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A Letter From China

Foreigners Abroad

This missive focuses on my visa renewal for 2014 and 2015, complicated by the need of a new passport in between. This is one of the few 'must do's' in my life, and presented a quandary of options, none of which appeared sensible.

For ease of use on this quite long Letter from China, I have created the section header hotlinks below:

Chinese Visa 2014 Passport Renewal 2015 Health Check 2015 Chinese Visa 2015

For reference, my passport expired in September 2015, and my visa of the time, in August 2014. You may be aware there are rules attached to both. For instance, most visas require a period of six or nine months in excess of the passport expiry date, after date of visa issue. Therefore, a one-year visa may require twenty-one months of valid passport. Passports can be issued up to six months before, and include an addition of up to nine months of length off the old one.

Chinese Visa 2014

So, during Spring of 2014 I began to mull over the situation, and decided to check the latest laws as regards both China and Blighty. The information was never clear, especially regarding my personal situation. I was also aware, although it was not stated, that when a passport is cancelled and replaced with a new one, the visa(s) inside the old becomes obsolete.

There were several permutations, none of which appealed to me. My decision would either be, replace the passport in early to mid 2015 and take whatever length of visa China offered me, or replace the passport in 2014, and on the day of receipt, apply for the next Chinese visa. This would cost me many months of my passport validity.

Nine years before, and you may have read the related missive; I renewed my passport in Hong Kong. That entailed me waiting for one working week, or ten days in practice, for the new passport, whereupon issue, I got a new tourist visa, and returned to China. I will always remember that stay; you realise I was trapped in HK for the duration, unable to go anywhere else. I stayed with a group of Filipino’s domestic servants, who shared a one-bedroom flat in Wan Chai. We got along great, and I learned how the lowest class lives, and still do to this very day, in modern Hong Kong. Of note for later, special restrictions apply to their normally two year work visa, which must have a letter of prospective employment accompanying the application. But, that is by the way.

I thought to repeat the experience, but to my dismay, discovered that the British Embassy in Hong Kong no longer issues passports; back to the drawing board. After more research, I thought I had cracked the conundrum, because the website was worded to imply that the British Embassy in Beijing, only, could issue a replacement passport. In practice, they do not. I learned that all passports are now issued in UK.

The British use a quasi-semi-governmental contract company for those applying in China, and one of their four Chinese offices was in relatively nearby Guangzhou. I decided that was the only sensible option for me, as returning to Blighty, simply to renew my passport, and for zero other reason, did not make financial or chronological sense.

I considered my best choices, as time moved on into early Summer. I had to give my ‘home’ address, and this could be either my address in UK, or the one in China. If I used the UK one, then I would need somebody to send the new passport out to me, and sometimes mail does not arrive. Not good. Using my Chinese address, that of the apartment I now own, seemed a far better way to go; except, they needed that address in Chinese officially translating into English, and notarised. There was zero additional information, so I thought about it for some time.

Then I read in the news, the British passport office was inundated with passport requests, and processing would take six-weeks. I was very close to that time limit by then, but still had misgivings about the whole thing. In the end, I let the time go, and would wing it, see how long a Chinese visa I ended up with.

Set at last on a course of action, I prepared to renew my Chinese visa. Given the remaining period of validity of my passport, I did not bother with the usual health check, presuming I would end up with a six-moth Family Visit Visa, and later, a three month Tourist Visa. That was what I was expecting.

China is a country of curiosities, and the foreign visitor should always expect the unexpected, even when they have lived there for more than ten years. I had planned to go the week before, but at that time, did not fully understand the Anaemia that afflicts me from time to time. That attack was quite severe, and the first occasion I had both the severe shortness of breath, and gout, at the same time.

There was one day in particular, that walking to the kitchen, twenty paces away, was beyond me, without sitting to rest for a minute en route. Yes, it can get that bad. So, I took the strongest series of pills I had for Anaemia, (including ibuprofen and the heavy duty Fluticasone/Salmeterol inhaler), and a double dose of the former; the condition eased as the day wore on. That is when the gout attacked, and it can be incredibly painful; I know. The gout attacked my right ankle, it is in a different joint every time, and I desperately took milder medicine, with no effect. It was only nine hours of twelve, since I took the last strong pill for the Anaemia, but I could not place any weight on my foot, or even walk without extreme pain. I had no option, but to take the gout cure, a tablet called Colchicine, which is made from crocii.

I downed just one pill, being careful not to conflict remedies. If it worked, I would take the full dose, but after the twelve hours was up. I felt better, if only emotionally, already knowing the crocus had been used by the ancient Egyptians to cure gout. I felt in good company, and resumed my work.

Some short time later, I remember feeling hot, so turned up the air conditioner. A little later, my legs started itching, followed by my arms. Moments later, it felt like my body was on fire, and I was gasping for breath. Heat blisters appeared everywhere, and I hobbled to the bathroom. My glance in the mirror showed I was extremely red, and covered in small, white blisters. I dived under the shower, turned it on full blast, on cold, and hoped my life was not about to end.

As it turned out, the attack only lasted a few minutes, but some of the scariest minutes of my life. An hour later, I was fine, breathing OK and with the gout disappearing fast. The next day I took the whole Colchicine hit, just to make sure the gout was well and truly gone. But regards my visa application, we would have to wait until the next week.

I went with my wife, she calling on the services of a private drivers group, for want of a better description. They appear to be a collaboration of private drivers who are based in both Toisan (Tai Shan) and Gong Muen (Jiang Men). We had used them before, but their operation had seemed to expand over the intervening year, and we got door-to-door service, including very little waiting time. The cost was only slightly more than the bus fare, and the time saving: hours.

While waiting for the driver to arrive outside before leaving, I remember running a final check. I had everything associated in a dedicated plastic case, but had not bothered that year with the official photographs, not for such a short visa. I added other things to the pack, and on impulse, decided to include everything, just in case. So I added Rhiannon's birth certificate, and our pair of marriage booklets. Then we were gone.

One hour later (two by bus, with transfers), we arrived at the PSB (Police dealing, or Public Security Bureau), and went to the copy shop, which also has a photo booth for official pictures. I think this private is a concern, located just outside the main gates, and we photocopied the usual documents. Next, go inside and fill in the forms. Siu Ying always disappears off at this point, and I have to go and find her, so she can write our address in Chinese.

That year, our paperwork was immediately accepted by one of the three women checking applications, and we were given a ticket. We waited fifty minutes, but were seen in due course. I made a note to always arrive as early as possible in future, and before the crowds arrived.

I had been hoping to get the girl we always have, but this time we saw the guy next to her. He was fine and very efficient, but warmed when I managed to reply to him in Cantonese. We were processed exactly as before, and Siu Ying had to dash out to copy my marriage booklet; we have one each. In the meantime, I handed over last year’s photograph, health examination booklet, together with the copy of the associated, detailed report.

I had the distinct impression I was being processed for a one-year visa. Mentioning as we concluded, he noted we were from Toisan, and asked us if rather than collecting in person, we would prefer courier delivery. “Yes please!”

We joined the short payment queue, but were directed around the corner, where EPS (China Post courier service, had a couple of tables. We paid them the visa fee, and the courier charge, a mere Y35, or less than one, one-way bus ticket. I wish I had remembered that bit better, but it was all a bit new and rushed. I was also a bit confused, wondering for the most part, what my new visa would be.

We returned the copy delivery chit to the processing policeman, who informed us that the next year, I would have to apply for my next visa in Guangzhou. He appeared to be inferring this would be a five-year, full residency visa; or as common as rocking-horse shite to normal people. Yippee!

I received the new visa some three weeks later, delivered to my door. Inside I found a visa running from September, a day or so previous, valid until the day before my passport expired, or over one year by almost one month. This would be a two-year visa, shortened due to my passport validity. Wow!

Why had I been so worried, examined so many options, when in practice, it all turned out so easy. Welcome to China, a land that never ceases to surprise.

Bear those word in mind, as we move swiftly forward one year.

Passport Renewal 2015

One year later, and I already had a firm plan, get a new passport via Guangzhou, and later, get my first five-year Residence Visa, from somewhere in Guangzhou. I did my research, and found the location of both buildings. As summer approached, my formative plans were coming down to which specific day to apply for my new passport. I had been hoping for an overcast day, but the skies remained clear and blue; the sun beat down mercilessly. The weather forecast for the foreseeable future, was more of the same.

I made an online appointment, and got the photographs, plus everything else done. My printer still did not work, so I would do the forms there. The main thing had been a colour copy of each and every page of my passport. I had gotten most done the year before, just needing to get new copies of a couple of pages, which I did while waiting for my mug shots to be processed, ten minutes and I was done.

My appointment was for one-thirty in Guangzhou (GZ), and near Citic Plaza, an individually styled skyscraper I knew quite well, over in Tian He district. This was one of the areas of the city I new moderately well, but bear in mind, the population is well in excess of twenty million people; it is a big place, one say, twice the size of London. The British website was old, and did not have directions to it in Chinese, and only a low-resolution map that made little sense. I discovered the Greek Embassy had a service from the same building, so took pictures of my computer screen, and downloaded their information. I ended up with an address in my phone, any Chinese taxi driver would understand. Shame the British Embassy website only had directions in English, not very practicable out here on the streets of China, but what do I know, I only live here.

Regards this missive, and future ones, I have taken to carrying a small roll of notes with me in my jeans ‘keys’ pocket. It saves me having to get out my wallet in public, and makes paying much quicker. For the trips below, I calculated how much, and what denominations of cash I would need, compared to what I had at the moment in question; moments only, not planned in detail. For instance, the motorcycle taxi to Toisan bus station would be Y5, the bus Y32, but bus stations always have change, so that is a Y100 bill. The change gives me middle denomination notes, invaluable for taxis in Guangzhou, or otherwise they plead, ‘no change’, and try to take all of the larger note you offer. If planning to take the metro, I add a handful of Y1 coins, but that is the only place I have ever used them; oh, except for supermarket lockers—I keep one in my wallet for just such occasions. Otherwise, Rhiannon uses our piggy banks for learning to count money.

On the day in question, I arrived at Toisan bus station just before nine a.m., the ticket girl understanding my Cantonese with no problem, but as normal, telling the price in Mandarin. I hate it when they do that. I paid her and noted I was not on the ten-past nine bus, but seated on the nine-thirty one. I had time in hand, but it did not bode well for the coming day.

As it was, I arrived at GZ main bus station around eleven-thirty, and walked to the underground, which is called the ‘Subway’, but labelled ‘Metro’ in this Chinese city. I had forgotten just how far a walk it was to the railway hub, a very long way; one corridor alone, without people moving flat escalators, is half a mile long. There were no seats, and I needed to rest.

I battled bravely on, knowing the ticket-fight was to come, and was not disappointed. They have several dozen ticket machines, and the shortest queues were at the farthest away, and that’s where I went. Dozens of people were waiting in vague lines for every one. The one I picked had eight in the queue, and all went well. That was until a woman barged in when I was second in line. I was about to elbow her out of the way, when I realised she had arrived to help her husband work out what to do with the machine. They spoke Mandarin, and were most likely itinerant workers hoping to make good.

They had problems with the machine, and a row erupted as the man clamed the device had stolen his money. Other Chinese nearby chuckled, but no one came forward to assist. I had heard his one Yuan coin drop, and pointed to the returned cash flap. He wasn’t sure, but retrieved his unaccepted coin and tried again. That time it worked. I smirked, it reminded me of Lo Si and ‘The Wheel’, something from Star Gazer series, but to know what, you will have to read the books.

I got my ticket within moments, understanding the machine, and what I needed it to do. This time, the nearby Chinese were attentive, and I got the distinct impression several were waiting for me to make the slightest mistake, before advising me on what to do. Tough, I already did it. I admit to being distracted that day, confident I had my destination correct, and where to find the trains. I almost, but not quite, swiped my plastic disc over the exit barrier, before realising that way did not lead to the trains.

So haughty was I, so competent one moment, and stupid the next. I made my way down to the trains, and there were no escalators; I walked a long way, and felt my strength ebbing, if slightly. I determined never to walk that half-mile into this station again, not without a ready chair at least; I believe they are correctly called ‘seat canes’.

A train came in, and the world and his wife rushed to get on. I was near the back of the queue anyway, so observed. I made my way to a particular allotted entryway, and was first in waiting for the next train. My ploy worked well, and I got one of the very rare seats. Several stops on, I had to change lines, and that time my ploy did not work, but I did get a seat before the distance was covered.

I emerged into modern Tian He, one of the most popular parts of the city, and looked around for exit A. I followed the signs, and en route, got talking to a couple of Americans; one had been working in GZ for over one year, and the younger, taller lad was into his second day, and obviously wowed by the place. I wished them well when we reached exit B, the end of the passage, and looked around for exit A. Nope. Not there. I presumed I had missed it with talking, so retraced my steps.

I went back, glancing behind me of course, until I found the sign that stated ‘exit A, B ahead’. Got it! I walked forwards, and back to where I had been. There was no other sign for exit A. To my right was exit B, and to my left, the entrance to a shopping mall, as they call them over here. Knowing exits A and B should be close together, I went up to a large and cooling foyer, which appeared to serve no purpose, out of exit B, and nothing looked remotely familiar. I searched the skyscrapers for the one I knew, not visible.

I had been expecting to come out of exit A, go south, dogleg to the right across a main road, and there would be the building I was going to. I wandered around the streets, trying different routes, before returning inside. I found a Metro-girl in uniform, and asked her, “Where is exit A?”

She didn’t understand English at all, and neither Cantonese. By pointing and mime, she was able to say, “A” and pointed. I set off for my destination; exit A, where I reasoned the directions would make sense. Nope. I found exit H instead, then exit J. I headed south, and after a very long way, came to a major road I did not recognise. None of the skyscrapers made any sense either. I was lost, but at a junction, and discovered that I was on the right road. In time, I also surmised, I was at the wrong end of it. I checked my subway map, and saw I should have changed lines again, and exited the metro one stop north—then everything would have made sense. Doah!

I had been so confident, and was proved a fool, again. I was also cramping, dehydrated, and getting into a bad way. I hailed a cab, showed the driver the Greek Embassy address of my destination in Chinese, and was delivered outside, with a large smile, all but a few minutes later. In that moment, I decided that the only way to do Guangzhou, was with directions in Chinese, use a taxi, and sod the expense.

I got out of the cab, the driver pointing to the building I needed to go to. It was set across a large square, well, curve actually, and had ‘Something’ Plaza on the outside in giant letters. The building’s postal address is Cheng Jian Mansion, which nary appears outside, nor inside the building. Not helpful.

I realised, before setting foot inside, I had been there before. You may imagine I am sitting down on a rockery, in full afternoon sun, smoking a cigarette, whilst relating this small aside.

When I was last here, it was for Dave to apply for Candy’s visa to UK. There was a second reason, one that if actioned, would have changed his life, but that is for us to know, private. But let us go back in time, and to the months before August 2008. Visas to China had become a nightmare, and a Chinese person’s visa to UK was like jumping through hoops.

Candy is a very special person to both of us, and a best friend also. She helped us more than immensely with our business’, me with exporting with sourcing; Dave with translation and accountancy services, like paying for stuff with his money. We had a very good operation going, had loaded our own containers, done the associated paperwork ourselves; so, what could go wrong? September 2008.

What was important, was that earlier that year, Dave was entertaining a full Directorial level mission of his major Chinese supplier, and he was their UK Main Dealer. Big stakes for sure. The Chinese party, consisted of almost one dozen, all got UK visas with no problem. However, Dave needed somebody on his side, someone who understood his business, from his pointy of view, and was tri-lingual: English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Most importantly, a person who would not lie to him = Candy.

In preparation for our first visit to this building, which mainly dispenses visa’s to Chinese hoping to go to Blighty, we had been to the British Consulate across town, the Brit he saw, assuring Dave that Candy’s application, with the documentation he had provided in advance, would be approved. Two months later, and just before the flight, the application was denied. So UK, shot yourselves in the foot again there then. The consequences were, that Dave did entertain a high delegation from this A-listed Chinese company, but without the support of anyone who would tell him what they were talking about, in truth. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions of what their own translator may, and may not have said.

Back to the present of this tale, and weary, I headed inside. I did sort-of recognise the interior, but things had been moved around a bit. A very nice female attendant who spoke good English, told me where to go, and I made my way up to the British outsourcing of passport renewal, company room via the escalator. I stated my business, got a ticket, and went through security.

The room was a bit weird, and felt similar to an intercity coach station waiting room, but compressed into one-hundredth of the size. There were not enough seats, people blocked virtually all routes, and I needed the application form, something not available from ‘reception’. As I politely asked, and later barged into gaps, I became aware the interior was seating, and scattered around were offices. My ticket was for the far side, one of the few areas with few people. I was the only Brit in the place; and I mean, I was the only non-east-Asian British national in the entire complex, including all the staff.

I interrupted at my allotted venue, in true Chinese style, but with courtesy, and was pointed to where I could get the form I needed to fill out. This turned out to be the other side of the reception desk, but apparently, these forms are only available from the interior side of the same desk. Durrr?

By that point in time, I was under duress. All the senseless walking, some of it my own fault admittedly, but I was not in a good way. I sat for a while, trying to recover my sensibility, but knew I was already in the midst of an anaemia attack. The next few hours passed me by as if upon sheer determination alone; will power, think autopilot and you will be close.

In time, I found the resolution to fill out the form, and waited, seated in line until called. I remember apologising, more than once to the girl attending my application, for being unwell. I would otherwise have perhaps, appeared as if drunk, which I was not; but delirium was by then, not far away. I hung in there, and got the most of it done. The girl was very good, understanding, and had very good, if not excellent English. She asked if I wanted another 48-page passport, as the current one was almost full, and I thanked her, ticking the appropriate box. She was nice to me, and that matters.

Quite quickly, and far quicker than any before me, I was almost done. I remember two things needed to be done: one was that I had to get a colour photocopy of something, pages of my property deeds booklet, I think; the other, to pay them to provide a notarised copy of my Chinese name and address. There was a bit more to it, but basically, pay the cash, and get a photocopy from somewhere nearby, ‘outside’. For one, Fate smiled upon me, as they offered translation and notarisation services. I was able to get a black and white copy of my deeds address page in the room, so they would work on the notarisation in my absence.

My next quest was to determine if ‘outside’, meant outside the room, but inside the same building, or elsewhere. I asked her, but was deffed; likewise nearby, so returned to the girl in reception. That’s when I realised her English wasn’t quite so good. She pointed at the adjacent building and said, “B2. Opposite KFC.”

I wandered outside, wondering how much worse the day could become, and sat a while, smoking a cigarette. Oh, and please know, anaemia and smoking are very much none-related. My sensibility began to return, and I realised the day was getting later than I had presumed. I went where directed, and found a large, open foyer of grand proportions, a supermarket in the far distance, and nothing else. It was simply a very large, empty space. I asked one of the numerous attendants for KFC in English and Cantonese, and was greeted by hostile Mandarin by way of reply. Security was obviously looking for somebody, anybody to hit with their long sticks, so I made my way outside as quickly as I could.

C’mon! How difficult is it to get directions to the nearest KFC? I walked twenty paces and needed to rest. I perched my behind on a plant thing, and smoked another cigarette. Time passed. I was still under the full heat of the sun, but fortunately the constant and oft times, overwhelming smog had obscured most of the harshness of Helios’ rays.

Gaining a second breath, I noticed a very small KFC sign a long way away, it was near a main road junction, and I headed for it. Along the way, I found another with KFC sign hidden inside the small entrance of a kiosk that looked like a bus shelter. Inside was a way down; steps. The farther one I presumed an escalator, so I went for that. Wrong, only steps down, again. Ho-hum. Had I not endured the half-mile walk to station, and arrived at the incorrect tube station, I knew I would have been fine. As it was, I was running on almost empty reserve tank.

I entered an underground labyrinth, but followed the signs for McDonald’s, knowing KFC would be nearby. I went down a ‘cleaners’ corridor, emerging somewhere else, and now KFC signs appeared. I just wanted to sit down, but knew time was against me. I walked on, placing one foot in front of the other, and for a short time, that was my only physicality.

Eventually I came to the hub of the underground nest, where KFC and McDonald’s were set apart by the main subterranean walkway. I needed fuel, but was way passed queuing for service. Opposite KFC, on my right, was a booth with copy machines; I had gotten there. I sat down and waited. I spoke aloud, and louder; nothing happened. Eventually one of the geeks manning a barrage of computer screens came to me, and at least he spoke Cantonese. I asked for colour copies, and was told to wait. I sat on a chair, and waited. I waited a long time, and complained, the response translated as, ‘in a minute’. They were obviously too busy to bother with little me.

Eventually a new guy showed up, and spoke; he told a worker to attend to me, and the guy spoke English. I could have done this in Cantonese, except most of them, like most inhabitants of GZ, they publicly, only speak a bad and colloquial version of Mandarin; then they go and speak Cantonese between themselves. I do wonder sometimes. Note: I was getting slightly irritated by that point.

Well, after waiting twenty minutes for service, very not good Guangzhou, I was dealt with in less than a minute. The cost was cheap, even for the city, and I departed. I was now fresh enough to stand and queue for service at either fast food eatery, but knew the consulate thingymagig closed early, so I needed to get back. I strode to the centre of the small ‘whatever’, and noticed a sign, and escalators, one going up, the other down. I chose up, and arrived at the back of the grand foyer, of the building I had been in earlier. The supermarket was immediately to my left, and across the room, the entrance.

I stopped to look around, check my sanity if you prefer, and there was zero advertising, only obscured escalators set to a distant side of the massive room—meaning, you had to know in advance where you were going. I tried to explain this to the attendant in the building next door, but my words fell on fallow ground.

Apparently, I made it back into the UK ‘passy-port’ and visa place before they closed for the day, which I seem to remember, was 15:30. That’d be the middle of the afternoon to me, but as a user of their services, what do I know? Little it seems, but just enough. The place was by then virtually empty, and I was seen straight away. Formalities completed quickly, and I was informed the new passport, if approved, would be available for collection, from them in person, in about three week’s time. They would email me when it arrived. I had one-month to collect it, or it would be returned to Blighty. Before I left, I took a couple of business cards, noting one side was in Chinese. I said to a girl they should take a picture of it and put it on the website. She gave me an odd look, becoming immediately busy.

In due course, an email from the passport agency arrived, and a week later, I repeated the trip, solely to collect my new ID. I was told to take my old passport with me, but that an appointment was not necessary. I timed the trip so that I would be in GZ around about nine-thirty in the morning, hopefully just after the morning rush, and before the heat of the sun. I had been enduring the trip, but as we approached GZ, I noticed traffic on the opposite carriageway had ground to a halt. I had missed whatever was the cause, but the queue was already five-miles long, and I was happy to be headed in the opposite direction. I hoped the obstruction would be sorted for my return trip.

Because of my previous experience, I did not bother with the Metro, but headed for the taxi rank instead. There were one dozen people, or groups is a better expression, waiting for a never-ending line of taxis. I had just long enough for a cigarette, avoiding the beggars who plagued the area, un-accosted by security or police. Begging is a crime in China, by the way.

I gave the driver the passport office business card, and we were on our way. My seat was comfortable, and the interior air-conditioned. Twenty-minutes later we pulled up outside the doors of my destination, and I paid the driver thirty-two RMB. The Tube would have cost a mere two RMB, but to me, the expense was well worth it. Once inside the agency room, I went straight to the collection kiosk, and was dealt with directly. The girl had to keep checking which pages to snip the end off, but otherwise was very efficient. I signed and was handed my new ten-year and several months passport.

Part A of the master plan, completed.
The time was before ten o’clock, and things were going my way that day. On a roll, I decided to complete the day’s plan, and headed outside bound for nearby Hai Zhu Square. This is where one of the two ‘food city’s’ I know of is located, and I was out of cheese. I refuse to pay thirty RMB for an once of Edam, when a 2Kg bowling ball costs just over Y100 hereabouts. I’ll leave you to do the maths, but the supermarket mark-up must be in the thousands of percent.

With time in hand, and a queue on the expressway, I found the gents restroom with a little difficulty, and exited the side of the building, where there was hidden in a very out of the way place, a typical western style photo booth. I made a mental note, should I ever have need in future. Cabs were always easy to get in that area, so I partook of a leisurely cigarette, and when done, hailed the first taxi that came along. I had taken a photo with my camera, of the display on my computer, in Chinese, of where I wanted to go. The driver was a little confused at first, but we both agreed verbally on ‘Hai Zhu’, and headed off. The roads were unknown, but the direction according to the empowering sun, was about right.

Less than fifteen minutes later the driver asked me in Cantonese if this was where I wanted to be. I looked around and recognised nothing. Nevertheless, the area had a familiar feel about it—a bit like seeing a place you know well, but from an unknown perspective. I knew we were close, but told him to drive on. We crossed a busy road junction, the road on the right being one-way, against us. He pointed at it, and I understood. I got out and paid twenty RMB. As it turned out, I was also four hundred yards closer to my destination, than had I used the Metro.

I walked two hundred yards to the shop, and filled my rucker with all things dairy. I considered getting another 4Kg pack of cheddar, but it was heavy, and I knew I would be back in a few months’ time. I got the Edam, plus treats such as Camembert, Philadelphia, and seriously looked at 1Kg rounds of Danish Blue, my one regret of non-purchase; I bought smaller wedges instead. I also stocked up with butter, which is half the supermarket price, and bought a large wedge of a cheese with holes in it; Maasdaam cheese, or Dutch Emmental. However, I did add other produce, such as a large jar of black olives in olive oil, a one-litre jar of Dijon mustard, and a jar of American import Guacamole with chilli. Wow! That was good stuff. I got change from twenty quid, and told the manageress to keep the receipt, I knew she would write, “Cancelled” across it and pocket the cash. As a ‘thank you’, she popped a small chilli sauce into my carrier, probably a non-seller they needed rid of, but aren’t cash only societies nice. Although, bear in mind, I am an infrequent, if regular customer.

My backpack was by then heavy, and I had a way to go. The sun was in full glory, beating down on us below. It was damned hot, and time for me to go home. The day was turning against me, if only slightly, as the cabs I tried to hail were all full. I walked to a joining road, and crossed to the other side. I hailed twice more, before a private driver noticed my waved arm, and pulled to a stop. I was wary, but he spoke native Cantonese, and we made a deal; 40 RMB to the main bus station. He read my outbound ticket, and we confirmed the deal; eight RMB more than my taxi fare, so OK.

Guangzhou main (Central?) bus station is a busy and curious place. It is sited along one of the busiest and most congested roads in the entirety of the city; and that is during non-peak periods. I was also aware there is a vague turf war ongoing, between taxi rank drivers, and cabs dropping people off and taking on new passengers. I gathered private drivers were not welcome, when ten minutes later, yes, I did say ‘ten minutes’ later, the driver asked for payment in advance; he would drop me off and disappear. Would I be in the right place, or was this a rip-off? I drew out the process of getting my cash ready, and was rewarded by seeing buildings, and then railings I knew were very close to the bus station. I paid him, and got out when he pulled over, near the main entrance, but railings barred the route. Helpful: not!

I was Standing by a pillar, which supported either the flyover, or overhead walkway; I forget which, with a row of cars to get passed before reaching the kerb. The only way was left, and I remembered from previous, there is a cut through adjacent to the Police box. Therefore, I walked one hundreds yards left to get in, and one hundred yards back to virtually where I was before. Just as well, buses are considered to be one of the most convenient forms of transportation. But on reflection, it was built decades ago to meet the then needs, and today, the whole thing either needs moving, or a complete redesign. However, from my last missive, you will note that Chinese peoples are very good at ‘waiting’, so there’s your starter for ten.

I do not like the ticket office at this place, the staff only ever seem to speak Mandarin, and never understand my spoken destination, although every other bus station does. I’ve mentioned before, Chinese tend to get a mental block when dealing with foreigners, and instead of listening properly to what is said, presume what they think the destination to be. On the previous occasion, the girl was convinced my precisely and correctly enunciated ‘Toisan’ and ‘Tai Shan’, were ‘Zhong Shan’. Durrr?
On this occasion, the girl looked up questioningly, and said, “Toisan-ah?”
“Hai-ah, yut gor yun.” [Yes, one person.]
“Lop-sup yee mun. Sup-yut ger zhong, sai sup mmm fun; yee lau.” [Y62; bus departs at 11:45, floor two.]
“Mmm goi.” [Thank you.]
She smiled and nodded her head, before giving me the ticket. The first time ever a bus cashier had used Cantonese in GZ; the supposed centre of the modern Cantonese world. This was turning out to be a very special day. I just hoped the expressway was clear.

I had forgotten the queue for my bus was way over to the right, and not on the near right, which stated in Chinese ‘Toisan’, but with other associated characters. I had time to kill, and found the seating area set far away from the vast expanse of nothingness, but adjacent to a KFC kiosk. It mirrored the one below, at ground level. I hummed and ha’d, until it was too late, and went to wait for the bus, due in minutes. Some were called, but it was the wrong queue, and I eventually found the correct one, stuck way out on the right wing. The ever-changing display occasionally showed my bus, and later, ‘Toisan, due at 12:10’.

Now here’s a tip for any foreign visitors to China—never presume that because something is written, that is what it means. The couch pulled in at 11:52, and we boarded some minutes later, leaving at midday. Now my tale twists and turns a bit, and just after we got onto the expressway proper. Maybe I should change that, to the bus took various routes. The hold-up was worse than ever, and I was mentally preparing myself for one of the most enduring coach rides ever.

However, I did not realise our driver was a ‘Star!’. At that point in time, I would gestimate the tailback of traffic going nowhere to be around eight miles, and we took a slip road off at eight miles and one hundred yards. We veered off onto a normal road, took small, local road within yards to the south, or left, and drove through a factory set to either side of a side road. The journey was beginning to get interesting.

I have always believed, that if you want to ever see the all that is China, you need to be on a bus when everything goes pear-shaped, and the driver knows the local roads. This was turning into a great experience; one I hoped would land us ahead of whatever the problem was.

Once clear of the odd factory, we were headed down a single track, concrete, rural road. It twisted and turned according to the village and paddy layouts we passed by, and fortunately, there was little oncoming traffic. A few miles later, we came into a village, and took a larger road for another few miles. I would not call it a main road as such, just a two-carriageway rural lane. I was sort of running a mental distance counter as we progressed, because the chocker-block expressway was often in view, and nothing on there was moving.

I don’t know how to describe the next place properly, it was sort of a village, but had the dimensions of a town. For instance, the roads were always double (not dual) carriageway, but the road was tight, corners ninety-degrees or more, designed for bicycles and farm carts, not inter city coaches; but we got by. Nearing the far side, the driver ducked down a side road, and we were on a steep decline, the expressway evident, and stagnant above, and a low bridge approaching; one we were about to pass under. I wondered if this included the air-con on the coach’s roof, because it appeared a very fine call to me.

I will guess, that somebody, perhaps this driver, had done it before, and infrequently. We passed under the metal warning structure, and under the expressway, although the height tightened as we progressed. I was waiting for a scrape on the roof, at best, but we got clean through. I really enjoyed that, would we get stuck under the overpass, nope. My respect for the driver was increasing with every turn.

We went up a corresponding slope on the other side, and came directly into civilization, and by that I mean city backstreets. The road was lined with small, local shops selling all manner of things, retail and one-man commercial vying for position amongst the plethora of small eateries with tables outside, full of patrons. Well, it was lunchtime.

I think this is one of the things I love most about this part of China; something I have never witnessed anywhere else in the world. The personal business ethic, and they promote it wherever they can. People were making things, selling things, providing services, and not one taxman or bureaucrat in sight. The local economy thereabouts was obviously thriving, as it should. I witnessed cash changing hands, as I do every single day of my life, no receipts, and no accountability.

This appears to be something modern Western politicians, and especially those in financial circles have failed to comprehend. If people have money in their pocket, they will either spend it, or invest it. Moreover, in turn, this is why the Chinese model of self-empowerment is working. The Chinese taxman is not interested in small people, nor small sums of money; that is local and stays within the greater community. They become extremely interested when those small sums become large sums of money; and I think that about right. But to move on…

We passed through what most would deem a cesspit of human endeavour, and had problems negotiating a two-way street, if only because the most of it was blocked by parked cars. Eventually we got through, and that proved to be our only hold-up of the entire journey; minutes instead of hours. “Thank you Mr. Driver!”

Once through the enclave, the road widened, and we took a right, straight into an expressway tollbooth. Moments later we were on the rat-run, and traffic was slow, but moving. As we cleared the slip road, traffic was accelerating, and more so. One mile farther on, and the road was clear, with little traffic. We made it back to Toisan by 02:10, and being one of the last to debus, I made a point of thanking the driver. He shrugged off my praise, but with a large and deferring smile; I do think these small things matter, especially when real people are involved.

As I arrived, the sky darkened, and rain fell. I stood nearby the local motorcycle taxi crew, some of whom I knew, and smoked a cigarette. I reflected; the day had been far better than I could have imagined, especially the traffic problem. Some days everything goes your way, other days you should stay abed; but I will come to my next visit to ‘The City’ in due course…

He rain lasted twenty minutes, but I departed in ten, and got slightly wet, but it was a warm wet. I remember being accosted several times by an ‘Auntie’; meaning an older person, who was insistent I take her umbrella. I deferred, but she did not give up, later offering to share. Jezzz! I was only walking one hundred yards to the plumber come electric merchant shop. Briefly, the rain came heavier again, but I ducked under a covered walkway, and noted the sky was lightening and lifting.

There she was again, ‘Auntie’, and to shut her up, to stop her bothering me to be precise, I walked with ‘Auntie’ (She was probably younger than me, but had endured a harsher life), and we walked together under her ‘brolley’, twenty paces to the shop, my immediate destination. My reasons for going were twofold, to buy a plug socket with four outlets, and to get a few screw-in bulbs. The bulbs were not a problem, but the four socket outlet was not what I wanted, it was two three-pin, and two two-pin. In our last home we had a couple of four socket, three-pin outlets. Nope! Next time I am there, I will buy them, because they would do the job, given a little wiring behind the ‘mortar’ [not plaster], internal façade.

I wandered up towards the zebra crossing, and couldn’t be bothered to run for the ‘walking man’, I’d get him next time around. Instead, I looked around, noting the sameness, and differences since the last time I was there, many months before. The alterations were mostly subtle, some not, but only obvious when looked at properly. Time was moving remorselessly onwards, as were the traffic lights. I crossed, and being near my old home, waved my hand in the air at a local motorbike taxi down the street. He didn’t move, but moments later, the bike; the face of my favourite rider came into view. I think a year or more pealed back, as I once again sat behind him on the short ride to our new home.

And I don’t really care what any modern-day person thinks. To me, freedom is represented by putting a bikes wheels on the road, wind in the hair, and no looking back.

Health Check 2015

All in all, and especially regards the local people, China is a pretty crazy country, which reminds me of why I love living here so much. You never know what will, or won’t, happen next. Time I moved on to the latter.

My current Chinese visa expired on the Friday of the third week of September, so I had planned to renew it during the second week. The weather was still very hot, reminding me of my first year in China. That’s eleven years ago, and weather does repeat, as do dates of days of the week, every eleven years.

The first task was to get my official photographs done, and copy relevant documents, some in colour. I went to the regular shop, and managed using Cantonese only. The shop seemed short staffed, but I got my pictures taken, one on a blue background for a normal visa and health check, and another set on a white background, for the five-year visa, which also comes with an ID card. This was a guess, but I was covering all bases, as my wife’s Chinese ID was on a white backdrop.

Everything went well, and I waited for the pictures to be done, as the photocopying progressed. The final delivery was unusual, as normally the photos are handed to me in a plastic envelope, with an official receipt. I managed to ask for a receipt, and was offered a small hand written one, not the one required by the visa office. I was a bit stretched for words by then, and mimed a larger receipt, when I noticed one of the type I needed behind the counter. I pointed at it, and asked for two. I got two receipts, they come with the image imprinted, and both were on a blue background. I asked again, for one to be on a white background. Just as well I checked before I left. Ho-hum.

So that was all the photographs, official receipts, and photocopying done, except for my wife’s ID card, which she had told me she would do. We had the physical Household book, and all original documents, except for the Health Examination. For a visa, this can be done up to one month before application, so on the day in question, I headed off for the coach station, and the first bus bound for Gong Muen.

The bus ticket was for the seven-thirty coach, not the one leaving shortly, so I had to wait half an hour. The bus arrived minutes late, departed late, and we arrived early, at ten to nine. I knew what to do, and this time would use the local buses. The motorcycle taxi riders were encroaching into the queues waiting for buses, but I was not bothered. They gave a Chinese guy nearby a very hard time, and he was distinctly not interested; rather him than me. I had time to finish my cigarette before bus 32 rocked up, and I got on. I knew it passed where I wanted to be, but I was not sure exactly where the nearest bus stop was on this side of the road. Going the other way, it was virtually at this side of the traffic light junction, so I would go by chance.

I was watching out of the window, looking for familiar buildings from my last visit to those parts, two years past. A woman got off as the road began to dip down, and I had the feeling that should have been my exit, but it was still a long way to the traffic lights, so I stayed aboard. Wrong.

Because of a slip road on this side of the road only, that was the nearest bus stop to my destination. I got off at the next, and instead of walking downhill in the shade for three hundred yards; I ended up walking five hundred yards uphill, mostly in scant shade. I would know for next time. The walk wasn’t too bad, but I could have done with less. It was damned hot, be it in the shade or otherwise. In time, I made it up to the junction, crossed two roads, and reached my destination.

The guy on security looked a little older, I guess I did as well, but he waved me through with a smile of recognition. As an old hand, I had brought with me my document pack, and a pair of flip-flops, to save untying, and retying shoelaces. The place was virtually empty, but would fill to queues before I left; always get to these places early in the morning. I was hot and before dealing with me, but after accepting my documentation, the girl behind the counter pointed to the free water machine, speaking in Mandarin. I replied to her courtesy in Cantonese. That was most welcome, and I took two paper cups of cold before retuning, feeling much better.

The forms had changed a little since my last visit, and were simpler to fill out. I asked the girl to write my Chinese address for me, and she was amazed I spoke Cantonese, a little; obviously forgetting I just did so. She said the same thing last time actually, but didn’t remember me. No problem. I paid and was given my sheets, but she told me ‘The Doctors are not at work today’, something that worried me slightly. She followed by stating in Cantonese, which I followed to a word, “Come back on Friday afternoon between two-thirty and three-thirty.”

I saw the girl, (I’ll label her as ‘Attendee’, for she is too distracted in her own world to be labelled as ‘doctor’), downstairs for: bloodwork, height, weight, et cetera, first. A Chinese mother and her teenage son entered after me, and he was sent to the gents to produce his sample. He was unsure, the mother asked for directions, and I, not the attendant, pointed out of the door and he immediately left. He returned a short time later with his sample of urine, and again, it was I that told him in Cantonese, where he should leave it. The attendant was as usual, going through the motions.

Done with, I made my way upstairs, resting a short while before entering the Doctors’ corridor. The first check is always the pulse, and I knew mine would be higher than normal. The usual doctor was not to be seen, so I sat for a moment to fully recover, as his office looks directly out onto the stairs. It was not to be, as his replacement, an office next door, came out looking for clients, and collared me. We did the pulse thing, me putting my arm through some sort of hole, in an arm-breaking machine, and I managed to read one part of the display, which settled at 60. I thought that pretty good, and we moved on to the eye chart.

My eyes had always been pretty good, my right perfect, and my left almost. The Chinese version is composed of four symbols: E, 3, W, and M. They are the same shape, seen from different perspectives. I covered my left eye, and could not read one of them, not even the largest. I begged a moment, as my eyes were rheumy, but it felt as if there was a mask clouding my right eye. I could not make out any detail, so cheated when the doc was not looking. Ho-hum. I guess I’ll have to have that eye seen to. My left eye was the same as normal, though down to eight out of ten that time. Nevertheless, I could make out some characters on the row he pointed at, just not the one he did.

We went back to his desk, and I had to put my arm back in the machine. This time it was set on ‘high’, and I was worried it would break my humerus. I got ‘something’ over 72, so not too bad, I think. The next was the eye colour test, and I walked it at as usual. We were done, the next being a lung x-ray, always for me the most worrying. I was in and out within one minute, and clear.

The other two doctors, ECG, and CT scan of liver, kidneys, spleen, et cetera (Abdominal ultrasonography) were missing, so I went back downstairs. The girl on the counter made a big thing about me having to return on Friday between 14:30 and 15:30, and in the meantime, had gotten somebody to write it out in English for me. Bless, but I understood the Cantonese without the need; she was just being thorough and helpful.

I was beginning to develop a bad feeling about the Health Check, but hoped the forthcoming visa application would be less of a hassle. I had hoped to apply for the visa on Friday, but that train had sailed already. So I wandered out of the building, the sun already blistering hot, and made my way to the bus stop. This time it was close to the junction, and on my side of the traffic light. I was waiting for bus 32 to take me back to the coach station, and got on when it eventually arrived; I think it runs every twenty minutes in practice, although the information wall says every twelve.

Regardless, I got on the bus, and five-minutes later, was deposited at a roadside bus stop, opposite the bus station. The driver said things quickly, in a complicated way I could not follow, and we were all turfed off the bus, none apparently being happy about it, me least of all.

The walk down to the crossing point was two hundred yards in full sun, but the crossing point of the four lanes each way road, did have a small tree we could shelter under. I noticed bus numbers 22 and 107 pull up on the fifth middle side road, and pulled into the bus station. I should have got one of those instead; next time.

As it was, I walked a long way before actually entering the foyer, got my ticket back to Toisan, no problem with my Cantonese in this city, and the bus was due in shortly. It was ten minutes late, but I made it home before midday, and also before our recent phenomena of afternoon monsoon rain. I had a shower, opened a beer, and did not look forward to the repeat on Friday.

My feelings of foreboding were rewarded on Friday afternoon, but I did get the bus stop right on that occasion, exiting from bus 107; I was getting better at the local streets. The walk was not unpleasant, and I crossed the main road as soon as I could, when it was traffic free. The other side was also a walk under grown trees with full foliage, and all was well. The final three hundred yards to the building was made walking under direct sunshine, and very hot it was too, but made it I did, and hoped for a speedy resolution. I was early, the clock showing 14:10, and the building doors were locked.

I had nodded and said “hello” to an American girl, who wandered around outside, as I sought shelter behind a pillar, and eventually as the sun moved in the sky above, a seat on the wall. As the twenty minutes passed, so more and more people, including several foreigners [Westerners] joined the queue, all except for myself and the girl, with a Chinese aide; and also a lot of Chinese. Many thronged the doors, but I chose to keep my seat; then a lot more people arrived, just before the stroke of half-past two, and I may have regretted not standing at the front for twenty minutes, or not.

Then the doors finally opened, and people swarmed inside. I walked in last, waving the doctor who operated the arm-breaking machine in before me, and casually wandered over to the cold water dispenser. I took my fill in unhurried manner, and sat while the queue was dealt with. Most were gone upstairs within five minutes, but those remaining appeared to be going through the entire process. I used my Cantonese charisma, butted in like Chinese always appear to think is their right with me, and got the documents I needed for floor two. I arrived to see the corridor filled with people, the American girl reclusive, nearest an empty office. I had a feeling she was first in the queue.

The eyes and x-ray doctors were waiting for clients, the room I needed was busy, but the ultrasound room remained uninhabited. I presumed the associated doctor was running late. Therefore, I didn’t stand to queue like the others, but sat and waited until the waiting was done. I walked in five minutes later, and recognised the doctor, and got my ECG done. Usually this same girl runs several checks, but on this occasion, I went through on first pass. The thing she usually picks up on is my blood, which through the speaker makes a sort of whooshing, gurgling sound. I presume the waiting was responsible for my normal readout; or was my health improving?

I was soon done, and went outside, taking a different seat than before, and watched, then waited, as all were processed. As the newbies from below became a dribble, the last doctor I saw, came out looking for clients, and went to another, empty room, spoke as if into a telephone; she was not a happy bunny, and returned to her own room. This repeated, as minutes became tens of minutes, and half an hour or more.

Out of interest, I did confirm she was speaking into a landline telephone, and her tone was becoming increasingly belligerent. By her seventh telephone call, she was shouting, and slammed the phone down, apparently in disgust. She returned directly to her lair, saying nothing to those of us waiting outside, but we all knew, she was on our side.

Nothing was happening, although people had begun talking amongst themselves. Making friends would be too far of a statement, but they were sharing frustrations of a common situation, the one we all found ourselves in. They mainly spoke Toisanwah, Taishanese, and I followed what I could, and knew what they were mostly talking about. I was the first to slide off for a cigarette; the day was becoming needlessly elongated. As I exited reception, the main girl asked me for my forms, and I replied, “I’m going outside for a cigarette,” in Cantonese. Others from above joined me outside a short time later … and time passed.

Some of the others went inside, and a heard a row develop, the counter girls being spoken too. I understood the reply, which was along the lines of, ‘The doctor is unwell, so another is coming. Please wait, it should not be long.’ Hmmm? I lit another cigarette, and enjoyed the shelter of the pillar from direct sunlight. My thoughts turned to my predicament; my intention had been to arrive in Guangzhou that day, and apply for my five-year visa.

Instead, and presuming a doctor eventually turned-up to process us, which I thought highly likely, I knew the health check processing would take three working days, but available at five p.m. on the third day. Nonetheless, I presumed most of that was related to bloodwork, the first check they did. So maybe a trip to GZ on Monday was on the cards?

After abusing my lungs, but easing my psyche, I made my way back upstairs, waited, and repeated the process, three times. At a quarter past four, the doctor arrived; he was full of apologies and professionalism. He was not the regular doctor, and I gathered from words exchanged, he had been called in as replacement at the last minute. I was also pretty sure he had travelled to us from another city, and that would take a couple of hours; the ones that we had spent waiting.

The Chinese thronged the doorway, and I could have charged into their midst, several if not many, being behind the chronological queue, but not the physical one we were in. One aide of an (almost) Chinese guy even told me to barge into the mass, but I shrugged it aside, I did not need the hassle, you know. Well, maybe you don’t, but in close quarters, I worry about pickpockets, and I’m not suggesting there were any there, but I really did not need the hassle of barging my way into my rightful place in the queue, and standing for twenty minutes, watching my personal space intently.

The American girl was in and out first: Respect! I followed her outside, not for leaving, but you know why. After a leisurely cigarette, I ambled back upstairs, and the mêlée at the doorway had become jockeying for position. I knew it would. I noticed elbows and feet being used to jump one more place in the queue, and they were being dealt with at around two per minute, except for a couple of guys; Oh dear. I hoped I was OK.

My turn eventually came, and only twenty-five minutes later, or at twenty to five. The man was super efficient, but noted I lay down, without removing my shoes; that I placed them off of the bed I lay upon. The knowing look was all I needed to know I was in safe hands. My shoes were physically not on the bed. The inspection of my internals took all of ten seconds, until he said, “Ooh. Ahh,” and examined my liver in greater detail.

You see, the thing is, I have fatty deposits on my liver, which are innately harmless as such, and repair relatively easily. What you may not know, is that these lead to lesions, and eventually sclerosis of the liver. You can guess what I was thinking … but no. After a thorough examination, and later reading my report sheets, my liver was fine; I think it may have been a close call, but he did not note ‘fatty-deposits-‘, so I guess my liver status has improved. Cheers!

I was done, and going downstairs, was informed to come back on Monday at five p.m. to collect my results. This led to a problem, because I knew they could send to me by courier, but my Cantonese was not quick or good enough. I was tiring anyway's. I rang my wife, but no answer, so called Candy, and was saying hello, when I worked out what the deal was. For simplicity, Candy spoke to the attendant, via my phone, and it was agreed I would pay for the courier delivery.

Thank God! I did not have to return to Gong Muen again that year; or so I thought at the time…

I am going to break the story here, and ask you, as reader, what restrictions your home Country imposes upon long-term residents, which after ten years here, I consider myself to be. I can never become a Chinese citizen. Full Stop. Nor ever have full residency status. Beijing does not allow that. I think two, and only two exceptions have ever been made.

In the West, our countries appear to give residential status away willy-nilly, without proper checks, never mind annual health checks, and jumping through hoops to renew a temporary visa. And I respect China for this. I will come back to this point, but later, and after you have thought about the full implications of your own government’s immigration policy: Done.

The courier arrived on Tuesday morning with my Health Certificate, and I knew who it would be when I answered the intercom. I went downstairs and collected the booklet; things were going my way. Once recovered from the physical exertion, I glanced through the document, and there was nothing of any note; cool, I was healthy. A-hem.

Chinese Visa 2015

Thursday was the first day Siu Ying was free to accompany me to Guangzhou visa office, and we were on the first coach to leave. We arrived in GZ and made straight for the taxi rank. Twenty minutes later we were near Hai Zhu Square, but exactly where we did not know. The driver was following the map of our destination, as directions I had previously photographed. They spoke in Cantonese, which I mostly followed, and we were dropped off, somewhere close. The street was the correct one, and the numbers close. I went right, and we reached the office within one hundred yards.

Everything had been going really well up until that point, and even when we got to the sixth floor, which is where we needed to be. It was a large building solely dedicated to processing visa applications, if spread out with a vague order, and vertically, with occasional signs in English.

We asked others waiting for clues as to what the procedure was, before getting a ticket from the machine, mainly obscured by a plant, in a vaguely related location. I noticed people filling in forms and wondered. Then I heard a staff talking in English, and asked her what I should do, and where I could get a form to fill out. She gave me a strange look, as a Head teacher might the school dolt, and told me to use the computer, leading us to the terminal.

It wasn’t connecting to anything, so when she came around again, I showed her, and she ushered us to another terminal, watching as I filled out the introductory process. Then it stopped working, and threw an error message. Reading it with brimming contempt, the woman said, “You will need to fill out a form.”
“That’s what I asked for.”
“Where do I get the form from?”
She pointed vaguely to the other side of the larger room and said, “Over there.”
It transpired we needed to get a different ticket, in order to join that queue, but we worked out what to do by watching, and talking to others in a similar predicament. The service was abysmal.

The woman we needed to see appeared to spend most of her time walking around the restricted areas of the room, going upstairs, then coming back to those in the queue, often not bothering to call anyone. We were third in waiting, and we waited virtually one whole hour for her to bother to attend to us. Atrocious service!

Considering she processed others within a minute or so, I have no other words to explain how dire and incompetent she was.

When we eventually got to see her, she only spoke Mandarin, zero Cantonese, and kindergarten English; this in the International section of the building. She proved to be extremely unhelpful, but after my wife had repeated goes at her, told us that the visa I wanted to apply for was not available from them, but was issued somewhere else; where else she never said. She also told us in a dictatorial fashion, that we had zero right to apply in Guangzhou, and should have done this in Tai Shan.

Stonewalled, we departed with haste, seriously unimpressed.

I had intended to go to the cheese shop and get a block of Cheddar, and the large round of Danish Blue. The moment had gone, and my inspiration. We crossed the road in order to get a taxi back to the bus station, and I smoked two cigarettes as Siu Ying found a small mall of booths flogging shoes.

We got a cab with ease, and fled the area in disgust. I note, the main international section of Guangzhou’s visa department, did not appear to have any competent speaker of English. Why not? Why was there not an information wall, in English, telling people what to do?

We were both upset, and just needed out of the city, fast. I had thought to sample lunch, but due to the hassle, that idea was long gone. Instead, we got back home, and made a new plan. With my visa expiry on Tuesday, we determined to head for good old Gong Muen on Friday, and that is what we did.

It appears that most probably, we do need to go to GZ to apply for a five-year Residency visa, but to a different building. Which one, we do not know of, and it is not listed on the PSB visa-dedicated website. We both discovered, independently, that I will need to pay the Chinese Embassy in London, for a Criminal Record check, which appears to be a bureaucratic exercise, but one that can be completed using the English language, I think; more on this next year. Yes, I do mean next year, but that story, and the rest of this one, has yet to be told.


Friday morning at seven A.M., and we were in a private driver car, picking up other passengers all bound for Gongmuen. We were first in, and last out, but even so, the journey only took fifty-five minutes. Wow!

The speedster delivered us with aplomb, talking most of the way to anybody who would reply, whilst managing to avoid slower moving traffic, other road hazards, and speed camera’s. Arriving at our destination, we were almost first in the small queue. Now, remember odd things I mentioned above, as we move onwards, and into this peculiar experience.

The initial paperwork was a breeze, even though Siu Ying did wander off while I was getting the forms. I eventually found her outside, voice messaging on her smartphone, and dragged her back inside to write our address in Mandarin. Like I said above, this is her way, and I love her for it, even if it is infuriating at the time.

A few more people had entered, but many were being seen, and our wait was short. This time all booths appeared to be staffed, and each could take international applications. Our guy was nice, very pleasant, and we were duly process in quick time. Experts at this game now, we did not even need to rush out to photocopy anything; the first time ever we got every minutia correct first go.

So, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, during the five minutes it took to process us, the outer hall had filled with several hundred people all needing to pay; our next destination. None of them had needed to see anybody, but they were all ahead of us in the queue. It was as if a convoy of coaches had arrived outside.

It transpired, the computer had gone down early the day before, and these people had returned to pay from yesterday. Thank you the Three Ladies of Destiny, most appreciated: not!

One hour and more dragged by, and nothing was remotely happening; the computer was still down, but would be up again any second. I went outside for a smoke, and later, another.

Again, as with the health place, people started chatting, if only out of frustration, and we ambled around. I noticed the EPS (China Post courier) was open, but unmanned, and vaguely recalled we should go there instead. Siu Ying thought I was stupid, and disregarded the idea. However, I remained sure I had been there before.

Then, at around ten-fifteen, the computer came back up, and a jolly-jostling for position made a mockery of any sense of queue. We went outside again, me to smoke, and she to voicemail people. By the time we returned inside, less than ten-minutes, the queue was one third, and we were seen swiftly. This was extremely efficient work, and full praise to the three staff concerned.

You may perhaps already have guessed what happened next?

We were dealt with, but were told to go and pay at the EPS courier desk, which would have saved us two hours of needless waiting. It was then I remembered fully about the last time. Dumbo: yes!

Again, the desk was unmanned, and we had to go searching for staff, but fortunately they all wore bright orange tunics, so were easy to spot. They seemed to congregate at the opposite end of the thoroughfare, farthest away from where they were supposed to be working.

Once we collared one of the workers, we were dealt with in minutes, and duly outside, had to wait only ten minutes for the private driver to take us back home.

The three-week wait was curtailed, because of the immanent Golden Week national holiday, beginning first of October. Therefore, ten days later, the doorbell rang, and I again knew who it must be. I went down with my old passport and full ID, and received my new passport by confirmation, with visa approved and enclosed.

Phew! That was a close call. Later, upstairs, I took a proper look, and discovered that they had given me a one-year visa. It should have been a two-year one, but maybe they did not realise I was over sixty years old. So, next year we will have to go through the whole rigmarole again, only next time we will be a little more advanced with the subtleties and nuances of Chinese Visa application peculiarities.

Perhaps the intervening year will be long enough for me to get the Criminal Records check done, and sent out to me; and for us to work out where the Chinese Regional government have hidden the building that issues five-year visa’s: I wait with baited breath.

However, what really gets me, is not the hoops and disinformation I have to endure in China, but the fact that UK gives away citizenship to virtually anybody that rocks up on our shores. No police check, no health check, and free benefits and health service to boot. I have to pay for doctor and hospital treatment, and I expect to do so. I can never become a Chinese citizen. I’m not saying that I would want to, just stating a fact.

But I do remain insulted by the very fact our supposed government, denies tourist visa’s to Chinese people, at almost a rate of 100% for ordinary Chinese [remember Candy, above], whilst giving away Citizenship to all-comers with the other hand.

Next year, I plan to begin preparations several months in advance, and hopefully I will become the proud owner of a Chinese five-year Residency visa. Wish me luck.

This work including text and associated photographs is Copyright of Jonno Morris (Unless stated otherwise), and may be reproduced for personal and private use under Collective Commons 3 Licence. An email would be appreciated in such circumstances, as would a reference link back to this website.

You are not allowed to use this information to make money from my work - regardless of how fancy or well paid your lawyers may be.

Some artistic licence has been used arbitrarily in some of these Letters, and whilst most facts are in essence correct, some personal and literary interpretation may have been employed to greater or lesser degrees.
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