Friday, January 23, 2009

I believe I can I fly, I believe I can touch the (Bam hits sidewalk)

Robert Heinlein once said "Never underestimate the power of stupidity."

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who is a chronic malcontent but not a Super Hero

Monday, January 19, 2009

Warning! Warning! Warning!

This has been a brutal two weeks for old actors with cult followings!

First: Patrick McGoohan, then Richardo Montalban and now Bob May have all died.

I realize there is a lot going on in Hong Kong right now but how can the world survive without "The Prisioner", "Fantasy Island" and the Robot from Lost in Space?

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who watches old TV shows

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How to get out of China

I've received a lot of comments, not all of it in the comments section of the blog about the experience of being robbed in Shenzhen. I was careful while there to get copies of all the documents and will be posting a step-by-step walk through of what you need you need to do if this happens to you shortly. One thing I can't do is post some photos of the various buildings since one of the things stolen was the digital camera.

Until that time. If you need help with a situation like this then please email me. I will see if I can walk you through the process

Until Next Time
Fai Mao

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Help I'm Trapped in China or What I did on My Christmas Vacation or My Life in a Dingy Hotel

Note: I posted this from Shenzhen. I was able to hack around the PRC censors and see the blog and post to it but could not make any corrections to the spelling or grammar

The past two weeks have been some of the most stressful I can remember. Probably by next year I will look back and laugh at this Christmas but that is difficult right now. Actually, I will never laugh at the past two-weeks. They will never be funny and time will never take the edge off the experience of my last two weeks.

The very pretty, looks twenty-years younger than she is, really smart and loving wife and I were robbed in Shenzhen on Christmas eve while returning from a week-end excursion to a Hot-Spring. The robbers took almost everything we had except for my Hong Kong ID and my Visa. They stole all of my wife's ID including her Visa, ATM, Insurance cards, HKID, Chinese ID and my US Passport. They also took most of the clothing we were not wearing a digital camera, MP3 most of our cash and things like family photos in my wife's wallet that were precious to her. We were simply cleaned out. This suddenly turned what had been a rather pleasant trip to a Hot-Spring into a 15 day nightmare.

The only thing that kept it from being unimaginably worse was that the thieves didn't get my visa card. There were two reasons this was extremely fortunate.

First; we were able to borrow a phone and call the emergency number provided by the bank and that was printed on the back of my card that allowed us to cancel Kim's Visa card and ATM card and leave a message with the branch manager of the bank where our primary accounts are to not let anyone withdraw money unless they were in person at the University of Hong Kong Branch and approved by her. Since they had all of my wife's ID it was theoretically possible that a middle-aged Chinese woman could go to a branch of the bank, submit all the required ID's and look enough like my wife to make a huge withdrawal since it would not be difficult to look enough like an ID photo to fool a bank teller. We were able to avoid this because we could call the emergency number and called it within 15 minutes of the theft so neither the visa or ATM could be used.

Second; we were in sudden need of a hotel. Not all Chinese hotels take a non-Chinese Visa but most now do and we were able to find a fairly clean if ragged hotel that didn't cost an arm-and-leg a night. The Visa saved our bacon and kept us off the street that night.

We borrowed a cellphone and called my wife's sister in Hong Kong. She came up the next day and loaned us 3000 Yuan, a cell phone, a couple of canvas bags and various other small items that proved as useful as the cash in some ways. The night before the manager of the restaurant "Man Xin Fat Food" (No that isn't a typo their sign is misspelled) where the robbery occurred had given us an additional 200 yuan. I cannot thank the man enough for his generosity. It wasn't much but it was incredibly kind.

The cash that Ping brought us enabled us to pay the fees that the PRC requires to get our travel document replaced. Otherwise I guess we'd have had to have gotten jobs or hit the street as beggars. It is one of the cruelest of truths that you need money to get out of the PRC if you are the victim of a crime. The catch 22 of not having any money because you've just been robbed does not seem to register on the officials in China.

The next step after filing the police report and getting some cash was to go to the Bureau of Internal Security on Christmas day (Not a Holiday in China) and fill out the paper work to get our exist visas replaced. We were odd ducks in that my wife needed one document and I needed another. It turned out that my wife was able to fill out a form, pay about 500 Yuan and then get a stamped, initialed and dated form that allowed her to re-enter Hong Kong the next day after a 24 hour wait. Because I'd come into Shenzhen with a US passport I couldn't do that. I had to go to Guangzhou and get my passport replaced before I could get an exit Visa. This was frustrating because while I am still technically a US citizen I live in Hong Kong and have permanent residency there. I can even vote in Hong Kong elections. I could produce a valid Hong Kong ID and only needed to get past the Chinese Immigration booth and walk 500 meters or so. Anyway, the PRC is the PRC and despite the fact that the only thing that either my or my wife's paperwork needed at this time was to be stamped and initialed by a supervisor we were told to leave and come back the next day. So we did.
We were first in line on December 26 to pick up our now "Processed" paperwork. After giving us a bit of run around to make some photocopies, get some photographs and the like everything was stamped, initialed and glued. Kim could go back to Hong Kong and I had permission to Guangzhou to get my passport replaced. This is where the frustration really began to kick in. The only thing the paperwork needed was to be signed by another clerk. They could have done it the day before but didn't. 

Well, we rushed to the train station and hopped on the bullet train to Guangzhou. We arrived at the US consulate which is across the street from the train station at about 11:20 only to find that it had closed at 11:00 that day. Growl! Curse! Throw things! Yell at the security guard! Growl, curse throw a few more things and growl some more!

We found an inexpensive hotel (The Ping-An Hotel) and settled in for the week-end. It didn't help that the emergency number listed for US citizens in need of help was answered by an answering machine in Putongwah and that the message was said so fast and with such a bad accent that my Putongwah speaking wife could not understand what was being said. However, we spent the next couple of days doing walking tours of Guangzhou. This helped to take the edge off some of my frustration by Sunday. I was still upset at the embassy for closing early on the 26th. However this ended up not making but one day's difference.

On December 29th we got to the embassy at about 8:30. I was a little irritated at this point because I found that they open for immigration, tourist and student visas at 8:00 but for US citizens at 9:00. However, I was the first in line. I went to the window, submitted my documents, paid the USD $100.00 and then had them tell me the photos made in Shenzhen were the wrong size and had the wrong background. Growl! Curse, stomp back down stairs get more photos with the proper background and dimensions, stomp back up the stairs, cut in line turn everything in and wait for the processing to be finished. By starting at 9:00 AM I had my new emergency passport in hand by 11:45. We then ran across the street and bought tickets for the bullet train back to Shenzhen and thought: "This is almost over!"

It wasn't!

Not by 8 days it wasn't

Since the Bureau of Internal Security is closed for a whopping two hours for lunch from 12:00 until 14:00 and our train arrived in Shenzhen at 12:47 we checked back into the Railroad Hotel and grabbed some quick lunch ourselves before taking the metro three stops to turn in my passport. We got there just after 14:00 took a number and waited until after 4:00 before we were called. The clerk gave me the make a few photocopies, get a receipt from a window upstairs and three new signatures run around again and then I was given a bill for 980 Yuan which I promptly went upstairs and paid. After running back down stairs and pushing the next number out of the way the officer-clerk-sadist-paper pushing-party apparachnik stamped the bill and said my visa would be ready in five working days. But since there was week-end and New Years day in between those five days it would be 7 days. Because we had not turned the paperwork in before lunch that day didn't count so 5 becomes 8.

The wife had a conference to go to and had to leave after this point. I spent the next 8 days in a dingy hotel and window shopping.

One interesting thing I discovered is that I can see my blog in the PRC but cannot post to it from China.

This was not a good Christmas break.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who will staple his travel documents to his chest the next time he goes to Shenzhen