Sunday, 22 April 2007

The Amazing Race 11 (All-Star Edition), Episode 10

Hong Kong SAR (China) - Macau SAR (China)

This week’s episode of The Amazing Race didn’t cover much ground: it all took place within a small part of the Pearl River Delta region along the coast of China. It’s an interesting region, with a hundred million or more people and at least three other cities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Dongguan) as large as, or larger than, the area’s best-known urban tourist attraction, Hong Kong.

Yet tourists as well as television producers have a difficult time knowing how to describe their path through the several Chinas of the Pearl River Delta.

In his voiceover, host Phil Keoghan described the racers as travelling “from Hong Kong to Macau, in mainland China”. The term “mainland” in this context is a term of art, not of geography. But the TV show’s characterization is inaccurate in either sense. Geographically, portions of both Macau and Hong Kong are on the mainland, and portions on islands. The ferry terminal in Hong Kong, from which the racers depart, is on the Kowloon or mainland side of Hong Kong harbor, not the Hong Kong Island side. Politically, both the former Portuguese colony of Macau and the former British colony of Hong Kong are now “Special Administrative Regions” of China, with the same relationship to the sovereignty of China.

This may seem pedantic nit-picking, and perhaps it is. Nonetheless, it’s important for travellers in many regions to be attentive to the ways that local people, and the governments that wield power, in the places we visit define themselves and their nations or communities. It won’t help your chances for being granted permission to visit what its government calls the “People’s Republic of China” if you say you want to go to “Red China”.

Should you say you want to visit what Pakistanis call “Azad [Free] Kashmir” or what Indians call “Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir” (POK)? That depends on the identity of the people to whom you are speaking, or whose forms you are filling out, just as it can matter whether the map you want to bring into Argentina shows the islands off its coast as the “Falklands” or the “Malvinas”, and whether the map depicts them as part of Argentina. It’s almost impossible to draw a map of Kashmir acceptable to the governments of both India and Pakistan, a problem which bedevils publishers of international newspapers and magazines. The application for for a visa to Syria asks if you “have ever visited Occupied Palestine”, which others would call “Israel”.

In the Chinese example, Taiwan describes itself as the “Republic of China” (ROC). In the PRC, which calls the island across the straits “Taiwan Province”, it’s best to refer to it simply as Taiwan rather than as the “ROC”, a “republic”, or worst of all “independent”.

“Mainland China” is a relatively neutral term that is generally understood to exclude Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. “PRC” or simply “China” is more ambiguous, particularly when it comes to entry, exit, and border-crossing formalities. Is crossing the (fenced and fortified) “frontier” between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC, and the rest of the PRC, considered an “entry” or “exit” from the PRC for visa purposes? At present, it is, even though this in an “internal” border within the PRC — but there’s no way you would know that from the visa application forms, the visa itself, or any of the signs at the crossing points. The only way to find out is to ask the locals.

The first time I entered Hong Kong, I was coming from and was going to be leaving to other countries outside any part of China. When the immigration inspector at Hong Kong airport asked me, “Are you going to China?”, I assumed that their point was to make sure I understood that Hong Kong was now part of China. I answered, very carefully, “Yes, but only to Hong Kong, not to the mainland”.

As it happens, that was the wrong answer: Under the “one country, two systems” formula, even government officers in Hong Kong resist identifying their Special Administrative Region as “part of China”. The acceptable answer would have been, “No, I’m not going to China, just to Hong Kong”. And in practical terms, that stay in Hong Kong only was not considered one of the specified number of “entries” allowed by my visa to the PRC, whereas crosssing between Hong Kong and the PRC was.

[Update: The article above has been corrected to clarify the counting of entries and exits for PRC visas.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 22 April 2007, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

"Is crossing the (fenced and fortified) "frontier" between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC, and the rest of the PRC, considered an "entry" or "exit" from the PRC for visa purposes?" If you want to visit China, then HK, and then return to China, you need a multiple entry, not a single entry, Chinese visa. Also, US citizens don't need visas to visit HK, but do for China.

Posted by: Kathy, 9 May 2007, 14:57 ( 2:57 PM)

Right, so that would be the Macau ferry terminal on Kowloon that's actually on Hong Kong island then?

Posted by: Wilfred, 7 June 2007, 01:03 ( 1:03 AM)
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