First 24 hours in China

The first 24 hours in China have been good.  Our 14.5 hour direct flight went well, although neither of us got more than about 1 hour of sleep on the plane.  It’s likely because we landed shortly after midnight in our (previous) home time zone, and we’re both night owls.  Immigration went well, and much to my surprise, our bags were not inspected in customs.  This was quite a relief, as I didn’t have to explain the hard drives filled with movies and TV shows that were likely against their censorship policies, not to mention their copyright policies (oh, wait).

shanghai-luggage

6 months of luggage

We landed in Shanghai, but our new home is in Wuxi, about a 3 hour car drive away.  Depending upon the definition of “largest city“, Shanghai qualifies as #1 with it’s 24 MILLION people, which is three times bigger than USA’s largest city, New York.  I thought it would be good to show my daughter the world famous Shanghai skyline before continuing on to Wuxi.

Approaching Shanghai

Approaching Shanghai, and 2nd tallest building in the world

 

Famous Shanghai Skyline

Some of the famous Shanghai skyline

 

First family photo in China

Our first family photo in China

We are already famous (infamous)

We strolled along the famous “Bund” area in Shanghai, taking photos and doing a little people watching.  At one point, a young 20-something’s family and toddler motioned to me for a photograph.  I stowed my own camera and went to reach for theirs, as I thought they wanted me to take a photo of the 3 of them and the skyline.  Boy, was I wrong.  The young lady wanted a photograph of us with her husband and child!  I knew that eventually, some time in the coming months, that someone would want photographs with the foreigners.  But I didn’t think it was going to happen within an hour of landing, in such a relatively diverse, huge city as Shanghai!  I kept laughing for hours that I assumed they wanted me to take their photo.

After taking in the sights, we went back to our car & driver to continue the rest of our trip to Wuxi.  Unfortunately, it was now very crowded in the city, and it took us nearly 2 hours to travel just a couple miles, before getting to a highway.  We were able to take a 1-2 hour nap in the car, which helped us feel better, but I feared it would delay adjusting to our new time zone, 13 hours ahead of home.

Hotel check-in

We are starting our stay at a nice hotel, and will soon look for an apartment.  Our hotel is a typical 4/5-star international hotel.  Fairly fancy compared to a hotel with the same name in the USA.  We’re staying on the executive floor, where we have a slightly larger room (500 square feet), two 32″ TVs, and most importantly, access to the Executive Lounge.  This is nice for the daily free booze (and soda), snacks, and warm appetizers in the evening.

Hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

 

Executive lounge chandelier

Executive lounge chandelier

 

Lounging around

Lounging around

 

We're on the 21st of 22 floors

We’re on the 21st of 22 floors

 

View from room

One of the views from our corner room on the 21st floor

 


Cool timelapse of boat traffic

First morning

We both forced ourselves to stay up to 10pm local to help adjust to the time.  Priya slept well, but I woke up at 4am and was done.  So I worked on some computer stuff, setting up the VPN WiFi router I brought and messing with camera stuff.  After Priya woke up, we went for a late breakfast, which is the typical large buffet served at these large international hotels.  Lots of choices for both local cuisine as well as typical western food.  I tried working on my Mandarin (the Chinese language) to ask for a coffee (“kaa fay”).

Gluten free

I didn’t know glutinous rice was gluten free!!

 

Afternoon stroll

After allowing breakfast to settle, we went for a walk in our new surroundings.  I knew there was a supermarket in the area, and I wanted to scope out some places to eat as well.  The shopping area was about 1 mile from our hotel.  The weather was nice, about 77°F (25°C) with a nice breeze, but humidity was near 100% and I still was pouring sweat.  (It’s supposed to be 92F/33C later this week.)  We did manage to find the supermarket.  It was packed full of people on this Saturday afternoon.  I’ve been to Chinese supermarkets before, but it was definitely an eye opening experience for Priya.  If you haven’t seen one, it’s likely to have a few things to surprise you as well.  Such as…

Cucumber and Seeweed flavored chips

Cucumber and Seeweed flavored chips

 

Live turtles

Live turtles, not pets. About $8/pound.

 

Bullfrogs and eels

Bullfrogs, bagged turtles ($26/pound), eels, and fish

 

Pig face

Dried squid, some eel-like fish, and my personal favorite, pig face

 

Chicken feet

Bowl of chicken feet

 

Alley market

Found a side street market. Very interesting and zero foreigners other than us!

The “fog”

There will be at least two things that will take me a long time to get used to (if at all).  The first is the heat, which hasn’t been bad YET.  The second is the “fog”, which the rest of us call air pollution.  Some of my fellow coworker travelers have gotten throat irritations from it.  I haven’t in my previous travels, but who knows what will happen after 6 months.  I hope my daughter doesn’t have any issues either.  Here’s an example looking out our hotel window:

Pollution - not bad

Some “fog”, but heavy photo processing to clear it up

 

Heavy fog

Here’s the next day with heavy “fog” and zero photo processing

Overall good

Overall, our first 24 hours was very good.  Nothing unexpected (other than asking to be photographed) and everything went well.  Priya’s first impressions are all good.  She’s in awe of all of the fashion here.  A lot different than at home.  Of course, we are staying in a very nice hotel, but she also understands that there’s less fancy areas around.  She’s been to India and has seen far worse living conditions and understands there’s going to be that here too.

Packing for six months

How much do you pack for an international trip that lasts for six months?  I’ve taken over 40 international trips to over 20 countries, but never for more than three weeks.  For this trip, it seems like I’ve been packing for three weeks.

lots-of-luggage

Of course I started by making a checklist.  But the more that I wrote on the list, the more I remembered I needed to add to the list.  There’s things that you want to bring along with you that you wouldn’t take on a normal short trip.  Things like a home WiFi access point, because you want a specific one that runs a VPN client so all of your home devices can break through the Great Firewall of China to access Google, YouTube and Facebook.  There’s also things you bring along because you already own it, and are too cheap to buy another/more of when you get there.  Or things you might not easily find there like Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, Imodium AD, and Tums, especially when you need it fast and not with the use of an interpreter.

Camera Gear

I’m not a professional photographer, but wow, the amount of camera gear I’m bringing.  There’s a lot of it.  Tripods(2), selfie sticks(2), motorized gimbal, camera (Sony A6000 mirrorless), another zoom lens, spare camera (Canon PowerShot), lens filters, tons of cables, DJI Mavic Pro drone, camera sling bag,  GoPro action camera and accessories, chargers for each of the cameras, external battery packs, 3 external hard drives (5.5TB total), USB memory sticks, microSD memory cards and SD adapters.  Other gear not pictured is laptops (THREE of them: one for work, my personal PC, my daughter’s Macbook), a huge WiFi access point and other miscellaneous items.

packed-camera-gear

There was a little room left for clothes.

In all, we are taking four large checked bags, two carry-on bags, and two backpacks.  Every international trip I take, even three weeks long, is with only a carry-on and a backpack.  Never any checked bags.  Maybe we could have cut it to half of this…but why?

Arrested for child abduction?

Moving abroad is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. You’re leaving behind family and friends to start a new adventure.Alexandra Talty

lakefront_drive
Photo credit: A New Day in Chicago by Roman Boed CC BY 2.0

I’m feeling a bit sad.   I’m driving home after a work event social event, where I just let the cat out of the bag to my coworkers that I’m moving to China for 6 months.  I have the windows down and music loud as I drive down a road along the world’s 4th largest freshwater lake.  It’s a beautiful 68°F (19°C) night with no humidity.  I will greatly miss this.  I love the cool nights and beautiful sunny days, often sailing on that lake.  I reflect on what it will soon be like.  Nearly 90° in early June, very high humidity, sweating my ass off.  And even hotter in July and August.  I’m not looking forward to that.   I will miss the people that I’ve come to know here.  The comfort in the familiar.  My home sweet home.

There will likely be new friendships to be forged in this new land, completely on the other side of the world.  But that is still unknown.  A foreign people, a foreign land.  Will they have the same things in common as I do?  Or will they find me so foreign and unrelatable?   Will they make me feel at home? Or will I feel truly a foreigner?  I like to think that I’m a relatively easy to talk to guy, and might not have a very difficult time befriending my new coworkers and maybe even some neighbors.

But what about my daughter?

Will my daughter be so homesick that she cannot stand to stay there another moment?  Or will she embrace the new experience, and feel a part of the new culture and want to learn much more that can be learned in a book?  Am I doing the wrong thing by taking her away from her homeland, away from her mother, away from her friends, away from everything that she knows and loves?  Or will this be a new experience for her to be cherished and the rest of her life?  Will she learn much more than what can be learned from living in the same place her entire life, or in a book?  What will this new place teach us about ourselves?  What will we learn about these people that are not like us?  Are they the just like us but just living in a different place?    Will they make us feel like we are foreigners?  Or will they make us feel like we are at home in a different country?  Only time will tell.  And I look forward to the opportunity of learning that answer.

Disruption

While learning that answer, I will still miss what we have at home.  Home is comfort. One cannot have comfort in what is disruptive.  Disruption may be necessary to truly learn one’s self.  Maybe what we have is not truly comforting.  Maybe what we need is this discomfort, this disruption, this vast difference from what we currently know.  Maybe we will learn much more about ourselves then we will just living at what we call home.  How we know the answer to these things without disrupting our lives?  Maybe this is what we truly need?  Yes, it is scary.  Exhilarating and terrifying.

Child abduction?

I’m taking my 13 year old daughter away from her mother.  A mother that she sees nearly every day of her life, even with our 50/50 custody arrangement.  A mother’s love and relationship is important (as is the father’s).   Will there be resentment, from mother or from daughter, for separating them?  Will our daughter grow and flourish away from her mother?  Will this be a gigantic learning experience for her?   Yes, it is only 3 months.  Anyone should be able to tolerate most anything for 3 months.   While our daughter is only 13 years old, she’s experienced visiting at least five other countries in her lifetime.  Just two years ago we visited India, and I believe that it was a very positive experience for her.  I cannot help but think that this China experience will be beneficial to her.  She will understand how other people live in a vastly different place.  A place that is a full hemisphere away from us.  A country that speaks a completely different language and may not understand us at all.  We will struggle with simple daily tasks.  But I think it will only make us stronger.

How will we know if we don’t try it? Maybe my daughter will hate me.  Maybe she will love this experience and cherish it.  Maybe she will grow and be a much bigger person because of it.  But as a father, how will know that?  When will I know that?

Her mother struggled for months with the decision to let her go.  At times, the answer was yes.  At times it was a stern no.  And it was understandable.  To take her only daughter away, to the opposite side of the earth, where a simple  phone call “mommy, I want to come home” isn’t as easy as getting one of these calls from a local girls’ sleepover.  (Although, our daughter has never called home homesick.)  It was good to hear about the going away party that she hosted for our daughter and her friends.  Maybe they are both ready for this new adventure too.  T minus 2 days.

going-away-cookie

Mom got a big going away cookie for the party

Another trip to the Chinese Consulate

As I’ve already mentioned, there’s a lot of steps to go to China, especially if you plan on working there.  This next step included another trip to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago.  I don’t really like going to Chicago.  I don’t really like big cities, which is why I live in a mostly rural area.  (So why am I moving to a city in China where the population is double that of Chicago, right?  I guess that’s a topic for a future post.)  I had recently visited the consulate twice previously, in order to apply for, and pick up, my daughter’s tourist visa.  We were very fortunate to be granted a 90-day duration visa for her, as they typically only grant 30 or 60 day stays.  Since she is staying for 80+ days, this will save us a lot of money.  If she wasn’t granted a 90-day stay, we would need to either leave the country within 60 days and re-enter (saving us international flights, hotels, etc. just for a “visa run”), or we could have applied for a dependent visa, which would have cost me $1000 in immigration lawyer fees versus a $140 tourist visa.

Chinese Consulate

Long trip to Chicago

I live up in Wisconsin, so Chicago isn’t exactly close.  Since the Chinese Consulate was heart of downtown Chicago, getting there isn’t Continue Reading →

What? I’m moving to China?

As I mentioned in my last post, there were some big changes, and reason for some blog updates.  And the cat is out of the bag.  I’m moving to China.  Well, not permanently, but for six months.  It has been a very long process to get here.  Let me tell you about it.

My new home

It all started 6 months ago in a conversation with my boss. He asked if I’d be interested in helping our engineering center in China in a similar capacity to my job here in the United States. Due to my love of international travel, I was interested. Over the course of several months, we investigated what it would take to do an expat assignment. Several others have done expat assignments in our company but none of us knew anyone that have recently done so. Because of my 50% child custody placement, I wanted to include my daughter in these travels not only to avoid any financial implications of not fulfilling my 50% duty, but also because it would be and immensely great experience for my daughter. Therefore, I had to work within these constraints of bringing my daughter for 50% of the time that I was there. The best trying to do this would be during summer break from school. While this was six months from when we started to talk about this, it turns out that it really wasn’t enough time due to all of the red tape.

My boss started inquiring what it would take to make this happen. It took four months just to work through the financial estimates to the company. This left only two months to work through the company approvals and the work permit and travel visa process.  The immigration attorney said that it would take up to four months just to process my application.  But we needed to do it in two months.

Your journey begins with MANY steps

The application process was quite long and involved.  First we had to submit an application for a “notification letter for work permit application”.  This wasn’t an application for a work permit, but a sort of pre-approval for applying for a work permit later.  In order to apply for this notification letter, there were a ton of documents to provide to the Chinese government, and an insane amount of data to provide.  Even though I’ve been working in this field for 27 years, they wanted to know my university info, my high school info, and even my elementary school info!  I had to get a thorough medical exam which needed to include chest x-rays, an ECG (electrocardiogram), immunization history dating back to childhood, and about 8 vials of blood for them to check for a myriad of STDs and other diseases.  I’m told that I’ll have to repeat this health examination once I arrive in China.  I guess that’s in case I get any new STDs in the last two months.  Once all of this information was sent to the China government, they informed my immigration attorney that they now wanted an FBI “non criminal record”.  So off to the police station to get four sets of fingerprint cards.  The ink kind…no electronic scanning.

fingerprints

Fingerprinted like a criminal

After the notification letter is received, I can finally apply for my work visa.  The Chinese work visa isn’t a work permit either.  The work visa is only permission to enter the country with intent to work, but not permission to work.  So with only 7 business days remaining until departure, I have to drive to the China Consulate in Chicago and apply for my travel visa, which takes 4 business days to process.  Nothing like cutting it a little close.

But wait, there’s more!

Upon entry in China, there’s several more hoops to jump through.  As mentioned, I need to get another medical exam.  Within a few days of arrival, I need to surrender my passport to apply for the work permit.  This will take up to 3 weeks to process.  Technically, I’m not supposed to work while this is being processed.  So, I guess I can go into the office and “socialize” with the team.  Once my work permit is received, then I can apply for my temporary residence permit.  This will take another week, and they need my passport for that as well.  I’m forbidden to leave the country during my first month.  They’ll give me some other form of identification to carry around, and travel within China.  China also requires that if I move (move from temporary hotel housing to an apartment), I need to inform the “public security bureau” (police station) of my new address within 24 hours.  Also, if I stay at a friend’s house overnight, technically I’m supposed to register this at the public security bureau.  I guess they need to keep very close watch on their foreign guests.

That wasn’t a vacation, it was an adventure

hot-rod-power-tour

Well, that was quite the “vacation”.  Actually, I wouldn’t call it a vacation.  I’d call it an adventure.  My typical vacation usually consists of going to some island and generally relaxing.  I’ll sleep until I feel like getting up, maybe take in a few tourist sites, definitely a lot of beach time, and go to sleep whenever.  This vacation was quite different.

The Route

The Hot Rod Power Tour is an annual traveling car show, visiting 7 cities in 7 days, and the route changes every year.  This year was:
Madison, WI
Champaign, IL
St. Louis, MO
Memphis, TN
Birmingham, AL
Gulfport, MS
Baton Rouge, LA

The official route was about 1500 miles, driving about 200-300 miles per day.  Getting to/from the starting and stopping points is up to you and was another 1500 miles in my case.  The standard routine is:  you get up in the morning, drive 200-300 miles, attend a car show in the next town, have dinner, check out the cars in your hotel parking lot, get some sleep, and repeat.  Sounds pretty simple, and pretty interesting to be in a new town every day.

gto-new-vs-oldGTO:  New versus Old

Starting with the first evening, my buddy and I got into a late-night wrenching session (more work on the car).  Even though I sunk over $4000 preparing the car for the 3000 mile trip, Continue Reading →