “American Diner” was just hot dog, pizza, hamburger, and a pulled-pork sandwich. The pavilion itself was composed of 4 sections. The first section was a 5-8 minute movie on 1 screen where a lot of Americans try and fail to say “Welcome to the American Pavilion” in Chinese. The second section was a 10-minute movie on 3 interacting screens about “the American Spirit”, which seemed to involve little multicultural kids drawing pictures of “cloud cars” and other “new energy” ideas, followed by a Chevron spokesperson and two random professors.

Obama shows up at the end to do a classic Obama speech about human ingenuity and curiosity, and inviting “you and your family to the United States of America”.

Then we were herded into a third room, where there were 5 screens in different shapes. Yup, it’s a third movie, this time 12 minutes long. It’s something about a little girl wanting to start an urban garden, and bringing the whole neighborhood together. In the middle, it rains, and they spritz water on us, thus making it a “4-D” movie. Har.

Finally, we were herded into the “corporate sponsor” room, where there were little plaques from each of the corporate sponsors talking about how awesome they are.

Um… where’s the display about the diversity and beauty of our land? The tourist highlights of our major cities? Or what about some sort of narrative about our history of immigration and adaptation? Or even information about our major industries and our technological contributions? Instead, the common theme seemed to be “American children are cute, thanks to our sponsors”.


In comparison, the Mexico pavilion had an interesting exploration of city and cultural memory, showcasing artwork interpretations of the concept of the “city”, starting with Mayan temples and Spanish cathedrals, and ending with this cool set of masks that you can look through to see a video of everyday life.

There were also cool interactive technology things that gave you more information about Mexico’s environmental challenges, and allowed you to explore the layers of history buried under the modern city, or even showed you how peoples’ lives were interconnected.
The screen you see in the background there is actually an interactive history of the land of Mexico city, showing the layers of civilization and construction.

Angola was also pretty good: there was a man hiding behind the door who randomly spritzed the people coming in. There were plaques talking about its slavery and colonial legacy, and a series of interesting plaques and accompanying short videos about different aspects of Angolan life and different sectors of its economy. There was a separate line for a 4D film, so we didn’t go to that, but overall it was very cohesive: all of the videos were made specifically for the World Expo, and presented a coherent message and interesting insight into Angola. I would dare say that Angola was cooler than America.

Speaking of things made specifically for the Expo, Slovenia gave each of us a cute pamphlet and a little book written by one of their philosophers specifically for the World Expo. We tried reading it — it was neo-Marxist and loved the word “Proletarianisation”. So we stopped. But still — it was made specifically for distribution at the pavilion!

We also went to a bunch of small African exhibits, which were cute if slightly camel-obsessed. Then we went to Venezuela, which had … a courtyard of hammocks.

And then a secret room with live music.

And then some plaques with photos and direct interview quotes from the streets of Caracas.

And then other plaques with Hugo Chavez extolling the virtues of socialism.

And then a statue of Simon Bolivar. A bit hodge-podge not unlike Pakistan.

We then hiked back to see if we can line up for Japan, but it was a 4 hour line and it was already 6:30pm, so instead we had dinner, hiked all the way back to the Americas Square for some live Tango music and dancing, and then took a boat tour ferry back. En route to the ferry dock, we ran into a parade with various floats showing sketchy Chinese interpretations of different cultures. The last float was “America”.
At the head of the float were some “Native Americans”. The float itself were some trumpets and a large top hat.

At the end of the float was Uncle Sam. I didn’t notice, but Jono says that they were all wearing white make-up, including the Native Americans.

It was somewhat bizarre that we started and ended our Expo day today with odd representations of America.

Jono says that the only 2 he still wants to see is Japan and Britain, both of which have very long lines, so on our way back from the Expo today we bought these cute foldable stools. Tomorrow will be a Waiting In Line day, for both of those have 4+ hour lines. I also want to visit one of the Scandinavian countries, so if we have time at the end of the day, we’ll hop in whichever has the shortest line.

July 21, 2010

World Expo Day 2

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:40 pm

Yesterday we got there at around 3pm and headed back at around 9pm. As Jono remarked, pavilions generally convey the following messages:
- “Our country is a friend of China!”
- “Our country is vibrant and modern and worthy of investment/trade!”
- “Our country has a deep and rich culture!”
And then there’s always a store so that you can buy their stuff.

There are 3 general approaches to the pavilions, I think mostly dependent on which people got their hands on the design.
1) National Museum: exhibits of culture and artwork, with detailed plaques (ex: Indonesia, Morocco)
2) Industry Expo: showing off lots of companies and main industry sectors. Many small booths and ads
3) Tourism Highlights: Pictures and videos of why you should visit, showing
Of course, mixing and matching happens as work is divided between, say, the national tourism bureau, the industry sponsors, and the national museum.

Pavilions we visited:
- Cultural Center — looks like giant flying saucer. Had nice view of the river and the exhibit halls. Had some boba on the 6th floor

- Nepal — is giant stupa + shop. Stupa was pretty awesome, but I was disappointed that they didn’t engineer the path up and down the stupa in a way to let us walk around it 7 times.

- Jordan, Afghanistan (“Land of opportunity”), Bahrain (“Pearl of Arabia”), all part of the Middle-East joint pavilion. Jordan was kind of cute, and some ceiling lights and showed off the Dead Sea. Afghanistan was basically a rug bazaar, no narrative whatsoever. Bahrain had a bunch of industry jargon about their business-friendly regulatory infrastructure, and their history of pearls and petrol.
Afghanistan:

- DPRK — 5 gallant scenes that you can take your picture in front of, a video of national music, and a shop selling great works of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader.

- Iran — Downstairs: a paragraph of welcome by Ahmadinejad, stuff about medical technology, some maps of the Persian Gulf. Upstairs: Persian rugs for sale. Was disappointed by lack of history, obviously in Industry Expo

- Morocco — pure national museum style, with the building itself a beautiful example of Moroccan architecture. Downstairs: exhibits of Moroccan crafts. Upstairs, a “medina” — Moroccan bazaar, but exhibit only, not real people selling stuff. Outside: real palm trees.

- Pakistan — Hilariously disorganized design — they couldn’t agree on a single font or uniform method of presenting images. Projections on mist next to tv screens next to turning slats next to back-lit posters. One hallway had on the right side photos of accomplished Pakistani women, and on the left side, the Mango Saga, wherein Pakistan gave Chairman Mao a mango and then he “gave it to the Chinese people”. There were 5 different photos of this mango. The next hallway had photos of various Pakistani leaders shaking hands with various Chinese leaders. Then there was a hallway about Pakistan’s UN participation.

- India — The inside of the pavilion was subdivided into a shop section, a food section, and a museum section. In the museum it was a circular hallway, with pictures of modern Indian life and people on the right side, and traditional Indian crafts on the left side. In the middle of the circle was an auditorium thing where they showed a 3D-in-the-round video about how chakras were connected with the elements that create urban harmony. Um… yeah.

Pavilions that we wanted to visit but couldn’t:
- Saudi Arabia: The line was over 9 hours long. It blocked up an entire street, and if the line was single-file, it would be over 4 km. Turns out there’s the BIGGEST IMAX EVER inside– instead of a half-dome, it’s a full sphere. Here’s a video: http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTcwNzIwNjI4.html

- China: Apparently you need to line up 3 hours before it opens to get advance tickets for it. It’s also the largest pavilion there — there’s a 3 or 4 story building that forms the base where inside are individual pavilions from all the provinces. Then there is the China pavilion proper on top of that.

- Taiwan: Next to China were the Macau (shaped like a rabbit) and Hong Kong pavilions, and on the other side of China across the street was the Taiwan pavilion, which had a giant glowy sphere that’s actually a screen. We wanted to visit but apparently that also requires advance tickets.

- Japan: the line was super-long, but since it looks like a Zerg cocoon, and promises to have robots inside, we are determined to get in tomorrow.

- Korea: Looked cute, but once again, line kinda long-ish.

July 19, 2010

World Expo Day 1

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:37 pm

Yay! Jono’s here! He got in really late last night (2am), so this morning we got some pan-fried soupy dumplings (see here), and then Jono spent the morning and afternoon working on Test Pilot (there was some sort of code freeze today or something). So we didn’t head out to the World Expo until 5pm. We got there at 6, and went to the following:

- Riverside park — very quiet, with some water landscapes
- Australia — The building design was pretty cool — a bit like Ayers rock. There was a part where all of their famous landmarks were on the ceiling, upside down because they’re the land “down under” har har. They moved everyone along at a brisk pace, and the wall exhibits mostly seemed to be centered around three “mascot” kids. Then we got herded into a large round auditorium where instead of seats, there was a butt-height padded bar that we can sort of rest against. Then there was this weird show on these large rotating curved tv-screens featuring the 3 mascot kids talking about life in Australia. The screens would rise out of the ground to form a circle, and then sink back down to reveal a new centerpiece, and then rise back up again to show the 3D-animated mascot kids playing against the background of the new centerpiece.
- Philippines — where it was basically a big dance party. They had a DJ on some scaffolding, lots of swivelling lights, etc. In a corner was a massage parlor, and next to that a cafe area. In the middle were some displays of musical instruments and a Filipino snack company selling bags of chips.
- Malaysia — Despite advertising themselves as “the true Asia”, the exhibit hall just had 2 floors of discrete exhibits that seemed to have just been randomly assigned to different groups. For example, an exhibit about Malacca and Georgetown was followed by a display about the best golfing places followed by a broken video about why Malaysia is the spirit of Asia, followed by a display about race cars, followed by some people selling various tie-dyed fabrics, followed by a jungle display with fake plants, and then upstairs there’s a display by a company who is responsible for green power in Malaysia, a rubber company display, and a small gallery of Malaysian artworks and a man doing caricatures. Yeah, it was very confusing
- Indonesia — This one was really cool and designed like a museum. There were objects and live music and plaques and video. We climb a slow ramp up, wending around the structure. Most of it is open-air, and built with lots of bamboo. But yeah — there were exhibits about Indonesia’s biodiversity, fabric, music, metalworking, woodworking, major crops, a nice hallway juxtaposing the beauty of Borobudur on one side and the modern cityscape on the other side. It was just really well designed and cool.
- New Zealand — after going through a room with lots of videos showing how people live in New Zealand, we emerge onto a green rooftop and then walk our way down. The roof is pretty awesome — all the Chinese people kept touching it to check that it’s real grass and ferns.

By then it was 9:30pm so we made our way home on a super-crowded subway. And now Jono is super-tired and asleep. :D

July 15, 2010

Physically in China

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:27 pm

I am in China but still in the train en route to Beijing. Yesterday was 6 hours spent at Russian customs and then 5km later 6 hours spent at Chinese customs. Perhaps then worst day of the trip: trapped at a station and the trapped on a dark train with no toilet access and sporadic going through of my luggage.

My last cabin mate got off today at noon at Harbin, so now it is just me and the 4 next door: 2 Chinese students who have finished their college year abroad at Moscow, and two Norwegian girls newly graduated from law school and nursing school.

We will be arriving at Beijing at 6am tomorrow. I will probably escort the Norwegians to their hostel and then go to the airport. After a 2 hour flight and some public transit finangling, I will finally be in Shanghai and uncle’s home. But apparently, I shouldn’t stay at our Shanghai apartment because last year Jono and I made too much of a mess or something. So I’ll see if I can find a reasonable motel nearby that also has internet access. Dad wants us to be close enough to go home for dinner but not to actually stay there. Sigh. So I probably won’t be settled in China until late tomorrow night.

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::

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