On Christmas we flew to Hong Kong. Sumner said, “Dad, I think that Hong Kong is its own country because they have their own Olympic team, their own flag, their own passport and their own currency.” Tim responded, “No, Sum, Hong Kong is considered part of China.”
After five fun days we returned to the airport and were informed that the kids and I could not return to China because our visas didn’t allow us to re-enter. Tim, however, was allowed. Zoe burst into tears with loud lamenting. Sumner, a quieter protester, had tears dripping down his cheeks. We were scheduled to go on to Shanghai to cat sit in a lovely apartment with a big screen TV, and the kids were more excited about that than Hong Kong.
Late Sunday night , December 29
From the airport we booked a room in the same 17 story building we had just stayed in. This building, called the Chungking Mansion, has dozens of tiny pensions, hostels and guest houses.
Outside our building where hawkers offer their wares
Travel guides list the Mansion as worthy of seeing because of the multitude of vendors. Hawkers ask passer byers: “Want a tailor made coat?” “A watch?” One offered Tim, “Hashish, coke, marijuana?”
Tim needed to return to work, but missed the flight to help formulate a game plan. At midnight we parted ways, he to an ATM machine and we to the Mansion. The hawkers, who were still loitering, asked if we needed a room, and I said we were staying in the Peace Hotel. They said to go to the 3rd set of elevators and to go to the 5th floor. By each elevator is a list of hotels that can only be reached from that elevator. I remarked that our hotel wasn’t on the list and a man said it was too new. We went to the 5th floor and found the buzzer for the Peace Hotel. A man came out of a door down the hall and took us to the 7th floor to a hotel called the Safari Hotel. When he said this was where our room was, I commented that my husband might have a hard time finding us. He said he would look for him, and twice he told me to lock our door.
At 2am Tim still hadn’t shown up, and our cell phones were useless. Our service, China Mobile, only worked in the “other” part of China. At 3am I awoke to banging on the door. Tim had been searching for us for 2 1/2 hours and had even called the US embassy for help. He was about to go find the police.
Monday, December 30
Tim left early after giving me a handful of cash, our passports, and tips on how to manage. Leaving us in a strange city wasn’t the hard part. Leaving me with a paperwork job — that was the hard part. Filling out forms paralyzes me.
I could do it. For years I filed my own income tax forms. And only once did I stuff my incomplete form and other necessary papers into an envelope along with a note begging the IRS for help — and somehow they took care of it. Sometimes Tim and I wonder how I survived before him, but I did and I still can — when utterly necessary.
When Tim isn’t around, Zoe, Sumner and I become a team. So, we found the visa office. The line, with over a hundred people, started outside. I stood by a man from Orlando, FL who once worked at Disney as a street sweeper. When I asked how he ended up here, he said that his buddy had come over, gotten in with the wrong people and been kidnapped when he failed to pay a debt. He came to rescue his friend then met a woman and now was staying.
Eventually we got inside. It was chaotic with people everywhere. I started the application, one for each of us, then waited in line for our
pictures to be made.
my visa application to come back into China
Another line was to copy our passports. Finally I got in the line to see if our applications were complete enough. They weren’t so I filled in more boxes then got back in line. We were granted number 308. They were on 156.
Zo and Sum watching “I Love Lucy” on youtube
in the visa office
Our first meeting was at window 6 with a soft spoken, formal young man who sat behind a thick glass and spoke through a microphone. Being hard of hearing, I squatted down eye level with him and tried not to leave my lip prints on the glass while also turning my head to hear him from the speaker about a foot away. He said that Tim needed to write a letter of invitation.
“What is it supposed to say?” I asked. He slipped me a list of things that included Tim’s relationship to us and why he was in China, our full names and birth dates, how long and where we would stay and how we would be supported financially while there.
I told No. 6 that we were married and already had lived together for several months in China. I thought of adding that we had been there long enough for our cheap toilet seat to break three times, and for me to see my “hair director” color his black hair to blonde.
“You need copies of his passport and visa, and you can apply to stay for thirty days or ninety days.”
I responded that we wanted to stay longer. He repeated my options — thirty or ninety days.
I said, “I’ll take the ninety day visa.”
“Then you need original birth certificates for the children and an original wedding certificate.” I wanted to scream. Tim had just been to Shanghai and stood in a long, long line to get those documents approved, but I didn’t have those with me.
“Okay, but I want to stay longer,” I said again.
“Thirty or ninety. You decide.” he said.
We emailed Tim. He responded that he had just arrived home from the airport, and that he would get to work on the letter. Finally a 1 1/2 page letter full of detailed facts arrived. We put it on a flash drive, scurried to a copy store and had it printed.
No. 6 looked at the paperwork and said that we needed the small square paper that immigration had given us at the airport when we entered Hong Kong. I recall picking up a wee piece of paper as it fell from a passport. Our slips were probably in the bottom of Tim’s computer bag. Mr. 6 said we needed new ones from the immigration office.