Saturday, August 29, 2009

How The Incompetence of Hong Kong Immigration Officials Ruined My Trip

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my trip to China did not go exactly as planned. I was supposed to go to Guangzhou with Diep, where he would buy clothes (and of course, so would I), and then head to Hong Kong with Diep for 3 or 4 days, meeting a friend who I had previously met while travelling in Malaysia. It was a very simple trip, one that required me to get a visa for China, and one that required Diep get one for Hong Kong.

The trouble started when we picked up our visas (for HK visas, the Chinese Embassy handles the processing). Instead of the double-entry visa I was supposed to get (once entering China by land at the Vietnam border, and again when coming back into China from Hong Kong), I only got a single entry. Fixing it would mean 90$ USD and 5 more days, both of which I could not afford. The plan then was to get another Chinese visa while I was in Hong Kong. They would be less expensive and can process them in a couple days.

Second trouble: The travel agent advises us Diep cannot travel to Hong Kong by land. He must arrive at the international airport. I thought this was ridiculous, as all the research I had done about HK visas did not make any mention of this condition.

I took it into my own hands. I called the HK Immigration department. I also e-mailed them. And my Hong Kong friend also called them, to confirm in Cantonese. All the same answers were given: Vietnamese citizens do need a visa, but that there are no different types of visas. If you have a visa for Hong Kong you can enter however you like. You could teleport if you wanted. We hadn't gotten the visa back by then, and so we decided to just wait.

Despite this, the visa Diep got had some random stamp at the bottom, only written in Chinese characters. A translation by my roommate who can read the script: The holder of this visa must enter Hong Kong by international airport. Crap.

Finally it dawned on us, and this was later confirmed by the travel agent: The reason why the visas issued by the Chinese embassy say this is because you can't travel through China to get to Hong Kong; you would need a Chinese visa for that! Good news: Both Diep and I already had Chinese visas, and the agent confirmed this with us. When we crossed the border into China, Diep confirmed with the immigration official that this was the case: She said if he has visas for both, then he can enter HK. We were relieved to have this burden lifted off our chests.

After spending a couple days in Guangzhou we headed off to Hong Kong. Only a couple hours by bus, and my friend organised everything for us. She was waiting for us at the hotel she had arranged for us to stay at. We get to the border and... refused. I spent an all of 20 minutes in Hong Kong waiting for Diep to come out of the same kiosque as I had. Finally, after some hassling, I managed to convince an officer to take me to Diep's interrogation room.

It turns out, despite all the confirmations by Hong Kong and Chinese immigration officials, Diep has no choice but to enter by international airport. We were told that instead of paying $400 USD to fly from Guangzhou to HK, we could take the ferry to the airport, and then pass through customs from there. Only, we had to go back to China... except.... my visa is only a single entry, and I had already left China! No problem. Nothing a 2-hour wait in a stale waiting room can't solve!

We took the bus to Shenzen, and we were told that we can take a taxi to Shekou Port, and from there take the ferry to HK airport. This was confirmed not only by HK officials but the Chinese officials who escorted us back into China with the other criminals who had been refused entry.

We took a 45 minute taxi ride to the port and finally reached the medium by which we would enter the country: by water.

We get to the ticket counter, and the lady informs us it is impossible to enter Hong Kong by the airport in this way. It is only for departures.

I should mention that I was extremely sick at this time, displaying what some may describe as swine-flu symptoms. I felt like shit, but I kept my determination up until the ferry. I was ready to cough in the lady's face and then jump the boat to hijack it and make my way to their dumb Special Administrative Unit of Hong Kong.

Instead we turned around and went back to Guangzhou. I then spent all of my Hong Kong money on new clothes in Guangzhou, and decided to head back to Hanoi.

I can't understand how a government can be so incompetent and unaware of it's own laws and regulations. Diep has a 90$ Hong Kong visa in his passport that he'll never be able to use (and 90$ is a lot of money in Vietnam).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Photos from Guangzhou, China

Diep and I find this cute café that sells Chinese sweet soups, very similar to Vietnamese chè. I had black sticky rice, young tofu (or silken tofu), and coconut milk. Not as delicious as Diep's green tea jelly cubes in young tofu flavoured with almond!

Beijing Street - one of the main commercial streets in Guangzhou. Just a big shopping mall with cobblestones. It was interesting to see this display (in the photo) where is exposes the foundation of a road that dates back 3000 years. Another view of Beijing Street.

Diep in the side mirror of a tuk tuk. There is something strange about being on a tuk tuk - arguably a remnant of a less-developed country - in streets lined with glistening and modern skyscrapers.

Here we were eating at a Vietnamese restaurant in China, after passing the border. Consistent with the Vietnamese attitude toward China, here are our bowls and plates. Sterilised and wrapped in plastic. And then they give us hot tea to further clean all the items.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Clouds over Hanoi

It hasn't been raining too much over here, not as much as a expected. When it does rain, though, it rains like hell.

The other day I decided to leave work early. I'm glad that I had, because as soon as I climbed my up to the 4th floor it startd pouring like crazy.

I waited a couple hours before heading out to the western food market to buy black beans and hamburger buns (8 months is way too long to go without eating a homemade veggie burger!).

As Lélé and I putted away on my electric scooter we spotted a giant rainbow hugging the horizon. In the food store we noticed the strange glow coming from outside. The outside was bathed in a subdued golden colour. When we got out of the store, this was what we saw:

I don't remember the name of these clouds (skimming the Wikipedia article on clouds and googling 'Nipple Clouds' didn't work), but I know I've read about these clouds before.

I remember a couple summers ago in Montreal there was an amazing rain storm and I remember standing on Roz's balcony on Clark Street with Butskies and Roz staring in amazement at the texture of the clouds. That was the first time I had seen these clouds.

Here in Hanoi I was equally amazed. Driving back to the house, Lélé and I noticed how everybody had stopped their motorbikes to take photos of the sky with their mobile phones.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Travels Beyond Hanoi: China

I realised recently that I haven't really posted much about my travels outside Hanoi. So here is my effort at providing a concise but informative post about my recent trip to Southern China.

Here's the number one observation:

Young Chinese men love purses. Or man-purses or murses. Whatever you prefer to call them. Whereas in Montreal only a select few men would dare stroll around will a shiny-white Gucci bag (I'm thinking of one particular friend here), in China they were everywhere. I couldn't walk on the sidewalk in Guangzhou without being whacked by a Prada purse strapped underneath the arm of a tall Chinese 20-something in Capri pants yakking away on his touch-screen mobile phone.

And here's my second observation:

Clothes are cheap, stylish and plentiful. Whereas in Montreal I usually avoid clothes with a 'made in China' tag in favour of something more local... in China, this is local! Guangzhou (also known as Canton) is a huge clothing manufacturing city. Diep led me to the area full of 'fashion cities', buildings with hundreds of sellers wanting you to buy the latest knock-offs of DSquared and D&G for about $5-10 USD a pair. Hell yeah! And a new pair of shoes for under $20?? I'll take three - and I did.

The fashion district in Guangzhou, China

Although my trip didn't go exactly as planned (this will be the subject of another post), I am really happy with this entirely new wardrobe I've come home with. I didn't even spend more than $150!