Poof! Three more weeks gone in China

I was really hoping to have much more time to blog and make videos of our experiences in China.  But just like that, poof, three weeks have flown by without any new blog posts.  I guess I don’t have any excuses other than I haven’t made any time for it.  My weekdays are 10+ hours in the office/commute, going to the in-hotel executive lounge for a dinner (wine/beer, appetizers, bread), then back to our room for me to spend another 2-3 hours on conference calls and answering emails coming in from the USA (they’re just getting in to work).  No time for social media.  In fact, very little social time with my daughter on weekdays.

Weekends have been sleeping in an extra hour or two, then a leisurely breakfast, some time working on photos/videos, and then venturing out creating new memories and experiences.

big breakfast

Big breakfast (only half of the food!)

Sorting out the legalities

Before I left the USA, there was some visa requirements to take care of that I mentioned here and here.  As expected, after arriving in China there would be a few more hoops to jump through.  As my original entry visa only was valid for 000 days (yep, zero days), we had to work quickly to get everything in order.

consulate-4

Allowed duration of stay:  Zero days?

The first step was to get another medical exam, this time here in China.  I had the benefit of being assigned a “handler” from our company’s immigration attorney firm.  They emailed me the address of the Travel Health Care Center and expected me to find my way there.  There’s an app here in China called DiDi, which is nearly identical to Uber or Lyft.  Having used Uber only once before, the concept was still very new to me.  Adding to the complexity, the DiDi (taxi) drivers speak zero English (and I speak nearly zero Mandarin Chinese).  With the help of a local co-worker, he showed me how to enter the address into the app and I made it there just fine.   Didi/Taxis are fairly cheap here.  When I took one in Chicago to get to the Chinese Consulate, it cost about $10 for 1.4 miles (2.3 km).  Here in Wuxi, China, it’s about $3 USD for 6 miles (10 km).

The handler met me outside the clinic and then led me around at a nearly running pace, as if she was getting paid to complete the process in 5 minutes or less.  In the 90F/32C and high humidity, I immediately started sweating buckets.  We went to the registration desk, then climbed a couple flights of stairs where she would proceed to barge into examination rooms, with examinations currently being conducted on other patients, and stand within a foot of the physician as if to tell him, “hurry up…you’re wasting my time”.  I’m not used to that lack of privacy in a hospital/clinic, so I stayed many paces back, generally outside the door that she charged into.

She rushed me around to about 7 stations, intruding on each of the patients already being examined.  Each exam only took a few moments.  Not sure why she couldn’t wait those few moments for the prior patient to be completed!  I had another ultrasound (the baby is healthy, but the ultrasound technician did claim I “have a large liver”…maybe it’s all the beer), a vision test (which only consisted of a single color-blind test), a blood pressure station (holy cow…I must have been really stressed out), and a few other tests, including blood and urine samples.

Maybe I was stressed out because one of the exams had a physician with an ancient head mirror.  I didn’t know anyone from this century still uses them?  Even the Fisher Price Medical Kit doesn’t come with them any more.

Head mirror

They still use these things?

Or maybe it was the ancient EKG that they hooked me up to that still used the suction cup electrodes?  And they left hickeys all over too.

Suction cup electrodes

Suction cup electrodes….ouch!

A visit to the police station

After the medical check was completed, I handed over my original Master’s degree diploma, and the immigration attorneys submitted the paperwork to apply for my work permit.  This normally takes about 3 weeks, but it was completed in a little more than one.  Immediately after my work permit was granted, I needed to apply for a temporary residence permit.  This must be done at the PSB – “Public Security Bureau”, otherwise known as a local Police station.  The immigration people sent me the address, and I used a DiDi taxi to get there (I’m becoming proficient!) and the same “handler” met me there.

Wow, there were so many people at the police station.  And I’m not talking about criminals!  Actually, there were lots of pretty women (no, not prostitutes), their children, and a few men/fathers.  I’m told that many of them were seeking passports, as it was the start of the summer break from school and it’s common to travel somewhere during the break (especially to escape the heat and humidity of China).  In the case of a foreigner, they must register their residence location within 24 hours.  Most people travelling on business are not aware of this requirement because the fancy international hotel that you stay at takes care of this for you.  This is also the reason that you cannot stay at a small “Chinese” (not part of an international chain) hotel…they don’t want to mess around with registering the foreigners at the PSB.

Once I move from the hotel to an apartment, I have to visit the police station again to register my new residence location.  Technically, if I visit a friend overnight, I have to register with the PSB that I’m sleeping there.  Pretty weird, big brother stuff.

We did some other touristy stuff…I’ll write about that soon.

liyuan_c_p

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, Continue Reading →

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.  Continue Reading →

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 Continue Reading →

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.