Notarizing documents for Egypt. How hard can it be?…..

The Egyptian embassy in the Netherlands does not have a website. I’m not sure if they ever had one, but the one linked on Google leads to nothing. With no information and no reply to my emails, I did what I always do: I just winged it.

A lot of people. I’m guessing around 20. Mostly male. Only travel agency representatives and Egyptians. The main consular service guy who kept walking towards the fence didn’t speak English (nor Dutch). I waited for 1.5 hours, not being assertive, just assuming that I had to wait my turn, while people pushed in front of me. I clearly still have too much Canada in me; haven’t made the cultural switch yet. Finally, after nearly two hours, a lady comes out. I elbow three men out of the way, and tell her I need to notarize two documents. She takes them inside, then tells me to wait. She doesn’t tell me for how long. So I wait. I wait another hour. The same man comes out 10 more times (let’s call him fence man), with the people on the other side of the fence talking and waving documents in front of him, while using very elaborate hand gestures. A mild fight ensues. Everyone is frustrated. The waiting took a long time and it started to rain. Some guy wrecks the bulletin board off of the fence and murmurs the same thing over and over again while ringing the bell a million times. I have no idea what’s going on. Then I look at the one lady to my left. She had also been waiting for quite some time. I ask her politely if there’s any chance the fence man said something about documents or pick-up. She says: “not yet, but just ask him. I will translate.” Fence man tells me to wait just a little longer. The lady turns to me and says:

“You’re not Egyptian?”

“Half. I’m half Egyptian”

“Half. and half Dutch?”

“Yes.”

“You need to get your Egyptian half to come out and fight for your documents, or you will never get them! Be more assertive!”

I laugh nervously, while looking at the row of men holding on to the fence. “Thank you, I’ll do my best” I say.

“Good luck my dear” she says.

Fence man hands over the documents. I say thank you in Arabic, then walk away. I look back one more time and see everyone staring in my direction.

Don’t know if that’s a taste of what’s to come, but what I do know is that women are better than men.

Not sure if I’m ready for Cairo yet.

All the Canadian(ish) things I’ll miss (and definitely won’t miss)

Dear Canada.

I have been inside you for over a year now. Your winters suck. Your summers are the best. You’ve inspired me as an artist. You’ve made me a nicer person. You’ve brainwashed me into saying “eh?” all the time… It’s been fun. Before I remove myself from you, I just wanted to end things on a positive note, you know? So, here’s a list of what I will and won’t miss, as an ode to being able to enter you with your consent:


I will miss all of you hippies with your septum piercings and your multi-colored hair and your radical inclusivity. There’s a fine line between love and hate. I absolutely love what you stand for. I also hate how over the top it is. My occasional honesty was almost seen as rude and too straightforward. You don’t have to be positive about everything, you know? But I’ll still miss it. So much. You guys are the best.

I won’t miss anything maple-flavored. Maple syrup is great, maple donuts are disgusting and you need to stop it.

I will miss saying “I love” or “I’m obsessed with” for things I don’t necessarily love or am obsessed with. “Oh my god, I literally am obsessed with your dog”

I won’t miss camping. Everybody in BC is ‘obsessed’ with camping in the wild. You could die! Bears will attack you. Chopping wood is stupid. Going outside to pee sucks. Tents are cold. No.

I will miss your kindness. Whether or not it was sincere, I’ve become a nicer person because of it. Never lose your kindness, Canada.

I won’t miss hockey. A bunch of testosterone-wild men running on ice and getting angry at each other. That game is seriously like a fistfight with sticks.

I will miss all of the Chinese food chains, speaking Chinese as much as I did in China, and using Chinese apps as much as I did in China. In some areas it was just like being in China, with a few extra white people. Amazing.

I won’t miss Country music. I think I am tolerant of, and am able to enjoy most music genres. But Country is not one of them. A bunch of white people singing about trucks and whiskey. Mostly. The occasional heartbreak song, maybe. Sad. Also, it all sounds exactly the same. If I were an undercover spy and I got caught, the best way to get information out of me is not by physical torture. It’s by playing hours and hours of Country music.

I will miss the silence. As I embark on a new journey to a loud, crowded, hot, and dusty place, I shall enjoy a last evening walk hearing nothing but the light breeze of wind. Silence is something to cherish, my friends.

I won’t miss weird things like when I told the waitress I wanted a medium coffee, she answered with: “bless.” What does that even mean? Am I getting old?

I will miss lumberjack shirts and hipster men with beards. Ya’ll look fly. I like.

On a slightly more serious note: I won’t miss the insane amount of homeless people. I was lucky to do some volunteering during my time in Vancouver and I’ve gotten to know some of them on a personal level. I was just taken aback by the intensity of the situation, and the way that it’s being handled. This is not a political page or anything, but I feel deeply for these people. I cannot speak for their experiences, but I know that it’s a ridiculously tough life. Will not miss it, but will not forget, nor ever ignore it.

I will miss donuts. Boy, will I miss donuts. And all the other unhealthy foods. Krispy Kreme my forever love. Dairy Queen my sidebae. Wendy’s, A&W… I hope you think about me sometimes – your favorite customer.

I won’t miss that one time I ran from a Coyote because I thought it was a wolf and it was going to eat me…. I can do without scary animals and insects forever, really.

I will miss my friend Tim. Tims. Timbits. Even though the coffee wasn’t that great. Nor the food. It’s mainly just cheap, eh? But everyone loves Tim Horton’s, so I love Tim Horton’s.

I will miss you, Canada (Vancouver, mainly). You were peaceful. Vancouver was the least racist place I’ve ever lived in. You were inclusive (and also segregated, but ok) You were kind. You were drama-free. You have free health care and affordable-ish education. You’re not too bad. Don’t ever change. Just get rid of maple donuts. Love you ❤

Canada: Music & Street Performing

Music and Busking in Canada.

The first connection I make with a new country is always through music. Canada was a bit different however; we all know plenty of Canadian artists, and I wasn’t really sure how I could make this as interesting as music I’ve discovered in other countries, or if that was even possible. I could not have been more wrong. There are some fan-tastic local artists that deserve a listen! Without further ado, a playlist of local Canadian talent you may not have heard of yet. Want to add to this list? (or add yourself) Contact me.

Or go to: Busking

Amazing artists not (yet) on Spotify:


**♬** Busking In Canada **♬**

In case you wanted to come to Canada to make some music yourself, I feel like you could not have picked a better place. I haven’t found many places where the busking rules are this lenient (for most cities). You need a little bit of pocket money for a permit (and for being able to use amplification), but even if you just want to chill outside with a musical instrument, there are plenty of places to be creative without spending any money.

Want to add to this list? contact me.

Regulations:

Vancouver (click me)
Some locations need a permit, some locations are free to play, some locations are prohibited

Amplification allowed for certain instruments and under certain conditions.

Minimum age to perform: 13 (accompanied by adult).

Permit Prices 2020:
4 months: $42.34 + $2.12 GST
1 year: $125.65 + $6.28 GST

*I’ve found that the regulations are not that strictly enforced. shhhh
Toronto (click me)
Minimum age to perform: 18 (or contact municipal licensing)

Comply with requirements of City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 313 (44.1) (Streets and Sidewalks), Chapter 315 (Street vending) and Chapter 591 (Noise)

Link to application form

Permit Prices 2020 (yearly increase)
Busking / Sidewalk Artist: $25.00

Montreal:

Working on it!!

Other: Small municipalities do not require permits but still have guidelines about noise levels and sales.

Survival in China

1. Expectations

1. Intro
1.1 Communication Complications
1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated.

Intro – Under Construction

1.1 Communication Complications

If you’re completely new to China and don’t speak the language, getting around might not be the easiest thing. Language is a powerful tool, and where some of us may try other ways of communication to get closer to someone, the Chinese may put up a guard. Sometimes what’s foreign to you is a little bit scary. However, as soon as you show any willingness to speak Chinese, or you know a few words, that guard will come down very quickly. They’re also known (to us Westerners) to be more rough around the edges. Communication is more straight-forward and their hospitality rules are different from ours. It’s more to-the-point. I think it’s actually really nice to do away with our formalities every now and again (not that there are none, by the way). Well, apart from the fact that people may cut in front of you sometimes. But you can just elbow your way through that. You’ll learn to elbow your way through a lot of things. Like in a packed subway during rush hour. Ugh, the horror. My feet were once elevated from the floor; that’s how busy it was. Yeah, good luck with that!

Of course, there’s a large behavioral gap between generations, and just like in any other country, people behave differently based on where they live or their income status. I lived in Beijing and traveled to: Shanghai, Henan, Fujian, Guangdong, Hubei, and Xinjiang – no place was the same. China is a massive country and people in the north are vastly different from the south, not to mention the many minority groups that live across the country. Keep that in mind during your travels. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on some modern history and contemporary developments (here, or here), if you’re really keen on understanding the country before your visit.

1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated

The many times I’ve yelled and cursed in Dutch because I was in a rush and the traffic was in-sane. The first gym I went to closed down because it turned out to be a scam, and the owner took my money and ran. I’ve also had mental breakdowns in front of hospital doctors because I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what my problems were and they rushed me back out with pain killers. I’ve been “stopped” during travels because I was mistaken for an Uyghur. I’ve been mugged. I’ve been harassed…. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. And it’s okay to be frustrated during times like these, but try to not single out events and think negatively of your entire China experience as a result. I’ve heard so many people go: “China is like this, The Chinese are like that…” Every society has some bad apples. Customs, traditions, education, upbringing: it’s all different from what we’re used to. Try to be aware of that (I love using the word ‘awareness’ everywhere. Get used to that).

When wanting to start a business in China as a foreigner, the main advice you’ll get is to always have a Chinese business partner. I feel like the same applies to all other situations. Definitely attempt to befriend the locals. Someone who can show you the ropes and tell you right from wrong. When I told my Chinese roommate about my gym situation, she said: “Why didn’t you just come to me?! This happens all the time!” I was too scared to ask for help, wanted to fix things on my own, and ended up making a mistake due to my own ignorance. If there’s one thing I know about people, is that if they’re proud of their country, they love telling you about it. Ask (and stay calm). The most important cliché to remember, is that we’re all human. I forget that all the time. We all have the same struggles, we hurt just the same, we have hopes and dreams, and as what’s-his-name from the band Good Charlotte once sang: “We all end up the same.” A reminder in times of frustration, wherever you are.

2. Prepare

Ahhhh, paperwork. My favorite thing in the world. Some very basic information. I will share links by people that have done a much better job of explaining things.If anything is outdated or if you feel anything needs to be added, please contact me.

2.1 Things to prepare (government)
2.2 Things to prepare (non-government)
2.3 Upon Arrival (under construction)
2.1 Things to prepare (Government)
  1. Visa Free: There are ways to avoid getting a visa. If you’re planning to go through China on your way to another destination, you may be able to stay visa-free for either 72 or 144 hours. (As of today, June 10th 2020, this has been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19)
  2. All Visas: China doesn’t make it easy (or cheap) to enter to country. What visa you need depends on what you want to do and how long you plan to stay. For a list of all visas, check out China Briefing’s overview here. Applying for any visa usually requires a visit to a Chinese embassy or consulate. You can also get an agency to do it for you. Some countries have mediating institutes specifically for visa application and pick-up, you should check out the requirements for your country to figure out where you need to go.
  3. A work permit (on a Z visa) requires an invitation letter, employment license, and a medical exam. If you’re not working for a government body or a large company (which is rare, unless you teach English), I suggest getting some help. I’m assuming you’re here because you don’t know a lot about China, and without prior knowledge you really shouldn’t do stuff alone. Internations has a clear overview: here
  4. Have a place to stay (hostel/hotel/address) before you arrive; you’re required to fill in an address on your application. You won’t get a visa without it.
  5. Within 24 hours after arrival, you need to register at the Public Security Bureau. Most of the time you’re required to go in person (bring a Chinese-speaking friend/landlord/someone), although sometimes hotels may help out. You’ll need your visa (and passport), and sometimes a lease contract, depending on where you stay. After registering you get a Temporary Residence Permit form (am I saying that right?) – don’t lose it!!! Otherwise you have to go again or you might get in trouble for not having it. Like me. Don’t do it.
  6. China changes its immigration rules all the time. Anything political or any major event can interfere with your plans. In 2016, my move to China came right after a series of political events. My passport had Taiwanese stamps in it, which China did not recognize. I was forced to get a new passport and delay my flight. Cost me a lot. Make sure you stay up to date on current immigration rules (Chinese embassy is your best bet).
2.2: Things to prepare (non-government)
  • Take Chinese currency with you (no airport ATM would take my European debit card. Drama ensued. Take money with you and/or a credit card)
  • Check whether the hotel you book accepts foreigners. To accept foreigners as a hotel owner, you need to have a type of permit. Not every hotel has one. You’ll get sent away.

As you hopefully know, China censors a lot of non-Chinese (social) media. Here’s a list of things I wish I had downloaded before arrival:

  • VPN. A “Virtual Private Network” that circumvents Chinese censorship, so you can keep posting those selfies to Instagram. Chinese authorities have actively tried to block most non-paid networks and keep adding new ones to the list. Obviously, if you find a free VPN that still works, I suggest you use it. But just to be safe, I prefer to use a paid VPN. It’s cheap, don’t worry. Here’s a list. I’ve always used Express VPN and am overall satisfied with it.
  • WeChat – The app that substitutes ALL social media platforms we know. It’s used for business, banking, ordering food, talking to friends, posting selfies… you name it. Very important.
  • Baidu & Baidu Maps (replaces Google & Google Maps)
  • YoukuQIY or Tencent Video (replaces YouTube & Streaming Platforms)
  • Not sure if this is essential, but: TanTan (replaces Tinder. There are other dating apps, but this is the simplest one)
  • Food delivery apps I used: Meituan & daojia
  • Translation Apps: Pleco & MDBG
2.3 Upon Arrival

A typical Chinese New Year: Food, Family & Fights

Aaaah, Chinese new year. A yearly get-together with loved ones including fireworks, dumplings, alcohol, karaoke, red envelopes and… lot’s of fighting!

IMG_20190204_192258

In today’s episode, me and my friend’s foreign faces got us a free ticket to spend Chinese New Year in rural Beijing with a random Chinese family in the most traditional setting. Foreign guests are a rarity, and big eyes and long noses are worth investing time in. And so,  as me and my friend got back from an ice sculpture event in the neighborhood, the owner of the guesthouse gave us no choice but to join the rest of the family for dinner. Every sentence uttered was a reason to drink, food was reluctantly accepted into our bowls with elaborate explanations on the taste of home cooked rural cuisine, there was mandatory singing (and dancing) and we got lectured on the inclusivity of Chinese hospitality rules during Chinese New Year: that night, we, the two foreign guests, were all one big family, because that is how the Chinese roll, and we were to participate the entire evening. After the fireworks at midnight, we were all supposed to get together and make dumplings, drink and eat to our heart’s content, and go to bed stuffed and wasted. All was well. For a very short while…

We sat at the table with three women and two men, all related somehow. After a period of elaborate laughter and keeping up the façade, two ladies step inside, come back out, step back inside, and as the karaoke machine started having some minor technical difficulties, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be all smiles that evening. One of the women sneered at one of the men as she tried fixing the sound machine, then angrily walked back inside. There was some minor bickering after that, all the while the alcohol kept flowing. At some point it was just me, my friend and one man left at the table while everyone else went inside. We had no clue what was going on. The man seemed to try to call the others (on the phone) several times, trying to mediate and fix whatever was going on, all to no avail. Everyone came back out at some point, with smiles that turned into forced grins, and continued the festivities.

Me and my friend were getting tired; we had a long day, we were dreading more food, I was mainly tired from the wine, so we made the executive decision to “rest for a bit, but we’ll be back later,” aka go to sleep.

I woke up at 12. I heard the fireworks. -It must be midnight- I thought to myself, while I slowly fell back asleep. At 4 am I woke up a second time to go to the bathroom. My friend was awake too. I told her I heard the fireworks for a bit. “What? You didn’t hear everyone fighting?” she asked. Apparently, for over an hour, part of the family got into a violent feud over, of course, money. The entire floor was covered in food, people threw chopsticks at each other, there was pushing and hair pulling, there may have been a food fight, people threw chairs and glass around and someone seemed to owe the other one one million Chinese yuan. The fight apparently started in the main entertainment area, then one woman dashed upstairs angrily, followed by one of the men, and the fight continued in the hallway. It was very loud (I slept through pretty much the whole thing) apparently.

Not long after that we heard objects falling in the kitchen. Some woman started moaning in… pain? Anger? Fear? We were not sure. I locked the door to our room; you never know…

Me and my friend planned to leave some money and just escape through the backdoor, but eventually we both fell back asleep. As we left the room in the morning, everything had a funny smell. Vomit, probably. There was some hair sticking to the stairway…  we had no clue what happened.

As we entered the restaurant area, we noticed the two men sitting on opposite tables, looking completely miserable. “You guys want breakfast right?” he said.

We didn’t have to try that hard this time to refuse. They seemed fine with not having to put in any effort. One of the women came out as she accepted the payment and said: “They drank a little bit much.”  We nodded silently. She kept reiterating that she hoped we would come back again sometime. She must have noticed we knew a little bit too much.

All in all, again, a very typical Chinese new year.

Happy year of the pig, everyone

The Matchmaking Scheme

Currently I live together in an apartment with a 40-something year old bachelor who sleeps about 20 hours a day; the rest he spends in front of the computer doing “stock market” things. Whatever that means.

As a foreigner, you need to register your address in order to change your visa to a residence permit. My roommate never lived with a foreigner before; he didn’t understand the situation and got scared because he rented out my room without being a landlord or something, so he got really nervous and decided to ask a friend for help. He gave a suspicious amount of details about his friend: Born and raised in Beijing, likes to go out, good sense of style, actually a landlord, very intelligent etc. 30-something year old, so we should get along fine… Didn’t know that was relevant information for registering, but okay..

Yesterday I was finally introduced to the friend. Mr. Wang ( of course). He was in a wheelchair and had some kind of muscular dystrophy. My roommate needed to make a copy of my passport, so I ended up alone with his friend for 30 minutes. I tried making some small talk, but he had no control over his voice, so it was super hard to follow (he was really nice btw, not to sound rude or anything, he was just hard to follow). He offered me his gloves about 8 times. I kept telling him I wasn’t cold. That was about the extent of the conversation.

Anyway, we registered, all fine, then the lady behind the counter goes: “We talked on the phone didn’t we? I told you you didn’t have to bring a local, anyone in the same apartment would have been fine.” I look at my roommate who turns red and goes “oh..really?.. I must have forgotten”..

Then after registering my roommate goes: “Yating (my Chinese name), my friend is really into ‘western’ movies and music, and you like Chinese culture, so he would really like to add your WeChat and talk about …’your culture’. If you guys get along, maybe we can all go to dinner sometime soon. ”

I dunno, but I think I was part of a very odd elaborate matchmaking scheme…🤔🤔

Mirror mirror on the wall

“I am in such a hurry,” my roommate says to me one morning, cigarette in her left hand,  head literally hanging in the sink trying to get off the cleanser.

roken

She had a rough day at work the day before, and even after coming home immediately started working on another article she needed to finish before twelve that night. But not before her one hour lasting skin care routine. She finally sat herself down in front of her laptop at almost midnight. At least she wore a face mask. “It’s to keep my skin fresh while I’m working.”

Last month she went on a trip to Korea and literally deprived the country of every face mask it owns. They have different functions too; less visible pores, prevent deeper wrinkles, hydrate, brighten, whiten… “Why?” I ask, while holding up 10 packets in front of her face. “The quality in Korea is better, it’s best to buy in bulk” she says while rubbing in her face with a toner, or maybe a moisturizer, or maybe wrinkle cream. She goes to Korea regularly to buy beauty products.

Unrelated: It’s not uncommon. Many Chinese are skeptical about anything “made in China,” and who wants to go abroad to travel anyway? You go abroad to buy. I find it interesting, by the way, how uninterested a lot of people in Beijing are in travel. They want to go abroad for work or study or just for buying plain.. stuff, but exploring the world? Nah.

Despite being in such a hurry, she has the time to put on layers of skincare products. Occasionally, in the evening, after cleansing and moisturizing, there’s also this soft electrical brush to make your skin more elastic. Or at least that’s what I think it does. Four layers of whatever is in those bottles for the night, a face mask every other day, the brush every other 3 or 4 days, and some anti-wrinkle cream. For who knows what. And of course layers and layers of make-up in the morning, while already having flawless skin. Her sister is exactly the same, despite having a completely different background. Her facial routine takes one hour. Her make-up routine takes another hour. It includes colored lenses and fake eyelashes. I applaud her patience.

“I’m so scared of getting old” my roommate says.

In a society where nearly everyone is materialistic and extremely focused on the physical; it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this includes female appearance.But it goes beyond simply materialism.

It’s applauded. The sole reason my roommate takes care of her skin is to hear other people say she looks young for her age, that she looks 22 instead of 30. To have men pursue her for her looks. To hear on a daily basis how pretty she is. To hear she looks prettier than other women. It’s ingrained in their way of thinking, there’s peer pressure and fear involved, and it’s encouraged by men. Don’t get me wrong; women from all parts of the world deal with this, but the pressure is much higher here. I get criticized too.

The other day a man asked me how I take care of my skin before I go to sleep, because I have fine lines near my eyes and it worried him because ‘I’m only 26’.  “I keep it hydrated because the air in Beijing is really dry” I said.

His reaction: “But then how do you stay young forever?”

“I don’t know, how do YOU stay young forever?”

“I don’t have to,” he says, “I’m a man.”

A shiver went down my spine realizing the deeper implications of that answer.

Here’s what someone told me about gender roles in China’s urban society:

“It’s what we, men and women, have been thought from birth. How we view men and women is part of our education system. But it’s been getting better. No, actually, it’s been getting more complicated. Urban women are getting more and more independent, and men are lagging behind because they refuse to acknowledge that things are changing. They appreciate a woman’s ability to take care of herself, but at the same time they can’t accept it. The problem with the so-called leftover women is not the women, it’s the men. It’s our fault for not recognizing and accepting change. If Chinese men don’t want to be alone forever, they’ll have to adapt too.  But well, forget about that. We still have our parents to worry about first.”

Food for thought?