China: Catch 22 With Chinese Characteristics (Part One)

Shenzhen Travel Advisory

A simple day trip across the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen evolves into a lengthy (and expensive) 8 day, 7 night ordeal when a pickpocket lifts a passport – and nothing much can be done in China without a passport.

So what happens when you leave home for a quick trip across an international border and your travel document is stolen? Tip: hope you’re not in China, hope you don’t have any plans for the next 8 days, and hope that your ATM  card doesn’t malfunction!

Things start out innocently enough.

It’s an early summer’s day, I look out the window, and the skies are unusually clear and blue – a perfect day for taking pictures. Days like this are few and far between this time of year in Southern China.

So I think, maybe I should go up to Shenzhen to take those pictures I need for the post I’m writing on that eco-park as part of my series of Shenzhen mini guides.. Also, I want to gather a bit more information about the park that I can’t find on line.

But there is one small hitch: when I walk unto my balcony, it is scorchingly (or should I say drippingly?) hot. Do I really want to forfeit the air-conditioned comfort of my flat just to take a few pictures?

I have a new camera, and I want to put it to use. I dress as lightly as I can get away with and catch the mini-bus to the train station with minimal preparations. I am, after all, only going to be gone a few hours.

Or so I think. Things do not get off to a good start.

First, the directions to the eco-park I am writing the post on (and want to take pictures of) prove faulty. I go on a wild goose chase because first, I get off at the wrong bus stop and second passers-by point me in the wrong directions.

When I finally reach the entrance to the park more than one hour later, I am dripping wet and exhausted. “How much?” I ask the attendant at the ticket counter.

“No charge,” he says. “But you should have registered on line.”

Walk-up admission it not allowed. I am denied entry. Maybe I should have remained in the comfort of my air-conditioned flat on the OTHER side of the border after all. There is sometimes something to be said for “better judgment”.

I’m tempted to just return home. But … I don’t want to go home empty handed. I’ve already wasted all this time. I want to make this trip north of the border worthwhile.

I do manage to take some pictures of the park from the outside, which should suffice for my post. 

Dinner time is approaching, so I call an acquaintance and ask if he’d like to have dinner with me. He says yes. And we arrange to meet after he gets off work and have dinner at my favourite Hunanese restaurant.

We meet, walk to the restaurant, and have a lovely evening. When it’s time to part company, he heads home, and I head for the border. The walk takes me about 20 minutes.

Luohu Border Crossing

When I get to customs, OMG!!! Where IS my PASSPORT???

At first I figure it’s hidden in my satchel somewhere … or did I put it in my pocket? Or my camera bag?

I search and search and search with increasing panic.

I end up emptying everything unto a bench, yet there is no passport. But I still have my wallet – and my Hong Kong Identification Card (HKID). It has a picture of me on it, which should be proof positive that I am who I am.

No biggie, or so I think … Surely just a minor inconvenience, or so I think … I AM, after all, trying to LEAVE the country (not enter it), and I DO, after all, have a valid travel document to enter the – now how should I refer to Hong Kong?

Not sure … It’s no longer a colony … and it’s not an independent country … Isn’t it supposed to be a part of China (with a high degree of autonomy)???

I present my HKID and my exit card, explaining that my passport has been stolen, but the woman behind the counter doesn’t know what to do. So she gets a supervisor.

The supervisor – a grim graced woman with a smug look on her face – walks up to me and arrogantly states, “If you don’t have a travel document, you cannot leave the country.”

I show her my HKID. “I’m a permanent resident of Hong Kong, and this allows me to enter Hong Kong,” I say.

“But it doesn’t allow you to leave China!” she roars. 

“So what am I supposed to do?” I ask. “My passport has been stolen! I have done nothing wrong. All I want to do is go home!”

“That is YOUR problem,” she snaps, and walks off.

So where am I supposed to spend the night? You cannot stay at a hotel in China without either a domestic ID or a foreign travel document. Nor can you ride a train. It’s also Friday evening and Monday is a national holiday. And I don’t have a lot of money in my pocket.

I walk up to a security security guard, whose job is apparently to stand there and try (unsuccessfully) to look important. I explain to him that my pocket has been picked, my passport has been stolen, and I need to report this to the police.

“Where is the nearest police station?” I ask. He doesn’t know …

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