Monday, June 28, 2010

2 Old Visa Trips Before Leaving China

Post by New Clark

Forewarning: this is a long one. You might wanna get some popcorn.

Well, true to my intentions, New Clark has successfully replaced the absence of Clark by creating an absence of New Clark. Is there really a difference? Probably not. Regardless, I feel like sharing a bit about the last few visa runs and getting in as much blogging as possible since I'll soon be leaving China, and in the by-laws of the blog, it says only one Clark can blog per continent, so when I return to America, I'll have to relegate my blogging abilities to, "Classic Clark".

After my nearly disastrous encounter with the Visa police on that trip to Korea, I decided to play it safe for the next one, read my departure date correctly, and leave China on the my visa expired at the latest. After those uncharacteristically intelligent decisions on my part, I decided to try to go to Mongolia and see if it was all that Durrell had built it up to be, i.e. being sold into sexual slavery. I briefed myself with Durrell's blog, asked his advice, and then consulted our common MCIA friend for the real, accurately spelled, intel.

Just for clarification from Durrell's post, if you're going to purchase the tickets for the bus to Mongolia, not at the station but at a governmental building associated with Mongolia, it's the Consulate that you want to go to and not the Embassy. The military guard outside the embassy would not talk to me or answer any of my question (as if I could actually speak Chinese to him). Regardless of this initial mishap, I was able to find the consulate, purchase a bus ticket, and travel in the taxi to the bus station in southern Beijing. I don't have anything much to add to Durrell's description of the taxi ride, the location of the bus stop, and the bus ride up to Mongolia. I will say that while I was blessed with good weather, my luck did not hold out for traveling with either another foreigner or a group of Mongolian students.

As someone who has never officially studied Chinese, but now knows enough to get around and make it seem like I can actually speak it, I often get told by people who did study that, "this person can speak good English," or, "yeah, it should be no problem with the Chinese you can speak". It's probably better if those statements are taken with a very large grain of salt. I don't recommend trying to do this trip to Mongolia unless you speak Chinese fluently, or know Mongolian fluently. It just doesn't work quite as well. Sure you can get across, but you'll probably be paying extra, and people will pretend that they can't speak Chinese if you are trying to and not succeeding. Also, try to get a Chinese driver to drive you in his jeep across the border. The Mongolian ones, who are friends of the people who try to load you in a taxi right out of the bus, dawdle around all day will try to take more money than initially bargained on to cross the border. Needless to say, I left feeling like I had been fleeced, but I still got across the border safely for another two month stint in Mainland China.

However, I do feel like I've had unnecessarily bad luck when it comes to border crossings/renewal of my visa. On this particular trip to Mongolia, I was pulled aside when I was trying to leave China, owing only to the fact that I carried a passport from the U.S.. After being interrogated by the officials as to my reasons for wanting to cross (sightseeing....for an hour), and what I was doing in china (...freeloading, since I'm not supposed to be working?) I was reluctantly allowed to leave Mainland China and enter Mongolia. There were no questions upon trying to enter Mongolia, or to leave Mongolia and re-enter China. I figured that the reason they wanted to stop me from leaving was purely in the interests the man wanting to practice his English, not because I was looking shifty and could be carrying illicit contraband out of China. I came to this conclusion because even though they asked to look in my backpack, they didn't even shift stuff around and I've gotten frisked more times on my way to the bathroom than I did in that customs office.

I managed to cross safely, and then return earlier than expected into Beijing, which was due to a crazy driver who pulled us into the station around 1:30 am, which was about 5 hours ahead of schedule. But, as I have not posted in a while, this post is backdated and can now be followed up by my second visa trip to Korea. Initially, it was not supposed to be a trip to Korea, but a trip to Hong Kong, this however had to get scrapped as everything planned about the trip to Hong Kong went wrong.

I had found these really cheap tickets to Shenzhen, which is the city located right outside HK. You can fly there much cheaper than directly to HK, and take a bus from the Airport to the border for about 40 yuan and 30 minutes of travel. My flight was to leave Beijing at 8:20pm, stopover at Wuhan for the night, then continue to Shenzhen the next morning. I had also booked a similar stopover at Wuhan flight from Shenzhen back to Beijing without the overnight part. Unfortunately for me, I managed to miss my flight out of Beijing by about 5 - 10 minutes since they stop checking people in 30 minutes before takeoff. Entirely my fault. I book a second flight, this time direct, to Shenzhen from Beijing, but it leaves the next morning. I head home to crash and wake up early for it. While I make it on time for my flight's scheduled departure, it gets delayed due to heavy air traffic at Beijing International. When I arrive in Shenzhen, I have just enough time to take the bus across the border and get back to the airport to catch my original flight back to Beijing as long as nothing goes wrong.

This time I was pulled aside at the customs station due to the fact that I was one day over my allowed period of stay in China, which was on the intentional side. Poor choice when trying to cross customs at the border, as I've now learned. They didn't let me leave China, and instead made me wait for an official to talk to me. It took enough time getting someone who could explain that if I still wanted to cross I would have to sign some document, creating a permanent record on my passport that I had overstayed my welcome, or that I would have to go back to Beijing and sign some document at the immigration public security bureau. Even with the official saying that going back to Beijing would result in no penalty, it certainly still sounded like exactly the same thing. By now, I had wasted so much time in trying to cross that if I did not leave the immigration border immediately, I would miss my flight back to Beijing. Having already missed one flight, and being tired and frustrated with an official who spoke great English but seemed like a real duffer, I chose to get back onto the bus and catch my flight back to Beijing. Luckily, I was able to check in just before the check-in gates closed for my flight.

The flight from Shenzhen back to Wuhan went as scheduled. However, my flight leaving Wuhan was delayed by 4 hours, again due to congested air traffic around Beijing. The airline drove a bunch of us to a hotel, then expected us to pay for it. I decided instead to chill around the hotel and get some local food, and talk to some local Wuhanites. Whatever portion of the city we were in, it was pretty grubby and full of female pimps trying to get coin out of the foreigners. In Beijing, the people selling don't follow you around for several minutes trying to haggle prices, and so I was a little shocked and amused when this happened no less than 4 times to me. Actually leaving on my flight around 1:30 in the morning, I didn't get into Beijing until around 2:30 am, at which point none of the trains were running. Since I didn't want to shell out for a taxi, I chose instead to sleep at the airport.

My next plan of action was to sleep on my options, and see if I could get a black market visa to replace the one I was currently carrying. This didn't really pan out in the manner I wanted, and so I purchased another ticket to Korea (being my standard fallback position after my last serious mishap). Here again, at the airport, they didn't question my 3 day overstayed welcome, and I was allowed to pass through customs unhindered. Finally, with things going my way, I depart and arrive on time to Korea, sleep in the airport, and return to Beijing in the morning.

Lesson learned. If you need to cross the border and you're over by a day or two, don't be an American, and don't try it anywhere except at the airport.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Plant Update and Name Changes

Post by New Clark.

As of today onwards, Ben's plant is now going to be called, "Little Ben". It takes after its namesake well in that it is taller than Durrell's plant, Jesus (pronounced with Spanish phonetics).

Little Ben has been left in my care for the time subsequent Ben's departure from China and until I also return to the States. In the aftermath of the dropping of leaves event which will be blamed on the mild locational change from Ben's old apartment to his new apartment, Little Ben has made surprising and substantial growth. The most astonishing thing is that it seems that it is growing even better having left the 朝内北小街 area just inside the second ring, and moved out to just outside the third ring in the 朝阳公园西门 area that Durrell lives.

After many discussions of why this dramatic change has occurred, I've come this one conclusion. Solidarity.

I wanted include some pictures of the tenacious trees, but I'm not going to that. Ben will just have to use his imagination till he's surprised when he actually sees his plant again, and I'll leave the photo posting to the professional.