Archive for public services

Hohhot: a city of opportunity?

Last month China Wire re-posted a story from Enterprise Innovation about a study recently done on China’s 2016 cities of opportunity. (You can download the full study at the last link)

Guess what?  Hohhot wasn’t on the list.

But here are the cities that were: “(in order from north to south and from east to west): Harbin, Changchun, Shenyang, Dalian, Urumqi, Lanzhou, Xi’an, Tianjin, Qingdao, Zhengzhou, Nanjing, Wuhan, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Changsha, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming and Nanning.” from PwC

I feel like that list of cities is a good sample of different kinds and sizes of cities, it just didn’t happen to include our little slice of paradise. (insert the emoticon of your choice here)

And guess what else? No one asked my opinion. But, that’s one reason I have this blog. So, using some of the categories the article mentioned I’m going to rate Hohhot on the same factors. I have no idea how they measured, but I’m going to use a scale of one to ten. One being the lowest and ten being the highest. Here we go.

 

intellectual capital and innovation: 3

This one I don’t have enough experience to really evaluate well, but I wouldn’t say Hohhot is known for pioneering ideas, great inventions, or cutting edge innovation.
Although I think 20 years ago or something Nei Da was involved with cloning a sheep (details hazy)

important regional cities: 8

It’s definitely the educational and cultural center of Inner Mongolia, but there is arguably more enterprise in Baotou or other nearby cities (Taiyuan, Zhangjiakou, Yinchuan, Ordos,  etc)

technology readiness: 4

This is another category I have no real knowledge in, but I feel like even apps and such are slower to take off here or are being used in other cities but not here.

healthcare, safety and security 3,8, 4 for an average of 5

I won’t give healthcare more than a 3 until there is the ability to wash one’s hands in the bathrooms of our hospitals. Assuming you stay away from dodgy places (and people) Hohhot is safe, but I rated security lower because of theft and the complacency of those in protection roles (security guards, airport/train station baggage scanners, police, etc)

transportation and urban planning 5

The traffic situation deserves a -3 or something, but other transportation factors are improving. (number of flights, diversity of locations of flights, more rail, faster rails, plans for a subway, etc). And if you haven’t been to the City Planning Exhibition Hall, check it out and see what Hohhot has planned.

sustainability and the natural environment 6

This number drops substantially if you go outside the city, but the city itself is above average when compared to other cities its size with pollution, right? Our air is better than most. There’s not much “natural” in the city, but when comparing to other similar Chinese cities, I’d say we’re just above middle ground.

culture and lifestyle    7

I think most reports say that Hohhotians have more expendable income than other cities which gives them points in the lifestyle category. (What? you actually want me to site things?  If I find a link I’ll add it here later).  Although “culture” in the sense of ballet, fine art, and theatre may be lacking there is plenty of culture in the minority arts genre.

economic clout 3

Anything that pairs Hohhot with the word “clout” gets a low rating. For some reason it still has the persona of being “backwards” or underdeveloped. Ordos is making a name for itself in the economic clout category, but I’m trying to keep these ratings focused on Hohhot.

ease of doing business 2,6

2 for the “ease” (I mean hassle) of starting and 6 to continue doing business. Having spent 8 months of the last year in the business registration process, Hohhot should just be happy I didn’t rate that one in the negative, too. Once you get up and going it gets easier, but they don’t make it easy to start.

cost 8

I mentioned this point above, but lower housing prices and decent salaries mean a pretty nice standard of living for the growing middle class. Lower commercial rental rates make business costs lower and I’m assuming taxes are comparable to other similar cities.

 

The gives us an overall rating of 4.9.

 

So this is my blog and therefore my ratings. Leave your ratings in the comments. 🙂

 

Hohhot’s Subway

mmexport1453603268316
I think by now everyone has heard that the subway is coming. However, if you notice in the bottom right corner of the map, the first two lines aren’t even scheduled to be finished until 2020, and that’s if everything goes according to schedule.

I’m acutely aware of the terrible traffic situation, but I’m also not holding my breath that it will get any better for at least five years or so. Also, there’s no guarantee that a subway will fix the problems anyway. I’m not sure why people like fighting the traffic and wasting time looking for parking spots, but they clearly do and just because there’s a subway doesn’t mean that everyone will stop driving.

What do you think? Will it fix the traffic situation? Will it make it worse in the waiting time? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.

 

For more information you can follow Hohhot’s subway official wechat account at hhhtdtcom. (the above photo is from there)

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:

IMG_5534

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.

IMG_5535

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?

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.

IMG_20160105_200225

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.

IMG_20160105_195511

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.

 

Message from Embassies

The US Embassy issued the following message today.

The U.S. Embassy has received information of possible threats against Westerners in the Sanlitun area of Beijing, on or around Christmas Day.  U.S. citizens are urged to exercise heightened vigilance.  The U.S. Embassy has issued the same guidance to U.S. government personnel.

  • The State Department’s Worldwide Travel Alert message remains in effect.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Contact the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, located at 55 An Jia Lou Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, by phone at (+86 10) 8531-4000, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or by email at BeijingACS@state.gov. For AFTER HOURS EMERGENCIES, call 8531-3000 to speak to the operator.
  • Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States or Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except federal holidays).

The British Embassy issued a similar message that can by read by clicking the link.

 

true identity registration

You may have received a text message that looks like one of the ones below.

Screenshot_2015-11-27-15-44-07

Screenshot_2015-11-27-15-44-18

For those who can’t read Chinese, this message is informing us that China Mobile will be enforcing China’s “true identity registration” policy. If your cell phone is registered to any other name than your own, your service will be suspended. In order to continue service instructions are given about how to register your number to your personal document so that service isn’t interrupted. (take your ID to China mobile or follow the links provided in the message to do it online).

If your phone is already registered to your name you don’t need to do anything.

China Wire also posted this article about phone service being suspended for users with foreign messaging apps.

It may seem like an inconvenience if you have to register, but I’m sure not having cell service is inconvenient too.

 

 

today’s big news

If your wechat moments is anything like mine every other post today is about the air quality in Hohhot today. It’s pretty scary out there, folks.

HH pollution 15-11-29

I have no idea about cause of such unusually high levels of pollution. Ideas, facts, theories, anyone?
Leave us a comment. Until then…wear your masks and keep your air filters running.

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?

Hohhot’s Gong An Ju

We have a new daughter, which is a joy…getting all her documents (passports, foreign birth abroad, visa, etc) is not exactly a joy.
But, when we had to go to the PSB this week to apply for her visa, I realized I hadn’t posted the information about Hohhot’s Gong An Ju. Here it is.

The Gong An Ju or PSB is where all foreigners have to go to apply for visas or residence permits.

It’s located on the corner of Chi Le Chuan Da Jie and Tong Fei Lu. Here’s a map:
gong an ju

Here are three phone numbers you can try to ask questions related to your visa. Out attempts to get answers to questions usually result in an answer of “I don’t know” but we were at least able to call ahead and ask if our daughter’s visa was ready to be picked up.

6690107
6699694
6699598

A few random thoughts from our experiences there:
This time our paperwork was almost rejected because we used a ball point pen. We’ve actually had to re-do paperwork at the bank for the same reason so we should have known, but just a heads up that they prefer gel pens or other non-ball point types. Also, always use black ink.

You can’t bring your own photo, you have to get one taken there.

For the photos, you have to pay cash. For the visa or residence card fee, only a card is allowed: no cash.

And there’s this situation that cracks me up:
IMG_20150917_102119This photo is terrible, but this is the street in front of the station. It has about six lanes, but 3 of them, plus the bike lane and the sidewalk were being used as parking. The station itself has a giant parking lot, but the gate is closed and their are some serious guards whose job it is not to let cars in. So, three lanes of traffic become the parking lot. I’m not sure what you do if you’re the car in the middle. Oh, Hohhot traffic!

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