I was so anxious to get home. While my time in Hengyang this year was fun, it was one of the most stressful trips of my many years traveling to China. Because of the debacle of losing my passport and visa, credit cards and Flat Stanley left me with a feeling of, “I can’t wait to get home and put all of this behind me.” On the plus side, I got to meet two amazing young professors that hosted me and Javen and helped us in so many ways. I will always be thankful for Zhang Bao Xin (Joy), and her colleague Xiao Huan (Fanny), for the many ways they became a part of our lives and even our mission. Joy was a Christian, and she let me know that early, so we connected on a different level than I did with Fanny. Leaving Hengyang was sad because I knew that I may never see these two young women again.
As the morning came for our departure Joy and Fanny assured us that they would be at our doorstep to get us to the Hengyang Dong train station to start our trek to Hong Kong and home. All was normal until it was time to say goodbye. As I hugged each of them I noticed that Joy was tearing up a bit. I was too. My esteem for both of these professor and now friends is something that is hard to describe. We hugged, we waived, and we hugged some more… finally walking away backwards so we could waive some more. Maybe the cutest part of this goodbye was when they waived they said, “Bye, Flat Stanley.”
I had always heard about the big city of Hong Kong. I never had great desire to visit such a big city in China because I felt like I had done so many times in other cities. I had actually landed in Hong Kong the very first day of this excursion, but we immediately got into a car and was driven to Shenzhen, China in the dark of night so I didn’t really see any of Hong Kong.
I wanted to go back to Hong Kong just to be able to say I had done so. Hong Kong did intrigue me. I had been told that English was spoken almost as much as Chinese. It used to be a British colony and reverted back to the property of mainland China in 1997 when the 99-year lease expired. Hong Kong had been considered for many years a separate country, but now that it was back in China’s fold and it is considered one of their provinces. It was supposed to be able to function as a different country even though it was a part of China. Like other countries it used a different currency that the Chinese Yuan/RMB, and they called them Hong Kong Dollars! The valuation was different, and even Chinese residents needed a passport to enter. The Chinese Visa was sufficient to get me in, but was still required.
Our flight home was leaving from Hong Kong. And even though the original plan was to take a train from Hengyang to Hong Kong and then taxi over to the airport on the same day, I thought given the travel issues I had, and now a temporary passport and Visa, I should go there the day before, get a hotel room and leave for the airport bright and early the next morning. That’s what we did and I am so thankful for that!
As we exited the fast train CRH system and took the subway across the border, I got pulled out of line because the temporary passport and visa were flashing warning signals. I tried in vain to explain my situation to the TSA that were processing the thousands of people passing through but my language skills and theirs weren’t exactly lined up. I was asked to get out of line and follow an agent. I wanted Javen and I to stay together but they wouldn’t let him go with us. I simply told Javen to go on to the other side and wait for me, that I would be along as soon as I got this cleared up. Little did I know that it would take TWO HOURS to get the situation taken care. Fortunately, the agents treated me with kindness and tried to tell me what was going on, but we just weren’t communicating very well. Finally, a new agent that could speak pretty good English showed up. He explained that they needed to verify with the two agencies that issued me a new passport and a temporary visa that they did indeed do so. He asked me to wait and he would be back with me as soon as they had done their jobs. It took two hours. Had I been doing this the day I was flying out I would have missed my plane back to the states. I was so glad I came the day before.
Hong Kong wasn’t quite the vacation spot I had always wanted and heard about. As we were flying out the next day I was surprised how small of a land space there was. The fact that it was squeezed in between the mountains along the coast line was something that I had never known. Still it had big city lights, stores, eating, entertainment and people. Lots and lots of people! Perhaps most amusing was that the cars in Hong Kong drove on the opposite sides of the roads that I was used to in America and in China. The steering wheels were on the right side of the interior of the cars. I had only one time previous in my life (Bangkok, Thailand in 2015) been in a situation of this nature so it was fun to experience.
One of my Chinese students in Hengyang, Minnie, helped us select a hotel on line so that Javen and I could now where to stay at a reasonable price. The problem was that my credit cards had been cancelled when I lost my wallet and I never got them back to service because I had plenty of cash to tie me over. So we used Javen’s card to hold the room as I assured him that I would pay for it in cash when we checked in. When we did check in they informed us that we didn’t have a room reserved because Javen’s card had been denied. We didn’t know that when we reserved the room on line. It had been denied because when he called his credit card company before we left informing them of his travel plans to China he didn’t realize that Hong Kong was considered a different country by the banking world, so the card company denied the charge suspecting fraudulent usage. They did have a room available so I just pulled out my Chinese RMB to pay the security deposit and the room for one night. That’s when I discovered that Hong Kong had a different monetary system and that my Chinese money couldn’t be used! The front desk personnel had apparently been used to this happening so they kindly directed me to a Currency Exchange Service down the hallway and that they would hold my room while I exchanged my Chinese Yuan for Hong Kong Dollars.
After the many delays we had getting to Hong Kong and getting a room it was almost dinner time and Javen and I were exhausted. We had originally planned to get out and see Hong Kong but both of us said, “I just wanna eat and go to bed!” And, so we did just that. I had converted just enough money to eat and get us a taxi the next morning to the airport. I still had a large amount of Chinese Yuan that I planned on converting back to US dollars when I arrived at the airport. We ate at the restaurant at the hotel which turned out to be a pretty good choice. It had a large selection of buffet items and a good menu to order from, both with lots of choices of Chinese and Western foods.
After dinner I wanted to get out and at least around a little bit… but sleep was calling me.
As the sun peeked through the curtains the next day at dawn I hopped out of bed like a piece of toast! It was a day I always looked forwarded to every year. I say every year that the only thing I like better than going to China is going home. Today was the day. Despite having a pocketful of U.S. Dollars and Chinese RMB, Javen and I didn’t have much Hong Kong dollars to get breakfast, so we decided that we would just wait and get something at the airport. However, when going down to the lobby to check out the taxi situation while Javen was till packing his bags I discovered a Xing Ba Ke – Starbucks! I had a USD $50 Starbucks gift card in my wallet that did not work in mainland China because of the two countries not agreeing on proper compensation for such transactions, but I thought I would try it in Hong Kong. Yes! It worked! Breakfast sandwiches and Starbucks coffee was, “what’s for breakfast!” Plus, I was behind in my shopping for my grandchildren’s gifts. This Starbucks not only had their standard array of coffee mugs, but also had a few Chinese gifts in the form of stuffed animals with HK logos on them. What Yeye/Pop Pop goes to China and doesn’t bring something back for the grand babies? As I recalled that I had used my Starbucks gift cards in Bangkok, Thailand in 2015 and then realized, “Starbucks Gift Cards – An International Currency,” what a great marketing campaign!
“Let’s go Javen, it’s time to go home! We checked out, flagged down a taxi and soon arrived at the Hong Kong airport. Everything went smoothly. My last bit of business was to get my Chinese and remaining Hong Kong currency exchanged to US dollars. There, right in the center of the aisle was a Kiosk looking booth with a sign – Currency Exchange. My first thought was, “how much will I lose in this transaction?” But to my surprise, it may have been the best exchange rate I had ever had in all my years of traveling throughout Asia. Our flight left on time and the next stop was 16 hours later – Chicago!
Upon landing in the good ole U.S. of A. The first thing I always did was call my wife. That’s when I realized that one of the losses in my Flat Stanley story was also my cell phone Verizon chip, that had my American phone number. There wasn’t much I could do about that so I did the next best thing; I was in an airport WIFI zone, so I was able to use my phone as an old version iPad. I text messaged, and emailed my wife of my existence and that I would hopefully be home on schedule. In many ways, Donna is so much more tech savvy than I am, so she sent a message back saying that she had been tracking my flights, and that she would be in Little Rock when the plane landed.
As I landed I take one more look at Flat Stanley, and said to him, “Wow, what an adventure!”
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.