Guangzhou Day 2

Day 2 in China complete. We spent most of the day tired and hot, but we did find a little bit of adventure.

We only had two things that needed to get done today:

  1. Get train tickets at the train station.
  2. Pick up needed items at the Super Market.

The trip to the train station was just like we remembered, insufferable. We did make it there, but our souring attitudes from our lack of sleep didn’t allow us to maintain the patience we needed to actually buy tickets.

The trip to the Super Market, on the other hand, was a lot of fun. We love visiting foreign super markets, particularly the fresh meat and produce sections. It is alarming how much time we spend just looking at the various products.

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What is this stuff? Who knows?!

We were dead tired after our “easy” chores for the day, so we went back to the hostel, had lunch, and took a much needed nap.

After our nap, we took a short walk through the Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. It is the main pedestrian-only shopping street in Guangzhou, similar to Nanjing Rd in Shanghai or Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It was a really nice change from our dirty neighborhood location. It was clean, lively, and full of colors. We enjoyed a stroll from one end to the other just reminiscing about the Shop Shop girls in Shenzhen.

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We were in high spirits at the start of our walk, but pretty quickly fell back into tired mode. We slowly picked our way home and stopped at a nice restaurant on the way. It was little more expensive than we would have liked ($14), but it was the food we had been missing and the perfect way to send ourselves back to bed.

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Iron Plate Beef and Garlic Broccoli

We returned home, kissed each other goodnight and fell immediately and completely asleep.

 

 

 

Guangzhou, China Day Two

Day 2 in China complete. We spent most of the day tired and hot, but we did find a little bit of adventure.

I have created a basic routine when it comes to travel. Day one is usually spent sleeping and exploring the immediate area to get ourselves acquainted with our new home. My Day Two travel routine is mostly about getting stuff done. It is the day I finalize any unfinished arrangements, unpack, buy groceries, and make my plans for the rest of the week. Today was no different. Thankfully, we really only had three major items on our to-do list.

Day Two Travel Routine

  1. Get train tickets at the train station
  2. Pick up needed items at the Super Market
  3. Take a walk to minimize jet lag

Pick Up Train Tickets

I try and arrange as much in advance as possible, but in China, it can be a little challenging. Train tickets, for example, are difficult to buy more than a week in advance (unless you want to pay American prices). So, in China, my day two travel routine, almost always includes a trip to the train station to prepare for our next stop.

The trip to the train station was just like we remembered, absolutely insufferable. We did make it there, but our souring attitudes from our lack of sleep didn’t allow us to maintain the patience we needed to actually buy tickets.

Our walk to the station was rainy and cold, finding the ticket office was an adventure all of its own, and waiting in a line that never moved was beyond frustrating. After about an hour of impatiently wondering why our 30 person long line didn’t seem to be moving at all, we finally gave up. “If at first you don’t succeed, have something delicious to eat, take a nap, and try again tomorrow.”

When travel gets hard, it is important to re-adjust.

Pick up Groceries at the Market

My favorite part about my day two travel routine is the trip to the Super Market. It is almost always a lot of fun. We love visiting foreign super markets, particularly the fresh meat and produce sections. It is alarming how much time we spend just looking at the various products.

day two travel routine super market trip with a collage of tropical fruits, large crabs, dried bugs, and dried squid
What is this stuff? Who knows?!

We purchased packs of tissues (a must have item in China), some shampoo, and a few snacks. The 10 minute activity took nearly an hour by the time we finished playing the “what do you think this is?” in the candy aisle, or “name that animal” in the meat department.

We were dead tired after our “easy” chores for the day, so we went back to the hostel, had lunch, and took a much needed nap.

Check us out using the same travel routine in Melbourne, Australia. ♥

Afternoon Walk

After our nap, we took a short walk through the Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. I like to make sure that a long walk is included in the day two travel routine as it is a great way to reduce the effects of jet lag.

Shangxiajiu is the main pedestrian-only shopping street in Guangzhou, similar to Nanjing Rd in Shanghai or Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It was a really nice change from our dirty neighborhood location. The street was clean, lively, and full of colors. We enjoyed a stroll from one end to the other just reminiscing about the Shop Shop girls in Shenzhen.

Our day two travel routine always includes a walk to reduce the effects of jet lag. Find a pedestrian street and just wander.

We were in high spirits at the start of our walk, but pretty quickly fell back into tired mode. It was very obvious that it was time to slowly pick our way home and have dinner. Dinner was a little more expensive than we would have liked ($14), but it was the food we had been missing and the perfect way to send ourselves back to bed.

Read more about what we ate for dinners in China. ♥

"If at first you don't succeed, eat some delicious food, take a nap, and try again tomorrow." My day two travel routine strategy included this tasty meal of simmering beef and onions and stir-fry broccolli
Iron Plate Beef and Garlic Broccoli

We returned home, kissed each other goodnight and fell immediately and completely asleep.

 

 

 

The Eagles Have Landed

We’re here! Despite a couple of small hiccups, it was a surprisingly easy travel day.

We’re here! Despite a couple of small hiccups, it was a surprisingly easy travel day. Our plane had some technical issues in Seattle causing us to be grounded for the night. It was a wonderful little side trip though. The airline booked us in a decent hotel near by with some food vouchers. We ate well, slept well, and woke up refreshed for the next day.

Everything went off without a hitch the following day. The flight from Seattle to Beijing was a quick(!) eleven hours. We were fed more than we needed and offered beer and wine regularly. I tried the Yanjing Beer, but mostly enjoyed one of my final opportunities to enjoy copious amounts of coffee for the next couple months.

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We landed in Beijing about 30 minutes late, but customs went quickly and we made it to our connecting flight just as it started boarding. We were two of only three foreigners on the plane. The other one sat between Josh and I for some reason. She was… different. Needless to say, we made it pretty obvious that we were not with her whenever we could.

The flight from Beijing to Guangzhou was a very long(!) 3.5 hours, but once again we were fed way more than necessary and able to keep pretty busy despite the fact that we had to power down our cell phones… not just airplane mode… POWER DOWN.

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We landed in Guangzhou just a little past 1:00AM. We hit the bathrooms, the ATM, and grabbed a taxi to downtown. Due to the delay in Seattle, I had to cancel our reservation at our hostel and just showed up this morning hoping they would have space. Thankfully, they did, but in separate dorm rooms.

[I’ll get you all a full rundown on the hostel once my roommate wakes her lazy butt up.]

We kissed good-night at the top of the stairs and agreed to text each other once we got settled into our bunks. Of course, it wasn’t until we got into our bunks that we experienced some of our first issues with the Great Fire Wall of China. I messaged him in every medium I could think of. I eventually got through to him by commenting on one of his beer tastings in Untapped.

I had a short, but nice sleep. I only had one roommate and she did not get in until 4am. Josh and I met again in the morning, got him worked out with Skype messaging (the best way to get a hold of us currently), got dressed, and went on a hunt for breakfast.

There are plenty of things that turn me off to China, but the food is something that just keeps bringing me back. Even just a walk down the crowded and dusty street after very little sleep was punctuated by greatness from all of the sights and smells of the food stalls and restaurants.

We ended up eating at a little hole in the wall place serving up some of my favorite breakfast pastries. Since we are in Southern China, they also had a nice collection of dim sum. Everything was amazing and immediately got me excited for the day.

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Left to Right: red bean paste stuffed sweet pastry, egg and green onion pastry thing, steamed bun, and some pork yummies.

The plan for the day is to run a couple of major errands, but otherwise take it pretty easy. I’m not totally stoked on our hostel, so we are going to head to the train station and book our tickets to Guilin. Then we need to do some shopping to pick up some little things. Besides that, our only other goals are to eat delicious food, meet a couple of the other hostel guests, and maybe/hopefully take a nap.

That’s it. We are safe, well fed, not particularly well rested, but ready to adventure.

Preparing For a Trip to China

We have three more weeks in Boise, then we are heading off to China. Here is a run-down of the documents we have prepared for the trip.

Out of all of the traveling we have done over the last thirty years, traveling to China has definitely been the most difficult. In addition to all of the usual document preparation for traveling, like getting a passport, Americans will also need to apply for and receive a visa before arrival. Below, we’ve put together a short article to help Americans prepare for a trip to China.

Passport

It is slightly more work to travel to China than it is to Europe (for US citizens, anyway), but it’s not nearly as bad as some other countries. To prepare for our trip to China, I started working on all of our necessary documents about three months before departure. To fly into China, Americans need a passport that has been valid for at least six months. 

Passports are a great item to have regardless of whether you plan to travel to China. As long as the applicant is over 16 years old, issued passports will last ten years! With a passport, Americans can visit Canada and Mexico for up to six months at a time without any additional travel I.D.

How to Get an American Passport

It is important to start on this process early as the processing time is four to six weeks. To apply for or renew a passport, visit the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs.

The process requires:

  • Completed application
  • Evidence of citizenship
  • Identification
  • Passport photo
  • $110 fee (as of April 2018).

Every time I have my passport photo taken, I like to collect at least five copies. To prepare for a trip to China, I needed to send one photo out for the passport, one to the Chinese consulate for my visa, and two for my emergency folders (more on this later).

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Chinese Visa

A Visa is an additional, mandatory travel document that is glued onto one of your passport pages (no, it has nothing to do with credit cards). It explicitly states how long I can stay within the country and how many times I can come back. There are many types of visas including those for Work, Study, and Travel. This article will be focusing on the Travel (L) Visa.

The Chinese Travel Visa (Category L) is for visitors who are visiting China for tourism. These travelers are invited to travel throughout the country, but forbidden from purchasing property, getting a job (including tutoring), or applying for schooling. It’s possible to do all of these as a foreigner, but they require a different category of visa.

How to Get a Chinese Travel Visa

Chinese visa’s must be collected directly from a Chinese consulate. There are only five such consulates throughout the United States (April 2018). Unless an applicant happens to live close to one or is willing to travel to one, they will be required to use a service. Online services or traditional travel agencies can help applicants prepare for a trip to China. Start by checking China’s Embassy website to see which consulate your state is associated with.

After researching, I ordered our visas from Chinese Visa Service Center rather than flying to the consulate in San Francisco. The company was slightly more expensive than some of the others, but was fast and provided me with a very suitable visa that fit all of my needs.

The process requires:

  • Passport* with at least eight months remaining and two blank visa pages

*Yes, we had to send our actual passports, so beware of the discount companies. Stick with businesses that have a good reputation. 

*I have read a lot of mixed reviews on this piece, so I am guessing this is a major deciding factor. As I have received a work visa from China previously, I was able to simply write the address of my first hotel and the day I planned on leaving. For first time visitors to China, I suggest making the supporting documents as detailed as possible. I would send a day-by-day itinerary along with photocopies of airline and hotel reservations. 

  • Consulate Specific Items
    • Proof of Residency (for California consulates)
    • Additional Visa Forms (for Houston consulate)
    • Employer Letter (Washington D.C. consulate)
  • Fees (depending on collection method)

The processing time varies depending on the collection method. We used the Chinese Visa Service Center. After the embassy fees, service fees, and shipping fees, our visas cost us $270 each and were returned within six weeks.

How to Read The Chinese Visa

Unfortunately, applicants rarely know which kind of visa they will receive until it arrives in the mail. I once requested a 60 day visa and received a 30 day visa, requiring me to adjust my plans. Most recently, I applied for a 60 day single-use visa and instead received a 60 day, multiple entry visa that is good for 10 years!

Once my visa had been approved by the Chinese consulate, I had my passport returned with a sticker that looked like this attached to one of my visa pages:

Chinese-Visa-1024x639

  • Category: “L” means Tourist Visa. This allows the holder to visit China as a tourist. Tourists are not permitted to work or attend full-time classes.
  • Enter Before: Double check this date! This is the absolute expiration of the visa.
  • Entries: This is how many times the tourist can leave and return to China using the same visa; on the example above, A. ABC is only allowed one entry. This means that Ms. ABC can not leave mainland China for quick trip to Hong Kong or anywhere else. Once she leaves China for any reason, she will not be able to return without applying for another visa.
  • Duration of Each Stay: This is the maximum amount of time the tourist can stay in China per visit. In the example above, Ms. ABC only has one entry and can only stay for a maximum of 30 days. If Ms. ABC were to stay for 31 days, she would be subject to heavy fines or worse. I have a 60 day, “multi” entry visa. This means I can come and go from mainland China as often as I would like, but I can only stay for a maximum of 60 days at a time. This year, I visited China for 57 days, then left for 70 days. Then I went back for 28 days before leaving again.

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Health Documents

China does not require any medical documents for Tourist Visas. However, there are some safety measures that are worth considering when preparing for a trip to China. Before leaving on our RTW trip, we visited our local Travel Clinic to get up-to-date information on all of our health needs. The CDC provides a helpful website to help link Americans to local travel clinics around the country.

Vaccinations and Medications

There are no vaccination requirements for China, although the Hepatitis series and Typhoid cycle is recommended by CDC and our travel nurse. For our most recent trip to China, we ended up getting both, along with all of our other boosters. The Chinese government does not require any proof of these vaccinations.

As for the usual medicine bag, I suggest saving all receipts and paperwork for any prescriptions. After our trip to China, we continued on to explore more of SE Asia for the rest of the year. This required me to pack a year’s worth prescription medication, which kind of made me look like a drug mule. Fortunately, I wrapped each prescription bottle with the doctor’s note and my receipts for buying them. I did not run into any trouble, but better safe than sorry.

Insurance

We purchased travel insurance from World Nomads. For a little over $1,000 each, we are covered for most accidents that happen at least 100 miles from home for the next year (there are shorter plans as well). It includes emergency medical assistance, evacuation, and even little things like lost or stolen luggage. Travel insurance will not cover our usual preventative doctor visits and does not count on our taxes as medical coverage.

It is difficult to prepare for a trip to China without considering some of China’s quirks. Compared to the USA, daily life can be quite different and a little less… structured. Travel insurance helps ease my mind about not getting my camera stolen, having my train trip cancelled at the last minute, or being re-routed to a layover in Beijing then expected to fly out of Shanghai a few hours later (yes, that actually happened). We can’t prepare for everything, but it is nice to have a backup.

China does not require travelers to have medical insurance and will provide medical assistance to anyone for a fee. Like many other countries, there are pharmacies readily available just about anywhere that provide most of the products one might need. Some common items that won’t be found are: anything with antibiotics (including creams like Neosporin), deodorant (Chinese genetics don’t require it), tampons, mint flavored toothpaste, and floss.

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Back-Up Documents

Moral of the story, once I had my passport and visa, I was set to go. HoweverI never go on a vacation without organizing a set of emergency documents. We make three sets of everything: one set we bring with us, one set we leave behind with a trusted friend, and the other set is digital.

For some examples, my sister once lost her ID in Florida two days before leaving on a cruise that required an ID. I’ve been in hotels where the front desk took my passport for the night because their scanner was broken and they had to register me in person. I have also been locked out of the internet for more than a week during which my credit card bill became overdue. These things DO happen and I like to be prepared.

Emergency Travel Documents

  • Photocopies of passports and visas
  • Additional passport photo cut to size
  • Day-by-day Travel Itinerary
  • Emergency contact information (local and foreign)
  • Additional items for Trusted Friend Folder
    • Check books
    • One valid credit card
    • Copy of online banking passwords
    • Last Will and Testament

It may seem a little bit of overkill, but this helps us to cover all of our bases in case we run into trouble.

Hopefully this helps make sense of everything and you feel like you can prepare for a trip to China. Feel free to leave comments if you’ve got any other questions about my travel prep. Or, you know, if you want to come visit us, I might be able to give you a hand!

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Document Prep for China

We have three more weeks in Boise, then we are heading off to China. Here is a run-down of the documents we have prepared for the trip.

Some of the most common questions I get asked are about our international travel preparations, things like travel documents, vaccinations, that kind of stuff. So I figured I’d put together a post going over everything so everyone can see how I’m getting ready for a year of seeing the world.

Passports and Visas

It is slightly more work to travel to China than it is to Europe (for US citizens), but not nearly as bad as some places. I started working on all of our necessary documents months ago in preparation. To fly into China, you need a passport that has been valid for at least six months, along with a Tourist Visa. A Tourist Visa is an additional travel document that is glued onto one of my passport pages (it has nothing to do with credit cards). It explicitly states how long I can stay within the country and how many times I can come back.

Chinese-Visa-1024x639
The example visa above is a single entry Tourist Visa. The L category is for tourists and the number of entries is listed as 01. It is valid from June 12, 2009 to September 12, 2009 and only allows the visitor to stay for 30 days at a time (duration of each stay). The person carrying this visa will only be able to visit China once for up to 30 days before they need to get a new visa. They will not be able to return to China if they leave briefly to visit Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet, or Taiwan. 

After researching, I ordered our visas from Chinese Visa Service Center rather than flying to the embassy in San Francisco. After the embassy fees, service fees, and shipping fees (all required), our visas cost us $270 each. That is quite expensive for a visa, but the terms are very good. We get multiple entries from November 2017 to November 2027, and each entry period is good for 90 days. This means we can go in and out of the country as many times as we would like for the next 10 years as long as we are never in the country for longer than 90 days at a time! This will be perfect for our long term travel plans, since we’re trying to keep things as flexible as possible.

Vaccinations and Insurance

There are no vaccination requirements for China, although the Hepatitis series was recommended by most doctors we talked to. We ended up getting the series along with all of our other boosters. Our doctor also got us prescriptions for a basic antibiotic and two Z-Packs (for severe food poisoning). We did not have any trouble finding other basic medicines last time we were in China, but we did put together our usual travel pack of meds for convenience.

We purchased travel insurance from World Nomads. For a little over $1,000 each, we are covered for most accidents that happen at least 100 miles from home. It includes emergency medical assistance, evacuation, and even little things like lost or stolen luggage. It will not cover our usual preventative doctor visits and does not count on our taxes as medical coverage. However, we plan to keep up with our usual check-ups while traveling by simply paying the low out of pocket costs. We will reconsider getting a recognized health insurance next year.

Back-Up Documents

I never go on a vacation without organizing a set of travel documents. We make three sets of everything: one set we bring with us, one set we leave behind with a trusted friend, and the other set is digital. Our travel documents include photocopies of our passports and visas, additional passport photos cut to size, a general itinerary, and emergency contact information. The trusted friend also keeps our check books, one of our credit cards, a copy of our online banking passwords, and our Will. This helps us to cover all of our bases in case we run into trouble.

My sister once lost her ID in Florida two days before leaving on a cruise that required an ID. I’ve been in hotels where the front desk took my passport for the night because their scanner was broken and they had to register me in person. I have also been locked out of the internet for more than a week during which my credit card bill became overdue. These things DO happen and I like to be prepared.


Hopefully this helps make sense of everything. I’ve been working hard for months getting everything put together, but I feel like I’ve got all the bases covered. Feel free to leave comments if you’ve got any other questions about my travel prep. Or, you know, if you want to come visit us, I might be able to give you a hand!

Jen’s Least Favorite Airport Award

It’s important to set a firm ranking system.

I like ranking things. For as long as I can remember I’ve been creating little lists and putting them in order. On one level, it’s a helpful skill to be able to judge something based on explicit criteria. On another, it’s just fun to say that some things suck more than others. With that said, I’m going to have a little fun and create a list of my least-favorite airports.

Newark and San Francisco have been at the top of the terrible list for quite a while, but after my layover in Chicago yesterday, I had to do some recalculating. The San Francisco airport in particular has long been a smudge on my list of frequented airports, but with the recent remodel, it has slowly started working its way out of the bottom. It’s biggest downfall is the lack of Starbucks.

Dear San Francisco Airport,

Peet’s Coffee is not a suitable replacement for Starbucks. Get your shit together.

xoxo, Jen

Chicago O’Hare, on the other hand, is littered with Starbucks and other restaurants (Point #1 ORD). Plus, our plane drove on a bridge over car traffic (Point #2 and #3, because it was that cool). Finally, it has a walkway between terminals that brightened my day (Point #4). However, there’s one big, BIG downside that puts it in contention for the worst. Let’s tally up the scores and separate the merely meh from the truly terrible!

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Newark Airport (EWR)

Score: -3

-1 for cleanliness (or lack thereof)

-1 for charging way too much for beer

-1 for having no redeeming qualities

San Francisco Airport (SFO)

Score: 0

+1 for a selection of dim sum at the food court

+1 for the Japanese restaurant we like in the international terminal

-2 for not having Starbucks (seriously, get with it)

Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD)

Score: 0

+1 for plentiful restaurant selections

+1 for the fun walkway between terminals

+2 for runways that make the airplanes drive over traffic

-1 for charging too much for beer

-3 for no free wifi! What are they thinking?!


So there you have it: a tie for second-to-last! Newark is still the worst for being gross and having no potential. Chicago O’Hare is actually pretty great, unless you like using the internet during your layover. SFO is barely, barely off the bottom. As we keep traveling, I’ll add more airports to the list. Surely, we’ve just begun to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to air travel.