Chapter 6 – An Anniversary Celebration
We spent the next several days touring Nanning City and visiting with Winnie’s parents, now living nearby. We also had our wedding photos taken at a wonderful photo studio which was a lot of fun. On Thursday Morning we packed our bags, met Winnie’s parents at the train station and headed down to the town of Luchuen where most of Winnie’s family lived. Winnie’s sister and brother-in-law met us at the train station late that evening when we finally arrived and got us to a hotel.
Friday noon we left the hotel together with a van-load of Winnie’s family and headed down to the village of Bijing, the town Winnie was born in and grew up. It is a very small farming village several miles off any paved roads. The occasion was the semi-annual pilgrimage Chinese people make to visit the gravesides of their ancestors, a big festive affair, set for Saturday.
For two days I had the incredible experience of being family in a southern Chinese farming village. We stayed in the house Winnie grew up in and explored Bijing. I met several dozen of Winnie’s extended family, some I had met the previous year and many others I met for the first time.
Being part of this experience was one of the most intense travel experiences I’d ever had, one that I could still spend hours talking about.
Saturday evening we headed back to Luchuen with Winnie’s sister and brother-in-law and spent the night at their apartment. Winnie’s parents went straight back to Nanning City. Our plan was to catch the Sunday evening train to Guangzhou, arriving Monday morning, to visit the US Consulate.
We knew that the next step of Winnie’s visa, after the USCIS had processed it, would be for the application to be passed to the US State Department. Our State department would in turn forward the package to our Chinese embassy and in due time contact Winnie for an interview and ultimately issue a visa. So from the moment I decided to make this second trip to China, part of my planning involved visiting the consulate to see if by any chance the visa paperwork was there. I actually had fantasies of locating the application package, getting Winnie’s interview walked through, and triumphantly returning back to the US together with my lovely bride.
The US’s Chinese embassy is located in China’s capital city of Beijing and operates several consulates along the eastern seaboard. (Even though Hong Kong officially re-joined mainland China in 1996, in 2004 the Hong Kong location still had the status of an Embassy.) For reasons beyond what any thinking human being can explain, several years earlier the US State Department had chosen to consolidate the processing of ALL family visas (like the one we were applying for) for a nation of 1.2 billion people into the single Guangzhou consulate.
Sunday afternoon we had a nice family dinner in the apartment of Winnie’s sister and then sat around talking and watching CCTV1. We missed the early evening train so Winnie’s brother-in-law volunteered to stay awake while we caught a few hours sleep. He woke us up in time to catch the 3:00 AM train. On the train, we caught a few hours sleep in a common sleeper car and around 10:00 the train pulled into the Guangzhou station. Between jet lag catching up on me, the weekend events, and short night I was so tired I could barely walk.
A local entrepreneur latched onto us as we left the train station and suggested a hotel she knew of close by. We walked there and Winnie spent about 20 minutes in heated negotiations with the proprietor before getting a price she could live with. We dumped our bags in our room and caught a cab for the consulate.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.