Justins World

Chinese Immigration detention

This is the tale of the past few days for me. I’m home safe now, but for a while, I was actually worried, almost scared about what was going to happen next.
I first realised I may have an issue with my Chinese visa a week or so ago. So to prepare for the chance I’d not be able to board the plane to china, I had an alternative route via Istanbul or Dubai sorted out. Even Moscow with a transit was possible. It was all sorted, so imagine my surprise where at Bishkek airport, the Chinese airline allowed me to board with the visa I had. They looked at it and then issued me a boarding pass to Urumqi.
At that stage I was perfectly ok, thinking maybe the mixed reports about how the visas work were in my favour. See many double entry visas have a 3 month validity window for the first entry, then the second entry must occur within 3 months of the first. Added to the fact the Chinese embassy in Australia had my flight itinerary at there request to grant me the correct visa required.
So I board the plane to Urumqi and arrive in Urumqi and stride confidently towards immigration. Initially I thought it was all fine, until the official asks me where my visa was. I showed him and he said it has expired. I said I’ve used the first entry and it is a double entry. He then explains its not a tourist visa, but a transit visa, which works differently. Ah so thats what a class G visa is. I ask can I just pay a fine and the response was no, I cannot enter China. I must go back to where I came from. By now several border officials were hanging about, especially given everyone else had been processed. I’m sat down and told to wait, eventually someone with decent english comes out and explains I cannot enter China. He does not know how I got to the border. He wants me to go back to Bishkek and get a new Chinese visa. The issue here is i’m not sure if I can get back into Kyrgyzstan, as that visa expired also.
Officially I was a stateless person. I had no rights, nothing. I’m asked where can I go without a visa. All suggestions lead to no flights from here without coming into China. After an hour or so, I’m asked to follow a plain clothes guy to a minivan with two immigration officials following. I’m driven out of the airport and to the immigration compound nearby. I’m walked into a place full of immigration officials and checked into what looks like a hotel room, with barred windows. I’m guarded by 2 camoflage wearing guards who spend their time channel surfing on the TV. I lie on the bed and ask can someone explain what is happening. Neither guard speaks english, other than the standard 2 or 3 phrases.
At this stage I have no idea what is going on or what is going to happen to me. I’m hoping they are trying to sort it out…. A few hours later an english speaking official comes in and asks am I hungry. I say yes and he asks for money and he’ll send someone to get me some food. He came back with some bread that would not look out of place at a Breadtop (or another chinese/japanese bakery). He also got me some apple flavoured soft drink, that was vile, but all I had to drink.
A bit later I’m asked do I have the internet to find out how I can leave. I have caused a problem they do not know how to fix. I have no internet I explain, but if I can use the internet I’m sure I can find a solution. The official goes off to muse my suggestion. Shortly after I’m packed back into the van and driven back to the airport. The immigration guy talks to the ticketing agent there and apprently has a solution. The solution required 16,000 RMB (about $2,500). I don’t have that money. I have $250 only and some Chinese Yuan. Eventually I’m taken to an ATM to withdraw cash, feeling i may have to take this opportunity or else be stuck for a few days while a new visa gets processed somehow. Naturally the ATM only allows for withdrawals of 2000 RMB per time. The fourth withdrawal gets denied. I try another card and get the same issue. I now have 12000 RMB and I’m still short of funding my escape.
I’m starting to lose hope again, I’m still being closely guarded by two guys and one starts to talk to me. What is my favourite thing in china so far? Not really sure how to answer this! Will my wife be worried? I’m not married. He does some calculations and says, you are more than 3 and 5 years… Yes I know. I appreciated him talking to me though. Lack of hope and freedom kills the soul and at this point I was still worried.
We went and tried other ATM’s and then what looked like an EFTPOS terminal. I’m taken to sit somewhere still under guard, while waiting for a solution to be found. The only hope I had was it seemed the border officials were genuinely trying to get rid of me as being here caused a lot of issues and I’m guessing someone would have to answer questions regarding me to some official somewhere.
Finally, progress is made. Apparently I can fly through Beijing, but I cannot stay or I will be arrested. The plane fare fits into my budget with 1000 RMB spare for other expenses. A ticket is bought and my bags are “found” and checked in to Melbourne.
The official shows me a special stamp that gives me little over 24 hours to leave China. I board a flight to Beijing and arrive in Beijing at 3am.
I was told I can leave the airport for a hotel, but suggested to not go too far in case I’m asked for my passport. If I look like im doing tourist things I will be arrested also. So at 3am in a foreign airport, I’m looking for an information desk to find a hotel or even somewhere to sleep. A lady approaches and she asks if I need a hotel. I say yes and she says she can take me to one she works for nearby. I ask how much and she responds “very cheap only 400 RMB”. So minutes later i’m in a minibus leaving beijing airport and I arrive at a neon signed “business hotel”, with plenty of hookers hanging around the neon signs. Inside I’m told a room is 600 RMB. By now I don’t care. I want to sleep. The room is quite large and sparse. The bed is harder than my sleeping mat I used for camping. The room was hot and stuffy, the aircon actually helped a little except it seemed to turn off hourly. I lay down and heard a huge roar. Shit that plane was close. Several loud roars occured during the night and early morning. I thought I’d test the shower out, yet the water flow was worse than a yurt camp and I only had dirty sweaty clothes to put back on. The hotel dropped me back at the airport for my flight to Melbourne, however I was turned away at the international security check. WTF…. I found an information desk and they explained the flight is via Shanghai and is domestic. Problem solved and I have some time to find deodorant, yet can only find expensive cologne which i don’t have enough money for. I buy some jasmine tea instead to use my last RMB up. I board the plane to find it half empty and I have plenty of space. Only problem is I was sitting in the hot sweaty plane for 3 hours while the plane waited its turn to leave. People were getting frustrated. I felt like yelling out “Shut the FU, you haven’t been detained by chinese immigration and booted out of the country”. Arriving into Shanghai late, I still have the hurdle of leaving China. The immigration official is unsure how to deal with the special stamp in my passport and he finds the expired visa also. Looks at the clock and then the special stamp. I say I’m leaving, if I stay it will be a problem. The official agrees, ushers me through quickly without stamping my passport without any evidence I went to his desk.
By now the plane was full of private schoolboys from Melbourne who would not shut up, just made immature jokes and looked all like each other with everyone sporting their favourite Beats by Dr Dre headphones.
10 hours later I’m in Melbourne, I had 1 1/2 hrs to make my domestic connection (I allowed 4 hours!). My bag must have been the last loaded onto the carousel…. I was secretly glad to see it again and grabbed the deodorant to at least help with my foul odor.
I got to quarantine and customs, they looked at everything I ticked off, wooden staff, dirty boots, been to a rural area and had contact with “baby cows”. My rug was baby camel neck hair wool. I just wanted to tell someone about my last few days, but alas I was through customs and quarantine in record time. The chinese however where being herded into customs and having bags checked for food (despite being told 5 times on the flight to tick food on the form).
A quick flight to canberra, a 30 minute taxi ride and I jump into the shower. My adventure was over. I learnt some lessons, which I already knew and probably wasn’t OCD enough about.
The real question is next time I’m in a pub and telling a story will the day of death with diarrhoea in the desert beat out the loss of freedom with the Chinese immigration story? I’ve never had my freedom taken away from me before and I can tell you it is a morale sapping thing to happen to you.

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