When I moved on to Shanzhen, I thought that my Chinese visa was in good order. I am a regular visitor to South China and have a year long visa. However, when queuing at passport control, it transpired that my visa had ran out at the end of April.
I was very impressed with the speed at which I was whisked upstairs and my passport went from one clerk to another along a row of three, and then, after paying about $20 US, I got a visa, the whole procedure taking less time than Passport Control at Ben Gurion Airport on an Israeli Passport.
I consulted the little slip I was given, and noted that the visa was good for three months, until 15 August 2014. I went on from Shanzhen to Zhuhai, and then, after a couple of days with a client, left early to get the ferry to Hong Kong Airport. I anticipated arriving 3 hours before the flight, and had decided to have a neck massage at the airport, and to wander around Duty Free. After purchasing the ferry ticket, I went through to passport control and discovered that there was a one week visa in the passport. I wasn’t worried, however, since I knew that I had a little slip saying that I was OK until 15 August 2014. The problem was that I couldn’t find the bloody thing. I went back to the departure lounge, received a refund of my ferry ticket, and went through my hand luggage and case, turning everything upside down. I found my Disneyland entry ticket, and considered trying to bluff it. Chinese have a great sense of humour. This is probably how they manage with chronic overcrowding, etc. China is, however, a totalitarian regime, and Police and Customs are not known for their humour. I have a cousin who made a joke once about a bomb, and was strip searched and examined internally. Served him right. I eventually found the slip of paper. I bought a ticket to Hong Kong Island and calculated that I’d still have plenty of time to get the Airport Express. Eventually they allowed passengers to go through to passport control again and I queued up triumphantly to the same clerk, and was told that the slip was a Hong Kong visa. I looked at it. It didn’t have the words Hong Kong in English. There was Chinese on it and the words Visa valid until 15 August 2014. I asked the clerk if she was sure.
I was told I had to go back to Shanzhen’s Souku (pronounced Choco) to sort the problem out. I arrived at Souku two hours before take off, with a ferry due to arrive at Hong Kong Airport 30 minutes before departure.
I’ve previously arrived at Hong Kong Airport 20 minutes before takeoff and got on the plane. It is not advisable and ElAL doesn’t like it, but I am a frequent flyer and have performed the odd miracle. (When we were first married, I had a ticket for my wife in the name of Factor but her passport was in her maiden-name. Despite a strike at the Ministry of the Interior, I managed to sort things out, but I digress).
I eventually found a travel agent who could speak English and could help me. Flying with another carrier would cost $2000+. There were no seats on Thursday’s ELAL flight, and eventually, for a further $500US to ELAL and 300 RMB to her, I got a ticket on Sunday’s flight to Tel Aviv.
It was now too late for Customs to process me and I was sent to another border crossing. I had to queue up again, this time with several million Chinese, to reach Passport Control to be told again that my visa had run out. I apologized and did my spiel. After waiting an hour, I had to copy a statement that “I understand and agree with the above” on a form in Chinese (Whether Mandarin, Cantonese, Chow Mein or Sweet & Sour, I have no idea). I don’t know what I was signing, and suspect that on a future visit, this may come back to haunt me. I was fined 500 RMB (about $80 US), had to sign 5 forms, none of which was in English, and had to add my finger print to one of them. I was then sent back.
Once I got through passport control and into Hong Kong the other side, I had no idea where I was or how to get to somewhere I knew. A bus driver told me to take him two stops and then to change. A delightful Pakistani in an electric wheelchair took pity on me and helped me get a train to Kowloon.
I went straight to the Mul Yam restaurant in the Sefardic Synagogue, and having eaten crackers for the past four days, ordered a steak. One of the regulars directed me to a cheap guesthouse where I booked in for four nights. The place is reasonably price and much cheaper than a hotel. Unfortunately, the mattress is thin and hard, but otherwise, adequate.
The fiasco has resulted in me being a further weekend in China instead of at home, and has cost about $1000. At this stage my mobile phone decided to play up. That is not generally a problem, but I can’t remember my PIN number, which is stored in the phone which is refusing to boot up. An Indian tailor trying to sell me some shirts took me to a Chinese technician who had a sign saying “Prices according to invoice. No discounts. If you want to bargain, mend it yourself”. He charged me $120 HK and told me to come back in an hour. I killed time by wondering through the market, but when I got back, he refunded my money and said that the phone was confused and he could only wipe memory and recalibrate.
Having a VISA credit card makes it possible to manage with unforeseen mishaps. Not having a credit card and no cash is no laughing manner.
I walked back to the guest house and met the Indian tailor again. He offered to bill me $2000 HK over the cost of some shirts and, after discounting $70 HK for the bank charges, to give me the cash. I agreed to this.
I am four days more in Hong Kong than I wanted, but have ordered a new suit and spare trousers, and some shirts, all made to measure and good quality. I have done some sight-seeing, and have bought some English teabags from Marks & Spenser and a smart phone. All in all, could be worse.