A Short Visit to Yantai and Shanghai

Yantai:
Be honest, have you ever heard of Yantai? I had not before they told me to go there on a business trip. Yantai is one of those many million people cities in China that you never heard of.
Googling Yantai revealed that it is a coastal town, even a resort town with a large beach and that it has a whopping seven million inhabitants. It’s about the same latitude as Sendai, at the Bohai strait and about 500 km East of Beijing and 700 km north of Shanghai.
There is no direct flight from Tokyo to Yantai, but interestingly there is a direct flight from Osaka to Yantai. So I flew from Haneda to Kansai international airport and then checked in for Yantai. The plane was full with Chinese shopping travelers who stuffed their trophies into the overhead bins to the point of bursting 😉 The plane was not fully booked, but well booked, it also only made a break at Yantai and went on to a place called Taiyuan. Never heard of that before either and it’s a four million people city you’ve never heard of.
The weather in Yantai was pretty bad in the day of our arrival, heavy rains and pretty cold with under ten degrees Celsius.

Yantai is an an old city and apparently has an old town, but unfortunately there was no time to go visit there due to the business nature of the trip. The place where we stayed and the place of our factory was all new and subject to city planning. There is a lot of conformity, streets at right angles, high rises for the millions of people, that look very uniform. The beach was nice, especially in the evening of the second day in Yantai when the weather cleared up and we enjoyed blue skies. It’s a north facing beach and I haven’t heard about many resorts yet with north-facing beaches. Funnily the large pier that reached into the ocean served no obvious function. They should make an amusement park out of it or something.

There was one interesting scene at the beach, some young Chinese were taking what looked like fashion photos, while old Chinese people were getting clams out of the sea trying to make a living off that. Old vs. new China, probably either way is hard to make ends meet.

Shanghai:
Shanghai has two airports, Hongqia and Pudong, much like Haneda and Narita in Tokyo. Hongqia and Haneda are closer to town, Pudong and Narita are the airports at the end of the world. We took a domestic flight from Yantai to Shanghai Hongqia. The old Hongqia airport that I knew doesn’t exist anymore. It was a major construction site when I last visited, now it’s a glitzy modern airport, which is quite well organized. A company car picked us up and drove us through a copy of the planned high rises and right angle streets of Yantai into the industrial zone where our Shanghai factory is located. Greater Shanghai has become an incredible 26 million people strong…
When I was in Shanghai for the first time in 2001 there were mostly bicycles, from 2010 onwards mostly cars and electric scooters. Now it’s only cars and electric scooters. I saw not a single bicycle around. Maybe we were lucky, but there was no traffic jam and also in Yantai as well as Shanghai there are cameras over the streets every few meters and you get flashed constantly by speed checkers, those I don’t remember from 2015 when I last visited. I think they are new and a part of enforcing stricter traffic rules to get on top of the chaos.
I am living and working in and around Tokyo since the year 2000. Tokyo has officially thirteen million people and Yokohama six million. Nevertheless I felt that Tokyo is now small by comparison.
What made Shanghai so overwhelming for me this time was the endless high rise wood and its uniformity.

There was no time to go to the Bund unfortunately, our factory and the 43 floors high hotel close to it where we stayed were forty kilometers away from the Bund. You could not see the Bund due to haze. I don’t know how much of the haze was smog how much was moisture. The air didn’t feel too bad, I have had worse air days during previous Shanghai visits. The parts of Shanghai I visited this time looked quite wealthy and very orderly to me but they were all in an “urban development” area and not “grown” over time. The long ride by car to Pudong airport for the return to Japan lead through one and a half hours of high rises. So many people, so many fates, so many trying to make ends meet. It’s quite overwhelming. It was interesting for sure to be visiting China again and I suppose I haven’t been there for the last time. The very bumpy ride back to Tokyo due to lots of turbulence took only two hours and twenty minutes. I’m sure they’ll send me there again 😉

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.