On Friday, on our way to sign the lease to our new apartment, my passport fell out of my wallet. When I noticed it was gone, I frantically searched all my pockets and looked in my wallet again, only to find nothing and begin the whole process over again. Fear and automation took over.
I muttered “no no no no no” under my breath and then told Andy what happened. I was certain it fell out when I was on the bus. We had just crossed the road in the rain. Panic propelled my legs towards the departing bus and I briefly considered running after it. That was my initial, and obviously misguided, reaction, which would have ended poorly because it was raining hard and the sidewalks here are made out of a tile cement that is notoriously slippery when wet. We tried to get a taxi to follow the bus, but that didn’t work out either, so we got on the next bus and rode to the end of the line to the bus station. I hoped they would park the bus while the driver took a break and I could just pick up my passport where I unwittingly left it.
We hopped off the bus and ran to the back entrance of the bus station. Two uniformed men stopped us. I had pulled up the Chinese language phrase app on my iPhone and cued the phrase “I lost my passport,” so I played the audio for them. One man disappeared back into the building, clearly uninterested, and the other said something about diàn huà (电话, telephone), so I pulled up the phone keypad and handed it to him. He typed in a number. The person who answered spoke only Chinese, of course, so I had to tell her in my limited Chinese that I don’t speak Chinese. She said an English operator wasn’t available then, and she asked me to leave my phone number. In Chinese. And then I would have to wait for them to call me back.
Good thing I’ve mastered Chinese numbers such that my phone number was spot on… The English operator called me back. I reported the bus number and time I was on the bus, as well as the direction the bus was going and the stop where I got off. Then I just had to hope someone turned in my passport.
It was still raining. We went to sign the lease anyway because there wasn’t anything else we could do. I felt sick the whole time. I didn’t want to have to go through the long (and expensive) process of getting a new passport. I didn’t sleep that well on Friday night, and I had to get up on Saturday to tutor the 4 year-old boy and 9 year-old girl I work with.
My phone rang when I was tutoring. It was the English operator telling me they had my passport. I could’ve cried. They said I should go to the bus station to claim it.
I thought it was the bus station where I was yesterday. Not so. That would’ve been too simple. I rode the bus all the way from tutoring downtown to the bus station near the university (about 40 minutes) to find that out, though. I “talked” to a woman who told me kindly that I needed to go to the other bus station at the other end of the line… on the other end of town. The quest unfolded before me. Feeling uneasy about my new task, I asked her to write down some Chinese before I left. I wanted to be able to communicate with people about what I was looking for and where I needed to go.
I got on the bus–same number, by the way–and rode from one end of the line all the way to the other. It took about an hour and it was quite a ride. The bus winds all the way from the university area through our current neighborhood, into downtown, and out into the old town near some very crowded shopping areas. I consoled myself by feeling happy that I had a seat on the bus, but I still felt horribly anxious.
When I finally made it to the end of the line, I showed the bus driver my little Chinese note. He pointed me around the bend. When I went the wrong way, he honked at me.
Pointing is common means of communication here, but it’s seriously unhelpful because directions are also generally unhelpful… much like addresses altogether. Nevertheless, I wandered around with as much purpose as I could. I tried “talking” to a security guard, who pointed me in one direction. I tried “talking” to a “left luggage” man, who pointed me inside the train station to the second floor, and I tried “talking” to a ticket master who let me go in without a ticket. I ended up just meandering through the train station. It felt pretty hopeless. I was tired, hungry, and I needed to pee, but I didn’t have any tissues with me to use as toilet paper (I had needed them for my runny nose), so there was no way I’d be able to use the public toilet.
Showing people my handwritten Chinese note was interesting because some people started writing Chinese back to me on the paper. This bewildered me, of course, because I could read like two characters… mostly “you” and “passport.” I tried giving them my iPhone in the notepad application with the Chinese keyboard turned on, hoping that they could write something and I could then translate it. But three people handed it back to me, not knowing what to do with it I suppose. This really pointed out the division between the students I teach–for whom the Chinese keyboard is basically all they use to type and text–and the rest of China who may or may not be familiar with the keyboard, translation technology, or pinyin as a language to type. I didn’t have time to be astonished, though, because my passport was still MIA.
Finally a train station information desk guy found an employee who spoke English. She pointed me somewhere else. A general direction. I was feeling uneasy about going it alone again, especially because I was talking to someone who presumably knew English, so I asked her to please show me where to go. And she did. She literally walked with me to where I needed to go and intervened on my behalf.
When I saw my passport, I cried out.
The guys who had it needed me to sign something and then they took a photo of the one man handing it to me. Then I had to sign another paper. Then they took a photo of my passport next to the signed paper. It was all very strange, but I guess they needed to prove that they gave it to me.
Then I left. It was rather unceremonious.
Outside the little office, I thanked the woman profusely for helping me. Eventually couldn’t take it anymore, and my emotions got the best of me, so I grabbed her and hugged her. It was awkward, but I wasn’t sure how else to communicate my gratitude.
The whole experience gave me a headache because of the adrenaline high I sustained for the 24 hours that I was without my passport. This essential document had its day of freedom and will now be under lockdown for the rest of its existence because that was way, way too stressful.