Jun 24, 2012

In which we are invited to take a brief trip back to America, sort of

Or, What happens when your passport is stolen in China

Prologue: Don’t look now …

We’d gotten a little too comfortable at sticks, I guess. I had fallen into the habit of putting my purse down on a chair next to us, and then keeping a not-so-watchful eye on it. Eventually, this garnered predictable results.

This would have been a minor inconvenience but for the fact that someone along the line had told us that it was a good idea to keep our passports on us at all times, in case we were ever questioned by the police. (Later, I would be asked repeatedly [including by the local police] why on earth my passport had been in my purse.) So I was now a player in the extremely boring RPG, “International Bureaucracy: Replace Your Passport!”

On our RPG adventure

Chapter 1: Luzhou — Exit/Entry Bureau

Objective: Collect a Statement of Lost Passport from the Exit/Entry Bureau of the Luzhou city government

With the help of my coworker Chris acting as translator, I filed a police report, which I then took to Exit/Entry. The officer there processed my paperwork and gave me the Statement of Lost Passport.

I could now make an appointment with the Consulate General of the United States in Chengdu to apply for a new passport.

Chapter 2: Luzhou-Chengdu Highroad

Objective: Keep yourself from going stir-crazy!

Get on the bus

By the end of our quest, we will make this journey 4 times in two weeks. This trip is long. And boring.

And, departing from Luzhou, we spend almost an hour idling at three different bus stations before even leaving the city, the inefficiency of which drives me crazy every time.

Jack ... Rose ...

They do play movies during the drive. In English even! Unfortunately, they’re usually terrible. Though on this first trip, the movie was “Titanic.” This movie is hugely popular here, and, well, it’s watchable enough.

The monotony of the drive is interrupted about halfway through and replaced with horror at the Rest Stop Toilets of Doom. Both the men’s and the women’s rooms contain a smelly canal, over which you squat (there’s a half wall for the least-private privacy ever), and down which water is sluiced every five minutes or so. We both try to plan our liquids so that we don’t need to visit this convenience, but sometimes life doesn’t work out that way.

When we pulled into the Chengdu bus station, The Titanic was still sinking. It had been for more than an hour - though we’d miss the very end of it; it turns out, “Titanic” with Bus TV commercials is even longer than the drive from Luzhou to Chengdu. Good work James Cameron! That’s truly epic.

☆ Side Quest: Xiao Tong Alley

Objective 1: Find a place to eat
Objective 2: Find a place to sleep

Back at the Loft

Our love of this area is well documented. Part of our excitement at returning to Chengdu was that we’d get to stay at The Loft again. So our second objective was easily accomplished. They put us in the Erykah Badu room this time. And the rooms have TVs now!

Objective 1 was trickier. By the time we got settled we were both starving, but it was after 10 pm on a Tuesday and most of the restaurants in the neighborhood were closed. We trudged around the block, grimly entertaining the idea of a dinner made from convenience store food. But then we spotted it: 串串. This is the Chinese name for what we call “food on sticks.” That’d do it!

We laughed at the fact that we were in a city with so many more options than Luzhou, and yet we were eating the same meal that we eat almost every night. But it’s delicious and we love it. And, at this place they used very different spices. So it was really almost like a completely different meal.

We returned to the Loft for a healing sleep so we’d be ready to resume our quest tomorrow.

Chapter 3: The Consulate

Objective: Apply for a new passport

Out in the street

The U.S. Consulate in Chengdu is in a fancy part of town, just around the corner from a bunch of flagship stores for international luxury brands. So we took a photo of that, instead of the nondescript government building guarded by men with guns.

The inside looks just like a typical American government office - imagine your local post office, with a bunch of Chinese nationals waiting on line to apply for a visa. Even the bathrooms felt American: There was no wastebasket for used tissue, which meant that the plumbing could handle toilet paper! … Am I obsessed with bathrooms? I’m starting to wonder. Although in my defense, we read later that Chengdoo magazine rated the bathroom at the consulate one of the six best public restrooms in the city. It really is something to see.

Once I filed my paperwork and paid for my new passport, I had to raise my hand and swear that all the information I provided was truthful to the best of my knowledge. They gave me a flimsy receipt, told me not to lose it and come back in 10 business days.

The saga continues …