This is a more detailed write-up about my ordeal at Hong Kong immigration. After travelling for more than 20 hours by train from Shanghai, I reached Shenzen, a Chinese border town, early in the morning. A Chinese friend of mine is based in Shenzen. But I wasn’t sure if I should halt to meet him or head to Hong Kong directly. I took over five minutes to think about this; usually I make it a point to meet friends before continuing with my journey.
I remembered that I did not have his phone number. I was in a hurry to reach Hong Kong, so I decided to carry on. I walked from Shenzen railway station to the Hong Kong immigration office. Finding the office was not easy given that most places in China are underground including the Shenzen metro station, railway station and bus station.
I crossed over from China to Hong Kong (China has always claimed that Hong Kong is a part of it but run separately). The two are divided by a river. An Indian journo friend, Ateeq Shaikh, had already researched about Hong Kong visas for me. Ateeq had told me that Hong Kong was a visa-free country for Indians for a period of two weeks. But I made the mistake of not preparing well. I assumed that having a China visa and an Australian visa would mean that Hong Kong would never deny me entry. I was wrong.
At the immigration desk, I waited in a long queue. I have a habit of drinking a litre and half of water every morning. Naturally, I was looking forward to visit the washroom and also have a good breakfast. I wanted the immigration formalities to wrap up as soon as possible.
When I reached the counter, the officer went through my passport a number of times. The passport was full of stamps but none of them were from airports as I’ve been travelling by land. The officer asked me a few questions and I answered them all. He asked me to take off my glasses which I did. I thought the officer was done. But he asked me to wait outside and kept my passport with him. He said he could not allow me entry since there were too many visa stamps on my passport. I told him that I wanted to appeal against his decision.
Another officer escorted me to a dimly-lit complex. People from various nationalities werewaiting there__ African, Chinese, etc. I was clubbed with them as a ‘suspicious traveller.’ I requested the staff to let me use the washroom. One of them escorted me; I felt like a criminal as he stood guard.
I waited with the other travellers for over an hour. My passport was taken away and I felt helpless. I began searching for WiFi after a while, desperate to contact friends. I sent a text to a friend in India which read something like this, “HK has denied me entry. If there’s no communication in three hours, assume something is wrong.” Of course, I didn’t know that my friend had panicked after reading this text.
After what seemed like forever, a female officer shouted, ‘Indian Passport?’ I rushed towards her desk. She asked about my luggage and her tone was unpleasant. “I don’t have time for all this,” she waved. I realised I was not going to get done anytime soon.
I took all my bags and stood in front of her. After examining my papers, she asked, “Why do you want to go to Hong Kong today?” No other officer had sounded as rude. “I don’t mind going tomorrow. I want to see historical places, monuments, parks and cruises in Hong Kong,” I answered.
“Where have you travelled so far?” She had shot the next question. My reply was ready. “I started my journey on March 19, 2016 from Mumbai. I travelled through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China.”
She wanted to know how long did I intend to stay in Hong Kong?”
“A week. I have a visa for Australia so I will fly out of Hong Kong after a week,” I said.
She was going through my passport repeatedly, visibly frustrated. She then asked to see my Australian visa. After looking at the A4 sized paper in my hand, she wanted to know why there was no stamp on it.
I wanted to laugh out loudly but somehow suppressed the urge. “Australian visa is stamp-free. They send a visa by email and that’s it,” I said. She couldn’t believe that a visa could be sent online even after taking a look at my emails.
She then demanded to see photographs of my journey with precise dates. I handed them over and she meticulously went through each pictures, asking for details. She did not spare personal pictures either. I wondered if I should complain of breach of privacy. Then I remembered that Hong Kong was not going to be too different from communist China.
She then demanded to see my bank statement and financials. I told her that I had some savings and that my father was a wealthy man. Only I knew how far away from truth this statement was; my father is a farmer from Marathwada and I don’t think there’s a need to elaborate on his financials.
The officer asked to see tickets of each of my trips and studied them one by one. A few minutes ago, this woman was in a hurry and suddenly she seemed to have all the time in the world, I thought to myself.
She asked me if I was married. When I replied in the negative, she wanted to know if I had a girlfriend. I was in a dilemma. Did a crush count? Because I did have a crush on someone back in Mumbai but I had never dared to tell her about it, fearing rejection. I decided to say that I have a girlfriend. This complicated things further. The officer demanded to see correspondence exchanged with my girlfriend. I told her that we don’t write to each other and speak on phone.
Her final question was whether I wanted to go back to India and what my employment prospects were like in my home country. I told her that I was a journalist for seven years and I could join the organisation where I had worked before leaving India. She then thanked me for answering her questions and asked me to wait outside. I was told after a long wait that entry to Hong Kong had been denied to me.
There were six others, including two Africans and three Chinese nationals, who were denied entry into Hong Kong. Two uniformed guards escorted us, making us feel like prisoners. They dropped us over to the Chinese side and said, “Go away”.
I was jittery as the Chinese had already stamped ‘out’ on my passport but surprisingly, they let me back in.