The two-hour train ride back to Hengyang seemed to be shorter than usual. We made our way from the station to the bus, to the open market bus stop near our apartment, and walked the last two kilometers or so. Still, all the while I was going over in my mind what I would need to do to start the process of replacing my Passport and Visa. I still couldn’t keep from thinking about how bad I felt about losing Flat Stanley… What was I going to do to fix this? I mean money is just money, and the Visa and Passport was just time and money to replace, but Flat Stanley… Flat Stanley was irreplaceable! All I had was a photo….
Yes! I had a photo! That’s it! I had a very high quality photo of Flat that I had made just after he got his Pilot Wings back in Little Rock the day we left. I can get a photo printed to size and I could use that. Yes! I called Joy and told her of my idea and wondered where I might get a photo printed? “I know just the place,” she said. “I’ll be over soon to take you there.”
When Joy arrived She took me down to the south gate and right next door was a photo and print services store. I had walked passed the little shop hundreds of times but never knew what they did at that store. It was a photo print shop! She explained to the shop keeper what I needed. I emailed the image from my phone to the shop owner, and in another :45 seconds or so I had a brand new glossy version of Flat Stanley! I borrowed a pair of scissors, cut out the image, held it up and said, “Joy, meet Flat Stanley 2.0!” Joy laughed and laughed. I then suggested we get another one printed for Joy’s 6-year old daughter Anna.
As excited as I was about getting a Flat Stanley replacement, still I could not seem to go two minutes without thinking about how I was going to get my Passport and Visa replaced.
The Chinese holiday called Dragon Boat Days was now upon us. Joy asked Javan and I if we would like to join her at her family holiday gathering. Yes, I said! I thought, this is what real China is like… family, food and fun. Plus, I was anxious to meet Joy’s family; her husband, her parents and especially her daughter, Anna. Anna Qian is Zhang Bao Xin’s six-year-old daughter. When we arrived at the restaurant that was to host the family dinner I was introduced to everyone and they all seemed really excited to have two American visitors at their family gathering. Then I finally saw Anna. I love little Chinese children. They are sooooo cute! And, they make me feel like the grandpa that my Chinese name implies. Anna was as advertised, very cute, a little shy and apprehensive about meeting me, as any six-year-old would be meeting one of her parent’s friends, especially from a different world. shy… until she warmed up to me! Then Anna was lively and rambunctious, but she was still cute. In fact, just adorably cute! I gave her the Flat Stanley I had printed for her and had her mother explain the meaning behind this paper doll. The entire family laughed at me carrying around this Flat Stanley character but they seemed to welcome me with the joy that their daughter, Joy had shown me.
The next day I started making arrangements to start replacing my Passport and Visa. The university still owed me about half of the money they would be paying me for teaching. It was Sunny Fu that needed to help me start the process of replacing the Passport and Visa so she went ahead and secured the rest of the money they owed me. Throughout all of this ordeal I had plenty of cash to do pretty much whatever I needed but I knew my travel options would be limited or at least more difficult. You need a passport or national ID card to buy and train ticket in China. But I had my paper copy of my Passport and the paper copy of the Police report from my lost items. I had been instructed to go on line to start the process of replacing my Passport but new that I had to go back to Guangzhou where the nearest U.S. Embassy was located.
I decided to call Crescent, or Zhang Yijun. 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 on-line 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!
I had an appointment for about 10 days out, I had the forms downloaded and printed, I had someone to escort me to and from the Embassy and I exhaled knowing that I would indeed get home at the end of this excursion!
I went on with my mission of teaching and being a difference in somebody’s life! And I went on introducing Flat Stanley, albeit Flat Stanley 2.0.
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.