Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Crossing continued
Bus service is 24 hours and I've taken enough at most slices of 24 hours to find that the 11pm-2am bus passengers lend a zestier flair to the usual load of tourists, low-level business types, and otherwise regular types.
It's the "Party Bus" from 11pm or so on. Many drunks and almost always a gaggle of hookers and part-time party girls who stand out from the usual crowd by tottering on their cheap, spiked heels, wiggling in their short skirts and tight slacks. It's entertaining fare providing the person next to you is passed out and not retching violently into a plastic bag.
Nonetheless, all are alert and join the mad crush to flee the bus when it hits the Hong Kong border -- the first of two borders we have to process through -- only to rush to join another usually long line. If you're a Hong Kong resident or permanent citizen it's a painless, efficient affair unlike what's waiting at the Shenzhen border 4 minutes away.
Once through the Hong Kong station with its posters warning people not to bring live or dead chickens in their suitcases and trumpeting the glories of Hong Kong ("A level playing field for all") and past the occasional sniffer dawgs, it's another line to pick up the bus you've just left.
Back on and people are barely seated until they're up and jamming again like a football front line or rugby scrum at the Shenzhen/Huanggang station.
The best and worst part of this leg is the pointless paperwork, entitled the "Health and Quarantine Declaration Form On Entry." It's a one page slip that was generated in the wake of the SARS outbreak and reactivated as all await the coming avian flu pandemic. It won't stop anything, however as like so much else in the Chinese bureauracy it's entirely symbolic and carries no purpose except to generate more meaningless employment for the people who supposedly process the forms and for the printing company or companies that produce them.
Two -- always two, sometimes three -- people in white lab coats (so you know they are medical professionals) wearing Latex gloves sit in a cramped booth to collect the forms which are simply tossed in their direction by the travelers who know better.
And what's on the form? Your ID particulars -- I often fill in my name randomly with identities such as "Mickey Mouse," "Hunter Thompson," "Daffy Duck," "Ulma Thurman," "Missing Bride," "Jeffrey Dahmer" etc or Chinese verboten names and terms such as "Lin Piao" (betrayed Mao) or the outlawed whacko religious group, "Fan Lung Gong." I'm waved through everytime.
One is also supposed to check from the "following illnesses or symptoms" you currently have. The choices range from "fever," "cough," to "psychosis," "venereal disease," "AIDS/HIV," and "active pulmonary tuberculosis."
I don't get cute with that one. I can only imagine that one would have to be terminally psychotic to admit to a "cough" much less VD, AIDS or TB and expect you'd ever see anything but a quick eviction at best or a slow languishing cold lonely death in some maximum security isolation cell in a Chinese "hospital" at best.
I also swear that I am not carrying any "animal carcasses and specimans," "microbes," "human tissues," "blood and blood products," or "soil" into China.
Once inside it's another form that gets actual scrutiny. It's one that records your passport and visa details and gets inspected by usually stern-looking clerks who often feel the need to correct your printing. More than once I've had some anal twit carefully trace over every letter and number I've clearly written down. This can take another five minutes after perhaps 20 spent in the "Foreigners" line and I'm never sure if the guy is just jacking around with me or really believes that his English penmanship is superior -- which it arguably could be, though the results always look like what they are: someone not initimate with writing English has traced over perfectly legible letters turning them into a child-like smear.
Once cleared to go it's straight past and ignore the wheezing luggage X-ray machine where the inspectors are either playing cards, sleeping, absent or gossiping as more cowed travelers occasionally put their luggage through.
The last line awaits, for taxis. Here there also be beggars. And before I catch a cab, I give only to one regular, a young woman with a severely burned boy about 2 or 3 years old. His eyes are always bright and expressive but below the bridge of what was his nose his face appears to have melted grotesquely. He has two small slits for nostrils and a mouth that is only a small, distorted oval more or less fused to where his neck begins.
His mother knows me by now and makes a point of thanking me. Sometimes I pat his soft burry head and ask, "How's it going little dude?" to which he perks up some but never utters a sound. I wonder if he can speak at all and fantasize about being able to foot a plastic surgery and primarly school education for him. I also curse whatever and whoever turned him into nothing but begging bait.
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