China: 5 Days + 3 Cities + 7 Expats = Infinite Fun

Happy Seollal! It’s Lunar (Chinese) New Year here, which is a huge holiday for Koreans, typically involving celebrations and ceremonies to honor ancestors, as is custom for many holidays here. The Korean New Year almost always lines up with both the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year, but it’s actually based on the Korean lunar calendar, which about every 25 years differs from the others by one day.

Whoa information overload! Anyway, it’s a perfect day to start my series about our trip to China. I have really been looking forward to blogging about this, particularly because the lively group we traveled with was the perfect dynamic for blazing through the country on a jam-packed quest for delicious buns. Oh, also that Great Wall thing, but mostly pork buns. Said bun-quest took us on planes, trains, automobiles, tandem bikes and a toboggan.

I was so close to having a video done before I hit the hay tonight, but it just ain’t gonna happen, so I’ll post a little bit of background information, because getting permission to go to China was a journey all its own.

Before the bun-quest could begin, we had to travel through the magical world of Expensive-Single-Entry-Visa Forest, into the Land of Swirly, Twirly Flight-and-Hotel-Bookings. We didn’t go through the Lincoln Tunnel at the end, but booking tours with reputable companies definitely helped connect the ends of travel planning with a great, easy experience on the ground. [[Unapologetic Elf fan right here.]]

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Seriously, though, the visa process was a bit confusing because we had heard buzz around the expat community here that China would not grant visas to foreign residents of Korea that didn’t have a minimum of 6 months left on their Korean visa/alien registration documents. The theory behind this is that many English teachers would go over into China with only a month or so left on their Korean visa and just stay in China illegally while searching for an English teaching position. I’m not one to judge how common this actually was, but it was clearly enough of a concern for the Chinese government to implement said rule.

Later on, we discovered that this rule did apply to certain Korean visa types for a certain period of time. Due to the nature of our group’s immigration status in Korea (business and dependent visas), this rule would not have applied to us even when it was in effect. Essentially, we could all breathe a sigh of relief. Furthermore, we have the great benefit of the administrative assistants in J-Mar and co.’s office to help us out with all this type of paperwork. We simply submitted our passports and provided our travel dates to the admins and they took care of the rest. The unfortunate consequence of this method of obtaining a visa to visit China is that it is extremely expensive. Close to $300 per person! Thus, if you’re going to make a trip to China, I highly suggest maximizing your time to make the cost of the visa worth it.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in getting a brief taste of what China has to offer, they do have a free, 72-hour, no-visa-required option where they will let you swing by for a little while. You may wonder why we didn’t go for this option and why we paid so much to simply add on two days and two nights to our trip. Our thought process was based on trying to balance being able to see more of China than 72 hours would allow while using our finite vacation days wisely and exploring as much of Asia as possible. After determining what Chinese sites were of most interest, we went for the single-entry visa; however, one couple on our trip went ahead and got a double-entry visa which is the same price, but you have to use both entries within a 6-month period. Thus they planned an additional trip to Shanghai not long after.

Ultimately, the group decided on the following major activities: exploring the city of Beijing for a day or so, taking an overnight camping trip to the Great Wall, and also traveling on overnight trains to the city of Xi’an to see the famous Terracotta warrior statues. The logistics of this required a lot of research on the easiest and most cost effective ways to travel between cities as well as get a unique Great Wall experience. In the end, we worked with a few good tour companies that made everything easy on the ground. From the time we landed until take off, everything was fairly well planned so that we didn’t have to make difficult group decisions in the moment – that’s key to keeping everyone’s sanity and remaining friends afterward. See? We’re all smiles:

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I am hoping to share the first video with you really soon! Until then 새해 복 많이 받으세요 – best of luck to you in the coming year!

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