Oh China!

After five and a half months in China we’ve made our first trip outside its borders and are currently in Malaysia where we have two and a half weeks to spend relaxing in between the cities of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. Initially an unplanned trip (more on that shortly) I am now viewing it as a much needed break from China.

When we first moved out here several people warned us of the China crash – typically occurring around 6 months into a stay it signifies the end of the honeymoon period in 中国. Small frustrations can no longer be ignored (and become increasingly more like large frustrations), tempers fray, patience runs out and essentially most people agree that you need a short stint out of the country to decompress and regain your enthusiasm for living somewhere that can be equal parts amazing and pull-your-actual-hair-out infuriating. We hit this stage a month early and the reason for this accelerated arrival can definitely be attributed to one thing – visas!! Or more accurately the administration procedures and people surrounding this visa process.

Since coming back from our incredible trip to Western Sichuan it has felt like Joe and I have been stuck in a nightmarish loop of paperwork, failed trips to offices and bureaus, baffling displays of human error and general administrative incompetency. It’s safe to say the post-holiday blues hit hard.   Our real-life sabbatical to China suddenly began to feel like nothing more than a highly stressful chore and we did both question whether it was actually worth it. Which I suppose was bound to happen after I rather smugly declared that I was basically living the dream just a few weeks a go.

Having had a complete nightmare securing our visas before we even left the UK it’s not come as any great surprise that renewing our existing visas and obtaining the paperwork we need for work ones has been a fraught process. What has been less expected is the complete lack of clarity or urgency at any point throughout these processes. It’s also taught both Joe and I a valuable lesson – NEVER book flights without having the visa you need signed, sealed and delivered in your passport. It was this error on our parts that led to a very panicked message to my Dad to break the news that we were Malaysia bound the following month as China was kicking us out 20 days earlier than they’d originally told us. Thank goodness for international and understanding relatives!!

What has since followed is a series of cock ups that would be comedic in their ludiocrity were it not for the grey hairs I am sure it’s bringing on. Following two months of phone calls, emails, WeChats and downright harassment from our side (all littered with the requisite please, thank yous and hundreds of smiley face emoticons to minimise offense) the visa paperwork that should have taken 3 weeks to secure is still not ready. Subsequently it’s now set to make its way to us via various planes, trains and automobiles across continents.

I am well aware that what I am currently moaning about is the ultimate champagne problem – girl on extended gap year whining about unexpected holiday to Malaysia. Feel free to judge me incessantly, I most certainly would. But for someone obsessed with having a nice routine it’s a massive pain in the arse. And a very expensive one at that given that no working means no pay. But, having said all that, as our departure date sped closer Joe and I could not have been more excited to get on a plane and head somewhere to forget about bureaucracy and form filling for a couple of glorious weeks…not to mention no singing and dancing around like an idiot in front of kindergarten kids in the name of education.

So here we are! Having just spent the day wandering around Chinatown in KL on a food tour we are full and satisfied and most importantly relaxed. The cat-shaped void in my life (I’ve gone full on crazy cat lady since the arrival of Fran and Xixi) is being filled by a mental Labrador and we have actual sofas to lounge on rather than wooden benches! Things are looking up! Next week we’re off to spend three nights in Penang where I intend to further increase my cholesterol levels indulging in the world famous street food. Then it’s the all important trip to Hong Kong at which point all fingers, toes and other extremities will be crossed tightly and I may well find a God to pray to in the hope that all will finally go smoothly and I’ll be granted my visa so I can actually get back into China to fall in love with it all over again!

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