During the summer adventure with Matthew, in 2009, one of the places we traveled to was Hong Kong, Asia’s world city. With a population of over seven million people, Hong Kong still has a high quality of life, when compared to other Asian cities. I had many impressions of Hong Kong; it’s a city of incredible wealth and high prices, and paradoxically a city of bargains. It’s a city that although it was officially handed over to China on July 1, 1997, it still is not really a part of China. Hong Kong is a country, a city, a place that is a frustrating upsetting city, and a fabulous destination. Well, I’m getting ahead of my story. It all started when we landed in Guangzhou.
Matt and I needed to find a place to stay close to Hong Kong, so we looked in our booklet showing the locations of the Jin Jiang Hotels near the ‘New Territories’ as Hong Kong was called. While at the airport, I chose a location in Shenzhen. We took a taxi directly to the main Guangzhou train station, and traveled to south for about an hour to Shenzhen. I knew nothing about the city, on the map it looked like a small town, but what we found was a huge sprawling city of approximately ten million. At the train station in Shenzhen sidewalk vendors were selling knock off iPhones and iPods, as well as fruit, clothes, and toys. It seemed that everything was for sale. The hot humid August afternoon carried the strong smells sweat and fruit as we walked through the corridors leaving the station to look for a cab.
The cab ride was an adventure. Matt kept trying to talk to the driver using the little Mandarin you knew, but the driver only spoke Cantonese. After twenty minutes of driving and watching the taxi driver get more and more frustrated, we needed to get another taxi. A really nice thing about China is that there are usually taxis everywhere, and this day was no exception. After paying twice as much as we should have (because we needed two taxis), we found the hotel, but unfortunately it was further from the train station than we wanted to be. I was hot and tired and really didn’t care, after traveling in two non air-conditioned taxis for about an hour where we stayed. Later, I considered a possibly reason why you may not always get the same positive experience with taxi drivers. People move into big cities like Shenzhen, at an exponential rate, and taxi drivers can come from all over the interior of China often looking for work. These Chinese can speak different dialects and generally are not familiar with the new location that they find themselves.
It was getting late but we wanted to see Hong Kong. After a taxi ride back to the train station we went trough custom to enter Hong Kong. It was like going through an international border, with soldiers and checkpoints. My passport was checked and I thought nothing of the checkpoint because Hong Kong awaited! Matt and I went to Hong Kong harbor and the first thing I notice was the high prices. I was just like being in Europe, where a cup of coffee costs around 5.00 US dollars, way too much for my traveling budget. The city was breath taking as we traveled across the harbor on the Star Ferry, which much to my surprise was really inexpensive. Traveling across Victoria Harbor was a transformational delight! I marveled at this new world, the New Territory of Hong Kong. The harbor reflected the buildings opulence, as lights danced on the water reflecting images of metal giant skyscrapers dressed in lights.
But it was late, and I wanted to return to our room for a good night’s sleep, before reentering Hong Kong in the morning. We went back through the border checkpoint, and this time the guards stamped my passport. I attributed the border checkpoint to need to keep Mainland Chinese nationals from flooding into Hong Kong and a way of monitoring other foreigners from entering the mainland.
The next day we spent the day enjoying Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor area and taking a trolley up to the peck for spectacular views of Hong Kong. The day was really fun, and I was just getting a feel for the city. Unfortunately, it was getting and our trip to Hong Kong would be coming to an end, so we heading back to the border crossing.
It was about eleven in the evening as we began to walk through the typical checkpoints. First we walked through a machine that checked our temperature, we were fine. Then I walked to the guard who stamps passports, problem. The guard would not let me continue back to Shenzhen. Why? He kept pointing to my passport and shaking his head. Finally he called over a solider that spoke English.
Your passport will not allow more than two entries into China, he explained in a sympatric voice.
I was tired and confused, “Wasn’t Hong Kong a part of China”, I tired explain as if I were an expert in interpreting diplomatic treaties knowing full well that I was out of my element. As a few minutes of polite discussion passed, and realizing that I was not scoring any diplomatic points, I asked to speak to a supervisor. I mean why not, maybe someone would see things my way.
A young solider, who appeared to be around 30 years old, and seemed to be perplexed at my refusal to stay in Hong Kong came over to me. You need to go back Hong Kong,” he kept repeating.
“Hong Kong is a Special Territory. Your visa only allows for you to have two entrances into China. “At that comment from the solider, I began the best argument I could think of.
“This is China, Hong is China.”
“In America we are told Hong Kong was part of China,” I continued.
The soldier said, “Hong Kong is China, but a special territory.”
By now it is about 11:30, I was very tired getting very annoyed. Surely he would let me pass. I saw the turnstile I needed to walk through, with Matthew waiting on the other side. It was so close, but so far away. I decided to try and explain the diplomatic treaty, as if I were an expert. Bluffing of course, and hoping for a little luck. After all this mistake could have catastrophic effects on my vacation, and at that moment it was all about me.
“Either Hong Kong is China or it isn’t. If it’s China, let me pass.”
The soldier was getting red in the face and simply said, “You must go back to Hong Kong.”
“Then Hong Kong is not part of China,” I fumed, “Or you would honor your own visa!”
“You must go now, stay in Hong Kong, Don’t come back!” He screamed as he put his hand on the firearm he was carrying.
“But where will I stay?” Still not ready to completely give up and give in.
The solider spoke in Mandarin to the other young solider whom I had first talked to. The solider handed me an address.
Perhaps this place will be up to your standards,” he said as he glared at me.
I ignored to solider for a moment a told Matthew where we could meet at noon the next day. It was a train stop near the border on the Hong Kong side.
I had run out of options. I wasn’t the great debating diplomat that I thought I was, and went back to Hong Kong, alone and tired at midnight with a strong typhoon moving into the area.
So I left, tired, confused and annoyed, as the solider in charge stood watching. I could feel his eyes looking at this crazy Luoyang who didn’t understand China. Walking me walk by myself with the small daypack we brought I went back to that ever the night held.
Later, I realized that was how I was behaving, and what I was saying to the guards was entirely inappropriate. Something, I must say I am prone to do when I am tired and feel I’m in a corner. The Chinese are extremely proud to have Hong Kong returned to China. At the time of the transfer there were national celebrations. Secondly, taking the attitude t
hat I knew better was rude and condescending, something no culture likes to tolerate. I was their guest, and I had forgotten the simple rules of politeness. Looking back, I was lucky that the border guards were tolerant and allowed me the opportunity to express myself. Would I behave that way again, I hope not, but new situations, that at out of our control force us to confront our fears of the unknown.
I left the border feeling lost with only an address to go to on a rainy midnight facing what the locals were calling a typhoon. After a twenty dollar taxi ride, I arrived at a resort that looked like a very expensive, but still a safe haven for the night. Leaving the taxi, I walked through the pouring rain to entrance to the resort. I was worried about how much a room would cost, the marble resort looked more like a museum than a place to sleep, but I needed crash till the morning. I was completely soaked and created a small puddle on the door from the rain, as my feet began to slip on the smooth marble floor. So to keep from slipping and falling, I walked slowly in a sort of shuffle through the resort lobby to the front desk. I was told that the rooms were 300 hundred dollar a night on up. I gulped at the price, but then was told there weren’t any rooms available.
I thought for a moment about angry border official, who I remembered saying, “Perhaps this place will be up to your standards.” Was the dark metaphorical rain cloud hovering over my head caused due to my attitude at the border? Did the border official suggest I sleep in this luxurious resort because he had stereotyped me as a typical “Ugly American”? I thought so. Smiling at the hotel attendant, I asked if they had any idea where I could stay. After a few phone calls by the hotel employee, I was found a room and another taxi called for me. I was so appreciative of the help and concern they had shown me.
As I traveled in the taxi to a new unknown place in Hong Kong, I thought over important details. It was early Sunday morning and the Chinese Embassy in Hong Kong would not be open until Monday morning and hopefully I could get a visa processed for a quick reentry into Mainland China. There was the problem of finding Matthew at noon on Saturday at the Fanling transit station. His cell phone didn’t work, when calling Hong Kong from the mainland. I had basically nothing with me aside from my wallet and a daypack that held my camera.
It was two in the morning, when I reached the motel. I was soaked again from the pouring rain, tired and hopeful that there was
still an available bed. Though the motel worker spoke very little English we managed to communicate with each other. Again I was very appreciative and a new sense of humility began seep into my rain soaked mind. My room was, well let’s just say not a five star resort, but I was so tired, worried and anxious that having a place satisfied a basic need. Everything was out of my control. All my plans about my well-scripted vacation were being changed as I lay in bed listening to the pounding rain hitting the windows in my dark room.
In the morning, I later realized was near the Tuen Mun rail station. And need to start thinking about finding Matthew. I got a little breakfast and set off to find Matthew. It was difficult to Matt at the station but we finally hooked up and much to my surprised and disappointment he
had brought my bags but not his own. The typhoon had soaked all of his things in his backpack and had decided to stay in Shenzhen for another night. Silently I was really disappointed. I was out of my element and I wanted to have my son close. We spent the day sightseeing throughout Hong Kong, and then Monday came.
Matt had gone back to Shenzhen and I had made arrangements to meet him at the Star Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island at noon. We decided on the time because I thought I’d have enough time in the morning to deal with passport issues before we met. The passport situation cleared itself up with additional money, and I would be able to pick up my passport and visa the next morning, Tuesday at 10:00 A.M. the drama had ended, but I was worn out to the bone. I felt that I had been emotionally put through a wringer.
Over the last few days in
Hong Kong, I experienced the need to be flexible when planning a trip, and for a proper attitude with composure when dealing with difficult situations. As an adult, I continue to learn the rules of life over and over. It’s a journey that is moving me on a powerful invisible current, through the know and unknown. How I learn to “keep my head” and walk into the darkness of life and beyond will define the person I’ve become.