Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Shanghai Part Deux

Feb 22 to Feb 24, 2010 (by Swiss)

Since our Indian visa was slated to be ready on Tuesday, we hopped on the high speed "D" train in Hangzhou mid-afternoon on Monday February 22nd. We were to pick up the visa (hopefully) on Tuesday, and fly off to Xi'An on Wednesday. If all went well, this was to be a short segment.

Deja Vu?
Monday was fairly uneventful, with the train ride being pleasant and quick as always. I spent most of the time on the train trying to get my ipod shuffle to work, as I run a Linux OS and my itunes alternative (Banshee) wouldn't recognize the thing. It had in the past, so I was somewhat perplexed why it didn't work. I later figured out how to get it working by downloading an additonal program that somehow caused Banshee to recgonize my ipod once again. As we say at times at work: FM. No idea why, thank goodness for the internet. Other big news for the day was that we once again checked in at City Central Youth Hostel, I got a note from the Swiss embassy in New Delhi that my passport was ready (incredibly fast), and we booked tickets to the Yun Feng acrobatics show for the following day.

And the Answer is....
In case anybody is actually still reading our blog, let me get this off my chest: We got the Visa for India, and a 6 month multiple entry visa at that. We were both elated. A little further investigation revealed that India requires a two month period between entries, which now drew new concerns about the possibility to visit Nepal. Online researching once again, we discovered that they generally make an exception for tourists providing you can prove that you were doing the side trip as part of tourist activity. So it looks like will not only visit India, but probably do a quick visit to Nepal now :)

Since we've already seen a good chunk of Shanghai, the remainder of the day was spent in the French Concession section of town. Objectives were twofold: Check out the area (it was a beautiful day) and locate the Brazilian consulate to answer Brazil visa questions. Jason had emailed and called them a couple of times, and had not gotten a response. The reason, we found out later, was that they were closed for the holidays. But after our little India experience, we wanted to confirm the time span required to get a Brazil visa. Well, Jason did, as I think I'm going to switch to my Swiss passport after Egypt (more on that later.) Long story short, the location of the consulate listed on the map was incorrect, so the roughly 60 minutes we spent looking for the thing were a tad of a waste. In fact, we ended up visiting the US consulate for advice, where we were "escorted" to a window by two strict looking Chinese guards. They were not joking around. We finally found the location listed on the map, where we were advised that they had moved to a different spot far from any subway stops. A decision was made to wait until Xi'An to figure out a path forward.

So back to the French Concession it was, where we sampled local street food and drank milk tea for lunch. The mild weather was much welcomed, and food was very good.

Satisfied that we had at least gotten our visa stuff done, we headed back to the Hostel to work on blog stuff and for me to figure out my visa plans for South America. Time was also spent chatting with Miranda, who was part of the hostel staff and we had gotten to know during our last stay. The plan for the evening was to attend the Yun Feng acrobatics show, which we did after booking accomodation in Xi'An and having some Japanese "fast food" for dinner.

Acrobatics Night
Both Beijing and Shanghai are supposedly known for their acrobatics. We had evaluated two shows offered through our hostel, and decided to sample the slightly more expensive 150 RMB Yun Feng show in lieu of the 100 RMB tourist-centric option. The show was about 90 minutes, and offered some pretty cool performances. The lighting was low, so picture quality is so-so, but I hope you enjoy this little tidbit. Definitely recommended.

[UPDATE March 4, 2010 - Added Videos]

Soapbox Moment: The hidden cost of travel
I just wanted to share some learnings in the visa department, an oft under-appreciated challenge both from a financial and time commitment perspective. Between printing documentation, waiting times, drop-off and pickup, each visa can take up to a full days time to obtain. Also, you can only process one visa at a time, as the non-visa-on-arrival countries hold on to your passport for multiple days while they process your request. Unless you plan on spending multiple weeks at any given location, this generally limits you to getting one visa per location. Over the course of our trip, we've gotten pretty good at finding consular offices and having our documentation in a row to minimize time involved, but travelers beware, it will eat up at least some of your time.

The second caveat is monetary costs. As we were planning our trip, we figured that the majority of the costs would generally be affiliated with lodging, food, and transportation, with some places being cheap (i.e., SE Asia), and some more expensive (i.e., Austrialia.) The cost for visas, however, was maybe a bit under-appreciated. As we are past the halfway point of our trip, we have our itinerary pretty well set, so let me break down our visa costs for the countries visited:

Free Visas available on arrival: New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Argentina*, Peru

* Argentina doesn't charge for the visa, but does charge a USD 130 "reciprocity fee" to US citizens that is valid for 10 years.

Pay Visas and affiliated costs in USD (for US citizens): Australia ($20), Indonesia** ($20), Laos** ($35), Cambodia** ($25), Vietnam ($60), China ($135), India ($65), Nepal** ($30), Egypt** ($20), Jordan** ($15), Brazil ($160), Bolivia** ($130.)

** Visa on arrival - i.e., don't have to apply ahead of time and they'll issue the visa at the border

Add all that up, and you end up with $845, no small chunk of change. When planning, it's something to keep in mind. It should be noted that most of these fees apply to US citizens, as other countries sometimes match our visa fees for their citizens. Argentina seems to be the most blatant about it, calling it a reciprocity fee.

With my Swiss passport ready in Delhi, switching to it after Egypt is slated to save me $420! This, of course, is barring any costs affiliated with arrests and/or deportation :) Jason will gladly accept donations to help cover his costs. Part of the gig, I guess.

Our final Shanghai Goodbye
Although we enjoyed our stay in Shanghai, it was time to say good bye and move on to Xi'An. The morning was spent booking dorm beds at the Happy Dragon hostel in Beijing, returning our Subway cards (for a refund), before heading toward the highlight of the day: The Shanghai Maglev train

The Shanghai Maglev train connects the Longyang subway station with Pudong International airport. Opened in 2004, it is the first (and I think only) commercial high speed maglev line in the world. It's based on the German Transrapid technology, and has set a record speed of 501 km/h/311 mph (according to wiki), though the top speed was limited between 301 km/h and 431 km/h depending on the time of day while we were there.

During the ~8 mintue ride, the train accelerates to a top speed of 431 km/h, or roughly 268 mph. That speed is maintained for about a minute, before the train starts to decelerate. Cost for the train is 50 RMB one way, which is reduced to 40 RMB if you produce a printout of your airline tickets. Oh, and it was AWESOME! Nothing like looking outside cruising at over 260 mph and watching the surroundings zip-by. Here are some pics.

That's right, 430 km/hr!!

And if you ever wondered what happens to birds (we think) who manage to be in the way of the train, have a look:

We got to the airport early and safely, checked in, and were ready for our next adventure in Xi'An.


Unknown said...

Jason's faster than Swiss!

Loving the bird splats... that's probably quite some glass.

Selah said...

Hey Swiss, Peru's visa is free, however, I think I remember there being an "exit fee" to leave the country-- maybe like $20 or something.

Swiss said...

selah - thanks for the tip. Indonesia did the same thing. good to know, and we'll be sure to have some good ol' greenbacks on us.

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