Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Australian exodus

December 20th, 2011

Wondered if I’d been a bit harsh. My barely concealed angst at being asked if I was Australian. But then there’d been a piece on the BBC website entitled "Why we quit Australia for the UK". Their reasons resonating with my own observations. Difficulties buying "groceries past 6pm". "I found them friendly (especially when you were buying stuff from them) but they don’t want to be your friend". "Nightmare of rules and regulations". "Cost of living…. scandalous".

Party time

To be fair, some of the reasons given reflect more on poor homework by those immigrating to Australia. For which I’ve little sympathy. Or simple home-sickness. But the underlying theme is very supportive of my own observations. Reassuring. Incidentally, if you do think I’m rounding a bit on Australia, then perhaps I am. But then detaining me – quite unreasonably – on my return to Sydney from New Zealand and there’s bound to be consequences…. Of course, Customs and Border Protection will no doubt have their excuses. Those sorts of people usually do.

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Welcome to the USA

August 29th, 2011

It took longer to walk from the Gate to Immigrations and Customs than it did for the formalities. Even at a brisk pace. Professional but friendly, cutting a very good first impression. The usual questions. Purpose of visit. The conversation more of a chat. Why did I have a visa rather than the usual waiver? Quickly explaining three months would be simply be not enough to ride across North America, and to rush would be missing the point. Adding I’d come to meet people, to see places, rather than just pound the highway. The lady smiled. Six months entry.

USentstamp

Customs was a cursory check of my declaration card and directions to the exit. Stumbling out into the bright Hawaiian sunshine. Off to find the shuttle bus to my hostel for the night’s stop-over. Tired, but pleased my preparations had paid off, this far at least. Welcomed into the US.

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Rude awakening

July 25th, 2011

How was I able to support myself, the official asked? Explained how I funded my travels. Added I’d paperwork in my bag that might be helpful. Offer accepted. Cursory check. He’d need to file a brief report. Just in case I was stopped again. I wasn’t sure where, or when, that might be. No particular plans to return once I’d completed riding along Australia’s eastern seaboard.

Australia - Immigration - entry stamp - 17 Jun 11

I’d been pulled to one side by an immigration officer at Sydney airport. Spotted I’d been here before. For a while. Resisting the temptation to be flippant. I’d a multiple entry visa. Six months per visit. Why not? Whilst I’d been able to satisfy the rather Orwellian Customs and Border Protection chap of my bona fides, I’d not taken kindly being stopped. British Citizen. If we’d much of a Navy left I’d have summoned the gunboats.

At least the woman in Quarantine was friendly. Nice smile. I’d explained I’d been here before. Last time with a bicycle. Knew the do’s and don’t’s. Not even a rummage in my bag. Allowed to proceed without further delay. Welcome to Australia.

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A dog called Jasper

June 29th, 2011

His name was Jasper. I knew because I’d asked his handler. The pair had approached each and every passenger. Waiting by the baggage carousel. The dog seemed disinterested. I was pleased.

With Emma, my trusty steed, safely parked up in Sydney, I’d decided to spend a few weeks in New Zealand. Visiting friends. Exploring. Alas, too expensive to bring the bike over. Flying into the Capital, Wellington. Southern tip of the North Island. The other one’s South Island.

Visa

Immigration. Six month visa. Of sorts. Just a quick stamp in the passport. Customs. Biosecurity. Terribly friendly. Terribly. I’d ticked a few boxes on my Declaration Card. In some countries that’d get you a full body cavity search. No lubricant. Here the worst you’d probably get is a soggy biscuit with your cup of tea. And they’d be very apologetic about it.

Struggled to find the very items I’d declared. Becoming increasingly concerned I’d forgotten to pack them. Medication mostly. Said so to the inspecting officer. We chatted for a while whilst I rummaged around in my bag. Weather mostly. Already knew I was going to like it here.

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Flying south

December 2nd, 2010

Much better behaved than I. Compliant. Diligently completing the immigration paperwork. Putting his bags through the unmanned scanner. Obeying the sign. I’d met Anthony in the Foreigners line at passport control. He was from Sheffield. In China on business. And, like me, hoping to cross into Hong Kong. His thoroughness had taken me aback a little. Not because he was doing anything wrong. Far from it. No. He was just being the person I’d have been before I started on this venture.

I’d flown down from Wuhan earlier in the day. Left Emma, my trusty steed, in good company whilst I was gone for a few days. It had been an early start, up before five. Preferring an extra coffee in Departures than a mad panic at Check-In. The airport had surprised me. Admittedly, for a city of about nine million people, you’d hardly call it provincial. But it had a sophistication, a modernity I’d not expected.

Check in friendly. And in English. Choice of seat. Security checks thorough. Professional. Reassuring. And very efficient. But meant I was madly early. Drifted around for a while. Bemused a little by the shops and expensive boutiques. “London Fog“. “Coolava Island“. And “Generic Shop“. Always wondering what the Chinese made of these names. And then copious coffee.

The flight hadn’t disappointed. Smart Air China A320-200 airbus. As pristine as the airport. Part of the Star Alliance. And a complementary copy of the “China Daily” English language newspaper. Brought to my seat. Soon arriving in the city of Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong. Emerging into bright sunshine. Unfamiliar humidity.

A brief foray into baggage reclaim. Even a check on exit to make sure my rucksack tallied with the label on my boarding card. Not short of people to do these sort of things. The usual taxi touts in the Arrivals Hall. Ignored. Another coffee to sustain myself. Starbucks. Then off to find the bus across the border. Not sure quite what to expect. Certainly not the pink sticker we all had to wear.

[Author’s note: Hong Kong remains a defacto separate country – not sure I’d go as far as describing it as independent – to the extent you’d be hard pressed to realise it, technically, wasn’t. Practical implications? Your mainland Chinese visa gets cancelled as you cross – assuming it’s not multiple entry – and direct flights are treated as international rather than domestic. More expensive. Hence flying to Shenzhen on the border, then crossing by bus – about fifteen pounds return – and very efficient and intuitive]

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Over the border

August 3rd, 2010

China. I’d emerged from the ordered confines of Customs and Immigration, through a small gate and into the waiting crowd, surrounded by money-changers, unperturbed by the guards just feet away. Pushing the hawkers forcibly aside, I headed down the wide boulevard towards what I imagined to be the centre of Khorgas.

I’d returned to the Granitsa, the fortified zone that ran along the border, a few hours earlier. Permitted to enter and ride the five or so kilometres that led to the crossing proper. Finally. Then Passport Control. Brief check that I’d a valid Chinese visa, then a stamp and the nod to proceed. Ahead the road through no-man’s land, a half open gate now the only bar towards China. A few mini-buses waiting, their drivers sat around whilst their passengers had their papers checked.

Thought I’d see if I could ride across, but was quickly turned back by a Kazakh guard, gesticulating towards the mini-buses. I’d suspected as much, but it’d been worth a try. Hardly a commotion, but enough to draw the attention of the drivers, one of whom indicated he’d take Emma and I across once his passengers re-appeared.

The otherwise short journey, a few hundred metres at most, was punctuated by several stops, sometimes the driver disappearing with a sheaf of papers, returning a short while later, other times a Chinese guard peering through the bus’s half drawn curtains, a quick head count. And then, finally, the large, imposing Customs and Immigration building.

Inside, forms to be filled in, fortuitously written in both English and Simplified Chinese. Passport Control. And then the searches. Thorough, the contents of my cameras inspected, the netbook checked for illicit material. But polite and professional. Just one pannier spared, the best my hindering helpfulness could muster. And lots of questions. Had I been to China before? Did I miss my family? Why did I want to visit?

And then the final hurdle, the exit door tantalizingly close. A metal detector, beeping as it sensed the cleats in my boots. Checked with a hand held scanner by a young woman, I apologised profusely, my shirt having not been washed for more days than I’d want to admit. "Welcome to China" she said, smiling.

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