Chinese Bureaucracy and other complaints

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Flag of China  ,
Friday, February 15, 2008

Sometimes things don't work out for the best.  In fact, our troubles once we arrived in Wuhan stemmed from actions we had taken almost a month before. 

When we applied for a visa in Nepal, I'm almost positive that we didn't have a choice between a 30-day visa and a longer tourist visa.  We were only planning on being in China for about three weeks (HA HA) so I didn't figure we would need more than 30 days anyway.  This became important when it took us three weeks to move from Beijing to Xi'an.  We were obviously going to need to apply for a visa extension.  It was all the more frustrating because Americans are charged over $100 for a visa regardless of whether it is a 30-day visa or a 1 year multiple-entry visa.  So we could have avoided the whole problem with our initial application.  Of course, we couldn't have predicted the worst snowfall in four decades coupled with a busy Chinese New Year.  Or the fact that our visa expired on a Sunday.

In any case, we were now in Wuhan four days before our visa expired.  There is nothing to do in Wuhan.  We couldn't travel south without our passports.  Two of those four days were the weekend.  Guilin and a bunch of sight-seeing was only a night bus away.  We could get to Guilin over the weekend but we weren't sure whether our visa expired Sunday or Monday.  Sunday was 30 days, which was what the visa said.  Monday was one month.  The penalty was severe: RMB 500 ($75) per person per day.  The guidebook said it would only take three days for the visa renewal.  We decided to stay in Wuhan.  In hindsight, of course, I would have risked the fine.

After a painful exercise (wandering around several offices in confusion until we were pointed to a random office down the street, finding a place to get passport copies and get passport photos, and then filling out a confusing application), we were told to come back on the 21st.  A full seven nights in Wuhan.  With nothing to do.  Even more fun was the fact that our one month extension started from the day we put in the application.  Which meant one week we couldn't go anywhere, essentially bringing the extension to only three weeks.  That's just mean.

Other factors compounded my misery.  Wuhan was not a tourist town and only had one hostel.  This hostel was taken up by full-time students so all of the dorms were permanently full.  In fact, the only room we could have was almost twice as expensive as the dorms.  The hot water pipes had frozen so there was no hot water.  The "restaurant" only functioned when the cook was in, which wasn't often.  The students were cliqueish and the layout of the hostel made you feel like you were intruding whenever you entered a room. 

Well, enough complaining.  We settled in to our "forced luxury" private room and prepared to relax the days away.  We watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books.  I got bored and then bored-er.  Erin slept a lot.  I did get her out a couple days.  The first night we shared a case of Snow beer well into the night.  Steve looked at the can upside down and the Mons appreciation group was formed.  The next day we wandered the streets and found all kinds of interesting food being served.  And people washing their hair in the street.  Seemed to be the thing to do.  We sat down in a restaurant where we couldn't read the menu and things seemed to be heading for disaster when suddenly a women who spoke English was grabbed off the street.  "Pork, or maybe chicken?" Erin said uncertainly.  Then we pointed to a couple dishes being brought out to others.  Strangely enough, we didn't end up with any of those but we got some good cabbage, beef, and chicken. 

Another day we took a bus out to the East Lake Scenic Area.  We had come south enough that we only had to wear one jacket instead of two and it was almost a pleasant day.  We spent the day wandering around the pretty park and admiring Chinese ingenuity.  Erin couldn't resist the giant cotton candy being sold everywhere.  She was also fascinated by the air-bubble contraption.  Kids would climb into plastic bubbles that were blown up, then sent out floating on the lake.  It was quite entertaining to watch them attempt to move around.  We walked through a park with different houses and a ship and watched people peddle boats around and shoot guns at fountains.  Other diversions included rollerblading and sledding on the grass with tank treads and ski poles, taking wedding photos, and hopping around on rocking-horse toys.  It was quite a fun afternoon.  Walking through Chinese parks has become one of my favorite activities in China.  You never know what you're going to see.

I tried to dislike the hostel, I really did.  But they fixed the hot water (Yes, something actually got fixed) a day before we left.  They even, on their own initiative, exchanged our bus tickets for train tickets and saved us $20.  When we checked out they gave us the hostel member rate on our room (saving another $10).  I had to admit I even liked them a little bit. 

The  long-awaited day finally came, and we returned for another complicated procedure.  We went to pick up the passports, were sent to another office to exchange our receipt for payment slips, were sent to the bank to pay, then finally came back to complete the transaction.  We hopped on the train to Guilin.  We were finally on the way!

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