I WAS invited to speak at City University in Hong Kong and participate at The Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival last March. I couldn’t stop jubilating when I got the information that I would read at St. John’s Cathedral along with South African writer, Andre Brink who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize more than once.
That night, I kept staring at the screen of my computer, trying so hard to believe it. I felt my eyes were deceiving me; I felt my senses were not functioning properly. I even went to the bathroom, stood before the mirror and asked The Guy in the mirror questions like, ‘Who is behind this?’ Because it was unbelievable.
I will tell you why.
The Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival was celebrating its tenth year anniversary. This means that it has been in existence for the past ten years. And previous participants have been established authors, with more than one book to their credit. Now, I was going to participate at its tenth edition, having just published one book.
I checked the Internet and realised that I needed a visa to enter into Hong Kong. And you could get the visa from a Chinese embassy ‘near’ you. Or you could send your application to the Hong Kong Immigration Department in Hong Kong. That would take two weeks. And the festival was around the corner.
This pushed me to apply earlier. All good, until I approached the Chinese embassy in Delhi, and the drums began to roll differently.
I joined the queue at the embassy. The Chinese woman behind the counter kept squirming at me, like a bird running after a moth. There was a Brazilian behind me when she asked, “What are you going to China to do?”
I felt embarrassed. “I’m going to Hong Kong,” I said. “Hong Kong.” And then she said, “Wait there.”
Then, she asked the Brazilian to go pay for his visa fee and then an Indian, then another Indian, then another Indian and then a European, I’m sure.
When she received my application form, my passport and my supporting documents, even a copy of my book, she skimmed through them and looked up at me. After looking at me, she consulted a bound sheet, scripted in Chinese, and scanned through. Then looked up at me again. And then back to my documents.
“I’m sorry,” she began. “We can’t issue any visa to you from here. You have to fax your documents to the Hong Kong Immigration and it will take two weeks.”
I almost went down. But I held my breath.
“Ma’am,” I said, trying so hard to be very polite. “I have contacted the Hong Kong Immigration and they have directed me to lodge my application here. See an e-mail from them.”
I had to make her scan through the documents again and then she saw the e-mail.
“Ok,” she said. “Go over there and pay Rs1200 as communication charges and I will fax your documents to them.”
I did as I was told.
And honourably left the building, back to my house.
Four days gone, I didn’t hear from the embassy.
I kept waiting.
I called them up several times and queried them about my application.
When I didn’t get any reasonable response, I gave up and decided to do other things, but the thing is that I was scared. They had my passport and if I had any issue with Delhi Police, I would be screwed. So, my mind was there.
One day, while in the market, I received a call from the Chinese embassy.
“Is that Mr. Oh-nee-ka?” I knew the voice.
I said yes. And she asked me to come and pick my passport by 3.30 pm; that the Hong Kong Immigration didn’t approve my visa.
As soon as it was 3.30 pm, I went and picked my passport. This time around, I didn’t see her, rather; she had given the security men at the gate my passport to give to the ‘black guy’ when he came. I took my passport and went home. Again, honourably.
I quickly e-mailed the directors of the festival and explained everything.
Later in the night, someone e-mailed me a link of a website, asking what had happened. I realised that the directors had made a press release based on my complaint and it was circulated all over the Chinese media.
A reporter from the Radio Television Hong Kong e-mailed me. A journalist from The Standard (China) who happens to share an exact birth date with me, e-mailed me too. They all wanted to hear this story, and I obliged.
One of the organisers contacted the Nigerian Consulate in Hong Kong and they intervened by writing the Hong Kong Immigration Department.
The journalist from The Standard later said that when she contacted the Hong Kong Immigration Department, she was told that my application form was not faxed to them. They only received it from the Chinese embassy in Delhi after the news broke.
Three days later, I was called from the Chinese embassy to “come with my passport ONLY and pick my visa.”
So tell me, how many times will the Chinese media have to intervene before a young Nigerian man is granted a visa to Hong Kong? Y!