This post could also be titled “How to not draw attention to yourself when physically paralyzed by fake (inactivated) Japanese brain fever during your Arabic lesson” or “The day I bought 20 respirators and was questioned by the salesperson about experimenting with dangerous chemical substances at home”. If you are going to live in China for some time, you can look forward to some interesting experiences even prior to your departure relating to vaccination side effects, visa application procedures, people looking up everything you have ever posted about yourself online, and convincing everyone that you know exactly what you’re doing.

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This corresponds approximately to the mental image you will have when you envision yourself moving around in the big industrial cities.

As you can imagine, this is a bit exaggerated, but be prepared with several respirators before you leave. Surgical masks are usually not good enough, because the particles will just go around it and into your eyes. The need for a mask varies hugely depending on your location within China. Wuhan is safer in this regard than Beijing or Shanghai, even though it is a huge industrial city as well, and the pollution index can occasionally be high. Following real-time air quality indexes is a good idea. The government will notify citizens about pollution hazards through media announcements. An air purifier could be considered a good investment as well.

You also need to get vaccinated, several times, and you have to start this process approximately half a year before your estimated departure. The Finnish national vaccination program covers diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. On top of this, you “need” hepatitis A and B, meningitis, typhoid fever, Japanese brain fever, TBE, and if you’re going to spend some time in Yunnan (“southern cloud”), malaria medication. When I got my first Japanese brain fever vaccination, my immune system clearly didn’t realise what was going on, and decided to paralyse its host in the middle of an Arabic lesson. The feeling is not a sickly one in itself, more like a “I’ve just witnessed a horrible car accident” kind of feeling. Luckily, there was almost 1.5 hours left of the lesson, so no one paid much attention to glassy-eyed me slipping down the chair. (I suppose they’re used to people looking like that after a three-hour lesson in Arabic.) When I started laughing at something I read, my coursemate looked at me really worried, because my face muscles didn’t work properly. Her shocked face made me laugh even more, which resulted in a silly exchange between us. Feeling overwhelmed? Towards the challenges! 😀

There’s a way to see if people are paying attention to your phone conversations in public. I was telling my friend about the vaccination process on the bus. “Sure, I got meningitis on Monday, and today I got typhoid fever. Last week I had Japanese brain fever for the first time. Almost done!” in a cheerful tone, smiling contently. The two nearby-sitting elderly lady passengers looked more and more anxious after each word. When leaving the bus, I could hear them saying “This is how they let these hopeless treatment cases roam freely among people… How can one feel safe in this country anymore?!…” Whoops! 😀 😀 😀

There are different types of visas depending on what your travel purpose is. I’m going to use an X2 visa, which is intended for studies in China lasting under 180 days. Here’s a good list borrowed from China Highlights:

  • L (tourist visa): Issued to an applicant who comes to China for tourist purposes, family visiting or other personal affairs.
  • F (business visa): Issued to an applicant who is invited to China for visit, research, lecture, business, scientific-technological and culture exchanges or short-term advanced studies or intern practice for a period of no more than six months.
  • Z (work visa): Issued to an applicant who is to take up a post or employment in China, and their accompanying family members.
  • X (student visa): Issued to an applicant who comes to China for the purpose of study, advanced studies or intern practice for a period over six months.
  • C (crew visa) Visa: Issued to crew members on international aviation, navigation and land transportation missions and family members accompanying them.
  • G (transit visa): Issued to those who transit through China.
  • D (resident visa): Issued to applicant who is to reside permanently in China.
  • J-1 (journalist visa): Issued to foreign resident correspondents in China.
  • J-2 (journalist visa): Issued to foreign correspondents on temporary interview missions in China.

When at the embassy, be prepared for at least 20 people queuing before you at the door, even if you’ve arrived before the embassy opens. Also, be prepared for random questions such as “How much money do your parents earn per year?”.

I will update the blog with useful information again, when I can think of something else you need to know.