South Korea? Just kidding, I decided to go to Hell instead, apparently.
While in the taxi I did my standard run through of what I would need at the the airport. It took no time at all to realize I was sans passport. After a quick panic and desperate rummage through my bag to confirm my realization true, I was then tasked with figuring out what to do next. From this point on, life became a list of objectives, with the first being ‘make the driver go somewhere else’. I wasn’t sure where, but an international flight was obviously not going to happen in my current state. I had the number of John, my uncle’s colleague that I had met earlier, so I got in touch with him. He managed to get me to the American Embassy (closed) and back to the hostel my friends were staying at. I was able to use their free internet as a home base, and also the staff were really helpful with making some phone calls and getting me orientated.
The funny thing about having no passport in China is that you can’t check into any hotels as a part of Chiense law. I was fortunate to know Yaoyi’s family, the dad and counsin I had stayed with before in Beijing. I rekindled that connection and arrived late at night at their apartment. They were very kind to help me out on such short notice. In the morning, they helped me get some new passport photos taken, and then also took me to buy a train ticket to Shanghai. At this point, it didn’t matter where I reported the thing missing, but it was best for me to get where I could manage my life. The next morning, I left on the same bullet train I had taken before, and was met at the station by trusty John. He took me over to my uncle’s hotel where we did a dinner, goblets of Stella, pints of Murhpy’s and a few hours of chat. It was so good to come from such a remarkable problem (that I was still in the midst of) but manage to find this sort of refuge. So anyway, I was put up for a few nights in the same hotel as before. My presence there was technically illegal, but no one knew otherwise. I had to forge a few signatures to get my free breakfasts in the morning, but everything panned out.
While at the hotel, I was also able to use my the internet to figure out what my objectives were for leaving the country, and it wasn’t shaping up to be pretty. In the morning I made it a point to get up early and go to the American embassy and get a start on unraveling the knot. I took two different taxis that didn’t bring me where I needed to go at all. and since I was of the mindset that I wanted to get out right away, this was extremely frustrating. I was worried that various processing times would cause my problem to spill over into another day. When I finally got where I wanted to go, there was a massive line of Chinese people in line for visa services. My high status in the American club let me cut to the front of the line, and also merited me a hearing without an appointment. But this is where the run around began. They couldn’t do anything for me until I had a letter from the government saying it was in fact lost. So then, I get over to the Entry Exit Administration Bureau on the other side of town. Already late in the morning, and fretting about time, they did me the favor of releaving my stress. Apparently it would require two more days to get a slip of paper saying I lost my passport. From there, I needed to get my emergency passport from my embassy, register it at the police station as per the law I was currently dodging, and finally reapply for an exit visa, which would take another two days. Great, with Friday as my best bet, I no longer had any reason to fret about time and expediency. On top of all this, I couldn’t just waltz back into Japan either, I needed proof of my re-entry permit so that they would just slap the standard 90 day tourist visa in my passport, negating my current work visa and really messing up a lot of things for me. So, to jump this hurdle, I needed to overnight a power of attorney to my supervisor, so that he could go on my behalf to get the information and then relay it back to me. All of these things don’t sound too bad but having my hopes of getting out ASAP dashed so thouroughly, as my precious vacation time was going up in smoke already had me at my limits. Later, in order to register at a police station, I had to have documentation that stated I stayed in China. To get this, I was reduced to paying for a hotel room I had no intention of sleeping in, only to get the paper. This is about the time I was mentally done with China and wanting nothing more than to be somewhere else.
After two nights at the hotel, my uncle needed to go elsewhere in China for business, meaning I would need to find a new place to bum. But again, John to the rescue, was able to set me up in his appartment for the duration of my stay in China. He too would be out and about with my uncle, which meant I was to occupy the space with his parents, who spoke not a word of English. Still, it was better than the streets, and authentic Chinese cooking appealed to me as well, so I was more than happy to take him up on this offer. One downside other than the language barrier was that the connection to the internet I needed to sort so much of my life was only accessible at an internet cafe a few blocks away. I was required to have one of the parents go with me, which I always felt bad about, but I really had no choice.
The work-in-progress apartment I stayed at, as well as John’s dad. I had my own room and air conditioning, what more could I need?
The next few days ticked by slowly. The times where all I could do was wait were so frustrating, and I would often resort to sleeping. I’m not culturally insensitive, and even patient, but being told to do things like wash my face or eat something constantly really gets to me. Not having the language ability to say ‘I’ll do it later’ or wholeheartedly insist on not wanting more of the food that was just dumped on my plate caused my frustration to build. I would never lash out, nor was I fuming, but losing that control over my own life was frustrating. That said, the food was really good, and parents were really nice. Communication was very limited, but what couldn’t be exchanged through gestures or me writing the Chinese characters (Japanese ones are similar) could be translated by John over the phone.
One of the meals they made for me. Chinese people seem to prefer meat filled with bones. Notice, that the beverages are enjoyed from a bowl in Chinese culture.
Eventually, with all my papers in order I applied for my exit visa. I was overjoyed to pay the full price of Chinese visa ($135) in order to attain the right only to leave their country. And, should I want to come back to China, I would need to pay again for a new visa, what would be my 4th in 2.5 years. Finally, with everything in my possession, I was able to get my plane ticket home (ka-ching). Leaving Saturday or Sunday would have gotten me home at the same time, but I opted to get to Seoul if only to be rid of the frustration that was China. So, Saturday at noon I took off for the airport, got on the wrong train and was late to the airport, but fortunately I didn’t miss anything.
My brand new, zero entry visa to China
Once in Seoul, I just went to a hostel, settled in, and used the internet in full. China has what is commonly referred to as the ‘Great Firewall of China’ which prevents access to such sites as Facebook and YouTube, so it was nice to catch up to those things. For dinner I just did a solo outing to a roadside tent, where I got an entire chicken stuffed with rice, and a glass of South Korea’s notoriously inferior brew. Back at the hostel, I chatted with a few people and slept like a rock.
The next day was the big one, I would be home at last. Nothing significant happened on the way to the airport, or the flight home. That for once went as planned. Coming though immigration in Takamatsu was pretty difficult though. I had all of my documentation in check, but it is a very small airport with very little international activity, and I’m sure they’ve had almost no experience dealing with this anomaly. After making a lot of other people wait, I was finally in the country again, home. After a lengthy dissection of my backpack in customs, I was free. Also, as has always been then the case for me after my travel, getting back to a country where I can actually communicate with people, and have the means to solve simple problems on my own is one of the best feelings. There were a couple times during my journey where communication was at a standstill, then for whatever reason I made it known that Japanese would work too. Then just like that, I find I have a common language with someone else in the party and its business as usual. However, these occurrences aren’t frequent enough for life to run smoothly. I was met by Makita Sensei and Thomas on the other side, and then they got me home. It felt so good to be back after the whole fiasco, I had been gone for 31 days.
Every leg of the intended vacation was amazing, and certainly brought me a set of unique experiences, pictures and stories. It was unfortunate that it had to conclude with what was certainly the worst experience of my life. The kind reassurance of others that I’ll look back on this experience and laugh still seems unlikely. However, I do figure that after managing the frustrating complexity of this situation and not drowning in the misery of it all, I will be more apt to deal with anything in the future. Furthermore, I’ve got a great insight to help me determine where to mishandle my passport in the future. Regardless of my financial and vacation day setbacks, I know that I’ll still continue my adventures across Asia.