Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Day in the Special Administrative Region

Why did I go to Hong Kong, some of you may be wondering? Let's discuss Chinese visas for a moment. In Vancouver I was issued a three month tourist visa. Essentially legit; I just happen to be continuing some Canadian work while I'm visiting. I'm not in any business dealings, and I'm not being paid any money by a Chinese company. I would think China would be happy with the presence people such as me - my net effect is one of bringing money into the country. But the procedure for renewing one's visa while in the country certainly doesn't reflect this expected happiness. In Changchun, even when I went with in with our friend Lorenzo, who was in the army and is a Communist Party member, and is good at Getting Things Done, there were still more hoops to jump through than I would like: I would have to register my address with the local police (if I'm a visitor just wandering around spending money willy-nilly, why would I have an address?); I would need to show that I have 24,000RMB deposited in a Chinese bank (what on Earth is up with this requirement?); and after all this, I would only get a one-month extension. We had been told that renewing the visa in Dalian might actually be easier (after all, Dalian has real tourists; why would Changchun have any tourists?), and although it did seem like an easier prospect there - no requirement to register or have a wad of Chinese money in the bank - the extension I would have got there would still have been for only one month, from the time of renewal (not from the original expiration). This wasn't of much use as we were in Dalian about a month before my original visa was to expire.

Enter the old standby idiosyncrasies of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Messed up that it's supposedly part of China, but going there is easier for Westerners than it is for mainland Chinese. Anyway, Hong Kong is rife with travel agents who have the connections to issue Chinese visas for a mild premium.

So in my one full day in Hong Kong, that's what I did fairly early in the morning - go to apply for the visa. Way easier than in Vancouver. Show up, hand over my passport, tell them what I want, pay the fee (which wasn't unreasonable), come back and get it in the evening. (What I'm used to at the Consulate is showing up, filling out an extensive form, waiting for two or three hours, and then coming back for it three or four days later, unless I were to pay twice the price.)

I had time to spend, and the Lonely Planet was my friend; I decided on two destinations, one of which I chose mostly because it happened to be near the random MTR stop I had just got off at. I was glad I ended up going to this one - the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. It's where the handover of the Island from the Brits to the Chinese occurred ten years ago. I read that it had some record-breaking sheet of glass as a window (seven stories high), but I had no luck in getting to it on the inside (a guard said the area was closed), and from the outside I couldn't see anything that didn't look like your typical glass walls, looking to my amateur eye like they could be made up of smaller panes of glass as there was much support structure behind it. Oh well. I saw some other tourists and walking near them made out some French, so I figured I'd ask them if they knew where the grande fenĂȘtre was. While I was very pleased that they didn't respond in English and actually tolerated my français for the entirety of the short conversation, they seemed to think the window was visible from the outside and pointed me back from where I'd come; I went back and looked again but to no greater avail.

My next destination was the Peak Tram, a funicular railway that leads to some high-up spot on Hong Kong Island and gives a great view of the surrounding area. By the time I was done there I was ready to find the guesthouse I'd booked for the night. I decided to try somewhere actually mentioned in the Lonely Planet that night; hopefully I would get a window this time. The downside of not staying at the same place was that I had to carry my backpack around all day - as if my body wasn't dealing poorly enough with the heat and humidity already. Good thing I always heed the Hitchhiker's Guide and have a towel with me everywhere.

After unloading and showering at the Welcome Guest House, located in yet another Mansion on Nathan Road, I met up with one of Alison's fellow TEFL'ers1, Clem (who is originally from Hong Kong and is now back living there). He treated me to dinner at quite a nice Thai restaurant nearby. (In general the foreign food in the area is quite diversified and of decent quality, from what I've heard.)

That's basically it for my Hong Kong story. The next morning I got up and MTR/KCR'd it back to Luohu ("Lowu" on the HK side), cleared customs, eventually found the bus back to the Shenzhen airport, had a "Sausage Burger with Egg" at McDonald's there while Internetting a bit (I could pick up a wireless signal from McD's, Starbucks, and KFC simultaneously), and flew to Beijing. More on that later.

Also stay tuned for my comments on Hong Kong, which will mark my return from monotonous storytelling back to witty (?) observations of life.

1Teaching English as a Foreign Language

No comments: