Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Major stress in China

So... It finally happened. Possibly one of the worst things you can think of when you are abroad (that's not a medical emergency anyway! )

I was in China, flying back to Shanghai after teaching and performing in Changsha. I was traveling with my agent and felt relaxed, knowing I had finished the work part of my China tour and now had 4 days in Shanghai to rest and shop and enjoy myself before heading back to Uk. 

We left the plane, I asked him if he had everything with him and we headed to baggage reclaim. Within maybe 6 minutes of leaving the plane it struck me, I wasn't wearing my handbag! I had put it under the seat in front of me while flying and somehow had managed to forget to pick it up. Despite even checking my agent had his things, I'd then managed to leave my own! I felt like such a fool. 

We headed to Shanghai Airlines desk immediately for them to contact the plane, but the bag had disappeared. I couldn't believe it. Where could it have gone? I was furious. The only option was that the cabin crew or cleaning staff had lifted it. The airline seemed really non-plussed. As did the police when we went there. The police refused point blank to even take a lost report from me, let alone a stolen one! 

The problem was that the bag contained not only all my earnings in cash from Changsha, my credit card and my brand new iPhone 6s (less than 6 months old) but it also contained MY PASSPORT! 

So my relaxing few days in Shanghai became as stressful as any you could imagine!

We decided to get to the hotel and keep on phoning the airline and lost property in case somehow they found it all. The problem we found is that without a passport, no hotel in China is allowed to check you in! I was robbed, and now also homeless!

The British embassy emergency phone line made me an appointment to apply for an emergency travel documents and told me that in the meantime I would just have to stay with friends! Well, no one in Shanghai can afford the space to have a spare room, so my agent checked himself into another hotel (one that foreigners were not supposed to be in at all) and then he sneaked me up to 'my' room with strict orders not to open the door to anyone except him!!!! We agreed that if he was at the door he would knock the maqsoum rhythm so that I knew it was him! Although the hotel was lovely, and very close to the dance studio, it was not exactly restful. I was awake most of the first night worrying about what would happen if I was discovered in a hotel I wasn't supposed to be in, without a passport or a visa to be in China! 

Thankfully that at least went smoothly and I had to sneak in and out the hotel for the next 2 nights, by the back stairs rather than walk past reception! 

The staff at the British consulate were incredibly helpful and easy to deal with, however, there was a problem there too. Their computer system had failed and they couldn't deal with my issue until close of business on the Tuesday night! So I had 2 whole days thinking I would never have my travel pass in time for my flight on Wednesday! 

This is the view from the door of the British consulate. I took it s a good omen that I could see a den pyramid from there!

They managed it even staying back in the office after it closed to complete it for me. Never have I been so happy to see a passport photo of myself before! 

Who knew that Passports come in any other colour than maroon?! (yes ok, I did... but have never seen a yellow one before!) 

Sadly though my stress wasn't yet over. I still had to get a Chinese visa stamp Into my new passport! Before that I had to register with the police that I was In China, by checking into a hotel for a night. The temporary passport and letter from the consulate allowed them to do this so I had to sneak out of my hotel so move to another one. Next day I had to go to the Chinese immigration office, Report the lost passport there and apply for an exit visa so I would be allowed to leave the country! This they told me on arrival there (the morning of my flight) would take at least 5 days! 

This is the Shanghai version of the 'Mogamma'. (i.e. the Immigration and visas office).  It was a stunning building in a huge green area in the centre of town and had just as many windows as the dreaded building in Tahrir Square!

The chap at the desk saw that I was close to tears when he told me this and wrote a note on my form so that I could try for faster treatment. Hours of administration later we left there with instructions to come back at 4.30pm and the visa ' might' be ready, but there was a good chance it wouldn't be until the following morning at the earliest. 

So, with my flight due at 11.30pm, I didn't actually know until nearly 5pm that I was in fact going to make it! They had done my visa for me in one day!!!! 

I felt drunk from the relief! 

Lessons learned:
- never leave my handbag anywhere!
- Always have a paper photocopy of passport AND visa. I did have a copy on my phone but this isn't enough (when phone goes too!) 
- Travel insurance! (Nope- I didn't have any. Stupidly shortsighted I know. This was sadly a hugely expensive trip)
- Crying in front of officials in China has same effect as it does in Egypt. 
- My agent and his staff have my eternal gratitude for being so patient and accommodating in this extreme situation. I couldn't have achieved any of this without them translating everything for me!
- Flights that have an option to date change are vastly superior than ones you can't change. 
- I am looking forward to going back to China despite this being the second time I've been a victim of theft there. It has not put me off, it has just given me a huge wake up call. I need to be more responsible for myself and my things. The Chinese I know are the kindest and most generous of people and there are a few rotten apples in every barrel, wherever you are in the world. 

My hero! I have no idea how I would have survived this horrible experience without him and his staff. We even managed some laughs along the way!!!