On December 8, 2010, at approximately 10:20am, Walt F.J. Goodridge became the first Jamaican to cross from Laos into China!
It all started innocently enough with an early morning rise to catch my 7:30am tuk tuk ride to the bus station. As this would be the last time I would have unrestricted access to Facebook (as well as Youtube, Twitter, Blogspot and other subversive US media), I penned a special goodbye to my facebook friends which read:
A COUNTRY WITHOUT FACEBOOK??
“Please note: effectively immediately (upon boarding the bus from Laos to China), I will no longer have access to Facebook. My email–email@example.com–will be the ONLY way to reach me.
I know this is difficult to imagine for those who are now among the facebook-addicted, but when I’m in China, and I type facebook.com into my browser, unlike you, I get a blank screen with an error message.
That means I cannot see wall posts. I cannot reply to messages. I cannot reply to any of your friends’ friend requests. I cannot effectively poke or be poked.
Of course, there are ways around the block they call “The Great Firewall of China,”, but these aren’t dependable and functionality is limited.
So, when thoughts/conversations arise on why I haven’t responded to people’s friend requests or comments (“I thought you said he was a nice guy!” or “How rude! I asked him a question and he just ignored me!”) Remember the following (please rehearse now:) “That’s right. I remember. Walt cannot read this. He’s in China, the country without Facebook.” “
And with that, I was on my way to check out of the Zuela Guesthouse in Luang Namtha, Laos. The tuk tuk would pick me up at Minority Restaurant, so I would have a chance to say a final goodbye to Vanxai.
Vanxai Inyasone, owner of Minority Restaurant. Check out the website to meet his wife and staff.
After a short tuk tuk ride to the station, the bus to Jinghong arrives, passengers board, and we’re soon on our way!
at the bus station. “Hope this helpful stranger gives me back my camera before the bus pulls out.”
We drive for about 1.5 hours… We arrive at the Laos Immigration departure station, and get quickly processed through and, as I did when entering Laos a few days earlier, walked the few meters separating the two nations’ border crossings toward the Xishuangbanna, China Immigration center, so I could speed up the process.
And then, it happened.
On December 8, 2010, at approximately 10:20am, I became the first Jamaican citizen to attempt to cross from Laos into China!
I know this because the border agents told me so. And soon, everyone else on the bus would know it, too, because since the border agents had never seen or processed a Jamaican passport ever before at this port, the processing of my re-entry into China delayed the entire bus load of people for almost an hour! Yes, a bus load of Lao, Chinese, two Americans, and an (equally annoyed) bus driver were camped outside in the parking lot waiting for the border agents to do whatever it is that border agents do when they encounter a passport they’ve never seen before.
Wait a moment, please. Please have a seat. I will go upstairs.
Meanwhile, I got a chance to practice my Mandarin with the agents who were waiting with me. (Always willing to educate border guards to learn more about Jamaica than Usain Bolt!)
As time dragged on, however, I realized that I had to do something. This could turn into an overnight trip. I was already feeling bad about delaying the other travelers, so, when the bus driver edged ever closer to the immigration checkpoint, and started giving me an encouraging sign to go upstairs to where the agent had taken my passport, I was in agreement with him and headed upstairs to put a little pressure on the process.
I started wandering around the second floor of the Immigration Center peeking into each open door to find the lady agent who had disappeared with my passport.
Soon, another guard spotted me in the (official/restricted) area, and approached me. I communicated to him that my passport was being held up in a process, and I pointed down to the waiting bus driver and passengers some of whom had gathered at the Immigration exit area to see what the delay was.
“Do not worry,” the guard said, “the bus will wait for you.”
“I know they’ll wait. That’s just it. I don’t WANT them to have to wait. The whole bus is being delayed because of something that I know has nothing to do with the authenticity of my paperwork–since my passport is valid, and I have my valid entry-permit, but most likely has to do with the administrative stuff in YOUR computer system.”
(Of course, that’s what I WOULD HAVE said had I been able to speak fluently in Putonghua. Instead, I just said, <<”I know.”>>
Soon, the young lady agent who had been scrolling through microfiche for that hour saw me outside her door, and came outside. The guard communicated to her the delayed bus situation, and, quite agreeable, she told me she would photocopy my passport and continue what it is she needed to do while she let me go through the immigration processing.
I retrieved my passport from her, headed quickly downstairs, and, whoaaaa! I then encountered a long line of passengers from another incoming bus who were attempting to go through Immigration. Not wanting to wait any longer, I called to a guard and asked (signs and gestures) if he could assist.
He understood my intentions and told me to go to the front of the line, and then explained to the waiting queue (I imagine that’s what he said) that I was to be next on line.
“You go first.”
NOTE: Um, by the way, as one of the guards told me earlier, there’s no photo-taking allowed inside the immigration area. I have no idea how those last two photos got into my blog post! Wikileaks?
One rubber stamp later, I was out the door and–along with the driver and few other passengers by my side–heading towards the parking lot and back on the bus. To tell you the truth, no one on the bus really seemed that perturbed, but I didn’t like delaying the “3-hour-trip-that-takes-6-hours” bus ride any more than it had to be delayed!
So, please make note of this new bit of international Jamaica-China-Laos foreign-relations trivia. Here it is, again, in case you missed it: On December 8, 2010, at approximately 10:20am, Walt F.J. Goodridge became the first Jamaican passport-holder to SUCCESSFULLY cross from Laos into China! (There may be a test later, or it may come in handy for a “Jeopardy” or “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” question. Pay attention, and you won’t need to use one of your lifelines!)
So, about an hour later, we’re on our way! Over hill and dale. Ever northward through scenic southern China….
scenic southern China
Back to Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, China!
Back “home” in Jinghong! What’s that, you ask? Ha! THAT’S nothing! Wait until I show you a photo of FOUR people on a moped! You think I’m kidding?
December 24, 2010 2 Comments
So, if you read the previous installment, then I’m sure you’re wondering if my passport with my China visa came in sufficient time for me to leave for my trip….Well, first I’ll say that I’m a “go with the flow” type person, and when things happen that would disappoint your average nomad, I look for the hidden benefit or guidance in the situation, and take it all in stride… With that said, to answer your question…
YES!!!!…. GOT IT!!!
On Wednesday it was still in Pago Pago, American Samoa, then, it had to go back to Honolulu, then to Guam, then to its destination, Saipan!
And the reason it happened, I surmise, was simply to give me a little suspenseful story to tell! For those of you who followed my escape, return and subsequent re-escape from America in the book, Jamaican on Saipan, you’ll know that there’s ALWAYS some mlittle last-minute drama that “threatens” to derail the my adventures!
On the contrary, this trip to China had been amazingly seamless and smooth!
Once I realized I had a friend in Beijing, I found a Saipan-direct-to-Beijing ticket timed perfectly to fit my calendar, sold my car in less than 24 hours from the moment I decided to, etc. Yes, everything was easy as pie! Eerie. Then, my ticket ends up in Pago Pago, American Samoa! (Tell you the truth, I was actually quite relieved when the drama hit!)
As my friend, Stacey, commented on my American Samoa post:
And so it has!
Yes, fear not, erstwhile reader. As my good friend, Erroll Paden, used to say: “I ain’t goin’ out like that!”
So, even before my passport arrived in hand, I spent the last few days on the island of Saipan saying goodbye to key people, returning, donating, and giving away more items like my bicycle, trampoline*, my juicer (that was an emotional one), and finding a new home for my favorite plant (Thanks, Ashley!)
I’m scheduled for departure late, late, late on Sunday, so….by the time you read this……I’ll already be in China….unless, of course, um…something unforeseen happens!
August 30, 2010 No Comments
Subject: Jamaican in China–You sent my passport where???? American Samoa????!
Date: August 26, 2010 3:00:55 PM GMT+10:00
So, it’s Thursday, August 26. I’m scheduled to leave for China on Sunday night…August the 29th. For some mysterious reason, my passport hasn’t arrived yet, so I decided to check the USPS site to see if there is any information. Shouldn’t be an issue, I think to myself, I’ve received Express Mail packages from the states many times without delay.
So, anyway, I enter the tracking number, and lo, and behold…my passport is in American Samoa!
According to the usps.com site:
Your package has been missent, and every effort is being made
to get it to you as quickly as possible.
Missent, August 23, 2010, 1:39 pm
Missent, August 23, 2010, 5:51 am
Notice Left, August 23, 2010, 5:10 am, PAGO PAGO, AS 96799
Arrival at Post Office, August 23, 2010, 5:06 am, PAGO PAGO, AS 96799
Processed through Sort Facility, August 20, 2010, 10:22 am, HONOLULU, HI 96820
Processed through Sort Facility, August 19, 2010, 8:04 pm, KEARNY, NJ 07032
Electronic Shipping Info Received, August 17, 2010
So, just to put things into perspective, here: The flight I’m booked on is the last outgoing flight of a limited series of special charter flights direct from Saipan to Beijing. The ticket is non-refundable. There are no other flights to Beijing from Saipan. My car is sold. My apartment lease is up. My friend in Beijing is ready to pick me up as planned…. AND….someone in Pago, Pago has my passport and I need it in 2 days or else the whole trip is kaput! If it doesn’t arrive by 12 noon Saturday (the last day of mail delivery for the week), then I won’t be able to get it until the post office opens up for business at 9am Monday morning.
Ahhh, what would life be without a little suspense and drama?
August 26, 2010 No Comments