Sunday, September 19, 2010

update -- lots has happened

It's been a long time since my last update -- 7-8 months, I think. However, since nobody reads this anyway it's probably not a big deal. If you do read it, please leave a quick comment.

So, I've been living and working in London since Feb 2010. Originally I expected Tuya to join me after 2 weeks. Ha ha! How wrong I was. The UK embassy would have none of that. First they denied her a tourist visa, based on not liking her bank statements. So my new company's legal adviser suggested we try for a fiancee visa, if our intention was to get married ultimately. We've known each other for 3.5 years and have been together most of that time. We'd intended to get married but we decided we needed to be settled somewhere first.

So the die was cast. In April, during the short Easter holiday, I flew off to meet her in Beijing and propose formally. She suspected I would but I didn't confirm or deny it. The only fly in the ointment was a close friend of Tuya's insisted on coming to Beijing too. She seems to have a problem with saying no. So we had an extra person in our group most days and evenings. Fortunately, we had our own hotel room. The proposal happened at our favourite Indian restaurant called "Ganges" in Beijing. Although, she knew it was coming, Tuya seemed suitably moved, speechless, and tearful when I proposed. She managed to say "yes" too.

It was a short visit but a good one. I had to return to work and she returned to life in Ulaanbaatar (UB). I was very busy preparing her fiancee visa application, ably assisted by my visa agent, Victoria. The visa application is mainly about me, my flat, my finances, etc. It was a lot of work gathering all the documents but finally we completed it in May and dispatched it to UB for submission. Tuya paid the application fee £600 and I paid for the agent, also £600.

About a month later, in June, we were hit with 2 items of bad news. Firstly, the visa application was denied. Secondly, I was getting laid off. Major bummer. Jesus, when it rains it pours. Well, after the initial shock I read the reasons for denying her visa and there were a lot of mistakes, including the embassy breaking their own guidelines. It was like a child had written the denial letter, a clueless child. So, my agent got to work on an appeal letter because you have a full right of appeal on fiancee visas, and all settlement visas. This could mean the original visa officer (or ECO) could reverse his decision or it would go to a court in the UK.

The job loss was also a severe blow to my finances and more so to my ego, to be honest. Especially since I feel I did a fine job. They said they could get 2 people to do twice the work for the money they were paying me. Perhaps true. But I was given a job doing grunt work when I'd been a supervisor. So I should have been a supervisor at my pay, but they wouldn't give me that work. Also, they hired too many people and then the projects were scaled back or delayed. So when you have too many people sitting around doing nothing, what do you do? Look for ways to make cuts. Riiighht. So I was one of the highest paid grunts, and when the work ran out I was politely shown the door.

I was pretty pissed off by the treatment they gave me. After all, I'd moved half way around the world at considerable cost to me, only some of which had been compensated by this company. Also, I'd left my fiancee behind to work there and been deprived of her company, sex and love. So it was a low blow and I'd worked my arse off for this company. The only consolation was the company laying me off had referred me to 3 or 4 other big companies in London and put in a good word.

So, after getting laid off, I did what any self-respecting, sex-starved man in my shoes would do: that's right, I got on the first plane to Beijing to meet my fiancee. I had only 2 weeks though because my son was going to be visiting me in England later in July. So Tuya and I had an OK time in Beijing. We rarely went out, though because she seemed bored of Beijing. We decided to go to UB, Mongolia because we would have more to do there. Also, I needed to talk to her aunt & uncle about paying me back the money they owe me. So, it seemed like a good plan.

We had a much better time in UB, I reckon. We stayed free in her uncle's hotel. I saw a great deal of her family again. Most of them for the 4th time. We went camping in Terelj national park and lots of little fun trips in the city. We even discussed the money situation with her uncle, who promised to pay me back "whenever they could" but wouldn't agree to pay any more interest. Not a great deal for me, but my only option at this point.

So back to England I went, not knowing when I'd see Tuya again. Which is typical in our situation. Little did I know but it wouldn't be very long. I spent a fantastic 2 weeks with my son who seemed mainly over the divorce but more concerned with the lack of freedom he gets as a 14 year old. I tended to agree but I'm powerless to do much about it. I have almost zero communication with his mother, except her asking me for money. Anyway, he was much changed in attitude and physically since I saw him 2 years ago. He's 5'10" and thinner and he seemed sooo happy to see me. It was a big improvement. His ambition is to be a doctor. Very cool.

During this time I also had a job interview with one of the bigger companies in London. A few weeks later they offered me a job. Same type of work, same pay, same project, and same area in London. I accepted without hesitation. A few minutes later I was on a plane to Hong Kong to meet Tuya. It was 2 months since I'd seen her in UB. Hong Kong was mostly fun but I was almost utterly broke, or worse, almost bankrupt. But I'm recklessly in love and I knew I had a job starting with good pay 3 weeks later. We had to stay in cheaper hotels than ever before, but mainly they were just as good, although further out of the city centre. We spent most of the remaining cash on a new smartphone for Tuya, food, bars, discos, and a little bit of clothes shopping. Tuya wasn't very sympathetic about my financial situation which caused us to fight a bit. But we parted after 1 week on great terms.

I started my new job in London working on "John Carter of Mars" which should be huge. It's like the next "Avatar" perhaps. After only 1 week I got the incredible, unbelievable good news that the UK embassy in Beijing had reversed their decision and would issue Tuya her fiancee visa. Wow, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I knew we would win eventually but I didn't think it would happen so soon, and with hardly a fight. My investment into a visa agent paid off, I believe. Because I don't think I would have known how to fight the embassy otherwise.

So, once she actually gets her passport back with visa attached, she'll be flying her on the next available, cheap flight. Remember, my finances are still in dire condition and I will have to support another person. Anyway, with a new job and my dear Tuya coming soon, life is looking up again.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Back to base - the prodigal son returns

I landed a sweet job back in London. So having lived in other countries most of my life I finally got the best (and only) job available to me and it's right back where I started from.

Seems like London is booming, at least for visual effects. At the moment I'm staying a hotel at my company's expense. But I signed a lease contract for the place in the photos. It used to be a pub called "St Martin's Tavern" and they didn't take down the sign which is kinda cool. Now it's a Japanese restaurant and 2 flats. One on each floor. I have the whole floor above the restaurant.

The search for flats was tedious and frustrating. I had to see a lot of ugly, expensive places before I saw this gem. It's not perfect but when you weigh up the location (super close to the heart of Camden Town), the price and the fact it's 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms it's a sweet deal. The moment I saw it, actually even before I saw it in reality (I saw it on the agent's website) I was close to signing. When I actually went in I was ready to sign immediately. I was the first person to see it and signed and payed the lease within minutes. I'm convinced it would be snapped up that very evening.

The only catch is I have to wait until April 10th to move in. So I'm still in the hotel and possibly will be staying at a Japanese colleagues place until I can move in.

Once I'm settled I can go and visit my family in Rotherham, Yorkshire and at Easter I'm planning to visit Tuya in Mongolia. I was hoping she would join me soon but her first attempt at a visa was turned down by the embassy fascists. So we have to try again at the best opportunity in the future and maintain our relationship via webcam and I will fly to Beijing or Mongolia as often as possible. My first planned trip is Easter.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to Shanghai, for the second time

Sometimes, times like now, I feel like a bouncing ball, a rolling stone, or just a gypsy. I don't think I've lived in one place for more than 8 months in the past 3 years. 1 month was the shortest time I stayed in an apartment.

So, we are moving back to Shanghai. We've found a nice small apartment in a nice compound in the city centre. It costs more for less, but it's a hot and hip part of Shanghai. And I do like my nightlife and hate commuting.

The reasons for moving back to Shanghai are these:

1) the Beijing business idea of starting a CG lighting class fell through, because of lack of student interest. It looked good on paper but the reality was that Chinese students wouldn't pay that much for a lighting course. Also, the animation company wouldn't give me any lighting supervising work, which might have kept us in Beijing.

2) we just don't like Beijing quite as much as Shanghai, although it's a close call. Shanghai just beats Beijing out when it comes to nightlife, public transportation, larger foreign population and other smaller reasons. The only thing I like more about Beijing is the weather. Shanghai is significantly more rainy, and when it's not raining it's humid.

3) Tuya can study here and she has many more friends here. I can potentially find English teaching work here while I look for more lucrative work. The semester was about to start at Tongji University where Tuya studied before, so the timing was right. Also, she can get a longer visa (about 6 months) instead of having to leave the country every 30 days, like she had to in Beijing.

I will be sad to leave my friends in Beijing and our lovely apartment but the positive aspects of moving to Shanghai won us over. I will now be searching for work and looking up old friends. I've already bumped into a few and the staff of my favourite bars seem to remember me.

I will also post some photos of the new apartment when we get settled. It's a bit of a shock to move from a 2 bed, 2 bath, 120 square meter apartment to a 1 bed, 1 bath, 75 square meter place. But on the positive side, it should cost less to cool and heat. The location is great (most of my favourite hang-outs are within walking distance) and the apartment complex has a 50 meter swimming pool and small gym. So that's a plus.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New city, new job, new apartment, new attitude

my previous company, Xing Xing Animation in Beijing, made me a surprising offer. It came out of the blue. They wanted me to teach an advanced lighting class in their animation school. It seemed like a sweet deal and after working out a contract I moved back to Beijing. They will be a client or partner in the venture, rather than my employer. I think that's better because they can't boss me around.

so, for about a week now I've been settling into my new apartment. It's about 120 square meters (1300 sq. feet), 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Similar size and rent to my last apartment in Beijing, but brand new building, newer and nicer furniture and appliances. The landlord is also much nicer and more generous too. They supplied me with a lot of extras I have never had at other places. Everything is top quality, which is unusual for China. Most stuff looks good for a few weeks then quickly breaks or falls apart. Not in my apartment, though.

Oh, and the best part: THE HEATING ACTUALLY WORKS AND IS EFFICIENT AND WARM! Actually, it's hot water underfloor heating from a gas boiler. So very sophisticated and toasty.

Also, I've been going into my clients office and practising my teaching and developing courseware. I just bought a bunch of Computer Graphics (CG) books from Amazon and they will arrive shortly. The main challenge is to recruit students now because I don't make any money unless we have a class of 20 to 30 students. So I'm living off my savings again.

At night I've been rediscovering local restaurants and bars where I used to go. Sometimes I'll get a tip on a new place and go have a look. Tuya is supposed to be coming soon but won't have any school or work here. So boredom could be a problem.

In less than 10 days I need to go to the Chinese / Mongolian border to exit and re-enter for visa purposes. It's a big pain to have to do that every 30 days. But it's got to be done.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

To Outer Mongolia and Back

Well, I'm back in Shanghai after a 3 week break.

First I went to Beijing by overnight sleeper train. The train was the brand new bullet train (D3, see photo)

which saves a couple of hours but costs extra. It cost me 700rmb versus the usual 470rmb. I really didn't need to save a couple of hours so I was a little disappointed that i couldn't get tickets on the slower, older train. You can pay half that price if you are willing to go "hard sleeper" on the slower train -- this is exactly what I did on my return journey. Slow but cheap and pretty much as comfortable. I don't think I will do "soft sleeper" again. It's just not worth it. Also, you meet more people when you do "hard sleeper". It's a much more social experience.

In Beijing, I stayed for 2 nights with an old co-worker from Canada, Sheldon, and visited some old co-workers from Xing Xing Animation where I worked before (see photo of Sheldon, Cindear, and me from 1 year ago company party).

We visited some bars we used to go to but they were all pretty much dead. My God, what happened to Beijing? It's so boring now. Well, it could have been dead because a lot of the foreigners who make Beijing a fun place go home for Christmas and New Year. I did bump into a couple of western friends at Rickshaw, a place I used to go fairly frequently.

On Saturday, I caught the early morning train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar (UB) the capital of Outer Mongolia. It's supposed to take 30 hours but there was some drama when the trains engine caught fire. I was in car 3, near the front, and we were asked to evacuate to the back of the train until the crew got the fire under control. It was a Mongolian train and it was a bit scary to see all the cabin crews from all the cars running down the aisle with fire extinguishers. I wish I'd taken some photos. At any rate, the train was stuck for 6 hours in Northern China, without power or heat. However, it was only 4 hours late in UB because they got us a new train at the China/Mongolian border. Normally, they change the wheels at the border because the Chinese and Mongolian tracks are different widths, but they skipped this to try to save time.

It was interesting to feel the temperature plummet from Beijing's 0 degrees C to probably -30 degrees C in Mongolia. It's not like flying where you can step from tropical heat to sub-zero in an instant. You really feel the change when you are on the train. The train is mostly warm inside but at the windows and doors between cars you can feel the extreme cold sneaking in. Also, we had to go outside at night a couple of times to change trains and do immigration formalities. I don't know why but the Mongolian Immigration official was a real asshole. He complained about the people who needed visas because he had to get out of bed, I suppose. But we all explained the Mongolian embassy in Beijing was closed for 4 days over the New Year holiday so it was impossible to get a visa in Beijing in a timely manner. Then he overcharged me on my visa because I didn't have US dollars. Visa problems have become a real pain in my life these last few years. I think it's a total racket designed to rip-off as many foreigners as possible.

When we arrived at Ulaanbaatar (UB) around 5:20pm Tuya picked me up at the station. I had to wait outside for about 15 minutes before she arrived. The -25 degree C cold was a bit frightening at first but I got used to it pretty quickly. As long as you have appropriate clothing, especially a hat, glove and scarf for extremities and several layers for your body then it seems like you are good for an hour or two outside. (see photo of me in city centre) If you just go outside, jump in a taxi within a few minutes, then dash inside at your destination, then you can wear just about anything. I walked around at night in -30 degree C temperatures for up to an hour with no problems. The biggest danger seemed to be slipping on ice which accumulates and gets super hard. Fortunately, the air is dry and there was almost no wind while I was there, so that made it pretty comfortable. I imagine if the winds gets strong then you could be in serious trouble.

We stayed in Tuya's aunt's hotel. We had a deluxe room for the very reasonable price of US$30 per night. We had a lot of visitors because many of Tuya's extended family works in the hotel and a lot of her friends were home for the holidays. I really wanted to go out more and explore but there's not much to do in UB. The pubs were nice but close too early for my liking (11pm last call, 12am closed) and then there are the nightclubs which stay open until about 3am to 4am. My favourite nightclub was "Strings" because they had an awesome Phillipine house band and a great DJ too. Also, it was quite busy almost every night I went and had a good mixed crowd of locals and foreigners.

We visited a Chinggis Khan memorial while we were there (see photo). It's about 50km outside the city and I took some photos. It's pretty amazing to see it rising out of the grasslands. I really wanted to climb a small mountain outside the city or play in the snow but nobody else wanted to and I'd probably need to go on my own another time.

After 2 weeks I'd gotten my new Chinese visa and a cheap flight back to Beijing -- not much more expensive then the train (score!!!!). Again, I got a crappy overpriced visa from the Chinese immigration this time. Only 30 days and 1 entry and a ridiculous rush fee. God, it makes me angry. Such a rip-off. So I have to try to arrange another visa when I get back to Shanghai or I will need to get a 30-day extension in Shanghai. Which can be done twice but it's a pain and thoroughly inconvenient.

So, I said good-bye to Tuya and promised to meet again in Shanghai in about 2 weeks and flew back to Beijing on MIAT (Mongolian airline). I repeated my previous 2 night style stay in Beijing and got the night train back to Shanghai. This time for only 370rmb in hard sleeper class on the slow train.

Now, back in my freezing cold apartment -- because it doesn't have central heating -- I'm contemplating my work future. I have applied to a couple of CG companies but if nothing comes of that I'll try to get a better teaching job in Shanghai. Hopefully, I will know something in the next 2 or 3 weeks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lonely, I'm so lonely .......

Feeling a bit lonely these days :~(

Tuya went back to Mongolia almost 2 weeks ago. I've started to make some friends in Shanghai but a lot of them don't go out at all. Or they can never commit to going out again. People here seem very flaky when it comes arranging a meeting. So usually it doesn't happen.

Seems like many Chinese people are into work and family but not into social life. Or at least not into making new friends outside their immediate social circle.

Also, at my morning schools almost no teachers talk to me, so I don't even have much human contact there either. I'm stuck in an office with the art teachers who don't speak much English and I don't speak much Chinese.

So, I'm thinking of either learning Chinese next term or moving to a more sociable country. People were much more friendly in the Phillipines but with the catch of they are trying to rip you off in Manila. In Cebu, it was more of a genuine friendship without the ripping-you-off part.

Well, I'm heading to Beijing and Mongolia in about 2 weeks so I'll have time to figure out what to do with my life. I've had no luck landing a CG job in Shanghai or a better teaching job. I should be patient and keep trying though.

I think getting one more semester of teaching experience combined with one semester of Chinese at Tongji university might improve my life. I could stay busy studying Chinese and still keep my hand in as a teacher. Also, I think there could be great social possibilities as a student.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Latest from Shanghai

Things are much the same in Shanghai.

I'm teaching and starting to realise what I like and don't like. I don't like the travel. Not because I don't like travel, but I don't get paid for it. And travelling 3 hours to a school for 1 hour 10 minutes of paid work, just doesn't make sense. So I'm thinking of ways of minimizing the travel. I also prefer having a teacher's assistant in the class than not having one. Especially large classes. Who can watch 35 kids efficiently? Especially if they're naughty...

In 2 of my 4 schools, I don't have a teacher's assistant and I have to teach AND try to control the kids. That's a bit difficult at times and frustrating. Also, I'm not making any friends at that school. I'm in an office with art teachers who don't speak English and I don't speak Chinese. I wish they'd put me in the office with local English teachers.....

I'm discovering more of the city of Shanghai --- it's awesome!!!!! Especially pubs, clubs, shops and restaurants. Not so much of the tourist stuff, though. Blah! Who needs it! I've made some friends, especially at the Thursday Night Quiz at the British Bulldog pub in Hengshan Road. It's popular with foreigners and a good night out. I'm going there tonight. I'm a regular now. One of the photos is of the pool table at the Bulldog.

Tuya, my longtime on-off girlfriend, went back to Mongolia to visit her Mum who is visiting Mongolia from England. So I'm alone again which I don't like. I am hoping to go to Ulanbaatar in January after the school semester is over. It's going to be -40 degrees Celsius so that should be, uh, cool. I or we may go somewhere warm after that. I have 4 weeks off if I decide to teach in the Shanghai elementary school system next semester. I still haven't decided if I will. If I do it will be with a different timetable / schedule.

I'd really like a similar job with less travel, more money, or possibly a Computer Graphics job. They say money doesn't matter, but I'm afraid that's a lie and it does in my life, especially with my love of travel and Tuya's love of shoes.