Monday, December 08, 2014

Number 5

Two weekends past Aya and I had our 5th wedding anniversary. I can't believe its been 5 years, they have just flown by. To celebrate we went for a night at the Grand Millennium in downtown Beijing. We had afternoon tea, then went for massages nearby and came back for evening cocktails. As we sat looking over Beijing we discussed the future, our families, and what 5 years has meant to us. We also spent most of the evening trying to remember what we had done the past 4 anniversaries! We have had a lot of changes since the first, moving from Japan to Shanghai then Penang and now Beijing. Things change, but something that hasn't changed is the sentiment that I expressed on our first anniversary.
It is hard to imagine a life without Aya. She has been, not my rock, but my best friend. A companion that I can be completely honest with and someone who will not judge me harshly, but strive to understand my hopes and dreams and to make them together. We are pretty happy with our lives here and fortunate to have the freedom and ease of life that we do. We both enjoy our jobs and the culture we live in as well as all the experiences that we have.
Often we have talked about having a child and how that might change our lives. While we aren't against it, we aren't exactly for it either. While I was home for my grandfather's funeral this past week I was around a lot of family. My grandfather was the patriarch, with 4 children, 8 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren. He will go on in all of them (and me!). A child is a source of immortality and I think that is part of the desire to have a child too. I'm not so interested in having myself go on though, I am more interested in a little Aya.
For now, its just the two of us here on the 5th anniversary, but who knows. Maybe on the 6th there will be someone else too. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


In Hiroshima we decided to stay in a business hotel and arrived in the late afternoon. Since we had a bit of time we decided to go to the peace memorial park. It was 6 years ago that I came to this park on my own. We first went to the museum where you can see the many displays of glass that flew into concrete, burnt clothing, melted toys, etc. and the pictures and stories of what happened to the people of Hiroshima. There were hordes of school kids so it was difficult to get around, but I think Aya found it very interesting. More or less I had the same feeling that I did 6 years ago when I came here and the intervening years have only made me more sure that I was correct. We as a species have learned very little about the value of human life. People still slaughter each other for utterly stupid reasons.

From there we walked to the children’s memorial and finally to the atomic bomb dome, one of the only buildings to be left standing afterwards, partial or whole. I wish I could say I was moved or that I had some profound thought upon viewing the peace park, but that wouldn’t be true. Hiroshima is now a modern city and its hard to dwell on past events that have almost no impact on the present. Having ticked that box we went back to the hotel to rest for the next day and going to Miyajima. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Shimada shoten in Osaka

In Osaka and love sake? On the recommendation of a friend we visit this shop in Osaka. Thankfully, it was near our hotel. As well as a small show room on the top floor you can descend a narrow staircase to the basement where there are two small rooms and a cooler room full of sake from around Japan. Sit at the table, tell the gent which ones you want to "taste" and he will bring you bottles of all the ones you like, pour you a small glass, and leave you to taste. At 220 yen per glass, this is a steal and a cool way to try lots of great sake. I took the opportunity to try three and pick out a nice bottle for a friend. A good way to start a morning. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Since we had a rail pass we decided to spend one day in Nagano at Zenkoji temple. We stayed at a guesthouse Fuchinobo on the grounds with wonderful vegetarian food and a nice bath. Since we arrived in the early evening we didn’t do much beyond walking the temple grounds a bit then head back for dinner. It was funny that near the main temple there was a vending machine, for religious charms! When we got back we had a carefully prepared 12 dish meal. It was fantastic.
At 5am we got up and were led up the steps to the temple where we viewed the morning prayers of the monks. Most people were sitting seiza, that is to say with their legs tucked under them. I had done this before when living in Japan and so gave it a go, but I got so stiff it was difficult to get up. After about 20 minutes of prayers we were led down a dark stair case to a completely black hall where we ran our hands along the wall. There in the darkness my hand followed the wall and then hit on something cold, hard, and obviously worn by many hands before mine. To be quite honest I had no idea what we were doing until we came back up. Then I realized that we had touched the Buddha. At the back of the temple is a statue of the Buddha which resides behind a curtain. During prayers the curtain is drawn and you can see the statue, but otherwise you cannot get near. So we had gotten near enough to touch by going into this dark chamber. It was pretty cool. Once we had come back up the monks invited us to sit with them and they made special prayers to people in our group. Aya had arranged a prayer for the health of Aya and Kevin Hurley and it was fun to hear the priest say our names and the monks to follow in prayer.

Once done at the temple we went back to the guesthouse and had a very well made breakfast and packed our bags. By 9am we were out on the road making our way to the train station to get to Hiroshima. On the train heading south a group of Japanese retirees boarded with hiking gear on. They were chattering away and every so often the group leader would announce something or other was coming up and everyone in the group would move to that side of the train car to see it. At one point the group moved to the side of the train and there in the not too far distance we could see the smoking top of Mt. Ontake where over 50 hikers had died in an eruption just days earlier. It was surreal. That evening we arrived in Hiroshima and headed to the atomic bomb dome, another surreal experience. 

Sumo in Tokyo

Sumo in Tokyo is one of the coolest things you can do in Japan. It’s a real cultural experience. This time around I went with Aya and her parents. We also had a couple of friends go that we bought tickets for, but unfortunately we couldn’t get the seats together so we were all in groups of two. Fortunately we were in sections right next to each other.
For many years the yokozuna has not been a Japanese person and it has been interesting to see the wrestlers from different countries. We saw two Yokozuna wrestle in the final match, Hakuho and Kakuryu both from Mongolia. Many come from central asian countries as well as Mongolia. A few from farther afield. One of the contenders at the match was an Egyptian.
The thing about sumo I really like is the anticipation and the shinto ritual proceeding the clash. The crowd is quiet, but occasionally gets riled up for a favorite contender. Two men, throwing salt and slapping bellies, plod around the ring until the moment both are completely ready and then BAM. Usually within a matter of 10 seconds the match is over and then its another 5-10 minutes before the next contenders clash.

All the while there are ads for sponsors, bouts for cash prizes, the girls with kegs on their backs shouting to sell you a beer and the Japanese people around you shuffling programs and eating squid. Its grand and I look forward to the next time as well. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Beijing Property Market

Searching for an apartment in Beijing has been a royal pain. The first thing to note is that estate agents are not honest. Ok, you might say the same thing about realtors in the west since they may not disclose things about a property, they are essentially working for the home owner and for their own commission. This applies here in Beijing too, but the difference comes with the degree of deception. Many places that we have seen listed have looked very nice, but the actual apartments don’t resemble the pictures at all, or a listing will be posted one day and magically be sold by the time we contact the agency. No worries though, the agency has other property they can show us. When we have gone to properties sometimes the owners aren’t there so we went for no reason or the agents forget the key so we can’t get in. Its very unorganized. The other thing to note is that it seems property owners do not feel beholden to woo the customers. I still don’t understand why this is. Many places we saw were expensive, but were shown without being cleaned after the last tenants left or with trash lying around or peeling wallpaper. It would seem to me that selling property is an arms race, but maybe not. When we express interest but ask if small repairs can be made they say no. Its been a frustrating process but essentially this market seems to be experiencing very high demand for what may still be a limited thing in China. No, I don’t mean housing is limited, far from it. There are apartment buildings and villas springing up all around. Many places are less than half full and its getting to be that may apartment blocks outside the major cities are less than half filled. The thing that is in short supply is an investment vehicle for ordinary Chinese citizens.
Unlike in western countries ordinary Chinese citizens are not allowed to invest in foreign stocks, bonds, property or other things. Nor are they allowed to buy Chinese government bonds or to invest in Chinese companies that list on the stock market (the current IPO of Alibaba, the biggest IPO in history is made all the more interesting by that fact). So as a Chinese citizen where do you put your money to mature as you age? Housing. Forget about living in it, buy to invest. All this is fine to a degree, but it also means that the property market in China is red hot. The government has taken steps to slow this down like limiting couples to one mortgage between them (causing a lot of divorces in order to hold multiple properties) or putting a price cap on rents, which really just delays consumption not stop it. In some cities there have even been riots when housing prices have dropped since it means the next guy is getting a cheaper price than you did. If you are a real estate company you have to find other ways to promote your company over others.
All this comes back to finding a place to live here in Beijing. Trying to find an apartment where floor boards aren’t warped or the furniture stained in a building that isn’t decrepit and is close to some amenities has been a challenge. Most of the places that we have view are dirty, broken down, dark, badly decorated, or are so far from any supermarket/restaurant/transport to make them unlivable. Some of these places are downright embarassing. WHY would you put stickers of white people on your light switches?
Currently we are in a serviced apartment at Days Inn in Shunyi. It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms with a decent living room/dining area. It is serviced twice a week and there is a gym and pool on site. We also have the ear of the front desk and can ask for services if we need them. This runs us about 2000USD per month. As a living space its nice, but it takes at least 20 minutes to walk to the nearest restaurant/convenience store area. Not so convenient.
Just this week we finally settled for a place in Star City, Lido district. This puts us downtown, but not the center. The apartment is 3 bedrooms/2bath with a large enclosed balcony. Its too much space for us, but the best part was that the landlord had no furniture in the apartment and agreed to give us 2500USD with which to purchase furniture and appliances of our choosing. The rent is also about as good as it will get at about 1400USD a month. The property does have a small gym and the location puts us about a 5 minute walk from a few restaurants and a large grocery stores. Go 10-15 minutes on foot and the options increase. Also, we are right across the street from the 798 art district which should prove interesting for weekend exploration.
So we didn’t get an apartment with a bath tub in the living room or with a huge crystal chandelier. Besides finally landing our apartment what we did get was a glimpse into the property market of Beijing and man, it’s a mess. You just have to smile and laugh, remembering that, ‘Anything is Possible in China’.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Getting Around in Beijing

One of the first things that spring to mind when people think of China is the use of bicycles. When I first visited Beijing in 2004 (10 years ago!) I had stayed with my friend David whose mode of transport was mostly foot or bike. I distinctly remember sitting on his bike rack as he pedaled away on the busy streets of Beijing. As we emailed recently he had said that we, “experienced the last of the golden age” of the bicycle in China. Since the early 2000’s, or really you could argue since the mid 90’s the number of automobiles on the streets of China has been increasing by leaps and bounds. This year the government announced it will reduce the number of aging vehicles in China by about 6 million and about 350,000 in Beijing. While this represents a step towards better air quality the traffic will likely still be horrific as new cars hit the road.  Considering the amount of time spent in a car traveling or finding a parking space would be a welcome addition as it reduces traveling times and is good for the environment as less driving is being done.
While all this has been a boon to the Chinese economy and wonderful in many ways for the Chinese people there are also concerns of environmental pollution and not everyone can afford to purchase a car. Speaking with a Chinese friend the other day he told me that he had bought a car in Shanghai where he lived and the cost of getting the license plate for the carewas nearly the price of the car itself. Shanghai has opted to price out consumers and therefore to reduce congestion by limiting the use of cars to more wealthy citizens. Beijing has taken a different path. Instead of raising the price of the plates here the system is by lottery. From what I’ve been told its very hard to get one. I have had people tell me its about a 2% chance, and some people told me it takes 10 years or more to get one. In either case, its not easy. In order to get around the restrictions on plates and the steep prices for many people of purchasing a car there have been efforts to find alternatives.
The metro in Beijing is dirt cheap and the buses and subways are plentiful, but just like in the US people want to the freedom to have their own mode of transport. Many have come up with what I think is a brilliant solution. Electric trikes were my first exposure to this when we lived in Shanghai. Silent and fast many people used these to get around even during the winters and many of the streets in the newer areas of Shanghai were wide with specialized lanes for bike or scooter traffic. At many of the subway stations drivers with trikes would wait for those alighting to ask for a ride for a few blocks. In Beijing I was surprised to see that this has evolved into what I can only describe as miniature cars. There are many different types, but these are all electric relying on a battery to run. Most people either plug into central spots or they haul their battery up to their apartments to re-charge them. I’m fascinated with this option as the cars seat 3-4 people (small Asian people) have head lights, blinkers, windshield wipers, heaters, the works! I really want to buy one just for the novelty, but I can’t justify the expense. Even though these cars are designed to fill the gap for those who desire an auto but can’t afford them they still run 500-3000USD depending on the size and age. For now I will just have to fawn from afar and hope to get a ride from time to time.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

First Thoughts on Beijing

Aya and I have been in Beijing now for almost 2 months and so we have adjusted to the rhythm of life here, mostly. Having lived in Shanghai a lot of the things that most new expats here view as odd or surprising are old hand for us. Pushing on the subways, spitting on the street, split pants on babies, whatever man. However, Beijing is not Shanghai and we are not exactly in the same working positions we were there. 
Of course I knew that Beijing could be dry and that there was the likelihood that there would be some heavy pollution. In some ways I have been surprised because there have really only been 3-4 days where levels got to 200 or above. Most days have been around 100 but many days have also been below 50. For reference, most cities on the Eastern seaboard of the US range between 30-60  for the average day. On days where it gets to 150 I start wearing my Respro mask for cycling and if I am doing other heavy breathing outside. Nearing 200 I put a mask on for everyday use. I found the times that I didn't have the mask on and it got near 200 I was feeling odd. Though I have seen some wearing of masks by foreigners on the over 200 days I haven't seen any wearing by Chinese people and even when level has topped 200 not many foreigners don the masks. I think its mostly because people are self conscious about how they look, not me. Obviously looking good isn't my top priority. In addition to mask wearing Aya and I have bought some air filters for at home. Though air was the biggest concern for us in moving here it actually hasn't been a bother. My workplace has hospital grade filters so most of the day I am breathing cleaner air than people in Buffalo, NY or Milwaukee, WI for example. On the way home if the readings are high I will put on my mask while I bike so I have 10 minutes of minimized exposure. Then when I get home Aya has the filter going to levels aren't getting above the 40/50 range. Its not so bad, but I hear in the winter things get worse so I'm not making any big proclamations yet. 

So far we are very happy in our jobs and we feel pretty fortunate to be here. I've been well taken care of by the HR staff here and have fit right in with school life. I expected a bit of long nights and weekend at the start here trying to adjust, but I haven't actually found too much of that and the school has a good emphasis on healthy living from vegetarian lunch option everyday to allowing teachers to exercise in the school domes during school hours (if I don't have a class to teach). Aya has been well taken care of too and has often had her questions answered promptly and politely. I love the kids. Lots of "thank you"s as they head out the door after classes and a general atmosphere of hard work and polite behavior. My classes are very enjoyable, the school has great facilities and my co-workers are all experienced, hard working, and affable. I could see myself being here a long time.  

In about a week we will move into our new place in Star City, Lido which will be closer to the downtown area. It will be nice to have more amenities available and we will be right next to the 798 art district so will have lots of interesting things to see and do right next door. Of course I have to say that the property market in Beijing is absurd. We visited about 10 different properties covering around 40 different apartments before finding one that we are reasonably happy with. Mostly we feel ripped off. For example, we saw one apartment that was three bedrooms/2bath with peeling wall paper, crayon drawing on the walls, dust and dirt everywhere, minimal furniture that was old and chipped, old appliances. The landlord wanted about 1800USD per month. When we asked if they would repair the wall paper they said no. Many places are like that and we have struggled to find a place for under 1500USD that has decent furnishings in a good location. Mostly this is caused by the property market being one of the only ways for average Chinese people to invest their savings. It will be an interesting day when/if the Chinese government opens other opportunities to them. 

Getting around has been a bit tough since we are in the suburbs and don't have a car. I have become fascinated with a solution that many Chinese and foreigners have come up with, make a smaller car to sell at a cheaper price. Many of these little electric cars can do near 30kph, have heating, headlights, turn signals, windshield wipers etc. and retail for about 2000USD brand new. A number of the teachers that live near the school have bought them for hauling the kids and groceries around. I wish I could buy one, but when we move downtown my reason for doing so will be gone. We will most likely rely on the subways and taxis. The subway is super cheap, about 35cents per ride no matter the distance. However, that also means a lot of people take it and during commuting hours the trains are packed. There is a new stop being constructed just across the street from our new apartment, but when that will be completed no one knows. We often take taxis or hire a driver for the day or night to take us around. These options are pretty reasonable. Taxis seems to be about 1 dollar every kilometer or two while to hire a driver for about 6 hours is about 35-50 dollars. When we know a group of us will be going downtown or that we will be coming back late we have opted for a private driver. 

The food here has been hit or miss. Since we are in a foreign area many prices at the grocery stores are at or above western prices, but those are for mostly western brands. Last weekend we stopped in a local grocery when we were downtown and the prices were noticeably cheaper. Restaurants are similar. Going to western food outlets will run you western prices or dearer. Local places are much cheaper and Aya and I can have a decent dinner with drinks for about 5 dollars each. Of course my favorite things is that beer is cheap. Local beers go for about 50 cents a can and foreign brands range from 1USD to around 5 for the specialty stuff. Booze and wine are similar, but the problem with that is the chance of buying fakes. I can't prove it, but I think I bought a fake bottle of Johnny Walker from a store when we got here. It just doesn't taste quite right. From readings I have learned that possibly more than 50% of all alcohol sold in China is illegally made. 

This brings me to my last observation about China, 'Anything is Possible'. This has been Aya's motto and I think it is appropriately positive and negative. Can you get that hang bag for 1/4 of the asking price? You bet. Will that cooking oil possibly make you sick? Sure, maybe. Would the government ban the growing of beards in order to curb terrorist activity? I wouldn't be surprised. Love it or hate it China is a place where, 'Anything is possible' so you have to embrace the positives and have a good laugh at the negatives(and be cautious!) to live a happy life. For now, we are happy. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meanwhile, Back In America

Aya and I got a chance to back to the US this summer and it will have been two years since we were there last. This time around was a little bit different. Somewhat because we didn't have too much time and somewhat because we were taking a side trip to see old friends, but mostly because Aya would meet my dad's side of the family.
She had met a few of them before as they had come to Sturgeon Bay to see us, but this would be an opportunity to stay with my dad at his home, visit my grandmother at her home, and to meet a few more of the Hurley side. In order to do this we flew into Minneapolis airport, then rented a car to drive back east to Bruce, WI. The drive was nice, but Aya got her first taste of northern Wisconsin when we were approaching Bruce. DEER! Everywhere there were deer. We must have seen 8 separately within 30 minutes. When Aya asked if there were other large animals I said no, then uh... yes. Bears, wolves perhaps, but lots and lots of deer.
We did a lot of fun stuff while we were there like going to The Miner theater in Bruce  to see Planet of the Apes, visiting a historical village, but generally just getting to hang out. I even had time to brew a batch of beer with my dad and I got to meet my step brother and sister AND their kids for the first time. Overall it was a good trip and we kind of wished we had more time with them, but hopefully next summer we will be back.
From there we moved on to Washington DC and eventually back to Sturgeon Bay spending our last days having squirt gun fights with my nephews, watching their soccer games, and playing tetris with all the stuff we were trying to get into our luggage. Its odd to see my brother's kids getting bigger all the time and it makes me a little bit sad too because I would like to be a bigger part of their lives. The boys certainly could use more people around to be role models and I'm sure my mom and brother could use some extra relief. Yet here I am, taking off again to a new post half a world away.
I'm excited to get to Beijing, mostly because of the great job that I have waiting but also because of being back in China. Love it or hate it, there is something about China that makes it an adventure. So now I will take the first step out the door and start a new one.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Hurleys Go to Washington

Going to Washington to see our friends Brian and Cindy, who we hadn’t seen since our last day in Japan 4 years ago, was one of our top priorities when visiting America this summer. Unfortunately our timing was very good and we didn’t get to see them except for the last day we were there. However, I did get to see a couple of my NEH institute buddies from a few years ago, Lance and Jessica. The last time I was in DC was almost 7 years ago when I took a school trip there with my class of 8th graders. It was fun to recall that trip, those kids are graduating university now!
It was also great to bring Aya to DC. Aya likes to say that she hasn’t seen much of America, though I don’t know why since prior to this trip she had been to my family’s home in Wisconsin, Chicago, Portland, and Hawaii. That is a lot more of the country than most Americans have seen. Putting DC in her pocket though gives her enough breadth to say that she has seen “coast to coast”.
Though Aya had to work some of the days we were there we still got a chance to go by the white house, do a tour of the capitol building, see the holocaust museum, the crime and punishment museum, the Vietnam memorial, the Lincoln memorial, and take in a show at the E Street Cinema. In addition we went to a number of different restaurants to try to get a taste of what was around.
Overall I think Aya was impressed with the variety of people and what they brought to DC. I too felt like it was a very diverse city and my friend Brian pointed out that it is a very young city as well which gives it an energetic feel. Definitely DC is a place we may come back to. If history is any judge, I certainly will

Monday, July 07, 2014

The End of One Chapter

My time in Malaysia is coming to a close. Just one more day before we travel home to see my family and then on to Beijing. One more day to stay at the E&O hotel, and to see my dearest friend here one more time.

On a hot humid day 2 years ago I touched down at Penang airport. The airport was under renovation at the time, but I didn't know that. All I thought was that the airport looked really crappy with all the dust and tarps all over. Immigration was packed and took forever to get through. Oh, it was SO hot. Our head of secondary was waiting for us and he was nice enough, but on the drive to Batu Ferringhi we had to make our way through some harrowing traffic and he even admitted that sometimes he got lost because the streets were a nonsensical maze. After we were dropped at our hotel I had one thing on my mind, dinner and a beer. I ate expensive veggie soup and a very expensive bottle of Tiger beer before turning in. The next morning I was so scared to run next to traffic that I just ran loops around the hotel's floors sweating sheets. So started my journey here.
Two years later we are on the way out. Most of those impressions have changed. I still think beer is expensive which led me to home brewing for the first time. I still think traffic is harrowing, but now that I have sold my car I can enjoy the scenery a bit more rather than dodging mokeys/dogs/motorbikes/pedestrians/other cars. It is still damned hot!
Malaysia may be a place I often shake my head at, but it is endearing in a lot of ways too. A Muslim country that will arrest people over satirical videos, but then will allow a Porky's restaurant to open in a popular shopping mall. A place where three + distinct cultures interact with more or less tolerance, more or less. A place where rotten smelling fish is the local delicacy. Where 25C is cold weather. Where police don't seem to exist, yet order more or less does, more or less. Batu Ferringhi became my home and though the first year was difficult I came to appreciate the students I had. They truly are top notch and I was lucky to have such motivated individuals. Having students who are willing and driven to learn makes teaching a rewarding experience. More than that I learned about their lives and varying circumstances and got to know some unique individuals that I won't soon forget.

Each time I take a step in a new direction I wonder if I am doing the right thing. Many people I talk to share similar conversations with me, they are like minded traveling/teaching individuals. I think we all realize how lucky we are to have such great jobs, and lucky lucky lives. Leaving Penang I can say that I am once again lucky. 2 years wiser in my career, much richer in my friends, and about 10lbs heavier from all the good food here! Thank you Penang. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Chin Farm to Forest Reserve

For most of my time in Batu Ferringhi I have been running the aquaduct path by Uplands school in Batu Ferringhi. It offers 6-7km of wide paved path and it connects to a number of hiking trails. Usually I run along the road through Batu Ferringhi to the parking lot across from the Bayview Hotel and from there a dirt track for about 2km to the end of the aqueduct. If you head this way follow the gravel road that heads into the jungle just across from the Bayview Hotel. There is a small parking lot at the start if you drive there. Once on the gravel path you will soon reach a fork. Head right, there is a small shrine at the junction. The path then starts to go up hill and you will see a red and white striped bar gate. Go through. Shortly you will reach a water tower and and then just after that a green fence. Keep on this dirt trail and shortly you will reach the dam and reservoir.
Just beyond the dirt track where the paved aqueduct trail begins there is a connecting trail that appeared to connect to another trail going to the Forest Reserve Entrance in Teluk Bahang. I never took it as I never had reason, but I got the chance this past week when my friend Emma needed to scout it out for a class hike. So we left the Bayview parking lot around 830am. I estimated that it would take about 1 hour to connect to the junction of trails on the first hill in Forest Reserve and that was about right. Most of the trek after the waterfall is steep and I was soaked in sweat within 10 minutes. There are two steep ascents broken by about 10 minutes of flat terrain on the way to the junction. Once there we took the path to the right which led us downhill towards the Forest Reserve, taking another 1.5hours. At one point there is a wooden platform with a great view. Once you reach this you are about 20 minutes from the end of the trail in the Forest Reserve. In the reserve there is room to camp and pools to swim in as well as some small restaurants and snack stands by the gate.

It was well enough marked and from the junction on the top hill you can make your way all the way to Penang Hill if we had taken a left instead of the right to head to the Forest Reserve. I reckon it would be fun to hike from Bayview to the top, but that would take all day and my days here in Penang are winding down. Hopefully I will get in a few more hikes, but probably not any that long. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chinese Visa Center in KL

Since we will be moving to China in about 6 weeks we had to go through the process of getting visas to enter the country. This has been a long process since China has recently tightened restrictions. We had to get authenticated translations of our  marriage certificate, one of the harder things to do since this had to be authenticated at the Chinese embassy. We did this in Japan since we could trust courier services there. We then had to send that authenticated translation along with my criminal clearance from my home country (which I got through an FBI courier service) and my resident country criminal clearance which I had to get in KL. What a pain that was. In order to get my criminal record in the US I had to submit fingerprints. I have done this before, so why I have to submit new ones each time I move is a mystery to me. Anways, I thought I would go to the local police station in Batu Ferringi to get it done. Last time I did this when I was living in Japan I went to my local police station in Aizu-misato (a town of roughly 15,000) and got them done. However, the Batu police said yes, then no and told me to go to Tanjung Bungah which is a slightly larger station. Once there the police told me to go to Georgetown central police station. I went there and the detective laughed and told me to go to KL to the central police station there to get it done. (a side note, while I was in the police station all 4 tires on my car were slashed. I was parked right next to the station). I don't know if this is a lack of skill or a distrust of the FBI for Malaysian police but the whole process was a pain in the butt. Once at the central KL station they almost didn't let me in because I wasn't wearing long pants! The joy of living in Malaysia. Ok, so I got the finger prints finally and had them sent off to the US. My criminal record went to my mothers in the US since they don't send abroad and she sent it on reaching me shortly after. I then bunched everything and posted to Beijing using EMS to make sure it would be fast and secure. Batu Ferringi Post office is known for theft and especially after all of that I wasn't about to send it via local post.

Once those documents reached Beijing my new school had to then produce a letter of employment for us. We then had to take that letter along with another authenticated copy of our marriage certificate (didn't know this at first, so had to get the marriage certificate translated again and authenticated at the Chinese embassy again), copies of the marriage certificate, letters from employer, copies of passport pages, current country visa pages, past Chinese visa pages (which for me was in an expired passport), two head shots each, about 800myr for processing fee, and documents to the visa center in KL. On Friday morning I went to the center to apply for an expediated service. The visa center is housed in Hampshire Place, a tall glass building about 2 blocks from the main road of Jalan Ampang. I went to the 5th floor, was checked to see if I had the proper documents then given a number. I opted for the earliest time slot of 9-930am assuming later would be busy. At 915 it was not busy, there were about 12 counters services an equal number of applicants. My number was called within minutes and then I stood with the center rep as she made sure I had everything and understood that I would have to return for an interview on Monday.

So I left knowing that Aya would return on Monday to do the interview and to collect the passports. Spouses are allowed to apply and collect without each other. That part of the process was fairly painless.

The interviews are at the Bank of China building right along Jalan Ampang. Its a tall white building with the Plaza Osk sign along the main road. Aya said the interview consisted of 2 or 3 very mundane questions like, "So your husband has a job in Beijing?" and took just a few minutes. She then had to return in the afternoon to the other building, Hampshire place, to pay the fees and collect the visas. So now we have my Z visa and Aya's short term tourist visa and can enter China. Then within 24 hours we must report to a police station to register and then within a week or so we will be getting our residency permits. At the end it only cost us two trips to KL, 4 nights in a hotel, numerous taxi rides, two authentications/translations, a few photos and copies, and about 8 hours of total document collecting and writing. In monetary terms, probably close to 1800USD. Jeez, Louise.