Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Adventure of the China Visit Visa

As I mentioned in my last post, Brian and I are planning to visit China at the end of the month during the Muslim holiday of Arafat Day and Eid Al Adha. Like a lot of places, we need a visit visa to get there, but unlike most, we have to apply for the visa in advance. As US passport holders, getting a visa typically means waiting in line at the airport when you arrive and paying the fee, but for China it means a lot more.

We started where we always start when we don't know how to do something ... Google. And Google was pretty helpful. We found the forms to fill out and the location of the Chinese consulate in Dubai so we started to put together our documentation.

And, wow, was there a lot of it. First, there were 2 different forms (one was 7 pages long!) asking everything from birth dates to reasons for your visit to a list of every place you've visited over the past 12 months (and we had a long list!). Then we needed copies of our passports, residence visas and a color photograph. We got it all together and Brian headed off to the consulate ...

... only to find out they were closed for a Chinese holiday ... for a week! (sigh)

Okay, no problem, the website says the visas only take 4 days and we've still got almost a month. The following Sunday, Brian arrived at the consulate around 10:30 only to be told there were no more visa tickets left. Generously, an Emirati waiting in line gave Brian his ticket (#190) since he wasn't able to wait the 2-3 hours it would probably take to get to his number. Brian prepared for the wait and wandered into the office area. Where he found a sign outlining everything you need to apply for your visa ...

... and we're missing a document ... that wasn't listed on the website! (sigh)

More paperwork gathering - this time our flight confirmations, all our hotel bookings and No Objection letters for both of us. (Brian needed a NOL from his company saying they have no objection to him traveling to China, and I needed the same from Brian since I'm sponsored on his visa.)

Trip number 3 to the consulate. Brian arrived at 9:00am promptly when they open and was again told all the tickets for the day had been granted. After some discussion, he found out that people start waiting in line at 6:30 for their tickets! Yikes, that's as bad as Walmart on Black Friday!

SIDE NOTE: This last visit is an affliction in Abu Dhabi that we call "the magic question". It's either culture or related to the fact that a large majority of the service population knows English as a second language, but we've found that only the exact question you ask is answered, even if additional information would be helpful. In this example, Brian asked, "what time does the consulate open", eliciting the response, "9:00am sir". The "magic question" should have been, "what time should I arrive to get a visa ticket?" in which case, the answer would have been, "6:30".

It was time for trip number 4 and Brian had to be at the Dubai consulate by 6:30am, so we found a relatively cheap hotel not too far and Brian headed out the night before to stay over rather than get up at the crack of dawn. He arrived a bit after 6:30am the next morning and was the first one in line. Waited until 8:25 when they opened the outer doors so at least from then on he could wait in the air conditioned corridor. And finally got to the counter at 9:00, handed in our paperwork, which was scrutinized carefully, and then was on his way.

He went back 4 days later and we are now, finally, the proud owners of China visit visas.

All I can say is that Great Wall had better really be great! :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chinese State Circus

The circus came to town last weekend! Not the animal circus, but the human acrobat circus. This one from China. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but since we're planning a trip to China at the end of the month, we decided to get tickets.

It was really good, actually. Interesting music and amazing acrobatics. Not quite Cirque de Soliel in Vegas, but very fun to watch. Here are a few photos from the afternoon.

Yep, he's lying on a bed of nails with a cement block on his stomach while the other guy lets him have it with a hammer.

These guys were cool. They took turns jumping through the hoops, which kept getting higher and higher.
Not sure what you call this - foot juggling? Lots of balance required, that's for sure!

We often joke at work about "keeping all the plates spinning"; these ladies know what that's really like!
Hard to tell from the photo, but they juggled hats - very cute.

This group had these weird yo yo type things and then did tricks like this one.

More foot juggling.

Friday, October 5, 2012

There's no place like home

Brian and I head home every September for a work commitment and to visit family and friends. This September was no different.  ... well, that's not entirely true

What wasn't different were the hugs from family and friends, the fantastic and cheap shopping available (including Boston Store's goodwill sale), the incredible weather, and the many nice dinners out.

What was different was how I felt about it all. Last year, I had just gotten my new job so things were changing back here in Abu Dhabi, and I was excited after a long 9 months of job hunting. I was very happy to be home and enjoyed every minute of it, but I was also excited to get back and start a new chapter of my career.

This year, as is the usual case for us working stiffs, I worked a lot of long days to get work caught up enough to leave for 10 days, and had in the back of my mind, the pile of work I would be returning to. In addition, the summer that last year was a bit of a novelty and something to be proud of surviving, was just miserable and exhausting, and not something I was looking forward to coming back to. Especially after the really perfect weather we had during our trip - we even had a nice thunderstorm!

So, I basked in the cool breezes and soaked in all the conversations - all in perfect English that I could completely understand every time. Well, except maybe for our new neice, but she's not even 2 yet. :) I shopped til I dropped and had more dinners out than I can count. And, I got a little homesick.

It's not that I don't like Abu Dhabi, I do. It's an amazing place to live and an amazing opportunity for both of us, both in terms of career and in terms of personal growth (and of course, travel! :). We've met some really fantastic people, had the opportunity to learn about different cultures and understand a bit how Americans are perceived by different nationalities. We've both had work opportunities and experiences that we would never have had the chance to experience back in the US, and have added skills and expertise to our resumes that will serve us well for any future plans.

But, it's also a reminder that "there's no place like home".  Thanks to everyone we were able to see and talk to on this trip - it was a wonderful time and the perfect refresher to get us through this last month of abominable heat and humidity.