Continued from Hiding out in Hong Kong:
Upon each re-entry into Hong Kong we carefully monitored the days remaining before the 90-day window on our visas expired. So about 80 days after my wife’s last trip out of Hong Kong we decided to take a boat over to the old Portuguese colony of Macau to get a new tourist stamp in her passport. Even though Hong Kong and Macau are both part of China, they are treated as separate countries, so you can take a 1-hour ferry ride over to Macau, spend the day there, and, having officially left the country, get a new passport stamp upon the return. So off we went.
After a nice Portuguese lunch in Macau we boarded the ferry back to Hong Kong with a slight buzz from Sangria. It was an exceptionally beautiful day, so when we landed in Hong Kong customs was busy and the ferry-terminal teeming with people. We waited patiently in one of the many long lines, confident that my wife’s newly-issued stamp from Macau would provide easy re-entry into Hong Kong. We were wrong!
After getting to the counter, we presented our passports to the customs officer. The officer looked at the passports. He looked at us. He looked back at the passports. He shuffled through the pages on the passports. He looked back at us.
A little voice inside said, “Oh, no… here we go again.” My heart was beating. We waited anxiously, until I finally leaned over and asked if something was wrong. The officer didn’t reply. Instead, he raised a hand and snapped his fingers, signaling his colleague to come over and escort us away.
Deja vu. We knew the routine. This time we were sure they were going to make an example of these two American scoff-laws, who had already been warned before and were simply too obtuse to have it sink in.
After a quick exchange in Cantonese between the two officers—which, of course, we didn’t understand—we were pulled aside for further interrogation. Behind us were hundreds of people, fresh off the boat from Macau. We could feel their eyes boring into us. My wife is American, but Vietnamese descent, so it probably looked to most of those behind us as though I was sneaking in a mail-order bride from Macau. Without a valid visa and proper paperwork, no less—what a white-trash scumbag!
We explained, again, that my company was in the process of applying for a work permit, and that until then we were simply “living here as tourists.”
I don’t know why we kept using that phrase. It never worked. One was either “living” as a resident, or “visiting” as a tourist. There was no such thing as a “resident tourist.”
“Living here as a tourist? What are you talking about?” asked the officer, understandably confused by these two idiots in front of him.
“Well, we’re only tourists until the work permit gets approved, see. And then we’ll change back to regular residents. Make sense?”
No, it didn’t. The officer then went on to explain that technically we should not be living in Hong Kong—Period!—while applying for the work-permit since there was no guarantee it would be approved.
I went on to explain that we were already living here, all of our stuff was here, our car was here, our cat was here, and that my company had already started the process for the work permit.
“Okay, then may I see a copy of the application?” the officer sighed.
“Um… Well, the thing is, we don’t exactly have the application yet—per se—because it is going to be submitted next week.” (Which actually was true!)
He rolled his eyes, “Uh-huh. Sure it is.”
“No, really, it is,” I stammered.
It was obvious he did not believe us, and who could blame him. The officer stood there rubbing his furrowed brow with his fingers, frustrated with the situation, and trying to ease the headache we were causing him.
To deport, or not to deport? That was his question.
We stood there in awkward silence awaiting his verdict.
He could have easily made an example out of us for violating a number of immigration laws: 1) Failing to notify the government of our change in resident status; 2) Living in Hong Kong without a valid residency visa; 3) Working in Hong Kong without a valid work permit; 4) Living in Hong Kong while awaiting the work permit approval—and those were just the ones we knew of. Yep, he could have had a field day. Might have gotten a medal or commendation, even, who knows.
But once again we proved that it is better to be lucky than smart. He ended up letting us go with a reprimand and second verbal warning. We received a similar lecture to the one that we had been given at the airport on our way to Beijing on Christmas Day, got a new stamp in our passports, and entered Hong Kong once again with a sigh of relief. Ah… safe for another 90 days.
To be continued…