Category Archives: United Kingdom


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…


Heathrow Terminal 2 vs Beijing Terminal 3 (Previous Version)

There’s good news about living in Harrow: We’re only two bus stops away from a rental car station. But now for the bad news as well: it’s closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday all day.

And sometimes, life calls for that trip to central London on Sundays — on more flexible timing than what the Tube offers you. So where do I get my car? Heathrow Airport. Thankfully, you get to choose where you pick your car up — you in essence arrive at any terminal, then choose the desk of your car rental company.

I decided to give the recently re-done Heathrow Terminal 2 a try some weeks back before I headed to my rental car company at the airport. (Coincidentally, I have now mastered this skill I once thought was impossible — driving a manual / stick-shift in the UK — I can do this as one of my licences is a full one for manuals as well.)

I can’t really speak for Terminal 2 as a full experience, since Tracy and I have yet to catch a flight there (plus British Airways doesn’t fly out from Terminal 2, so it’s the Speedbird terminal AKA Terminal 5 for most BA flights). But I did get a chance to grab a quick bite at the landside Terminal 2 cafés.

The one thing that comes to you after 14 years in China is this perception that all airports have to be big. Chengdu’s Terminal 2 certainly stunned us, as it took us forever to get from the plane to our taxi rank at the exit. (Barcelona El-Prat was huge as well, but at least it was more compact.) So I was looking for Heathrow’s latest addition to be huge, certainly landside. After all, this came after Beijing Capital International Airport’s Terminal 3, so it had to be inspired by China, or aspire to be of similar dimensions. Right?


Heathrow Terminal 2’s dimensions left me wanting for more. There was only this bit of the airport at the departures level where you had a bite (and even so, you had to head out of the main building into a covered “midway piazza” to change levels). There was woefully little for you at the arrivals level, and the fact they couldn’t exchange Macanese patacas wasn’t too encouraging either.

Contrast that with Beijing’s Terminal 3: there is a Starbucks that occupies probably 20% of the whole Arrivals area. I’ve met tonnes of visitors from especially the US in that part of PEK T3. It gave you a place to “belong to”, as it offered options “just in case” you needed something at the airport. The fact that Level 4 now comes with a railway ticket office for Chinese trains is a very cool new addition. And for those of us who would prefer something more British, there’d be a Costa at Departures Level as well, which was in fact where we entertained (quite coincidentally) British TV executives at the China-UK summit on TV formats about half a year back.

I’m not saying Terminal 2 “is through”; it isn’t, and for a terminal that opened less than 4 months ago, I’m sure there’s a lot more in store. I was expecting maybe a major brand name café a la Terminal 5 at the Arrivals Level (you at least got something from Costa before heading onto the Heathrow Express). But big name café chains aside, Terminal 2’s arrivals level feels tiny. Not that you had to have sofas at the arrivals level (PEK doesn’t come with that either). But it gave you a feel: This is as big a terminal as we have. Which for the world’s leading industrialised nation doesn’t say a lot.

(But then again, for the real Britain, you’d head outside of Heathrow.)

I’m thoroughly impressed by Terminal 2’s wide open spaces, but less so with regards of what the terminal building itself has. For the newest terminal building of the capital of the UK, I thought I’d be seeing something a little larger, with more on offer. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoilt rotten by Chinese airports. Or maybe @ LHR T2 it’s still earlier days.

But I’ll still be thankful for the Costa at the Departures Level at Terminal 2. I know I’ll need to get work done on those long flights. Thank heavens I know there’s a Caffeine Charging Station. Plus to have the ultimate word on T2, I’ll need to get out of (or fly into) London from that terminal.

I hope when I’m airside, I’ll be positively surprised.

PS: I am starting to get used to the “duo-tone” airport jingle at Heathrow…


David Feng to Talk to Chinese Students in London on Studying Tips

David Feng, Visiting Academic and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster, will be speaking to the Chinese Students and Scholars Association of the University of Westminster on 12 October 2014. The event begins at 15:00 and will be held in Room A.1.04 of the Harrow Campus.

David will be focusing on how Chinese students can be excel in the UK in their studies. He will share his 12 years in Switzerland, 10 years in China as a student, combined with teaching lessons in China, Switzerland and the UK, to students from over 40 countries and territories, and will include advice on what students should do to improve their marks, but also to improve their experiences studying and living overseas.

The presentation is expected to be given mostly in Mandarin Chinese.

For those interested, registration (free) is required.