Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Frustrating Day

Today I wanted to sit in the corner of my office and cry.  It is 10 times harder to get anything done here and today, I am so frustrated.  One little thing on top of another little thing, on top of another little thing, on top of another little thing (well, you get the picture) has made for a very trying, exhausting, mentally draining day.  I think I will be having a very large glass of wine tonight!  Tomorrow is another day 🙂


Getting around

The first full day we were here, we had to start the morning by getting a Medical (see previous post).   This meant an hour’s taxi ride across to the other side of the City.  This might sound straight forward, but the taxi drivers here are all on suicide missions – or so it appears to me.  They frequently ride the lanes until the last minute, cut in without warning, blast on the horn at every red light, brake without warning and speed like a bat out of hell.  There are no seat belts in the back because they all cover the seats with an all-in-one cloth so you cannot get to slot it in.  They do not speak a word of English, nor understand a single word or read anything in English.  If you want to go somewhere you have to get the address written down in Chinese.  I have a little notebook with all my regular addresses written in Chinese now.  Also, EVERYONE seems to have right of way, the green man to walk is purely for entertainment and traffic lights appear to be optional.  There are hundreds of bicycles, scooters and motorbikes on top of all the taxis so you have to have eyes everywhere all the time.  It amazes me that I do not see accidents at every corner.

The plus side is that getting around in a taxi is incredibly cheap.  Our hour’s journey across town was less than £10/$15.  I have change out of £10 for my 2 trips to and from the office each day (approx 45 mins each way) and there are hundreds of taxi’s around.  Except when it is raining, then they all disappear to no-mans land and it is almost impossible to flag one down.  It took me 45 minutes outside of my office to flag one down last week, and this is right in the heart of Shanghai!  I can completely understand why most Western companies forbid their ex-pats from driving here.

Sanity has arrived and his name is Fu.  He is our lovely regular driver and we can now travel in style in our Buick minivan.  He does not speak very much English but is always smiling and the kids make him laugh.  He seems to know every address we have wanted to go to without a navigation system or map.  He plays English music on the stereo and it is fabulous to text him when we are ready to go somewhere and there he is, like magic!  He is also less mad than a taxi driver which means I can actually work on my commute, rather than cling to the seat fighting a near death experience!!

Update: May 12th.  Owen has now bought a scooter which allows him some more freedom without always having to rely on Fu.  The kids love it because he can occasionally take them to the bus stop in our compound for school.

On the way to the school bus stop

On Friday, Owen decided he would explore a little further afield, but still well within the manufacturers range for the battery.  Well, I get a panic call at 2pm because the battery has died, Owen is 10km from home and cannot make Fu understand where he is to be picked up.  I have to ask my colleague who speaks excellent English to explain the situation (and Owen’s location) to Fu who can then find him.  Oh, the money I would have paid to see the scooter in the minivan!!  Both side doors open with wheels hanging out and Owen hanging on for dear life.  The image in my head is enough to make me laugh out loud.  🙂

I think it will take a few more days before Owen can laugh about it.  Right now, he is hopping mad with the seller as he had not even done half of the recommended range……..

Legal Stuff – the “Paperwork”

Getting into China to work is a time and paper intensive process.  I am fortunate that the company I work for has people who specialise in this, but even so, it has required many forms to get to this point.  I actually started the process in the UK, 14 weeks ago:

1. Apply for the work permit – most important and can take up to 10 weeks for the labor bureau to process.  This requires invitation letters from the company in China, copy of your CV/Resume, copy of education degree, copy of passport ID page.  The employer will need to provide a copy of their business license, copy of organization code and copy of Approval certificate.

2. Apply for Z visa which gets converted to residence permit once you are actually in the country.  This is another 12 page application document with copies of all accompanying family member passport id pages.  This also needs a company application form and letter with the company stamp.

3. Get a medical (please see previous post on this step!)  Need passport photos for this step – 4 per person.

4.  Arrive in China.

5.  Register – at once – with the police to get a temporary residence permit.  All original passports need to be surrended.  This also needs a copy of the residence lease, landlord property certificate and id.

6.  Once these have been returned, you need to then submit them to the Public Security Bureau with 2-4 passport photos for all family members.  You will also need copies of birth certificates for your children and a copy of your marriage certificate.  Plus, the application form and letter from the company.  You need to appear in person for an “interview” that consists of you standing in front of a camera to get photo taken and to make sure that you look like your passport photo.  5 days later passports were returned with residence permits and an additional work permit document.

That’s it!!  We are all legal.

 At least until we move………then we will have to register our residence for our new address.   I think I have completed over 20 forms for each member of our family and supplied 12 photos of me, 8 of Owen and 6 each of the kids!

Be prepared to be without your passport for 3-4 weeks once you arrive in China.  Temporary travel permits can be issued, but these are just valid for travel within China.

WARNING – do not attempt all this on your own.  You will definitely need help as all documentation is in Chinese.  It helps to have legal representation to validate all the forms and steps in the process.  For anyone who wants to visit us (please do!!) you just need a tourist visa which you can get from your local embassy and will take about 3-5 days.

Finding a Home

Looking for our new home!

We have looked at so many potential new homes, from high rise apartments in the down town area to spacious American style houses in the suburbs.  Having lived in the American suburbs for 15 years, and because the kids school is in the suburbs, this is where we find ourselves drawn.  It will mean a longer commute to work for me, but everywhere is a drive away in Shanghai.
The compounds (gated communities) are very secure and all have clubhouses with pools, play areas for the kids, little cafes, little shop and gym.  Most have a lot of planned activities for the family too. 
It is absolutely impossible to find a house yourself if you do not speak the language.  English is not commonly spoken here so you need a local expert who can liaise with all the property agents, security people and can drive you around.  Luckily we have such an expert!  Queenie is our lovely co-ordinator for all things Chinese.  She took time to listen to our requirements and then offered a good selection of houses for us to view.  We found a great place and we move from temporary accommodation this weekend.  Queenie has negotiated the lease (which includes all sorts of things we would never think to ask for) and she has summarized all the major points for us in English.  Luckily, again, I also have my company’s legal department review it, otherwise we would have no idea what we are signing! 
Things to get included: garden maintenance, whole house water filter replacement, international satellite service (connecting to the Philippines is supposed to be the best service, BUT it is illegal so would never be included in a formal document – all done off the record), management fee, clubhouse membership, wireless router, internet connection, appliances, and any furniture you need. 
Our furniture is on its way but the ship does not arrive until end of May.  Who knows how long it will take to clear customs!  (I expect that will depend on how large the bribe is from the shipping company!!!!!)  So, we will have a house full of rented furniture until then.
Best of all for Tetley – a garden!  Poor thing has had to get used to riding the elevator/lift for every outing.

Shopping for Food

Food shopping is quite the experience here.  First, you cannot find everything you need in one shop, so your mindset has to change about visiting multiple stores to get everything you need.  Obviously, everything is in Chinese so it takes so long to find the things you need, and even then, you cannot be sure you have bought the right thing.  It is fascinating to see the different foods here.  Here is a fruit that I have not tasted yet, would not even know how to open/prepare it but it certainly looks intriguing:

What do you do with this? How do you eat it? What is it called?

Fresh fish also has a different meaning here.  They are swimming in tanks and you can chose which one you want and then it will be prepared for you (often with the head left on!!)  Toads and Turtles are also in the tanks, but I am quite positive that I will not be trying those, at least knowingly.  Then there are the tanks of eels and shrimps.  We all love dumplings and I love all the displays of them.  They make them in front of you too. And then there are the snack displays – huge rows of pick and mix and I have no idea what any of it is.  Well, I have the next 2 years to start finding out!! 

Pick and Mix Snacks