We could die here.
That’s what I told Sheena as we stood surrounded by thousands of Chinese at the Macau border.
My city Zhuhai is a border town between Macau and Mainland China. Everyday millions of Chinese cross its land border Gongbei into the gambling capital of Asia, Macau.
Usually the immigration area is filled with a fair amount of Chinese (relatively speaking. If you’re Australian or Singaporean or you’re from one of those countries with a low birth rate- a fair amount means a 90% Clearance sale at a mall).
But this particular Sunday, the huge hallway was packed. Every bit of space was filled with a skinny Chinese spitting, yelling or picking his nose. It was like the whole population of my city was packed in this room.
And we had chosen this particular Sunday to ship my things to the Philippines.
People were yelling, shoving and cutting in line. Mob fights broke out, immigration officers were screaming, the police came. Worse, when all this commotion happened, the people shoved each other forward, craning their necks, trying to see what’s happening. They have to know no matter if it risks other people’s lives.
Sheena and I were getting crushed by the overwhelming throng of bodies. We could barely breath by such enclosed space and people pushing, threatening to turn my body into a think sheet of dough.
One false alarm of fire and there’d be a mad stampede of ignorant rice farmers rushing to save their hides crushing whoever stood in their way.
We could die here.
I heard sharp screams. More scuffling. Clothes being ripped. Camera clicking. Videos being recorded. Blood spilt to cake the asphalt floor.
The mob smelled it and shouted. The rest heard the clamor and followed suit, not knowing why everyone was yelling but that they should because they don’t want to be left out.
We were there for four hours on both sides of the border –Macau and Mainland China.
That is a flight from Hong Kong to the Philippines and back.
That is a flight from Thailand to Indonesia.
And through it all, we survived, emerging at 9 pm, our faces haggard from the battle, our knees about to give way from standing so long from being famished as we had not had a proper meal since 11 am.
Worse, I was so exhausted from the ordeal, I let my guard down and had my bag stolen from me.
Thankfully, it only contains copies of important documents. The originals were at home.
And this was supposed to be my “last” day in China.
Sometimes some expats get lucky on their last day like my friend, Roey who won HKD 25,000 (equivalent to roughly USD 5,000) in Macau;. Others aren’t quite so lucky like me and my friend Brett who traveled via train and metro from Zhuhai to Guangzhou to Shenzhen in a span of 7 hours (when it could’ve taken 2 hours) in the height of Spring Festival – China at its busiest.
My last meal was chicken nuggets from McDonald’s the only restaurant open at 10 pm at that fateful border crossing day.
Why does China spat out those leaving her like pus out of a festering wound? Is it because we’ve had enough of her? Is it because she feels we’ve shunned her for a new lover?
I don’t feel any dislike towards you China. You’ve been like a mother who’ve nurtured and made me stronger. Through you, I’ve met my second family. But I feel I should explore beyond your borders and grow up. Seven years, I feel I’ve been with you long enough. Some would say too long.
I don’t think of it as good-bye. It’s been proven many expats return to you. They miss the shao kao (street food), the cheap massages, the Wild East. Before you know it, I’ll be back. I just want to chase this impractical foolish dream of mine.
This foolish dream involves the next leg of my journey –USA.
I just had my longest flight ever – from HK – Bangkok- Delhi- Frankfurt and finally Chicago where I’m at now. For the next few weeks, I’ll be traveling around the US seeing friends. If any of you reading this are in the area and want to meet up, I’ll be in these places:
July 19-20 Minneapolis, Minnesota
July 20-22 Duluth, Minnesota
July 23-25 Minneapolis, Minnesota
July 25-30 Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Florida
And finally to end this, I would like to express my utmost gratitude to my close friend, Sheena in helping me pack and ship my things and sharing the experience in one of the worst border crossing in China. I could not be here in this place without you. I know China is wearing on you and I hope like me, you find that thing that pushes you to get out of the country. I hope you find that thing you’re looking for Sheena because once you do, you’ll be unstoppable. You’re going to go full speed ahead till you get to your destination.
And together with me, we would live each of our day as a brand new adventure.
Photo by Lonely Planet
Read the rest of my journey: