I Forgot my Visa
(will Mastercard do?)

The planets were aligned: my request to travel business class, buried deep in an email that began with a simple question, had inadvertently been approved. I was embarking on a grand frequent flyer mileage acquisition flight just before the company rolled out the ‘tube class’ travel mandate.
The trip began in the Bay Area and, since the company was paying, the standards of business conduct mandated that I actually work. There was no time for that, so instead I went to corporate meetings: lengthy sessions punctuated by interminable debate, discussion and discourse. These gatherings oozed ideas and concepts, approaches and campaigns, programs and policies.

Because little was being accomplished, I made every effort to productively utilize my time in California. (I went Christmas shopping.) Aware that I’d have spare time, I had packed lightly in order to have room for holiday purchases. As a result, I planned to do laundry during the trip.

It made no sense to attack the washing until my departure for China, so I waited. Thus, I arrived at the single washing machine just after a family of six (and a Himalayan pile of underwear) had commandeered the laundry room. Because I had not completely adjusted to California time, I wanted to retire early. But ‘early’ was out of the question: I didn’t get to the washer until 11:30 PM. At midnight, I loaded everything into the dryer. One quarter shy, I walked to the front desk to get change.
“Sorry. We’re completely out of quarters.”
“You don’t have
any quarters?”
“A large family just cleaned us out.”
“How about you – personally?” I asked. “I’ll trade you a ten dollar bill for one quarter.”
“Sorry, I don’t have any change at all.”
“You don’t understand. My underwear, my wet and soggy underwear, is sitting in the dryer. I’m leaving tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I
really need a quarter.”
I drove to an all-night convenience store to get change. It was well after midnight by the time I got finished. Prudently, I decided to try to buy socks at the airport.
The flight to Beijing was typical (for me). “Randomly” selected for special security screening, I was bemused to see that the only other selectee was a mother travelling with 3 young children, a diaper bag, a large purse, an even larger stroller (a Main Battle Stroller), several shopping bags and three miniature backpacks. Wondering how the two of us had set off security alerts, I patiently waited as children’s diapers were examined and bare feet wanded. I helped catch the two year old who had been happily sleeping until identified as a security threat.
The flight from San Francisco via Tokyo was uneventful. A snow squall greeted our landing in Beijing. But, because I was travelling business class, I was first to the immigration desk. It was then that things began to go awry. The question was simple.
“Where China visa?”
“I don’t have a China visa.” I replied with a s
inking feeling.
“Chinese peoples go to America need visa. American peoples come to China need visa.
Where China visa?”
“Yes, I don’t have a China Visa. What do I do now?”
Looking at me like I was a simpleton who had just arrived from Pluto, the immigration agent called his boss. “
At least,” I thought, “I’m making progress.”
Where China visa?”
“I didn’t know that I needed a Chinese visa.” I replied. “What do I do now?”
“Chinese peoples go to America need visa. American peoples come to China need visa.
Where China visa?”
“I’ve got a MasterCard. Will that do?”
“Need China visa.
Where China visa?”
“I do
not have a Chinese visa. The company didn’t tell me that I needed one.”
Surrounded by a complex mixture of police and the (
red) army, I was getting a bit worried. A more senior officer eventually arrived.
“Where China visa?”
I sighed. “I don’t have a Chinese visa. What do I do now?”
“Chinese peoples go to..”
“… America need visa. I know, Americans come to China need visa. I don’t have one. I didn’t know. But I’m here. What do I do now?”
“Why you no have China Visa?”
Ah,” I thought, “at least a different question.” “Well,” I replied, “I didn’t know that I needed a visa to come to China. My company didn’t…”
“Chinese peoples go to America need visa. American peoples come to China need visa.”
“I know that now,” I replied. “But I’m here. What can I do?”
“You wait.”
I pulled out the mobile phone and sent a message to my wife:

In China
No Visa
With Police

Nazy, concerned, replied immediately:

Good Luck

I knew that she wanted to come along,” I thought. An official-looking delegation marched up.
“Why are you in China?”
I’m asking that myself,” I thought. “I’m here attending a business conference,” I replied. “Thank God that I’m a seasoned traveller,” I thought, “otherwise I’d get into all kinds of messes.”
“You need an invitation from your host company.”
Eventually I found the mobile phone number of the managing director of our Beijing office. He faxed an invitation to the airport and I was allowed to purcha$e a visa for $95. ($60 for four photos, $35 for the 5-day visa.) I looked through my wallet.
“Will you take MasterCard?” I asked – for the second time that evening.
“Cash only.”
“Swiss Franc?”
Luckily, I had used the ATM machine in San Francisco. I had $95.14. I got my photos, my visa and my luggage. I was on my way.
By now, however, it was about 1:00 AM. Shuttle bus services had stopped. I needed a taxi and the taxi needed money. The ATM was broken. I talked an airline ticket agent into changing some Swiss Francs into Chinese Yuan. He also introduced me to his brother – who had a taxi.
“I visit cousin in New York.” The taxi driver was loquacious. “Why they call it Times Square? Not square. Should be Times Street.
“Tian’amen Square – that square. And big.”
“Ah…” (I was extremely loquacious in the middle of the night.)
“Who you work for?”
“Ah, so. Your lady CEO, Curly, was here in Beijing last week.”
Really? Did she bring Larry and Moe?” I thought. “I think you mean Carly.”
“How much moneys she makes?”
“More than enough. Far more than enough,” I replied as we pulled into the hotel.
This is an exciting time for the family,” I thought as the taxi as I walked into the lobby. I was in China, Nazy in Zürich, Mitra in New York and both Melika and Darius in California. “The sun doesn’t set on The Family Martin.”
Although I had to check-in with BEA, the company sponsoring my keynote speech, I had arranged the trip so that I’d have time to both see the sights and complete my Christmas shopping. Nazy, very helpful, told me to get something Chinese for everyone.
By 3:00AM, I was showered and settled. I had just dozed off when the doorbell rang. I put on a robe and opened the door. A short Chinese lady looked at me.
“Your credit card no work. You leave now!”
“Not a chance,” I replied as I closed the door. It was a corporate American Express card and it had to work. I called Amex in Switzerland to confirm that nothing was wrong. Then I called the front desk. They had swapped the month and year of the expiration date. I went back to bed.
So, after a fitful
night, eh, morning, of sleep, I was ready to see China. The hotel was connected to ‘The Oriental Malls’, so I began with a quick shopping stroll. (Nazy trained me well.) Remembering my instructions, I was dismayed to discover that the malls featured only Western Stores: Bally, Christian Dior, Gucci, Fendi, Versace, Ralph Lauren and, in fact, every designer that ever sold anything. The eating establishments were similarly recognizable: McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks. There was nothing Chinese in the entire mall. (On the other hand, Jingle Bells sounds kind of cute in Chinese.)
Undaunted, I strolled outside and into the snow for a walk into a more ‘local’ district. I knew things would work out when I realized that I had walked into the ‘
Dan Dong’ shopping area. But, it wasn’t my kind of shopping. As soon as any shopkeeper recognized a Westerner (somehow they were able to tell), they started selling. The sales pitch didn’t stop until I had walked (or run) well out of hearing range. The whole thing made me very antsy.
Shopping was rather pointless because my ATM card wouldn’t work at any of the zillions of banking machines. (I am not sure why it didn’t work, it was hard to read the Chinese instructions; even the numbers on the key pad were unrecognizable.)

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