Borders are a funny thing, when you think about them, and never do you think about them more than when packed like a sardine into a wending and winding immigration line surrounded by people who must be thinking the same sort of thoughts in their multitude of different native languages.
Borders can be especially funny in this little corner of Southeast Asia, what with the “One Country, Two Systems” ambiguity that apparently also can be one country, several systems, sometimes.
To study here, we needed to apply for student visas for Hong Kong. As a Canadian and an American, we can enter the country on an automatic traveler’s visa which is valid for 90 days, but we can’t attend classes on those.
Despite the fact that we both applied for our study permits at the same time, only one of ours was mailed in time. The other was instructed to enter the country on a traveler’s visa, pick up their study permit from our university’s international student office, and then take a “quick day trip” to Macau to activate the visa upon re-entry.
It seemed bizarre and nerve-wracking and a little illegitimate, but the practice seemed to be widespread. A mass exchange-student day trip to Macau for this express purpose was already being planned over Facebook.
We traveled to Macau two days before classes would begin – two days before we would become illegitimate students were this plan not to work, and let me tell you – the odds seemed not to be in our favor from the very outset of the voyage.
We slowly stumbled through Hong Kong public transportation to get to the ferry terminal and then promptly got lost several times in the bustling mall where the ferry terminal is concealed. Once we finally found the ticketing booth we were crushed to see that we had just missed one ferry and the next wasn’t for two hours.
No matter – we purchased our tickets (round-trip, leaving HK at 2:45 and returning at 7:40) and figured we would have four pleasant hours in Macau. In the meantime, we would have lunch somewhere in Central and enjoy ourselves.
This is when the light food poisoning happened, which is just what you want before getting on a choppy hour-long ferry ride to a hot and humid and strange place…
Still – forward march.
Macau is entirely centered around its gambling industry. The ferry terminal and airport are surrounded by casinos. It is difficult to see anything else. The casinos make such a killing here that they provide free shuttles from the airport to their locations ever 20 minutes and these are the primary mode of transportation to other parts of the island. We took the shuttle to the Venetian, from where we planned on strolling to Old Town to see the water front and chow down on some famed Portuguese egg tarts.
By the time we reached the Venetian, it was about 5:00 and there was an ominous line snaking around the parking lot of people presumably waiting for the shuttle back to the airport/ferry. We spoke to a Venetian employee who shook his head sympathetically and told us we would need to allow for at least an hour and a half just to wait in that line.
So, we had an hour in Macau. We would not be making the walk to Old Town.
In that hour, we did manage to find a quaint, picturesque, bustling street that fully captured the Eurasian flavor people come here for (if they manage to leave the casinos, that is). We even managed to find some Portuguese egg tarts (admittedly, not that much of an accomplishment because they are literally everywhere).
They were warm and the custard was melt-in-your-mouth perfect, the crust flaky and buttery and delicious. They were so exquisite they made the entire journey worth it.
The other thing that made the journey worth it? The JOURNEY COMPLETE stamp on our visas at the end of the odyssey. We may have spent a full ten hours in transit for one hour in the city, but we were now all able to start our classes as legitimate, law-abiding citizens of the world.
That’s travel for you, though, isn’t it? Exhausting, full of highs and lows and lessons, and kind of sort of always about the food.