Tag Archives: UK


Great? Britain… Get Your Visa Thing In Order… (Lure More Rich Chinese Travellers In…)

The United States just unleashed a massive peaceful-but-powerful weapon upon China: Visas. As in: relaxed visa policies.

I know that because I was once a PRC citizen. The US did not feel like a bolted fortress, but it was serious on its details. I had to get myself a US visa as a Chinese citizen, which kind of “went away” when I became Swiss in 2000. Now Tracy has to get herself visas for everywhere because China has only so many visa waiver agreements — mostly with the developing world.

When Tracy and I applied for the EEA Family Permit (thanks, Switzerland, for signing the free movement deal, even though we’re sure you’ll eat it one day if you continue to let Blocher and Co rule Helvetia), I’ve heard Tracy dig into Baidu rants. It was grilled by PRC citizens married to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens as this questionnaire that just went on and on and on — a hundred questions. As a Swiss I don’t take issue with these: I’ve heard that “facilitated naturalisation” has a wait-time of one and a half years… so I’m “familiar” with all those government forms and “stuff like that”. Visas are never an easy thing for some of us in some parts of the world to get, even though in several countries, procedures have been simplified.

But to many, the US remained that one country that, to lots of PRC citizens, could at times just refuse visas to its passport holders — and at times it felt like it was “on a whim”, even though the US, like Switzerland and most of the developed world, is ruled by a set of (at times pretty rigid) laws. (After driving around London, I wish more and more locals were a little Swiss on the roads.) So when the US simply opened the floodgates with ten-year visas, this was the next best thing after a blanket visa waiver (which I hope will also be reality one day; the Taiwanese “renegade province” so-called gets it already!).

This also means I had better get my (expletive deleted) State-side, since the terminology to way too many Americans visiting China will be very different with the set we have in London or Zürich. To the Brits, a subway is what you use to cross the road (underneath); to Americans, it’s what the Tube is for London. In the UK we’ve got to get our Council Taxes straight and report incomes to HM Revenue and Customs; in the US we are dealing with totally new terminology, including the likes of the IRS. The Swiss would be confused by the existence of Royal Mail and The Post Office in the UK, as they have “just one” in Alpine territory — that goes by up to four different names (in four different languages no less!).

Indirectly, China is opening its doors to more and more Americans, and the US opening itself also more and more to China. This leaves Schengenland and the UK to much of a disadvantage. Even if the Common Travel Area eventually became part of Schengenland, the generous-ness of the visa won’t work either. It’s time to realise that more and more Chinese have the big bucks (big quids? Do we or can we actually say it like that?) and need to head overseas — beyond the 31 mainland provinces. It is also time most of us realised that the era of the mainland Chinese passport is no longer stuck in this era where it was granted to a few, and had to be surrendered upon return; it is time some of us realised the full potential of this passport. I hope the trend for the PRC mainland passport will be more and more lenient visa policies — along with a biometrics requirement (to keep the bad guys out).

And I know this has to be the case. Go to Bicester Village… I dare you. It’s now a Chinese village in the making… seriously… There will be a day, I hope, that PRC passports will come, more and more, with ten-year visa vignettes affixed to it — for the UK and for Schengenland, too, as I hope…

DF Zhangzhou

Entertainment + Info + Care =

There are a few things I still look up to when it comes to Switzerland, in spite of its vote of near self-destruction on 9 February 2014, when it slammed the doors on what was hyped as “over-immigration”. (In this case you were probably a little “less smart” to have signed the agreement in the first place, right?)

But one thing I look up to Switzerland is its national air carrier, Swiss International Air Lines, a company I still at times refer to as “Swissair” (which was what it was pre-2002). Swiss is famous for its quality of service, and this was “reinforced” during my recent passport renewal visit at the Swiss embassy (so in actual fact both the airline and the embassy were great). The biometrics machine did fail — it took nearly an hour for it to be done — but staff offered me a glass of water and some Swiss chocolate!

The Swiss doing Swiss (pardon the pun) are addicted to quality to extents you simply cannot imagine. Standard on all Swiss flights are the “good bye” chocolates, popularised by its new safety video. The font they have chosen is totally unique and was made in Switzerland — its use is refined, and it is one of the most legible fonts ever. Most importantly, the announcements are one of the very best in the world, from the safety video to those broadcast by living, breathing human beings. There are occasional announcements full of humour (“Ladies and gentlemen, in case you would still like to fly with us, here are the connections at Zurich airport”) and arrival information (and transfers) are standard with all flights (certainly those to Zurich). There are no political propaganda or long-winded, useless, repetitive announcements.

Recently, I hosted (and am still hosting now, as of this post) 200 media professionals (including nearly 30 top-calibre UK media pros) in Zhangzhou, right off Xiamen, in southeastern China. Every day gave me microphone access. I loved the competition from the local host, as it showed exactly what the Swiss advantage was. Never mind the local, at times, might have asked a question better; or might have shown more grace in the choice of words; the Swiss learnt from Swiss, and as I told one of the chief executives of the UK delegation, I had wanted to do what Swiss crew members do: complete addiction to quality and details (and I do this because I was treated right by Swiss crew, and they inspired me on how quality services was done). Whereas a local might simply read off a rather generic cue card, the Swiss plan their future cue cards as “design + art”; whereas a local has a few firm lines to stick by, flexibility is seen both on Swiss flights (and certainly customisability with higher classes of travel), and I take my cue from there. (Here, I was more inspired by the Mac OS’s context-sensitive menus; the keyword here is: “relevance”.)

The Swiss obviously tick along perfect with Macs. Where PCs would have a problem playing embedded video, Macs did it all. There was probably one 2 second clip which did not play, but nobody had a major issue. Instead of “pushing presenters around”, I made the extra effort to pay full attention to their presentations, make supportive comments right after the show (maybe even crack a joke if possible), and to shake their hands in public — at least once. In the event of tech glitches, I was standing just inches away, so I’d immediately fix the problems. I really kind of wished the local presenter did the same, as there is such a narrow (but deep) gap between holding a microphone and shooting down cold words down it, and using the same but in a much more refined manner.

Deep in the night, sometimes I lose full nights wondering just what is the next thing I could do just to beat Swiss Business Class, or Jony Ive and the Apple operating systems. The quest for perfection simply cannot be slowed down; you cannot shift down, you can only shift up. I remain very honoured to be part of the crew that pulled off the China-UK media summit in Xiamen off so well, and I was happy to be given a chance to mix the sauces (so to speak) of entertainment, information and care into one tasty paste.

Which ideally would taste better than my favourite French dressing of childhood legend…

What Starbucks Does To You

I admit — in 2008, you knew me for my tweets (which sometimes included the unexpected full-length airing of city line announcements). In 2009, you probably knew me for my sentiment against the draconian “Green Dam” censorship software, because Auntie Beeb made a fairly big deal of that. In 2010, you knew me for the high speed trains — the last year before a clueless Sheng Guangzu unexpectedly slowed them down and managed, somehow, to let two trains rear-end each other.

(I’m a secret fanboy of Sheng Guangzu — you know, that bloke that did the tech tweaks to ultimately allow those two bullet trains rear end each other. These things come less often than alien intrusions, by the way. Note the irony in this sentence!)

In 2011, you knew me as nothing more than a reduced slave of the Starbucks empire. Here’s the thing: Tracy (that’s my wife) would go teach fellow students one-on-one and that’d desert me for two hours straight. I had to get stuff done — and too often it was at a Starbucks. They came out with the My Starbucks Rewards programme in late February this year, and after I realized that I got my stars with cumulative purchases (ie: I did not have to exceed CNY 50.— every time to get a star), I got in on the act.

In June 2011, I received my gold card thanks to unexpectedly huge tea consumption. (Much like @stinson, I don’t do coffee, although Tracy does.) At the end of the month, the Beijing-Shanghai HSR opened, shuttling us to Ji’nan, where I went into one of the more “recent” cities with a Starbucks. That basically made me Siren-addicted in Beijing, Tianjin, Ji’nan, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Hong Kong, Zürich, San Francisco, London — holy carp, 15 cities. I know I’m looking forward to the imminent arrival of Starbucks Harbin (the real one), a visit to Starbucks Kunming and hopefully, on the next trip south, Starbucks Wuhan.

68 stars for 2011 — 7 months on. And they say they’d treat me right on every visit. Well, guess what: I’m waiting for Tracy now and I’ve just missed out on the opportunity to register a CNY 20 tea purchase. But hey, I’ve 68 stars. I’m good for at least another year or so. And you’ve seen my fist shake at those idiot scalpers on shanzhai Chinese versions of eBay who have the nerve to sell, at inflated prices, My Starbucks Rewards cards with “just” 50 stars on them.

In the words of my chemistry teacher — they’d be flogged if they weren’t shot. So much for “preserving” our “socialist market economy”… heh…