Small problem passport, big problem for you

Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, March 27, 2006

I boarded the train in hanoi and although it was in no way the rat holes that represent the indian railway, it was not quite as impressive as i was hoping. our car was split into small berths that slept 4 people, had a small table and best of all, a locking door. the ride to the vietnamese/china border was to take roughly 4 hours so there was no point in going to sleep for the night. if everything ran on time we would hit the vietnamese border guards at 10pm and flow smoothly into china without a hitch (this is sarcasm by the way). the good news was that we actually got to the border on time, where we were forced to get off the train and go through the meaningless paperwork of leaving a country. when i first entered vietnam they gave me a sort of receipt that i was supposed to keep on me at all times. well of course i lost the damn thing somewhere along the way but now they wanted it and were not too pleased that i didnt have it to show them. after a few minutes of playing dumb and pretending not understand anything they were saying, they allowed me to turn in my passport with everyone else. problem number 2 occurs when they look at my photo which somehow got smeared about a year ago. so now there is a big stink about my photo and i mean what the hell? are they going to force me to live in vietnam and work in the rice patties because they dont like the condition of my photo? looking back on the situation it was a minor stink made of over a minor glitch and after a bit of a hassle we all got onto our new train which can be desribed as a palace on rails. it was essentially the same setup as the train that we had just left but far nicer. wall to wall carpeting, thick bedding, mood lighting...the works. and this would be my home for the next 50 hours.

the train left soon after we boarded and by my calculations we were about 30 or 40 kilometers into china before we stopped for chinese immigration. the good part of this was that they were kind enough to just collect our passports while we were still on the train and left us in our comfort while they toiled away at the task of stamping all the documents. the problems continued when the young military man in charge of collecting passports looked at my photo and cleary wasnt pleased. he questioned me about the condition for a few minutes and then seemed satisfied and left us. about 30 minutes later he reappeared with 3 other uniformed men who also seemed unhappy. for the next 20 minutes i was questioned about my passport, asked to seen additional i.d. and even asked to make multiple signatures that they could compare. i pointed out that i had entered many other countries without a problem. india, nepal, vietnam (their communist brothers in arms) so it shouldnt be a problem. the response was "yes but this is CHINA"....good point. "well when i applied for the visa your embassy should have said something"...."embassy is one thing, we are on frontier and very different. small problem passport, big problem for you". after this exchange of pleasantries they left the train and continued with their paperwork. flash forward an hour later and the original uniformed young man shows up at our door and asks me "what you do if we no permit you entry to china?"........answer:"well its 2am and i never really thought about it. i dont know"....."you go back vietnam ok?"........"i have no visa for vietnam, im 40 kilometers inside of china with no way back to vietnam and to be truthful, ive paid $130 for a ticket to beijing. i need to get into china" of course i said all this with a smile on my face and trying to be as friendly as i could. once again my uniformed friend disembarks the train and leaves me trying to mentally make plans on how i was going to get back to hanoi. the three swedes i was sharing my berth with were absolutely exhausted but were hell bent on seeing what happened to me so they stayed awake waiting for the final verdict. once again, in about an hour the soldiers return but this time with a stack of passports. the man i had been dealing with came up to me and said "we let you in but i suggest you go embassy and get new passport"....."of course of course, thank you very much".

the next 40 hours or so passed uneventfully for the most part. i was in a sort of time warp on that train but the weird thing is that it was so comfortable that the trip itself felt a lot shorter then a lot of the bus rides ive taken. when we were 6 hours outside of beijing we got stuck at a station....for 7 hours. the train in front of us had derailed and torn the tracks to hell i guess so we were stuck inside of the train. it was kind of like being bottled up in an airplane that was stuck on the runway for hours, the only difference being that we had slightly more room to move around.

im finally in beijing. the new sections of the city are mostly just sterilized concrete buildings without much in the way of architecture. on the horizon i can see a forest of construction cranes trying to raise more of these ugly behemouths into the sky. the real beijing is in the alleyways and narrow roads that crisscross through the neighborhoods. the government in its wisdom is trying to stamp out this sort of life and has bulldozed 4000 of the 6000 narrow road ways that used to be the lifeblood of the city. the 2008 olympics may be the worst thing that ever happened to this city, well that and the cultural revolution i suppose.

the forbidden city was first on my list and since my hostel is only about 15 minutes for tianamen square i was centrally located to see the sights. the forbidden city may be the biggest damn monument ive ever seen. usually when you go to these places they give you a map so you can find the highlights. this time i used to the map to find my way out! it really is a city within a city and absolutely beautiful. my only complaint is that they are doing so much restoration it will be hard to know what really is an artifact and what was restored. i opted out of seeing mao's corpse, i think one body in the week is enough but tianamens sqaure is quite a sight (even despite the huge military presence) and you cant help but think of the massacre that happened there and the poor people that were killed for wanting nothing more then a government they could trust.
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