Trouble in Xiamen - part two
Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
54Trip End Nov 04, 2011
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Several hours of being interviewed at the local police station with the assistance of someone from the school was debilitating and made me wish we hadn't reported the incident. The police officers thought it was hilarious and assumed I’d simply passed out drunk in a gutter where I would have been easy prey for motorcycle bandits. I failed to see the funny side of what had happened and we left the station after obtaining the police report. The next morning I had to appear at the local visa office to register an application for another visa and all the other procedures that go hand in hand with losing everything, from requesting an emergency visa card to reporting the passport as stolen and I was instructed by the Australian consulate in Guangzhou to personally appear at the consulate as soon as possible
Arriving in Guangzhou after an overnight bus ride was not as difficult as I had first imagined and I was astounded to find that as it was an overnight bus, it contained beds instead of seats. The passengers were all quite jovial and the interior of the bus, with its rows of bunks, felt more like a slumber party on wheels. In Guangzhou, there was a metro station from the bus terminal to the area where the Australian consulate was located and I arrived at the building as soon as the office was opened to hopefully explain my case early enough to receive a passport the same day, which is exactly what I was advised over the phone by one of their staff only the day before. I guess in my mind I had expected to be met at the office by a representative of the consulate who could assist me where the police had failed and who could help me to get in contact with my bank which had proved to be almost impossible to do without a reliable phone
The staff behind the consulate window informed me that I needed to have suitable identification to obtain an emergency passport and I would also need to pay about two hundred Australian dollars before they could process it. Meanwhile, the bank had advised me that they could arrange to wire emergency cash to me if I could show a passport as identification. All this seemed like either an evil practical joke on someone who had just lost everything or a deliberate form of sabotage to stop me from getting out of this nightmare situation. How could I get a passport without cash? How could I get cash without a passport? And more importantly – how could the consular staff be so apathetic about my circumstances? Obviously this was not a war zone and I was not expecting to be airlifted out of Guangzhou by helicopter but not even an inkling of compassion towards someone who was confused, distressed and without any financial means to stay or go
Meeting up with Catherine in a bar across from the consulate was both relieving and humbling. She had arranged to pay for my passport and offer her home address to receive the emergency visa card which had taken the bank an incompetent three days to successfully send to me, for reasons that had me baffled. With the cash in my hand I raced back to the consulate where all of a sudden, at the sight of some money, the staff were only too helpful in processing my passport and while they began processing, Catherine took me to a hotel where I could wait for the passport to be ready the following morning. We tried three hotels that wouldn’t accept me as I had no valid passport as identification and before I had time to let this second nightmare sink in, I received a call from the consulate at 4:30pm to advise me that the passport was now ready to be picked up before the office closed at five. In Catherine’s car we sped back to the consulate a few blocks away and I made it into the office before closing time with a passport that would guarantee my existence from that time onwards.
Having a friend of a friend as support was a godsend at a time when my own country’s consulate was not willing to help me
All through September the weather was hot and humid. Eventually I was able to get back on my feet with a new passport, a new visa and an apartment within walking distance of the school. I opted for a larger sized apartment that was comparatively expensive for Xiamen but it contained two bedrooms, a decent kitchen, a dining area, a living room, a laundry, a walk-in wardrobe and a bathroom with its own built-in jacuzzi
The apartment was large enough to have little surprises that would appear every now and then. It took me two days to notice a built-in fake plant in one of the walls that would light up like a neon sign at the flick of a switch, like something from a very bad 1980’s video clip. All the flowers were made of plastic and the main bedroom looked like it once accommodated a fairy princess (or a high class hooker) which required a few requested modifications as I’m not a fan of anything pink. But the main attraction, the piéce de résistance, was an elevated platform at the end of the living room that resembled a stage, complete with curtains and a wooden floor that overlooked the rest of the apartment. It was supposed to be more of an indoor balcony next to some very large windows but it looked more like the type of area where the owners of the apartment would get up and address their guests and I often liked to imagine their impeccable speeches.
“Acquired friends. We welcome you to indulge in our new found wealth. Feel free to envy us as you relax in the surroundings of marble, European style candles and chandeliers, Romanesque bathroom taps and a life supply of cheaply imported whiskey. Cheers to us!”