June 28, 2008

Visa to the Other Revolution

Bureaucracy has a 'rational' character: rules, means, ends, and matter-of-factness dominate its bearing. Everywhere its origin and its diffusion have therefore had 'revolutionary' results... The march of bureaucracy has destroyed the structure of domination which had no rational character.
--Max Weber

I thought twice about writing this post. First, I didn't want to seem like a culturally-insensitive, whiny tourist. Then, coming to grips with reality, I thought the information herein may be of some use to others of my demographic.

I wrote most of this post earlier from a hotel computer. I needed the computer because my laptop had quit on me and was in the shop. I needed the hotel room because I needed to be registered with the local police. This is the law in China. Within 24 hours of visiting any city (and each time you return after leaving said city), foreigners must register their presence and place of residence with official affidavits from the host/landlord at a local district office. This is also a taxation mechanism. The prevalent easy route is simply to check into a hotel. Most visitors don't realize that they're satisfying these obligations as they peruse the breakfast buffet.

In major cities across the country, officials are stepping up security in time for the games. I was getting doubtful that I'd get an extension at all, but they at least entertain the idea here in Jinan. In Beijing, it's pretty much out of the question right now. All foreigners staying long-term on extended tourist visas and weird work-arounds are being cleared out by July 1.

It turns out that Shandong Province (of which Jinan is the capital) is hosting the Olympic sailing and some other water events. Jinan is not a typical tourist destination, and after the games, it will continue in that tradition. Government workers are not particularly accustomed to dealing with foreigners. The online address for visa issues was given as the Jinan City People's Government offices. After some confusion, they sent me up the street to a Police Bureau for Entries and Exits. [I had to go back to get clearer directions, though. As is typical, the clerk pointed in a general direction (in this case the wall) and said, "it's right over there." After going outside and turning the corner, i realized i had no idea what he'd meant.]

After arriving at the sparkling new Police Bureau, I was directed to a touch screen for a number (though there was no one else there). My number was called and after explaining my situation, I was given a slip of paper with the address of another Police Bureau for Entries and Exits office. A cab ride through tiny alleys later, I found my way to another touch screen. My slip read: 3004, there are now 02 people waiting ahead you, please wait peacefully until you are called. I did, and I was.

I asked the handsome, nicely demeanored policeman how one would hypothetically extend one's tourist visa. He demanded my passport and instead of following my instinct and saying i didn't have it with me, I complied. He wrote down my passport info in a ledger and started to grill me about the details of my trip. I answered evasively, but more-or-less convincingly. He said that I had broken the law by not registering, and that I was to register right away.

Things started getting complicated from there. He said I would have to bring my friend who I'm staying with in and that she
would have to show her registration and certify that I am staying with her. She isn't registered because our landlord is avoiding taxes on our rent. So, I found my way to the Runhua Century Hotel, where guests receive phone solicitations for in-room massages, a complementary plate of fruit and a glass of "OJ" [read leftover Tang from the Challenger].

On day two, I checked out of the hotel and requested a certification of my stay in the hotel. The clerk assured me that the credit card receipt would suffice. After pulling number 3008, I found out that she was wrong. After a trip back to the hotel, I returned again as number 3010 and was given a form to fill out. It requires a photo. The clerk that operates the camera was not there. After returning home to get a photo and drawing number 3012, I sat down to wait for the 01 persons waiting ahead of me. I sat watching the officer as his neighbors attended to several people. It looked like he was playing solitaire or checking his email, but I assumed it was official. Ten minutes later, 3011 wasn't called. So, I approached and placed my completed form down in front of him. He glared at me as he snatched it, scattering other papers across the counter.

He told me that, after all, they cannot grant new visas at this office. I explained that I didn't want a new visa, but only an extension. He asked, incredulously, what I would be doing in Jinan for so much time. When I explained that I would indeed visit other places, but would be returning to Jinan because my friends are here, he told me flatly that it was his suggestion that I apply for the extension in whatever city I was in when my visa expired. When I asked him if it was too early at this point to apply, how long the process would take, and when I'd be eligible for an extension, he firmly reiterated his suggestion.

That is a long account of how I have yet to receive a visa extension. My conclusion is that you'll have better luck if you have all your papers in order and only go once. They don't want to see you more than that, especially right before lunch. I had to duck under the lowering roll-up doors as I left.

UPDATE [7/3/08 ]:
My visa is being processed. It required an additional five trips. I had to provide: 1. Additional photo, 2. Recent bank statement showing at least $100 per day of extension, 3. Signed affidavit explaining where i had been in China to date, purpose, purpose of extension and planned itinerary, 4. Documentation of registration with the local police bureau (hotel registration documents), 5. Air tickets and itinerary, 6. CNY 940 (~$138).

This process allows you an "extension visa." You cannot apply for any other type of visa.

June 27, 2008

Super Bloc Superblocks

Over the past 50 years, Chinese city centers have developed very large blocks. Soviet planning brought International Style architecture and CIAM modernism to Chinese cities. The small, disordered alleyway was to be replaced by the order of the automotive-scaled thoroughfare. In this Corbusian vision, dense towers concentrate land use, leaving park space across the city. The lessons learned are that without careful attention, this actually obliterates human scale and walkability. A grid with fewer roads may exacerbate traffic as drivers have fewer routes.

Blocks here are often 600 meters or longer between through streets. (By comparison, Manhattan are 80 x 275 meters.) The interiors of these blocks are highly varied. Some contain blocks within blocks as cycles of development and in-fill have created layered spaces and cul-de-sacs. Many areas are walled off. Others are contained by continuous building frontages. As Beijing demolishes its historic hutong neighborhoods, some redevelopments present new spatial patterns with open plazas and throughways that break-up the superblocks. Scholars have studied the importance of walls and compounds to the Chinese. We will be doing some research into the physical forms of these blocks and the actual use of space. We'll try to understand a bit of how these spaces are being transformed, and how their use is formed by --and impacts-- planning and redevelopment processes.

More photos and notes here

Corbusier: "The Ordered City, the Chaotic City"

Corbusier: The Radiant City

June 21, 2008

Beijing Arts/Industry

Beijing has a booming arts scene. An epicenter of galleries, studios, and artists' colonies has sprung up near the airport in old factories. Rents were cheap and space was abundant. Now a new wave of redevelopment in the area has transformed the area in just a few years. Sounds familiar?

Photos here

June 17, 2008

Old Walls, New Streets

Jinan is widening many of its streets. The remains of building interiors form new edge conditions for both the streets and for those continuing to reside beyond the walls. The hidden surfaces of parti-walls are turned inside-out, becoming new exteriors. Temporary conditions of demolitions-in-progress are inhabited in improvisational ways as materials are carted off for disposal and reuse. Awaiting compensation, or unable to move, families and businesses continue to inhabit their spaces even as they become exposed to the elements.

Photos taken on Shanshi Road, 6/17/08, and on Jingsi Road 6/13-6/18/08 here.

June 14, 2008

Jinan Old City, New City

This week, a section of the Qing Dyansty Old City is being demolished to make way for redevelopment of the lake front. Many of the structures are 100-300 years old.

More photos here.

June 13, 2008

They don't get many Japanese tourists around here

Today, my coworker Allie and I went up to a redevelopment zone on the north edge of Jinan. We had been told that a large area of wholesale markets would be demolished. We have been generally perturbed by the physical-determinist and design-centric planning process, but this seemed like a really bad idea. I wanted to go take a look and maybe get the "before" to the pile-of-rubble "after" that we see everywhere we turn in this city. I was walking through the market taking some snapshots when a security guard asked me what i was doing.

me: "just taking a pictures."
him: why? what do you mean? who are you?
me: uh...?
him: come with me!
me: I'm a student from Berkeley. [this means absolutely nothing to everyday people b/c they've never heard of it.] I'm working with the local planning bureau doing research.
him: this way!
me: uh... is it not ok to take pictures? are you a public peace [公安 i.e. police] officer?
him: I'M A SECURITY [保安 i.e. private] OFFICER.THIS WAY!

He leads me to a little office and I try to calmly explain who i am and what i'm doing. they are very suspicious. they don't really care. Really, they feel like i've trespassed and they want to exercise their authority over their domain. A seated woman starts barking at me, but i can't understand what she's saying. This is really annoying to her. They get the boss (of this tiny room). I try my story on him. He asks me for my ID and i show him my Cal ID. He doesn't look at it and pushes it back over to me. I ask him what he wants from me. He says to sit down.

Allie's not answering her phone, and i don't have any of the bureau people's names or numbers. They're unimpressed by my mention of the vice-director. I call a student at Shandong Uni and ask him to put his professor on the line. He tries to explain for me. The little Napoleon actually yells at the prof over the phone! He hangs up and hands my cell phone to me, seeming a little nicer. He says that I'm not supposed to take pictures without permission and that his workers will escort me. I thank him and apologize for the misunderstanding.

Sadly, this was misunderstanding number two. I thought he meant escort me around to take photos. Actually, i was being escorted over to another office! Finally, Allie returns my call. She sees us crossing the street but can't catch up b/c of all the traffic. We go into another building and start up a flight of stairs. i try and tell the guy that my friend will come and help to explain. He doesn't want to wait and tries to drag me up the stairs. I tell him to let go of my arm. I'm glad that he does. I tell him to just wait a second and explain to Allie how to find me. She finds us and the guy tries to tell her she can't come, but she shows some attitude and he relents.

We go into the manager's office of this mall, and sit down. Allie does most of the talking and they are disarmed by her being a woman and a foreigner. It goes back and forth for a while and they say that we can't photograph the market buildings from the inside or the outside. we try and explain that the market will be impacted by the redevelopment and that we just wanted to document the environs. They say that the project we're talking about is to the north and that we should go that way to see the space. We apologize for the misunderstanding and they let us go.

It turns out that this was misunderstanding number one. We had been told at a meeting at the planning bureau that this market would be torn down. Today, at the planning institute, we were told that this isn't the case. This raises other problems and questions about transportation and land-use planning, but that's another (more technocratic) story...

In the meantime, here's a photo of the bottom-less mannequins that i snapped just as the guard nabbed me.

June 7, 2008

One Day Demolition

Jinan, Shandong Province, China - An entire neighborhood on Lishan Road was recently torn down in a single day. Locals and demolition workers are now picking through the rubble to reclaim reinforcing steel, timber, glass, bricks, tile, and other materials. The demolition is part of a larger series of urban redevelopment projects along the Lishan corridor. This includes a bus rapid transit (BRT) project. Researchers from the University of California Transportation Center (based at Berkeley) have been studying the project, trying to understand the policy-making process, implementation, and trying to suggest improvements.

Using a small hammer, this woman is reclaiming thin steel wires from concrete rubble.

see photos at my picasa page: