How to WIN at losing your passport!

I don’t know what exactly is best to do when you lose your passport, but this is what I did and it went better than I could have hoped for!

Less than 2 weeks before I am due to surprise my two elder brothers for their secret 30th birthday party back in England, I am still in the heart of northern Myanmar on blissfully unaware that I am about to, or already have, lost my passport.

Wrapped in an elegant leather case (a present from a special friend of mine from Wales) and 75% full of beautiful (often expensive) visas and border entry stamps from the last 7 months of this once in a lifetime adventure, my priceless memento and my only way of getting home, holds significant financial, political and emotional value right now.

It’s 14:30 and I left Mrauk U yesterday morning. This bit of the journey was a long one and by 16:30 the sun was lowering in the sky. I’d eaten three bags of tasty fried noodles with veg and the bouncy tracks and overgrown hedgerows had partially filled the cabin with torn leaves and cloudy yellow pollen!

The fluffy white clouds across the sky were that perfect type for cloud spotting so whilst my possessions and limbs shook with the bouncy rusting carriage, I gazed contently upwards listening to the Up theme tune (“Married Life“) in my head and watched the countryside roll peacefully past. What a wonderful world.

When I finally collapsed into bed at the Nam Khae Mao guest house I realised my beloved passport was no longer with me! This is how to win at losing a passport:

1. Remember the Lego Movie

Everything IS awesome! What an exciting prospect lays ahead — I will now get to see what an embassy looks like, I’ll be a source of passport retrieval knowledge for future travellers, I’ve got one less thing to carry in my back-pack and I don’t have to worry about losing my passport!

2. Tell some people

Knowing and accepting that everything is awesome is a very reassuring sentiment. I decided to make a couple of calm phone calls to various railway stations, informed the local police and let the British consular services know I had started a passport hunt.

On paper, that sounds difficult, in reality I just went to enough hotels until I found someone that could translate the situation well enough to do it all for me!

3. Don’t worry about it!

After the 34 hours of journeying (21hr bus + 13hr train) I was pretty sleepy and genuinely had no trouble falling asleep! My work as a happiness coach might have helped me out here!

When I woke up I had 9 days before my flight home but the phone calls last night had pretty much set most of the bureaucratic wheels in motion so there wasn’t much more I could do!

Instead of tracing my steps from last night and search the train myself, and instead of phoning the other train stations or operating crew, and instead of getting a bus back to the Embassy figure out what I am supposed to do, I decided to go for a 2 day hike into the hills of Hsipaw!

4. Get a police report

The internet told me I needed this to confirm the passport has been reported missing or stolen.

My experience with Burmese police was pretty fucking hilarious…. I walked into the police station (a.k.a the prison), said hello, and sat down with two chaps that didn’t speak a single word of English.

Fortunately for me the owner of a local guest-house had written a note for me to pass to them which presumably said something slightly more confusing than: “purple monkey, dishwasher, fluorescent summer solstice, this chap has just lost his passport, strawberries, milk, bread, eggs, bananas, can you write a police report to confirm this please”. After lengthy confusion they handed me a hand written scrap of paper, signed by a teenager in an army uniform.

I was aware of the necessity to maintain their appearance of great power and importance, so laughed at them and motioned for it to by typed up on an actual piece of paper? They fortunately laughed as much as I did, (though after a painful delay) and 30 fairly awkward minutes later the printed copy of all three sentences was produced…written in genuinely beautiful (yet illegible) Burmese “squiggle” font!

The ride back to the hotel in the back of their police Jeep breaking all two of the traffic laws in Myanmar was pretty much constant hysterics as we laughed at the countless near death experiences for any locals near the road we were careering down!

6. Go to the Embassy and get an Emergency Travel Document (ETD).

This document will get you home and is like a single trip passport. First however I had the educational experience of getting the police report translated into English, changing up my last $200 for 208k Kyat to pay for the ETD and figure out if I could actually enter Thailand with the ETD.

162,000 Kyat and my last spare “Passport/visa” photo later, I crossed all my fingers the estimated availability date of my ETD on 24th wouldn’t be postponed!

7. You’ll be fine!

The Sunrises in Myanmar were without a doubt the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. Deeply humbling every time.

Don’t change too many plans! Loads of people lose their passports all the time, and embassies are well practised at getting you home safely, so don’t miss out on your trip over a silly little piece of bureaucratic paper that tells big brother which side of an imaginary line on a map you’re standing on.

By combining my two favourite motto’s (“Everything always works out for the best in the end” and “If you wait for long enough, someone else will do it for you”) I decided to spend the last 2 days down in Hpa An!

At the airport immigration desk I had a good laugh with Mr Mainoo (may’oo) the immigration officer I had met at the Embassy as he rather vocally yet swiftly and efficiently processed my “VIP immigration” paperwork.

A very long handshake ended in my new favourite social interaction — The Awkward Pulsating Hand Squeeze Swap. This rare and glorious awkwardness requires specific conditions to be met: one person wants a brief handshake but really doesn’t want to come across rudely, and the other wants to shake hands for as long as possible but accepts the inevitability that the other person will probably want to end the handshake before sundown. After a standard handshake, the first person tentatively initiates the universally understood “final squeeze” that would normally signify the end of the handshake and time to let go. The other person misinterprets this squeeze as a reinvigoration of the handshake and then squeezes tighter! This can then lead to a hilarious and repetitive exchanging squeeze, that passes between the hands with no-one able to successfully end the handshake!

Person one then releases just in time for the other person to start squeezing, they realise it’s actually a “let go now” signal and releases their grip, however a millisecond too slowly, as the first person is already thinking “ah shit the handshake is still going on, might as well squeeze properly again then…”

We lasted about 5 seconds longer than a normal handshake and there was way more eye contact than I was comfortable with! It was a truly beautiful send off from this hyper-loving super-happy Eden.


Originally published at abitofthejourney.wordpress.com on November 26, 2014.

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