China 1999

Written by Al Wong (Write to me)

This is my experience in Beijing, China in the Summer of 1999. If you came to this webpage first, it's better if you start from the beginning of the story.

Some Preparations

Getting the VISA

Here are a few pieces of information I discovered while applying for a VISA to China that no one told me before.

  1. The Long Lines! It is quite a drive to get to the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles. Once you have parked your car on the street (You need quarters for the parking meter!) and walk to the building, you may see a long line of people coming out of the door. The reason for this is because there is only one window that processes VISA applications. Please note there are actually three windows available. The first window handles VISA applications. The second window is a cashier who basically takes your money and stamps your receipt. This person is idle 99% of the time and basically watches the person in the first window! The third window distributes passports that have already been processed and stamped with a VISA. This window is idle only half the time. The person in this window also watches the person in the first window.

  2. The VISA Charge is $30. They only take cash or cashier's check. They do not take credit cards or personal checks. Fortunately, I had the $30 cash on hand or things would have gotten ugly. It turns out this VISA processing charge is mentioned in only one handout (out of four slightly different handouts) for the China trip and mentioned briefly with no mention about cash only.

  3. You Have to Go Back! I was under the impression that it would be possible for your passport with VISA to be mailed back to you. I was sick during the first three weeks of June (don't ask) and couldn't drive over there to pick it up so I tried to call the Chinese Consulate and found out...

  4. They Don't Answer Their Phone! Why publish your phone number (two phone numbers actually) if you do not bother to answer it??? I tried calling the Chinese Consulate many times and at all working hours and still could not get an answer.

  5. Tourist VISA Lasts Only 30 Days. You would have to fill out more forms and give more explanations if you want to stay in China longer. I was going to spend about 26 days in China with approximately another 2 weeks in Hong Kong. Fortunately, they don't count the time I was going to spend in Hong Kong. So I was able to apply for a tourist visa.

[VISA to China]

The hard won Chinese tourist VISA.

Getting a VISA to the USA

To give an unbiased report for getting VISAs, I now give the story of a Beijing friend who tried to get a VISA to the USA from the American Consulate in Beijing and succeeded. It is enlightening:

You think it's bad trying to get a VISA from the USA to China? It's worse trying to get a VISA from China to the USA! In the American Consulate in Beijing, there are also long lines and the VISA fee is $50.00US which is a lot for Chinese people and more than China charges for their VISA. Also, they take up to a month to tell you to come down and pick up your passport. Also, even if they deny you a VISA they still keep the money! I had a friend who tried four times to get a VISA into the USA and was denied each time. Each time he received no refund! They also don't answer their phones!

This is pretty bad too. We both laughed at the needless misery of it all. My friend mentions there are also three windows in the American Consulate in Beijing just like the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles but all windows are open for VISA applications unlike the Chinese Consulate. So the lines should move faster at least.

Travelers Checks

The AAA Auto Club provides free American Express travelers checks to their members. This is probably the best way to get them. In China, the exchange rate is slightly higher for travelers checks than for US cash for some reason.

The AAA will also take your picture for the VISA application. The picture fee is nominal.


It is suggested you get the vaccines for Hepatis A, Typhoid Fever and a Tetanus booster. I went to a local doctor for this and paid more than $100(!) for the Hepatitis A vaccine. The Typhoid Fever vaccine is 4 capsules you take every other day. I didn't bother with the Tetanus booster.

I learned from another person in my China group that the local health department will also provide the same vaccines at about 75% of the cost that I paid.

Extra Stuff to Bring

Here are some things to bring you may not have thought of:
  • Answering Machine. So you won't miss those important calls while away sight seeing or in class. Bring the smallest and lightest answering machine you can find. I got the AT&T Model 1717 but if you find a smaller one, please let me know.
  • Your Own Pillow. This trip lasts for a little less than a month. Might as well be comfortable while you are sleeping.
  • Money Clip. To carry the foreign currency separate from your wallet. I like the magnetic kind myself.
  • Flashlight. For unexpected power failures. I always carry a small flashlight (MagLites are great!) when I travel. It has made life easier for me during several power blackouts.
  • Water bottle. This was suggested by Caroline, one of the organizers, and is a very good idea. Buy a water bottle in a holder with a shoulder strap to carry around.

China 1999 My Writings Al's Wild Web Page

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Last updated : October 22, 1999
Copyright 1999 Al Wong, Los Angeles, California, USA
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