Run for the Border

trains, planes and automobiles

I’m a fairly worldly guy.  I’ve been around a quite a bit.  I’ve dealt with immigration services of a more than a dozen countries.  I understand about visas and customs and what most countries do and don’t let you do within their borders, and what happens when you decide to go ahead and do those things anyway.  Basically, what I’m saying is, I’m not an idiot when it comes to this stuff.  I’m not an international immigration lawyer, but I know enough.

Or I thought I did.

The Taipei office of my company provided me with my Chinese Visa in November.  The office manager, a very grim woman who’s been working for the company since I was still a virgin, handed me my passport one day and informed me, “You have a 6 month, mulit-entry visa”.   I said ‘thanks’ and put my passport in my backpack without bothering to glance at it.

So, fast forward two months.  I’m in China.  I’m going between Ningbo and Shanghai pretty often.  Every time I check into a hotel, they ask me how long I’m staying and they look at my Visa, which is neatly pasted in my passport, making sure they aren’t harboring some illegal visa over-stayer.

Sunday, before last, I check out of my hotel in Ningbo around noon, hop on a bus and head to Shanghail.  I arrive at my hotel there around 4:00 pm.  I go to check in and tell them I want to stay until Dec 22nd.  The clerk looks at my visa, then the stamp with my entry date, then my visa, then my stamp.  Then he looks at me with this nervous smile on his face.

“Um.  You can’t check in”

“What do you mean I can’t check in?”

“Visa?”

“So?”

“Your visa is 30 day.”

“No00…My visa is a 6-month visa.”

“But, 30 day.  Look.”

I look, and there, clear as day, right for me to see if I’d ever bothered to even glance at the fucking thing, it says “durations of each stay:  30  days after entry”.

“Um…so, how many days to I have left.”

Counting on his fingers. “No0o.”

“What do you mean ‘no’?”

“Today 30.”

It sinks in that I have to be out of the country in 8 hrs or less.

“Oh fuck.”

The guy smiles a bit too brightly, “Yes!”

And I swear to christ, that is exactly how that conversation went.

So, I call my manager, who tells me to check my ticket to Taiwan, b/c maybe I’ll just head back that day instead of one and a half weeks later.  I’m pretty thrilled at this, but 5 min later she nixes the idea and tells me to get to the airport and get a ticket to Shenzhen, which is right across the border from Hong Kong.  By this time, It’s about 4:40pm.

I hop my ass in a cab and tell him I need to get to the airport fast.  I should have let the guy drive slow, because when I DID get to the airport, they told me I couldn’t get on a plane until 8:10pm, which would put me in Shenzhen at about 10:40.

Now, several things can happen if you over-stay your visa.  It all just depends on the mood of the border patrol.  Most common thing in most countries, for a first offense, if it’s just a day or two, is a stern talking to and signing a piece of paper saying you’ll never ever ever ever ever do it again.  But I’ve met people who were banned from the host country, straight off, or had to pay an absorbent fee, or did not pass go and went directly to jail for a few sweet days until getting kicked permanently out of the country.  Now…for a second offense, it’s almost always straight to a holding cell and deportation, never to come back again.  All of the above are bad for someone who is just starting a new job in that country they are a guest in.  It’s not something that is going to stroke the belly of my job security.

But, I’m supposed to be taking off at 8:10, in a cab at 10:50 and at the Hong Kong border by 11:40, with plenty of time to stroll across before my visa expires.  Except we sit on the runway until 8:35, and I’m thinking, “There’s just no fucking way I’m getting across the boarder before midnight.”

Maybe they’ll listen to my story and give me a break and just stamp me through.  Maybe not.

I land at 11:00.  It’s about 50 minutes to the border and my ass doesn’t settle into the backseat of a taxi until 11:15.  I tell him I need to be in Hong Kong by midnight or I’m in big BIG trouble and the guy just gives me a grunt and goes.  I mean he GOES.  Fast.

A reasonable brain would tell you that you’re definitely not going to your destination on-time if you’re lying on the side of the road in bloody clumps.  A reasonable brain would tell the driver to slow down.  But a desperate brain is full of hope.  Because sure, we might crash going 100 mph+ down the highway.  But we might not.  We might fucking make it.  So, I flipped on the passenger light, opened the book I had brought with me and tried to project myself far far away from where I was.

I walked through those customs at 11:54pm with 6 whole minutes to spare.  And I got to tell you, I felt fantastic.  I positively tingled with life.  Even though I hadn’t actually done anything but sit on my fat ass and tap my foot, I felt like giving the finger to whatever gods might be out there, as if I’d just moved a mountain or two just to fart in their faces.

It is not something I would want to do every day but it was, by-far, the most fun I’d had in a long time.

A picture of my watch seconds after passing immigration into Hong Kong.

 

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Awkward Situations Abroad

When you live outside your country, sometimes you find yourself in uncomfortable situations.  Maybe you unintentionally made some social faux pas.  Maybe you just got taken advantage of because the person dealing with you thinks you just don’t know any better and will happily pay three times the normal price for that DVD (which is probably true).  And sometimes you find yourself in a situation that reminds you just how far from home you are.

For example, in late August 2001, I was finishing up my first stint in Taiwan and my then-girlfriend (Now sweet-ass wife) decided to take a 3 week trip to Thailand.  I was sitting in a little thatched-roof cafe, about twenty meters from the most pristine beach you could ever hope to lounge on, when I heard about the attacks on 9-11.  Like all Americans I was horrified, but I was also extremely worried.  My #1 favorite Aunt worked in the world Trade Center.

So, I rushed into the village, found a phone and spent around $30.00 on a call to my parents.  Luckily, my Aunt’s office had moved down the block a few months previous and she was A-OK.  But about 5 minutes later, I was walking back to my bungalow on the beach and I stopped by a bar on the way to have a drink and try to get my heart to stop racing.  About 5 minutes and 3 sips later, someone from the end of the bar said, “Hey” to me.  I look over and see three middle aged Thai men, in cut-off shorts and open hawaiian shirts.  They are all smiling over at me.

I smile back and say “Hi”.

“You American?”

“Yeah,” I said, and smiled sadly, waiting to thank him for the condolences that are certainly on their way.

“Osama really fucked you good, huh?” he said, still smiling.

And then I notice those smiles aren’t so friendly.  I look at the bartender in front of me, whose wiping down a glass and smiling too.  I look back at the three Thai at the end of the bar.  You can tell they just can’t wait for my reply.

Now, maybe it makes me a coward, or unpatriotic or just a giant fucking asshole, but I didn’t even have even the tiniest urge to stand up and start to rant at these people about murder, terrorism, freedom and democracy.  Not one bit.  As soon as that guy’s words registered in my already frazzled brain, all I could think was “Everyone here wants you give them a reason to fuck you up.”

So, I took another swig of my beer and just said, “Yep.  He sure did.” then paid the bartender and with a “Ya’ll have a nice day.” I calmly got my ass out of there.

I hadn’t thought of that in a long time, but something that happened to me today reminded me of it.  Now it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable or potentially dangerous but it the discomfort it did bring was also a direct result of 9-11.

So, I spend 6 out of the 8 years of the Bush presidency overseas.  Sometimes Mr. G.W. Bush made it uncomfortable as an American living abroad.  Whether you like the man or not, I think we all can agree that his foreign relations skills were lacking.

I think invading Afghanistan was just.  Someone in their county killed 1300 Americans and they helped hide the bastard.  We were justified in going in.  Most people in most countries would agree…maybe not so much in Afghanistan, but still 95% of countries out there would have to say, “Yeah, go get ‘em, tiger.”

However, most of the…let’s call it automatic disapproval…that I received from some people I met over the last few years stemmed from the Iraq War.  A war that I completely opposed from the get-go.  It was not justifiable for us to go in there.  Every reason we gave along the way was proven to be baseless and then replaced by another, equally baseless justification for going in and blowing shit up.  No, they weren’t harboring or training terrorists.  No there were no weapons of mass destruction.  Sure, it was a real shitty regime who did terrible things to it’s people, but what does that have to do with us attacking them?  If that was a reason to go to war, there would be a lot of other countries that we’d be hitting long before Iraq.

That’s not to take away from the soldiers in Iraq.  I respect the incredible sacrifice they make for our country.  It’s something that I haven’t done, and without an actual invasion on US soil, I can’t imagine a situation where I would rush off to sign up.  I have tremendous gratitude for US soldiers.  Not for them being in Iraq, specifically, but for them doing their job anywhere.  It’s the decision makers I have the problems with.  The mother fuckers who saw ever increasing evidence mount against their cause and said “Fuck it, lets go in anyway.”

Living overseas and having to listen to drunken-rant after snide remark after sarcastic joke that almost ANY non-American would, almost invariably make after finding out that I was from the US, did not make me love those decision makers in the Bush administration any more.  There were times when I was tempted to just tell people I was Canadian.  Canadian, for christ’s sake.  I mean, who would ever want to own up to that?

So, to the point (finally).  This morning I was walking out of the lobby of my hotel and I look over and there’s this tall, chubby, friendly-looking Western guy trying to talk to the woman behind the counter.  It’s not going very well.  My Chinese is pretty good, so I go over and ask if I can help and try to help him explain to this lady that he wants to go to another town and would like to know where they nearest bus station is.

We start chatting a bit and instantly get along.  Some people you feel affection for, right off and his man was one of them.  He had light, reddish/blonde hair, a scraggly goat-tee, light blue eyes and a gut that said he probably liked to have a beer or three in the evenings.  We sit down and are talking about this or that.  He sells fasteners.  Oh, I used to do that too.  Now?  Different kinds of widgets, it’s all the same, really.

“So, where you from then, my friend?”

“Oh, I’m American.”

“Oh.  Ok.”

“How about you?”

“Iraq.”

“Oh…”

So, we move quickly on to other subjects and it remained very amicable, but still the dynamic had decidedly changed.  Him and I had no beef, but what about his family?  Did anyone he know die because my fellow Americans invaded his country?  When we parted ways, he gave me his card and I see his office is in Baghdad, so I guess there’s a chance.   Shit, there would be a chance no matter where he was from in Iraq.

And the whole rest of the conversation, even though I personally had never done anything to this man, his family or his country, I had the strangest urge to apologize to him.  To tell him that I’m sorry that my leaders made up fairy tales in order to send troops into his country.  That I’m sorry people from my side of life might have blown up people from his.

Of course, I didn’t say a word.  I didn’t want to make things any more uncomfortable than they already were.

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm  Comments (2)