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 →

Censorship: No more Google, Facebook, YouTube

If there’s one thing that has literally kept me awake at night before moving to China, it’s the censorship in China.  While I really don’t care about politics at all, the part that has me worried is the censorship of the internet.  We have all heard of the Great Wall of China.  But there’s also the Great Firewall of China.  China has the most restrictive internet in the world, where they block over 8,000 domains.  While most of those websites aren’t of interest to me, they also block essentially every site that I do use!

no-google

Here’s just a partial list:

Google related: Gmail, Google+, Google Hangouts, Google Search Engine, Google Play, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Calendar
Video: YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix
Social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, WordPress.com, Blogspot, Blogger, Flickr, SoundCloud, Whatsapp
News: The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Bloomberg, Reuters, many pages of Wikipedia
Other: Dropbox, Skype (not blocked, but so slow it’s useless, and monitored by third parties)
Porn: Every porn site (OMG, what am I going to do?)

While I don’t use everything on that list, much of what I do use is on that list!  I use all of those Google products.  This blog is run on WordPress (along with most blogs in the world, 60% market share, over 239 million websites).  Priya and I both spend a lot of time watching YouTube for entertainment or learning. We use Google Hangouts for free VoIP calling anywhere in the USA…we listen to music on SoundCloud…we use Wikipedia for research.

VPN to the rescue

It’s fairly common knowledge that  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.

Lots of changes

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  The main reason for that is that I didn’t feel there was much to write about.  At least not on a regular basis.  But there’s been a recent development that will hopefully bring more regular posts.  In the meanwhile, let’s catch you up.

Changing Plans, slightly

As previously mentioned, I have a goal to travel the world in retirement, with the current plan involving a sailboat as my method of travel and home.  I had planned to not buy a sailboat until much closer to retirement, maybe about 1-2 years before retiring.  I simply didn’t want the expense.  Purchasing a sailboat earlier meant taking a bunch of money out of my investments, a growth medium, into something that depreciates in value.  I’d rather have that money grow for a few more years, as long as possible.   In addition, there are variable costs that you incur every year.  And with a sailboat, those costs are relatively high.

One day, I overheard a co-worker talking about buying a sailboat with another partner. That got me thinking. If they would allow a third person in on their partnership, I could get all the experiences of sailboat ownership and a lot of sailing experience with only one-third of the cost. One-third of the purchase cost, one-third of the ongoing annual costs. But I could still get 100% of the experience. This would leave most of my investments intact. I thought this was an interesting trade-off in order to get this experience before I went all-in on a boat of my own. I could learn much more about sailing, sailboat maintenance as well as understand if I could really live on a sailboat long term.

I bought a sailboat

Continue Reading →