Passports are bits of paper that are used to prove identity. Dodgy people will pay well for stolen passports therefore, especially NZ one- which are much favoured by Mossad operatives.
Considering that the first known use of biometrics for identity was fingerprinting in ancient Babylon, it's astonishing that a piece of paper still reigns supreme into the 21st century.
After 500+ international kite events, last month I sought consular assistance for the first time when I lost my passport (and visas), in China.
During 2013 I'd had a practice run at this, in Thailand:
On a dark and stormy night while clambering up onto a high jetty from a small boat in not exactly ideal conditions, the clip on my belt bag broke. I didn't notice until we were all safely ashore, but went back with powerful torch and hung over the jetty edge staring fixedly for an hour and a half at the waves 5m below while the tide receded- successfully! At first I thought I was seeing some eel- like sea creature but it was the belt ends snaking around in the moving water. There was not a lot of water damage on account of most things being in zip-lock bags - and money is waterproof anyway- but quite a few border officials have since remarked on the somewhat decrepit state of my passport, suggesting I should get a new one. It wasn't due to expire until 2017, so bugger that.
CCTV of the man on a red bicycle getting off to pick something up.
China (Weifang) was much less dramatic, but without the unexpected happy ending.
I had a slip of paper in my passport with an address written in Chinese. After passing this to a taxi driver, I climbed in and as we drove off he handed it back- but when I went to put it away; no passport.
I made the taxi stop immediately, much to the annoyance of traffic; searched everywhere on me and in the taxi, then went back to our start point. Still no passport.
Management and office staff at Kaixuan then leapt into action and eventually accessed no less than three CCTV cameras with views of the pick-up place. 28 seconds after we drove off a man on a red bicycle rode over something close to where I'd boarded, stopped, went back, picked it up, and rode away. During the 2minutes 58 seconds from when I drove off in the taxi until I arrived back, 14 people walked or bicycled past this point but only that one stopped or appeared to notice anything. Maybe this was my passport, maybe not.
And then the adventure began.
I was never particularly worried. As far as I could see, the worst outcome would be having to stay for an extra week- and going to the Xiamen kite festival that had been put back 3 weeks because of a typhoon (which didn't show). Not being allowed to travel would be a solid excuse for not taking the Hoberg sawmill to an event in NZ on the same weekend that I'd promised to do.
But I thought, this will be an interesting experience, and it was.
Contacting NZ Consular Services, I wasn't expecting a response like that accorded Englishman Robert Jenkins in the 18th Century. Captain Jenkins was caught smuggling by the Spanish Coastguard in 1731. They let him go- after cutting off one of his ears as a mark of their disapproval. In 1739 England declared war on Spain in outrage at this treatment of one of their citizens, finally settled after heavy losses of British triangular trade (slave) ships in 1748.
But then, I hadn't lost any bodily appendages either, though with the fuss that surrounds proving identity today, maybe it would have been easier if I had. I was hoping for prompt replacement of my lost passport- 2 or 3 days seemed reasonable.
But this didn't happen, and unfortunately the process did rather confirm various prejudices I have about bureaucracies.
Though not all; once I was past the first layer, (which took 24 hours) people at the various NZ Consular offices in China were friendly and patient.
On the second day they told me that an "emergency travel document" (ETD) could be issued at any one of our consular offices (Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou were mentioned), and that I would need to bring the police report of the lost passport.
At this point I asked how it would be possible for me to get to any of these places (averaging about 1000km from Weifang) seeing as in China, foreigners require a passport for all travel (train and plane), and even for staying in hotels.
The response to this was "Oh yes I see, that's a bit difficult"- as though this was complete news to them.
But within an hour or so they'd made a new offer; the ETD could be sent to me in Weifang, and they wouldn't actually need the police report - which was likely to take a week to extract from local authorities.
I'm pretty curious as to why this process, as I experienced it, needed to be a negotiation requiring multiple phone calls and emails over 2 days.
And then there was a second hitch; there was no official way other than cash on the spot to make the NZ$350 payment for the ETD (which can later be credited against a new passport). I suggested credit cards, and every other electronic payment system but no, "we don't do any of those". I even suggested couriering cash, to which the response was "oh no, we wouldn't recommend that". Reliable at-a-distance payment systems were in use in Babylon 3 or 4 thousand years ago, but not now it seems.
But within an hour, a very nice consular lady from Guangzhou, whom I'd never before met or talked to, rang and offered to pay the amount personally, with me to then reimburse her somehow.
Unbelievable. Aren't people wonderful!
But I said thanks and no thanks, by this stage getting to be a bit tetchy about what seemed to be a hopelessly dysfunctional system, rang Beijing back and said "how about I get someone in Wellington (NZ's capital city) to go and plonk the money down on your boss's desk"?
Which is effectively what then happened; a payment direct to their ministry in NZ about an hour later.
Oamaru Hornsby steam portable
Oamaru European beech
The ETD took 6 days in total to get to me in Weifang (I suspect I could have had a complete new passport from NZ quicker), arriving just in time for me to leave for the Wuhan Kite Festival and then on to New Zealand.
So I missed out on Xiamen but had a great weekend with the Hoberg sawmill at the Oamaru heritage event instead.
Of course I still had to get a replacement Chinese visa because, strangely, a visa is required for getting out as well as for getting in. This took less than a day and a one page form; not a reprise of the 12 page document required when doing this from New Zealand, with arcana that not even a dedicated genealogist would have on hand. The NZ consulate's advice on this part of the process was less than helpful- they didn't seem at all certain as to how the Chinese system for this actually works.
From this, my first ever experience with NZ Consular services, I'm pleased I wasn't actually in any real trouble, like being one ear short of a full set for example.
Though they're all nice people, and maybe if it had been an emergency, things would have been different.
On the other hand, if you're ever going to lose a passport, I can thoroughly recommend doing this while being hosted by Kaixuan in Weifang. Everyone there was 100% effective.
Especial thanks to Jessica and Lisa.
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON NEW ZEALAND, DECEMBER 1 '15