I am in a Guangzhou holding cell: Visa warning!
Since I am sitting in the holding room at Guangzhou station, and where I have been for the last 2 hours , and will probably be for the next two, I have a bit of time on my hands.
How, might you ask, did I end up in this predicament ! Well, I arrived here and was asked at immigration for my visa. Having had it confirmed by the travel agent as to visa requirements both telephonically and in writing (see yellow below) that I did NOT need one, I have now discovered that I do.
Lesson One Do visa research YOURSELF
The Chinese authorities are scary, repeat scary !! They bluntly told me that as I did not have the required entry documentation, I was to get on the train AT ONCE and go back to Hong Kong (I had just spent 2 hours on the train getting here) and apply for a visa .... My remonstrations and even showing them the email for the travel agent, were met with stony stares, as were my entreaties that I have been travelling for 24 hours. On reflection, the USA would have probably done the same ... but at least I could have worked better understanding the language and body speak !!
Lesson 2 : You dont mess around with bureaucracy in China .... this is a place where you want zero defect on your papers.
The ray of light was that I was here for an official exhibition and this is where Cecilia (the Chinese importer waiting at the other side of customs and wondering why I was taking so long to get of the train !) was a absolute miracle worker. She managed to persuade them to let me apply for a visa (all this time I was in the holding room) . Problem ... I need a photo to go on the form ... nothing I had in terms of passport or driving licence was good enough. So miracle no 2, Cecilia get a photographer to come complete with camera and printer, and take a photo of me in the holding room.
Aha ... but never underestimate a bureaucrat (I shudder to think how those other than us must have suffered at time in the old SA .... A faxed copy of the visa was not good enough .. it had to be an original, and this had to come by hand ... so hence the four hour wait for the original to arrive.
And then the coup de grace ! I need to pay for the visa (about R590 in China money but being in my little room, the bank machine the other side of customs could have been a million miles away .... and obviously, not having set foot Chinese soil, I had no Chinese cash ... .... lucky I had some time while incarcerated to ponder on this one.
The solution came from the least likely source ...... after an hour one of them Immigration Officials asked me to buy two bottles of duty free brandy for them .. and presents me with 800 Chinese Yuans (about R800.00) in cash . Voila ... paid with my credit card and now I was Chinese cash rich and could pay for the visa when it eventually arrived.
I am wondering why I came here ... .. but at least I know you are never too old to learn.