A Travellerspoint blog

China withdrawals

are you guys excited about this documentary or what??! I miss our epic trip to china so much and i can not wait till we have a re union and watch our adventures!
hope you are all settled back in school now and things are well!

Posted by AbdZ 10:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

My Last (and only) 24 Hours in Hong Kong

The Other Face of Adventure

It was almost 8:20 pm when the Ferry we took from ShunDe (Guangzhou) landed in Hong Kong, the final destination on my first dream-like trip in Asia. As I waited for the security officer to check my passport, I noticed him flipping through the pages at least five times, seemingly looking for something that he didn’t find. After about 3 minutes, the officer looked at me and finally decided to ask: “Do you have a Visa?” I was puzzled, my Chinese Visa was just right there … I pointed him to it. “This is a Chinese Visa; you need a Hong Kong Visa, do you have that?” At that point, I figured what was going on. I didn’t have a Visa to Hong Kong. As soon as I replied, the officer dragged a buddy of his to the booth, gave him my passport, and asked me to follow him. Oops, that didn’t sound like a great start. As I got ready to follow the officer, I turned back to Hannah who was just behind me in the line and said three quick words: “I’m in trouble”.

I waited in a shady officers’ room for 15 minutes before one of the officers decided to come and talk to me. I spend the slow 15 minutes reading every single flyer on the walls to know what can possibly be wrong, what my rights are, and what I can do. Well, yeah, I didn’t apply to Law School out of thin air. I was ready for the worse … Eventually an officer came and explained to me that, because of my Lebanese passport, I needed a Visa to get into Hong Kong, which I didn’t have. Thus, I cannot enter the “country”. He asked me who I am, what I do, where I live, why I’m in HK, etc .. you know the regular stuff. Throwing the “Stanford” bomb helped softening the tone a bit but didn’t achieve a miracle. After explaining that I am a part of a Stanford delegation doing an energy trip in China (and HK) and giving him all the information he requested, he suggested that we bring the travel agent accompanying us, “Ann”, to see what we can do. When I asked what I should be expecting, his answer was: we will need to depart you off the country back to ShunDe, and then you can figure it out.

As the officer went to look for Ann, I continued reading the wall flyers looking for options, and answers. Amidst a lot of confusion, fear, and frustration, I felt a breeze of comfort that all this was happening in a former British colony which seemed to have a legitimate enforcement of rule of law … at least that’s what the flyers suggested. I knew I had the right to be treated courteously (hmm .. ok?), to make local and international phone calls, to be fully informed of the procedures, to ask for a lawyer, and to refrain from making statements or signing documents before consulting with a lawyer or a person I designate. In my case, Ann was the best (and only) person I could use help from. Another 20 minutes passed before Ann showed up with the officer. After a brief discussion in Chinese (don’t know if it’s Mandarin or Cantonese since I am not familiar with either) Ann shared the situation with me: Because I do not have a Visa, I will need to leave the country back to ShunDe, travel back to Chenzhen to apply for a Hong Kong Visa, and stay there until I get one (it was Saturday night and tomorrow was Sunday!), or until Tuesday where I will need to travel back from China directly to HK airport to catch the plane with the rest of the group. Here is the most interesting part in all that: tonight, no more ferries are in service, and this port will shut down at midnight. I will thus have to be taken to another port, detained there for the night, and then brought back to this port in the morning to be deported out of HK. When I asked what does “detained” mean, the answer came from the officer as follows: stripped out of all your belongings, thoroughly searched, and placed in a detention cell…

Really? What an awful mess. Oh well, it is time to put my amateur law skills in action then. As Ann and I were talking, the officer came with a bunch of paperwork and asked me to sign them. This was the beginning of my push back. The paperwork suggested that I must be deported out of the country within 48 hrs, not immediately, and that all possible options for release needs to be explored before the detention is effective, based on the conditions of the situation and the officer’s discretion. There was also no specification of where and how the detention can be made. Well then, I argued, why can’t I be escorted to – and detained at – the hotel to join my group for the night, and then be brought back to the port tomorrow morning to leave HK? I’d much rather stay in a fancy room with my great roommate (what’s up Abdul!) than in a fancy cell with a bunch of strangers (and perhaps criminals) in jail! The officer first argued that this is not an option, then changed his statement and argued that even if it was, there was not enough man power to send an officer with me to the hotel for the whole night (which turned out to be false since an officer did stay with me for the whole night in the detention center eventually). At that point, I figured that there is a room for negotiation. With a very calm passive voice (and unexpected shot of confidence), I asked the officer to leave the forms on the table for me to read them, and asked for permission (my right) to do phone calls and contact the American embassy/consulate in HK. I was clear that I am dissatisfied with what he offered. Ann had her share of the conversation as well. At one point, I saw her Chinese conversation with the officer escalating both in gestures and tone that I had to interfere to ask what exactly was going on. Information was gold, and it was my only defense tool. I had the right, and need, to be informed.

As I tried to stay strong, an officer with a black jacket shows up. Yep, the “boss” (chief officer) got alerted about the situation. Things happened so quickly from then onwards. The first question the chief officer asked was if I had dinner … Then he insisted to get me one, from McDonalds. He said he would have “loved to take me out for a steak, but all restaurants are closed now” (no, he was not being sarcastic; at least he was trying hard not to be). After another series of discussion with him, I figured that his son is a university student in the UK, which helped me win the officer’s sympathy, at least partially. Then it was a chain of “carrot and stick” negotiations to reach the final resolution. I tried to make the officer understand that as a PhD student at one of the best universities in the world, I would not be comfortable detained in a cell 1000s of miles away from home. In addition, going back to China will be difficult, will make me miss my trip schedule, and perhaps is unnecessary. And finally, I need to be able to continue talking to Ann, my family back in Lebanon, and my consulate, to keep them updated. In the meantime, Karl was very worried and was trying his best to help. One option he suggested was to just leave HK directly back to the US, and avoid this whole situation getting worse. This seemed the best option available. When I refused to sign the detention documents until after I call the US consulate, the officer’s offer was updated: I can keep my iPhone during detention to do phone calls, and I can be deported directly to HK airport tomorrow to go back to the US without going through China. For tonight, however, I will still need to stay in the detention center; that was something he was not willing to give in. The conditions outside were not very helpful. My Lebanese consulate was closed till Monday, and I honestly was not expecting much to be achieved there anyhow (I didn’t even try calling them). After calling the US consulate 24 hrs emergency line and explaining the situation to them, I got a regrettable, disappointing, but rather expected answer: “Yes you are a Stanford student, but you are not a US citizen; sorry, we really want to help, but we can’t.” Then, I figured I will have to settle on the officer’s offer. My consent to sign the detention documents was met by another positive gesture from the chief officer; he agreed to keep me in detention in the same port for the night without the need to move me around (huh, what happened to the fact that the port is closing at midnight? ... I didn’t bother asking, I just let go).

Ann, who was frustrated with the mess her office caused by not recognizing my need for HK Visa, successfully got me a ticket on tomorrow’s flight from HK to SF, and it was a business class (a secondary detail to worry or get excited about in that mess). It was only after I secured this resolution and knew for sure what was going to happen that I decided to phone my family back in Lebanon. Well, they still freaked out (nothing surprising). I tried to calm them down and asked them to call me back in 12 hrs, where I should be on my way to the airport; I told my family that if for some reason I didn’t respond, then something would have went wrong and they will need to call the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After a thorough security check, I was stripped out of my watch, money, and every other thing I had on me beside my cloths, and was escorted “down” to the detention center. The chief officer excitedly walked me through the “luxurious” facility, pointing out the 1990s TV, chairs, bed, shower place, etc. To my luck, I was the only one in the detention center, beside the officer and the 2 security cameras to keep an eye on me. I was handed in a small box with some basic stuff, and was left to hangout in my cell alone. Glad for receiving a new soap bar, all for myself, I headed to the restroom to wash. Oh well, forget about the wash, at least for the coming 5 minutes. As soon as I opened the tab, yellow-brown water started flowing out that you can clearly see in the white sink. I had to wait for 5 minutes until the water cleared up and was able to use it. Finding drinking water was an adventure on its own that I will not even go through. At about 2:00 am, I finally decided to give in and go to sleep, on my beautiful 10 cm thick mattress. I was allowed to keep my cell door open, which is good; made me think less about being in jail.

On the next day, the officer woke me up at 6:00 am sharp. After having my McDonalds breakfast (courtesy of the HK police department), I waited for 1.5 hrs until orders came to take me to the airport. I was escorted by two officers, who successfully managed to keep me in between them all the time. My only tour in HK was the one I had on the bus from the seaport where I was detained, to the airport. After that rough night, I was angry enough that I didn’t have the desire to admit how beautiful HK was. All I was thinking about was getting on that United Airlines plane back home.

After checking in, and meeting Karl and Ann at the airport (which was very nice and made me feel relieved), I was escorted to yet another detention room in the airport, to wait for my flight there. Duty free shopping? Yeah sure … maybe next time (if there will ever be a next time for me in HK!). During my 2.5 hours wait in the detention room, I asked the officers if it would be possible to get some coffee. One of them volunteered to fulfill my wish, and came back after half an hour with a large Starbucks Americano … he didn’t forget to get me milk and sugar. He was the same officer who volunteered to lend me his iPhone charger back in the seaport detention center. Quiet a genuine guy, I must admit.

Finally, it was 10:45 am. I was escorted to the gate, given my passport back, and asked to join the boarding line. It wasn’t until I crossed the boarding checkpoint that the two officers finally left in peace. As soon as I hit my business-class seat, I messaged Karl and Ann. I was on the plane, on the way back home. It’s all good now. It’s over.

Believe me, I try to be adventurous when travelling and to hunt memories that I can remember long after my visits. This, however, was an adventure on a whole new scale, without even me asking (or even freely willing) for it. So, the take-home messages from my last 24 hrs of my first trip to Asia:

- Next time you stay in 5 stars hotels, appreciate the luxury while it lasts.

- If you ever go to jail and were allowed to keep one item with you, that should be your iPhone: to communicate, sneak pictures out, set an alarm, and play games in your cell (thank you Apple!)

- When in Asia, never fear to bargain. Whether in street shops, markets, or police station, it doesn’t matter. It just works.

- Business class is nice, but – trust me – it’s not worth even one minute of good time spent with good friends. In my business-class seat on the way back to SF, I regretted missing on one thing: the boat trip that Michelle organized for our free day in HK. No business-class in the world would have compensated the fun company and memories from that day. I hope the other guys had fun. If the travel office that messed my Visa was to ask me, I’d request my compensation to be a 24 hrs reunion for the whole 2012 China energy group in Hawaii (any objections?!)

- If you are an American citizen, you’ll be in trouble next time I hear you complaining about it. If for nothing, you should appreciate holding a passport of a country that operates its embassies 24/7 around the world. I may not hold the American passport, but I hold a lot of love for this country in my heart, side by side with Lebanon.

Here I am publishing this story, with the photos I took in the detention center in Hong Kong, without giving a damn. I feel safe, and secured, and I am glad to be back home.


Posted by karimfarhat 11:12 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Hong Kong

Preparing for our last night out

We are less than 18 hours from our departure to the United States...and my feet hurt! The last few days in Hong Kong have been great. After arriving on an evening ferry a few days ago, the crew (minus 1....story to come) ventured into the streets of Kowloon to find food and entertainment. The next day was 'free', and we broke into multiple groups to explore the city. One group spent the day aboard a boat that circled Hong Kong island, stopping at various beaches along the way....they came back with happy faces and sunburned shoulders. Other groups ventured out into the city to explore and shop. My group started the day with a tram ride to the top of Victoria Peak, which overlooks Hong Kong. The view is tremendous:


After our visit to the top we grabbed some GIlato to cool off (its tropical here...currently mild and HUMID) and after spilling a bit on my shirt we headed down the mountain on a few paved trails. As we descended we came across the botanical gardens, which were a special treat. We then returned to the hotel via a subway under Victoria Harbor to freshen up before venturing back out for shopping, food, and more in the city and its night market.

Today featured a tour of the Black Point Power Station, a combined cycle gas fired facility that supplies Hong Kong. After our tour, we dined at a restaurant with spectacular views of the city before again venturing out to explore....I spent the afternoon hiking around the hills above Hong Kong....and after two full days of walking and hiking, my feet need a rest!

Tonight is our last night in China, and the crew is preparing to go out on a high note....we fly out tomorrow at 11:30am, and land at SFO at around 9am (we go back in time!) which means there may be very good reasons to stay up tonight and then sleep on the plane....

Looking forward to returning home!

Posted by nuclianba 02:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

Off to Shenzen

Today was our day at Three Gorges Dam....and despite its immense size and imposing form, it was overshadowed by the exquisite landscape in which the dam sits. We left the dam aboard a small boat and steamed our way on the Yangtze to Yichang through the lower gorge. The canyon itself was exceedingly beautiful, and the whole group enjoyed a packed lunch, French wine, and superb views of the canyon walls. The fog in the valley lifted just enough to allow us to take in the surroundings, but its presence was still felt through the entire journey...it provided an aura of mystery.

The tranquility didnt last long, however. Upon reaching Yichang and taking a bus to the airport, we learned our flight to Shanghai was delayed multiple hours....and that meant we would miss our connecting flight to Shenzen. Our guide Ann worked the phones in an attempt to find us a later flight out of Shanghai, and plans were prepared to split the group in order to get us all there as soon as possible. After we landed in Shanghai (finally!) we learned that our connection had been delayed as well...and so we had not missed it after all!

And so hear we sit, in the Shanghai airport, waiting for our flight. A big portion of the group ran off to KFC (yes, that KFC) for dinner (its better in Asia...or so I'm told) and returned to the gate for our 9:05 flight. Or 9:05 boarding time. Or 9:25 boarding time. Hopefully this flight makes it out soon!

Until next time from Shenzen!

Posted by nuclianba 01:19 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 7 – Three Gorges Dam & (eventually) getting to Shenzhen

Lucked in to the non-precipitating window of time – so we could experience the world’s largest power plant without rain.

The hotel breakfast at the Three Gorges Project Hotel is tremendous – from noodles to dim sum to steamed egg.

Out the door ten minutes behind straight to the dam exhibition hall, which includes a movie plus models of every aspect of the project – including the struggling Yangtze sturgeon. Then to the power plant as VIP’s – a tour inside the control room with one of the ranking engineers reveal how proud the Chinese are of this incredible achievement in engineering and construction. Group picture inside the dam in front of the 32 700MW turbines.

Off to drive across the top of the dam, a treat reserved for very few, and our VIP status due to the efforts of Michelle Li and her father Kunyun Li. Up close first on our left we see the NEXT engineering challenge – a ship-lift that will cut the 3-hour traverse of the ship locks in half or less, by lifting a monstrously huge bathtub with up to 4,000 ton ships floating in it straight up 110 meters. When we reach the spillway, we get to stop for five minutes and actually scramble around on top of the Three Gorges Dam! Group Photo! (duh). No rain, The sun starts to peak out a little.

The bus was treated by our local guide Teddy to a Tibetan song from his childhood on the way to the airport.

Now on the plane from Shanghai to Shenzhen. First flight from Yichang to Shenzhen was delayed 2½ hours , so Ann spent the time while we waited in Yichang airport trying to line up alternate ways to get to Shenzhen as we would definitely miss our connection. Eventually the plan developed – we would put half of us on a later plane at 10:00, then the rest of us on a different airline at 10:50 – resulting in the last group arriving at the JW Marriott Shenzhen at roughly 2:00 AM, with a 90-minute bus ride scheduled. But the tardy gods came through – the original connecting flight was just as late as our first flight, so with Ann’s help we have made our flight, and should make it to the hotel around midnight (original plan was 9:30 PM). Still way better the 2:00 AM!

Just made it to the hotel. In my room at 1:20 AM. Breakfast starts at 6:00 AM. Tomorrow's (or today's now) weather to be 80 F and thunderstorms. Very tropical. Good weather for touring a power plant.

Posted by knerd 10:26 Archived in China Tagged three dam gorges Comments (0)

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