Tuesday, December 31
Optimistic that we might leave, we have luggage with us. The immigration office has multiple floors with multiple windows for different scenarios. We found ours on the 5th floor in line 1. I filled out forms. The clerk sympathized, “I don’t know why we give little papers that get lost. We used to stamp the passports like other countries.”
“Why doesn’t immigration staple them in the passport when people arrive?”
“Oh, they can’t.”
When he returned our passports, a new slip of paper was stapled inside each of ours. “Stapled?” I asked. He nodded.
We lugged our suitcases up escalators and stairs. We saw number 6 before lunchtime. “Can we get approval to go home today?” I asked brightly. “You need xerox copies of everything,” he said. “I’ll do it,” Zoe said grabbing the papers and rushing to a copier.
I leaned close to the glass and smiled, “One of my closest friend’s — her husband is a consulate from Switzerland.”
Awkwardly he glanced up from his paper shuffling. “No, no,” he mumbled and shook his head.
“Oh please, we just want to go home,” I said. “We need to go.” It was Dec. 31. The office would be closed the next day. I didn’t want to stay longer in this tropical paradise.
“I cannot make the decision. You have to meet with the consulate,” he said nervously. He glanced over his shoulder, then grabbed our papers and disappeared. When he reappeared empty handed he said, “Go to window 15 and wait. She will come. You talk to her.”
“Thank you, thank you so much, ” I said.
“Listen, Sumner and Zoe, this is like going before a judge. Sum, take that candy cane out of your mouth. Both of you, stand straight and don’t lean on the ledge. Don’t grimace, smile nicely but not too much, and don’t start crying in front of her.”
“Mom, you need more lipstick.”
This special line was very short. We waited behind an older couple. The consulate appeared behind the glass. In Chinese the couple pleaded their case and the woman wailed loudly. Later she wailed again. In the end, the woman bowed repeatedly with her hands clasped in front of her. I took that to mean good news for them.
We stepped to the glass. “Yes, ” the consulate looked at me.
I stammered that we had come for holiday and wanted to return to where we were living with my husband who was working in a job through the U.S. government, as “you can see in the letter he wrote.” She slowly read Tim’s letter. I mentioned “U.S. government” again.
She called for No. 6. They whispered. He seemed timid. I wondered if I should mention that Sumner had a fever several days ago, that he still had a cold and that we were supposed to go cat sit.
“Please, we need to go home,” I said.
“It takes at least four days to process your application, but you can pay extra and rush it. It will be ready Thursday morning.”
“But can’t we go tonight?”
“No, it would normally be ready next Monday. You can get it Thursday.” She slid me the paper to pick up the expedited visas on Thursday.
I quickly led the kids far away. We sat down. Zoe cried loudly, and Sumner put his head down and cried quietly. “I hate Hong Kong,” Zoe said. I reminded her that she’d already said that and that I’d rather her say it alone or in her journal. Sumner asked for the umpteenth time, “Does this mean we don’t get to stay in that nice apartment and cat sit?”
We didn’t have enough cash to expedite the visas. I returned to window 6. He had a hard time looking at me, and I wondered how a soft hearted soul like him did this job. “Did she say yes?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Thank you for trying. Can I get my passport back? I didn’t make a copy of it and it is my only ID. I need it so I can go to our bank to get more cash.”
“It is already in the back. I am not allowed to take it back,” he said.
“Well, I really need it or I cannot get cash. I have no other ID,” I said in panic.
“I am sorry,” and he looked truly sorry, but he didn’t budge.
I emailed Tim and he immediately responded, “Contact the U.S. embassy to see if they can offer advice.”
I went to their website and saw that their office closed at noon and would be closed tomorrow for New Year’s. Within a few minutes an email showed up in our inbox. It was from the embassy,
Dear Mr. Roberts,
Thank you for your email. We are glad that you have located your family. However, there is not much we can help to obtain a China visa.
American Citizens Services
U.S. Consulate General to Hong Kong and Macau
Visit us online!
I hung my head. Thoughts flashed through my head. Our situation really wasn’t that bad. Our friend Merih is from the African country of Eritrea with a corrupt government that oppresses its people. It isn’t safe for her to return. On her wedding day, in Chicago, she cried because her family wasn’t there. She tried for over a year to get visas for her two sisters to come to the U.S. I thought of the Iranian and Iraqi refugees in our church in Turkey — people without a country. If I were alone, it wouldn’t be so bad to be stuck here, but how could I help my kids? I felt lost.
“Do you need help?” I looked up. A handsome body builder man was looking at me. Next to him was a gorgeous volumptuous woman with Bambi eyes. “We heard you talking and it sounds like you need help. How can we help you?”
I stared at them. They were so beautiful and sincere sounding that I wondered if they were angels or if they were scam artists. But what could they get from us?
I told them our need.
The man pulled out his wallet. “We understand. I’m from Australia and my wife’s from Russia. We were living in India when our first son was born. When my work was done we were at the airport about to leave and they told us that we could leave, but that our son couldn’t because he was an Indian citizen. They wanted us to leave him! It took us several weeks to work it out so we could leave with him.” Again, our desire seemed puny — how could I compare fighting for custody of one’s own son to waiting a few days to return from a holiday.
“How much do you need?” he asked as their son, a round faced boy, leaned against his mother’s leg.
I told him. He counted out some bills and added a few more, saying that I should have more pocket money, just in case. He wrote down his email and said, “When you get back and get settled, just email and I’ll tell you how to transfer the money to me.”
And they were gone. It was hard to wrap my brain around what had just happened. I hadn’t even prayed for help, and what about Merih’s sisters and refugees?
I kept saying., “They didn’t even know us and helped us” and Sumner kept asking, “Why’d they do it?” And I would respond with things like, “They understand. They’ve been stuck. They are kind. I don’t know.”
We drug our suitcases outside and sat in the sun. A couple walking a dog passed, and the man hovered over it snapping pictures like it was a new baby. We ate clementines, bread and cheese. I prayed aloud that we could love someone while we were still in HK.
We booked a room in our third hotel in the Mansion. Our building was close to the water where nightly people throng to see the world’s largest permanent light and sound show, according to Guinness Book of World Records. Sumner suggested we watch the countdown before midnight and I agreed. However, I fell asleep and Zoe had to wake me. We opened the window to listen to the fireworks then flipped on the TV to watch the firework and light show from our beds.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
We stayed in our room until afternoon then wandered the streets for a while.
Thursday, January 2
We picked up our passports — and visas. When I waved to No. 6 and said we were going home, he nodded shyly.
On the plane I thought of my prayer and that we hadn’t done anything spectacular for anyone in Hong Kong. But life will present a myriad of opportunities yet. I hope I respond well and that my children will also do the same.
“while we have opportunity, let us do good to all ” Galations 6.10