Thursday began like any other day. Nik’s alarm went off at 8am, we ate breakfast and checked outside to see if the sun decided to show up or not. It did! We relaxed for a little while, and when it was time to say goodbye for the day we hugged for a little bit longer normal. You see, I was about to embark on a solo train journey to Hong Kong.
After Nik left I packed my bags. I double and triple checked to make sure I had everything (he’s normally the one that reminds me of things), and after a couple false starts I was off to the Shanghai Southern Train Station. I thought about taking the subway, but decided against the 20-minute walk and 2 transfer journey and hailed a cab instead. Normally, I would have bought my tickets several days in advance. In fact, I had bought tickets over a week ago, but then decided to change the dates of my trip and had to return them (long story). So here I was at 10am standing in line to buy a solo ticket for the 1:30pm train. I tried to buy a hard seat ticket (250rmb/$36), but they were sold out. The cashier offered a hard sleeper at 393rmb ($57) instead, and I took it. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I waited for three hours to get on an 18-hour train. Why did I do this to myself? I suppose this is what happens when I don’t plan ahead.
I boarded car #8, found the top berth of cabin #6 and lofted my bags onto the bed. I quickly assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that there wasn’t any way that I could spend 18 hours staring at the ceiling so I found a fold-down seat by the window. I was extremely excited to begin my journey so I texted Nik, “On the train. Seat by window!”
Before we had even left the station the picnic began. Every group had at least one if not six grocery bags filled with snacks and beverages, so for the first three hours of our journey all I heard was slurp, crinkle, snap, slurp, smack, cough, guzzle, crinkle, smack, spit, slurp. After a while I was able to tune everything out and just watch the scenery. It only took about 20 minutes to get out of the sprawl of Shanghai and into the farmland. But it isn’t farmland like we see it in America. No vast farms covering tens and hundreds of acres that are plowed by huge machines and irrigated by giant ant-like contraptions. Instead hundreds upon hundreds of small 1/4 acre or less plots are divided into various crops surrounding villages of twenty to thirty dwellings. All of the land seemed to be worked by hand and is probably run by a family rather than a large company. I imagine that each of these farmers sends his produce to a relative in the city to sell, and the result is hundreds upon hundreds of little stands in the city. It’s nice to be low tech sometimes.
The window gazing made me sleepy so I packed up my camera and journal and turned to find that I was the only one still awake in car #8. It was like they were all taking their afternoon siesta and no one told me. But then again, I was the only foreigner on the train and I was staring out the window at boring farms, so I was the weird one anyways. I climbed up top and was quickly rocked to sleep by the hum of the train. I woke up a couple hours later and the sunlight was almost gone so I climbed down to perch by the window before eating dinner and climbing back into bed. Two Nyquil liquid gels and two episodes of Lost later, I was asleep for the night.
We arrived at the Shenzhen Train Station at 7am and I was funneled along with the other 600 passengers through the labyrinth of customs and immigration into Hong Kong. Since I was literally the only foreigner on the train, my path was pretty empty. I filled out my arrival/departure cards, signed a waiver saying I hadn’t had any contact with swine flu, told the health inspectors I hadn’t been in America since February, flashed my passport a few times and was on my way. It was when I approached the ticket machine to buy my subway ticket that would take me to Honk Kong Island that I realized that I had forgotten to buy my return ticket to Shanghai. I was supposed to buy it as soon as I arrived at Shenzhen. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to get to the train station four hours early again for the 18-hour return!
Also, Nik did a blog post about his weekend: A Bachelor’s, AKA Loner’s, Weekend. It’s nice to know that I’m missed!!
On Friday, I found my spot. My spot for when I need time to just be by myself. But before that….
My bike and I rode the Shanghai River Ferry across the Huangpu River to Pudong. The ride took about 20 minutes from the time I bought my token (1.3rmb) to riding away through the enourmous construction site at the Pudong dock. The river ferry is the only way to cross the river with your bike or motorbike, and there are at least six crossing points within the downtown area. So it’s very convenient and a lot cheaper than the tourist boats that cross the busy waterway.
Unfortunately, this was not my first trip to Pudong this week. On Thursday I took the exact same boat and rode my bike to the exact same building that houses the Entry and Exit Bureau of Shanghai. I needed to go to the EEB to extend my 90-day visa to 120 days. On Thursday I sat in the sparkling new third-floor waiting room watching the various internationals meander through the rows of airport-style seating for over an hour while wishing that my number was next. 428. Finally. I approached the desk only to be told that I didn’t have one of the documents I needed, a temporary residency permit. I kind of expected this, but didn’t really understand how and where I could obtain one of these permits, so my four hour adventure to Pudong wasn’t a complete waste. At least I knew what this temporary residency permit looked like, and that I could get it from the front desk at my hotel. As soon as I got home, I obtained this little pink piece of paper and tucked it away for round two.
On Friday morning, I set out early (okay 9:30 might not be early for some of you, but it is for me). I boarded the ferry pictured above and made my way to the EEB. Since I knew exactly where I was going, the trip only took an hour and I had my number in hand by 10:30. 162. That’s good. A lot smaller than my 428 from yesterday. The only problem was that they were on 40. 112 people in front of me. No big deal I thought. There are 9 desks open so the numbers will go quickly. Sitting in the waiting room was like being in an international airport with a 2 hour layover. At this point in my travels, I am a people watching expert, so an hour went by quickly. At 11:30 I noticed that they were on 120. At 11:45, they were on 124. All but two desks, 9 and 4, had shut down for their lunch break and people had started queing at those two desks regardless of their number. (By the way, this is an annoying fact that I have accepted by now about lines in China, no one waits their turn.) At this point, I was starting to get hungry and antsy to be done with this, so I began watching the clock and the number ticker.Â Kind of like watching paint dry. Forever later, 162 was called. I approached the desk, laid my passport, application and residency permit in front of the officer and waited for his approval. Then he tells me that if I extend my stay to 120 days, I will not be able to re-enter the country on my current multiple-entry visa. Well, that doesn’t work, considering we’re planning to be here for at least 6 months and I don’t want to spend another $320 on a third Chinese Visa in one year. I casually tell him I wish he had told me that yesterday (I think it was the same officer), and again, I walk away empty handed.
I called Nik to share my frustration and then got on my bike to clear my head and to make the most of my trip to Pudong. That is when I saw these.
The streets near the EEB, which happens to be near Century Park, were lined with these little flowers, blooming red and pink roses and the most wonderfully scented trees I have ever smelled. It is the little things that life better. Who cares that I spent over four hours waiting for something that I didn’t get? Not me. There are pretty flowers, and they make me happy.
I rode around in search for food, had to detour around way too many construction sites, ate lunch and finally landed here.
From 2pm until 3pm on Friday, the Riverside Promenade just north of Zhangyang Lu was completely abandoned. I sat and did nothing but watch boats pass and enjoy the shade tree. I had found a place of solitude in this city of 20 million.
**Update: Sorry to leave you hanging on the visa stuff. I didn’t get the extension, and I won’t be getting the extension. But I’ll still be okay and will be able to stay for the same amount of time. The visa that I currently have is a 1-year, multiple entry, 90-day length of stay Tourist (L) Visa. Which means that for one year, I can enter and exit the country as many times as I want, but I can only be here for 90 days at a time. When my first 90 days in China are up on May 21, I will have to leave the country only to re-enter. Then I will start another 90 days that will take me to August 26th or so. Then when that’s up, I’ll have to leave and come back again to finish up our trip. It is a hassle and an extra expense that I wish I didn’t have, but I shouldn’t complain because I will probably be going back to Hong Kong in the next two weeks and I’ll probably be going to South Korea in August.