I’ll Never Do That Again

Well it all started when I decided to mix a business trip in China with my trip for health reasons to India.  It was risky from the start, I was going to Shanghai to meet David, our China director for Traveler’s Coffee and we were going to have a couple of meetings and check some potential locations for our first coffeehouse in Ningbo (a couple of hours south of Shanghai).  There in Shanghai I was to apply for a visa at the Indian Consulate, then go on to India for my yoga, fruit and vegetable and lots of water and walking at the Jindal NatureCare Institute near Bangalore.

But that didn’t happen… not yet.

So, I flew into my transit airport in Urumqi, a boarder town of over 2,000,000 population located in China near Mongolia, Russia, and not far from Kazakhstan.  The plan was to layover there then fly on to Shanghai, one of 3 cities that now give 72 hour visas, along with Beijing and Guangzhou, right at the airport upon arrival.

However, there was a catch…

Now, once I reached the Immigration cubicles the young immigration officer there asked me in pretty good English where my visa was.  I went on to tell her what my personal assistant Maria told me say, “I’m here in transit and will go on to Shanghai, where at the airport I’ll get my visa.”  She was confused, so I told her the same thing.  She brought her superior over, who didn’t speak English and then appear a plain clothed guy who asked me, “Hey man where’s your visa”, in a very nice and surprised, almost comedic tone, with a hint of sarcasm, which is one of my most favorite types humor.  I then repeated for the third time what I was told to say and then began to add at the end, “… you know in Shanghai they have this new law that you can get 72 hour visas upon arriving at the airport.”  So, there I was with the young girl, the young superior of the girl and this guy in the plain clothes looking very strangely at me and going back and forth in Chinese.  Then the girl left and I was asked to go over and wait to the side and sit down next to their office.  It was then I had the first thought that I may not be getting to Shanghai… or anywhere else for that matter.

After about 30 minutes of hoopla with them going back and forth with several representatives of the Immigration Control asking me why I didn’t have a visa, while all the while this plain clothed guys nicely and increasing sarcastically translated.  What began to unveil itself was that there was just one catch with this new 72 hour visa law and that was you could get one ONLY if you flew directly into any one of those three cities and your point of entry into China was ONLY that city.

OUCH!!!

To exacerbate the situation, I had “No Service” on my iPhone 5.  No matter what I did, turned it off and on (which I did about 5 times), or take the SIM card out and put it back in (which I did twice) it wasn’t going to work.  Furthermore, not one of the WiFi hot spots (and there were about 8 or 9 of them) let me hook up.  A couple of the WiFi spots gave me a webpage to put my login and password in but of course I didn’t have any of these Chinese website internet scratch off cards with such information.

So, now I was beginning to get a little concerned about what was going to be my destiny.  Don’t get me wrong I tried to squirm my way on to the next plane to Shanghai buy saying, I think that if I just go to Shanghai, everything will be fine but that didn’t go over, they were calm and said simply, “You will be flying into the domestic airport NOT the international airport, so you can’t get a visa there in Shanghai.”  Then it began to dawn on me they were right, I shouldn’t be able to go to Shanghai after all my experience in traveling I was trying to do something that essentially is impossible, transit within a country and getting a point of entry visa in a second stop… what an idiot I was for thinking I could do this or listening to my personal assistant who made this error, even though she later assured me that this was what the embassy told her that it was possible.

Then they gave me my two options:

Option 1:  Deportation and a $5,000 fine, or

Option 2:  They ignore the fact that I didn’t land with a ticket to leave within 24 hours (really cool on their part), I buy the next ticket out of the country, they stamp me with the typical 24 hour Urumqi visa and I leave the country.

I took option 2.

So, the next and ONLY flight was to Almaty, which was the next adventure… The Almaty flight kept being delayed and I waited for 14 hours in the Immigration area VIP zone.  They said it was because of weather conditions.  Little did we know at the same time that I flew into Urumqi a passenger plane went done in Almaty killing 20 people.  It was reported that this was due to fog…

Now I must take the time here to say about how nice these Immigration officers were, I went through 3 separate shifts in my stay in Urumqi, I swear not one of them was over 30 years old.  They were young, half of them had some English, they were always checking up on me, they gave me water, green tea with milk (that had a sweet taste of clay and salty after taste), and cookies from their rations, they let me go out into the forbidden external zone to go eat at KFC, they were really, really, really nice and pleasant to be around.

Finally at 7:00 am we took the 1 hour 20 min flight to Almaty.  There I tried to go to the Almaty Indian Embassy but it was closed until Friday, it was Tuesday, so off to Moscow in quest of my Indian visa…

Now Almaty wasn’t a total wash I got to see our our great franchisees Rumil and Rakhat, who I learned are getting an investment loan for about $1.2 million USD in about two months and are going to open 5 or more new Traveler’s Coffees in Almaty and Aktau.  Furthermore, they took me to a really great central Asian restaurant where we hung out and ate Bishburmak (a traditional Kazakh dish with fat homemade large noodle and stewed horse meat, it’s really good, this is the 3rd time I’ve had it and it’s one of my favorite foods).

Lastly, this journey brought me to Moscow, where the Visa Center and Embassy after 2 visits in 2 days said that they could not give me a visa in my American passport because I also have a Russian passport and I’m in the country under that passport AND they couldn’t give me a visa in my Russian passport because it expires in 5 months, and if less than 6 months to the expiration date of the passport then NO VISA… so this is when my journey ended.  I met with my designers all 4 of them where there for a materials sourcing trip.  So the Moscow trip was also useful.

So, that was the trip that I’ll never do again…