January 11th, 2018

singapore sunset

Shenzhen → Hong Kong → Shanghai → Toronto

It's been a while since i've done an in-progress travelogue. At some point i got into the habit of updating once a week or so when i found some free time in the evenings. I think on-the-road updates are more pleasantly meandering...

I am currently sitting in Hong Kong airport waiting for my flight to Shanghai. I knew i'd have a while here because the ferries from Shekou aren't regular enough to cut it fine. No problem. Today is a travel day; i know i'll be either waiting or in some vehicle or other for 30+ hours. I quite enjoy idly sitting around in departure lounges just watching the world go by.

The weather here has cleared up a lot and it's a beautiful clear day. The ferry was quick and painless, and it was awesome to be on the water again. When i arrived at Hong Kong airport i got a nice surprise of a HK$120 cash rebate on my airplane ticket because the boat takes you straight through to the departure gates without ever entering Hong Kong proper. Sweet deal. Unfortunately, the asshole security guards trashed my toothpaste because the tube was a hair over 100mL, so HK$35 of my rebate went down the drain immediately.

I spent the rest on brunch at a Malaysian chain called Oldtown White Coffee. It reminded me how much i miss my favorite thing about living in Australia - Malaysia/Singapore/Indonesia cuisine. I also had an awesome moment where my knowledge of Chinese actually helped me find a veganish dish. Hong Kong cuisine is notoriously meat-y, as are all the American-style sports bars and fast food joints that are the same in every airport in the world. But at this little halal coffee shop i noticed the Chinese characters 素汤面 (sù tāng miàn), which mean vegetarian soup noodle. The English name was something exotic-sounding like "Javanese Mee" - it didn't give the slightest hint of the content. It turned out to be a lo mein style noodle in a sweet curry soup with fried potato chunks. There was also half a boiled egg in there, and the stock almost certainly had some shrimp paste, but in the context of all the other options, it was a decent choice. It's nice not to have to rely on half-assed menu translations now.

Next stop, Shanghai.


Jeez, the sun sets so early up here. I mean, it's no Berlin, but the departure lounge is facing east - out to sea - and it is mighty gray already at 5pm. Unfortunately there isn't an international transfer facility in Shanghai, so i got my third passport stamp of the day. Hong Kong has meanwhile learned that passport stamps are stupid so they just give you a slip of paper that you are free to use to wipe your ass with after clearing customs. As if there would ever be a toilet in Hong Kong that didn't have toilet paper. But, you know, it's all on the computer anyway, right? The mainland is less lenient. I have something like 20 Chinese stamps in my passport for every time i took the subway across the border and back.

It's remarkable how much i prefer the mainland vibe to Hong Kong, though. Even the airport is better. Sure, there are no multikulti Malaysian coffee shops, but it's comfortable and well-planned and there is free hot water and the security aren't grumpy asshats. I always get the impression mainlanders are friendlier people in general, though judging by the experiences of other tourists and expats i am in the minority with that opinion.

Anywho, the most important thing is that i am drinking a beer. I have no idea how to tackle jet lag on this flight. It's 5pm now, and i will be arriving around 6pm at the other end. Do i sleep on the flight? If so i will be exactly reversed. Do i sleep half of the flight? God only knows. I will be a mess for my appointment at the Chinese embassy. I hope i just need to drop papers and that's that.

Did i tell you guys i am still married? Yeah, so that divorce thing reared its ugly head again when i posted on Facebook that i was coming back to Toronto briefly. J jumped on the post and emailed me to say she still hadn't done the final step, which 5 years ago we had agreed she would do. After some back and forth she admitted that one reason she hadn't done it was because it felt so final and emotionally she wasn't ready. It's not a big deal - i haven't filed any Canadian tax returns since i emigrated, so it's not like either of us have to worry about a dangling marriage messing that up - but it does kind of annoy me that every time i mention i will be in Canada i get another email saying "oh btw i haven't finalized the divorce so can we do it together". It feels like a waste of a "holiday" to spend time going to the family court. Especially given that uncontested divorces are specifically supposed to be filed by just one party. I mean, that's the whole point. And we already agreed she would do it since she actually lives there. But, sigh. I am trying not to be an asshole about it. So that's the other thing waiting for me on Thursday. Or maybe Friday. Or whatever. Good times.

Oh, it's 5:30pm and night has fallen and apparently we are boarding. See you on the flipside.


It's 7am and i have been in bed sneakily reading wiki pretending to sleep for 2 hours. Who am i kidding? This jet lag is going to suck something wicked. At least i slept about 6 hours straight through.

I decided to sleep about 4 hours on the plane and then stay up. I read Kameron Hurley's The Stars are Legion, which was really interesting. I've decided i enjoy her books for their unconventional settings, but i still find her characters boring. I guess that's the classic sci-fi problem for you. I also bought the new Expanse book which has a vanilla setting but compelling interpersonal drama, so perhaps it will balance out when i take that Greyhound to Windsor.

Toronto is so ... small after spending time in Shenzhen. I picked up a SIM card at the airport, and a rechargable transit card - thank Christ the city finally got their shit together to do that one - then rode the mostly empty train to Union Station where i got a mostly empty subway to Osgoode and walked the mostly empty streets to Chinatown. Which was mostly empty. It's disconcerting seeing all the shops closed and noone around at 9pm, like it's some kind of ghost town. But then i remember that's exactly what it's like here.

I got into my hotel and she said they couldn't book me in unless i had a credit card. I don't have a fucking credit card. I haven't had once since my German bank got taken over by another bank and they didn't issue me a replacement. And my Canadian bank's credit card expired a couple years ago. I have a great rant stored up about the recent spate of anti-China news stories that are trying to paint China's "social credit" as an Orwellian nightmare. They are so fucking out-of-touch it's ridiculous. Clearly written by people who have never experienced life without credit in Canada or the US, where land-owners routinely use the credit system to deny plebs access to basic services like a roof over their heads. I'll leave that rant for another day. After trying to offer hundreds of dollars in cash as a security deposit, which was refused, eventually i got them to accept my German debit card as a credit card so i could get into the room i had already booked.

The room is hideously huge. I cannot even. I forgot how wasteful North Americans are with space. It's probably as big as my entire apartment in Berlin. They asked me if i needed a parking space when i checked in. A parking space! In the city! What the Christ crazy world have i come to?

I left my room and walked into the first restaurant that was open. Because evidently most restaurants aren't open in Toronto at 9:30pm on a weeknight. Fucking hell. It was called 中国兰州牛肉拉面 (zhōng guó lán zhōu niú ròu lā miàn), which is basically just a very long way to describe what they make. In the mainland the same sort of place is labeled 兰州拉面 - literally Lanzhou pull noodle. They usually sell variations on halal beef noodle soup. This one also had 油泼刀削面 (yóu pō dāo xiāo miàn), which means oil splash knife peel noodle. I generally eat 油泼扯面 (yóu pō chě miàn) or oil splash pull noodle once a week or so, so i figured this would hit the spot. It did. Tasted almost the same as it does in the mainland, which isn't hard to do since it's basically just fresh noodle with bok choy, garlic, chili and sesame oil. Main difference was the bowl here had twice as much food in it. Oh yeah. I forgot the serving size problem here too. Dear Lord, i am going to get fat as hell over the next 10 days if this keeps up.

The best thing is that the weather here is almost the exact same as the weather i left behind in Shenzhen. There are snow banks on the ground, but it's above freezing, which is a massive stroke of luck. It will give me enough time to buy a decent hoodie and maybe some gloves or something.

If i can get my head together.

I am spectacularly tired for having slept what theoretically should be an almost normal night. And i am definitely very culture-shocked. Visiting North America after living in Europe for a while is weird, but after China it is Very Fucking Weird. Cities here feel so quiet and spread out and inefficient. Maybe once i get out there in the daytime i will perk up. If the fucking sun ever rises. It's 7:30am. What the hell. I need coffee. So much coffee.
singapore sunset

Toronto. Stalled.

So. This is upsetting.

My experience at the visa center was awful. I mean, I expected bureaucracy because that comes with the territory, but this was some kind of power tripping nonsense I can't even.

For those who don't know, China has a pseudo-independent organization to handle visa applications. The embassy or consulate is the actual party that grants your visa, but this other organization accepts and checks your papers prior to submission.

In Germany they sent me back home after my first appointment to collect more paperwork (flight tickets etc). That's why I have spent the last couple months being so meticulous about getting all my papers in order. Of course, that still wasn't enough.

I walked in and waited in line, where they immediately sent me away to photocopy my passport. Why do they need a photocopy when they are already taking the hard copy? Who knows. Why did they need a copy in the first place when it's not listed on the website as a requirement? Who knows. Almost everyone at the Staples downstairs was photocopying their passport for the China visa center. Like. Come the fuck on.

Then i got in and handed over my papers and the first thing he said is that my passport has water damage. This is from a rainstorm several months ago, and I have entered and exited China numerous times since then. But he said that my passport was damaged and that even if my visa was granted I may not be allowed into China. Then he made me sign a declaration saying I acknowledged my passport was damaged and that this application was therefore strongly advised against.

Then he got on my case about putting Hong Kong and Taiwan on my visa application. Which, of course I considered very carefully because I know this is a very sensitive issue in China. But the form specifically states to list all of the "countries or territories" you have visited. I presume they listed "or territories" deliberately for the case of Hong Kong and Taiwan, since both of those places do passport checks and have completely different visa requirements to the mainland. Still, I know better than to argue, so I told him I understood the situation and apologized. But he didn't stop.

His next thing was to take a separate slip of paper and write down "Ontario, Québec, Canada" and ask me if that made sense to me. Like. Fuck off dude! I have no horse in this race. I don't care. I really don't give a shit. In fact, this is literally the first person I have met who has ranted about it outside of Taiwan, mainly because most mainland Chinese don't give a shit either. They consider Taiwan a runaway child and they do believe it's part of China but it's so far down their list of priorities to complain about. In fact this is one of the reasons I specifically chose the mainland over Taiwan to settle in, because I found the endless pontificating about the situation exhausting.

Anyway, so I had to fill in half the form all over again, and sign yet another waiver that I acknowledged my documentation was incorrect and indicating that I would still pay the visa center fees if the consulate refuses my visa. Like, come on guys! What a wank.

While I was changing my form, the bureaucrat even lost it at one of his Chinese brothers coming back into the fold. Like. This fucking guy was obviously of Chinese descent. He spoke perfect Mandarin. But the bureaucrat got on his case about listing his country of birth as Hong Kong saying that there is no such country. Now, I am a poor judge of age, but I am quite sure this guy was born prior to 1997. When the applicant tried to explain himself - with the exact same argument I had used (that the form explicitly lists "country or territory") - the bureaucrat even had the nerve to bring up the Tang dynasty. The Tang dynasty for fuck's sake!

Like, take a fucking breath dude. If this is the kind of asshat representing China in North America it's no wonder so many people here think the whole country is a miserable fascist state full of brainwashed drones. Thank Christ I know better. I know that most Chinese are very easy going and just as open-minded (or not) as people anywhere else in the world and they certainly don't feel the need to spend 10 minutes evangelizing to foreigners about two piddling little regions whose combined total population is barely the size of a single tier 1 city in the mainland.

After that I was done. I was shaking I was so stressed. I messaged D, an old friend from back when I lived here, and told him I needed a beer. I haven't seen him in 5 years, but we were right back in it. He was close friends with N, a reasonably close friend of mine too, who ODed a while back. And L, who committed suicide just a month or two back. Toronto, city of dead friends.

His sister also passed away recently, and he was the sibling who had to deal with it all for his mom and the rest of the family. It reminded me that J's father also died recentlyish. Speaking of ex-wife J, she has also been trying to catch up with me today, but after the visa center situation I have all clammed up. I don't have the emotional space for any more awkwardness.

It was good to talk to D. He is doing alright, had a pretty stable job for a while and still getting out and about to party on the reg. I enjoyed chatting with him so much we kinda made a date to go see Heather on Friday. I had been idly thinking about it anyway since she was the first DJ I saw in Toronto and yanno, symmetry. Also she is an awesome DJ and the promoter booking her here is my age and known for getting the (now) 35+ crowd, so I won't feel like a creeper and may bump into some other familiar faces.

Maybe I planned that prematurely because I was upset. I know I probably should come back to Toronto to pick up my visa on Tuesday just in case they didn't grant it and I need to reapply. But I owe R a long stay at her place in Windsor and if I only get down there on Saturday I should definitely stay through Wednesday.

And yanno, if my visa gets refused for having a water damaged passport or a "blurry photo" (seriously) or a now-scratched-out reference to Taiwan I fucking give up.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Canadian me. I felt at home enough in this country to submit to citizenship, but it's also the country where I have lost more friends than any other to suicide and overdose, the country I got married and divorced, the country I was a balls out hard drug addict, the country I spent a couple months as a psychiatric inpatient etc etc. I love it but it's crazy making. I forgot that.

So, what to do after lunch with a wicked jetlag and incredible anxiety about my future thanks to a true believer of a bureaucrat? Get fucking drunk. Get very drunk. I might thumb my nose at aspirational veganism and grab my fave bison, blue cheese and peameal bacon burger from my local. Fuck everything.