Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shanghai and the Passport Recovery Project

We got off the buses with the ship in sight, just a short walking distance away. There was a long line to get on the ship, and a Chinese government check point where we needed to show our Ships ID and Passport. As I went to fish these out of my pack, I realized I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake: my passport had disappeared.
I searched my bag repeatedly, my friends saw me scrambling and tried to help, but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. I was shocked and devastated. If I got on the ship, I wouldn’t be allowed off as I wouldn’t have proof of already entering China legally. My friends all got in line to get back on the ship – Corey took my bag, and Ariel took my key to go into my cabin and grab all of my photocopies and proof-of-identity documents. I ran into our Executive Dean Sue Weitz. She told me to get moving, so once Ariel reappeared with my documents, that’s what I did.
        I waited two hours in 40 degree weather, but I was bundled up so it was alright. I ran into my friend Joe Bagliere, and he was on his way in from the rural area of Dehong. He showed up complete with his large pack and full of energy, which I was surprised of. He offered to stick with me and go to the consulate, which I didn’t turn down, but assured him was unnecessary. Being the stellar friend and person that he is, he decided to accompany me anyway. We hopped in a taxi, and the rates went up SO quickly that we decided he was ripping us off and made him pull over. We hopped out of the cab, ready to walk to the consulate. We were told it was a 10-minute walk.
Two hours later, we arrived at the consulate. On the way, we stopped for some KFC (mm), some meat-pie street food, bubble tea, and went to a dried-foods market. I think we saw more of Shanghai walking around than I would have seen any other way. Once we got to the consulate however, we were told that they could not issue me a new passport, and I would need to go to American Citizen Services on the 8th floor of Westgate Mall. We took a cab and kept our eyes on the meter. ACS wasn’t far, and was in a ritzy mall. We met a woman in the elevator named Fabiola, she was an American citizen of Chinese descent living in Shanghai. It was great to find someone who spoke English. We got to cut the whole line outside of ACS because we were American citizens, and I had to show passport photocopies to get into the department.
        We put our bags through security, pulled a number and waited. I was called up and spoke to a woman named Grace, who was very cold with me and told me that they could not help me until I filed a police report claiming that my passport had been lost/stolen. She gave me the address of the Exit/Entry Bureau where I could get this and told me I needed to have passport photos taken.
        Joe and I got back into the elevator with Fabiola coincidentally, who sympathized with me and said she could help. Next thing we know, she pulls out her iPhone to call her driver to pick us up on the corner, jumps in the car with us to the E/EB which is on the opposite end of the city, and comes inside. She spoke to the men at the desk in Mandarin and took me to the front of the emergency line where I could have my report filed. She left us there to continue on our own, but I’m so grateful for how generous people can be. She was amazing.
        I got photos taken and we went to the ship so Joe could refresh himself. We ran into Kathy, our Assistant Executive Dean, who helped me figure out how to pay for everything and retrieved my bag from Corey’s room since I would have to stay off the ship overnight. Joe and I parted ways but met back up a couple hours later. He wasn’t able to get back on the ship as it would take 3 hours to process his passport, so we regrouped and found a hostel. The hostel is called Le Tour Youth Hostel Traveler’s Rest and was amazing. It was in a small alley with beautifully lantern-lit paths. They were understanding and accepted the photocopy of my old passport to check me in. We got a room with 2 beds and a shower. Joe took a nap while I checked my email. I met a guy named Chris in the lobby who went to WVU and had just moved to Shanghai. He was there to teach English until he figured out his career in helping with customer service development in China, which they could use the help with.
        Chris was in the hostel because he was between living situations. We ended up going out with him to a bar called I <3 Shanghai for a beer. Then he took us to a club that he said is busy on the weekends, though it seemed dead when we went. We went inside and lo and behold – it was FILLED with SAS students only. It was all of my friends and then some other little cliques I didn’t know too well, but it was fun and a relief to see everyone. We also found Joe’s (girlfriend?) Sarah there. She’s from Kentucky and she’s so much fun. (I’m going to stay with her for the KY Derby!) Anyway, we called it an early night – my eyes were bloodshot and barely open from exhaustion and a lack of good sleep – and went back to the hostel for the night.
        Joe, Sarah and I were up and out by 8:30 am and off to the consulate to get my passport. I was interrogated and reprimanded, and told that my passport was probably already in the black market and may be used for terrorism. I was horrified. After they agreed to issue a temporary passport, someone else waiting reassured me that it would likely be passed around the black market but never actually get anywhere. Also, all three of us were asked to be witnesses for couples to get mortgages on houses in the U.S., which was pretty cool. I noticed a picture of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton hanging on the wall in the consulate, which I thought was interesting. It was amazing how familiar and friendly those faces seemed.
        I GOT A PASSPORT! We then left there and went to the E/EB by 12 to get my exit visa. After pulling a number and waiting, the person I spoke to said they couldn’t help me. I needed to wait until 1:30 for the emergency line to open. We waited, and Joe turned into protective Papa-Bear and made sure I didn’t get cut. Then the thing that made me cry happened - the woman who sat at the desk at 1:30 told me my forms were invalid.
        I had to have a form from the hostel with my passport # on it proving that I had been staying in Shanghai. Though I made sure I had this form, it had my old passport # on it thus making it invalid. A Spanish woman let me borrow her Chinese phone to call the hostel to have them fix the numbers and fax it to the E/EB. Even though I begged, the woman at the hostel wouldn’t do it. I burst into tears. Joe took the phone from my hand, and shuffled me down the escalators to head back to the hostel. We left Sarah with our packs and took the subway to the hostel. I again begged the woman at the desk to please help me. That I couldn’t get out of China unless she changed the numbers on her form. So, she did, and I kissed her. I was so happy!
        Skipping, we headed back to the subway and the E/EB, where I was issued a visa. Joe stresses out in these situations, provoking the nickname “Jetpack Joe,” so he went back to the ship while Sarah and I waited. At 4:30, I got the visa and we got back to the ship by 4:50 pm. Our registrar, Adam, had me cut excessive line, and I was on the ship before dock time. WHAT A CLOSE CALL!!
        For the next couple days, Joe and Sarah came up to me saying “Hey, great to see you onboard today!” What amazing friends. Anyway, I’m pretty heartbroken over losing all of my stamps. Joe was flipping through his when we stopped at a bank, and said “wow what a great souvenir…” and I looked at him with a death stare. But he’s right, and I definitely learned my lesson here. Do not ever lose your passport in China – the exit visa was more expensive than the passport itself! Also, I should mention, Shanghai has some of the coolest architecture I’ve ever seen in my life. Their buildings have huge bulbous sections or rectangular parts jutting out in different directions, and the way they light up at night is amazing. Also, Shanghai hoested the world Expo recently, so their little blue mascot (who looks like Gumby) was all over the city. Even bushes were cut out to look like him. One last thing – my tour guides told me that in China, everyone is photographed about 4,000 times per day under the government’s watchful eyes. I didn’t notice it  until Shanghai, but there are cameras on top of random light posts. How weird!

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