We had only been in Shanghai for a few hours before we realized something was terribly wrong.
It began as we checked in at our hotel. My friend reached for the passports in her bag. The pocket in which they had been safely contained was open, and the precious documents weren’t there.
The bag was dumped out, all contents sorted through. No passports.
Our local guide conversed with the hotel staff–we needed passports to confirm our rooms, and without passports or a police report confirming that they had been stolen, we would have no place to stay.
And so we were whisked off to a local precinct of Shanghai’s police department. The drive there was completely silent, the only sound the patter of rain on the windshield.
Had we been targeted, I wondered with a disgusted feeling in my stomach. We had walked from the airport directly into our tour company’s van…how terrifying that someone had robbed us in that short time.
At the precinct, a police officer took us into a tiny, windowless room. It was stuffy and desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint, with only a card-table desk and a computer to distract the eye.
He recorded all of our information, our guide helpfully translating our responses. He asked when we had arrived in the country and, a few taps on the keyboard later, he pulled up images of us arriving at the Beijing airport weeks earlier. Then, images of us at the Shanghai airport earlier that day.
The images confirmed for him that our story was true and confirmed for me that a terrifying surveillance state is drawing nigh.
Several hours later, we were free to go. The hotel gave us our rooms and an official report of our adventures was uploaded to The Machine.
We got up early the next morning to head to the US and UK embassies. Luckily, we had copies of our papers and so didn’t anticipate temporary passports to be a problem, but I for one was not looking forward to wasting an entire precious day in Shanghai dealing with bureaucracy.
Then, the call came: the passports were found!
Because they had fallen out of my friend’s bag at the airport, and were sitting in lost and found.
Another tour guide swung by the airport to pick them up for us.