MIT Shenzhen Bootcamp: Navigation 101

Getting a Visa

I had to apply for the tourist visa category. As an international student, specially coming from a South Asian region (Bangladesh), there were some extra hurdles for me. I had to submit my bank statement, a letter from MIT stating that I am currently a student at MIT, along with photocopies of my passport and current I-20 document. I also got a letter of invitation from AQS China (our host company in China) to go with my Visa application. A friend recommended that I go talk to some travel agent in Chinatown to make my life easy, and so I did. They charged me a fee of $125 (including the fee to apply for Visa), and I didn’t have to go to NYC by myself to apply. Within a few weeks, I got my passport back with a 60-day visa.

Tips:

  1. Prepare early for your visa if you are an international student.
  2. Travel agents can help you a lot, for a small fee you can get a lot done.

Arrival

The Shenzhen International airport is a pretty big, with no visible sign of English language instructions anywhere. Our bootcamp instructor Bunnie Huang was generous enough to come and pick me up to avoid any complication. I had no Chinese phone/SIM, my US carrier wouldn’t work (no roaming network), and I had quite a big luggage (as I was carrying materials for a workshop I was organizing in Bangladesh). I thought of getting adventurous, still, by calling a taxi, as I had the apartment address that MIT rented for us. Bunnie said in an email, “having no phone and trying to get to the apartment by a taxi is a recipe for disaster.” Alright, I waited at a star bucks inside the airport for this amazing friendly guy to show up.

When I got to the apartment building, I was explained why simply getting a taxi wouldn’t work. You see, the address was given to us as 66 South Park road. In reality, it was called 66 Nanyang Road, and most of the drivers wouldn’t get the translation. Also, most taxis won’t have GPS, and they navigate by popular landmarks in the city.

View from my apartment.
View from my apartment.

Tips:

  1. For the first few days, it’s good to have someone show you around the city.
  2. Trying to use GPS maps may not help, there’s no Google maps either. Your best bet is to ask people, use Bing maps, memorize manual maps etc.

Survival: 1

You need to have a VPN installed in your computer if you want to use Google, Facebook etc services. It’s good to change your passwords as Chinese hackers might attack and poison your computers. If your ip is found to be using google, facebook etc several times, your ip might be blocked. The MIT VPN from Cisco worked well for me. There are commercial services like Strong VPN etc in case you don’t have access to free ones.

Survival: 2

The next day, we were taken to the shopping mall nearby our apartment building to buy necessities, and also to familiarize ourselves with cash transactions with the shop attendants. Remember that everything runs on cash, there’s no card specially when you go out to the street shops to buy things.

  1. You might want to get extra cushion for your bed if you aren’t used to sleeping on hard beds.
  2. Tap water is not quite safe to drink. I bought mineral water bottles for a month.
  3. It seems inevitable that you (a foreigner) will catch attention of many kinds of people in the street. I was handed phone numbers and cards with titles like “girls for fun” etc. And then there are sellers who want to sell you all sorts of ‘things’. A piece of advice from Bunnie: “don’t do stupid shit!”
  4. If you are not used to flat/pan commodes, then may God help you. It’s very common in shops and restaurants.
  5. Food was a whole new deal for me, even after eating “chinese food” in my country and USA. I will post another entry just on the food culture.

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