The day that I first set out for Guangzhou and subsequently lost my wallet, money, Passport and Visa, was quite an ordeal. This easily was one of the worse days of my life. I was alone, in a communist country and was completely befuddled as to what to do next. I knew God was still with me. My feet hit the floor when I woke up that morning. I wasn’t physically hurt and had plenty of money resources to survive the situation. So, why did I feel so helpless? In my mind I knew, that given time, this would all be fixed, so I consoled myself with the thought of, “just relax and take this one step at a time.
Fortunately, my teaching colleague, Joy, was there to help me process through this situation. She Had originally called the Didi for me and after I called her to inform her of my mishap she really went it to action. She first called the same Didi driver back to go back to the train station to allow me to look in his car. When I could find it, I had him take me back to campus. In the meantime, Joy had called the police and went to the police station to file the incident as a potential crime. After the Police questioned and released the driver, Joy called Sunny.
Fu Huali, Sunny, is the office manager from the office of International Relations which was officially hosting me and providing me with my temporary employment, apartment and pay. Joy had called her and told her of what was happening to me. Sunny called me and asked for me to meet her at her office where she had another set of keys to my apartment. I walked across campus in the rain and sat on her building steps. The office was closed as it was Saturday, so I just waited... for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was about 30 minutes. Soon, Sunny arrived, opened up the building and found her way to a cabinet in her office that held keys to the apartments for which she managed for the foreign teachers. She asked where I was going? Guangzhou, I said, to speak at GUFS on Monday.
“Cancel those plans! she said sternly, you can’t travel in China without a passport! And, it will take a couple of days to get you some temporary paperwork for you to do so. We can go to the local government office to get that on Monday.” My heart sank. I was supposed to spend four days in Guangzhou with Harding students, university colleagues and dear friends! I asked if there was any way... “No!” was the abrupt answer.
When Joy came by my apartment to check on me she also brought the police report that I could use to travel without a passport! “But, Sunny said, I couldn...” “No, this is what you need,” she said. And she handed me the police report. Despite the admonition of Fu Huali, I went anyway. I had plans, and I was to get paid for speaking to a meeting at GUFS. Sunny was sometimes direct and emotionless. It was hard to read her intent, i”m sure because of her poor English and my even poorer Chinese language skills. Plus, there was a culture and body language that was evading me, but I thought she was she was just saying, “No, you should stay here until we get this straightened out.”
When I did return from Guangzhou Sunny was very angry, I think. She scolded me in respectful way. She told me that I didn’t realize the severity of my leaving town when I did. She was the representative of the Chinese government at that time. U. S. citizens cannot freely move about the country without permission in the form of a Visa. She needed to help me acquire that Visa the next week when the local Visa office/police station was open.
Later that afternoon Sunny and I went to the Police station where I could process a temporary Visa. I had a chance to banter with the agent. It was a smiling woman that seemed amused that this older American found his way to her desk. I couldn’t figure out why she was so smiley and laughing as she spoke to me. Then I realized she saw Flat Stanley peeking out of my shirt pocket. I tried to tell her about the adventures of Flat Stanley, but she never seemed to understand. I hand her Flat and asked if I could take a photo of them together. Then I concocted a story where Flat had been kidnapped, escaped and ran to the station seeking political asylum, and I had to be summoned to the station to bail him out.
Nine or ten days later, it was time to get my paperwork together so that I could leave the country as my selected departure time. It had been very anxiety ridden without my Visa and Passport. I had previously called Zhang Yijun, my Harding Host Family son for some assistance. I decided to call Crescent, or Zhang Yijun to see if he could get me back and forth from the train station to the Embassy. Crescent was my delightful Chinese son that I had connected with the previous summer and had arranged for him, along with Donna, to be a part of the Harding Chinese Student Host Program. That program had an American family become a home away from home for a Chinese student. When I called Crescent I told him what happened and that I need to get back to Guangzhou and to the U.S. Embassy. I asked him if he would be willing to meet me at the train station, get me over to the U.S. Embassy and then back to the train station for a return trip to Hengyang the same day? Of course, he said, but do you know my Harding roommate Michael Fu? I thought I did, but I had not had him in my classes, nor had engaged in him socially beyond meeting him. “Well,” he said, “Michael’s father is the Director of International Relations for the Guangdong province,” (for which Guangzhou was located), and that he thought his dad could help me with this process. Crescent, said, let me call Michael and get back to you?”
Michael called me directly and with near perfect English told me that he heard what happened to me. He said, “I will call my father’s office for you and have them get back to you.” The next day I got a call from Dr. Fu’s secretary informing me that she had been assigned to take care of my Passport issue. Her spoken English was excellent. When I mentioned to her that it was good to hear an American speaking English she informed me that she was in fact, Chinese! She said that every Chinese person who worked at the Embassy had to pass an English proficiency test. None-the-less she told me exactly what I need to do to get my passport and paperwork in order. I need to go online and make an appointment, download the correct forms and come back to Guangzhou to visit the U.S. Embassy. She also let me know that she would have the staff know I was coming and what I needed before I got there, and not to worry about anything, that she would take care of this for me! I never felt so relieved… I knew that God was taking care of me, but God sometimes works in mysterious ways. Little did I know that He was using my students, for whom I love so dearly, to help me while I was in their hometown. Guanxi is what they call this in China, (the system of social networks and influential relationships that facilitate business and other dealings). In my circles we call this the providence of God!
It was a Thursday morning and I was going to travel to Guangzhou by myself. I’ve travelled through China by myself before, but I almost always had someone meeting me at the other end of my trip. Crescent was that person today. As I got off the train and worked my way through the massive crowd to our appointed meeting place I saw his smiling face furiously waving at me. He was such a calming presence. I knew with Crescent that I would be safe and get where I needed to be at the appropriate time.
We made our way to the U.S. Embassy and arrived a little before noon. It was very crowded! It was hot and we decided not to wait in line. We were going to get some lunch and come back. Crescent said he had the perfect place that he wanted to take me for lunch. I thought, GREAT! I love Cantonese food. Where, I asked? “It’s a surprise,” he said. We walked about three blocks, rounded the corner, and there it was… BURGER KING! I tried to hide my disappointment because Crescent was so excited. I just ordered the Whopper combo.
We arrived back at the embassy a little after 1:00 p.m. The lines were no less long! We then discovered that most of the people were waiting to get a Visa from the U.S. Embassy and I needed an emergency passport. That was another line. The line I needed to be in was almost non-existent. As I found my place in a very short line, showed my paperwork, freshly downloaded and printed from their website, the agent took a look me and them at my forms, then took a look at me again, and said, loudly, “Oh, you’re Michael’s professor! Come this way.” Michael Fu was my Harding student that opened the door for me. His Father knew of my plight and instructed the staff to help get me what I needed. That normally two-hour wait and process experience only took about 30 minutes! I had a new passport, albeit a temporary one that would only get me home. I was given instructions to apply for a regular passport once I returned to the States.
I made my way through the lines at the Embassy, out the doors, out to the corner of the street intersection, to a taxi and onto the subway station. As I sat down on the subway headed back to the Guangzhou South Railway station and it dawned on me that once again Flat Stanley had a front row seat to the entire event. He was in my shirt pocket!
One more thing… When the morning started out I had left my apartment without eating any breakfast. After I arrived at the Hengyang Dong train station I stopped and got me a McDonald's sausage, egg and cheese on an English muffin. That evening, while waiting at the Guangzhou train station I was hungry. I saw someone with a Chicken sandwich and I asked where he bought that, (among the many fast food options at the station). He pointed to a KFC nearby and I went there and bought a couple of them and ate them before my train loaded. Then it dawned on me; I had McD’s for breakfast, Burger King for lunch and KFC for dinner! I have never done that before, even in America!
Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.