Moving to Shenzhen, pt. 3: Learning

Part of the preparation for any of international move involves learning about a culture and location. Even the most rudimentary understanding of some of the unique cultural aspects of a place can go a long way to helping ease the inevitable shock of taking up residence in a foreign place.

There are a few bases we’ve tried to cover to this point. Most important, doubtless, is some knowledge of Chinese language. Learning a language inevitably impacts and helps to form a better understanding of a people, plus we don’t expect a lot of spoken or written English around Shenzhen. While we have a TON left to learn, we’ve found iPhone apps like ChineseSkill and Memrise to be useful. ChineseSkill is really neat, because it has a nicely scaffolded manner of development which covers spoken language, learning Pinyin, and also practicing writing Chinese characters. Memrise is rather less logically laid out, but it is helpful, too. Podcasts are a favorite method of learning for Shon, and he loves the very straightforward lessons the Shao Lan offers in her Chineasy one. What’s more, Shon is using a book called Chinese in 10 Minutes a Day, which is helping expand his (still pitiful) language skills.

There are a number of interesting videos about Shenzhen on YouTube, which give us an idea of what the city is like and where it has come from (it’s only 40 years old and the population surpasses 10 million!). Wired has an interesting documentary about how Shenzhen is basically China’s Silicon Valley.

YouTube is also home of vloggers such as Serpentza, a South African who calls Shenzhen home and creates videos about life there. Here is a link to one of his videos which explains how Shenzhen is one of China’s first tier cities. Needless to say, these videos can be illuminating.

We have also watched TV shows such as Wild China and even, you might laugh, An Idiot Abroad, which has an episode set in China.

That’s all for now!

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Moving to Shenzhen, pt. 2: visa office

It’s close to go time. We are supposed to be in China the weekend of August 18th. In the meantime, we are waiting for our visas.

Here’s how that went down. Rather than use a courier service (because the Chinese Embassy won’t accept anything by mail), we took our passports and complete visa applications, along with supporting documents (the list of documents necessary is on the Embassy’s website), to the Chinese Embassy’s visa department, which is, by the way, not in the Embassy building, but on Wisconsin Avenue. We parked under the building, a privilege which cost $10. The attendant told us it would probably take a while: “Very bad. 2, 3 days.” With that cheerfully covered, we took the elevator upstairs to the first floor and found a long line–we joined the que with no less than 60 people in front of us.

That was fine, though. Jenia heard that the Chinese are very picky about the size of the photos that must be included in the packet of stuff to be submitted–they want a rectangular size that is not the usual easy CVS 2×2. There is, on the third floor, a Chinese visa specialist who do pics, etc, so we left the throng and went up there. The pictures didn’t take very long. Our applications were complete with those, so back down to the waiting room.

Long hallway on the third floor. The visa service place is at the end of the hall.

Services the visa place upstairs offers and prices.

We bided our time for about 3 hours before finally getting called to the window. Oddly, the guy behind the window hardly acknowledged our presence, other than to answer our questions. He gave us receipts and told us when the visas would be ready. That was it.

Tomorrow we return to pick the passports up–hopefully with no problems. As soon as I have our visas in hand, then we will have tickets ordered for us by the school.

An Ending Continues

Our tenure in Al Ain, in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, has come to an end. I’m not writing from the UAE. No, I’m in a comfortable home that belongs to my relative, with green grass and leafy trees outside the airy, expansive living room. There are clouds in the beautiful blue sky, and it looks like rain is coming. This is definitely not the UAE.

As the ending continues, I’ve received my end of service payment and transferred the money home. It’s a nice nest egg that makes some of the struggles of the last few years a more pleasant memory. I had no unapproved days off, and my term of employment started almost exactly 3 years ago, so the sum was more or less what I was expecting, with the added bonus of the airfare amount being a little higher than we’d hoped for. My extremely helpful friend in Al Ain has yet to hear from ADCP about the housing deposit refund (4,000 AED, no small amount of money), but she will pick up the check and put it in the bank for me ASAP.  After that is done, our last remaining financial ties to the UAE will be cut.

The last couple of days in Al Ain went like one would expect–trying to reduce possessions to the bare minimum, weeding out things we wanted to keep and things we could do without, packing the suitcases full, soaking up Al Ain life, as well as enjoying hotel’s amenities and saying goodbyes to many good people we may never see again. We flew out in the morning on Saturday, hauling more luggage than we ever have before, and hopefully more than we will again.

“I hope there’s no small child in front of me,” Jenia said, pushing her baggage cart through the airport. She could see in front of her, so I’m not sure what she was worried about. Granted, she did have to crane her neck and peer over a barely balancing toddler car seat perched atop the hulking stack of luggage, but surely she wouldn’t have actually run over any small life forms in her way.

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At home in the USA for a week now, we’ve been struck by things like polite drivers, the lushness of the southeast, the ease with which we can communicate, the variety of colors and textures of buildings. As Jenia says, the houses and yards offer a sense of personal identity, which contrasts with the UAE’s impersonal but often imposing homes.

Thus, we’re nearly through with our UAE journey. It’s been trying, but rewarding, and I would judge it thoroughly worth doing. The ending continues until the last bit of money comes in…

An Ending Begins

We have 8 days left in the UAE.

The last week has gone by in a blur as I zipped from place to place after invigilation (which ought instead to be called supervised cheating) at school. But it’s Friday, the weekend is upon us, and I’m ensconced in the Hili Rayhaan hotel, comfortably in a king-sized bed, having spent the morning at a leisurely breakfast and then in the pool. There was even a nap this afternoon. Things are looking up.

Here is what happens at the end of working for ADEC. Unsurprisingly, the resignation procedure is much the same as the arrival procedure, only reversed.

The steps are: wait wait wait wait wait for your resignation (which you submitted in the online system well within the official window of time) to be approved, then wait wait wait wait wait wait some more.

Then with about a month of work left, it’s approved and things start moving quickly.

If you’re me, you print a form that you obtained from someone not your principal (who is supposed to have received said form in his email, but may not be aware of it, or perhaps he was just not at work on the day it was sent). You fill this form out, and then you have to collect about seven signatures from various departments at ADEC headquarters (called “The Zone” around here).

You make a trip to The Zone to get the next couple of signatures, because they’re mostly a formality.

Then you wait a bit, because you’re hung up getting clearance forms (haven’t you heard of those? They’re forms which officially show that you’ve paid your bills and haven’t got any outstanding balance) from the combined power and water company (Al Ain Distribution Company). This requires a visit to one of the AADC places in town. I’d suggest the Al Ain Mall one, or perhaps the Hili Mall one (which is never busy). If you go to the big headquarters near The Zone, you’ll probably wait forever and a half day. Anyway, the process takes a couple of days. You request a final meter reading and clearance certificate, AADC sends you a text message as acknowledgement, and then, if things go correctly, you get a second message to say you’re all set. From prior experience, I can tell you if that message doesn’t come after two days, go visit an AADC office and ask for an update. This all means getting the AADC clearance takes a couple days. Then you’ll need an Etisalat (phone and internet) clearance form, too, and that company forces you to visit the large, crowded, slow office in Sanaiya to get a clearance letter, although it bears noting that you can get service cancelled at several other locations (such as Bawadi Mall). Again, the clearance from takes a couple of days or more. If you’re me, you make no less than eight trips to Etisalat to get this done, and you still have to go collect the form another time.

After you have your AADC clearance form, you can get your apartment inspected. We pay 180 AED to the apartment manager because one of our screens has a dime-sized hole in it (and it might indeed be our fault, so no problem), then he prints a letter declaring that you’re all set, but in iffier English than that. You take this letter down to The Zone and collect another signature.

By now, you’ve dropped off and then collected, a couple days later, your dependents’ passports at the Infinity Services window in ADEC so they can type up visa cancellation forms for you (saving a few bucks), and you take these passports a few buildings over to immigration and have them cancel the visas. You need to show your own original passport, Emirates ID, and work visa there. The guy in a kandora behind the counter glances at your stuff, then stamps the dependents’ pink visas with red ink which seems to read “cancelled” in Arabic. He also collects their Emirates IDs. A couple moments later a text message arrives from the Ministry of the Interior notifying you of the cancelations. This means your cleared for the next step: having your own visa cancelled. This means I turn in my Emirates ID (bye, little card!) and passport for a day.

The next day, I collect my passport, and the guys older guy sitting in his chair takes a box of passports with paperwork attached to them from a locked cabinet. He looks at my picture carefully, at me, back at the picture, and is smiling and the other guy is laughing.  Then they tell me how somebody else who looked kind of like me picked it up earlier in the day. “Same name,” they said, but I’d be floored if there’s a second Shon Rand running around Al Ain. Regardless, my passport is in my hand, and I can collect another signature on my all-important form. So I do.

And I proceed to housing, where I need another signature. That’s fairly easy. He directs me to hand over another copy of my AADC clearance, and then take copies to the Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties building downtown to get my housing deposit back. I notice it’s almost 3 o’clock, and it’s Thursday, and figure I won’t find anyone there if I go now, so I decide to wait until Sunday for that.

As it turns out, I need to make another trip to ADEC anyway, because I need that Etisalat clearance form which I haven’t got yet in order to submit my super-duper important form to the last people–payroll, who will calculate up my End of Service (EOS) payment.

Thus, over the period of about 9 days, an ending has begun. There is very little left to be done, and hopefully it will all be knocked out on Sunday. There has been a bit of stress, like there was in the beginning, but it’s been tempered by knowledge that things move slowly here, especially when you hope they’ll go fast. We have only 8 days left in the UAE. Wow.

Authentication Revisited

Part of the deal with working here in the UAE was getting a whole slew of documents authenticated.  The authentication process is annoying and overcomplicated, but it is necessary.  So I bit the bullet and did it.

If you go through a company like Teach Away, they’ll help walk you through the process.  It’s not really all that difficult, in truth, just annoying.

Teach Away recommends ProEx Courier Service to deliver and pickup documents from the Embassy in DC.  I used them and had no issues at all; they were fast and efficient.

As far as the individual documents go that you’ll need authenticated, that depends on where you’re from and whether you’re married, have children, etc.  We needed our marriage certificate done, my highest diploma, and a couple other things.  I covered all that before, so I won’t go into it in detail.  The irritating part is doing it at three levels, which is where ProEx enters the scene–they’ll deliver documents from the Department of State in DC to the UAE Embassy there, saving you a long trip and a few days in between.

Do the authentication early so it’ll be stress-free, and then just wait.

Once arriving in the UAE, you have to get those authenticated documents translated into Arabic.  Bargain, or ask around for the best rate.  The place that ADEC uses (Infinity Services) actually increases their fee for ADEC teachers.  If you arrive in Abu Dhabi and take documents to them, be sure not to tell them you’re with ADEC.  If you do, they’ll say, “Special price!”  Yeah, special, alright.  We have “sucker” written all over us.  It shouldn’t cost more than 60 AED for documents to be interpreted, so be aware.  There are plenty of “typing offices” that will interpret for the price I mentioned.

When you get your documents interpreted in the UAE, also have your driver’s license done.  If you’ve got any special endorsements, such as motorcycle, be sure to note that and ask that they include that in the translation, or else you won’t get that endorsement on your UAE license (which is good for a full 10 years, by the way).

A Checklist of Sorts? AKA, Something ADEC Could Do.

There’s quite a number of ADEC teachers who, like me, have noticed that ADEC does a splendid job with some of the arrangements for new arrivals to the UAE, and not so great with others.

Something that would newcomers help would be a simple checklist provided to teachers. The checklist could look like this:

1.  Residence Visa and Emirates ID applications are part of the process that we, ADEC, take care of for you, right along with the medical checkup.  Check!

However, If you don’t hear from the Emirates ID people after a while, go visit them and make sure everything is going well.  You’ll need a copy of your ID application receipt for number 2 anyway.

2.  UAE driver’s license is something you need to take care of.  Here are the steps:

  • Have your driver’s license translated.  We recommend Infinity Services, but if you go to them, don’t tell them you’re an ADEC employee, or they’ll charge you nearly double what they charge anyone else.
  • Have a copy of the Emirates ID application receipt (which we don’t bother to furnish to you, but you can obtain easily, as noted in step 1).
  • Take your American license and some cash and go to the driver’s licensing center. You’ll need an eye exam there and your license will be issued in 20 minutes after all is said and done.
  • Also, you should try to get this done as soon as you get your residence visa stuck into your passport.

3. Road Rules for Roundabouts.

  • If you enter a roundabout from the right hand lane, plan to exit immediately if there are other cars in the roundabout already.
  • If you enter from the middle, plan on going straight.
  • If you need to turn left, enter from the left lane.
  • Cars in the inside lanes of roundabouts have the right of way.  Don’t mess with them. They will run right the crap into you.

4.  How Utilities Work

  • When we give you your apartment, we give you a utilities letter that says, in Arabic, that you’re responsible for electricity and water expenses.
  • Find out your water and electricity meter numbers and take those, along with this letter, to the Al Ain Distribution Company (or other, if you’re working in Abu Dhabi or Al Gharbia).
  • You will have to pay a 1,000 AED deposit and whatever balance you might have already when you transfer the utilities into your name.
  • Regarding your bills, you can pay online, or at most ATMs, or you can go to AADC.
  • This is also true for gas.  You’re responsible for getting it up and running, and there will be a 1,000 AED deposit.

5.  Spouse Visa Process

  • Your wife (or husband, as the case maybe) will need pretty much the same documents as you.  You’ve probably already brought copies of your important documents: the authenticated marriage certificate is the most important one for the visa process.  We don’t make this very clear, but after you arrive, you need to get your authenticated marriage certificate translated into Arabic.
  • After you get your own residence visa in your passport (about a month), you’ll be able to apply for your wife’s visa.  You’ll need to bring all your wife’s important documents, passport photos, and that translated marriage certificate we just mentioned, to your local ADEC office to have us type the application.  We might tell you that this application form can be downloaded from our website, but don’t believe it.  We will type the application up, and then we’ll print it and give it to you.
  • After you have the application, you have to take it to the immigration authority and submit it.

A simple little list like this would be very helpful.  As is, lots of new arrivals have to figure out what to do by asking around, which usually works, but sometimes it causes an extra measure of frustration.

Furniture and Faux Pas

It’s 4 in the morning. I’m awake because there was a fight of some kind outside, and even on the 16th floor, I could hear some of the shouting and, when I cracked the drapes, see the police cars and ambulances. I’m guessing that there was a brouhaha between drunk Americans (hopefully not teachers). One fine fellow, amidst the hubbub cried out, so loudly that I could hear it clearly from my (closed) window, “I’ll take your head off, motha (you can guess the rest)!” There was wild gesticulating from various members of the crowd, and a woman sat crying on the sidewalk for the duration of all this, until she was escorted to a freshly arriving ambulance.  As I snapped this photo, the crowd had mostly cleared out and one police car and ambulance had already departed.

A run-in with the authorities in these parts could be a terrible idea. Like my Middle-Eastern acquaintance says, “they don’t mess around.”  From my vantage point up here on the 16th floor, I’d guess the various parties were all American, which might make it easier for everyone than if they’d tangled with Emiratis, much like it’s better if foreigners in the USA don’t get into a melee with well-established locals. But who knows. I’m mostly speculating because I’m awake and it’s the wee hours of the morning. Whether I’m right or wrong about the nature of the conflict though, I consider it quite the faux pas to get acquainted with the Abu Dhabi police in such a fashion.

Say, does “wee hours” mean that these are the smallest hours, by the way, or the hours when normal people wake up just long enough to go “wee” in the bathroom? Apologies. Just wondering.

On a whole different note, yesterday (which feels like today, of course) I spent the day furniture shopping. I’ve mentioned before that I suck at shopping. I do. I found stuff I liked in Home Centre (conveniently located across from one entrance of the Marina Mall), but I quickly discovered that if I bought what I liked, I’d have no money left after furnishing only one room in the house. Home Centre offers a 20% discount for ADEC teachers, as well as free moving and set-up. That’s a good savings, but most of their stuff is low quality, and I don’t want the stuff I can afford, I want the nice, expensive stuff!

 

 

I then went across the parking lot. This was a short journey, but one where I had the double pleasure of thawing out and getting very hot. It was downright chilly inside, and of course it’s over 100 degrees outside, so the contrast is intense. After I made this journey of extremes, I went inside the Mall itself and downstairs to Carrefour, where I looked at kitchen appliances and priced various household goods. That was not thrilling. Dishwashers, stoves, washing machines–they’re just not exciting things to shop for. I got a bunch of prices and left, having filled up a couple pages in my trusty notebook and snapped several photos with my lovely iPhone.  Oh, and I can’t forget to tell you that I did a lot of dividing by 3.67, the exchange rate, to get a feeling for prices compared to home.  I don’t like doing math.  Even on a calculator.  How ridiculous am I?

Back at the hotel, I hopped on Dubizzle and spent a while searching for bed sets and used appliances. I have a lead on a decent bedroom set and a full-sized 700 liter fridge, so I hope to follow those tomorrow and see what happens.

I forgot to say that I consulted with the wife repeatedly about this stuff via facebook’s video chat. I held my iPhone up so she could see photos I took, and we talked price, and decided what we need now and can get later, and so forth and so on.

It was a very ordinary and rather tedious day, for the most part. Yup. Sucky shopper. I know. Anyway, now I hope to go back to sleep.

Ta ta.

Flexible Pricing and Cheap Translation

Flexible pricing is one of the odd things to be aware of here in Abu Dhabi.  Even big, shiny, reputable looking companies do it.  Case in point: the company that we were recommended (Let’s call them IfS; the name has been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty alike). They don’t have prices for some of their services posted anywhere. I have, like several others, paid 110 dirhams per document for translation services. I also paid 200 dirhams to have my marriage certificate attested. Yesterday I left my driver’s license with them to get it interpreted, again paying 110 dirhams, which is what I paid for the marriage certificate translation.

I have since discovered that there are also several people who got things translated for 60 dirhams and attested for 150 by the very same folks in the very same establishment. That’s a considerable difference in pricing, with no difference in service or explanation for the discrepancy.

IfS is also not the most affordable place around (at least not when they decide to charge folks the higher prices). There is talk about a place on Hamdan Street behind the Etisalat building (that would be the one with the golf ball on top, if you know AD) which translates for 75 dirhams per document. Other folks tell about getting a quantity discount because they went in a group. A reliable source tells me that the driver’s license facility actually will translate it while you wait for 60 dirhams.

dirhams

Here’s the moral of the story, kids: ask around about pricing for services, and insist on the lower prices if you hear of a place which, like IfS, has flexible pricing. Sadly for me, I didn’t know that other folks were having things done more cheaply until I’d already paid up front for the service.

As a sort of footnote, don’t underestimate the helpfulness of the hotel concierge, either. The concierge can give advice on a wide range of things. It’s very possible that the concierge could have recommended a place that would be reliable and more affordable for these services. One of my colleagues got a laptop fixed very cheaply because the concierge steered him in the best direction.

When it comes down to it, the 420 dirhams ($114.50) that I’ve paid for having my license translated and marriage certificate both attested and interpreted isn’t just totally outrageous. I mean, Jenia is worth that much to me and then some, and I’ve got to have this stuff done in order to get her here. But if you make this journey, bear my words in mind, because you might save some hard-earned cash if you are a bit more savvy than me.

How to Bring Your Wife to the Emirates, Part I

It costs a little money.  Not a lot, but enough that you should plan on it.  Basically, Jenia needs all the things that I needed–passport photos, copies of her passport, and a couple of other documents.  Here’s how to go about it if you’re an ADEC teacher and your spouse is following you.

1) Have the marriage certificate that you got authenticated in the USA attested and translated.  Infinity Services, in the Marina Mall in Dubai (and other places) is a good reputable place.  It costs 210 dirhams for the attestation and 100 for the translation.

2) Follow the instructions that ADEC provides.  If you’re unaware of those, the gist is this: fill out an application online, then, after that is approved, provide original documents to ADEC.  They’ll get a visa prepared.

3) The last step is a medical exam, followed by submitting your spouse’s passport to ADEC so that they can put the final visa in it.

The prevailing wisdom is to get #1 done right away, since it might not take very long for us to get our passports back, and if step #1 is already complete, the rest is pretty easy (or at least so I’m told).

I’ll write another entry after I get to experience more of the process.

Infinity Services is found on the Lower Basement level of the Marina Mall, below the Paris Gallery.

 

Thoughts on Housing

Reflecting on the housing situation, I’ve talked with folks who thought the apartments in the Tahnood complex were just fine.  Those were mostly singles, actually, and if I were single, I’d probably be fine with a little apartment, too.  But where’s the logic in placing married couples and families in teensy-weensy places?  I’m guessing here, and only guessing, but my guess is there wasn’t any logic applied.  In fact, I’m betting that the housing people at ADEC probably went no farther than finding government-approved housing that had the requisite number of bedrooms and baths, and they may not have considered the actual size of the apartments.  Perhaps a visit with the ADEC housing folks in Al Ain will help me understand why Jenia and I were placed where we were, and, keeping my fingers crossed, maybe the will agree to move us to a better-appointed place (with a better kitchen and at least a little more living space).  There are no guarantees, and I realize that.  But with a little luck, firmness, politeness, and persistence, maybe we can make arrangements that will make living easier.  But that will have to wait until after Eid, the big holiday following Ramadan.