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Published: January 13th 2010
More than Just a Bad Photo
Last summer as I readied for my move to China, I felt well prepared. I packed the right clothes, plunked in a first aid kit, and made photocopies of all of my documents. There was one aspect of preparation, however, that I wasn't sure I should follow through with - replacing my passport.
Everyone complains that their passport pictures are horrible, that their faces look funny or they were having a bad hair day. But there are no words to describe the abomination that adorns the front flap of my passport. When I tell people I have a bad passport photo, they usually say, "Aww, I'm sure it's not that
bad." That is, until they see the actual picture, at which point their faces go blank and they usually stutter out "Oh," or "I see what you mean."
The fact is, my picture looks like a man, and airport security tends to agree.
I had already been stopped at airports in Germany and the U.S. over the past year ("this is not you"), and required to provide back-up
On Koh Chang
Life is tough on the Thai islands..
identification. I mentioned to my parents that maybe I should get a new passport before I came to China, but the idea was quickly shot down.
Dad: "Aw, buglet, you look beautiful in your picture. I like you just the way you are."
Mom: "You don't need a new passport, that's silly. It's just a picture."
So I didn't get a new passport, and I took the atrocity with me to China. I've gotten several stares and been the butt of some good-natured jokes and curiosity, but I hadn't had any real problems until I went to Thailand several weeks ago.
As I tried to pass through Chinese immigration at the Kunming airport, I prepared several forms of photo identification just in case my passport raised any questions. The man who checked my passport smiled and commented on my photo. I tried to make light of it. He seemed a bit embarrassed, and almost apologetic as he called over a representative of airport security, a woman with short hair who didn't smile and looked like she meant business. She took away my passport and led me out of immigration through a side door.
So there I
was, stuck in an interrogation room of a Chinese airport. They took the situation quite seriously, asking a string of questions in Chinese. Where are you studying? Is this really your passport? Unfortunately, some stupid part of me that works hard to sabotage all instincts for staying out of trouble induced me to laughter. I could not stop laughing. Somehow the situation struck me as hilariously funny, and I simply couldn't keep a straight face. Luckily, after no more than fifteen minutes of passport verification, I was allowed on my way.
Oh, but the humiliation didn't stop there, no sirree. At a hotel in Bangkok, I handed my passport to an annoyingly pretty check-in agent, who took one look at my picture and started giggling. "Oh no, this you? This not you. This MAN!!!"
"No, it's me."
"But you look like a maaaan!" *giggle*
"Yes, I know. Can I have my room keys please?"
"Why you look this way? You should get new passport! This look like boy." *giggle giggle*
Lesson learned: When your parents tell you it's a beautiful picture, get a second opinion or risk global humiliation.
* Thailand is amazing
At the Hair Salon
Me and the hairdresser
- you know that cell phone background with the beach and the palm tree? The Thai islands are like that, but better. Still, bright blue water that lets you see right to the ocean floor, cloudless sunny skies, white sand beaches, jungles and palm trees, mango-banana shakes and peaceful hammocks by the water.
* I had a great time with Mom and Dad, who came to Kunming for a visit. We toured the city, saw the famous Stone Forest, and saw Xishan, the Western Hills.
* I worked up the courage to go to a Chinese hair salon, since my bangs desperately needed trimming. I was pleasantly surprised - they washed my hair, massaged my head, neck, back, arms, and hands, trimmed my bangs and blow-dried my hair for $2.00. The employees' faces registered disbelief when I explained that $2 is a tip for washing hair in the States.
* In its efforts to win China's National Clean City Award this year, Kunming is spotlessly clean - you can even see workers washing the leaves of trees with big fire hoses. The ensuing closure of the city's "unsanitary" barbeque stands devastated me, especially since children are still
At the Stone Forest
Mom and Me together in Yunnan's Stone Forest
pooping in the street and the barbeque places have never made me sick. However, most of the stands are finally re-opened and I am once again enjoying skewers of grilled tofu and steak.
* Even after months in China, I am still delighted with trying exotic fruits that seem to pop up everywhere. Latest on the list: tamarinds.
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