I shared this on TACAweb a few weeks ago, and then remembered that i haven't shared it with you guys!

Last February, my passport was stolen on the flight back from Moscow to Beijing...Here is the story...

A few people have asked about passport issues. Earlier this year i had probably the biggest passport problem possible - mine was stolen!

It was on a plane from Moscow to Beijing, and when i got to Beijing, i realised that someone on the plane had stolen my passport, mobile phone and video camera (they were all in one travel bag. Luckily, my wallet was somewhere separate). The staff on the plane pulled my bags apart and shook all my clothing, expecting me to have just lost it. Try not to do what i did and get angry and start throwing things. I nearly lost my wallet by throwing it across the plane!

Firstly, if you land in China with no passport, don't expect them to help. The people on the gate in PEK spent about 10 minutes wandering around on their mobile phones while i made a break for it and went to immigration. They will NOT let you through, nor will they call the Embassy for help. They will just put you back on the next flight going to your previous destination (this is illegal under International Law - you should be able to contact the Embassy on request. The airline will be fined for this). they will also like to talk about you in front of your face in Chinese. A quick 'I understand' soon stops this, as well as explaining that you are not stupid, nor are you a criminal. Accept it and don't expect your luggage to follow. The airline will sort it out.

Just get back on the plane and return. When you land, generally someone at Immigration will have been told that you are on the plane with no passport, you will have to wait for all the passengers to disembark before you and someone will come to escort you off the plane. Expect to be treated like a criminal. technically, you are. As far as they are concerned, somehow you boarded a plane without a passport.        

When you get off the plane, ask to speak to the Embassy. You will not be allowed to leave the airport, usually, you will not even be allowed to leave the Departure lounge. However, you WILL get to speak to the Embassy. It may not be a consul in person, it will probably be over the phone. You will have to give the number of the stolen passport, your full name, date of birth and place of birth.

When this happened to me, i spoke to a man at the British Embassy in Moscow. I spoke to him for about 10 minutes and he was lovely! He asked questions to make sure i was British (passport number, full name, date and place of birth). he also asked for my parents' phone number in the UK to check that i was who i said i was. Luckily (or not) i was born in one of the most embarrassing places in England, so no-one who was trying to pretend to be British would pretend to be born there...I had to admit where i was born. He then asked the Russian airline to allow me to call the UK to tell my parents that i was coming home. The airline confirmed the landing time and terminal and i was allowed to call my parents to get them to pick me up.

Sometimes, you will be given Emergency Travel Documents. You are supposed to have these legally, and anyone asking questions at the other end (my sister phoned pretty much every department of LHR airport and they were obsessed with these documents) will want to know about them. Naturally, if you are in the air, the person at the other end can't contact you, but sometimes the people at the airport can't grasp this fact. Other times, they will just give their permission for you to travel. The airline will still be fined a huge amount for allowing you to travel with no passport. Expect all travel to be a pain in the behind from now until you land at home. At every gate, you will be held until the gate-person can call the Embassy themselves to check that you are allowed to fly (they're covering their own backsides). Eventually, you will get on a plane back home.

When you call home before you fly, ask whoever is coming to get you to bring your birth certificate and any other identifying paperwork (my dad brought his old passport that had me on it as a child). They will probably be spoken to by someone in Immigration. Don't be worried. Immigration are just doing their job and making sure that you are legally allowed to enter the country. They also understand that you're probably thinking that you'll end up in a little room with a man with rubber gloves. They want to make the process as smooth as possible. Don't be scared of immigration in your own country!

Other countries may be different, but going through British Immigration at LHR i was asked again for the stolen passport number, my date and place of birth and my full name. They also asked for a description of my dad (who, incidentally said that he had the most original excuse ever for not going to work - I've got to repatriate my daughter!). Someone alerted the people in the office when i was at the immigration desk and they went to see my dad. After about five minutes waiting at the desk, immigration waved me through and i could go home. My luggage did not get on the same plane, so the airline couriered it to me a few days later. If your luggage is not there when you get to arrivals, go to the desk and fill in a form.

The best advice for anyone if this happens to you is to accept it. Just be calm (i know it's difficult!!) and accept that something bad has happened. It has happened, there is nothing you can do about it and there is no point overthinking the situation. Go through the right channels, and ask to see the Embassy at every turn. If you are refused, take a note of the time and place. If you can, take note of any ID number shown. It is Illegal under International Law to refuse access to the Embassy, and the Embassies take this very seriously! 

Always keep a note of your passport number, and if you have any other photographic ID, keep it separate in case you need to use it later. Now, i keep a copy of my passport ID page, my visa and any other documents (invitation letter etc.) on a USB stick that i keep separately to everything else (i actually fly with it on a lanyard around my neck so that it definitely can't be stolen). This is so that if i need to, i can still prove my identity. This can also save time at Immigration if you do lose your passport. The authorites all have computers in their offices and can load up your information from the USB stick to make sure.

When you get back to your home country, go to bed! Have a good sleep! You have to report your passport (and anything else) stolen within 3 days of landing. They prefer within 24 hours. Just go to the police station taking any ID you have with you and report your passport stolen. give them the passport number and the place of theft (they will accept in the air - give them the flight number, time, departure place and destination). Your passport number is usually already on the system as a stolen passport from your entry to your home country. You need to get a reference number from the police to get a new passport.

After the whole affair, i've been told that it cost the airline £20,000 for every flight i took without a passport, and then an 'undisclosed amount' for being refused access to the Embassy. I emailed the airline and got a pretty poor apology, but i have been lead to believe that the gate-people at PEK no longer work there. It was a pain in the backside, and it was absolutely terrifying! I would like to thank Androv and Sergei on the flight back to Moscow who gave me whisky until i fell asleep! Lack of sleep and anger are the worst bits. Once you've slept and accepted the situation, you can laugh at it. I laughed my way through Moscow and UK Immigration. When they asked for passport, i just replied stolen - find the thief, find my passport...they laughed too and then took me somewhere that could help. When i went through British immigration, i asked them how much a bribe would cost...they laughed too. Keep a sense of humour! Laughing is better than crying and allows you to cope.

So, in conclusion, stay calm, keep any identifying information backed up on a portable drive and any photo ID separate to your passport. It is not a disaster, no-one is going to kill you! See the funny side of everything. Once you get over it, it makes an interesting story for the future!


*also posted on the Thomas Cook Win a Kindle competition page: http://book.flythomascook.com/news/Write-and-Win-a-Kindle--998/?aff_id=395051&mpch=ads *
 
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(written on 1st Sept)

Well, my first impressions this time are very similar to last time – the people are wonderful. There is nothing that they will not do for you. I only had to think about what I wanted at Hong Kong Airport, and someone appeared to show me the way.

The plane journeys were long. London to Hong Kong was 10hrs. That one went by quite quickly – I watched a few films, a but of comedy and played a few computer games.

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The wait at Hong Kong was made bearable by the people that I talked to, and the coffee shop with free internet access...Hong Kong to Chongqing was a short flight, and I tried to sleep for most of it. However, every time I started to drift of properly, the air hostess came over and started asking questions 'you want pillow?' 'you want newspaper?'. Then lunch was served, and then it seemed to be time to land.

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Travelling alone is always a bit worrying for me. I get a bit paranoid that a single female traveller looks suspicious. I got stopped at Hong Kong and they asked to see my make up bag (apparently something in there looked like an arrow head), and to see my first aid kit (they picked up tablets on the X-ray), but thankfully, once they had had a good look, they were quite happy that I wasn't planning to killing anyone and I was let on my way with smiles.

Coming in to Chongqing was interesting. Susan was late, having been stuck behind a truck on fire, so  was a bit stranded for 20 minutes...and a bit worried that maybe I had told her the wrong date, or the wrong time or something.  Went outside to smell China, and she pulled up and yelled 'Fiona' out of the window at me. We packed my bags into the car and started driving for the 50 minute drive to the college.  Wish i'd known beforehand that it was 50 minutes. I needed to go to the toilet as we started to descend to land...

Susan and I spent the journey talking and laughing and making plans. She wants me to teach her English (she speaks more English than I do Mandarin...), she wants to refine her English and learn to pronounce some of the harder sounds better. She said that she has troube wth my name because of the 'n' in it, she has a tendency to call me Fiola to get round the problem. I told her that Fee would be fine. She also wants to cook for us, and to take me shopping. She loves shopping! We talked about our families. Surprisingly, for a Chinese family, there are 4 children. She explained that her parents are both teachers and they love children, so paying for the 3 extra wasn't a problem for them.

We arrived in the college and went straight to the flat. I'm in quarantine with the other two British teachers that have arrived for 5 days. We have to be in quarantine in case we have swine flu. This will mean 5 days in the flat. We might be able to go out in th evening when there are not so many people around, but we are not allowed to have free reign yet. Every day we have to take our temperature and report the findings. I'm not sure that I want to know what happens if our temperatures are high...

The flat's ok. If you ever think of coming here, don't expect a palace! The walls need repainting, and furniture needs cushions (and so does the bed...i'll come to that later), and there are cockroaches the size of my thumb! I don't have a problem with insects, or spiders, but these cockroaches are mean! They start scuttling towards you, like they're going to attack! I killed the biggest one  last night, and when I get some cleaning stuff, i'll get rid of the body, but at the moment, its there as a warning to the other one that's hiding in the bathroom.

The flat has 2 bedrooms, a larger one wit a window shelf (mine) and a smaller one (apparently, i'll be living with an Irish girl). It has a living room that has a wooden sofa (that looks like it folds out to be a bed...but there are no cushions), some wooden chairs, a TV, a fridge, a table and an air conditioning unit in it. It has the decorations left by the previous tenants – fairy lights and a painting of a roaring fire, as do the rooms.

My room is ok, it has a wardrobe, two cupboards, a shelf unit, a desk and a bed in it. The bed is possibly the most uncomfortable thing I have ever slept on! It is a wooden block with a thin mattress and a couple of thin quilts on top, and then a thin quilt on top of that. I think I might need to go and invest in a thicker quilt come winter time.

At the moment, it is 5am. I went to bed at about 11pm, and got woken up at 1 by my mum ringing to see if I had got here ok. I rang my parents from Hong Kong, but had no phone service here...until 1am it seems. I was then woken again at 3 by a friend from home sending me a text... I woke up at 4 on my own, convinced it was about 10am. I wish it was. I'm writing this now because i'm too awake to sleep. This is quite ridiculous, I did 30 hours on an hours sleep. I should be fast asleep now! I think the bed hasn't helped. My hips hurt and feel bruised, and the stress and sweat of yesterday has given me a nice attack of Urticaria too, so I have a swollen itchy hand, and itchy patches on my hips and thighs. I've had some anti histamines, so hopefully, it should go down soon. I want to have a shower, but the big cockroach's brother is hiding in there somewhere. I might have to get the boys to come in on a roach hunt!

I also want to clean. It is not very clean. I understand that CQ is dusty because there is a lot of building work going on, but some of this is dirt that has been left by the previous tenants. Sadly, it appears that although they left us green tea (now inhabited by the cockroach's little brother and what looks like 6 different types of mould, and some spices, they didn't leave any cleaning materials, or anything to clean with.

The problem is that i'm not allowed to leave for 5 days, so i've written a list of things that are needed here. I need to add coke and orange juice to it too. There is no food and drink. We have a water bottle, but as with most of the purified water here, the water is bitter. I asked for a bottle of coke last night, but I am dependent on the college for food at the moment. Susan and Sawyer (our Chinese friends) went out last night and got food and some coathangers for me! I think I need to send them out today for stuff. I also need to get internet access soon so that I can get the thing for my boxes that are waiting for me at the airport, then I can send Susan to pick them up. I'm hoping that I don't need to pay any import duties on them because they are personal effects, but i'll give her some money just in case. I do need to go to the bank and get some cash out, I have enough to last me, but probably not that long once i've bought cleaning supplies and food and drink.

I could do with a cup of tea...but there is no kettle, and I have no milk or sugar. The quarantine thing could really get me down after a while I think.

I'll be teaching 16 classes a week, each at 45 minutes a session. The classes start at 8:45, and go through to 12, then they stop until 14:30 and carry on until 18:00. I teach 16 classes a week, and have to go to English Corner twice a week. English Corner is where the students go to practice their English, and have conversations with each other, and with the teacher. Susan says that it is boring – they ask the same questions every week. That's ok though, I can always ask questions back.

She seemed a little surprised that I have my first lesson planned already. I spoke to someone I know who I teaching in Korea and asked them what their first lessons were. She said that she talked about herself and showed pictures of where she grew up, and English money, and then she threw a paper ball around the class and started with 'My name is...and my favourite colour is...'. I plan to do the same. It will be a good class for me to get to know the students a bit, and I think they will be interested in pictures of England, and things like my house, and my school, and the surroudning areas.

I really wish I could either shower or sleep now...I'm lucky because I took precautions and haven't been bitten by mosquitoes yet. I also spent about half an hour before I went to bed killing all the ones that I could see in the room...I've added an electric mosquito repellent to the list of stuff that I need. I have insect repellents for my skin, but I want one for the flat. I slept in a long sleeve teeshirt and pyjama bottoms – I'm sure that long arms and long trousers are what you need to stop the bugs getting at your bare skin. I also covered my feet in insect repellent (for some reason, whenever I get bitten, its always on the feet. Not the legs or the back like everyone else...nope, the feet!).

I don't know what time Susan and Sawyer are coming back today. I hope its fairly early so that I can ask them to get my boxes, and the stuff that I need. Then the quarantine won't be so bad, i've got lots of books in my boxes and cleaning should take a day or so to do.

 So...just got a knock on the door from one of the lads. Apparently it is not 6am as i'd thought, it is in fact 6pm! That means that I slept for well over 12 hours! Excellent. I'm not surprised that i've got a headache now though...i haven't had anything to drink because i've been sleeping. It also explains the urticaria – it always happens if my kidneys are not happy, so the dehydration has caused it. This is good to know, it means that i'm not allergic to something in my surroundings.

I can also forgive my back and hips for hurting as well, knowing that i've slept for well over 12 hours!

My flat has been invaded by Susan and Sawyer who are doing traditional chinese cooking for Mat's birthday. She's making Beijing Duck and Dumplings. I did think that this was rather strange for breakfast...

Looks like my boxes probably won't be got until tomorrow now though. I really need them – I only have one clean pair of trousers and I want my comfy jeans that are in the box!