Visa Application From Toronto

Matt | Visas | Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

I recently had a stressful situation in getting my visa to go back to China all because I was late in applying. Fortunately, it all worked out and I got my “Urgent” visa and  in the process I learned a few things that I would like to share here.

1. You no longer get your visa from the Chinese consulate in Toronto.  Instead go to the Visa Application Centre.

The most important thing is that the Chinese consulate in Toronto no longer processes visas as there is now a Visa Application Center that handles such matters.  Foolish me, when I first saw this site on Google I thought it was a private visa service company and did not stop to read it.  That was a painful mistake and it cost me a day.  Below is the link.

2. The forms have changed…slightly.

There is a new form which can be found at the website above and you need to type in your information.  The gentlemen working the front counter explained this to me.  This also cost me a day.  To be truthful it was the same day that I lost above, so really I lost only one day.   I was fortunate that the gentlemen working that day was very polite and explained all the problems with the way I had filled out the old application form.  For example, since I was visiting family I needed to get an invitation letter with copies of my inviter’s Chinese ID card.  Also, I didn’t have copies of my return flight information with me that was needed too.  Additionally, they no longer accepted the old form and haven’t for a few years.  This nice guy explained the deficiencies of my application and also gave me checklist of things that I needed to get before I reapplied.  All this information ie checklist is available on the website.

Another tip this guy told me was about the invitation letter and copy of the cards, he said they accept photos taken from a phone and scanned.  This allowed me to get all my documents ready by the next morning.

3.  They no longer do same day requests.  The urgent request takes 1 day.

It has been a few years since I last got a visa to China, but I was pretty sure you used to be able to get same day service, but this is no longer the case.  It now takes one day.

I could have saved myself a lot of stress if I

  • Got my visa 1 month in advance
  • Filled in the correct application
  • Brought my flight information
  • Brought my invitation letter
  • Most importantly, read the website – – before starting my application.  The site is very user friendly and you can even make an appointment which allows you to get in the Urgent/Express line.

I have to say the the site and the new center are a major step up from what I had remembered.  You arrive at a clean new office building on University Avenue, go up to the 15th floor and have a small wait in line before you are greeted by the someone at the front desk who will give you a number if you have all your documents.  Then you get a number and wait to see the attendants behind the counter to get your application processed.  When you return the next day to pick up your visa you repeat the steps and then pay.  To be honest, I thought it was a well run process and everyone I met was polite and professional.   Just read the site first!

Good luck.




TED Talk on China, Chinese Youth and the Power of Blogging

Matt | Blogging in China,Chinese Culture | Monday, July 29th, 2013

It has been awhile and I have missed thinking about and writing about China.  My current job is slightly different than teaching in China, but once in a while I come across something interesting about China or Chinese culture and my interest peaks so does my excitement.

My wife introduced this TED talk on China from the “Chinese Oprah” Yang Lan.  I really enjoyed her presentation, but what I kept thinking about was how impressive her English was.  I find it challenging enough to give a great presentation in my native language and I couldn’t imagine how challenging it would be give a talk in another language. Well done Yang Lan.

I Broke My Site

Matt | Blogging in China | Monday, October 17th, 2011

Last Friday, I tried moving my website to another host.  One minute later, I broke my site.  I spent the rest of the weekend scrambling online trying to figure out how to fix the mess.  In the process, I learned a few things, such as,

Plan BEFORE you act

This was one time that I definitely leaped before I looked.  This caused some stress and my site was down for a few days (sorry for the inconvenience), but through the excitement I learned a few things and found a few great posts.  This is a great post I found,



Most of the LEARNING comes when you DO IT

Even though I broke my site for 3 days, I think it was good to jump in.  When I first thought about making the change, I glanced at a few sites that showed how (SQL, FTP, PHP, backing up database, uploading files to new server, changing the domain name) and I felt overwhelmed.  I thought (incorrectly) that I would only have to transfer my domain and everything else would magically move itself (again wrong).

When I broke the site, I felt the need to fix the problem quickly.  I reread those initially daunting emails and this time I slowly understood parts of them.  I tried following them step by step.  But unfortunately the site was still down.  I probably spent too long trying to fix the problem myself.  This leads to my most important learning….

If you don’t know what to do next ASK someone

I tried everything I could and I didn’t know where to turn next.  It was 72 hours later and my site was still broken.  I finally decided to pick up the phone and call for help.  I called Bluehost’s helpline and within 20 minutes Matt had checked everything out, fixed my issue and got my site back up and running (thanks again!).  If you follow the Pareto’s 20/80 principle, where 20% of things impact 80% of the stuff, my brief call was the 1% that impacted 99% of getting my site back up and working.  I never would have discovered my problem without help.

I guess that is one key part in learning.  Ask someone who knows more that you for help and they can show you the way; they can help show you something new that you never knew before and would never have known without their help.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” Confucius

Whose Advice?

Matt | Decision Making | Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Often at key times in my life I have been offered advice from people who meant well, who tried to help, but gave bad advice.

When people give advice, listen and thank them for caring enough to give you advice, but make sure that you decide for yourself if it is useful.  I believe most people who give advice should not.  Most of the advice they give is not only not helpful, but actually harmful. Many times it is our loved ones, family members or close friends, who give us advice on topics they have no idea about, yet that does not stop them from spouting their thoughts.

For example, before my wife and I started our Permanent Residency process, we felt lost and confused. While gathering information about the process we told our loved ones what was happening.  And they gave us their advice.  Although, they had never gone through this process, they still confidently threw out their words of wisdom, “pay for a lawyer and they’ll do it for you.”  My colleagues at work, who also had no experience in the process, gave the same advice in the same confident tone.  Then, I actually spoke to someone who had gone through the PR process, who was a lawyer, and he said, “do it yourself. You’ll save money and do a better job of it.”

Another time I got advice about helping me decide where to teach English.  Before I went to China, but after I had already signed a contract, another friend offered help.  “Why China? Why not Japan or Korea?”  Although he had never been to China and had never lived abroad, he gave this advice.  “Why don’t you walk around China Town in Toronto for a while before you decide if you want to live there for a year?”  I thought to myself that this was probably good advice, although I had already committed to my contract, so I walked around China Town.  It terrified me.  The smells and the sights during that hot summer were overwhelming.  The rotten vegetables outside the grocery store were overpowering.  The smell of garbage was too much.  Had I made a horrible decision?  Could I go through with it?  Then I went.  I got on the plane and landed in Beijing, China.  I travelled around China.  I learned that it is much different from the Toronto China Town.  Fortunately for me.  While my friend’s advice was in a good place, trying to protect me, it wasn’t sound because he had never been to where I wanted to go.

The best advice I can give is to go ask someone who has done what you want to do.  There is (almost) always someone who has done what you want to do and they are most likely willing to talk about how they did it.  Ask them for advice.  Listen.  Take notes.

For all others who give advice, but have not done what you want to do, keep in mind that they likely do not know what they are talking about. But remember that their intentions are in the right place. Listen.  Thank them.  But think and decide for yourself.

Best of luck.

Thinking about Moving to China? Blogging and Censorship

Matt | Blogging in China,Censorship | Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Continuing on with questions about moving to China, here are a few more of them you might want to ask or answer before you come.

9. What are the facts about censorship? Facebook? YouTube? Blogger?  I am a blogger myself and I need to blog.

As a writer and user of information in China, the “Great Firewall of China”, can be frustrating and uncomfortable. This discomfort stayed with me during my time in China and it was one of the things that reminded me of where I was living.

Starting with blogging, as this seems close to your heart (and mine), this should be fine. The only trouble I found was that you cannot seem to use the free blog sites such as Blogspot or WordPress to host your site. I discovered this when I first started. The blogs hosted on free sites, such as Blogspot, are unable to open while you are in China. I think this goes for Blogger as well. In order for you to blog in China, you need to pay for hosting, such as DreamHost, and get your own domain name. After that, blogging should not be an issue for you.

There are lots of blogs in and around China that are thriving. In my links section there are some great sites I like to read and they discuss some important issues. Interestingly, the site Peking Duck recently spoke of an example of the censorship and of rewriting history. I thought it was an impressive and timely article for this question.

As for YouTube and Facebook, as far as I know these are blocked. This is quite frustrating. Another site that is blocked in China is Wikipedia. This was a little annoying, but when I came back to Canada the first thing I would do was jump back into these sites. For the most part I wasn’t a big user of these sites, so these limitations did not bother me. The issue of blocking sites gets more intense and personal when my methods of communicating get severed. Reading about sites such as Skype getting blocked would concern me heavily as that is how I call between Canada and China.

Overall, the level of control over information was a little discomforting for me, but one is definitely able to blog in China. Living in a controlled environment was a little awkward at first.  Although in moving and living in a new culture experiencing differences is to be expected and is part of the journey.

Being gay in China

Matt | Gay in China | Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

A reader recently asked a few questions about being gay in China.

I’m interested in teaching English in China. But I have a very important question. I’m hoping you can give me some insight, and I think your readers may also be interested in the topic.

I am a gay male from the US. What is China like in terms of gay rights and tolerance? How are gay males viewed? Is it considered inappropriate for a gay male to teach children, as is the case in conservative areas of the US? Do cities like Beijing and Shanghai have an active gay scene? Should I avoid teaching in smaller towns and aim for a bigger, more modern city?

I know that since 2001 it is no longer considered a “mental illness”, but I was wondering if you could shed some light on this.

I think the Chinese culture is conservative in a lot of ways and unfortunately, concerning gay rights I think it is extremely conservative. In this regard, I feel it is similar to how North America likely was back in the ‘50s: things happened, but they were not discussed openly. China is changing rapidly, but sexual tolerance seems to be changing at a slower pace. A positive sign of change is that if you look at any guide book, such as Lonely Planet, you will likely find a “Gay/Lesbian Bars” section in some of the larger cities, such as Beijing or Shanghai.

To answer your specific questions, here is what I know and I hope it is of some help. As for gay rights, I don’t know if there are any in China, I would guess not.  There doesn’t seem to be much mentioned on the news on in the papers concerning this topic.  As for how people are viewed, gay males seem to be viewed negatively at least by the general public. It is not uncommon to hear people pointing out an effeminately-dressed man on the subway and saying, “He’s a gay.” Although, there do appear to be more openly gay young people and this I take as a positive sign.

Interestingly, I find Chinese men are more effeminate than Canadian men and are more comfortable with physical touch, so it is extremely difficult for me to notice if such men are showing signs of intimacy or if they are simply close friends.  For example, when my family came over for my wedding last summer my wife’s cousin “Kobe” held my brother’s hand as a sign of close friendship.  Fortunately, I had mentioned this to my brother beforehand and he was okay with the situation.  Shortly after, my wife mentioned to her cousin that this behaviour, male adults holding hands, was not common for Canadians and he stopped.

Concerning an active gay scene, again, I think the guide books or local expat magazines, such as The Beijinger, would provide more current information. I would think that the larger cities like Beijing or Shanghai would have a more active scene, would have more foreigners and would have a more comfortable environment than other cities. For these reasons, I think teaching and living in a larger city may be a better place to start.

Concerning teaching in China and being openly gay or lesbian, this is difficult. From my perspective as a straight male teacher, I think the attitude and culture in China would make it very challenging for someone to teach or work there and be openly gay. Sadly, I think most Chinese parents would be uncomfortable with this situation and would not send their children to that school. Because of this I would recommend keeping your sexual interests private if you want to teach in China.

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