Wednesday, 18 December 2013
I had my last day in the Manila office on Monday, had a meal with Bryan the Manila IT guy and then got a taxi (eventually) back to the hotel near the airport, the next day I spent the day working from the hotel before grabbing a quick time out (to see the hobbit) and then heading to the airport.
The hotel was just over the road from the hotel but there didn't seem to be a crossing, and I couldn't see a pedestrian entrance, so I got a taxi, which joined a giant queue of traffic, 6 lines wide, down the whole face of the airport to a roundabout, then all the way back again to the taxi entrance., it took 20 minutes to cover the distance from the hotel to the airport! Madness! The meter in the taxi was 'broken' too, when you watched the time counter it was spinning way faster than real time, luckily taxi's here are as cheap as in China but I was still not impressed, transport in Manila sucks, no metro, only buses which are very slow, jeepneys which are slower still and taxi's which usually try to not to use the meter unless you insist, then try to weedle as much money out of you with stupid routes and dodgy meters, and then expect and even ask for a damn tip!
I got to the airport and wasn't in the mood to argue, I got there 3 hours early incase of problems and went to checkin, I was worried about my bag weight and my two pieces of hand luggage and went to the checkin desk, the woman looked for my chinese visa but I didn't have one as it had expired. I had looked online that there was a 'visa free transit' for 50 countries, UK included, but some places claimed the UK wasn't included, some claimed that it only covered flights to and from those countries and they all referenced a document on the Chinese government website which didn't exist anymore (dead link). The woman looked worried and took my onward booking email and passport and disappeared for 10 minutes, coming back and checking me onto the flight without comment on my giant bags, phew!
I went in and got a coffee and a muffin for dinner as it was already 7pm and I wouldn't land until 11.30pm, I also had a feeling that this was a budget carrier and any food would not be cheap. Whilst waiting in the coffee shop I heard an announcement, could a passenger please go to the help desk ASAP, and I heard my name, crap.
Worried that my visa had been refused or confused I hurried to the desk, and guessed that since the Philippines was not a visa free transit country they weren't sure exactly what I could do, I got there and they made me wait at the gate for 5 minutes very nervously, if I missed the flight here and couldn't enter China for the transit I would lose my whole flight fee probably and have to buy an incredibly expensive flight from Manila out of my own pocket, ouch!
After the delay they informed me they needed a copy of my onward ticket for the visa request, they took the copy and assured me I was ok, and could indeed get a visa for upto 72 hours without pre-submission. I then had an hour and a half wait in the airport listening to every announcement worrying it would be calling me back to tell me they couldn't do it, and I would have to go away and rebook something else…. I hope I get on the plane OK!
I fly to Shanghai first, arrive at midnight, after security etc it will be gone 1am I guess, and the metro will be closed, so I will stay a night in the airport (hopefully at the hotel there) before getting the 11.50am flight the next day direct to London, if all goes according to plan!
The next morning I had a lovely lie in, and then had a day to rest after a busy week and late night, I ventured out for coffee and food but then got an early bed as I had a very early start the next morning.
I was up at 5.45 to leave the house after 6 to find a taxi as I had a boat to catch, I was planning to visit coregidoor (not spelt right) island, 8 miles off the coast of manila in the bay. It was a heavily fortified island in the early part of the 20th century and then the last American location in the Philippines being getting pushed out by the Japanese, it was then a scene of very heavy fighting again when it was retaken from the Japanese.
I got to the boat at 7am and then slept on the hour or so ferry over, getting off the boat I took the tour bus around and learnt a lot about the war in the pacfic. Unfortunately also on the tour was a stupid Australian guy who made lots of anti Japanese comments and was a general idiot, just proof that even old men can be idiots!
The tour however was very interesting, I just wished I had time to stay the night and do the evening tunnel tour which takes you into the huge labyrinth of tunnels built by both the americans and the Japanese through the island.
The island is quite big and now covered in jungle but during the war was very heavily bombed and so completely removed of all flora and fauna. At one point 16,000tons of bombs were dropped in 24 hours by the Japanese.
There were also some huge gun emplacements and all the old barracks and other buildings from the old base were these huge post apocalyptic shells with giant bomb craters spaced through them, amazing whilst being haunting and eirie, and very photogenic!
I got back from the island and then had to move to a hotel near the airport, the remmington hotel, it was very basic, but at least clean, and only for two nights as I come to the end of my time in Manila, and prepare to fly back to the UK!
I spent a week working in the Manila office, usually one of the first there and staying later after work trying to get a handle on how they do things here, meeting with the various managers, and taking occasional trips out for beers in the evening with them. Friday night was the office Christmas party, a good chance to relax and socialise with the people from work.
Bryan, the Manila IT guy, offered to walk with me to the party as it wasn't too far, and so we first went home and I grabbed a shower and changed into jeans before we set out to walk to the office, it was an interesting walk as it took us through the center of the red light district. Bryan is a shy guy and the girls standing around and calling out worried him a bit, but if you ignored them they soon gave up. We arrived at the restaurant way too early and so after seeing if anyone was there (they weren't) we headed out for another walk around a nearby park area.
We walked for about 45 minutes and then realised we had walked quite a way from the hotel and had to get back, we planned to get a taxi back but then Bryan had a better idea, Jeepney!
Jeepneys are everywhere here, old Jeeps that have had the body extended and now carry 16+ people in the back with a few more clinging on where they can. They are a very Philippino travel method and I was keen to try, Bryan found one going the right way and we jumped in, soon we were crammed in and off we went, there was no aircon obviously but when the vehicle was moving the air movement made the heat bareable, unfortunately the traffic meant that most of the time was spent sitting and waiting, it got hot!
We arrived near the hotel and walked in about right, and in Philipino fashion everything started an hour late anyway.
The meal was good, chatting with lots of people and the service was very attentive, as soon as your beer was half empty a new cold one would be put into your hand by the young attractive waitresses. There were also 6 girls dressed as 'sexy santas' wandering around the party and greeting people, apparently one of the guys in the office is married to a local girl who owns a girly bar and she asked a few of her staff to come over to brighten the place up…madness!
After the meal we went upstairs for a slideshow and more drinks and I was one of the last to leave around 3am, I was careful not to drink too much whilst being sociable and think I surfed that edge nicely. As everyone left another British guy in the office offered me a nightcap in a local bar and then as we walked over the road he saw some of his friends drinking in a very local bar. We stopped there and he introduced me to the mix of locals and foreigners drinking outside this small bar. One of the guys had a guitar and would play random songs from the 80s that everyone would sing along to, madness! I stayed for an hour then made my excuses and walked home, a good night!
Friday, 13 December 2013
Eventually I reached the train station, exited the mall and wandered off down some random streets to explore, it seems the Makati district is a giant financial district with huge buildings, 5 start hotels, and banks everywhere. There are some beautiful parks, but I can't seem to find anything too special or unique, a big city is a big city, no matter which country you are in!
Monday, 9 December 2013
leaving, packed in a frantic rush including ironing a weeks shirts
then had to rush to the office to fix a couple of small last minute
issues, got to the airport in plenty of time which was lucky as it was
so slow to check in, then through immigration and then screening, then
they changed the gate to the furthest away, and just as i got there
changed it to the other end of the airport, doh! I've been to pudong
enough times i knew gate 228 wasn't good, its the gate that means the
plane missed its slot and needs to be bused out to, i was right and
the plane left an hour late, it did make most of that up in the air
though. Landed in the balmy 30degree heat and wandered out but
couldn't see a sign with my name, wandered around and phoned chat and
was waiting when a guy came over and asked if i was Nathan, the driver
had found me. His name was Roy and he is so friendly, we got to the
car and he was confused that i wanted to sit in the front with him and
look out, then he gave me a little driving tour of Manila and we
talked, he was one of ten children and had seven himself, with two
different wives and was now single! He is the longest member of the
company having been there 11 years! A great guy, we chatted and he
dropped me off at the beautiful flat i was staying in. The new CEO had
rented a flat in Manila but hadn't moved in yet so he let me stay at
his place until he moves in Sunday. Then i have to get a hotel room
for a night. Its a beautiful place and really near the office, no WiFi
though. So tired after a long day but found a nearby coffee shop to
get some internet before bed! Good night all!
With not long left on my visa I started the week ominously, my boss was out in head office in Manila and so I just got on with finishing up as many projects as I could incase I had to leave next Monday and never return! I spoke to my boss midweek and he suggested an alternative, I could go to manila and work remotely from head office for a week, meeting with our IT company, and helping them in any way I can.
Then I need to fly to Hong Kong again for an upcoming IT broadband provider change, then from there I can fly back to the UK, change my passport (spend Christmas and the new year there) then fly back to China in the new year on a visa I can apply for in London. A good plan!
My last weekend before leaving I packed up a few precious things to leave in Ningbo incase I couldn't come back and had a good weekend in Ningbo, I watched a film, Gravity, that I had really wanted to see, (although not enders game yet).
On Sunday I packed my things and went to look around the computer markets before getting the 5.14pm train back, I finished shopping and started looking for transport around 4.15, an hour but I already had my ticket so only had to do the 20 minute journey. I looked for a taxi but at that time in the center of town they were all taken, I found a bus but it was late, and just when I thought I was done saw the bus go past me, damnit! We ran down to the next bus stop and just caught it, however by that time the bus took 20 minutes and it was already 4.55, unfortunately the bus driver was in no hurry, stopping extra early for lights, stopping for people to cross the road, even if they didn't want to, very unchinese of him, and so got to the station at exactly 5.14, the train had gone. I queued up at the refund ticket counter to be told that I need a change, so I joined the buy ticket counter for 20 minutes only to be told I was wrong again and to go a special ticket window, once I had queued up a third and final time (of 20-30 people) I was given a free change onto a later train, not bad!
Back to Shanghai for one night in my new house before flying to Manila tomorrow afternoon, apparently the new CEO for the company is spending one week in 4 in Manila so they have bought a flat for him near the office, he hasn't moved in yet however so they are letting me stay there until the 15th when he flies back from Hong Kong and wants to move in! Hopefully it will work out, I have no idea where it is but apparently there will be a driver waiting in the airport… we will see how it goes! I know nothing about the Philippines so it will be interesting for me to go a country I know nothing about, lets go!
I was having a busy month, I moved house, the company moved offices to a new location, which I had a large hand in organising and both moves were scheduled for the same week, I then spoke to my parents on Skype and they mention an upcoming time when they both had holiday and that they hadn't decided where to go, as we talked they googled plane tickets and found a return for 600gbp each way, a very good price, however the only time my mum had off was 10 days, which included the week of my house and office move! They booked their tickets anyway and a few weeks later landed in Shanghai.
I took the morning off work and went over to meet them, took them on the maglev and helped them find their hotel and grabbed a tasty spicy chinese lunch before heading over to work the afternoon.
That evening we met for dinner and to see my house, they left a few things in my house before their travels.
The next day I had to work so they amused themselves in Shanghai and after work I met them in peoples square and we went to pick up their train tickets at the station and had a dinner at coco curry, then I had to rush out and go to Chris's leaving party (work Chris) and they shot off to Beijing and Xi'an for a few days. I spent the weekend working on the office move and so got two days in lieu to use at a later date. Mum and Dad arrange to visit Beijing and Xi'an themselves and then get the train to Hangzhou. I would hire a car in Shanghai and drive to Hangzhou to meet them, we could then have a day in Hangzhou and drive down to Wenzhou on Thursday night, have Friday in Wenzhou together then drive back up to Shanghai Saturday.
Since there were not enough problems this busy week my visa also expired, so I had to send my passport off to the visa office to renew my short term visa whilst waiting for my full visa to come back. The office found a company to help me with that so I picked up the rental car in the afternoon, then dropped my passport back at the office for them to extend, then could leave for Hangzhou. So I set out Wednesday night to drive to Hangzhou.
I got an hour of Shanghai using the most random route, I was using my GPS and it was taking me everywhere but the expressways, it drove me through the central square of Shanghai at rush hour (luckily I escaped without getting stuck in the huge traffic jams that are common there) and then drove me out on tiny back streets carefully avoiding all high speed roads and stopping at traffic lights every 500m. Eventually I stopped and asked on the outskirts of town the way to Hangzhou. The guard I asked said to drive on and join the motorway at the next junction, my GPS said straight on so I switched it off and joined the motorway, I drove towards the Hangzhou signs for half an hour and finally made good progress. I stopped at a service station for a break and while I was stopped tried turning on my GPS again, it tried to find a new route then flashed an alert that it was impossible to plot the route because of my settings. I looked closer and found that for some reason avoid toll roads was ticked, and all motorways in China are toll roads, so it was driving me 200km on the backroads! Disaster! I changed the setting and knocked an hour off the estimated time, yay! After that I made good time to the hotel my parents were staying which had a carpark, I checked in and then we all went out for dinner at grandmas kitchen, a famous restaurant in Hangzhou near Westlake.
The next morning we went to Westlake and climbed the leifeng pagoda before taking a boat out into west lake, we looked around the island before heading back to the city, grabbing some food and picking up the car to head to Wenzhou.
The drive to Wenzhou was about 5 hours and we left about 2pm. We got about an hour down the road and my administrator phoned to say that my visa had been declined, the new laws in China are tough and they had decided not to grant me a visa, so on the Thursday night I was told I had to leave China by the Saturday night. Wow.
I had a couple of calls as the office went into panic mode, desperately finding an excuse for me to fly to Hong Kong and work from there for a week whilst I worked out what to do next, the only other option was that I make an appeal in person in the visa office and try to get a short term extension with the reasoning that I had to help my parents whilst they were travelling China. The only problem was that the visa office and my passport were in Shanghai, and I was in Wenzhou, 700km away, and this was Thursday night, and the visa office took it's last applications at 4.30pm Friday and wouldn't open until the next Monday, by which time it was too late.
I had a meal with Elaine my Chinese teacher and my parents then copied their passports and hotel receipts and got to sleep at 1am in the fantastic Linxi international hotel, that we had look at so many times but never dared to go to.
At 5.45 I woke up and left my parents to spend the day in my old hometown with Elaine whilst I grabbed a few pastries and downed a cup of coffee and left the hotel at 6.20 with the hire car. I drove all morning, stopping for a 15 minute break to grab a mcdonalds lunch and by 1.30pm was on the outskirts of Shanghai. I had a great run that far but then I hit traffic, and for 2 hours queued all the way across town. I got to the road outside my building and there were cars and a bus completely blocking the street which had the entrance to the office carpark on it, no way in, it took 20 minutes to get into the carpark from 20meters away as people just sat in their cars and refused to move whilst waiting for their children.
It was nearly 4 when I got into the office building, the admin woman ran down with my passport but we couldn't get a taxi, we ran into the metro, ran across to change line and power walked to the immigration office making it at 4.20 and getting a number, we had made it.
We didn't wait for the number but went straight to the appeals desk and I felt so tired I didn't have to put on a bedraggled look, we pleaded the case and he gave me 10 day visa extension, with his writing on the visa form we had done it, we got 10 more days to prepare a plan.
I was very pleased and Mina also came up to Shanghai to see me, when she got the train she didn't know if this was the last time before I had to leave the country! A shame I didn't get to spend more time in Wenzhou with my family and Elaine but at least I got the visa. My parents got the train up that evening got a hotel in Shanghai.
The next morning we moved them to a Chinese style hotel for 25gbp a night very near my house, not as nice as before but perfectly adequate! Then the four of us took the hire car and drove out to one of the water towns near Shanghai, it was about a 2 hour drive but when we arrived there was no foreigners there and it wasn't busy, the sun came out and the pollution was down and we had a lovely day in various little museums and climbing over bridges and exploring the little town. We also took my parents for Korean Hot Pot, a cook it yourself bbq in the town which was very fun!
Saturday night we returned the car and then went for dinner in BiFengTang, a chinese restaurant near my house which was very tasty.
Mum and Dad's last day in Shanghai was spent shopping and exploring, we went for a late breakfast of fantastic xiaolongbao near peoples square, worth the 20minute wait for sure, and then got the metro to the computer district, yay! We looked at some cool phones and got a coffee in Pacific Coffee before walking down towards the old town. We found a small antique street and bought many random things, bargaining hard for cups and various other antiques, fresh from the antique factory.
We made out way down to the city god temple and a famous tea house which was heaving with people but nice to see before walking my parents back to their hotel.
We said goodnight as they had an early flight, but since I only have 10 days left on my visa I may well be seeing them soon!
Thursday, 7 November 2013
I needed a new visa and so my company sent me to HongKong to get one, it meant a 3 day stayover, staying in the new territories not on hongkong island (to save money on hotels) and I had a great time, although busy in the Hongkong office for some time part of my job there (whilst waiting for the visa) was purchasing, meaning I was forced, as part of my job, to trawl around the huge computer markets of HongKong, awesome! I managed to escape with only a little purchase for myself (a wireless charger), however I had been asked by a contact in Coventry university (who now lives in Shanghai) to help her son buy an iPhone as they are much cheaper in HongKong (100gbp cheaper on a 600gbp device). I tried to buy one however they were like golddust! In the end I queued for an hour in the middle of the day (it was busier in the morning) to get a while model, no blacks available and white only had limited stock, apparently so many are being shipped over illegally into China that they can't keep stock up in HK! Madness!
I did get to ride the star ferry, and had a nice hotel room, and stock up on Bombay Sapphire in Duty free! Perfect! I got my visa O.K, so back to the mainland!