What an ordeal!
01/27/2013 - 01/27/2013 68 °F
I thought crossing into Hongkong would be a piece of cake given my prior experiences. I could not be more wrong...
Sunday morning, after having a leisurely breakfast at the hotel in Shenzhen, Zhexiong drove us to the ShenzhenWan Kou An, one of the six border crossings between Shenzhen and Hongkong. With the parking lot totally full, Zhexiong dropped us off first at the border and drove to park two blocks away. I was in a pretty good mood, even took some time to take a picture.
Once I got to the building where Chinese immigration was, I was completely shocked. I had never seen so many people cramped so tightly into a contained space, never ever, even in my years of living in China! The line waiting was so long that the tail was actually outside the building. The line was not only long, but also fat, at least 10 persons' width. It was complete chaos! I first rushed my kids and parents into the line, but not even a minute later, I realized it was a total mistake. I was so worried the kids would be stepped on that I felt like a mother tiger (not a hen if you know what I mean ) Just as I started to think that we should just cancel the trip, I heard the loudspeaker announcing that elders over 65 and kids under 3 as well as those with special permits can use the fast lane on the right. This was like an announcement from heaven, but it was a struggle to even get out from the fat line we were in. In the short few minutes that we waited, the line had built up so much that we were surrounded by people, SO MANY people!!
We finally got into the fast lane, and walked to a point where a guy was guarding the entrance. As we walked by the crowds on the left, I felt so many jealous eyes on us. I also realized the true volume of people that were waiting to cross into Hongkong the same time as we were. The crowd I saw were probably not even 1/5 of the people waiting. Evidently, the crowd control were done in sections. There was the largest section waiting with the tail hanging outside. Inside the building, there were metal bars that held people in three sections. The first section separates into about ten lines facing ten windows each with an immigration officer, another section of about 300 people together waiting for the first section to go through so that they could form the lines. The third section separated from the front of the crowd we were in and held about the same amount of the people waiting to get into section two. When sections moved forward, people literally rushed forward so that they could get to the front of the next section. I was trying to capture the scene, but the pictures no way did the justice.
I felt so fortunate to have my parents and Ellie with me, as on the side of the fast lane, we could see a couple of windows handling less than 20 people at a time. By this time, Zhexiong had not arrived yet. I called him on his cell and told him where we were. At first, he told us to go ahead and cross on our own and he would cross the border by himself when he got there. After watching two parents taking a young child over and the crowds on the other side rushing forward generating a big commotion, I called Zhexiong again and told him to walk the fast lane to meet us before we go through the guarded entrance. If we separated at this point, it would take him hours to catch up with us. Who knows, we might have to separate for the whole day. After confirming our plan, we waited for him there.
During the time we waited, we saw a young woman with her not-old-enough mother begging the officer to allow them into the fast lane as she had a flight out of Hongkong airport in a couple of hours. She had the printout of the itinerary and was repeating her situation over and over again. The officer finally let her through after consulting a supervisor. We also saw several people who were told to wait at the regular side. I was a bit uneasy, trying to strategize to make sure we could all go through: I told my dad (the oldest) to take Ellie's (the youngest) hand and walk at the front. Finally Zhexiong arrived shaking his head and telling me how crazy this was. He said he had never seen so many people himself before, and we should have skipped the breakfast at the hotel and came here at 7 a.m. (not a good way to start a fun day in my opinion). Fortunately the officer took a look at my dad and Ellie and let our whole family through, to wait in the very short line in comparison to depart from mainland China. Here, I filled out departure records for Skyler, Ellie and I as we are not Chinese citizens.
Just as I thought it was all over, I was shocked the second time by the LONG queue we found ourselves in. It turned out that we just left mainland China, but still had to pass the Hongkong immigration to enter Hongkong! The officers working there apparently were from Hongkong, speaking Cantonese and wearing a different uniform from the ones we encountered earlier. Unfortunately this time there was only a fast lane for Hongkong residents, everybody else had to wait in the queue. This queue was more like what you would find in an airport. It went back and forth, back and forth, except it was MUCH longer. It was also sectioned, but the line was at most 4 persons' width, so appeared to be calmer. My poor kids both needed to go to the bathroom at this point, while we were in the middle of the queue. I first asked a young female officer in Mandarin Chinese. She told me I had to go out of the queue to find the bathroom outside. Five minutes later, I asked the same question in English to another young male officer we saw. This time, he told us to go with him after obtaining our passports. He took us to the office where there was a small restroom, waited with our passports in his hand, and took us back to the queue. I was so thankful for the favor he did us! Even though it could just be that he was a particularly kind person, I would not be surprised if what I just experienced was the discrimination against mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese by Hongkong natives.
After two hours, we were finally on the Hongkong side. Here you can find buses and subways that took you to different parts of Hongkong. I will write about our day at Hongkong in a separate posting. For now, I will skip forward to the end of the day.
At about 8:30 p.m., we were at the same border crossing as we were in the morning going the opposite direction. Ellie was asleep and Skyler was dragging his legs. My dad, Zhexiong and I took turns carrying Ellie while waiting in the queue at the Hongkong immigration. Our arms certainly regretted leaving the umbrella stroller in the truck of the car. Still A LOT of people, with A LOT of things, leaving Hongkong. After we passed Hongkong immigration, my dad was carrying Ellie. Trust me, this time it was not by my design, it just happened that way. My dad was immediately called to the fast lane by the officer there and our whole family went with him through the Chinese immigration. Zhexiong jokingly said it was "simply better in a socialist country". I had to admit, at that moment, I felt this was home in comparison to Hongkong; and I was glad to be home.
At about 10 p.m., we finally got in the car and was on our way back to Guangzhou. The ordeal of going to Hongkong for a day trip was finally over.
So why was my previous experiences of border crossing at Hongkong so deceiving? What made this experience so drastically and painfully different? As the loudspeaker told us and the massive crowds in the morning, we attempted to enter at the peak time! So we must be leaving at the peak time as well. This time, we were going in the direction of the traffic rather than opposite of the traffic, and on a Sunday. In the morning, massive crowds of mainland residents cross over to Hongkong, some for sightseeing, but most for shopping. We saw so many people pulling huge suitcases and carts, empty in the morning and packed with goods in the evening on the way back. As we exited the building on the Shenzhen side in the evening, we saw big suitcases opened right there on the ground and people dividing up their purchases according to lists. Purchases seem so mundane to me such as Oreo cookies and Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
You must be curious if things such as Oreo cookies and Ferrero Rocher chocolates are only available in Hongkong. NO! They are available everywhere in mainland China as well. What is different is the price tag. It is cheaper in Hongkong, as Hongkong has a different tax system as in mainland China. For pretty much everything imported from U.S., the price in mainland China is much higher, sometimes even twice as much as, what is in U.S.. This goes for food, toys, clothes, diapers... Hongkong still has a higher price than U.S. for many goods, but definitely lower than mainland China, especially for electronics, cosmetics and such. Due to the scandals of unsafe infant formulas in mainland China, parents with means will go to Hongkong to purchase infant formulas, so much so that Hongkong government has restricted the purchase of infant formula to one can to any one purchaser in any one transaction.
The ironic thing is that the influx of cash from mainland China does not make Hongkong residents happy. On the contrary, they seem to really dislike what they call "Da Lu Ke" ("mainland guests" in translation, but the term has a definite negative undertone to it). I have to dig deeper, maybe talk to some Hongkong natives to understand why they feel that way. For me, I would rather pay much higher price for Oreo cookies, Ferrero Rocher chocolate or even an iPad, just to avoid the stress of getting pushed and shoved for hours. But of course, maybe that is just me, someone who can easily afford and have access to Oreo cookies, Ferrero Rocher chocolate and iPads. This experience makes me sad. I wish the world was a more equal place...