Monday, November 28, 2016

The Road to Hong Kong

Yesterday concluded the two month mark of the day we arrived in China. It's been a wild and eye-opening month, but this day had a very special significance for us. It meant that our visas were expiring. Being an illegal immigrant is a much bigger deal in China than it is in the States. They don't just look the other way or have long discussions about the ethical thing to do. If you are here illegally, you are by definition a criminal and you are treated as such. And the penalties are significantly worse than in the States. Plus, if our visa expires, it also means that our residency permit expires since you cannot get a residency permit that extends beyond the length of your intended visit. This would make our already illegal status even illegaler (more illegal, less legal...choose the one you like).  So, we had to do something.
The tourist visas we have are good for multiple entries into the country over the course of 10 years. We can come and go as we please, but we can only stay for 60 days at a time. For now. Once we get our work visas straightened out, we will be good to go and won't need to leave the country every couple of months. However, for now, we had to hit the road because air travel is not cheap.

We are pretty close to the border of Mongolia, but the visa application process was not fast enough to meet our needs. We only had three days to exit China, so we opted for a train ride to Hong Kong.

1,228 miles - 23.5 hours one way by train

This journey was going to take three days to complete. It's 24 hours each way and one night spent in Hong Kong. We would get back with just enough time to get to the police station on Friday afternoon to renew our residency permits using our newly stamped passports. Let the adventure begin.

On Tuesday afternoon, we took the four subways required to get us to (北京西站) Beijing West Train Station. We had been informed by a local (who had purchased our tickets in advance for us) that the station would just be upstairs once we arrived.

Okay! We're here! (We think)
Now what?

Every time we start to get confident that we know what we are doing, we get thrown into one of these situations and become more confused than a cat high on catnip trying to decide which laser pointer dot to chase. The train station was much like what I imagine a rave to be like. It's very loud, people are rushing around everywhere, there's lots of flashing lights and I hate the music.

We had no idea where we were supposed to go to pick up our tickets and no one could help us. The first line I got in resulted in me getting to the front of the line so I could shrug my shoulders, show the attendant our ticket confirmation email on my phone and her pointing off toward another building.

We wandered around the crowd for a while and landed in another line that we believed to be ticket sales and prayed this was right because it was going to take a long time to get to the front. It was a 45 minute wait and people were fighting to get in front of us. We don't know the language, but we put on our scariest angry American faces and made our way to the front without losing a single spot.

We actually were in the correct line and used our new tickets to enter the terminal. The terminal was even more crowded and was total chaos. Plus, we were about three hours early. It was going to be a long wait, but at least there were plenty of people to talk to. Oh, wait...never mind.

Just grab a spot on the floor because you are not getting a seat

The time passed and we got on the train without incident. We made our way to our assigned spot and finally got to see where we would be spending the next 24 hours.

8 feet off the ground in the third bunk up

Our bunks were at the top

The bunks were quite small. Not really made for six foot tall Americans, but they were reasonably comfortable. Plus, with the total lack of security and privacy (notice the lack of doors), being on the top made me feel safer. As small as those bunks were, getting out of the bunks felt really crowded. There just wasn't a lot of space outside of those rooms.

The tables were tiny and usually already taken anyway.

We found the dining car, but had to share the table.
These guys were fun.

Near the end of the trip, I was hanging out in my bunk just waiting to get there and Red made a few friends. No real conversation happened, but they were enjoying the novelty of an American being on board with them. They started offering us food, helping us pronounce Chinese words and took several pictures with us. We were celebrities.

About 8 p.m. we finally reached our destination city of Shenzhen. We took three more subways, fought our way through customs and arrived in Hong Kong.

We had no idea where we were and had no hotel reservations, so we wandered the streets for a while. We eventually ended up in the beautiful Lan Kwai Fong Hotel and then ventured out to fulfill a yearning I've had for the last several weeks. We went and got some pizza. I haven't had a decent pizza since we arrived in China and it was starting to get painful. In Hong Kong, pizza was much easier to come by.

The next day, we started onto the subways again and got through customs to get back into China so we could catch the train back. While waiting for the train, we were approached by a couple who thought we looked out of place in China for some reason.

Emanuel & Mimmi Viksten from Skellefteå, Sweden
This couple got married a year ago, worked and saved for one year and then quit their jobs to travel the world for a year for their honeymoon. We got to hear their story and share some of the things we have learned about China to help them with their journey. They had just entered the country that morning after spending the last two months in Russia and I'm a bit jealous of their trip.

On our return train trip, I was quickly approached by a Chinese man who wanted to practice his English. We spent the rest of the trip talking. He said that our meeting was fate and asked for my contact information.

He uses the English name of Koko and was a wealth of information for us. We were able to ask him all sorts of questions about China. Since we were in a confined space for an entire day, there was lots of opportunity to think of new things to ask and discuss. He will only be in Beijing for the next two months, so we plan to get together again for a meal.

After three long, long days, we finally made it back to Beijing and I was able to dash off to the police department to get our residency permit renewed before we got all dressed up to attend a formal Thanksgiving dinner. A few more hours of smiling and shaking hands and we made it back to our own beds.

All this adventure, time and money was spent for only one purpose.

To get that little stamp right there.

That was an expensive piece of ink, but I think I'm ready to do it again.


  1. Hi Brett! I follow Red's blog and just finished reading her tale when I say your comment. So over here I came. It is great to see the trip from both of your perspectives. What an adventure you guys are on!!

    1. It HAS been quite an adventure and it is far far far from being over. As long as they don't kick us out of the country, we should be here for a very long time.

  2. Wow, traveling is stressful enough here where we know the language and can read the signs but your trip sounds almost nightmarish, at least until you got on the train. Glad you got your stamp of approval!

    1. It's a challenge to figure things out and I enjoy the challenge most of the time, but when the time constraint is placed on us, the stress starts to creep in.


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