China: Catch 22 With Chinese Characteristics (Part Two)

Shenzhen Travel Advisory

Without a passport you can’t leave China. And there are several other things you can’t do. You can’t stay in a hotel and you can’t board a train. So what happens if your passport goes missing on a Friday evening and you’ve got no place to stay and your ATM card malfunctions? Complicating matters yet further, what if Monday is a holiday?

Where do you spend the night in China when your passport has been stolen, and you can’t rent a hotel room without a passport?

I can’t go home because I don’t have a passport. I can’t stay at a hotel because I don’t have a passport.

To get a passport – even an emergency one – I need to get to a U.S. Consulate, and the nearest U.S. Consulate is a one hour’s train ride away. And I can’t buy a train ticket or board a train without a passport. So how am I supposed to get there?

This is starting to sounds like a Chinese Catch 22.

And getting a passport is only half the problem. Once I get the passport, I will still need to apply for authorization to leave China, and I don’t know what that entails.

How long is all of this going to take? And where am I supposed to sleep in the mean time?

There are a couple of hotels nearby – including a posh Shangri-La across the square from the customs building.  

I don’t know this yet, but there is another problem. It’s Friday night, and Monday is a holiday. So nothing can happen until Tuesday. So I’m talking 3 nights. I’ve got 4 nights to worry about.

There’s one other problem – I only have about US$35 in my pocket. Are there any other problems that I haven’t thought of yet?

First things first. Where do I sleep tonight? On the street?

I suddenly remember that massage parlours in China let you spend the night if you book a 3 hour massage. So I figure I can spend the night in a massage parlour. Best of all, that means I can take a well-needed shower.

But there’s a hitch … massage parlours have to check your passport if you enter after 8 pm, and it is approaching 11 pm.

There are several storefront massage parlours in Luo Hu Commercial City, a shopping mall that adjoins the customs building. Should I give one of them a try?

When I walk up the counter in one of them, the woman asks to see my ID, and I show her my Hong Kong Identification card.

“No,” she says. “You don’t have 4 stars. I need to see your passport.”

“Oh,” I sputter in Mandarin. “I forgot it. I left it at home. This is all I’ve got with me.”

The other attendant says no, but the woman at the computer takes my HKID, types something into the computer, and hands it back to me together with a key.

I’ve got a place to spend the night. And just enough money to pay for the massage and a tip – plus a couple of beers.

I’ll worry about topping up my cash supply tomorrow. That shouldn’t be a problem, should it? They took my passport, but – fortunately – my credit cards and ATM cards were in a different pocket.

Please note: I am not naming the name or the address of the massage parlour that I actually stayed at because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.


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