Reading time: 10 minutes
For those of you who didn’t catch my last post, it’s worth reading, as it delves into what drove me to seek out life in Asia. For those of you who did read last week’s post, let’s gather round in a circle and continue with what I like to call, The ‘Phone Incident’.
I want to start by telling you something that may seem idiotic, in fact, it is idiotic, and I don’t condone it. As the blog title states, ‘Clueless in Asia’, it’s worth noting that this is not to be overlooked for this particular incident, or in fact for this entire post.
Myself and Dick (the Scottish chin) engaged in a few more phone calls prior to me booking a flight to China, and I was somewhat dubious about it all, primarily because he didn’t seem to be taking the whole ordeal of me moving to China that seriously, but I just brushed it off as, “he must do this all the time”. I had flown alone before and travelled around Europe, but I had never been as far to China, meaning that I had never needed a visa before; so, it’s fair to say that I relied on his expertise to guide me through the process.
During one of these calls, he was quick to point out that I needed to apply for a “one-year, multiple entry M visa”, and that I needed to visit the nearest embassy to apply for it (London). I didn’t question what he said, I just took note and made my preparations; which in doing so, led me to discover that an ‘M’ visa was in fact for business, and not for work. I called Dick and questioned him about this, and once again, he was quick to point out that I needed an ‘M’ visa, and that it wasn’t necessary for me to apply for a ‘Z’ visa, (working visa) as Guangzhou had “different policies“.
A ‘Z‘ visa is for working. An ‘M‘ visa is for conducting business.
There was a part of me that knew that something wasn’t right, but I was too worried to discover that he was wrong, as then I would potentially lose the opportunity to leave England to start a new life, so I took a gamble and did as he said. On reflection, I was feeling quite vulnerable at this stage, and I often wonder if he knew that. You may be wondering, “why didn’t you ask him for a ‘Z’ visa?”, but I did, and he told me confidently that I didn’t need one. It really is important to note that I did have some notion that this all sounded very ‘dodgy’, (‘dishonest’ for non-UK readers) but I had a chance to leave, and I took it.
I won’t bore you with the application process, but if anyone would like more information on how to apply for a visa to China, don’t ask me (seriously, don’t).
Skip the application period, and jump to when I received the visa, and what happened next was more concerning news. I opened my passport to find that I was given an ‘M’ visa like I had applied for, but they had only issued 30 days on a single entry (I was supposed to get one-year multiple-entry!). I called my trusty friend Dick and told him about what I was granted by the embassy, and he seemed shocked and a little frustrated, but told me not to worry, as “we can sort it when you’re in China”.
Weeks later, I had arrived at the airport and once again, I was palpably stressed (sweating included), primarily because I wasn’t entirely confident that I could pass off having such a large rucksack for only 30 days of travel. I approached the check-in desk, to, well, check-in, and I was feeling comprehensively suspicious, as if I was some drug mule with cocaine stuffed up my…. you get the picture. After being asked some interrogatory questions and convincing the airport staff that I was a law-abiding citizen, with a sign of relief, I was given my plane ticket and had walked away with it tucked firmly into my shirt pocket, next to my palpitating heart.
Whilst waiting for the plane in the departure lounge, I took this time to reflect on what I was doing, and where I was going, and if you haven’t guessed already, I’m quite a nervous person. This nervousness of the unknown, manifested itself by me playing out possible scenarios of what to expect when I arrived in China.
The first of which, and one that I gradually began to believe, was that it was a ploy to get me to China, murder me, and harvest my organs, (I even began to plan possible escape options of the room I was imagining myself captive in). Fortunately, my vision of depravity was interrupted by my flight being announced, and I took myself to the gate. After finding my seat once aboard the plane, I was pleased to see that there were monitors on the backs of the headrests, so at the very least, I could keep my mind occupied away from all the organ harvesting; and hopefully the people next to me would feel too rude to disrupt my TV watching, to attempt to engage in awkward ‘plane chat’.
The flight I was on was bound for Hong Kong, not China (don’t worry, that was intentional). Some six or seven hours into my flight, the lights went down, and as if by magic, everyone got under their blankets and started to sleep (like a kindergarten). Like some people, I don’t sleep well on flights, it’s not that I have a fear of flying, it’s just that I’m too uncomfortable to dribble mouth wide in public, so I took this quiet time to switch on some TV, using my painful plastic plane headphones.
I was surprised to see that this lovely little monitor contained a delightful selection of media that I was familiar with, the crème de la crème though, was that it had the newest season of Game of Thrones. If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones (obviously!) you’ll know that there is an abundance of ‘stimulating’ scenes, you don’t know when they will make an appearance, though I thought everyone’s asleep, so, “it’s all right”.
So, there I was, getting into Game of Thrones, someone just got their head hacked off, the usual, and then, what do you know, a sex scene; it startled me, so much so, I leapt a little through the panic of someone seeing it, flustering awkwardly, which resulted in me pulling my headphones from the socket. These extras from this sex scene were then performing for everyone who I had woken up; so, there I was, sat there, under a blanket (because it was cold) watching what looked like cosplay porn. Just a heads up, that wasn’t ‘the incident’.
We landed in Hong Kong, and I recall being exhausted as I hadn’t slept at all. I needed to find my connecting flight, so I darted erratically around the airport, like an ant foraging for sugar (I like to be punctual), and eventually, I had found it. But with another long wait before my flight arrived, I took some time to walk around, and I got something to eat, I couldn’t tell you what I ate, as it looked look an unidentifiable roadkill (and I know my Natural History), but I didn’t care at the time, all I know was that it was some form of ‘foodage’ and I was famished.
Now for the drama.
After pretending to be relaxed and casual, by strolling around the airport some more, like a normal person, I made my way to the gate for my second and final direct flight to the big GZ (Guangzhou). My seat was located at the very back of the plane, and unfortunately, I was in the dreaded middle seat, the seat that literally breaks families up. The plane began to fill, and two passengers had made their way down to my aisle, but they seemed to be separate, (no splitting up families for me) one was a young Chinese guy, and the other, a young Chinese girl. The Chinese guy was then seated to my left, and the girl to my right; this flight was a little noisier and darker, and the temperature was much lower. From what I could see, I was the only westerner on the plane, so I did feel a little lost, but what did I expect. As it was a short flight, there were no monitors (so no cosplay porn), and there was no food (I didn’t even know what the time was, so even if I had the choice to eat, I wouldn’t have known what to of had).
On my person, I had a small khaki satchel bag (I was going for the Nathan Drake look), and on this bag, there were many small and somewhat hidden pockets. I remember this vividly as I had a mini heart attack every time I thought I misplaced my passport, only to find it in one of those pockets. The flight was coming to an end, and I was checking my emails on my phone that I had received previously from Dick, to double check as to where I was meeting him (on flight mode of course). Throughout this flight, the guy next to me had smiled at me on a few separate occasions, and there were only so many times I could ignore him, before it became awkward, so I eventually smiled back and engaged in a very brief conversation.
The seatbelt sign came on, and the announcement had informed us that we were landing soon (or so I thought, as it was only in Chinese). As soon as we had landed, the guy to my left made an upwards dash, and quite literally ran to the exit, now, I know about the whole, “I’m in a rush and I need to get off” plane race, but this was as if he had chronic diarrhoea, it was ridiculous. I, on the other hand, took my time to ensure that I had everything on my person, “passport, wallet, useless plane ticket, and phone…”. My phone was not where I put it, in fact, my phone wasn’t anywhere to be seen, I should know as I looked under the seats and between the seats (that’s literally everywhere on a plane).
My flustering attracted the cabin crew over who ‘tried’ helping (they stood there), and after I finished scrambling about the floor, the crew told me that I needed to leave and that if the cleaning crew found my phone, they’d call me (eh?), essentially, they just wanted me off the plane. By this time, I was really worked up, and I was racking my brain as to where my phone could have been; and then it struck me, “the guy, the diarrhoea guy”, of course, he stole it from me (my precious), that’s why he was trying to distract me with idle conversation, and that’s why he ran off the plane so fast (he didn’t have diarrhoea).
Now, you must remember that this phone was my lifeline, without it, I had nothing, I had zero communication with Dick and his company. I started sprinting all the way from the plane to immigration in hopes of seeing the thief; and fortunately, I did, I saw him, but he had just walked through immigration, and in front of me was a queue that us Brits would be ashamed of (it was just a bundle of people). I didn’t stand a chance of catching him, so I took a right and ran to security, and through my puffed-out, wheezed breathing, I told them, “that guy stole my phone!” (pointing at the thief) the security guy then took me past immigration, (leaving my passport behind) and we both took to the escalators, and as we did, the security man got on his radio and I can only assume, called in backup (a tad dramatic).
I saw the thief collect his suitcase from the conveyor belt, and as he did, three or four security men surrounded him. This guy looked so puzzled and bemused, but once he saw me, his expression changed, “guilty”, I thought to myself. With the culprit at hand, we all made our way back up the escalators, and it was then that the guy had asked me, “what’s this about? I haven’t done anything!, I looked at him with penetrating and judgmental eyes and replied, “you know”. I was told to sit outside the interrogation room and wait for a while, I, of course, was happy, but also concerned that Dick was waiting for me, and had maybe left already.
One guard came out and said, “he say, he don’t have phone” (looking back on it, he had pretty good English for an older man in China). I asked what would happen next, and he responded by acting out the gesture of removing clothes, “strip search”, I said to myself. I don’t know how many items were removed, nor do I recall the duration of the search, because my mind was fixated on something else, and this I will never forget.
As I sat outside the room in which the guy was being held, I had double checked to make sure all my belongings were with me, to ensure that when I was running, I didn’t accidentally drop anything. As I moved my hand about my bag, I ran my hand over something small and rectangular shaped, I paused, and the colour from my face had drained away, “sh*t on it!”, the sheer horror, yes, it was my phone, and in one of those little bloody hidden pockets. The absolute dread and embarrassment I felt, this poor guy too, who I had just subjected to a humiliating inspection (oh the humanity).
I held that phone inside my bag (no way could I just pull it out), and I just sat there, I couldn’t just walk away, I had to let him know that everything was okay. Now, I think that this serves as a good example of what can happen when you’re not in the right frame of mind, essentially you lose all good sense of judgment, and your ability to analyse a situation goes straight out of the window. The guy was okay, in fact, he seemed unfazed by it all, and I told him how sorry I was, he even told me, “I understand, this is China after all”, and with a pat on the back, and a grin from left to right, he added, “welcome to China”.
“Welcome to China”, I had thought to myself, I did it, I made a mess of it, but I was there. Unfortunately for me, it only got worse as I went to meet Dick for the first time, who was supposedly just down the bottom of the escalators somewhere. Was he going to lure me into a trap? Or was he just a normal man? In fact, was he even there at all? Did I learn nothing from the phone incident? Who knows, all I know is, I was clueless in Asia.