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–firstname.lastname@example.org–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?