Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's not like they don't want us here (1)

Oh no, wait, it is.

After a month of canvassing advice and ringing around numerous different 'visa agents', I'd finally found someone who said they could still arrange a Z visa for me. And his 'shell company' wasn't concerned about the new social security regulations, so the price wouldn't be too outrageous. In fact, if I applied from the UK while on holiday this summer, it would work out even cheaper - only about 20% or so more than I paid last year. After weeks of nothing but bad news and closed doors, this revelation was so exhilarating that I impetuously decided to move ahead with this option... even though I'm unconvinced I want to come back at all, and am pretty damn certain I don't want to be here for another full year.

Alas, this visa application would apparently entail that I would have to get a health check at the hospital specially designated for this purpose. I don't know what the regulations about that are: they are even more obscure and pointless and open to being completely ignored than most such Chinese legal requirements. I've been living here 10 years and have only had to do the health check twice, I think.

Still, my last experience of this had been pretty positive: a very swift, efficient, painless process. (Well, efficient in liberating you from your money. Pretty nearly worthless as a health check. They're really only interested in the blood screening for HIV. The ECG and the X-ray are a joke. And for the rest, the doctors just automatically tick or rubberstamp all the boxes without reference to your actual physical condition. The first time I went through this charade, the presiding doctor was challenged to try to enter an idiosyncrasy on the form and discovered that he only had the one stamp - 'No Abnormalities' - and was thus unable to record my friend's defective vision.)

I was almost looking forward to experiencing this quirky ordeal again, because at least the hospital is conveniently close to my new apartment, only about a 20-minute walk away. 

Make that was. I hadn't realised, having somehow escaped the need to renew my health check for some 5 years now, but the hospital was relocated just after the Olympics.... to Xibeiwang Township. That's not in Beijing; it's one of the new 'satellite towns' that are springing up all around it. Still partly under construction and barely inhabited, this place DID NOT EXIST until 5 or 6 years ago, and it is in the exact middle of nowhere. It is outside the city's 5th Ringroad, which is the outermost limit of what can really be considered the city. It is several miles outside the 5th Ringroad. It is several miles from the nearest subway station.

Internet searches on the transport options to get there decline to return a bus-only option. Even the Beijing bus company's search engine insists that you should use the subway to get three-quarters of the way there. The problem with this is that the subway early in the morning is quite hellish - far worse than the buses. And the stations at the northern end of Line 13 - Shangdi, Xi'erqi, Lishuiqiao, I've had to use them often in the past - are a particularly unpleasant prospect: crowded, chaotic, overrun with aggressive 'black cab' (unlicensed) drivers.

I set out at the crack of dawn to try to avoid the worst of the rush hour, but Line 13 was already a maelstrom of seething humanity. And when I got to the 'nearest' station, even the regular cabs were all operating off the meter. The first couple of people I spoke to opened by demanding 100rmb for what I'd been told should be only a 15rmb ride. The asking price soon plummeted to 50rmb, but - after barely 4 hours' sleep and no breakfast (you're not supposed to eat before the blood tests, for some reason) - I just didn't have the patience for this rigmarole, and decided to try to use the bus instead.

A friend had done a Chinese Internet search for me to come up with the number of a bus route that was supposed to work. Unfortunately, she hadn't thought to specify where the stop was. It wasn't at the bus station next to the subway. Or anywhere nearby that I could find. (I eventually happened upon one - hours later - that was about half a mile away.) However, I spotted a bus with the number, heading in the right direction, and decided to follow it until it reached a stop. Well, it appears to have been some kind of 'express bus' that only stops every few miles (rather than, as is more usual with Beijing buses, every few hundred yards). Or I somehow managed to miss the next stop. Or the next several stops. I walked about five miles without seeing a stop for this bus, although I was still tracing its route - the route of the bus that was supposed to take me to the hospital. I appealed to numerous friends via SMS for help in identifying another bus number that might take me to the hospital. Most of them didn't get back to me for nearly an hour, and when they did, were only able to offer numbers which did not correspond to those displayed on the last bus stop I'd passed.

Still, it was a beautiful, beautiful day. I was quite enjoying the walk. I was willing to take a chance on being able to get there by foot, relying on dead reckoning and a not terribly convincing printout from Google Maps (with stuff that's only been built in the last few years, you can't rely on Chinese maps to be at all accurate). But after nearly 90 minutes, there was still no sign of the bloody hospital.

And then I thought to myself: "What the hell are you doing out here, 20 miles out in the countryside, searching for a hospital that quite possibly doesn't even exist? Why on earth are you going to all this trouble to get this stupid, bogus health check to apply for a visa to stay in this doomed shithole of a country?"

Perhaps it was just hypoglycaemic despair. But I like to think it was a moment of clarity.


Ruby said...

The bus stop wasn't directly underneath the train line overpass? At least that's where I remember it being last time I went out there. Did you end up finding the buss back ok?

Anonymous said...

it was a moment of clarity. get outta there. -vammo

Froog said...

Rubes, at Xi'erqi there are half a dozen different station exits straddling the train line and a major road. There's a bus station adjoining the station (at Exit B1, I think), and at least four other roads nearby on which there are stops for various buses that might eventually take you in more or less the right direction. You NEED A MAP to find the right bus stop!!

The bus Debs had recommended to me, 570, didn't have a stop anywhere near the station.

909 sounds like the best bus for me, but I couldn't find any stops for that either. So I walked down to Shangdi (a less complicated, less seething ditie stop) to get home.

Heather said...

Having been out there 3 times now I have finally figured out how to find the bus - and Ruby is correct, it is underneath the train line overpass just south of the subway station. Maybe that tidbit will help some random reader.

Froog said...

But which bus, Heather?

I had about half a dozen different buses recommended to me yesterday, but couldn't find stops for most of them.

Heather said...

570 stops directly under the subway train overpass on Xi Er Qi Da Jie - you have to walk south away from the subway station past all the food vendors towards the pedestrian bridge. (Don't go out to the main street in front of the station, just along the pedestrian area outside the station entrance) Then, instead of crossing over, take the stairs down to street level. The stop is 50 meters east of the pedestrian bridge.

It took me 3 trips to figure this out.

Froog said...

Cheers, Heather. I might find myself having to attempt this again in the autumn.

Apparently the 909 bus goes almost to the door of the place, almost from the door of my apartment (well, within a reasonable walking distance, anyway).

As I observed to my translator friend The Weeble when he finally came up with this news for me: "Wow! If I'd known THAT two hours ago, I might have applied for another Z visa and committed to staying in China for another year.

Such is fate."

I'm actually pretty glad I didn't know. Getting another Z at the moment is a crazy waste of money for me. I don't know what I was thinking!

Heather said...

While I'm (strangely) feeling positive towards Beijing at the moment, I'm having a hell of a time finding a job that is not ESL teaching that will provide a proper z visa. Very discouraging.

Froog said...

The weather helps. And not reading the news!

Good luck with the job search.

FOARP said...

Froog, it seems Beijing may be more the problem than China per se.

John said...

Oh man, I love these types of posts; your 'little' excursions every now and then are so alien compared to my regular life!
After a day like this and what with your recent injuries Froog, I wouldn't be surprised if they stamped you as DOA!

Froog said...

Well, this was pretty alien compared to my regular life, John!

The weather has been a boon. I would have borne these irritations with much less equanimity if it had been filthy humid or pissing with rain.

Froog said...

Yes, Beijing always gets the worst of the political paranoia and procedural inanity.

I spent some time in smalltown China last summer, for the first time in ages, and really enjoyed it.

Another option for me might be to move out in the sticks somewhere, take Chinese study seriously for a bit, do some writing....

Froog said...

Another thing that's nagging at me about this 570 bus deal (Heather, if you're still out there?)... My friend Debbie had told me that the mythical hospital was only three stops away on this route. And the stop for the 570 that I found was presumably the first of these, around the corner from the one under the overpass (which I didn't see, although I must have walked right past it - had given up looking by that point), less than 500m away. If this suggests that the 570 is a regular sort of bus with stops every half or three-quarters of a kilometre rather than a long-distance express bus with stops only every few kilometres... then the hospital should be a fairly easy walk, no more than 15 or 20 minutes away on foot.

Did I walk right by it, without even realising it, because the roads weren't labelled in accordance with my scruffy map??

John said...

You'll notice I said posts (plural.) I reckon you've had enough of these kind of adventures to be able to make a section all to themselves. Off the top of my head I can recall when you were going to give a presentation somewhere when in fact it was actually somewhere completely different. Then there was the time you went to find a bar and they'd demolished the whole hutong.
I'm not for a second implying you have a bad sense of direction, I just happen to love reading these tales. About the only comparison I can make with here is that we've actually had some really nice weather recently too.

Froog said...

Ah well, yes, the whole finding anything in Beijing challenge is probably worth a post or two all of its own. The inaccuracy of maps, the crazy approach to allocating addresses, the dizzying rate of urban renewal, the inability of anyone to give directions which are even vaguely accurate - these are all problems which are unique to, or far worse here in the capital.

Heather said...

In fact the hospital is not all that far away - I think a bit further than 15 minutes, though. Maybe 30 minutes? This is a Google Map link:,116.260264&spn=0.00905,0.019054&hnear=Beijing,+China&t=m&z=16

It's on Dezheng St. just north of Houchangcun Rd, which is the road you'd have to walk along. If you happened to see a huge assortment of satellite dishes on the side of the road, it's just a bit further west from there.

Froog said...

Heather, that map link doesn't appear to show either the hospital or Dezheng Jie.

I got as far as Yong Feng Lu, which is a good 5 or 6km from the subway, and then walked north up that a bit.

All the roads off Houchangcun Lu seem to be called Xibeiwang something.

Aha - just found Dezheng Jie... after HOURS of staring at the map. I had been led to believe (never trust anyone else's directions!) that it was a N-S street, so I wasn't looking out for it in the right place. I did, in fact, walk past it on Yong Feng Lu without noticing it!

Is the hospital at the east or west end, or somewhere in the middle?

Heather said...

West end - you really can't go much further down Dezheng Jie, I believe it ends in a T just past the hospital.

Froog said...

Ah. So, after an hour and a bit of walking, I past within 100m or so of it without realising...

Froog said...

I'm impressed that you managed to find an inconspicuous streetside bus stop down a flight of steps behind the subway station! It's difficult to resist the clamorous allure of the major transport hub - bus depot and taxi rank - right outside the main entrance, and to set off instead in the opposite direction to where you want to go.

We chaps don't do that counterintuitive thing very well.