On Saturday, May 20th, in our second weekend in Hengyang, Javan, Flat and I started out for Guangzhou and Donguang to visit our Harding students that were from that area. Plus, on Monday,I had been invited to speak to the Public Relations majors at the Guangdong University of Foreign studies (GUFS). Javan and I were going to two different cities, he to Guangzhou and me first to Donguang. I was going to visit Chen Yingying, a delightful young student that I first met in 2016 while visiting and lecturing at the university she was attending.
Yingying later transferred to Harding and she had invited me down to her hometown to have dinner and meet her family. I was really looking forward to this meeting. Javan and I were going to meet that evening in Guangzhou at the hotel we had reserved and we planned to return to Hangyang on Tuesday.
We all left early in Saturday morning. Joy, my teaching colleague, and now good friend, had made arrangements for a Didi, (like an Uber car) to pick us up at the south gate of the campus. We got up, had a bite to eat and headed to the gate. I checked my bag, my fanny pack, my hat, and my backpack. I had my train ticket, my cash, and my passport – check, check, and double check! Everything was in place. The driver was waiting for us. We loaded up and quicker than ever before we arrived at the train station. The early morning traffic was light (for Hengyang standards).. and then it happened! The belt/fanny pack I was wearing was nowhere to be found! It had my ticket, my passport my credit cards, and about ¥4,000 or about $600. Aaagghh! The car was pulling away and I was convinced that it must have been in the seat where I was sitting. I shouted to wait, stop, ...wait!!! But the Didi kept driving away. Javan asked me if I wanted him to run after it, and before I could answer he took off sprinting trying to get the drivers attention, but to no avail. Watching that car leave down the highway had my heart and my stomach bending over in disbelief! When Javan jogged back to where I was stranded, out of breath he gaspingly asked, “What was in the bag?” Well, I had my phone in my hand, but I listed the aforementioned items and then it hit me... FLAT STANLEY was in that bag! No! Not Flat Stanley????? Noooooo.....
How could I have been so careless? What was I going to do now? And then what really horrified me, how do I tell and explain this to Gavyn? I decided to sit down right there on the sidewalk to assess my situation and think. I beleive it was God who gave me a sense of peace at that moment. First as I assessed the situation, I counted my blessings. I was well, safe and had plenty of resources of time, talent and money to overcome this problem but I had to take a deep breath and think about what to do next. I got up and immediately went into crisis management mode.
My first call was to my teaching colleague Joy and told her of the situation. I knew I would need some Chinese language assistance and she had been such a blessing about helping me with all things about my daily logistics of being in a foreign country and her hometown. She said she could call the same Didi driver and ask him to go back to get me, which he did. Then I called my wife, Donna. I knew it was 13 hours earlier back home so it was about 6:30 p.m. on Friday. I told her quickly what had occurred and immediately after hanging up she called and had my credit and debit card cancelled. I didn’t know what was going to happen next but I decide to send Javan on to his destination without me. Javan is about as responsible and mature of a young man than I have ever met, and he is only 19 years old. We talked about it. He had a Harding, Chinese student friend, David Fan, that was going to meet him in Guangzhou at the train station. David was then going to get him connected to the other people Javan was planning to see and meet. I had promised Javan’s parents that he would be travelling with me and that I would be responsible for him. I felt that compelling directive, but I also knew that I was not going to Guangzhou, at least not soon. He, on the other hand, couldn’t really help me and I hated to ruin his plans. I somehow knew that things would get worked out and that I would get back to Guangzhou sometime later that day or at least that weekend. I trusted him completely to handle himself, plus I knew he had a phone for which he could call me or his Chinese friends in Guangzhou if he needed anything. I pointed and said GO, and gave him little choice! I knew he felt felt bad about leaving me so I kindly assured him that Joy and I could take care of this problem and I didn’t really need his help. He looked at his watch as his train was departing shortly. He took a few steps backwards, wished me luck, and headed through the doors of the train station. I sat back down to wait for the Didi driver. While I waited I called Chen Yingying in Donguang and apologetically explained what happened and that I would not be coming to see her today. Of course Yingying was so gracious and said, “That’s OK, maybe another weekend?”
It took about an hour but the same Didi driver finally returned. He had with him about three friends that spoke some English, of which he spoke none. They all helped me look through his car, under the seats and every nook and cranny inside the car and we found nothing. He assured me that he did not see another bag of mine. I suspected that if he did, he had taken my ¥4,000 and tossed the bag! I asked him if that were indeed the case, not expecting him to admit to that, and sure enough, he vehemently denied that accusation. He then drove me back to my apartment, which is when I realized that my apartment keys were also in that bag.
I sat down on to the steps of my apartment building almost in tears when I heard my phone ring. It was Fu Huali, Sunny, the office manager from the office of International Relations which was offically hosting me and providing me with my apartment. Joy had called her and told her of what was happening to me. She asked for me to meet her at her office where she had another key 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, 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 Mondsay. My heart sank. I was supposed to spend four days in Guangzhou with Harding students, university collegues and dear friends! I asked if there was any way... “No!” was the abrupt answer.
I walked back to my apartment, let myself in, left the door open, and slumped into the most comfortable chair in the apartment to assess what to do next when I soon heard, “Hello Steve, Are you Ok?” It was Zhang Bao Xin, Joy, my colleague. My my, wasn’t she a welcomed sight? She had come to help me get this situation taken care of. Unbeknownst to me, she called the local police to report my missing bag. Joy had spent most of the morning at the police station. Joy told them what Didi she had arranged for me, so the police could summon the driver to report to the Police station. The Police and Joy had questioned him for a couple of hours, with him giving consistent answers that he had never seen my bag and that he had no part in its disappearance. Joy 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. Here, you’ll also need this while you’re Guangzhou,” and she handed me her credit card to use while I was there! After my mouth closed in amazement that she would make such an offer, I thanked her kindly but said, “No, I don’t want you to do that. I still have plenty of money.” I had learned a long time ago while traveling in another country not to carry all of your money in one place. I had another ¥4,000 in a hiding place in my suitcase that I had left behind in the apartment. I couldn’t express my thanks for what she had done but it wasn’t money that I needed right now. What I wanted, was to get to Guangzhou for the weekend. For one thing, West Ling, my Chinese colleague from Harding, was there and I knew he could help me navigate my way through this process. And, I knew that GUFS was planning on paying me ¥2,000 for speaking on Monday. That was half of what I just lost. No, money wasn’t the problem, I just needed to be walked through the process of reacquiring a Visa to even be in the country and then a Passport in order for me to get back in the USA once I departed. I had determined by now that this incident was not going to keep me from doing what I came to do – be a blessing from God to those that were seeking him. I told that to Joy, when she said, “You know, I’m a Christian too.” That’s when I truly believe that God had arranged for us to meet so that she could be that blessing from God to me!
After Joy helped me buy another train ticket she put me on the correct bus to the train station and by mid-afternoon I was on my way to Guangzhou. To say that I was clutching my possessions a little tighter was a gross understatement!
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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.