All my life I have lived and behaved very much like the sandpiper – just running down the edges of different countries and continents, ‘looking for something’. Elizabeth Bishop
15 hours in a cramped Boeing 737 and we arrive bleary eyed in Hong Kong.
After a nightmare 30 kilometer ride from the airport, across Lantau Island, over a mountain and into the city center, we give thanks that some higher being has spared us from being flattened by the careening double-decker buses, lurching street-cars and speeding taxis.
A battle with the world’s longest outdoor escalator
Our Hong Kong expat host’s flat is located just off the 800-meter hillside escalator that climbs up to the posh residential buildings of the mid-levels district.
Tired of pushing my bike up the steep steps, I opt for the escalator and soon regret my decision as the bike comes crashing back at me, threatening to start a domino effect of downed pedestrians.
Eventually we arrive at Martin’s place, collapse into bed and vow to never, ever take another flight so long as we live.
East meets West
In the morning, I discover that Hong Kong isn’t all that different from Vancouver.
Hong Kong is home to around 120,000 expats– 60,000 of them Americans. Vancouver’s ethnic Asian population is estimated at 38%.
Wander around Vancouver’s bustling Chinatown and you’ll come across daikon radishes and gourmet chicken feet, dried scallops and rare wild ginseng.
If you’re ailing, pop into one of the many pharmacies for a traditional Chinese medicinal cure. You’ll be instructed to down a potent medicine concocted of herbs and exotic ingredients such as snake oil, cows’ gallstones, cinnamon twigs, apricot seeds and fresh ginger.
Finally some sunshine for our last look at Vancouver.
A good transition to Asia,
Roam around Hong Kong’s central district and you’ll be bombarded with western-style restaurants, chain stores, shops, pubs and glitzy hotels.
Just across from the flat we’re currently calling home, there’s “Chicken on the Run” an Australian inspired takeout joint. Down the road is Cafe O, a trendy place for lunch, then there are the numerous British-style pubs and further on there’s a Starbucks.
On a morning walk up to The Peak we got a glimpse of Hong Kong spreading out below.
Deprived of nothing
A five minute walk brings me to the Wellcome Supermarket (and no, the double L is not a typo). Imported products from smelly French cheese and Driscoll’s strawberries from southern California to Aunt Jemima pancake mix and Campbell’s soup line the shelves.
It’s food heaven for foreigners on expat salaries and a major test of self-control for cash-strapped travelers.
Are we experiencing culture shock on this new continent? Not really.
Something to worry about
What we are experiencing is bit of anxiety.
Visa anxiety. Chinese visa application anxiety.
A simple process according to guidebooks and blogs. Fill out the forms, attach a photo, pay your fee and pickup is in 4 days.
After a good two hour wait at the visa office, our number finally popped up on the screen: 106.
We scurried to the front, and shoved the completed 6 page application forms and passports through a narrow slot in a window.
After a cursory glance, the stone-faced official staring out from behind the window shoved them back. “You bring these documents. Come back tomorrow.”
With our rejected passports and applications came a list of requirements:
1) The round trip tickets
2) Hotel booking for the visiting cities in China
3) Travel insurance in China or worldwide
4) You travel schedule (daily) in China (with printed version only)
We’re in trouble. Big trouble.
Number four—proof of travel insurance—was the only item we could possibly provide.
Why all the hassle? With the help of google we discovered why.
French passports. That’s why.
On a quest for a Chinese visa.
Apparently the Chinese have had some diplomatic tiff with the French, resulting in a tightening of visa requirements.
That left us in a bit of a bind. How could we magically produce the necessary documents?
There was an alternative. We could contact a professional visa service. A fixer, if you will.
Those people have connections and are known for their expertise at finagling the system. Their services don’t come free, naturally. And being married to a man whose primary motivation in life is to cut costs, I knew a visa service was out of question.
Out of thin air
In the end, we—rather miraculously I must say—managed to produce all the required documents. Proof of onward flights, city by city hotel bookings and a detailed daily travel schedule…the whole shebang.
Now it’s just a question of waiting.
The same stone-faced official accepted our applications and instructed us to come back Monday. To pick-up our passports stamped with double-entry 3-month Chinese visas, at least that’s what I’m assuming.
In the meantime, to quell our anxiety we’re keeping busy exploring the city and trekking up to Victoria Peak each evening to take in the sunset over the stunning Hong Kong skyline.
the best way to end the day: a climb up to victoria peak