A Travellerspoint blog

I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers

Or How to Extend your Chinese Visa in 17 Easy Steps

sunny 38 °C
View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

We have reached the one month marker in our travel in China and you know what that means - time to extend our visa! Canadians typically are given a 30 day tourism visa, and that is in no way enough time to see all of what China has to offer. We barely explored the northern provinces and are eager to continue on to the southern and western areas. China is chalk-full of memorable cities, ancient villages, historical relics and natural wonders. I need more time; I'm not ready to leave yet.

Toby is the main researcher in our team, and little was found about the hows and wheres when it comes to visa extensions. The only tidbit we clung to was that it can be easier to obtain in a smaller town. So we set our sights on Suzhou (pop 6 million... small is relative in China).

Several days before the expiry, we collected our paperwork. We were blessed with an eager team at our hostel who happily printed several pages for us and meticulously edited our Google-translated intent letter. They didn't want any compensation for their time, so we brought them what anyone would want in this heat: popsicles.

We grabbed a taxi to the PSB (Public Security Bureau) listed in our Lonely Planet. A friendly lady walking her dog helped us to find the building on the narrow street. There, a helpful, English speaking officer told us that extensions are now dealt with through the Suzhou Administrative Service Center building. He wrote out the name and address in Chinese for our next taxi.

Once at the SASC, another helpful employee checked over our paperwork and helped us photocopy our passports. He then guided us to "the fat police officer". When the fat police officer laughed, we did too. His English was good and he communicated to us that the registration form the hostel gave us was not enough for proof of residency. Another officer came over and wrote out in Chinese where we needed to go - the local police office closest to our hostel.

Another taxi ride later and we were back on our pedestrian-only street. We walked the length of it without seeing the police building, so we asked a local waitress. She told us to go over a bridge, but that police building was closed. A man and a women were debating how to tell us where to go when a man came over from the street to explain in English. He showed us on our map and we were on our way. When the street was under construction, a tourist office employee showed us a detour. When we lined up at the traffic police counter, a security guide showed us where to go. The police officer who gave us the Registration Form of Temporary Residence also struggled to tell us where to go next and was relieved when we showed the first piece of paper with SASC's address on it.

There are two morals to this story. The first is intended to help others researching online about what is needed to extend a visa. Here is a list of what we needed to submit:

~we used the registration form filled out by our hostel to get a Registration Form of Temporary Residence from the police station closest to the hostel

~we filled out a Visa and Residence Permit Application Form - this was in English and available at SASC

~we each needed two passport photos

~we typed a letter of intent including our entry date and port, nationality, reason for application and signature

~we copied our passport, current visa page and entry stamp page

~we printed a web-statement of our banking information to prove we had $100 per day = $3000 each for a 30 day extension

~we paid 160 yuan (approx. $24 CND) each

The second moral of the story is that this 5 hour ordeal would not have been possible without the continual help of the local Suzhou people. Every taxi driver was fast and efficient, every police officer was helpful and kind, and every stranger we asked for help gave it with a smile. Once we left the SASC with a stamped receipt in our hands, we knew that China was where we wanted to be.

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Posted by Lis.L 06:43 Archived in China Comments (2)

I. Am. Pedestrian.

by Lis

33 °C
View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

In my last entry I bemoaned the number of travelers during the summer months in China. So why did I find myself only a few days later, walking on Nanjing Road in Shanghai, in a crowd of hundreds, feeling exhilarated? Perhaps it is because Shanghai is a city for pedestrians.

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Pedestrians have few rights in China. You have the right to get out of the way when a car, bus, truck, motorcycle, bicycle or pedicab honks at you. Streets are a free-for-all, with drivers expertly maneuvering around obstacles without blinking an eye. A taxi driver once motioned to us that it was insulting to put on your seat belt in a taxi. I interpreted it to mean that it said to the driver that you didn't think he was good enough. Drivers will take any means necessary to resist braking, including driving in bike lanes or with oncoming traffic. When cars are in bike lanes, bikes go on sidewalks. There are few crosswalks, and crossing the street can take a leap of faith.

But in Shanghai, their metro system was designed for pedestrians. It is clean, fast, cheap, easy to use and thorough. They have pedestrian-only areas (yes, the motorcycles still find a way....) and specially designed walk ways. Crosswalks count down the change of lights. The massive city was at our doorstep.

On our first night in Shanghai, we found ourselves on the pedestrian area of Nanjing Road engulfed in the massive crowd. We took over the street, forcing the cars to wait, as we moved as one. Our path led us to the area named The Bund, along the river, to see the lights on the other side.

I. Am. Pedestrian.

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Posted by Lis.L 05:45 Archived in China Comments (1)

Finding a Piece of Peace in China

By Lis

sunny 37 °C
View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

China has a population of 1.3 billion and it seems like half of them are on vacation in the summer! Chinese tourists are everywhere we go, and as we stray from the bigger sites and cities, the number of Westerners we see a day drops to single digits. Several times in the past 3 weeks I have said or thought, "This would be so much nicer if 50% of the people were somewhere else." For example, at the Shaolin Temple, the throngs of visitors congested the ancient pathways so much that all sense of peace or zen was lost. Yesterday we trekked Tai Shan, the most sacred mountain in Taoism, and the vendors, restaurants and hotels at the summit overwhelmed me! Instead of serene mountain vistas, we saw Coca-Cola slogans and pancake wheels.

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So I was pleasantly surprised by the town of Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius. Finally, the streets were cross-able, the sidewalks peaceful and the sites tranquil. The only distraction was the buzzing of mosquitoes. We strolled through Confucius Temple, Mansions and Forest at a snail's pace, taking in the sights and sounds, aware of the cicadas and birds in the trees.

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Chinese travelers are noticeably different than Western travelers in certain ways. For instance, I first noticed at the Forbidden City that they like to touch what they are looking at. Many hands caressed the doorknobs at each gate, finely carved pillars or Buddha bellies. They threw themselves at the entrance of the wedding-night-room of the emperors, in hopes that it would bring them luck in love. If something is not to be touched or photographed, there had better be a large sign, and a fool-proof barrier. Fences can be reached through or climbed over. I have seen that many times.

I have also noticed that the majority of tourists have a guide, equipped with microphone and speaker, explaining the history or relevance of each item. There are also a lot of souvenir photo booths, where they rope off the best photo backdrop and you have to pay for a photo. Surprisingly to me, a lot of people go for this, as well as the myriad of other goodies the vendors are selling. I think Chinese tourists drop way more cash than Westerners. Another difference from my travel experience is that in addition to nick-knacks and memorabilia related to the particular sight, many vendors sell toys. Simple, children's toys.

The Chinese seem to have a different opinion on how to treat historical relics. They often seem to opt for renovation vs. restoration. There is often a fresh coat of paint on pagodas and even idols, ancient walkways are regularly repaved, and buildings are added with an "old" feel to them. It is not unusual to read in the description; built this year, restored this year and this year, making me question what I am actually looking at.

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China is one of the few countries I can think of where the majority of tourists are citizens. The only other that comes to mind is the US, which also promotes "spending your dollars on US soil". Maybe they have more in common than they think. :)

Note: After publishing this entry, some family members mentioned that some of my comments didn't sound like me, and so I would like to clarify some details. I am frustrated by the number of tourists during the summer months in China, but acknowledge that I am also contributing to the problem. I am intrigued by the fact that so many of them are Chinese, but that part doesn't bother me in the least. I am a natural people-watcher, and tend to draw conclusions and make assumptions based on those observations. This is through the lens of curiosity, and is in no way a criticism, or negative judgment. I apologize if any of my comments offended anyone.

Posted by Lis.L 05:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Not Lost in Translation

By Lis

rain 26 °C
View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

Today we visited the Longman Grottoes and Shaolin Temple. Or, at least, the pictures show that I was there. During the heavy rainfall I tended to keep my eyes on the ground. We had the heaviest rainfall we've seen so far in China, and everything was soaked. We walked along the swiss-cheese mountainside and tried to make the best of it.

We signed up for the cheaper tour through our hostel - the one with a tour guide with "not perfect English". This actually meant NO English in our case. Our fellow travellers were three Chinese men, and they were stuck with us for the day. We got by with gestures during lunch (good thing I brushed up on my Chinese dining etiquette) but one man in particular really wanted to talk to us. He tried with all the English he knew ("Me China. You?") but when Toby launched into his family history, his eyes glazed over.

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So it shouldn't have been a surprise when about 20 minutes into the Longman tour a young man approached us and said, "This man wants to know where you are from." He was an English major, (how did the man know that?) who said he had been too nervous to talk to foreigners until now. He and his petite girlfriend stayed with us for the rest of the day, interpreting the guide's explanations, asking us questions on behalf of the man, and telling us about himself. He even held his umbrella for us while we listened.

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I am starting to learn that no matter where you are, or what language you speak, people will look out for you. Last night we followed our hostel's recommendation for some local food in Luoyang. We sat in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and handed over a piece of paper with the Chinese writing explaining what we wanted. A curious man, obviously drunk, also tested his English skills on us. "China very beautiful. Thank you very much. What is your name?" At first we responded politely, but when he ran out of English words he started shouting at us in Chinese. Like mother hawks, two ladies emerged from the kitchen. One took a protective stance over us and gestured for us to ignore him. The other sat close to him and scolded him in Chinese. When he protested and became angry, they escorted him out of the restaurant. "Xie xie," was the only way we could thank them.

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Posted by Lis.L 01:01 Archived in China Comments (1)

First Taste of China

By Lis

sunny 30 °C
View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

Toby and I have been travelling in China for 11 days now (side note - world tour has begun! Woohoo!) and we are learning the local customs and trying our best to adjust to their norms. Travel in Beijing was surprisingly easy, perhaps because we have such a large Chinatown in Toronto, or because Toby took an "intro to Mandarin" course which taught him numbers and key phrases. We stayed in a small hutong and during our week there we became accustomed to the winding roads with small shops, restaurants and homes. Beijing had so many sights to see... the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and of course the Great Wall is nearby. We quickly learned that the majority of tourists in China are Chinese, followed by Japanese and Korean. So Western visitors stand out and many curious Chinese asked me to take a picture with them in perfect English. At first I didn't mind; they were polite and friendly and I was happy to oblige. After a while I started to tire of the constant stares and giggles, and the sensitive part of me wondered if they were in fact laughing at me or making fun of my style of dress. When I climbed to the top of the Juyongguan area of the Great Wall, I could only pause for a second before hearing, "We take picture with you?" Red-faced and out of breath I sighed and smiled for the camera.

Other observations about China: there aren't any public benches or chairs anywhere, so the locals effortlessly squat whenever they need a rest. Chinese women take pride in their appearance and wear party dresses and heels even to tackle stairs or cobblestone roads. Chinese toddlers wear pants with holes in the crotch and relieve themselves on the street when needed. Chinese men spit on the street and floor frequently. Chinese men also hike up their shirts under their armpits when they are hot - exposing the many Buddha bellies :) Chinese couples wear matching shirts instead of holding hands. Chinese tour groups also almost always match something - hats, shirts etc. When it rained in Beijing we noticed that no one had a black umbrella - they were all pastel colours and flowery.

Cities explored so far: Beijing, Datong, Pingyao, Xi'an with many day-tours to explore the nearby sights.

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Posted by Lis.L 22:13 Archived in China Comments (3)

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