Initially when I booked my Hong Kong (HK) trip, I planned to spend an entire week in the city (my previous article on my three in one trip to China). Based on my research, there would have been more than enough to see and do in HK during this time. However, once I began to put together my HK itinerary, the idea of including more destinations began to intrigue me. I became very curious about Mainland China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai. I discussed the idea with my friend Kenyatta and we both agreed that it made perfect sense for us to expand our trip to include Mainland China.
My friend Marlynne graciously agreed to host us during our time in Hong Kong. Once Hong Kong was all planned, we immediately focused our attention on Mainland China. The first step was to apply for Visas. We downloaded the Visa applications from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China website. This process proved to be very arduous, as we had to show proof and documentation of our flights and lodging during our planned time in Beijing and Shanghai, original passport, citizenship, and identity. Once the application was completed and we gathered all the necessary documents, the website provided an address where we should send it for processing. The address is based on your state of residency. For Kenyatta and me, this was the Chinese Embassy located in Washington, DC.
Kenyatta and I placed our respective visa applications in the mail. I sent mine express mail (signature required) and Kenyatta sent his regular mail. A few days later my application package came back to me marked “return to sender”. I immediately contacted the Embassy’s customer service representative and was informed that they did not accept applications via mail and that it needed to be hand delivered by the applicant or his/her representative. Based on my understanding, a representative could be a friend or other designee. To further complicate this story, Kenyatta had not received his application back from the Embassy. Keep in mind; these packages contained our passports, money order for the visa application payment, and other personal information.
My next course of action was to send my visa application package to a friend in Washington, DC who agreed to submit it to the Chinese Embassy visa processing office. My friend called and said after waiting for almost an hour they said he could not submit my application and that I would have to come in person. For those who live near an Embassy this process is much easier you would think? You’d simply pop in and drop off your application and pick it up when it was ready? Well, I made the trek to DC, an excuse to see a good friend of mines from my days of living in DC. I gave myself one whole day to resolve this visa mess …only to get there and be told that the computer for inputting and processing visa applications was down. Thus, there would be no way to get my visa application process submitted, processed, and completed in the one day.
The completion of this visa application required a lot of planning. There were flights, hotels, itineraries, and other matters that had to be sorted out in order to complete the application. All of this swirled around in my head for a second as I stood in an office that mirrored the local DMV and not what I expected of an embassy. I noticed a young lady who had what seemed to be 10 application packages and told her “you must deal with this often as you do not look surprised.” She responded and said, “Actually, yes, I do, lol.” She introduced herself as Melissa and said she worked for a third-party visa processing company called Travel Document. Although I had heard of those companies, I thought I’m smart enough to do this on my own…I can save some money and use the extra cash for something else? Ultimately, I passed my application onto Melissa and went online and paid the Travel Document fee. I headed back to South Carolina to wait for my visa in mail. In the end, I spent an amount equivalent to that of using a third-party from the onset. Kenyatta also utilized a third-party agency to help processing not only a visa, but also a new passport because he still had not received his initial visa application packet.
You’d think with this resolved we’d go on to execute what was a nicely planned trip. Let’s just say Turkish Airlines almost made that impossible. Before we arrived to Atlanta for our departure from Hartsfield International Airport I tried to self check-in and the system kept bringing up an error code. I called the customer service number only to find out that our departing flight had been cancelled and that the airline had been cancelling more and more flights out of Atlanta. I stayed on the phone with customer service going back forth for almost an hour. Finally, I headed to the airport and waited another hour for theTurkish Airlines counter to open and had a very short and stern conversation with a ticket agent on how they could correct the situation by booking Kenyatta and me on a British Airlines flight to Hong Kong leaving at the same time as our original flight (inhales and exhales cigar smoke figuratively). The agent tried to say we should have both received notifications from the third-party booking agency about flight cancelation, which we did not. I simply used my liberal arts critical thinking skills and said I booked another Turkish Airlines flight through a third party and had in fact received notifications on changes to that itinerary. However, I nor Kenyatta received any cancellation notifications from the third-party booking agency for this flight to HK. Finally, the ticket agent agreed to honor our request and re-booked us on the British Airways flight to HK. (inhales and exhales cigar smoke figuratively). Our return flight back to Atlanta on Turkish Airlines was an overall good experience.
In the end, Kenyatta and I learned a few things about ourselves…
- We loved planning our trip to China because the planning made us immerse ourselves in getting a real sense of the Orient. This took a lot of planning because we wanted to book hotels that were in close proximity to the popular tourist attractions. You can get a cheaper hotel staying further out near the airports, but you’ll spend more in time and money getting into the city of Beijing as rush hour there is intense.
- There is a premium on convenience and after our visa and Turkish Airlines debacle we choose convenience. We learned that there’s nothing wrong with just paying for convenience and being lucky enough to afford travel means sometimes you have to pay a little bit more to get a great experience.
- Besides, we had the advantage of staying with Marlynne in Hong Kong, which significantly offset the cost of lodging in Mainland China. Also, we were able to use Marlynne’s home as our base allowing us to pack significantly lighter for Beijing and Shanghai. In essence, we had a very adult and contemporary version of bag packing through Mainland China and that moment for us solidified a few things, mainly, embracing the chaos of traveling is cool.
But, whenever you can make traveling less complicated and pay for the convenience of a great and well-planned trip, then go for it!