China Visa Adventures

On Friday evening of the 29th of March my boss came upon the idea that I should join him on a business trip to China starting 9th of April in order to hold my “how to work with the JOEMs” training for our Chinese colleagues in our factories of Yantai and Shanghai. (The JOEMs are the Japanese car manufacturers Toyota Honda Nissan and so on.)
Um, sure, nice, overseas business trip is always interesting, but um, Germans need a visa for China. Dunno if I can get one so quickly, let’s try. So, on that same evening I asked the travel agent that we have to contractually use and they sent me necessary documents for Chinese visa application, which I started to fill out over the weekend.
I’ve been to China several times before, first time was in 2001 as a tourist when I visited Beijing and Shanghai doing the classic stuffs of visiting the Forbidden City and so on. Ever since I have been on quite a number of business trips to China, once Beijing, all other times Shanghai, and I don’t even remember how often I’ve been to Shanghai. For my previous position I went to Shanghai regularly once or twice a year for a yearly conference and also some trainings.
The one business trip I had to Beijing sticks out, since it was 2007, one year before the Olympics there and all the tourist street neighborhoods close to Tiananmen Square that I fondly remembered from 2001 were flattened and gone.

But back to the visa. For the previous visits, I always had ample time for getting a visa and left going to the embassy to the travel agent. It’s also been four years since I last went to China and I forgot most of how the visa application works.
This time, because time was so short, I eventually decided to go myself to the embassy, but before that I needed to get an invitation letter from our Chinese counterpart. Usually they want two weeks of lead time to issue such letters, I had two days.
The travel agency sent me only a PDF sample of an invitation letter. Upon asking whether they have a word version of the thing, the answer was no. After begging the Chinese counterpart, they made their own invitation letter. I sent it to the travel agent for check and they said it’s unusable, why didn’t you use the WORD format? Which WORD format???? You guys sent me only a PDF and then said you have no WORD . Turns out they misunderstood… arghhh. They finally sent me a WORD format, which I sent to China and begged again to fill it out. I got the new invitation letter and went to the embassy in Tokyo on Wednesday the 3rd. The lady at the counter checks everything and says. Your passport number on the invitation letter is written wrongly, we cannot accept it. Ahhhhhhhhh! Two numbers were switched around and I didn’t notice, the travel agent who “checked” the document the night before didn’t notice. They told me I have to get a new invitation letter, but at least they allowed me to fax it to them instead of coming in once more. So I rushed back to the office and begged the Chinese counterpart to issue yet a new letter. After much begging I got the third version of the invitation letter, which needed to be stamped and signed by a director, and faxed it to the embassy. They accepted it and promised to have the visa ready on Monday morning, one day before I was supposed to fly.

I am of course majorly pissed with the Japanese travel agent and they shall get a fat complaint from me after the business trip is done. They made three major mistakes, not to send me an editable invitation letter, then to claim they don’t have one, then to miss the mistake on the finished letter. What the heck are we paying them for? When I was told we cannot accept the Invitation letter by the embassy, I thought I was in Kafka’s Der Prozess (The Trial), lol. Brought down by bureaucracy! 😉
I find it extremely fascinating why Japanese nationals don’t need a visa to China (if they stay under two weeks). Chinese nationals always need visas to Japan. Why are the Chinese not returning the “favor” and let the Japanese into their country without a visa? Why do Germans need a visa? Anyway, another page gone in my passport now 😉 and I wrote this while sitting on the plane to Yantai.

You’re Nothing But A Number

Japan has fallen upon the big brother idea of giving all people living on its shaking islands a number. The story is adequately called “my number” or in Japanese-katakana English: mai nanba-
I have no clue what the practical use of this thing is supposed to be. They say it will simplify some bureaucratic shit, but at the moment it’s nothing but increasing bureaucratic shit and on top of that an excellent governmental tool to control its citizens and spy on them. The most unbelievable of the “my number” usages is that you need to register it with your bank and need to state it in the future if you want to make bigger international money transfers. WTF… I don’t want the government to know what I do with my hard earned money, damn it…

Anyway, everybody who lives in Japan for more than a year (I believe) already got the bloody number on a flimsy piece of paper. You could order a plastic card, which is what I did, and received a written notice that I can pick it up from the ward office responsible for my address some time in March. I couldn’t simply go there, but had to call them and make an appointment, which was only some two months after I received the notice. Ridiculous.
So, finally, my appointment for picking up the damned thing had arrived and I went to the ward office. Arrived there my appointment had apparently slipped through the registration net… pffffffff… first major mishap.

They made me wait for a bloody half hour and then the card’s expiration date was wrong because I got the original “my number” on the flimsy paper in January or so and in February my visa status changed from limited to permanent. So the official dude vanished again in the depths of his papers and needed another bloody half hour for writing onto the card that the expiration date is different.
In the meantime you have to think of several security codes for the card and input them into a computer system (now how secure is that, I wonder). The official dude was citing computer trouble for why it took so long to take care of me as one of his lame excuses.

So I spent an entire hour in that bloody ward office for a card that I don’t want… Needless to say that I got angry at them and told them what a crap this all is… I know it’s not their fault either but the incompetency, rule-stickiness and idiocy of such officials just drives me through the roof.
I felt very sorry for an old gentleman, over 80 for sure, who was going through the process parallel to me and he stood bewildered in front of those computer screens. Security codes? Input? Where? What for? How? What? The old guy was totally confused and didn’t seem very computer literate in the first place. Another official dude treated the poor guy like an idiot while explaining to him what he had to do with the computer.

Now I’ve got this stupid card that I will try to avoid using if ever possible… but my company has it already and my bank will get it if I don’t find another way to send money to Germany to feed my private retirement fund… big brother is watching you! No thanks! And greetings from the country of bewildering bureaucracy or was it bureaucrazy?