Drive me crazy: getting a driving licence in Shanghai

I started learning to drive when I was 18, just before I moved to London, and after a little break I passed my test when I was 19, driving around the North Circular and pointing out Pat Sharp’s house to my examiner. Amazingly, I passed first time. Then I didn’t drive for many years, because London.

Now I live in another enormous metropolis, one with an even better public transport system, so I thought why not get a driving licence here too? I have no plans to drive, but I thought it would be a useful thing to have.

As I already have a British driving licence, I can apply for a conversion to a Chinese one, rather than having to “learn to drive” from scratch in China. A friend sent me a super useful link, with step by step instructions on what to do. I basically just followed that!

Here’s my experience of applying for my licence!

Firstly, you have to be resident in China with a visa valid for at least 90 days. No problem for me, I have a residence permit currently valid until January 2019.

Secondly, make sure you have a copy of your temporary residence permit (the bit of paper from the police when you move house). I was a bit worried that I didn’t re-register when I came back from Taiwan, but it was fine. If in doubt just go and get another form, it only takes a minute.

Thirdly, get your driving licence officially translated. I went to the Shanghai Interpreters Association on Beijing West Road (上海市外事翻译工作者协会,北京西路1277号(国旅大厦)1607室). It cost 50 RMB, and I first had to write down my Chinese name on a piece of paper (they liked my handwriting), so I don’t know what you’d do if you didn’t have a Chinese name. Or couldn’t write it. They translated my driving licence both with “Miss” as part of my actual name and without.

Yesterday I made photocopies of all the important documents, namely:

  • passport
  • residence permit/visa (in passport)
  • temporary residence permit
  • driving licence (front and back)
  • translation of driving licence

Then today, armed with all those photocopies, and my real life passport, driving licence and certified translation, I went to the Shanghai Vehicle Management Bureau. This is on Hami Road, out by Shanghai Zoo (哈密路1330号).

  • Note to anyone else going! It’s not the place where you get your residence permit health check although it is on the same road! Don’t be like me and go to the wrong place! It’s fairly obvious when you’re in the right place because there are a million cars.

Top tip! Take a plastic wallet to keep your papers/passport/licence in as you have to keep whipping them out and you don’t want to have to keep getting them out of your bag. Or lose anything, heaven forbid.

At the Shanghai Vehicle Management Bureau

Walk in the front gate, try not to get run over.

First up is Building 10. Go to the counter and hand over passport and translated driving licence, then 25 RMB. Then go to the small door by the entrance, where there’s a little photo studio. Give the receipt and your passport to the photographer. I was made to take off my earrings and put on a (giant, grubby) jacket as I was wearing a camisole. As a result I have the exact same look on my face that my brother has in his Year 1 school photo.

Next go to Building 9 to pick up the photos, when they’re ready they’ll be on the counter (it took about a minute). Take three forms from the counter by the door, and if you can write in Chinese then fill it in – if not then I guess get someone to help you. The chap handing out the forms cut out one of the photos for me and stuck it onto one form, then told me which bits to fill in. Keep the rest of the photos safe. Once your forms are filled in, go to the counter and pay 60 RMB.

Next go out of the door and turn left, looking for the sign saying “medical check”. Go in this door and up the stairs. Turn right and then go into each of the rooms to do the medical checks. Give the doctors your papers when you go in and they’ll point you towards whatever apparatus they want you to use. Medical checks today: height, weight, hand strength, squats, basic eyesight, hearing, blood pressure, ECG, colour blindness. Once you’ve been into every room, go to the counter at the end and they’ll make up a certificate. I had a little chat with these guys as they were the friendliest people of the day – they were intrigued as to whether Ireland is a real country and also wanted to know about my Chinese name.

Finally, go to Building 1. Go to the first desk you see and they may send you around the corner to another lady, they did for me but it has the vibe of being a free-for-all. Show this lady your paperwork and she’ll give you a ticket for the queue. Go upstairs (the stairs are to the left) and walk through to the final room. When your number gets called, they’ll go through allllllll the paperwork (and freak out at my driving licence and passport being issued in different countries) and take the photocopies you helpfully provided. Finally, everything gets stapled together and you get asked to choose when you want to take your test. It was booked up for the next 3 weeks but I got a date at the end of the month that works for me. And with that, the appointment slip and all my paperwork was handed back to me and see ya!

What’s this date for? For a theory test. Everything I know is from the link I posted above – it’s a computerised test. I have literally no clue what’s in the test but I guess I have a few weeks to find out.

Tune in later this month to find out if I pass!

Two half marathons

This spring I ran two half marathons, and I meant to write about them but I was busy and lazy and didn’t. However, I was just thinking about how very different the two races were.

Pre-race:

  • Wuxi: Wuxi is 200km from Shanghai, so I had to take the high speed train after work, then a taxi across the city to a sports centre, to pick up my race number the day before (the organisers refused to allow same-day pick up or a friend to pick it up – really disappointing). I stayed with a friend that night, so had to take another taxi across town to this sports centre (very inconvenient location to start a race). Dropping off bags etc was fine and then I queued for 45 minutes to use the filthy toilets. Really unimpressive.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: I took the metro to a random stop in Minhang, then walked to a cafe on a dusty street. There were only 250 people doing the race, so it was all very low key and easy. I hung out with my friends and chatted, then stashed my bag in a cardboard box.

Route:

  • Wuxi: Getting over the start line took about 20 minutes as there were about 30,000 runners doing the full and half marathons. Once underway, it always felt crowded. The route itself was on closed roads, and there were quite a few spectators out, plus old people dancing and playing drums etc. Running alongside the lake was quite nice, although the pollution was very high. The final bit was through the university and the students were very enthusiastic cheerers – when I made the effort to wave, or high five, they went absolutely nuts and it gave me quite a boost.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: The race started down an alley beside a restaurant, and the first 8km was on the roads, dodging cars and old people, although after that it was mainly along the river path. When we hit the river things got a bit easier to follow, although some of the route markers had been removed by over-zealous security guards. No cheerers. Lots of annoying people also using the riverside path, how dare they. Got stopped 500m from the end by a film crew, then decided to be a dick and just ran through their set.

Water:

  • Wuxi: Water stops every 2km, after the first 5km, with water, energy drinks, sponges and toilets. There were also some random food stops, like a burger stall at 18km.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: Water at 9km, 15km and 20km. Nowhere near enough. Nearly died.

Weather:

  • Wuxi: It was warm but not too crazy. Shitty air.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: It was incredibly hot, and I contemplated throwing my dessicated corpse into the Huangpu. High pollution.

My performance:

  • Wuxi: I stopped at 8km to use the loo, then from 12km I walked through the water stops as I am rubbish at running while drinking. At about 18km I gave up and did a lot more walking. Finished in 2hr32.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: After the first water stop I couldn’t start running for nearly 1km, and that was kind of the story for the rest of the race. At one point I sent messages to my friend saying how awful I felt and he told me to get a fucking move on. Really had to have words with myself on several occasions but it did very little. Dragged myself to the finish line (a friend standing in the road with a can of coconut water) in 2hr34.

Post-race:

  • Wuxi: I sat on the grass for a while, then went to collect my belongings. Lots of random stuff in the goody bag. I called a taxi and then spent 20 minutes arguing with the driver because he didn’t know about the road closures. Finally got back to my friend’s house and went to eat churros, before getting the train back to SH and going for a curry with my boyfriend.
  • Shanghai 10 Bridges: Chatted to friends, went to the bar just as other friends had opened a bottle of prosecco, downed a glass, immediately felt my insides liquefy and had to run to the bathroom. Drank beer and heckled my friend who won, then got the metro home, feeling sweaty and slightly drunk.

How was your week? (the child edition)

(Names have been changed but the student has chosen his own name, but got confused about which letters to use and given himself a very feminine name. This is his second name, he used to be called Car (because he likes cars). He is 11 and weighs significantly more than me).

Me: How was your week?

Anny: I got in a fight at school. One of the students is taller than me and stronger than me, and he attacked me for no reason at all. Once he attacked a teacher with a chair leg and broke the teacher’s leg a little bit. He attacked me for no reason at all, we fought all the way across the classroom, from the front to the back. He hit my head and I picked him up and threw him against the wall. He is strong but he only fights with his arms and legs, not his head. I have a bruise on my arm and my head is a bit sore.

Me: Did you win?

Anny: No one won because the teacher arrived.

Me: That sounds like a good thing, the teacher must have been very angry.

Anny: The teachers are scared of him. Once Jerry brought a knife to class and he held it to my friend’s face. My friend told his mum and his mum came to the school. The fighting student, Jerry, his mum came to the school too and the two mums fought and my friend’s mum got hurt and now we don’t complain any more. The headmaster doesn’t want to help and we can’t report Jerry because if he knows it’s us then he’ll fight us.

Me: That sounds terrible for everyone.

Anny: His dad is a soldier but I don’t want him to grow up to be a soldier because then he could fight the whole country.

Me: So do you remember that we have been thinking about good decision making skills and poor decision making skills? What would you say were good decisions and what were poor decisions?

Anny: I shouldn’t have attacked him back. My mum said it’s okay to hit people if they hit you first but I should have gone to get the teacher. So I think no one made good decisions.

 

Anny for president!

Things my Chinese teacher has asked me…

Why did people vote for Brexit?

Is it true that everyone in Europe has double eyelids?

Are there different dialects of English?

How can you tell different English accents apart? Can you hear the difference?

Which is the bad one, north or south Korea?

Do you like Koreans?

Why are you here?

Do your legs get especially cold, because they’re so long?

Please can you draw a chart of your love life on the board?

Christmas in China

On the one hand, Christmas is a big deal here – every shopping mall is decked out with fancy decorations – but on the other hand, it’s not really a holiday. And so I worked on Christmas Day. And not work like work in the UK at Christmas time (no sitting about eating mince pies and definitely no dressing up as Cliff Richard with all my colleagues and swaying for an awkward three minute song), this was 8 hours of teaching.

On Christmas Eve I went to the sorting office to pick up one of my christmas presents, then went to the gym before going out for an amazing meal on the Bund. It was a super magical evening and I felt both incredibly lucky and very festive. So much so that when I got home, I started leaving emotional voicemail messages for my friends and then skyped my friends.

I woke up on Christmas Day and opened my two presents, listening to Christmas music and drinking my customary imported instant coffee. Then I carried on listening to Christmas tunes all the way to work, having a little dance on the metro. At work, the tunes were on, the hats were on, the festive snacks were out.

At lunch I went for noodles with my boys, before heading back for eight hours of teaching. By the end, I was exhausted. During the last hour, my boss dropped a glass of champagne off in my classroom so the room smelled of booze. Sorry, kiddo. Finally over, I hung out with some colleagues and then headed for dinner with Liam and some friends.

I’d got changed into some sequinned shorts (merry christmas…) and it turned out the restaurant was a michelin-starred place. It was delicious. Afterwards we went to find a bar, first of all going to Perry’s, that Shanghai stalwart. It was smoky as hell and it got right in my throat. We left and wandered a bit, but I decided to head home as I had arranged to skype my family.

An hour chatting on skype, and I finally headed to bed for a terrible night’s sleep. I woke up every hour or so feeling like I’d swallowed razorblades.

On Boxing Day I woke up feeling like actual death, ploughed through another 8 hours of teaching and finally got thrown out of the building by my colleague who told me that if only I’d told him in the morning that I wasn’t well, he would have sent me home. Too late!

Finally on the 27th, I went to pick up the parcel my mum sent me a month ago that’s been languishing in customs all this time. I’d had to get an agent involved to help retrieve it, but still had to go out to the customs office near the airport to show my passport. After sitting about for a while I finally got my parcel and could go back home, open my presents, make a dent in my advent calendar and go back to sleep for a lazy afternoon.

圣诞快乐 everyone!

I suspect I may actually be Chinese

I read an article about a style of parenting popular here in China, called setback parenting. In this, you’re basically really awful to your kid so they don’t get too high an opinion of themselves and this will apparently make them stronger. I think you can guess how it turns out.

Here’s the article: http://www.sixthtone.com/news/1001083/setback-education-the-parenting-fad-harming-chinas-kids

As I read it, I did a LOL (as the kids might say, but probably wouldn’t, because I have no idea what the kids actually say), as there are so many parallels with my childhood. My dad believed (possibly still believes) that you shouldn’t compliment (or be nice to) your kids and is surprised that we now do not have a very close relationship.

Anyway, there are lots of other reasons why I think I had a Chinese upbringing:

  1. I got glasses when I was 4 years old.
  2. I play the violin.
  3. And the piano!
  4. I was a total nerd in school, until that day that I suddenly wasn’t.
  5. I went to LSE.
  6. My parents were pretty strict.
  7. I still think less than 90% in a test doesn’t really count as a pass.

That’s only my childhood. There’s further evidence that I’m a Chinese adult, for example: my love of WeChat stickers, going hiking with an umbrella, drinking hot water, shouting in restaurants, pushing on the metro and a whole host of other things that I’ll write about another time.

How to change jobs in China

First of all, a disclaimer that is a long post and may be out of date already (things change quickly), and may also be specific to Shanghai – but I thought it might be useful to document the process of changing jobs in China, and to let you all know what I’ve been dealing with, work-wise.

  • Hand in notice (8th July)

Almost four months into working at EF I’d had enough. It was a terrible place to work, and I was fortunate to be offered an interview at a much better company. I jumped at the chance, they offered me the job and I resigned from EF. Chinese labour law stipulates a one-month notice period, but EF wanted me to work for two months, claiming that they have an agreement with the police here. I have no doubt that this is a lie.

  • Get documents notarised by the Chinese embassy in the UK (July/August)

When I applied for my work permit for EF, I needed a police background check and scanned copies of my degrees. The rules have now changed and I needed to get all these documents notarised by the Chinese embassy in the country that issued these certificates – which meant applying for a new police background check (they’re only valid for six months) and FedExing all the documents to an agency in Coventry, who could deal with the whole process for a hefty fee. They then said that the Chinese embassy wouldn’t be able to notarise my degrees as they don’t state my middle name – a new rule, another hurdle to jump through. Eventually this got sorted out by a solicitor writing a statement to say that I am me, middle name or no. Finally, the documents were sent back to China, notarised and ready to be used in the application for the new work permit.

  • On final day at your old company, get a release letter (5 September)

One thing to remember is that foreigners can only work in China with a work permit, which is for a specific employer only. Your employer basically owns you.

If you leave a company, they have to cancel your work permit so that your new company can apply for a new work permit for you, armed with an official ‘release letter’ from the old company. What your old company DOESN’T have to do is cancel your residence permit – the page in your passport that allows you to stay in the country – but my previous employer did this. My residence permit was replaced with a 30 day ‘humanitarian stay visa’, which was backdated to a date in August, giving me 14 working days from when I picked it up (oh yeah and I had to pay for this new visa). This was the most stressful thing, and totally unnecessary – your old company doesn’t need to do this! However mine wouldn’t give me the release letter without handing over my passport to get my residence permit cancelled.

  • New company can apply for a new work permit (5 September)

Your new company needs to already be registered on the system to start this process, which apparently takes a week or so, so ought to be done beforehand. The work permit application process takes minimum 15 working days – five for the online check and then ten for an in-person check. Remember how I said I had 14 working days…

Two weeks after applying for the work permit, the HR guy at my new company called me to say the application had been rejected. It was still at the online stage and had taken this long as the whole computer system had crashed. My application was rejected because one of the forms had printed over two pages and they wanted it one page. I was in a hotpot restaurant with a good friend and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The next day, 21 September, we submitted a revised application. My visa was due to expire on 24 September, so I flew to Hong Kong that weekend. It was lovely to be in HK and great to see my uncle, but quite stressful to leave my home and not know if I would be allowed back in the country. I applied for a new visa while in Hong Kong, and picked it up a few days later, flying back to Shanghai later that week, and feeling extremely relieved.

The following week was an 8 day national holiday so nothing could happen with the work permit application – leaving me worried that I’d run out of time on this visa too.

  • Physical health check (18 September)

This is necessary to get a residence permit, and involves going to a health centre out near Shanghai Zoo and doing a whole bunch of checks: height, weight, chest x-ray, ultrasound, ECG, blood tests, blood pressure, eye test. Basically they’re trying to make sure you won’t die while in China and that you don’t have HIV.

My results were sent directly to my new company and HR sent me a message to say they had the certificate. I was intrigued to see what the notes said – I’d passed the test but it said I had a heart abnormality, which freaked me out a little bit (I’m fine! I checked with people who know more about this kind of stuff and it’s okay!).

  • Apply for new residence permit (25 October)

Finally, on 24 October, my work permit was ready. I went to the Entry-Exit Bureau in the depths of Pudong with my HR colleague to apply for the residence permit. This allows you to live in the country, and it takes seven working days to process. I finally got my passport back last week and am so happy to feel settled once again in this crazy old country.

I’ve actually left out a couple of things from this long-winded tale, because they’re specific to my application. Happy to answer any questions about it.

Conclusion

Changing jobs in China is hard. There are a lot of hurdles to jump through. Even though I’m highly skilled and experienced, there’s so much paperwork and confusion, and changing rules and regulations. It had to be done, however, as I couldn’t have stayed at my old job. And now – nearly four months after resigning from my old job – I’m happily working at my new company. Long may it last!

Costs

Document notarisation: £500

FedEx documents to the UK for notarisation: 300 RMB (£35)

Humanitarian visa: 160 RMB (£18)

Health check: 461 RMB (plus 15 RMB for posting results) (£54)

Flights to Hong Kong: 1500 RMB (£173)

Visa in Hong Kong: 750 HKD (£73)

(most of these costs I can claim back from my new company, but it’s certainly caused some temporary cashflow issues!)

 

 

Getting a haircut

Last week I was feeling down in the dumps, so I went to get my hair cut. I found a picture of the style I wanted and showed it to the hairdresser, who said it was no problem. He asked when I’d had that haircut and didn’t believe me that the random picture on the internet wasn’t me (after all, foreigners generally all look alike).

After chopping at my hair for some time he whipped out the electric razor and I realised I was getting a different haircut to the one I’d asked for. Luckily I’m not precious about my hair and I like it short, so I just let him do whatever.

He asked if I wanted more volume on the top bit, and I said sure. I have extremely fine hair so volume is needed. He started fiddling around with my hair, putting it in pins. It was quite relaxing. Then he took out a box of something chemical looking and I began to get suspicious. I asked to have a look at the box. Perming solution! Are you kidding me?! I told him that there was no way I could have a perm, my hair would be destroyed. He was really keen to do it but I made him stroke my baby-soft hair and compare it to his own and eventually he agreed that I could have a think about a perm and maybe do it next time.

By this point I was a bit stressed out so he told me to wait there (where else could I go, with my hair full of pins) and he disappeared, returning with a bowl of cherry tomatoes for me. He told me I was pretty and that I had nice big eyes, not like those “scary Russian eyes” (I think he meant blue eyes but I’m not sure, he was adamant that they were scary).

He faffed around with my hair a bit longer and finally I left. I’m actually really happy with it, brushed down it looks work appropriate – my manager didn’t notice the undercut until my colleague pointed it out. I’m obsessed with stroking the undercut, like I’m a giant shorthaired cat.

WeChat, China’s messaging megalith

China has 1.3 billion people and surely at least that many mobile phones (everyone has a mobile and some sleazy businessmen will have one for the wife and another for the mistress, #lads etc). If I take the metro to work it’s very easy to avoid eye contact with anyone, as they’re all looking at their phones. 

What are they doing – especially given that so much is blocked in China? Watching TV shows, catching up on weibo, shopping on taobao or chatting on WeChat, of course!

WeChat is the messaging app of choice for everyone in China, young or old. You can use it for text and voice messages, sending photos, voice calls and video calls. So far so normal. But there’s so much more. Here’s a few things that I use wechat for on a daily basis (ok, hourly, I am in China after all).

  1. WeChat wallet. If you link your bank card (Chinese banks only) to your WeChat wallet then you can use WeChat to pay for things. Every retailer either has a QR code for you to scan and enter the amount to pay, or they’ll scan your QR code. It’s so so easy and means you hardly ever have to carry cash. You can also use WeChat wallet to pay bills, buy tickets and top up your mobile phone.
  2. Red envelopes. You can send money to friends. Again, so easy!
  3. Scanning friends. If you meet someone and you want to add them as a friend, you don’t need to faff about typing in their number or looking them up in a search bar. Every user on WeChat has a personal QR code, so you just ask to scan them, they produce the QR code, you scan it and add them. Simple! 
  4. Stickers. These are pictures or gifs you can send in messages. You can download packs of stickers or if a friend sends you a cool one you can save it to impress other friends with later. I like dog ones, obviously, but I also have a pretty rad one of Hitler dancing with glow sticks.
  5. Group chats. These can be for work, friends or interest groups. I’m in all three, though some of them have notifications on mute!
  6. Subscriptions. These are news or organisation accounts that I follow. I particularly like the ones about Shanghai so I know what’s on (art, cinema etc) or what’s a hot topic right now (typhoons, flour scandal, VPN news).
  7. Moments. This is like a facebook news feed, except if a friend posts something you can only read the comments by people you’re already connected to.

Soon you’ll be able to use it on the turnstiles at metro stations here in Shanghai, eliminating the need to carry a metro card.

    Of course, this amazing app does come with a price, and that’s all your personal data belonging firstly to Tencent and then the Chinese government. So that’s not ideal. Also, like many apps in China, it’s a really bloated app  and as a result my phone is grinding to a standstill these days. But life without it would be a lot less convenient, so I try to put any concerns about the government out of my mind… Needs must!!

    Things that are banned in China

    You probably know that Facebook is banned in China. It’s been banned for years now. But did you know that the following are also banned (either permanently or temporarily):

    Google (other than google translate), WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WordPress, LFGSS, gambling, going to Tibet, talking about something that happened in June 1989, baking soda, tinned soup, mentioning certain topics in WeChat groups, changing your WeChat profile picture or username, imported blue cheese, going anywhere without your passport, Brad Pitt, airbnb (it’s not technically legal and right now it’s completely banned in Beijing), hot air balloons, drones, the New York Times and the South China Morning Post but not the Guardian, having a dog without a license, some shoes, giving your child a Muslim name if you live in western China, marmite, and Justin Bieber.