a little relief
Shanghai Travel Blog› entry 7 of 14 › view all entries
Iām on the plane to
After I discovered Iād been robbed, the hotel manager came over and listened as Nelson translated what had happened. The Chinese language always seems to have such a sense of urgency to it, with different inflections and volumes for each word. You could say, āI hope you have a wonderful dayā, in Chinese and itād sound like you were pissed off and chastising someone. The manager walked over to the corner in the seating area where Alan, Brian and I had been sitting, picked up the phony computer bag, brought it over to me and asked if I was sure it wasnāt mine. Iām looking at him like, youāre kidding, right? This computer bag was beat to crap, and empty. Yeah, Iām pretty sure this isnāt my computer bag (idiot). So he calls the local cops while the three of us try to piece together whatād happened. Brian and Alan kept apologizing for not having kept an eye on the bag after I told them I was going to the menās room, and I kept trying to assure them that it wasnāt their fault. Still, they both felt very responsible. Like Dongguan is any different than
Nelson told me I had to go to the Police station with them so he and I got into their car and drove off. As an aside, I have to tell you this cop car, which was some kind of small Toyota SUV, reeked of something between vomit and feces. As we sat in a large room with a dozen or so desks, we told the officer what happened, again, while he wrote out his report. Behind us was another cop screaming at some kid for something. I mean, this guy was pissed, and he was yelling so loudly our cop motioned for us to follow him upstairs to another interview room. I asked Nelson what the cop was yelling about and he said this kidās brother was in jail and he was trying to get him out. Iām not sure why that angered the cop so much. After our cop took our statement and presented us with an official report that I was to sign, for which I placed an awful lot of trust in Nelsonās ability to interpret correctly, so that I wasnāt actually signing something that said Iād just smuggled 5 pounds of heroin into China and killed a man in the process, he drove us back to our hotel. Iād later learn just how important having that report was.
If you want to travel anywhere of any distance in
The four of us pile into our driverās car, which like most things in
Anyway, our driver drives us through Houjie, which is a very depressed area, with piles of garbage and bricks and abandoned buildings and dozens of garage fronts that line the sidewalk and act as businesses where people are preparing food in one, next to a machine shop in the next, with a car repair place in another next to a clothing store. One store sold nothing but aluminum foil figures. Youāve gotta wonder why the owner thought thereād be a market for that kind of thing. As we drove by, apparently it was lunch time and dozens of these workers sat on their haunches like little frogs, which seems to be the preferred position if youāre not standing or sitting, on the sidewalk using chopsticks to shovel rice and vegetables into their mouths. As we approached the factory we passed a guy on a bicycle with a couple dozen cages of chickens strapped to the back of his bike. Itās amazing what these people carry on their bikes. The other day we saw a guy with 4 large propane tanks strapped to his bike. One errant spark and heād be a Chinese roman candle.
Our meetings went well, although everyone we met with seemed so young, I mean, like teenage young, and I donāt think itās because I just turned 53 the day before. Yes, thatās right, 53. Sheesh. We were in a very small, very hot, meeting room where people from engineering and purchasing would come in to discuss things with us throughout the afternoon. At one point toward the end of the day two guys came in, one of whom was named Stickleāand I mean his first nameāand the whole scene of these two guys who spoke no English talking to Nelson in both Mandarin and Cantonese as he translated to us, reminded me of the scene in The Deer Hunter with Robert DeNiro where heās playing Russian roulette with the two NVA officers. At one point Stickle stopped to ask Alan and me if we understood any of what he was saying. Yeah, sure we do, weāre both fluent in Cantonese, and weāre deeply offended by what youāre saying about us. Very, very weird meeting. Afterward Nelson said that workers in this factory are paid the equivalent of $100 per month for 170 hours of work. Thatās a little more than 50 cents an hour. And these guys are twisting my arm over lowering the price of our drive belts from 20 cents to 19 Ā½ cents.
That night I called the US State Department in DC to ask if I needed an original copy of my birth certificate to replace my stolen passport and how long it would take to get a new one. This guy was very reassuring. He kept calling me, āmy friendā, like, āmy friend, donāt worry about a thingā and āyou donāt need anything at all, my friendā. I shouldāve known that when a government official refers to you as his friend, youāre in trouble. He told me I need only show up at either the
So the next morning Nelson arranged a driver to take me to the US Consulate in
When we finally arrived at the Consulate we discovered it had moved to the other side of
When I arrived at a little after 12:00 I finally got the guard to let me in and I went to the passport processing area where I explained what had happened and what I needed. They gave me several forms to fill out, told me to get two passport photos taken and come back at 1:30. When I sat down a guy two seats over from me said heād overheard me say that my passport was stolen. He was an American, which lately is like seeing an angel. I told him what happened and when I told him it occurred in Dongguan, he laughed and said heād never met any businessman who traveled to Dongguan who wasnāt robbed. I tried to laugh too but it came out as a weak, āhuhā¦ā¦ā. He told me about two friends of his, one of whom was arriving at a hotel in Dongguan and put his luggage down after he got out of his cab. While he talked to the bellboys about taking his luggage to his room, a van pulled up, a kid got out, grabbed his suitcases and jumped back into the van. When the guy saw this he started to yell for someone to stop them, but no one understood English. When the van drove up to the gate, they opened it and off they went. Everything he had, including his laptop, passport, money, and clothes were gone. Another friend of his was walking down the street with his computer bag over his shoulder when a couple kids on a motorbike sped up, slashed the strap of his bag and sped off with it. I tried to gain consolation from knowing that I wasnāt the only person to go through this.
It turns out that getting a passport replaced is not a huge deal. I had a new one by 2:30 that day. As I left the Consulate I told my driver that I needed to use the restroom, which I did by pointing to the āman toiletā sign and holding up my hand as if I were telling a dog to sit and stay. He nodded his head in acknowledgment. When I came back my driver was standing by the elevator door arguing with three local cops. I donāt know what he did to make these guys mad but all four of them were really angry. I thought, for god sake, I canāt leave you alone for 2 minutes? The elevator doors opened and we both quickly got in while my driver continued to argue with the cops as the doors closed. When we were safely inside the two women in the elevator and I learned the third and final English word my driver knew, āFuckā.
Next we had to go over to the Public Security Bureau to get my travel visa. Having a passport actually means very little, itās the visa that allows you to actually travel anywhere. As you might imagine there isnāt just one PSB in a city of 10 million and we didnāt find the right one until 3:00, again by using the stop, run, ask, apologize method. We took a number and watched the screens above each of the 10 PSB officer positions indicating which number was being āservedā. My number was 467 and they were currently serving 395. I calculated the average time it took for each new number to be called and determined that Iād be sitting there for roughly another 3 weeks. Everyone in the room was in the same boat I was; lost passport-needs visa, stolen passport-needs visa, must leave country tomorrow-must have visa, etc, so everyoneās nerves were pretty raw, and the PSB officers couldnāt be less impressed with anyoneās story, no matter how dire. Each time a number was called that had a 4, 6, or 7 in it my driver would grab my hand holding the number and excitedly point to it then to the number on the screen.
The PSB closes at 5:00 and the magic number, 467, was called at 4:55. I tried to calmly explain my case but each time he just said, āvisa take 5 dayā. I started to lose my patienceābig surprise, eh?āand said that it was an emergency because I had to leave for Hong Kong Friday afternoon and then fly to Shanghai Monday afternoon. Apparently wanting to spend a nice weekend in HK doesnāt qualify as an emergency, but I was persuasive enough to get him to agree to Monday morning. When I asked him why it couldnāt be ready on Friday at closing if it could be ready on Monday when they opened he just walked away. I thought it was a totally logical question. I decided to not leave my passport with them for the visa process because he said I could get it in Shenzhen where Iād be staying until Friday afternoon. That way I wouldnāt have to drive the two hours back to
The next morning I went to the PSB in Shenzhen with Nelson. Having him by my side made me feel much better because we were at least able to communicate. This PSB was set up the same way as the other one in
I hoped that weād get the female PSB officer thinking that a woman would be more sympathetic to a personās troubles. Boy was I wrong. She, too, couldnāt have cared less about my needing to be in HK for the weekend. Furthermore, she said the guy in Guangzhou gave me the wrong form to fill out, I needed the official police report which I hadnāt brought with me, I had to go back to either the office in Dongguan where the crime was committed or Guangzhou where I got my passport, and that itād take 5 days to process. This meant that Iād have to stay in Dongguan for the next 5 days and miss an entire week of business appointments. Even if we drove the 45 minutes back to our hotel so I could get the official report, and then drove an hour up to Dongguan, weād still have only 30 minutes to spare before the PSB office closed, and thatās if everything went smoothly. It was at this point that I felt myself losing control of all my emotions. I thought that I literally wasnāt going to be able to control myself and it scarred me.
We rushed back to the hotel and while I went to my room for the report, Nelson told the front desk that Iād be staying another night. Then we drove to Dongguan in search of the PSB. When we got into the city Nelson told our driver that he was going to get into a local taxi, assuming that heād surely know where the PSB was, and that the driver should follow him. When I started to get out of the car too Nelson told me to stay with the driver. As Nelson sped off in another taxi we tried to follow him but every hundred feet or so another car pulled in front of us and before long we couldnāt see Nelsonās taxi. To make matters worse, all taxis are the same; green and beige VW Passats. I really started to panic when my driver excitedly looked back and forth through traffic for Nelsonās taxi and couldnāt find him.
When we got to the PSB office it was set up totally differently than the others. This one was pretty much a free-for-all with people just vying for position and the attention of the officers behind the counter. Nelson waded in and got a new form for me to fill out and while I did that he tried to maintain his position in the crowd. Shortly before 5:00 I was handed a Certificate of Travel allowing me to at least book a hotel room and fly to
Alan came up with a great idea. We could fly to Shanghai Saturday and spend the weekend sightseeing, then continue on our business schedule over in
So here we are in