“May I have your visas please?” asked the friendly check-in clerk.
“Visas?” I said “No, you don’t understand. Let me explain – we’re British, we’re flying to Australia, we don’t need visas.”
How many of you know you need a visa to enter Australia? Well, how were we to know? Why didn’t you tell us! What ever happened to the British Empire and the map with a quarter of the world painted pink? You blink for half a century and it’s disappeared. Huh? We’re subjects of the same Queen! Isn’t Oz part of the Commonwealth for crying out loud?
We knew we needed extra security checks when travelling to the USA. The flight booking website informed us that the old Visa-Waiver system was no longer sufficient for Brits and that we had to apply on-line a month or two before with passport and travel details so as to get a Homeland Security check before entering the country. But you still didn’t need a visa for North America.
And so it was that we found ourselves at the Qantas check-in desk at Central Station in downtown Hong Kong, thinking we had timed things just nicely, early morning, a couple of hours to spare, we’d check in our bags at Central Station then take the MTR underground to the Airport and have a leisurely hour or so sipping lattes and espressos whilst waiting to board. Instead we had a rather sudden shock and a tense wait to find out if perhaps neither of us, just one or us, or (preferably) both of us could board the plane and fly to Oz!
I have to say the staff at Qantas Hong Kong were fabulous! On realising our predicament the check-in clerk informed us that they could apply to the Australian authorities on our behalf then and there, but could not of course guarantee whether we would be allowed visas. So they did, and whilst copies of our passports and documentation were made and quickly electronically whizzed into the ether, we were instructed to wait at Central Station. After about half and hour or so we were informed that Judith had been granted a visa but that they had not been informed about me.
I remember once completing a life-assurance questionnaire; one of the questions was “Is your job dangerous?” I immediately thought of pastors and missionaries I knew who were daily facing persecution around the world, and hesitated for a moment before answering “It should be”. Perhaps this was now coming back to haunt me. Somewhere in the International Electronic Database there was an entry on Comrade Le Tocq J. P. which read “BEWARE: this man thinks he’s dangerous.” There’s only one thing worse than a man who’s dangerous and that’s a man who thinks he’s dangerous. At other times I would have been proud of this accolade but now there it was causing me to be barred forever from enjoying boomerangs in their natural habitat. Perhaps I would not be allowed back into the UK! Maybe I would end up marooned as some crazed, volatile, politico-religious exile in Hong Kong, without citizenship, lost in the maze of streets in Kowloon, trying to communicate in Pidgin-Cantonese “Oh Pea Roh… Me No Visa… Lob Loofah!”, proclaiming the end of the world, and thinking himself dangerous for the rest of his life.
We were informed that, because of time getting short now before take-off, we should make our way on the MTR from Central Station to Hong Kong Airport where we were to inquire at the Qantas desk whether I had been granted a visa or not. So off we went. And what a peaceful and gleeful train journey that was, as we calmly discussed whether just Judith should fly or should she wait in Hong Kong with me if it transpired that my visa was not issued in time, and whether we could afford the extra cost of new tickets. Of course we prayed a little too.
And so it was as the Qantas assistant at the airport desk recovered from the sloppy kiss I gave her (or was it ‘him’? – I never stopped long enough to check) having informed us that my visa had been granted, that Judith and I could be seen skipping through the Departures gate with time enough for a much desired espresso and a latte before we boarded the flight and headed south for the next part of our adventure towards Sydney, the land of Oz and Hillsong Church…