(Discovered in my Drafts from my very first week in Hong Kong, August 2014) –
I ventured to the government immigration office to get my Hong Kong ID card, a process described to me as, “you’ll be in and out in no time”. Lo and behold, it didn’t go that way. The first inkling of bad news was when after a quick queue up (you like how I said queue? I’m settling in so well here), I walk up to a window with the officer, she flips open to my visa and… it’s blank.
“Where are the stamps?”
“The stickers on your visa?”
“To mark that you entered the country?”
Flash back to delirious, stinky Caroline boarding her 15 hour flight (after a 4 hour flight, a 3 hour layover, and a 1 hour delay).
What do I remember?
Yes, I stood in a line.
Yes, I asked an officer if there was a different line I should be in for my visa.
I think the officer wrinkled her nose.
What? Everyone smells bad after those flights!
I was waved on into the same massive line as everyone else. Waited in line, walked up to a window, handed my passport to the man in the kiosk… then left. He didn’t ask me any questions. I don’t remember any stamping noises.
I didn’t glance down at my passport until I had already been shooed along past that big sign that says something along the lines of “once you pass this big sign, you cannot go back, even if your officer didn’t stamp your visa”. Thought to myself, wow that’s a serious sign, took a step through a sliding door, then looked down at my visa. No stamps. Oh poop.
Flash forward to my current predicament.
“How did you get into the county? Why is your visa not processed?”
“Uh I, uh, I gave them my visa!”
“Sorry, you are registered as a visitor, we cannot give you an ID card.”
I am directed to another floor of the tall, depressing building with the succinct directions of “go to the fifth floor. They will help”.
I go to the fifth floor. All the signs are in traditional Chinese. All of the announcements are in Cantonese. At this point in time, I barely read traditional Chinese, nor do I speak Cantonese.
(See what I did there? Foreshadowing of character growth. Editing this from the future, I now read traditional and speak some Cantonese).
I pick a line. There are three lines to three teller windows but everyone stands in the middle lane. I don’t try to analyze this, I just go with it. I wait in the crowded line, and debate which category I should be self-reporting as — am I a non-permanent resident, which I thought I was, or a visitor, which I accidentally still am.
All of the services on this floor are for people requesting to extend their stay. I suppose that’s what I’m doing. Okay, good. I’ll stick it out.
Get to the window. Same conversation–
“You did what?”
“How are you here?”
“No one saw your visa?”
She walks away for 15 minutes. This is a long time in queue world when everyone else took 2 minutes and you can hear the people behind you grouching about you (yes, they were speaking English behind me).
She comes back (thank goodness, I wasn’t entirely sure she would) and tells me I have to reapply for a visa. I don’t ask questions.
“Go fill out the visa form and come back.”
I walk away…fill out a few boxes on a form in a matter of seconds .. .and time to get back in line.
Lines – a great time to realize how easy it is to find nothing to do on your phone even though it has access to basically all of the knowledge and entertainment in the world. So of course I do none of that and just inhale deeply the smell of the guy in front of me. Cologne.
Back to my lady friend. “Go to windows 27-29 and wait. It’ll be 30 minutes. You see B200, wait for your number.”
I relocate. I sit. Some babies cry, some people are snoring. This is not the most exciting of places. Two of the windows are closed. It is stuffy. An hour and a half later, I arise from my stupor.
When the heck am I going to be called? All the announcements are in Cantonese. I don’t know numbers in Cantonese. They are different than Mandarin. “Yi” means one in Mandarin; “Yi” means two in Cantonese. Why??
I go to a screen to check my status and it’s on B109. I’m B200. It’s been 1.5 hours!
The image of a delectably tasty bubble tea shop on a nearby corner appears in my mind’s eye. Its siren song calls to me. No, mustn’t leave.
I endure the remaining time from B109 to B200 and finally receive my new HK ID with no more setbacks. Finally! Hong Kong non-permanent resident, at last!
Another note from the future:
I ended up living in Hong Kong for 3 years and 7 days.
That’s 1,103 days in total!