i woke up at 7:00 to meet mr.wu at 8:00 so we could go get my china work visa. initially i waited in my room, but decided to go downstairs and wait in the lobby because i realized you can't come upstairs without a door key (the elevator is door card activated). i wait for almost an hour, and tried to get breakfast when they told me breakfast wasn't included in my room price. i didn't even bother asking how much more it'd cost, figured i'd forgo breakfast and just have lunch somewhere in shanghai.
afterwards i went back upstairs, figured wu might try to call me through my room phone or perhaps send an e-mail. i called him and he told me he was almost at the hotel, so i went back downstairs. he went through a checklist of things i needed for my work visa, and one of the items was a recent resume. that was news to me, but fortunately i had one saved in my computer so i went back upstairs to copy it onto a thumb drive.
back downstairs i had one of the receptionists make copies of my health exam certificate. i asked her if they could also print files from a thumb drive and she said no. we were all set to go when wu asked me if the resume was in chinese. "no, it's an american resume," i told him. so we went back upstairs so he could quickly translate the resume into chinese. not all of it, just enough to show i'm not completely devoid of work experience. wu had a better sense of what i did for a living, and said i'd be perfect for shanghai, since there's also exhibits going on that need that sort of interactive programming.
with newly translated resume done (it took at least half an hour on my miniature keyboard and trackpad, he was impressed and confused that i had OS X running on a PC), we finally left the hotel to look for a printing place. the first one we stopped at was a photo printing store. the woman wanted RMB$4 (70¢) for a printout. i was ready to pay, but when wu heard how much, he said it was unnecessarily expensive and left in a huff. i shrugged and followed him. we drove a little further up the street and found a legitimate copy shop. the guy only asked for RMB$0.50 and we made 2 copies of my resume.
originally we were going to take the metro into the city, but wu decided to drive in order to save time. what he failed to forget is highway driving in shanghai and saving time are not synonymous. it felt like we were congested traffic for nearly an hour. on top of that, it was a hot day, with the car thermometer reading 44°C, 45°C at its highest (that's 113°F).
we finally made it to the foreign work visa office around 11:30. we went upstairs to get the necessary paper work and started filling it out. wu asked if my taiwanese health exam certificate was okay and the clerk told us no, that i'd need to get examined at a special clinic for foreigners. that got me sort of annoyed. that meant i did all that work in taiwan for nothing, going to the hospital and spending half a day getting my tests, and later returning to pick it up. that's also when i began noticing all the employees disappearing. apparently all government workers take an hour and a half break for lunch starting at noontime. to further drive home the point that they were closed, they turned off most of the lights, leaving wu and i filling out forms in the near dark.
i eyeballed a muslim noodle soup restaurant across the street as we got back into the car. if i really did need an exam, i probably shouldn't eat in order to get a proper cholesterol test. i figured the clinic would be close by, but it was all the way on the other side of shanghai, which meant additional congestion traffic in the blistering heat. i didn't mind; despite my hunger, we were cutting across the city and i was admiring all the myriads of skyscrapers.
when we finally got to the clinic, it was full of foreigners looking to get their health exam certificate as well. i figured we'd be able to get seen today, but the young woman behind the counter told us 8/3. i blinked, my mind suddenly crashing. that's next friday. that means i have to stay in shanghai at least another week, probably longer since it takes time to get back the results. if i was annoyed about them not accepting my health certificate earlier, i was livid now. wu asked the young woman if she could take a look at my form and see if it was okay for a work visa. without even looking at us, she said she wasn't a doctor and couldn't say. i wanted to see if i could be on standby, just hang out in the waiting room for a free appointment so i could quickly consult with the resident doctor. but wu seemed resigned to the fact that i wouldn't be able to be seen until next friday, and told me in a cheerful fashion, "now you have time to play in shanghai!"
thing is i have no intentions of playing in shanghai, or elsewhere in china for that matter. wu also suggested i could go to chongqing. when i asked him wouldn't i need to be here for my exam, he said very matter of factly that i could just fly back. i figured that's a roundtrip ticket of US$600, i don't have that sort of luxury money. what i really want to do is start working, and not have to jump through this chinese bureaucratic nightmare. if you told anybody else they'd spend a week in shanghai, they'd jump at the opportunity. but shanghai for me is disgustingly hot and humid, plus it's expensive and such a large city it takes forever to get to anywhere (especially like me you live 30 minutes away).
then i thought instead of shanghai or chongqing, maybe i could visit shenyang in northeastern china (binbin's parents, her mother most recently having visited boston), where i have relatives who've been asking me to visit. so maybe i could spin this negative into a positive. it'd mean not having to live in a hotel and being with people who will take good care of me. what's not to love? the price is just a plane ticket, but i was already kind of thinking about visiting anyway, just at the end of my 2 month contract. now i'm just doing it backwards.
mr.wu fits everyone of your classic chinese stereotypes. he's loud (his cellphone voice volume is set to high as a default), he's rude, but he's a good person to have in your corner to take care of business. sure, we failed today at everything we tried to achieve, but it wasn't for lack of trying, as he banged on countertops, cut lines, and basically fought every step of the way. alas, no one can win against chinese bureaucracy.
at least now it meant we could go have a late lunch now, with the time being almost 3:00. so we proceeded to drive back across shanghai, back to pudong in the east. that's when the car started to act funny. it was kind of stuttering, then i heard wu mutter, "oh no, there's something wrong with the car," as the engine simply died. wu managed to restart the car, but it had no speed, coasting along like a turtle. so we're in the middle of the shanghai elevated highway, no breakdown lane, with cars honking behind us and going around us. i was afraid to look back, i'd die from the embarrassment. i suggested we turn off the air conditioning, which seemed to help, at the expense that we were both sweating like a pig in 100+ degrees humid shanghai heat. wu turned on his hazard lights and we sort of cruised to a lane divider for an exit ramp. we let the engine rest a bit, which seemed to help some more, and we managed to drive a few more miles before the car started acting funny again. it wasn't as bad as before, but we drove the hazards on, and wu asked if it was okay if we visited the car repair shop before eating. i said sure.
authorized manufacturer car repair shops in china (at least in shanghai) are like nothing back home in the US. repairs are done immediately while you wait in a swanky lounge area with soft leather sofas, massaging chairs, foosball table, HDTVs, and complimentary snacks and all-you-can-drink tea. it's more like a clubhouse than the mechanics. while the car (a ford, but a model i didn't recognize) was getting serviced, we walked around a bit, hoping to find a nearby restaurant, but the nearby area was pretty desolate. besides, the sky was rumbling and the temperature began to drop, signs that a storm was coming.
so we waited in the lounge, wu reading a newspaper, me perusing my china guidebook, figuring out what to do in shenyang. there was a leftover pasty that looked like a twinkie that i quickly devoured (it was just a deceptive tasteless bun). there were also a dish of candy which i finished. when wu left to hear the mechanic's explanation, i fell asleep for a few minutes, i was still very tired from my multi-day sleep deficit. after about half an hour we were done. turns out the only thing wrong with the car was the searing heat. the owner of the shop said he had at least 40 cars come in today with the same problem. he gave the car a tuneup nevertheless, free of charge, because wu is apparently a VIP return customer.
leaving the repair shop, i told wu that we didn't have to have dinner, that he already spent the whole day with me, and he probably wanted to get back to his family. i said i'd be fine getting simply dropped off at the hotel. wu agreed (i was hoping he didn't, and he'd treat me to a lavish meal), and got me back to my hotel sometime around 5:30.
after a quick shower, i went back outside in search of food, my first meal of the day now approaching 6:00. there is no chance in hell i will be gaining any weight if this is how my china stay is going to be like. before eating though, i wanted to see what time the bank opened tomorrow. i then went to a nearby china unicom store and bought a SIM card for my cellphone. i'd been using my cousin betty's spare SIM card while i was in taiwan, but the same card doesn't work in china (there isn't even any roaming privileges). it's really inconvenient to do anything without a cellphone, and they're not that expensive either. the service plan i got is a no-contract pay-as-you-talk plan. RMB$60 for RMB$50 worth of talk minutes, at RMB$0.2/minute for in country long distance, free for in-city shanghai calls. at the end of every month RMB$17 is deducted (it's actually deducted a little bit per day, adding up to RMB$17 over a month). i don't intend to stay in shanghai that long, and once my minutes are gone, i'll just simply abandon the card and get a new one in chongqing. chinese numbers are long, 11 digits, i don't know how anyone can memorize so long a number. chinese are also very picky about their numbers, and the clerk showed me a book full of available numbers arranged in a catalog. i didn't care, picked the first one on the list.
now finally i could eat. one thing about restaurants in lesser urban areas of china is there really isn't any menu, you pick the ingredients you want to eat, and tell the chef how you want it cooked. but what if you just want to pick to something on a menu? then this isn't for you. i did find one restaurant that seemed promising, once again eating what i can read in chinese, in this case spicy beef. i thought it was a noodle dish until the owner told me it was just an entree. he suggested another dish that had noodles and was spicy. i sat next to a pretty girl who was fishing around for napkins. i saw the big stack of packaged napkins and pulled one out for her. she must've though i was just grabbing one for myself, and was genuinely surprised and touched when she noticed i'd already put the napkins on her table. i didn't really mean anything by it, just trying to be nice, but i could see she wanted to talk to me, but neither of us had anything to say, so we just sat their awkwardly, eyeballing each other through the periphery. my noodle dish itself was nothing to write home about. it tasted okay, but the presentation was lacking, with shredded carrots and tofu (i'd never seen the two ingredients paired together before). it was only RMB$12 (US$2), cheap by US standard, but awful and expensive compared to anything else in taiwan. the more i eat in china, the more i miss eating in taiwan.
i left and walked down a side street wu suggested i visit to find pants. it was kind of like a night market, except mostly clothes, and a few fruit vendors. i bought a bubble milk tea (RMB$7) which tasted a little off. i found a place that had a 30-40% off sale on pants and bought a pair of tailored black pants for RMB$143. at US424 it's a little more than i'm willing to spend on cheap pants, but they look good and feel good. as tradition, they hemmed the pants as soon as i bought them, no additional tailoring needed. (i think i dropped my 4gb thumb drive in the changing room though; i hope some lucky chinese person will enjoy copies of my passport photos and resume, both english and chinese).
returning home, that's when i saw the supermarket. i'm used to supermarkets being brightly lit with glass walls so people can look inside. this was the complete opposite, dar, dingy, with dirty glass walls that looked like the place was closed or undergoing renovations. the selection was also lacking, which is a surprised since we're talking a shanghai (pudong) supermarket. i didn't even see any weird-flavored broad beans (something i remember eating in china 7 years ago, hopefully to find again even though i can find them in chinese supermarkets back at home). i bought a few snacks (sunflower seeds, chestnuts) as well as a small 100ml bottle of chinese vodka at 56% alcohol content for about 50¢. alcohol is really cheap here in china. if you're looking to get wasted, you don't even have to spend more than US$1.
back at the hotel, it was finally late enough that i could skype my parents. i told him how i was stuck in shanghai for at least another week, then suggested the idea that i could spend some time in shenyang. that quickly agreed it was a great idea, and told me to call my cousin immediately. i tried his personal cellphone but no one answered, then called his house where his wife picked up. i told her i wanted to come to shenyang and she called her sister-in-law who's a travel agent. just like that, i'm booked for a 9:55 morning flight to the great northeast, one of the places in china i'd never been before. whatever the case, i just hope it's cooler than shanghai!
with that, i will go drink my chinese vodka by myself and pass out in bed (not that i needed any help, i'm already sleepy).
as for photos, don't have time to post, hopefully tomorrow!