Archive for kids in Hohhot

document authentication

This post is written to help any US citizen navigate the process of getting documents authenticated if that need arises. I’m sure the process is similar for other countries, I just have no personal first hand experience with other countries.

When does one need documents authenticated?

When you apply for a S1 visa for your spouse or children, when you register a business, and, as with everything else in this country…whenever they say 🙂

What is document authentication, anyway?

This is a process by which China can certify that the document is legitimate, and legitimately yours.

Here’s a picture of what the offices here need to see:

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a document authenticated at the Chinese Embassy will have this stamped on it

 

What is the process for getting a document authenticated?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just getting this stamp. First, you have to go to the issuing authority of the document. For a marriage license or birth certificate in the US, that would be the state. You need to get the document notarized or get an apostille (different states have different names for this process). Basically, the state will certify that the document is true. In the state of Oklahoma, it looks like the photo below, where they attach another full piece of paper to the document itself. I’m sure every state is different.

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Once you have this step done, you can send that document to the Chinese Embassy to get their stamp. You bring that document with you to China to present at the employment bureau, gong an ju, or whichever office it is that needs it.

Complications

Reading the above, you may think this process is easy. And it can be. It you are still in America and all your documents were issued by the same state. It gets more complicated when you are dealing with multiple states. (or multiple countries, or countries at war with no process to validate anything).

It gets even more complicated if the document you have to authenticate is your passport. This is a federally issued document so instead of going to the state, you have to get it notarized by the US Secretary of State. (that’s right, a copy of our passport is signed by John Kerry).

It’s even more complicated if you are in China when you need any of these documents authenticated. It means first, you’ll be emptying your pockets for lots of postage and without your documents for the better part of a month. I think most states allow someone else to notarize it for you, but you should confirm.

If it’s your passport you need authenticated (this is rare), it requires an additional step whether here or in your home country. Because they can’t affix something to your passport or stamp random things in it, you first need a certified copy of your passport. If you’re in China, this means a trip to the US Embassy or Consulate for get an official copy made and notarized that it really belongs to you. If you’re in the US you still have to get a certified copy made and have it notarized as a true copy.

Then you send that document to the Secretary of State, then that document to the Chinese Embassy, then present the final stamped document to the office here. (Let’s say this another way: instead of just accepting my passport which already has multiple visas and other trackable date, the gong shang ju and shang wu ju both preferred us to mail a copy of our passport around the world and then accept that copy instead of just using the actual document itself).

Using an agency or service company

Yes. They can generally get it done more quickly and efficiently than you. Normally the same companies that help get Chinese visas can do authentications as well.

 

Here’s the link to the information about the process from the Chinese Embassy website. You’ll notice that they no longer accept mail-in applications with means unless you plan on hand delivering it yourself, you have to use a service company.

 

Have you had to go through this process before? Was it smooth or a headache? What tips do you have for someone else doing it?

no Friday’s Foreigner

Alternately titled: a stream of unfortunate events

No interview today for a number of reasons.

  1. We just got back from Hong Kong last night and I didn’t plan ahead to have one prepared in advance.
  2. A few people I’ve sent the questions to haven’t sent their answers back yet.
  3. When we came home last night, we came home to no gas. Everything I had planned to have ready for our dinner, I couldn’t cook and we didn’t have heat. (Aside: we apparently need some serious help in regulating our self-regulating floor heating. We blew through about 400 kuai with the temp set really low while we were gone!) ugh.
  4. We also hadn’t realized that we were down to just a few sips of water in our big bottles of water. It was too late to call for new ones so Helpful Husband went outo buy some water. He poured it into the big bottle so it would fit nicely on our dispenser. He placed it nicely on the dispenser and we went to bed. I woke up this morning to the sound of water dripping, and quickly discovered a dining room covered in water. (And discovered with sock-clad feet, of course) ugh. ugh.
  5. This afternoon my oldest yelled from the bathroom, “Mom, the floor is all wet in here!” It was. And the hallway. And the spare bedroom. And into the dining room. The drain for the washing machine had clogged and each cycle was just spilling more water onto the floor while I unknowingly fed a baby in the other room. ugh. ugh. ugh. Interestingly enough, the load of laundry that was in the washer was all my towels so we essentially had nothing to clean up the gallons (liters) of water on the floor. Also interestingly, the last time our water dispenser broke, our washer overflowed on the same day.
  6. After spending most spare moments of the day prepping the first ten week session of homeschool for my daughter, my computer crashed and I lost a good portion of the work.

Here’s the crazy thing: This is not even close to our worst day in China. But, it is one I’m ready to put to rest and start again tomorrow.

 

 

some of my favorites

Today is my birthday. (I know, I’m surprised as you that it’s not honored as a public holiday, too). Because it’s my birthday, I wanted to share with you some of my favorites so you can enjoy them too.

My favorite shopping:

  1. Chang le gong, 4th floor, stall on east side of furthest west hallway. This stall is full of intended-for-export clothing and shoes which means you can find foreign brands for local prices. This also means they have foreign sizes to fit those of us who aren’t Asian size. It’s not displayed well…no racks just stacks of stuff, and each time I go it’s a completely selection than the time before.
  2. Erlian Wen Zhou Shang Chang: This isn’t in Hohhot but in Erenhot/Erlian on the border of Mongolia. (This is also where all the jeeps to cross to border park and wait to fill their cars before crossing over). This market has 4-6 long hallways of stall after stall of anything you could possibly need. Some of the stalls are items intended for export, some are from Russia and Mongolia, and the selection is great. I’ve found great deals for clothes for my kids here, sometimes western name brands.
    Erlian jeeps
  3. Guo Mao/Tong da
    Both of these markets are near the train station. Tongda is diagonal toward the southeast, guomao to the south. You can find all the household items you need, stationery, clothing, Christmas decorations, and lots more. Find a map here. 

My favorite restaurants:

1.  Ban Mu Di You Mian Da Wang
You Mian (pictured below) is my favorite local food and Ban My Di is my favorite place to get it, although I’m not that picky. It’s a noodle made from oats that has a soup to dunk the noodles in. I like the cold vegetable soup but James prefers the hot mutton soup. Ban Mu Di has multiple locations throughout the city. It’s also a plus for the kids because they have a large glass window into the kitchen where you can watch the cooks work.
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2. Western: Cheese Factory
We eat at home more often than anywhere else, and we cook mostly western food at home. So if we eat out, we generally eat local food, but if we eat Western out The Cheese Factory is our favorite. Remember to use the code 0471 when you pay your bill for a 10% discount.

3. Korean: Hang Guo Gong
This is now on Wanda’s walking street but it used to be near the bridge. The owner is the sweetest lady in Hohhot. She will speak slow and smooth Chinese so that you can understand clearly.

 

My favorite local treats:

1. Bottled jasmine tea
I don’t have a picture but I love the one with the green and white flowers on the packing. I should just buy these bottles by the case or invest in the company or something.

2. spicy peanuts

Any brand, any kind. Packaged or the kind you buy by weight at the supermarket. It’s my favorite TV watching snack.

3. Nai Dou Fu (horrot)
This is a Mongolian traditional food that they eat dipped in milk tea. I don’t love milk tea but I do love this particular kind of nai shi pin. I usually go in phases of loving this for awhile, then not wanting it for a few months, then craving it again. It’s pictured below, but it’s generally served cut in small square slices.

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I could add to all these categories and make even more categories, but that’s all for today. Share your favorites with us in the comments.

traveling with little ones

Mostly, this blog is about our life in Hohhot. But, part of our life in Hohhot is the travel required to get here, to visit home, to process visas, to have a baby, to exit/re-enter as required for our visa, and on a rare occasion to travel for “fun.”

There isn’t much about traveling with little people that is fun. A local friend is currently in America, but before she left, she asked me what I do to entertain myself on the long plane ride from China to the USA. Entertain myself, really? I haven’t had the opportunity to do that in 4 1/2 years! In fact, I haven’t even had my body to myself on a international flight since we moved back in 2012. Since then, I’ve either been pregnant or nursing an infant every time we’ve traveled. So for us, those long flights are all about SURVIVAL. For us and everyone else around us.

Tomorrow we’ve leaving for Hong Kong. I’ve been preparing some things to (hopefully) make our travel easier (you’ll see those links at the bottom) so the theme of today’s post is navigating this country with kids.

How we travel

If by plane: We travel in economy class, with as few bags as possible, and generally we don’t get our kids a seat until they’re required (2 years). This is clearly less comfortable than paying for an extra seat, but we’d rather save the cash.

If by train: Generally we try to get a soft sleeper compartment and get the whole compartment. This is baffling to the ticket agents that we actually want to pay the adult price for our kids who don’t have to have a ticket, but we like the privacy and having the whole compartment to ourselves. All the stares and conversation is sometimes too overwhelming for me if we have to do the hard sleepers. I’m normally happy to pay extra for a door we can close.

soft sleepers

We took a train to Chengdu (24+ hours) with a 2 1/2 and 4 year old.

We don’t have a nanny or grandparent or anyone crazy enough to travel with us. (Except the time I was pregnant and James needed back surgery and couldn’t really move or lift anything…the Gears helped us get back to America that time otherwise we WOULD NOT have made it).

My point is, we’re not one of those families who sits in first class while the nanny minds the kids in coach. And, none of our kids are old enough to really carry anything so we pack as light as we possibly can because in addition to carrying our bags, inevitably a kid will also need to be carried. So when we plan our travel we try to create some kind of balance between sanity for us and not breaking the bank.

How we pack

I’m not the best person to offer advice here, but we try to take only what we feel like are “essentials” but those vary for every person and every family. And what is essential also changes based on the age of our kids. I long for the day when diapers are no longer a necessity.

I’ve written a bit about what we do for hotels before, but what we pack also depends on where we’re staying and what kind of kid-friendly implements they have.

One of our best purchases was a “pea pod” a tent-like baby bed that folds up small enough to put in a carry-on.

travel with kids

This was our month long trip to Hong Kong in 2013. Two backpacks, one suitcase, stroller, and diaper bag…not bad for 4 people.

 

travel with kids backpack

Our daughters have these small backpacks that these use as their carry-ons. I put a couple changes of clothes in there and let them choose a few small toys. We always have crayons and paper in there and some of the other activities mentioned in this post.

How we entertain the kids

Our philosophy on this to make travel as easy as possible for us, to be polite and respectful to those around us, while still maintaining most of the normal expectations we have for our kids.

scavenger hunt: I have a laminating machine so I’ll laminate this to use in the future too. Because we’re trying to encourage our girls to improve their Chinese, I plan to add this together with the ticket reward system below if they can say they the items on this list in Chinese.

50 ways to entertain a kid on a plane by Parent’s magazine Some ideas were great, and as you can read in the comments some require taking along too many things and some might make other passengers angry.

practice writing: We’ve printed these with the girls’ names and they can trace and practice writing. If you laminate them they can be used and re-used as crayon or dry erase marker will wipe off.

ticket reward system. I prepared these today for our trip tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.

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I bought some magnetic fishing puzzles at the Culture Market for 15 RMB. The fishing poles can be re-used for other games. My oldest is learning to recognize words so tomorrow we’ll try fishing for the words (paper clip on the cards to catch with the magnet) and read the words she catches.

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We don’t use chopsticks at home but it’s a skill I’d like my girls to get better at so we’ll try playing with these tomorrow on our tray tables. The airline provided cup or water bottle will serve as a container.

travel ideas for kids

An old chip container with holes punched in the lid…The kids can feed pipe cleaners in the holes. Keeps little fingers busy and doubles as storage for other toys inside which makes for easy packing.

I should also say at this point that we are not always so prepared. Sometimes we just throw some toys in a bag and hope for the best.

 

Other thoughts

Breastfeeding/Diaper changing

China’s airports are some of the most nursing friendly places I’ve encountered on the planet. Especially in Beijing’s airport there are nursing rooms available at almost every gate. They are clean, private, and equipped with a sink, changing table, chair, and electrical outlet.

nursing room Beijing airport

Nursing room in Beijing Airport

They also have family bathrooms and small playgrounds throughout most airports which make travel nice and gives the kids a proper place to run off some energy.

That said, things get much more difficult after you leave the airport. Other than airports I haven’t seen nursing rooms or family bathrooms. Public bathrooms generally have no decent place for changing diapers and no place at all for nursing.

Strollers

I know most most families love them, but we don’t always travel with them and here’s why: Sometimes it seems like more of a hassle to lug it when it can’t be pushed and to get it in and out of a taxi. Also, we have had exactly 0 successful attempts with gate-checking our stroller from or into the Hohhot airport. No matter who we ask or what they say, it ALWAYS doesn’t show up until the baggage carousel. EVERY TIME it just gets checked with the baggage and not gate-checked so when you have to carry the kid from the gate to baggage claim anyway, that was half of the reason for the stroller anyway. Also, carts are free for use in Chinese airports and kids can sit in/on those just as easily.

 

Other parents in Hohhot….what are your best travel tips for kids? Leave us a comment.

 

because it’s almost Christmas…

…and because we have small kids. There has been quite a bit of talk about reindeer in our house. Are they real? do they fly? Can we have one?

To stop the questions for a few brief moments, I found this video on youtube about China’s “reindeer herders, the Ewenki/Evenki/Ewenke ethnic minority. If you don’t know, this minority group calls Inner Mongolia home and are known historically for herding and hunting reindeer. They are one of the smallest minority groups in China. You can see displays about them and learn more at the Inner Mongolia Museum.

The documentary below is in four parts (Only part one is linked). It’s a bit slow-moving (especially if you are 2 and 4 years old) and gets a PG rating for language (again, because the kids were watching). If you watch in its entirety you can piece together quite a bit about the history and current state of this group.

If you’re watching just to showcase the reindeer to your preschoolers, speed ahead to the 10, 16, and 20 minute marks. Watch the last 2-3 minutes for the baby reindeer, which was indeed the highlight 🙂

Also, the link below is from youtube so you’ll need a VPN to watch, but if you notice in the top right corner the video must also be available on youku.

 

If you need a VPN check out the sidebar on the right for a link to Express VPN!

Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Ski Area

All you need to know about the 2015-2016 Ski Season is right here!

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This could be you!

The slopes at Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Ski Area open on November 28th!

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map of the slopes

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Skiing at Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Ski Area

Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Ski Area is located north of Hohhot on highway S101. See this map:

map to tai wei

the green area near the arrow is the ski and golf resort

 

Here is the price list for the 2015-2016 season:

Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Ski and Golf Resort Skiing Prices

If the image doesn’t display correctly, use this link: Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Ski and Golf Resort Skiing Prices

 

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snow sledding

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skiing

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ski lift

 

 

You can follow the public account on wechat for information about skiing at wechat ID: twhxjlb and for information about their other activities at wechat ID: nmgtw_djc.

 

If you need service in English, contact Sanny at 13674814130.

 

Get a group of your friends together and make some cool memories!

 

TO GET THERE:

Shuttle service is provided from Inner Mongolia Exhibition Center to Tai Wei at 9:30 am, 11:30 am, and 3:00 pm.
Shuttle service is provided from Tai Wei to Inner Mongolia Exhibition Center at 10:30 am, 2:00 pm, and 5:30 pm.

 

Inner Mongolia Exhibition Center is located on the south side of Xinhua Road, east of City Mall (Mo Er Cheng)

 

*photos are property of Da Qing Shan Tai Wei Golf and Skiing Marketing Department, used with permission

 

 

false information

It’s happened to us all, right? You ask where the office to do X is, someone gives you directions, you get there, and the office isn’t for doing X at all. They tell you where to go. You get there and it’s not right either. Or, someone at some window gives you completely false information about some step (or all the steps) to complete whatever process it is you want to do.

There are many variations of this story, but the commonality is being given misinformation, even by people who should know, and it’s one of the most frustrating aspects of life as a foreigner in Hohhot. (Or am I the only one?)

Today’s post is dedicated to the craziest things (WRONG, FALSE) we’ve heard from people who should know.

  1.  There’s a US Consulate in Hohhot.

    When my husband was studying at Nei Da, we had to submit all kinds of documents for our family to be dependents on his visa. Some such documents were authenticated copies of our marriage license and our children’s birth certificates. We didn’t have our documents authenticated when we arrived and it was a hassle to do from China (it’s not as difficult from your country of residence). Anyway, in the course of asking about the process he told us we could just stop in and ask at the consulate. As we talked further, we realized that he thought there was a US Consulate in Hohhot. The guy whose job it is to process student visas for foreign students on a daily basis thought there was a US Consulate in Hohhot. My best guess is that his office deals so much with Mongolian students, and there is a Mongolian Consulate here, that they just forget that no other country has a consular presence here.

  2. Getting your passport authenticated is easy and free.We are in the final steps of our WOFE registration. At two of the steps, the offices required our passports to be authenticated. It was a crazy request anyway, but what was even more crazy was that the boss of the bureau told my husband, “I don’t know why you’re complaining about having to do it. It’s an easy process and free.” It’s neither. It requires going in person the Embassy in Beijing, sending documents to a processing service in the States who then take them to the US Department of State to be signed by the Secretary of State, then taken to the Chinese Consulate/Embassy in the US for authentication. Each step has a fee, plus shipping and the agency fee. Altogether it took a few weeks and about 3000 RMB each time.
  3. Your kids don’t have to exit/enter.We recently got (what we thought) was our newest daughter’s visa. Turns out, it was not actually a visa, just a document that allowed her to stay until the time of our next exit/entry requirement. In the process of asking all the questions about how to get her an actual visa, the worker at the counter who processes visas daily told us our kids don’t need to exit/re-enter, just the adults do. I suppose this could technically be true since we’ve never actually tried not bringing them when we cross an international border, but since they each have a passport and a visa that says they have to exit every 120 days, I’m guessing they do actually need to. Also, since we have to provide copies of our entry/exit stamps all the time, I’m guessing that someone is actually checking to make sure they do exit/re-enter.
  4. You can’t buy train tickets here.There’s a small window to buy train tickets near the gate of Gong Da. It’s near our house so we’ve bought our tickets there before. The last time we went the same worker who had helped my husband before told him he couldn’t buy them there with a passport. (instead of Chinese ID card). He asked her, “Didn’t I just buy the here recently? Weren’t you the one who helped me?” Just a little pushing and she agreed to help us, and we did indeed get our tickets….at the very window she said we couldn’t. I don’t advocate being polite, but sometimes a “no” here isn’t a “no” and in this case the worker probably just initially didn’t want to go to the hassle of entering foreign names into the computer. However, our desire to not be hassled into going to the train station and waiting in a long line won. (this time).
  5. You can’t be here.This wasn’t a false request, it was true, but it’s still crazy. As I said, we are in the final stages of our business registration. This week we’ve been busy preparing the 200 or so pages of documents to change our visas to be employment visas issued by our company. These documents have to be submitted to the employment bureau. But here’s the crazy thing…..the guy at the counter refused to speak to my husband, asked him to leave, and required someone else submit the documents on our behalf. It’s a good thing we’ve hired our first employees, otherwise we’d have to trouble a friend to do it. It just seems weird to me that it’s our business which has been properly registered, and they are our documents which we have painstakingly prepared and we (foreigners) can’t go into the office that processes our visa to present them ourselves???

 

How about you? What’s the craziest bit of misinformation you’ve ever been given?

Help Your Kids Learn Chinese

I know the number of foreign families in Hohhot is small, and those of us with both parents being non-Chinese is even smaller. But for the few of us, helping our kids learn Chinese is more difficult than we imagined it would be. Living here they don’t “just pick it up” and our oldest daughter especially has been reluctant to attempt to use Chinese.

Recently, we’ve been letting our girls watch these videos on youtube made by Sesame Street and they’ve responded better to them than to anything else we’ve tried.

Maybe all you other parents thought to search on youtube long ago for resources for kids to learn Chinese, but I hadn’t thought of it until recently. There were other options, but the Sesame Street ones have worked the best for us so far.

What methods have you tried to help your kids learn Chinese? Are they going to local school? Do you have a private tutor? What’s working and what’s not?

 

 

a personal note

Our family is out of Hohhot right now awaiting the birth of our third child. For the next month or so I make no promises about the frequency of posts or my response time to comments or emails.

I do have some new posts scheduled to post so you can count on at least a few updates, and I may repost some of our older, but more popular content.

Thanks for your understanding while we adjust to becoming a family of five!

New Children’s Museum in Hohhot

Hohhot has a Children’s Museum Exhibit! This one is open for the month of August, but I think there are plans to open a permanent one.
The full information, address in Chinese, and full description of the activities are in Chinese below, but here is a brief run-down:

  • open every day in August from 9:30 to 5:30
  • location is the back side of Wang Fu Jin, first floor children’s city  王府井负一层儿童城
  • there are three main activities children can rotate through

Tomorrow is opening day! If you go, leave a comment to let us know how it was!

 

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