As I continue to wait to return to my Asian home, I’m reminded of a holiday experience that took place years ago. I hope your Thanksgiving Day travels went a lot smoother than this one.
While in China, on our American Black Friday, I decided to take a 3-hour trip to the provincial capital city, Nanning. It was time to stock up on new Christmas ornaments, butter for holiday baking and a few other specialty items, all which I couldn’t find in my small city of Longzhou.
I had wisely purchased my bus ticket the day before to make sure there’d be a seat since buses fill up fast going to the big city. A 2 p.m. departure would give me plenty of time to check into the hotel room and hit my favorite chain store, the Trustmart.
My travel packing was spot-on. I had U.S. dollars, Chinese yuan, my credit card and my Chinese ATM bank card tucked away in my purse. I had my smaller, compact suitcase carefully packed with necessary items. I had my sack of to-go snacks, from peanuts to apples to dried sweet potato strips.
In other words, I was ready for my afternoon, several-hours journey.
I was especially smug at the bus station when I ran into one of my Chinese colleagues from the English Department. It seems she was going to Nanning as well. The 2 p.m. bus was full so she had to wait an entire 2 hours until 4 p.m. when the next bus was leaving.
“You should have bought your ticket yesterday, like me,” I announced with great pride in my excellent planning. “You wouldn’t have to wait so long.”
She smiled wanly.
I next gleefully waved her goodbye, made my way through the terminal door, clamored on board my bus and settled into my seat.
Right on time, the 40-passenger vehicle pulled out of the station and headed along the countryside access road that led to the expressway, 20 minutes ahead of us. The attendant passed out our free water bottles. Tissue packets followed. Her duties done, she floated to the front to sit next to the driver. The bus’s occupants then fell into a peaceful lull while the overhead TV played Chinese music videos of modern singers.
We had just crossed the bridge out of town and were cruising along when, in a frenzied panic, I started digging around inside of my purse.
Oh, my gosh.
Where was my passport??!!
Sure enough, after all my self-satisfied prep work, I had forgotten to bring my passport, the one thing I was never, ever to be without.
A passport, the only official overseas ID, is absolutely necessary for all foreigners in China. Not only could I not spend the night in a hotel without it, but in that area of China, we had a checkpoint before entering onto the express highway. Everyone on the bus had to show their ID cards to the checkpoint police. If the Chinese forgot their national ID card, they were allowed to sign their names on a paper and continue onward. But a foreigner? What would happen if I couldn’t produce my passport? I didn’t want to find out.
On the silent bus, this foreigner’s lone voice shouted out in Chinese to the bus driver and attendant, “I’m so sorry!! I don’t have my passport. I have to get off the bus.”
The driver, startled, immediately began slowing down. The attendant popped her head up over her front seat and gave me the “Uh-oh” look. Every single person on the bus stared at me.
Within moments, an all-passenger discussion erupted as to whether the foreigner could continue onward or not. Not wanting to delay the journey any more than our crawling pace was already causing, most insisted it would be fine.
I, however, said I didn’t think so. The foreigner must have a passport to proceed onward past the checkpoint.
The driver nodded in agreement.
My solution was to be let off the bus, which was basically in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by sugarcane fields and rice paddies but I figured I’d somehow manage to get back to the town. Perhaps I could flag down one of the local van taxies that ran people to and from smaller villages in the area. The driver, however, insisted on returning me to the station, much to the annoyance of those aboard.
At that point, I could only profusely apologize to everyone while our driver skillfully turned the vehicle around on the narrow country road and floored it back to town.
15 minutes later, we pulled into the station as astonished and surprised employees looked on.
With my luggage in tow, I hopped off the bus, again apologizing to all and thanking the driver for his kindness. The coach then sped away in obvious hast, already now 30 minutes late.
I was soon ushered into the ticketing agent’s back office for a ticket exchange. There I discovered the buses were already full for the day with only tomorrow available. I had no choice but to leave early the next morning.
My embarrassment would have ended there had not my colleague, who was patiently waiting for her 4 p.m. departure, spotted me.
“Why are you back so soon? What happened?” she asked with great concern, rushing to my side.
“I forgot my passport,” I groaned. “I’ve never forgotten my passport before! I feel so stupid.”
Her words of sympathy?
“Yes,” she oozed with obvious delight at my misfortune. “Next time, you mustn’t be so careless.”