Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I go to China (sort of)

I've been boring everyone to tears chattering about our holiday trip to China. We'd been gearing up for months, my husband learning a little Mandarin, me printing cards that said "I am vegetarian, I do not eat meat," and stockpiling granola bars and earplugs. We booked a package, because I thought I remembered hearing that if you went through an agent, you didn't need a visa, but the the travel agency sent us all sorts of information about its recommended visa company, so we filled out the very long applications. I printed it and filled it in by hand first, then was told by the visa company (we had to get a visa from the Chinese consulate in Houston, because we live in Alabama) it had to be typed, so I printed it, scanned it, used Adobe acrobat to fill in the blanks. nightmare. And we were flying out of San Francisco, so we had to supply all our domestic travel arrangements as well. And it was expensive. When the visa company charge went through on my credit card, I honestly thought someone had gotten hold of my number, we paid them that much for going to the consulate in Houston on our behalf.

School was a half-day Friday ( I love my new district!), and we flew out Saturday morning to San Francisco. We had a wonderful time there, visited friends, went to the SFMOMA, and had an anniversary dinner at Greens, which is one of my favorite places in the world. Monday, we left for the airport midday, to make sure Air China would seat us together. The flight was more than twelve hours, but we were terrifically excited, and I had a super-yummy sandwich from il Forniaio, so it passed quickly.

We landed in Beijing late on Christmas Day, and went to the immigration area, as one does, and the agent looked at my paperwork first. I was all set when he asked to see my passport again. There wasn't a problem with my visa, but there was one with my husband's. His visa was set to expire Dec. 31, 2012. Mine was expiring December 31, 2013. They were issued to the visa agency on the same date in November. It was obviously a clerical error, but there isn't any room for error there. My husband would have "to go back," I was fine to stay, in fact was encouraged to stay, but of course I didn't want to be on my own in Beijing and Shanghai.

They offered to send us to Hong Kong. Umm, we had no plans to go there, and how would we return? Eventually Air China found us seat on a flight leaving for Los Angeles. At this point, we were thrilled to just be together. But I had to"enter" China to leave again, and my husband wasn't allowed to, so we were separated. I browsed in the airport shops while my husband was being searched and questioned. His little bit of Mandarin came in handy, because the agents he was with didn't speak English. One agent asked him if he was on business or pleasure. They seemed very confused about why he was being deported.

I waited until the end of boarding, when I saw my husband being physically escorted on the plane. I wasn't going to leave without him. He had the seat directly in front of me -- we were both in middle seats, so just being able to see him was reassuring. Fourteen hours later, we were eating a tragic Christmas dinner in an LAX hotel restaurant. Today, we have tickets as far as Atlanta.

So no New Year's in Shanghai, no birthday dinner for me in San Francisco on the way back, and we're thousands of dollars out of pocket, but all I want to do is get home to spring our cat from the veterinarian where he's boarding, and read some books in my pjs. I don't think I'll be going back to Asia for a while.

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