Welcome to my blog!

This weblog is a tribute to the people I have met during my 30 years of travel. Most are nameless, but all have touched my heart in a special way. Their actions may seem insignificant to you, but when I was lonely or lost or tired, these small acts meant everything to me. From time to time, I'll share stories of other people I've met who have also touched my heart. I hope you appreciate their stories as I share my adventures with you.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Barred from Beijing
Coming off the red-eye on the next to last leg of a three-week trip throughout Asia, I had one thought in mind – only 9 more hours until I board my flight for home. Although I wasn’t looking forward to spending the entire day at Beijing airport, I knew there were plenty of shops and restaurants where I could spend the rest of my Renminbi   

I followed the signs for transfer passengers and was relieved to see no queue as I approached the immigration hall. The immigration officer examined my papers, and sent me to another booth. The next officer began speaking to me in rapid Chinese. He kept pointing at my e-ticket and passport. After about 5 minutes, a uniformed customer service representative from Singapore Airlines (the airline I flew into China) approached and spoke with the agent. They wanted to deport me because my documents weren’t in order, and Singapore Airlines was ordered not to return to Singapore without me! 

I was caught in a bureaucratic catch-22. I needed a boarding pass to be a valid transfer passenger, but I couldn’t get a boarding pass because the ticket office wasn’t open. I hadn’t applied for a valid visa for re-entry because I thought I was a transfer passenger, so I couldn’t legally enter China because I didn’t have a valid re-entry visa. (Lesson learned – I had researched rules for transfer passengers through Beijingon the internet, and I was misled about the validity of e-tickets for re-entry. Next time, I will contact the Chinese embassy before leaving home.)

Anyway, immigration and Singapore Airlines decided to make me someone else’s problem, and a man in a crumpled uniform came to collect me. He didn’t speak English; I don’t speak Mandarin, but I had no choice except to follow him. We walked a long way along a dark corridor, and then took an elevator down into the bowels of the airport. I didn’t know where we were going – it could have been jail for all I knew. We stopped at a cramped, dirty office, and he motioned for me to take a seat on an old, stained orange chair with sticky wooden arms. Kindly, he offered me some tepid tea and stale biscuits. He took my passport and e-ticket – my only chance to get home – and left for quite some time. No good thoughts crossed my mind as I sat and stared at the walls and watched the minutes tick by. Of course, I had a book in my briefcase, but I didn’t dare take it out to read – it was Soul Mountain by 2000 Nobel Prize winning Chinese author
Gao Xingjian, a book banned in China.

The uniformed man finally came back, boarding pass and passport in hand. He then escorted me to the Business Center, where I spent the rest of the day. Although not a word passed between us, I fully understood that he tried to put me at ease throughout my ordeal, and for that, I was grateful.
 Even so, I was ecstatic when my flight was called. I thought things were finally going my way when the flight attendant paged me before the plane door closed (perhaps an upgrade to business class?). But, alas, I was informed that my luggage didn’t make it on the flight. Apparently, the transfer time was too short! 

Bonus: To read the first page of Soul Mountain, click on this link:
12:57 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fast Forward Forty
My first memory of a simple act of kindness by a stranger was when I was 12. I had a minor accident with my bike, and I fell down a ditch near a little white house. The kind lady of the house came out, brought me some lemonade, and cleaned and dressed my wound. The woman has since passed on, but I never drive by that house without remembering her goodness. The scar on my knee is a constant reminder as well.  So let’s fast-forward forty years, more or less. As an experienced cyclist with a business trip planned to the Netherlands, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a biking adventure. My destination was Haarlem, so I decided a 50-mile trip to Delft was very doable in a day. After all, the direction I would be traveling was south, so the trip would be all downhill, right?  I prepared by regularly attending spinning class, researching bike rentals, and ordering bike path maps. I knew each city along the way had a train station, so if I got tired, I could just hop a train back to my hotel. I even had two local colleagues write down instructions in Dutch and their phone numbers in case of an emergency. I was ready!  However, as we know, history repeats itself, so, yes, I had a minor accident. And like my first incident, a kind woman approached me as I lay on the ground with a light rail train looming ever closer. She helped me onto my feet and gathered my belongings as I murmured “Dank u” in a very bad Dutch accent.

Please join me as I tiptoe through the tulips on my journey to Delft by watching this video.

Bonus: If you want to get a feel for life in Delft in the late 1600's, check out the movie "Girl with a Pearl Earring". It is an excellent fictionalized story of Johannes Vermeer's famous painting. You can also check out this blog: http://girl-with-a-pearl-earring.20m.com/
2:02 pm edt          Comments

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