Photos and stories about my expat experience in China, currently in Bejing.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hong Kong

My girlfriend's new niece. We went to visit her brother in the city of Luoyang
She is 20 days old, but doesn't have a name yet (and already promoting camera equipment ;)

So I'm in Hong Kong now.

After staying in Luoyang for a few days I returned to Beijing to pick up my 'exit visa' valid for five days and required to leave the country. I then took a train to Hong Kong, which took 25 hours but wasn't too bad. I slept most of the way.

In Hong Kong, I quickly arranged a new visa and bought a train ticket back to China. It is much easier here than anywhere else, and HK is a famous destination for foreigners in Asia who are on a visa run.

After having been in mainland China for so long, coming to Hong Kong feels like going to London; everything is in English, and the general atmosphere is also very Western.
Also VERY commercial and crowded...

I found a cheap hostel, located in a large building called the Mirador Mansion. Inside is a maze of hotels, offices, restaurants and all kinds of little companies. A single room is exactly the size of one bed (I'm not exaggerating) but I am staying in a dorm, which has four beds and has a window (a luxury).

There are many Indian and Pakistani people here, and for dinner I helped myself to a wonderful Indian meal in one of the many restaurants.

Yesterday I climbed Victoria Hill, using the longest escalator in the world (800m) and found a park to relax in.

The day before, the view was obscured by smog. I couldn't even see across the water, but today it was better, although there was still a large cloud of pollution hanging over the city.
Hong Kong Zoological and botanical gardens

Quite a surreal sight. I'm a few hundred metres above sea level now.

There is not much place for nature anywhere else in this city...

Night skyline of Hong Kong Island


There were all kinds of things going on here: A squash championship, a (very graphic but peaceful) protest against the Chinese Communist Party and music and dance.


These drummers were part of the demonstration. They handed out a sort of newspaper with anti-CCP propaganda.

Tomorrow I'll take a train to Shanghai (19 hours) and my friend there will buy me a ticket to Beijing (10 hours, hard seat) and if I survive I will arrive in Beijing on Friday, 8 AM.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Still in Beijing

I am still in Beijing.
Here are some photos of Tian'an men Square:

China National Museum
People waiting for the guards to lower the flag, in the middle of the square. This is a very static and official event.


Monument to the fallen heroes, on Tian'anmen Square

Mao Ze Dong on the outer wall of the Forbidden City

Just a little joke: is it "B-swine", or "BS (bullshit)-wine"?
That 'thing' besides it is a spicy chicken claw, in case you're wondering...

Chen Yi on Tian'an men Square

With our friend Young

Scorpions for sale in a Qingdao market

"xiao didi": awkward looking seafood in Qingdao. The kind of thing to see in a market that makes you stop and think twice if what you saw was real.
I actually ate one of them :s

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Latest developments...

Fat cat in a Beijing hutong
We spent two weeks in Qingdao, living in a youth hostel. Each day was about the same: get up late, search the Internet for jobs and other ways to extend my visa, meet some friends in the evenings. There are some nice beaches, and the old German mansions and parks at this time of the year look very beautiful. On a Sunday we went to the beach and found it literally crowded with brides pairs, and their hired, more or less professional, photography companies following them. They were taking wedding photos (before the actual wedding, which is a custom in China) and I had to laugh as they were taking some of the most unnatural and rediculous poses I've ever seen:
This woman looks like she just died

This position is the photography company's trademark

Fishermen on the pier

Count the number of brides pairs on this beach

A real gentleman, eh? ;)

The bride is wearing sneakers!

A final quick make-up session (in front of the public toilet)

And onward to the next romantic location, and run; because time is money!

I met some foreigners in Qingdao, and most of them are English teachers. On one good day I called up a visa agent, and arranged a meeting later that afternoon. Her 'office' was just in a residential appartment. I told her I was looking for a job now, and she introduced me to her friend, who is actually her boss. He runs a language training school on the university campus, and the next day they offered me a part time job teaching English to business people. This way it is easier to get the visa papers together. This was on a Friday, and next Monday we would sort out all the paperwork.

Boy catching small crabs on the beach

Try to read the names of these dishes - Japanese sushi restaurant in Qingdao

Should be 'dumpling' of course :)

Beware of people falling from the sky

We bought crab on the local market and had the owner of the 'Beer Bar' (that's really the name) cook it for us, for free, as long as we ordered a beer.

Next Monday came, and in the morning that school let me know that they couldn't find enough students (4) to make a class, so no job. The visa agent still could extend my visa, and I was to meet her later that day. All I needed to bring was my passport and two photos. But... where was my passport? I looked everywhere but couldn't find it! I even traced all the restaurants and bars we've been to in the weekend (during Halloween), but no luck.

This is how I felt

That afternoon we went to a local police station to get a statement of loss. After trying three different stations, we finally found a station with people actually working in it. The others were all empty. The phone wasn't even answered. (Qingdao is a pretty quiet place now. Apparently many young people have left for Beijing in the last years, and now is low tourist season). At the police office, the officers didn't know what to do: they had never done this before. All I needed was a statement, stamped by the police office, but it seemed to take forever. When all the papers were ready, stamped with my fingerprints, signed trice and copied, all we needed was the signature of a senior officer... who had just gone home. We had to come back the next morning.

We did go back at 9:00 AM next morning and still had to wait 1.5 hours before everything was ready. In the end they gave me a small piece of paper that looks like a supermarket receipt. It was signed and had my name on it though, and so it was all I needed. They then sent us to another office, where I should apply for the 'real' statement. This would take one month. "What?" I thought. I rang the embassy and they told me no problem, just get your ass to Beijing and we'll sort something out.

this is my official receipt of the loss of my passport.

Nothing to do about it: the next day we boarded a train to Beijing...

It took only six hours and we arrived at 18:30. We rented an appartment for one week (there are many, if you know where to find them) and I went to the Dutch embassy. They told me it would take one week to issue a new passport and I had to pay 50 Euros.

Now I am stuck here in Beijing, one week left to wait. Fortunately some friends are coming to visit, and the weather is still good, so that we can go out and have some fun. After I get my passport, I will have one day left on my visa, so these are exciting times. Now I need to find a visa agent who can give me a new visa, without having a job. There are places that specialise in this, but charge a lot of money. They tell me that, since I will have no visa in my new passport, I need to get an 'exit-visa' which is valid for 10 days and then leave the country. I can fly to Hong Kong to apply for a new visa. After all that, the agent can help me get a 6 month visa.

I'll keep you updated on the latest developments.

Local food in Beijing. Boiled tofu, fish balls, meat and culiflower

Fish, blood & intestines soup. We ordered it 'with extra chili' and this is what we got!

The other dish we ordered in the Sichuan restaurant in Beijing. Under this mountain of chili is a one kg fish (freshly killed on the premises, with a blunt piece of wood, by the waiter who continued smoking a cigarette)

In Beijing we enjoy walking around the 'hutongs'. These are little old streets with small buildings all connected, nearly forming a solid wall. Nowadays, many of these hutongs have small shops, bars and coffee shops in them, and they are a nice quiet place to stroll around and get lost in. Normal life still continues all around though; it feels like stepping back in time. Here, old men play Chinese chess or poker on the street; cats and dogs everywhere; the smell of food hangs around the little alleyways; public toilets every 200m because no house has a private bathroom; little vegetable and meat markets everywhere...

For a city with a population of 10m+, there are some amazingly quiet streets in this city

All kinds of surprises are hidden in these little alleys

sunflower seeds and other nuts. Chinese people eat these seeds constantly, creating quite a mess. 1 kg of roasted sunflower costs 1,60 Euros.

Steaming baozi (stuffed steamed buns)

Beijing locals love bai cai, (Chinese cabbage). It can be found literally everywhere.

We found some really cool youth hostel, hidden in the small alleyways. It is located in an old factory, and very spacious. Cheap too: 3,50 Euros per night (and that in Beijing!)