Attending an international business school for my MBA, I was taught to appreciate the cultural customs of foreign countries. Certain behaviors that are commonplace in the United States are insulting abroad.
But, this isn’t a post about those customs. This is a post about Customs- the regulatory agency that permits or forbids foreigners from entering, and in this case, leaving the host country.
It has been well documented in this blog that visas are necessary to enter certain countries and the imperialist attitude “but I’m American” doesn’t fly at many foreign airports. With this knowledge, I was skeptical of China’s 72 hour no visa needed rule. Essentially, the rule says so long as you enter and leave one Chinese city, say Shanghai, and transit to a third country, you do not need a visa. That is very convenient because a Chinese visa costs upwards of $200.
My flight, also documented here, originated in New York, onto Dubai, then into Shanghai. My departure was from Shanghai, onto Singapore, arriving into Bali. All of it was within 72 hours and I went to and fro with no incident.
That was not the case for one, Michael Jeries. He was leaving Ho Chi Minh City, connecting in Hong Kong, then onto Shanghai. His departure, which I personally assisted in booking and providing points routed him through Hong Kong and onto Singapore. The product he would be flying would be Cathay Pacific, my favorite airline in the world (I will publish the gimmicky list of best airlines in the world at a later date).
Well, as Mikey learned and as I posted this ingenius routing was pretty stupid. The way the Chinese saw it Mikey was departing from Hong Kong and returning to Hong Kong, thereby violating the “3rd country, I’m in transit” rule. Initially, I thought the Chinese were abject to the idea that Hong Kong was not really a country and Mikey was inappropriately using the loophole that Hong Kong is China so he would need a visa.
No, that would’ve been acceptable had he went direct from Ho Chi to Shanghai. As it stood, he, on paper, had a round-trip to Hong Kong and would need to change his exit flight if he wanted to enter China.
Clever as he is, Mikey booked a flight from Shanghai to Macau (another SAR region of China thereby nullifying my original hypothesis that he was going into and out of China). From Macau, Mikey would catch the ferry to Hong Kong then bask in the service of Cathay Pacific.
A weekend of drama and hypotheticals ensued as Mikey and I played craps and another game, “What’s the worst Chinese customs will do to you.” Fearful of ending in a labor camp, Mikey decided to change his business class itinerary (formerly PVG to HKG to SIN) to fly to Kuala Lumpur then onto Singapore. That would not be in violation of the 72 hour rule and he would avoid all hassle.
Still slightly apprehensive, MJ left the glory of the Waldorf for the amnesty of the airport, just in case Customs would have something to say on the contrary.
Hours later, I met up with my fellow traveler to find that our ‘clever’ plan was not thought so by the Chinese. Perplexed, concerned, and perhaps pestered as to why MJ was no longer going to Macau, Chinese customs searched all of his belongings. They removed every single item from his luggage and ran it through the scanner.
Detained but not deterred, MJ finally made it to Singapore. Meanwhile, I was inconvenienced by the nonstop flow of fine Reds in Singapore business class.