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2nd Birthday
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A Letter From China
Visa Nightmares Revisited!

I am fortunate to have a 1-year Chinese Residency Visa, under provision of the Family Visit statute that came into force in 2010. It is not a full residency visa, but it is more than adequate for my needs. I have written this as a factual account of process for my dear friends at, who I do voluntary English editing for. They wanted somebody to actually write the process for their community blog, which I have done. I also updated my own website page relating.

What I wrote is the technically correct version, but I thought you might be interested in what actually happened…

I had been considering when to begin the visa renewal process for some weeks of arbitrary and disparate thought. Time marched on, and it reached the point I needed to make a definite commitment and timetable. The main steps of the process were: get the Family Book, undergo a medical examination, and apply for the new visa before 9th August 2012.

Last year all had been fine until the week of my medical examination, required for all visas over 6-months long in China. They are looking for: dangerous diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and psychological disorders. However, you get a full medical during the process.

I had been fighting-fit, but got downed by a fever, and eventually we called the Doctor out for a home visit. I recovered slowly in the days that followed, and remember one particular day when Siu Ying and I had to withdraw money from the bank across the street. We were both really short of breath, an effect of the bug we had both now contracted.

We made it into the bank and had to sit down to get our breath back. The Communications Bank staff were concerned for us, and instantly brought us both a cup of water; imagine. We allayed their concerns with gratitude, and some minutes later I withdrew the money we needed. The floor supervisor stayed at my side until he confirmed I knew what I was doing, although he noticeably turned away as I entered my pin number. I consider that superb service, especially from a Bank neither of us holds an account with.

In 2011 my medical examination was fraught by the continued lack of breath, but I got through it and passed. I was given a booklet with full results, which included my blood group – something that is defined as being Top Secret by all British medical practitioners. I now know I am in blood group “O”, which is a big problem in this part of China. Most hospitals here simply do not carry ‘O’ type blood, because nobody has this in their veins. I do not know if I am Rhesus Positive or Negative though. I presume this is from my Mother, and she was O-.

Although obviously ill and gasping for breath, I passed with a few minor remarks, the most worrying being a ‘Hazing’ in my lungs. However, the relief of finding nothing of the slightest major concern was actually overwhelming, both for me, and my wife.

During mid June I woke with the insane desire to stretch all the time, and I mean once every 10-seconds. Bellicose roars accompanied this from my posterior at similarly frequent intervals. After half an hour, I knew something was very wrong. I was sleepy, and slept for most of the next 30-hours. Hot, then cold shivers came and went, but with them the need to stretch and fart reduced significantly.

I was short of breath, and my mind could not concentrate for more than 1-minute. I felt like a zombie, needing to rest several times between the kitchen and my office, perhaps 30-paces at best. I continued to sleep, or sometimes played simple computer games until I felt tired once more, and went to sleep. Both my feet swelled up to incredible size, as did my left elbow, it was the size of a cricket ball, no kidding.

The thought of beer repulsed me, and I managed to smoke my last half dozen cigarettes over the first couple of days. Then I simply stopped smoking. By the fifth day I was still unwell, and it was like a general malaise, rather than a fever or the like. Whatever it was was most peculiar.

The Doctor came round on day 5, 1-hour after we called him – I am not a Doctor person, even though he is a very nice guy and he examined me using the traditional 3-pulse points all Chinese base their diagnosis upon. He doesn't speak much English, so we used my limited Cantonese most of the time, or my wife translated. Later remembered some appropriate English words, which he used to great effect.

I received an injection high on my left buttock, was given pills for 5-days, and charge Y80, or £8 to you. Incredible service! His comments were less easy to deal wit, “Cut down on the beer and get more exercise. Both he and my wife remained adamant there was no need for me to stop smoking, which I was seriously getting my head around. Actually quitting is a very psychological process, which I have accomplished just once in my lifetime (5-years, and starting again was quite difficult). I knew I could do it again, as everything necessary was in place.

I made a marked improvement quickly, but it was still several days before I could muster any level of concentration. My swollen limbs returned to normal size, and I had my breath back. Rhiannon was staying with us by now, and on day 6 I picked her up to look out of the window. I felt a momentary aberration, and put her down on a handy stool so she could still watch the children leaving school.

The next day it was worse, and to the point I stopped picking up my daughter, or making any sudden sideways movements. Involuntarily, something caught my eyes on TV and I turned my head to look at it. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, and had just missed crushing Nonni in the process.

Up until this point my mind had been steeled again smoking any more, every little mental trick was already answered = no escape. I have never in my life suffered from vertigo, but that is what I had. My wife went into her handbag, lit a cigarette for me, (She does not smoke), and made me take a draw. I was cured of my vertigo instantly, strange but true. Now months later, I have never had the slightest twinge again, and let me tell you, it is a very disconcerting affliction.

I then remember a woman who used to be my line manager at Forte Hotels. I was surprised for a top manager to discover that she was a smoker, and then she quit. She suffered from vertigo as a result, and to the point that 6-months later, she had still not been found clear by her Doctor.

Just before the incident described above, the local Police had one of their monthly purges, usually they check motorcycles or light lorries. This time they were checking all tobacco outlets, and the brand of cigarettes I smoke was being impounded. They are sold all over Canton, and are one of the most popular brands. However, they are technically illegal because although manufactured in Guangzhou, they are destined entirely for sale in Hong Kong. So they are sold, everywhere, under the counter. What is peculiar is the brand sold in China comes in a packet that is marked differently from the boxes sold in Hong Kong.

After the raids, nobody was selling them at all, so I was faced with changing brand. I settled on the cheaper version of Shuangxi, made by the very same Company, but slightly more of a cigar taste to them, rather than the less heavy British flavour I am used to. They also cost twice as much, being Y6.5, or £0.65 pence per packet of 20 – extortionate I know!

This began just before my illness above, and explains why I only had a few cigarettes left in my last packet. When I resumed smoking I moved on the new brand. Wait, because this all has relevance later on.

Within another week I was fine and laid out my itinerary – then my wife came home with a cold, and I caught the flu version. Damn!

I was fine on Sunday evening, ate my version of pork burgers (Delicious), and went to bed. I woke up with a tingle inside the back of my nose, which developed through to a heavy cold. It was happening again!

I had planned to go for my Official Medical on Thursday, 26th July, knowing it took 2-days for the results to become available. Siu Ying stated adamantly it was 1-week. We agreed to disagree, until the next morning when we became proactive. I got my details out, and after being redirected on the telephone, she spoke to the people concerned. They told her the results took 2-days, being available from after 5 P.M. on the next day, or available for collection thereafter; or they could be sent by courier if we paid for that service.

Thereafter she became extremely proactive, if only because she did not wish to accompany me again for this year’s renewal. She wrote out many things in her very best Chinese script, and gave me three pieces of paper, that I did not have the will to annotate in English at the time. Mistake.

I had it in my disorientated mind that I needed to get the Family Book first, and then the Official photographs, and then the money to pay for it all. I knew I was ill, because the thought of beer repulsed me, and I was smoking extremely little = not normal. I also couldn't concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, and often went back to bed, if simply to lie there for a few hours.

I had planned to travel to Siu Ying's Mother and collect the Family Book on Wednesday. There was no chance. I had to go on Thursday as time was pressing, well or not, and I was not. I was awake at 5 A.M., but waited until just before 9 before going down to get my official photographs done at the local shop very near our apartment. I thought they should have been open, but they were not, so I hung around and smoked a cigarette to pass the time.

I noticed one older woman go to the shop and read the sign. I watched and wondered. Curiosity got the better of me, and without even considering my limited Cantonese, approached her. I cannot remember what exactly I said to her in a 3-year-olds version of Cantonese speaking, but she replied to me at once.

I understood what she said – that basically the shop was closed for renovation, and would re-open next week. We actually chatted for a short while, and she told me to go to the photo shop next to the nearby Police Station. I understood everything first time = strange but true. Then I read the sign myself, and understood enough to know the place closed yesterday for 9-days. Just my luck!

I was thrown by this, and still not thinking clearly. I headed for the bus, and to see my daughter for the first time in one week. She lives most of the time with her Grandmother. The village is extremely safe, and encourages her to fulfil her young self. The city we live in is quite hazardous for a 30-month old girl, by comparison.

I raced for the wrong bus that was just leaving (It had the right colouring's), before remembering the local bus I needed left from trap 1. The bus I stopped and got on was exiting trap 4. Fortunately the driver did not understand the address of the medical facility in Gongmuen (Jiang Men City), as I had pulled out the wrong piece of paper also. Talk about still suffering from flu – this was ridiculous.

I got off the wrong bus as a very attractive young lady got on. I went to the correct bus, and showed the driver where I wanted to go. He spent ages reading the short address on the correct piece of paper, before confirming I was on the correct bus. I knew this already, but hoped he would remember where I had to get off – for it is set in the wilds of the Chinese countryside – as some of my reader may well remember.

The stewardess did a head-count, as the driver prepared to leave. Then he came down and asked to see my piece of paper again. He read the address once more, and nodded. I was pretty sure he knew where I needed to get off. The guy next to me intimated, and took the note from my hand.

I guess that on any other day I would have been up for some Chinglish banter. Given I was unwell, and the paper contained personal information, I am sorry to admit I sort of snatched it back, a tad impolitely I might add. Chinese people, Cantonese especially are inquisitive by nature, and I know I got that one wrong. However, instead of doing a Frankie Howard, “Oh woe is me”, I simply wrote it off to experience and malady, and nodded as the miles passed by.

We normally travel several miles before the ticket collector, always female, comes around for the dosh. On previous excursions this had proved hazardous with one who only spoke Toisanwah or Mandarin. On that occasion I had asked for an Y8 fare, which she did everything but understand, even when helped by others nearby, she simply did not get it. Then I remembered what it was in Mandarin, and she gave me the ticket with encouragement from the audience.

I have since discovered she speaks perfect Cantonese – just that she presumed, as a foreigner, I was speaking Mandarin. Chinese never actually listen to what you are saying; they presume you are either speaking Mandarin, or something they do not understand.

I was watching the hills, knowing that I had to get off the charabanc after they diminish, and it came to pass – that the hills diminished at least. Where I need to get off is outside a school, and there is a factory half a mile up the road that looks virtually identical.

I almost rose from my seat as we passed the factory, before realising my repeated mistake. The guy next to me moved his arm to caution me, and said in Mandarin that I needed to get off a little later. We started to converse, but our only common language was English, of which he knew very little. The one thing that puzzled me was that he referred to my wife's mother’s home as ‘Mor Doh Soi’, which is straight Cantonese/Toisanwah. Although we could not really converse with each other, he was gracious enough to forgive my earlier affront, and indicated he would tell me where to get off the bus.

I have no idea how we managed to talk and convey meaning, but it happened within a few seconds, and was bourn out moments later when I started to rise for my correct stop, and he stated, “You go”.

I thanked him in Cantonese, and he replied likewise in Mandarin – Here is China!

You know, I have varying opinions of Chairman Mao, but the one thing I salute him for, is to create the Mandarin character set. For a vast Country that at the time spoke many differing tongues, he imposed a character set that all would learn. They speak it in their own language, but every Chinese person understands how it is written. Wow!

I wish he had perhaps chosen Traditional Chinese = the Hong Kong character set, which is more complex, but not so much so. It simply delivers a lot more meaning, instantly.

For those of you that have ventured to China, I am sure you must wonder why Chinese people take so long to understand a short written sentence. Correct me if I am wrong, but this always appears to be the case. What is actually happening is that Chinese is a conceptual language, not a logical one, such as ABC. The meaning of a character changes dependant upon the surrounding characters, shortcuts few non-native speakers can ever comprehend, and how the whole sentence fits together. Remember, this was simply an address = destination.

The driver did remember where I needed to get off, and I thanked him in Cantonese. He gave me a High-5 and a large smile, before wishing me well.

I got off the charabanc and headed for the nearest motorbike taxi. Unusually he was deferential, as usually these guys are fighting over themselves for your business. Then I realised another woman had followed me off the bus, and he was here to collect her. I apologised for the mistake, and was greeted by another motorcycle, whose rider was speaking Mandarin at me. Yuck!

I was considering getting out my piece of paper, when from the distance another rider hurtled into the scene, sliding around in a small show of dust, and said, “Moh Dor Soi”.

I didn't recognise him, and he was an itinerant Mandarin speaker, but he appeared to recognise me, and spoke enough Cantonese for us to fix our deal within moments. I got the local rate, and off we went.

I don't care if it is dangerous, or that I could die. I really: and I mean: I really love being on a motorcycle without a crash-hat, the wind in my face, and my hair blowing in the wind. To me, this encapsulates the spirit of freedom. Oh, so good a feeling after the constraints of city life.

The fields and Paddies we passed were different this season, but the same over time. I felt a sense of Coming Home.

Imaging, a foreigner like me, paying the same rate as the local people do, in most rural China – fact is stranger than fiction. Y5, the same as my wife pays. This time I was doing everything myself, alone.

I read something on Internations, Guangzhou recently – an expat website that is global in coverage. One article was from an American girl, asking if she should learn Mandarin or Cantonese when coming to Canton. The comments were split 50-50, and by the time I saw the request, she had already made her choice.

My only pennyworth was; if you are an Expat, and stick to the western bars and Expats circuit exclusively, then you learn Mandarin – they all speak International English anyway. If you live life on the streets, as I do, then you need to speak Cantonese – if nothing else, other that they charge me less than Chinese Mandarin speakers in the wet market, for they consider me more Local. That is without my wife being around, nor mentioned.

I wandered down the alleyway as the motorcycle taxi left, and wondered my reception, by my only child. Rhiannon was asleep on the couch – the one from Foshan we could not get into our current Toisan apartment. She was hot, sweaty and fast asleep.

The place seemed deserted, like one of those old cowboy movies. I swear I heard brushwood rattle past as I lingered to draw on a cheroot outside. The sun was baking hot, even before midday. But it is not the heat, but the humidity that always gets you in Canton.

I wandered inside and watched my babe as she slept, hoping her life would be far less fractious than my own. I coughed involuntarily, the seeds of my confliction still raging within my being. She roused, dopily at first, and I to the other side of her, wished her pleasant dreams.

She looked around, and screamed “Daddy”!

The waking Monkey then crawled over to me, and it was good time. Personal time between us, but gone so soon.

Rhiannon raced up the stairs and woke somebody else. I was pretty sure it was Loi-Loi, or Yee Lo’s (Number 2 Brother) daughter, but time would tell. ‘Nonni’ reappeared, but her friend hid in Mama’s bedroom, which is next to the living room, downstairs. We had some personal time, before she realised her Mama was not there. Rhiannon, Nonni as we call her, or Kei-kee as she has been dubbed locally, bounded out of the house to tell the World and his wife, her Father was here.

I watched her run off, and saw a lot of my younger self in that girl. I ached for her return, but it would prove to be a while.

I ruminated within my personal thoughts, because this farming household normally runs to a schedule = I was staring at a covered pot of noodles, hoping this was not what the two girls had to eat this day. I presumed the family out working in the fields, and wondered if this would be a LONG day. Surely not? You don't leave young children to their own devices for that long – do you?

What usually happens is they rise and go to the fields by 7.30. Some take a snack or fluid, others do not. Breakfast is at 11.30, as grafting men in modern UK usually take breakfast after working several hours first. In UK, that would be around 10 A.M.

I looked at the cold noodles, left out for a purpose, and ran the algorithms in my head. One was that instead of being a simple Family Visit, this would soon become a head-to-head, where I left with my daughter. But these people are not like that, so I reconsidered.

I had expected my wife to talk to her parents before I arrived, but apparently, she did not. Nobody was expecting me. My mind was scarie with misunderstandings. Surely I was totally misreading this situation? My befuddled thoughts were shortly brought into focus.

Rhiannon returned at that moment, and brought a 20-something girl with a baby – Rhiannon already leaves people behind her, desperately trying to catch-up in her wake. I would have her no other way – her Father’s Daughter.

I recognised the new girl, but could not place quite her, although she was rather attractive, baby or not. No sooner had she entered the room, than she switched on the overhead fan, full blast. Ahhh. The Cool was awesome and extreme. Wow!

She spoke Mandarin and Toisanwah as first languages. I spoke Cantonese, with English as first language.

Conversation was ne're going to happen. I was still trying to place her, when the guy of this village I really like, for no discernable reason, waltzed in and pecked her on the cheek. Ah! There is a shinning light on the road to Damascus. Simple: this is his wife and child. He is probably a cousin of my wife – whatever; we always get along, and shared a cigarette, much to his (presumed?), wife's disapproval.

Meanwhile Nonni was doing her thing to introduce everybody, in 30-month old style, until she noticed I had brought a sack with me. Inside that sack she discovered Crisps (Chips in American). I denied her, simply because these decisions rest with the Mater of the Household, and a boy would be ill advised to tinker with Motherly affairs – especially if they are your Mother in Law’s! Or, ‘The Outlaws’, as we call them in UK.

Meanwhile, Rhiannon was out on the streets once more – well, village alleyways anyway. She was telling anyone, and everyone, that her Father was here, and they had to come. And so they did, God Bless.

When she returned I fiercely swept her into my arms and kissed her, as a Father should. Her smile by response was all I needed, and we were whole once more. Many people I did not know, witnessed this, and stood aside to wonder – before the present intruded and we played the audience, as if to say…

“We are one”.

It is rare for Chinese people to openly show affection, so I guess we broke the taboo when she kissed me back. Then she ran off on another personal errand. I watched her leave and smiled in deep satisfaction.

Time and coincidence is a funny thing, when put together. I like to call it Serendipity, even if the word is an extraction of my own, of the author’s real intent: originally abstracted by Horace Walpole (1717–1797), as first used in a letter to Horace Mann (dated 28 January 1754). He said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip

Mama rocked up, covered in mud, at 1:30. She was very surprised to see me, and I was made welcome. Perhaps I overstate the obvious, but this was my first unannounced, solo visit, to my wife's parental home. My Monkey was already telling her I was there when she was walking down the alleyway. Bless.

Mama was still working; she filled a large bottle with white powder, a teaspoon at a time, and then topped it up with hot water. I intruded, showing her the note my wife left, which defined the reason for my visit = get the Family Book. This is a traditional register going back into Chinese pre-history. Every single Chinese person, and there are a lot of them, is officially registered in a similar book. It is usually held by the eldest male of the family, theoretically my wife's, Father’s, elder brother. Perhaps because I often need to produce this book, it resides with Mama.

She read the note through squinted eyes, at an impossibly close distance, and nodded. I said, “n’Gor hoi Gongmuen, passey-port”. Mama doesn't actually speak any Cantonese; it is all Toisanwah dialect. However, with simple words she understood, and replied, *After lunch*.

She rushed out with a full bottle of white stuff, to take to her husband still working in the fields. It reminded me so much of a song by Jonathan Kelly (British Folk music [RIP]), Sligo Fair: “She goes down to meet her Man returning from the fields; A wicker basket on her arm, and a spaniel at her heels…”

No sooner had Mama disappeared, than Yee Lo (Number 2 Brother) arrived. He does speak Cantonese, and a little English. He was delighted to see me, but we did not embrace as usual, because he was also covered in thick layers of muddy goo. Like Mama, he was wearing a Paddy Hat – for want of a definitive term. I am sure you know what I mean, but I am not sure you realise there is a gap between the hat and the head, so the contraption is sort of held away from the scalp – remember, it is extremely hot and humid in these parts.

He drank cold tea, cussed and cuddled his daughter, Loi-Loi, and left in a hurry. In his wake, Rhiannon brought some more people to see me, stating proudly, “Daddy”. Loi-Loi was now awake and playing the straight guy to Nonni's enthusiasm – she is 7 years old, but given to shyness. Rhiannon was more than her equal. They were perfect, and my heart greatly relieved.

The guy I like for no reason followed his wife and child for another visit, and we shared cigarettes again. This is a cultural thing in China, and so much like it used to be in UK, before the UN decided to ban smoking, worldwide. I am actually planning to write another missive about that hoax, but then, I would not expect any reader to understand the real truth of the matter, for it is bizarre and extreme.

Mama rocked up as my thoughts were drifting, and put something to cook, then she showered and changed – the day’s work done. I finally understood – for it is so hot here, you rise with the sun and work from the morning gloaming until early afternoon = one day’s work. On my way into the village, I noted the family had already planted the second rice crop of this year, so they would have been working to maintain a relatives field who's husband recently died. They are doing this for free, not for money.

Before she left she examined the large carrier I had brought with me, and handed the girls a packet of crisps to share. Mama was intrigued by my shirt, which I brought along solely for the photographs I have to have done today. She did not understand that this was with me for a reason, and not a gift for them. Eventually we sort of, sorted it out. Ish. Meanwhile, Rhiannon ate most of the crisps, and spoke to her Mother on the phone. It was one of those perfect timing moments when only the three of us were alone, for a mere minute or so.

It was almost 2 P.M. when Baba arrived. He saw me and smiled. We embraced, mud and all, and know he is not a tactile person; it is just something he allows with me. Mama was chopping and cooking, whilst Nonni was bringing others to see ‘Daddy’, and then the girls had a play-fight. I recorded it on my phone. It was brilliant!

My camera set itself to standby mode, and I reactivated it. Durrr! I did not see the miniscule sign in the top-left corner that meant pause. I have no idea how that happened, but the great movie I thought I had recorded, lasted all of 3-seconds. Hello Nokia! I didn't even know there was a Pause button, nary how to activate it. Fortunately, I can still replay my memory.

Mama cooked for us all, as she and Number 2 son argued about the overhead fan. Que sera, sera. Meanwhile, with the meal due soon, Mama let Nonni have a small tub of jelly – better make that 3 actually. I noted she was asking for any fluid, and avidly glugged back luke-warm Chinese tea, of a very mild and refreshing type. I had 2-full glasses, and Nonni 3-partially filled ones.

The meal was thrown together quickly as first Yee Lo, Baba, and then Loi-Loi all had showers. Yee-Lo washed his and his daughters clothes in the shower room, using his feet in a bucket, and only more clean water. Then he hung them out to dry in the hot air outside. Baba left his for his wife to wash later. Next, Yee-Lo and Mama spent 10-minutes trying to get Loi-Loi to put some clothes on. Sacré Nom…!

Eventually they succeeded and we sat down to eat … Brunch. The meal was great, and Mama had kindly prepared one of her versions of pork burger, simply steaming the half-pounder with onions, in soy sauce. Magic, and something I must try, next time. Unlike my normal frying, this burger remains full and juicy. It is so full of flavour; I promise, I will add it to my repertoire…

Nonni was tiring, and throwing tantrums. I had woken her inadvertently, too early in the day. This did not diminish my love for her, as our understanding of one another grew in the process. I also saw how the family and relatives worked with her during these bad moments, leaving her for a while, then mollifying her. Loi-Loi took her off to visit the village shop after Brunch, and Mama stated that Yee-Lo would take me to the main road and see me on the bus. I had to state the time.

We were preparing to leave when the girls came back, laden down with sweets and sticky transfers. They played outside while my Brother-in-Law got the scooter out, and I said goodbye to my little girl, in English, and also in Cantonese. I could see her heart breaking, but she did not cry. Somehow she understood. I left, then returned to give her a mega peck on the lips, lifted her up and twirled her around, put her down with a responded kiss, turned and left.

On the back of the scooter I was berating myself for not seeing enough of her, especially in the mornings – which is her time to shine with me. Yee-Lo kept distracting me, showing me how the recent Typhoon, or Dai Fong in Cantonese, had decimated many trees and crops hereabouts. Their second rice planting was fine, but others were not.

We arrived and Yee-Lo parked his machine under a tree in the shade. “Mere-minutes later the second bus proved to be the one I wanted, and he never even spoke to those inside. We simply grasped briefly as brothers and went our separate ways.

I boarded and confirmed to the driver, “Toisan-ah!”. He nodded and I took a seat near the front of the luxury coach. I got out my wallet and paid the girl taking the tickets, we sharing a laugh in Cantonese, no problem. We did the usual stuff, and then I thanked her by saying in almost Toisanwah, “m’Goi lai-hah”. She laughed and corrected me, “m’Goi ah Ma”. This was a new one on me, but later proved correct when my wife explained the small but significant differences between the two, both basically meaning, “Thank you for service”. And so I learn, slowly, little by little, but it counts.

I almost slept on the way back to Toisan, but roused to realise I did not need the Family Book for the medical, only the new visa. I wondered how I could have been so stupid? Ah, the flu I guess. I know this stuff, don't I?

I reflected, and knew I should have gone and had my photographs taken when it was still morning cool, and the Bank would definitely have money in the cash machines.

As it was, I exited the luxury, super-cooled coach, into the blistering afternoon sun. I know that deep inside my apartment, the thermometer is stuck on 36°, but out here in the direct sun, I know it is over 50° and extremely humid. It takes me 90=seconds to reach the photo shop, and I am wringing wet when I enter.

I have never been in this shop before, but say “Hello” in Cantonese, and tell them I want a passy-port photo. I actually have with me the ones from last time – clever, eh? The girl takes a glancing look, says, “Gongmuen”; I say “Hyi-ah”, meaning locally inflected “yes”, and she beckons me through to a back room.

She sets up the required blue background as I don my shirt, only doing up the first couple of buttons, and try to strike a pose with no facial expressions – something I am extremely not good at. She takes three shots, and we are done. I take off the shirt and go through to the counter. She says something I almost understand, but there is one word I do not know. Never fear, instead of blubbering, I ponder what her question could be, after all, we are doing a process here. I decide she is asking me when I want the photographs, as we have not yet reached the Price bit.

Not wishing to break the Cantonese only experience, I ad lib, “Ting yut, zhao san, bah't dim-ah?” or tomorrow at 8 A.M. if you prefer. This was the correct answer.

I was presented with a receipt, and told “Bah't dim geuw”.

In Toisanwah, *guew* can mean 9 – meaning 8:45. However, I took it to mean *gai*, or a little after 8 A.M. I was extremely pleased to have conducted the whole thing in Cantonese, until I turned to leave and she broke the spell by saying, “Thank you”. I replied, m’Goi lai-ha”.

I left with a real feeling of accomplishment, for I did not speak a single word of English whatsoever, and the girl was extremely efficient, and did not bat an eyelid at my childish Cantonese. Neither did I ever consider or practice what I was going to say; it simply came out within the moment.

I was allowed to rejoin Elance around this time, and maybe because of this, my sign-up asked a question, “Which languages do you speak?”. Note the word: “Speak” exclusively. English was already ticked, but I considered, and chose other to Chinese, meaning Mandarin. I put down Cantonese, the first time I have actually considered I speak another world language, no matter how badly. I know enough to get by, and am far too old to learn much more, but what I know, does it out on the streets.

It was after 3 by this time, but the ATM still had money (For once), and coughed up. My day’s work was done. I went home and fancied a beer. I showered instead, drank ice-cold orange juice (Chang Juip), with orange bits in it, and cooked something, I forget what. I showered again, because it was so damn hot, and went to sleep, memories of my daughter flooding my waking, and sleeping thoughts.

Medical Check

The next morning I left the apartment at 8 A.M. I got to the photo shop 10-minutes later, and it was closed. I was pretty certain she intended just after 8, not 8:45. There was a janitors water trough with knee high sides nearby, no ants, so I sat down to wait, and lit a cigarette.

I knew that even if the opening time was 8:45, my day was already on track. I felt a lot better, and had not had a drink for several days – three, I seem to recall. I was only halfway through the apparently pernicious weed, when the girl arrived on her scooter, and nodded to me, as if to say, “I knew it would be you”. We held the joke for a moment, before she rushed-off to unlock the shutters, and then 2 others arrived from out of nowhere to collect. I sat and left them to it. Time is ethereal, and I was still ahead of the moment.

Smoking is allowed in the shop, they even have easy chairs surrounding a table, with a central ashtray, but I still have a problem with this affront to non-smokers, even if there are very few in China – it just didn't feel right. I was half-wondering whether to speed-smoke the cigarette, go in and collect my photos regardless, or take my time while she finished opening the shop, when she appeared. She handed me my official photographs in a zip-lock bag, complete with official receipt, and I thanked her. Her smile was all I needed to see, and I left.

China does service brilliantly. Never forget.

I walked directly across to the main bus station, and ordered my ticket in Cantonese. I even joked with the woman, and she complimented me on my Cantonese. I left them sharing the joke – far too many quick words for me to follow, but my day was going extremely well so far.

I took a seat and waited for the gate to open. The tannoy was impossible to hear, but at least I was sat near a super-cool air conditioner. Then a self-centred male worker came and spoke to the girl on the gate, before lowering the vents ion the a/c unit, and standing with his back very close to them. I was getting hotter once more, and was not impressed with this imbecile.

After a few minutes he moved away without setting the vents back, and opened the nearby door to check something outside, leaving it half-open. Heat was now coming into the building. He pottered about just outside the door for a couple of minutes, before returning inside and closing the door to leave a 3-inch gap. He retook his place in front of the a/c unit. What an ignorant *….*. Fortunately we were soon called for the bus, and I took my place in line to have my ticket checked.

What a day, and I had only done the first hour of it before I was on the bus and headed directly for Gongmuen City.

I like to sit near the back, and on the right – for no discernable reason, it is usually where I end up. Hardly anybody bothers with the seat numbers you are allocated, and most Chinese want to sit at the front, so they will be first off. Durrr!

I once took at local bus to visit Uncle Sam in LeiLue. The trip was around 1-hour in length, and 2/3rds of the total bus journey. I had been vaguely chatting to the girl sitting next to me, at her intervenance. We reached the main square of Longgong (Long Jiang), my first home in China; and she rose to leave. Chinese have to be the first in the queue, always. I sat there and let the next 5-miles or more pass, before I recognised buildings and knew I had to get off soon.

I got out of my seat in good time, only to be confronted with many empty seats, and 12 passengers in a queue to get off. I bravely battled through most of them, passing the girl who had been sitting next to me in the process, and occasionally stepping on a foot by accident, apologies quickly forthcoming. I am a big man, what else can I say?

I got to within the last four protecting the exit, and they were physically barring my exit. There was no possible way through the corps without resorting to a Kung Fu melee. My stop passed by at 70kph (Whatever that is in In-ger-wishy?) and I shouted. Somehow the driver was aware, and screeched to a halt. Suddenly the way parted, once they realised I actually wanted to get off the damn bus *here*, or at least hereabouts. Chinese people are like this.

You think I am joking about it being 5-miles, then presume it was actually 6 miles. Whatever, it was a crazy long way – and they still had a ways to travel after I left them...

Headed for Gongmuen, I was on one of the very old and tatty Daewoo coaches. The front left suspension sent up howls of protest at the slightest bump, which was more than enough to ensure I remained wide-awake for the journey. The air-con didn't work, neither the air vents. The rearmost seats we set at impossibly low angles = broken backs. I could imagine how that happened.

However, the engine and driver were excellent, as you would expect in modern China. All 4-wheels stayed firmly in the road; and after leaving 5-minutes late, we arrived 5-minutes early. Fancy.

Gongmuen City is actually a city in it’s own right, and also a County, that includes my Toisan (Tai Shan) City, which in itself is a more minor County. I chose to sit and wait as the Chinese battled for position to get off the coach first, and but 40-seconds later, made my unhindered way out. Easy.

Gongmuen, like Gongzhao (Guangzhou), is a city I have never understood. I have met the top leaders of the Regional government, and shared wine and meals with them; also at local city, and town levels. Given a different leaning of politick from Beijing, then this would be Toisan today, but it did not come to pass. The two cities are rivals after the same crown, which currently resides in Gongmuen.

The itinerant staff speak Mandarin, ignoring over 2, 000 years of Cantonese dominion. They think it is their right not to learn China’s only other accepted international language. I by my turn prefer to disagree. The British are always a sucker for the underdogs, eh.

I lit a cigarette as I slowly wandered passed the local bus ranks, my trap being the very last. There are only 2 buses that go to where I need to be, number 32, and number 9 that does not stop here. The former was not in, but a clamour from the herd of local motorcycle taxis drew my attention.

Siu Ying and I had already decided that I was not going to use a taxi rank cab – last time the guy took us on a roundabout rout of 20-minutes, in order to arrive 2-minutes down the road. Whoa! That is Hong Kong taxi thinking, so once bitten, forever shy. We paid Y35 for a ride that should have cost Y6. Similar happened twice. They were obviously not planning on repeat business. Stupid!

Siu Ying told me the charge should be between Y10, and Y15, the lower being in her estimation, fair. With no *bussy* appearing, I waded into the crowd of motorcycle taxi riders, seeking a deal. The first itinerant spoke only Mandarin, and we could not understand one another. A second that had at least bothered to learn the local language interrupted us. “Gai Chin-ah” or “how much”? Y8. We had a deal.

Although I had to wear a crash-hat, I could finish my cigarette on pillion, and the cooling breeze was excellent. 5-minutes, and he dropped me outside the gate of where I needed to be. Top Hole.

I paid the due amount, almost thinking to let him keep the whole Y10 RMB, but that is a precedent you never set in China, first time. The guy on security stopped me and asked in Cantonese where I was headed. I waved my last years Health Booklet at him, and he waved me through immediately, beckoning me to head left, as if I didn't know already. Thank you for service all the same, appreciated.

In Gongmuen the building is dedicated solely to processing Official medical examinations, mainly for Chinese citizens who require a medical for work purposes. I have never seen another foreigner there yet, although the staff do speak English.

The point of the examination is to determine whether you pose a health risk to China. They are looking for dangerous diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and psychological disorders. However, you do get a full medical check in the process.

Documents required: 4 x official photographs, passport. If you have a previous booklet from an earlier examination, take it with you, because you are in The System - Makes things much easier for everyone. Fee: Y325 RMB. Fill in the form they give you, and give them a slip of paper with your address and spouses contact details on it, and they will fill in the Chinese characters for you.

There are about 8 main processes that include many other tests. You will be taking your shoes off and on for most of these, so this year I brought along some flip-flops. Very easy and the whole thing takes about 20-minutes.

Last year Siu Ying had been with me, and filled in much of the forms. This year I was on my own, and I had only one form to fill in, presumably because their system already had my details. I did as much form filling in English as I could, before finding my relevant piece of paper with our address in Chinese characters, and my wife's name and phone number.

The only girl on reception, and doing three jobs was quite busy, but I was slightly put off when the girl from bloodwork sauntered over and said in Cantonese she was going to the 8th floor to make a telephone call, as reception down here was impossible.

However, I did not have to wait many minutes before the receptionist checked my forms and wrote in the missing details with nary a call to my wife. This was all conducted in Cantonese.

I was sent through to get my bloodwork done first, and knew there would be a wait, as this place does not appear to have lifts, for clients at least. I guess I waited 5-minutes, but it seemed longer. I changed out of my shoes and socks, before deciding to put my socks back on again. Chinese are a bit funny about nudity, even if it is just your toes.

The girl came back and began the tests, which includes height, weight, and a urine sample. I managed a thimble-full of deep orange liquid, and knew that in spite of drinking over 3 litres of water and 1.5 of orange juice the previous day, that I was still drastically dehydrated. The fluid went in to my system, but never came out.

She insisted she didn't speak Cantonese, which was I shock to me as I just heard her speak the language, but sobeit – Here is China! As we say. She insisted, and kept trying Mandarin, which wasn't ever going to happen. She kept asking me my height in French units, of which I have no clue, I informing her I use Imperial, or traditional English measurements. That was all I was ever taught at school. Then I remembered a figure and said “186”.

She asked me in reasonably good English if I really weighed that much. I immediately said no, that was my height-ish. She wanted my weight in metric, and I don't have a clue. I am somewhere between 13 and 14 stone I think, so if a bag of sugar is 2.2 Lbs = 1 Kilo? - Well, I started to do the maths. I think 4.54 comes into this calculation somewhere, but nowadays I’d need a pen and paper for that, or at least several convivial minutes. A large bag of Tate & Lyle cane sugar does it for me every time.

By contrast Silver Spoon sugar does not usually have dual marking of weight, is made from sugar beet, that produces a less sweet sugar; and is made as far as I understand, exclusively within the EU – or whatever they are calling themselves this month.

I was mentally times-ing 13 by 14, before deciding it would be better to remember what 14 squared is and round-down = 196. Then I remembered the square of 13 is 169. I have no idea where those figures came from, but they seemed about right. I guess it would have been easier to halve the difference slightly offset lower, but I called 14 squared as 200 and decided to round down more heavily. The next mental calculation was easy, leaving me with 90 Kg. I rounded down to 80 and told her. She stated I was 74 Kg. I kept wondering; if she already knew the answer, why she had asked me to provide it. Strange?

In the meantime she took two small vials of blood, expertly I might add, and we were done. The colour was deep maroon, like after you've had a skin-full the night before. I knew this was not the case, and a further indication I was still not recovered from my influenza.

From my previous visit last year, I now knew for the very first time I have type ‘O’ blood, but I do not know if this is Rhesus + or -? I asked her if she could tell me, something she appeared not to understand. Your blood group as far as UK medical practitioners are concerned, is viewed as highly Top Secret information, of which the patient must never be allowed to learn of.

I know my Mother was ‘O’ Negative, so presume I am the same. I believe it to be the smallest blood group in the world; correct me if it is ‘O’ Positive. It is an extremely rare bloodgroup in China, and in Canton in particular. I can virtually guarantee that none other than a central Guangzhou hospital or specialist blood bank will stock it, so in the event of serious accident, I guess I will become a ‘Plasma-man’. I digress…

The bloody girl (Ouch! Painful pun), took me through to reception, where the first girl was still doing 3 jobs, but this time she had no clients. She checked my forms, before deciding I had not been upstairs yet. I told her it was so, and I did not know why I was here?

I dutifully headed for the stairs once the misunderstanding was sorted out. Ho-hum. There are only 4 reasonably short flights of stairs to the floor above, but it gets extremely hot in the stairwell at just the wrong point. I knew my pulse was racing and I was a little short of breath by the time I reached the top. Gleefully I spied a chair under the a/c, and sat down to recover.

I had planned to be there for a few minutes, but a Doctor noticed me and I was immediately whipped into his office top have my pulse taken = not good. Of all the tests, why does this one have to be the very first one; although I was in a far worse state last year.

He took a moment to read my forms before putting the strip around my arm. I tried to take deep breaths and still my racing pulse. It had little effect, as the numbers soon entered the 200’s, before the pressure released. Damn!

This guy, in fact all the staff I met were the same as last year, and I know he is actually quite laid-back. He re-reads my details before we tried again. This time we didn't quite reach 200, but it was a close call. He sighed, and I tried to tell him I had flu – but even with mine, this was going nowhere.

He waited longer and we tried again. This time he was satisfied, and although I knew the reading was still high, it was OK. When I got the results back, it was a lot more than OK, and just slightly high of norm. Cool.

Then we did the eye colour tests, and these are no problem for me. I said “7” first, before I quickly corrected my thinking, running through the 3 he offered me as, “Ch'yut, bhat, gao”, or 7, 8 9 to you. He had a lovely smile on his face, and we chatted a little in Cantonese.

Next was the eye-test. I have no problem with my right eye, but my left one is slightly weak and always just a smidgeon out of focus. This year I already knew they were using an eye chart with only 4 characters: 3, W, M, and E. The *M* and *W* are wickedly close, especially near the bottom of the chart. The *E* and *3* are never a problem, even for my weaker eye.

Eventually my results proved I had 10.0 with my right eye, and 9.0 with my left – so not bad for almost 60 I guess. We were done, and left with Cantonese goodbyes. As he ushered me towards the next Doctor, I wondered why we could not have done the eye-test and colour thingymagig, before taking my pulse? That was all the recovery time I needed. Asi es la vida!

The next Doctor was female, and though I recognised her from last year, this time she appeared to be ‘offish’, but not directed towards me. Let’s say she was preoccupied with a matter on her mind. She was totally efficient, accepted my Cantonese without question, but did not want to chat.

She did a full torso sound scan first, concentrating a little too much on my left kidney. Like last year, she spent some time looking at the results on the computer, before filling in the form and ushering me through to Frankenstein's bedroom.

You think I am joking? Well, there are 3 sets of main leads. Coming out of the first two are large transcribing nodules that look like they are made of lead, and from a previous century. Each has 8 heads that are applied using some sort of goo to the right and left of the abdomen. She did it quickly, each one specifically placed to the thousandth of an inch = far more accurate than mere millimetres.

Ten similar nodes were then applied to my skull, and the effect was completed by what looked like extremely heavy duty jump leads being attached to my arms and legs. I am certain these things could fry a living being if the current was turned up!

Then the machine was switched on, and I listened, as she listened to my heart. For once, the beat was strong and regular, if still slightly quick of tempo. There-again, being strapped to Frankenstein's bedposts with wires all over the body, does not render a person’s heart to slow beats.

My personal worry began when she turned up the audio of my heart valves, and listened intently to my blood flow. It made a whooshing sound, and all three attempts she made appeared the same to me. She discarded the first two, and I was given a funny look, as she attached the third to my form. I am going to forget about that, as the results were clear.

I was released from the contraption quickly, and sent on my way to the worst room of all, the X-Ray room. Last year I had a *Hazing* of the lungs, which caused a slight concern for the Doctor operating the device. I had to hunch my shoulders and adopt impossible postures, as he sought to determine something that was not there. I have been a heavy smoker since the age of 14, so what do you think I was concerned about, and so was my wife. Nary a problem – you should know me better than that by now.

This year we did it all in Cantonese, he was pleasant, I had no Hazing, and it took a mere couple of minutes. In fact, it took him longer to fill in the forms, than to make the examination.

I am now going to retrace this missive back to the first health problem, when they stopped selling my preferred brand of cigarettes, and I was committed to stopping smoking, remember? I only smoked because my wife brought me a cigarette to still my Vertigo – which is extremely unpleasant, and impossible to predict.

The old brand was simply called Double Happiness. It represents marriage in Cantonese by the way (btw). I had been coughing for years, and often very short of breath. Disinterestedly, I knew the real cause, for I am not stupid. Due to factors outside of my control, I changed brands to Shuangxi = same thing, different packet. My wife and I had noticed that my daily coughing bouts had subsided, to the point where unless I was ill, I didn't have any.

I can only conclude there was something in the English style Double Happiness that was harmful and caused the hazing to my lungs. I also never understood why all those people adamant that smoking should be banned, never entertained the thought that cigarettes need checking for content. It is beyond their comprehension, but now I have proof. I do want to know what the cigarettes I smoke contain. The proof is in the smoking, or so we say.

So, no *Hazing* this year - due entirely to change of brand. Well tickle my tits till Tuesday! That was very good news.

The last Doctor I saw was a local girl, and she ran through her checks quickly, as we chatted in my limited Cantonese. Near the end she switched to extremely good English, and we had an exceedingly interesting conversation. Apparently she had been to UK and studied there. Her sister was there now at Bristol University, and as we were getting to know each other, it became time for me to leave.

My checks were done, so I went down to reception. I handed the same receptionist my forms, and she became checker, and then financial administrator. We joked in Cantonese, she complimenting me genuinely, and we shared many laughs. It was good, and so good that today I still have fond memories about her.

It was Friday, so my results would be through after 5 P.M. on Monday, or available anytime from Tuesday onwards. We did not even pursue the Courier version, for time on my visa was short – I hoped it was not too short, because this year I was cutting it to the wire. There again, Chinese visas have no capacity to be concurrent; they always begin from your day of official registration for process – which means that they are always gaining days off your current visa’s life. Not so this year = perfect timing. But that is the story for below…

Chinese Visa Renewal

I awoke naturally at 5 A.M. and made coffee. If my visa request was rejected, then I would be left with one day to get out of the Country; My life's plan would lie in ruins.

I was pretty confident this would not happen – but you never know, for China is a stalwart Country, unlike the current mob controlling the now fickle Europeanised West. I live in a Country where continued residence is disdained, and forbearance exemplified by personal conduct and tolerance.

I had already put a bag ready with all the documentation required this day, but checked, and double-checked all the same. I had it covered; so hit the streets at 6.45, which were enjoying the last of the nighttimes cool. I had my ticket by 6.53, and with buses running every 20-minutes, saw that the next coach left at 7.10, meaning I had just missed one. No problem, but a slight foreboding for the day ahead.

We arrived at Gongmuen main bus station, and I repeated the events of last time. This day bus 32 was not in either, but the mob of motorcycle taxis had disappeared. There were one or two standing around, and eventually I noticed some were holding a motorcycle helmet, albeit one fit for a building site.

I was approached by one, and then as we tried to converse, others surrounded us. He was a Mandarin speaker, but knew enough Cantonese for us to get by. I showed him my old health certificate, pointing out the address on the front I wanted to go to. He asked me for Y15, and I said, “No way, Y8 RMB”. We argued nicely, and others nearby added their comments. Eventually I offered Y10, and walked away when he refused.

I had only walked a couple of paces when he was at my side, and our deal concluded. He ran off to get his machine, which was parked with all the other motorcycle taxis, 50 yards down the road at another entrance. I did not run, but ambled after him, knowing he would come for me. He did, and we were on our way.

I was paying attention to the bus stops we passed, looking to see if Number 9 stopped anywhere along this route, for that bus runs ever 5-minutes, not the 15 or 20 that number 32 does. Suddenly I was plagued by a momentary doubt, “Shouldn't we have turned left here?”

We sped through the junction, and I saw my destination disappearing into the distance. I complained, and the rider ignored me. At the next junction he turned right, and I was by now screaming at him. We were going in the wrong direction. He wouldn't have it, but I continued to complain, until he pulled over and asked to see my destination once more. I got out my Health Book, this time turning it to the main page inside, which was in larger print, and defined in both English and Chinese. He nodded, and thought for a moment.

Suddenly the engine revved, and we turned around, headed the wrong way back from where we had just come. Later we crossed with a little luck to the correct carriageway, and turned left at the end. I was confident he knew the destination this time, which was confirmed when he turned right into the correct road, and pointed at the building I was going to. Success!

I paid him the Y10, and he was quite apologetic (In Mandarin). We all make mistakes: It is the human condition.

Security waved me through the gate, remembering me from yesterday. Nearing the counter I produced my receipt, and the lovely girl from yesterday was perfunctory in her service, the jokes and smiles of days before, lost in a miasma of routine, and more routine.

I received my new Health Booklet, and two copies of what it said on A4 files. I went outside and lit a cigarette as I eagerly looked at my results. I was clear! No *Hazing* of the lungs, no concerns to Liver or Kidney. The only blemish on a clean sheet was an advice to retake my urine sample because of a very minor irregularity. I was not surprised, and discounted it immediately.

The road outside is one less travelled, but the main highway is a mere 300 yards down the road. I put steps and looked around occasionally to hail a cab. I had virtually reached the main road when a motorcycle taxi hailed me, and I beckoned him to stop.

Relief turned to uncertainty, as he only spoke Mandarin. Usually I walk away in such circumstances – I have been ripped-off too many times by these itinerant workers. I was still ahead of the clock, and wanted to keep it that way, for again, this was my first time to do the visa renewal process on my own. He refused to set a price, so I knew he was planning to rip me off. However, the sun was deathly hot already, and I thought to best him when the time came.

I showed him the address of the PSB building I needed to go to, and after dutifully studying it, he smiled and I hopped aboard. He took me directly there, and was quite chatty, in a non-understandable sort of way. The air was cool on the pillion seat, and ideal for soothing the spirit.

I told him to stop at the photocopy place, come photography shop. He refused to give me a price for the fair, indicating he would wait for me. I knew I would be here a long time, and asked him the price. Another local motorcycle taxi rider came over to assist. Eventually he asked me for Y30 = impossible. We bantered, the new guy understanding my Cantonese, and to settle things I simply opened my wallet and gave him Y20. He complained, but I recon he was up Y5 on the correct price. I simply did not need this hassle, as I had the most important thing for living in China to deal with. Renewing my Visa.

Today was Tuesday, and my current visa expires on Thursday (midnight). As this is a repeat renewal, it will take only 1-week to process. Should it be rejected: I will have overstayed my visa, be heavily fined, and instantly deported at my own expense – hopefully to Hong Kong?

One my two previous visits, the copy shop held the application forms and helped my wife fill them out, producing photocopies of what was required during the process. It was patently obvious this was not happening now. I asked them to copy my main passport page, my current visa page, and the main page of the Family Book. Done I headed for the main building, nodding at security on the way in.

The place was rammed, most being Chinese seeking to change there place of official residence to Gongmuen County. I was the only person that did not appear to be Chinese, although later some proved to be Hong Kong or Macao residents, and an annoying few were probably ABC’s or BBC's (American / British Born Chinese). They were in my queue for the same Family Visit visa. The real reason why this dispensation was introduced in the first place was to encourage long-stay family visits from People in Taiwan.

You may not be aware, but after the fall of the last Empire, China spent much of the next 35 years as a democratic country. There was a short resurgence of Empire in Beijing, followed by control of battling warlords. Provinces like Yunnan and Tibet declared independence, whilst the rest of the rural country became communist, and the major cities, democratic (Ku Ming Tang).

The Chinese civil war began around 1921, but it was mainly political manoeuvrings, rather than bloodletting until 1927. Fighting became more widespread during the 1930’s, but was interrupted by the Japanese invasion (1937 – 1945). During this time, China was also sending troops (120, 000) to support the Allies in the Middle East and North African campaigns.

After the defeat of the Japanese, Chinese who had put the civil war on hold to fight their mutual aggressor, resumed their civil war. By 1947 it was virtually over, and 2-million KMT fled to Taiwan taking their personal fortunes with them. The greater proportion of these people were from Guangdong. This is why the flag of Taiwan is based upon the KMT flag, but the KMT version has slightly longer points to the stars.

Incidentally, the founder and leader of the KMT, Dr. Sun Yat Sen, (Died 1927), is regarded as one of the Three Founding Fathers of modern China – for he was directly responsible for getting ride of the last vestiges of Empire.

The other two forefathers’ are of course Chairman Mao, and Deng Xiao Ping, the founder of modern Openness. I will finish this brief history lesson here, which I hope you enjoyed. Not many Chinese know what I have just related. If you would like to read just how complex this period of Chinese history was, then please see the Chinese History section of this website.

As my thoughts returned from Chinese history to the present, I found the queue for the admin desk was large and ponderous. I eventually got to see one of the 3 assistants, but only 2 were officially working. The other appeared to be monitoring her computer, and supervising the others occasionally. I left with my form, and could not find counter space until I reached the far end of the building. It is a very long and large building.

Once settled on a Nuevo barstool, I completed the paperwork as best I could. The questions are in Chinese first, repeated in English below. The definition is not good, so whilst I always managed to answer the correct question, sometimes it was in the space devoted for a Chinese response, and at other times, on the line for English respondents. It really is a most confusing form. I also found it easier to answer a couple of questions using Chinese characters.

I went back to the admin desk, which was clear. I picked the girl in the middle and handed over my form, the details Siu Ying wrote out for me + handed over the small bag containing my supporting evidence. She immediately filled in the Chinese for me, before becoming unsure. Whilst dithering to hand back my form, she called the supervisor, who had a look at her query, then spoke rapidly before moving away. She inspected my bag of evidence, requiring me to photocopy: the first page of the Health Certificate.

I left for the copy shop, papers in hand. A motorcycle taxi driver who somehow was within the compound accosted me outside. I said “No” to his entreaty. I got to the copy shop, and the motorcycle taxi that delivered me was still waiting for the return – so obviously I had overpaid him, but not by too much. He really wanted my business, and even if I was done, he was not going to get it.

I got the required photocopies, and went back inside the main building. On our two previous visits, we simply sat outside gate 9 or 10, and waited until the staff was free, before presenting her with my forms and documentation. This is what I did.

Then I remembered that I had to attach one photograph to the form, in the space provided. I heaved a sigh, and went back to the copy shop, this time to avail myself of their pot of glue. The counter assistant actually did this for me, possibly because I was becoming one of their most regular customers. I also got a photocopy of my soon to be cancelled Certificate of Temporary Residency, because I knew that when I left here, all the personal documentation I would have, would be a receipt for my visa application = not the time to go travelling to foreign parts, as of course they also would keep my passport. I did also have the receipt for payment, but did not think this would stand me in good stead, if checked by non-local police.

I knew everything was perfect, so retook my seat to wait for either of the International staff to become free. I knew the girl from both times past, but after a long wait, it was the boy I got.

At first I spoke Cantonese, a language he did not understand. He replied in Mandarin, a language I do not understand. We were soon conversing in English, and he was far better at speaking it than he believed. I was told I did not have a ticket, but replied I never needed one before. Apparently this time I did, and had to get one from the admin counter before I could begin queuing to see him again.

I had presumed I was dismissed, but apparently not, as he cursorily ran his eyes over my submission forms and photocopies. He instructed me to get at photocopy of the page of the Family Book that showed my wife's registration details, and the main page of my wife's marriage booklet.

He also spent an age looking through my 48-page passport, that is virtually full of Chinese visas. He asked me when was the last time I entered China, and I said November 2010. I had previously spent a lot of time searching for this stamp, which is illegible. We settled as before, for October 2008, which was in their system. He opened the passport page and told me to get a photocopy of that also.

This may sound a tad officious, but it was not. He was a nice guy helping me to get it right. He asked me for my wife's ID card, the one thing I did not have with me. He grimaced, but proceeded, telling me to get the photocopies done, and then go to the reception desk and get a ticket. Yessir!

We parted with a smile, and he had done much more than was required. Thank you. Next time I will know what to do, which is one reason I am writing this now, and the other is so YOU know what to do.

So I wandered back to the copy shop once more, and got accosted by the same guy inside the compound, and the motorcycle guy who brought me here outside the copy shop. Crazy people! I paid for the required photocopies, and went to the same admin assistant, who again checked my documentation. She called the supervisor once more as her hand hovered over the ticket dispenser. The supervisor checked my forms, and said something. I was given a ticket, and got back into the queue to see one of the two police dealing with Foreigners. My ticket number was A35, and the display read A26. I went outside for a leisurely cigarette.

I went back inside and sat down once more in the queue. The lead number in the board slowly changed through to A29. The time was now 10.30, and I knew I may have to wait until they closed for lunch, and resumed work at 2:30. I ventured outside to indulge my predilection once more.

Back inside some minutes later, the numbers on the queue clock suddenly started moving, in jumps. 29 soon became 33, as the time approached 11 A.M. I was going to be OK for the 11.30 cut-off deadline, if they did not receive applicants whose number had already gone?

Apparently they did, but only one returned to usurp my place in the queue. I got the same guy minutes later, and we were relaxed this time. Maybe it was me, or maybe it was him? I don't know. What I do know is he was very thorough. This was offset by the smile on his face, as he conducted his sworn duty.

He was dotting *i*’s and crossing *t*’s, but knew exactly what he was doing. He took all my photocopies and placed them in his personal order. Then he went thoroughly through my documentation – in a very pleasant way I might add.

He looked at all my supporting evidence, not wanting to see my daughters Birth Certificate; I guess this means he is only interested in authorised Chinese ID? He took one of my two copies of the A4 medical results, and then told me he needed the entire booklet photocopied, excluding the first page of official Chinese gobbledygook.

By now heavy in hand and heart, I made my sprightly way back to the copy shop, hoping this was my last visit for this year. You know, it would have been a lot cheaper, and very much more proactive of me, if I had simply printed off a photocopy of every page of my documentation at home. No wonder the copy shop loved me, at Y1 per scan and print, I reckon they took me for Y15! Not next year I determined.

I rushed back, and found the guy still waiting for me to complete = unusual, and extremely nice of him. I had doubled one copy of the main page, which he presented back to me. I was simply hanging-in there, you know?

My application was swiftly accepted, with a proviso that next time I brought a copy of my wife's ID card with me. I already knew they required the photocopy + the original to compare it to.

Sometimes I wish my own country, England; would adopt a more aggressive attitude towards the hordes that try to stay in MY Country by misinterpreting UK, and un-voted for, European law. It is far past the time our governments, and our Barristers were hauled into court for Treason = selling UK out!

In China, if you do not do anything wrong, then you have far more personal freedom than in modern UK: and by extraction, Europe especially, but also USA: Strange, but true.

I walked to the bus stop some 10-minutes away, and considered catching bus number 9, just to see where it went. The weather was far too hot for taking idle risks. Bus 32 appeared shortly afterwards, and I made a detour in one of the main thoroughfares along the route.

In Toisan there is one large supermarket that sells a bare minimum of western food. I can usually get expensive American smoked bacon, cheese slices, and tinned tuna with mayo. For the last month or more they have not stocked butter, either in blocks, or little tubs; and occasionally they have a decent margarine type spread. Neither can I get any form of mayonnaise down here that is not deathly sweet.

My destination was Vanguard supermarket, the same one we have in Toisan. It occupied the whole of the second floor (First floor in British), and was extremely disappointing. I left with a few minor purchases, and noted it was also quite expensive. For instance, I buy Nescafe coffee in those large catering tins, tipping enough out to fill a 200g jar. The cost is around Y75. This store sold a similar product, also made by Nescafe, with a slightly different exterior. I have tried them both, and they taste identical. The price on these shelves was Y158! More than double what I normally pay.

I wandered back to the bus stop, briefly toying with the idea of having a McDonald’s, but apart from the weekly special, they don't do it for me. I read the bus information in Chinese, and learnt that several busses went to the main bus station. Some charged Y2, and others Y3, for the duration of your trip regardless of destination.

Bus number 22 came along almost immediately, an Y2 fare, and I got one. I confirmed with the driver he was going to the main bus station, and he sort of acknowledged me *ish*. When we arrived the driver actually spoke to me, confirming this was indeed where I wanted to get off. He was a nice guy, just busy. I confirmed and thanked him. Great service, and I completed with a *Hi-Five*, something Chinese really enjoy, but don't quite understand. It was good.

I sat down and whiled away the time, enjoying the city bus’s excellent air conditioning. I was cool once more. I picked the shortest queue for tickets, which took the longest as the two in front took ages before they were done. Someone tried to jump the queue as I reached the window, and I firmly closed him out.

They only appear to employ Mandarin speakers at this ticket office, so I said “Yut gor hoi Toisan, Tai Shan”. She drew my attention to the display, which read Toisan, and I said yes. The fare is Y32, and I offered her Y100 and then asked her in Cantonese if she wanted Y2. She understood me and handed back Y70. However, she never uttered a word of Cantonese. Here is China!

I spent the next 7-days living under the sword of Damocles.

I was not unduly worried, but irksome thoughts occasionally intruded my thoughts, especially during creative passages of writing my latest book. Let me just confirm that when you have no idea whether you will continue living with your wife and daughter next week, or be heavily fined, deported immediately, and forced to live in an alien country; this is not conducive to creativity. This is the daily circumstance of an Expatriate in modern China.

What I did not know at the time, was that the PSB dealing, subsequently called my wife on her mobile, her new number they do not have officially on file (Sure, Big Brother is everywhere, and is quite reasonable in China – so long as you do nothing wrong.), and asked her directly if we were still married + actually living together as Husband and Wife?

Siu Ying said, “Of course!”

It was a cursory check, and one I found surprising, but quite valid once you think about it. We have no problem, and remain very happily married. However, I decided that perhaps it would be wiser to take her with me for the next application.

Compare that to modern UK, where a man separated from his spouse for several years, can claim against deportation on the grounds of Right to Family Life. He has no family life; no checks are done other than the marriage certificate. It also takes months, not days, and the toe-rag is allowed to stay. Jesus Christ! UK is being run by Politically Correct imbeciles. In Book 5 (Anomaly), I take on PC, and launch it into space – watch this space for details of probably the most controversial novel to be published during the last 100 years…

Remember, if my wife had said “NO”, I would now be living in a different country – possibly Vietnam, Cambodia, or Siam; but never again *Modern UK, Province of Germany*.

These thoughts flittered and fled as I almost slumbered on my return trip to Toisan. Upon arrival in my home city, I needed a beer; but going home, I showered, then frittered and fried as I ate instead. Perhaps I should have tried McDonald’s after all? Just a shame only Jolli Bee (From The Philippines) has made it to China Mainland so far, out of all the supposed International chains, except KFC and Pizza Hut. No Burger King, no Wimpy (My personal favourite), No Wendy Burgers = get real. This is not a free market, but a highly controlled one, solely by the foremost global chains = no competition. Pizza Express, where are you? Cummon!

There are times I would die for a doner kebab, or real fish and chips. I used to eat pork sausages and mince meals several times per week. I have learnt how to simulate sausages using pork mince, cooking them as burgers without casings, but the taste is pretty excellent. I use pork mince instead of beef, and now steam it = Wow! But it is still not quite the same as back in UK. China does not do any type of pasty or pie. Most of what they do comes laced with sugar, especially for savoury courses = YUCK!

In Vantage Gongmuen, I had been hoping to find some real cheese – well, vacuum packed packages Anchor Cheddar at least, but it works when there is no chance of any real cheese. Result = ZERO.

Next week I will be in Guangzhou for one night of revelry with Jim, and the next night I am in Foshan, my home city in China. I am gong to Guangzhou to get my passport copy notarised, so I can apply for an American IRS number, otherwise they will take 30% of American book sale royalties at source. Ouch!

So consider what it means to be an International person. Within a few months I will hopefully have both UK and American Tax Coding. Give me another year, plus a full Chinese Residency Visa – which allows me to earn money in China, and I will have Tax Codes in three very diverse countries.

Small world.

7-days later I returned to Gongmuen, and took my wife's ID card with me. I caught bus 32, and walked the short way to my destination. I dropped into the copy shop, and had both sides of her ID copied onto the same side of one piece of Chinese A4, which is slightly smaller than both British and American versions. International people know this.

My queue was empty, so I handed over my receipt, photocopy, and my wife's ID card. The girl was the same one from previous, and had no problem with my personal version of Cantonese. She checked the photocopy diligently against the original of my wife's ID, and we were done.

I was at the complex for all of 4-minutes, including photocopying. The trip took almost 8-hours, with no shopping expeditions. I simply wanted to get home to my family, and enjoy another year of living in this most welcoming, but unfathomable Country.

I used bus number 32 for both journeys, and it was ok, but time slipped by too quickly. I arrived at Gongmuen main bus station. The time was 9.42, and my coach departed at 9.50. I took a short cigarette break and paced through to trap ten. Three coaches leave from this gate, theoretically, all at the same time. The display showed the call for the first bus. I sat down, but knew the time was too close. I rose and presented my ticket to the girl, who swiped it and beckoned me through. Never presume in China.

I went through the door to the parked coaches, and recognised the purple and black colours of the Daewoo, so got on board. The bus was longer than usual, the curtains were missing near the rear, and many of the back seats were horizontal. I looked around, at first not consciously registering what I was reading, backwards. The windscreen said Gongmuen on one side, and something that was not Toisan on the other.

My attention caught, I raced off the coach and stood to look at the destination properly for the first time. It was not going where I wanted to be. Stupid! I cussed myself, and walked further down the colonnade, finding a sign that said Toisan. The windshield did not say Toisan either, but a sign in the window did.

I boarded gingerly, and asked the girl with young child settling into the first seat if this bus went to Toisan. She answered my Cantonese directly, before realising she was actually being addressed by a foreigner. That was so very cool.

The coach was not one of the low-line Daewoo’s, not one of the 39 seater Higer’s that are brand new and replacing the older vehicles. This was a high-liner of unknown make, and the first time I had known one of this type of coach on the route.

It was ok, and my idea was to get to Toisan and the police station opposite the bus station before 11.30 – so I could get my new Certificate of Temporary Residency. The bus was late leaving, the driver slow, and the trip lasted longer than it should. We arrived in the main bus terminus at 11.30, and I knew the civilian clerks would have closed for luncheon. I checked just to be sure, and it was the case.

Next time I considered leaving earlier in the morning, or taking one taxi ride in Gongmuen. That would make all the difference. Instead, the next A.M. found me attending the police station once again, a little after 9 o'clock. They guy who normally deals with me had been replaced by a girl who appeared new to the job. Beside her was a female police officer, and the air between them hung with a slightly uncomfortable malaise.

I had learnt from experience to always take my full documentation with me, so presented a copy of my old Certificate, and my passport open at the new visa page. I spoke Cantonese, and she appeared to understand me, but remained silent.

I doubt she had done this many times for a foreigner before, as she kept asking the policewoman for advice, in Mandarin. I followed their hushed tones as best I could, before realising I was dripping wet and despoiling their counter. I leaned back and waited.

Now the way is works is this, the first time you do this it takes forever, and everything is checked, thrice. Everything is photocopied and added to your file. Most frequently you then have to take this file to the local police station covering your area. In Toisan, it is for once the same police station. Once you are initially registered, then renewal is a mere formality, usually requiring a sight of your latest visa, and that's about it.

Not so this time. The girl brought up my details on the computer, and then spoke to me for the first time, in Mandarin. I answered her in Cantonese, which she understood, and replied to me in Mandarin once more. HELLO? A word from the policewoman saw future exchanges between us occur in *In-ger-wishy*.

Her English was actually better than my Cantonese, so I am perhaps being unfair to her. But then, if you hardly ever speak a language on a daily basis, it can take time for the mind to recall words and training from long ago. She warmed a little, but there was still an unknown tension behind the counter, something I had no part of.

She asked me when I last entered China Mainland, and I replied Early November 2010. Then I took my copy form back and pointed to the date. She understood. I had to get copies of my main passport page, new visa page; plus both sides of my wife's ID card. Then I remembered they had my address wrong, so pointed out flat number 502 should correctly be flat 501. We are the only apartment on the 5th floor, so I doubt it mattered, but I wanted to be correct and put right a previous error.

She understood, and then asked to keep my original contract. I said, “No”. She asked me to get a photocopy of it, even though I know they already had one on file. I guessed this girl was just making sure, and it was no problem for me. I strode next door to the photography shop and there was one woman running the place, with 5 customers. I waved my business, and after a moment, she dealt with me.

The copier was almost out of toner and would not print, so she removed the cartridge and banged it several times on the floor. Black dust went everywhere of course. She reinserted the plastic tube, and pressed *Go*, before ducking into a back room to wash her hands and arms. Meanwhile, another woman had entered the shop and had gone to stand behind the counter. Despite the queue, she decided she needed to attend to more important matters, so made a lengthy phone call on her mobile.

The woman dealing with me came back, shuffled some blank sheets of paper around the photocopier, that had absolutely nothing to do with the printing process, hit the copy button again, and started working at the nearby computer, where a man was apparently choosing photographs.

I got my photocopies as required, as a customer who had arrived before me, butted in to have her photocopies done. I as charged Y3, and lo and behold, the two women put their hands out to receive the cash, and also a young man that had just appeared out of nowhere. I hand the money to the woman that did the work, and she handed it to the older woman who had interrupted her phone call for the purpose. I noticed she was wearing a bum-bag for a money belt.

I wandered outside, wondering to dally for a cigarette, before the fierce morning sun made me re-evaluate my priorities. Again, the whole process in the photo shop had been conducted in Cantonese without the slightest problem. I spoke, they spoke; we understood one other.

Back inside the police station, a mere 10-yards away, an older woman had appeared at the counter. The girl dealt with me immediately, as Mama shuffled papers and prepared several Chinese passports for her business here. She took an extremely long time examining each sheaf, before filing it to her own system, impeccably. I am not sure I understood it, but it was semi-entertaining, and helped pass the time.

Meanwhile I was duly processed, as silence reined from the girl dealing. She handed me my new Certificate + all my documents, except for my wife's ID card, which I had to ask for. Upon producing it, I thanked her for service with a smile, left quickly, bemused at how complicated a simple process had become, and lit a cigarette as if to cleanse my mind of the entire event.

However, I know something they do not. In less than 2-weeks, I will be back there again for a new Certificate of Temporary Residency. The reason being we are moving apartment once more. I have lived in 10 places during the last 10-years, and let me confirm with you - I am getting mighty sick of moving home…

My next missive will include our travails of moving home, and aspects of a really long though most enjoyable day, which saw me travel to two places both called *Gongzhao*. The first is 1-hour south, and the other 2-hours north.

I am publishing this page as is, but plan to add many more pictures to both margins. Please allow me a few days as this is very time-consuming the first time I do it for the Lightbox application.

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.

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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