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Hong Kong and Yanti's US Visa!
(All images HERE)
We left for our Southern China Adventure with 3 goals in mind. The most important was obtaining Yanti's Immigrant Visa. This type of Visa is the best and most appropriate for her. It allows her to come and go to the US whenever she wants without having to apply for another Visa! But, it is also the most expensive; most complicated to obtain; and most time consuming in terms of effort and actual time to complete. The other main goal was to see parts of China that we hadn't seen yet - Guangzhou (formerly Canton) and Hong Kong. We will visit Beijing in May as we want to obtain my Indonesian Visa and see the capital and the Great Wall!
So after a one year wait and much, much heart-ache for Yanti; for me; and for my family; we finally had Yanti's interview at the American Consulate scheduled for April 6th at 8AM! We packed and took a taxi to the train station in Shanghai for the 24 hour train trip to Guangzhou (Guangdong Province) in southern China. We wanted a 2-birth room on the train which would have only 2 single beds; but there were none available so we took the next best which was a 4 person room of the same size that held 4 beds. Two uppers and two lowers. Well it was even smaller that I imagined but our 'room-mates' were two very nice Chinese ladies. One was actually doing the same thing Yanti was doing, so she and Yanti had lots to talk about. We left Shanghai at 10:30AM. We had a very large window in our room so we had plenty to see along the way. The country side was filled with lots of farm land mixed with housing and factories. The houses were all large 3-4 story single family (extended family) houses that looked, for the most part, like well built, modern homes. The train itself SEEMED to be moving slowly, but when there was a highway running next to us, I could guess that we were doing 50-60 MPH. We had heard that the food wasn't so good on these trains so Yanti had packed many snacks. Before we left our apartment, I had also made 3 PB&J sandwiches, 'just in case'. So in the late afternoon we wandered down to the dinning car. We ordered, Yanti some chicken dish and rice, and me some pork dish. I was delighted when they brought me some wonderful Sweet&Sour Pork! We sat there for about 2 hours watching out the window as we ate and took in the sights.
Once night fell, we couldn't see anything L So I don't know what about 10-12 hours of the trip was like. We slept well and awoke to see that we were traveling thru some beautiful country side. Hills and tunnels and a much different world than that near Shanghai. Small towns mixed with terraced farms. Very pretty. I took a few pictures, but they didn't really capture what we saw. We finally pulled into Guangzhou at 10:30 in the morning. We knew where the US Embassy was and knew of several hotels to look at. Luckily the nice lady we had met (Ms. Ling) knew how to take the subway within a block of the hotel where she was staying. So we went together and looked at her hotel and decided to stay there. You need to remember that Guangzhou was originally called Canton and was the very first 'open city' in China in the 16th century by the Portuguese. The history takes a dark turn with the introduction and importation of opium by the British later, but we were staying on the small Island (called Sand Island which is Shamian Dao in Chinese). It sits on the edge of the Pearl River and is very quiet; filled with old buildings most of which are over a 200 years old. We unpacked; got all Yanti's papers in order and set out to explore the small island. It was quiet quaint. Lots of beautiful trees and old buildings. In addition, there are lots of open places for people to stroll around. Lots of statuary and in the mornings, lots of people out doing exercises.
Yanti was the first to notice it and she mentioned it to me - the small area seemed to be filled with two things that, at first, appeared odd. The first was that there were lots of children's shops - clothes, toys, etc. The second was that there were lots of western couples pushing baby carriages around. What was odder was that the carriages were filled with Chinese babies! Then we finally figured it out. Many westerners want and can't have babies and China currently has a one-baby policy! So couples come here; adopt a child and must obtain a US Visa for him/her. Thus all the kids! It was sweet to see.
We found a great place to eat (of course), just down the side street from our hotel - Lucy's! Great western food of all types with nice outside tables overlooking the park. (We ate several meals here). We met a teacher that had worked in Shanghai at Wall Street English there and had a nice dinner with him and got some Hong Kong tips, plus chatted about 'life in China'. He'd been there for many years and had great stories to tell. He's married to a beautiful Chinese girl and they have new six month old twins
The next morning we got up early to get in line for Yanti's interview. We were there about 7AM and the line was already pretty long. The US Consulate could not have set this whole procedure up in a WORST way.
So you MUST stay THREE nights there to accomplish all this. AND we figure the total costs to be over US$1,000! BUT SHE GOT IT! I've never seen a larger smile on her face! We were both so very happy that she FINALLY had her visa!
We had heard that of all the ways to make the two hour journey to Hong Kong (boat, train, plane, bus); that the bus was the easiest. It picked us up just around the corner from our hotel at 9:30AM on Friday and after 2 stops (Immigrations and Customs) we arrived in Hong Kong! It was not what I expected! I had been thinking - San Francisco with more sky scrappers and LOTS of boats in the harbor. It was that but only a few boats to see. The city is very beautiful. (Think San Francisco Bay Area after 50 years of high rise construction). We found a cheap place to stay (EVERYTHING is expensive in HK) called The Mansions. Don't think mansion! Think a huge 20 story building that is open in the middle with 1,000's of tiny rooms. BUT, they were clean and quiet! So, for 250 RMB (aboutUS$30) we had a room with our own bath, TV, and AC. Our first goal was SHOPPING! On the bus into town we'd seen a street that seemed perfect for Yanti. Lot's of shops and lots of people. So we took the metro (very clean, cheap, and fast) there and Yanti had fun shopping. After that we went to a store that had been recommended by several people as the best place to by a mobile phone. Fortress's are all over town and have great prices. Unfortunately the phone I wanted (Nokia 6820) was no longer made by Nokia, so we got Yanti her dream phone (Nokia 7200) - great price, great warranty, and they threw in an extra battery. Next on the agenda for Day 1 was...... the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner! This is our favorite Bali restaurant (for western food), so for Yanti's birthday we went there and ate like kings. We both love their Onion Rings! After dinner a little more shopping at the Temple Street Night Market. Not as good as Shanghai's markets, but good by most people's standards.
The next day we wanted to take the Star Ferry to Hong Kong itself (we were staying across the harbor). The ferry is fun AND cheap! We wanted to do two things there - visit the huge amusement park called Ocean Park and go to the top of Victoria Peak with sweeping views of the harbor. Mission accomplished! Yanti got to ride on her first roller coaster (and her last, she was so scared!) We saw a great aquarium and our first Panda bear. Then up the tram to the top of the peak for the views. Bummer! It was overcast that day and we could only get glimpses of the magnificent views. Oh, well.
After our 24 hour train ride; all the drama and stress of Yanti's interview; bus rides; ferry rides; changing hotels; shopping; tram rides; roller coaster rides; we were both pretty exhausted. So, instead of staying another night in Hong Kong and another 24 hour train ride, we decided to leave one day early and FLY back to Shanghai. Yanti had her fill of shopping here, she felt the bargains were better in Shanghai and she knows all the best places to go there. And, I'd seen what I wanted to see.
It's more expensive to fly from Hong Kong to Shanghai since it's considered an international flight; so we decided to fly from Shenzhen. Shenzhen is an hour Jet-Boat ride form Hong Kong and the boats actually take you to the airport there. It was a beautiful trip and the Shenzhen airport is modern and huge. It was a 2 hour flight back to Shanghai and we were back at our apartment by 5PM! Ahhhh. Home; shower; home cooked food; clean clothes; Ahhhh!
So, we took every kind of transportation except mule for our trip - trains; planes; buses (double-deckers in HK); ferries; taxis; and walking. It was an adventure and interesting to see a different part of China than the Shanghai area we've been in for 14 months. Hong Kong struck Yanti & I as a very busy city like Shanghai, but not as noisy; the same crowdedness; more tourists (or westerners, anyway); good shopping (but it's better in Shanghai); but more vacation-type things to do and see. We'd have liked to have gone to Macau, but didn't have time. We were also thinking of going to Xi'An to see the famous 10,000 terra-cotta soldiers there. BUT, it would have been another 24 hour train trip there; 2 hours or so to see the soldiers; and another 24 hour train trip back to Shanghai! It just didn't seem worth it.
Next to do in China - see Beijing! We will be going there in early June. We'll be there for 3-4 days which will give us enough time to see all the sites there and for me to pick up my Indonesian Business Visa.
After that - BACK TO BALI! Yanti misses her country and her family so much. And I miss Bali so much! So, we'll be moving back in early July!
After that - a California visit for Yanti (her first) and me. We'll be coming in early January to see the sites and show Yanti around! LA -see family and a trip to Disney Land; Las Vegas - married (again) by Elvis; San Francisco - see friends; Lake Tahoe - see snow! And maybe even Yosemite! Anyway, we'll keep you all posted.
>>Remember that ALL the photos from the trip are HERE <<