My bags were packed and I was ready to go. I had been in China a total of 2 months now and I was finally leaving. Not that I wanted to leave China, but I was excited to head up for my first year of college in a week. After scouring the entire apartment for misplaced items and fastidiously packing things into my enormous suitcase so it was actually zippable, I was off.
Drive to the airport, wait in line, check my bag, wait in line, hand the lady my passport…whoops, problem. The airport lady, after flipping through my passport several times to make sure she was looking at the correct visa (my passport is slightly confusing because I have China visas stamped all over it from the past four years), looks up at me and says, “you’ve been here too long.” Of course, I think she’s just making conversation so I agree and tell her I’m excited to go home. She’s so confused by my visa that she continues to tell me, no, no you’ve stayed in China too long, to which I keep replying, “yes, I know, that’s why I’m leaving.” Finally, another airport worker, one more adept at wording his thoughts, comes over. He explains that rather than using a traveler’s visa with a set amount of days like I had used for the past three years, I had obtained a worker’s visa this time. Now, nobody told me this, but it turns out I was supposed to go to a foreign workers’ office when I first arrived and have my work permit approved. So, being completely clueless of the situation, I had accidentally stayed 24 days more than my visa permitted.
I suppose the airport is used to seeing travelers overstay their visas by a day or two, not almost a month, so they were all quite incapable of handling the situation. After puttering about and handing me off to other officials, they finally demanded that I pay a fine. Eager to head on the gate, where they were already boarding, I readily agreed, yes yes, sure, just let me pay and go…until I found out the fee was 5,000 RMB. (800 USD). The man had been speaking with me in Chinese this entire time so when he finally told me the amount (五千）in just stuttered “w-w-wu QIAN?!?!” Actually it entailed more of “五千啊？你真的开玩笑！ 我没有那么多钱!” (Five thousand?! Are you kidding? I don’t have that much money!) Somehow, his discovering that I worked at the World Expo lowered my fee to 3,500 RMB (500 USD). Thank god for that. I only had 200 US on me anyways and at most 300 RMB if I counted up my loose bills. I know for a fact that I didn’t have 800 USD even on my credit card. Luckily I wasn’t traveling alone- my roommate was with me and lent me 300 more USD. Still scrambling to make our flight, I had to patiently follow airport workers around as we went to exchange the money and then they made me sign several documents admitting that I had overstayed my visit. While my roommate waited on a bench inside the security area, I was shut in a tiny office with an airport worker who was required to read out each document to me…in Chinese…before I was allowed to sign it. Broke, rushed, and exhausted, we boarded our flight, where everybody glared at us since we had delayed the flight. I then sat there, with people who loathed me, for the next 14 hours. Oh, and we both had colds so the coughing and sniffling didn’t make us many friends either.
But don’t worry. That was just the first flight. I stayed over at Jillian’s house in New York that night and woke up early the next morning to fly to Tampa. Wheeling my huge bright blue suitcase onto the scale at the La Guardia airport, I discovered it weighed 74 lbs…the maximum weight was 50 lbs. The woman manning the check-in counter was not too enthusiastic about being there and didn’t bother to explain the fees very well. She first told us that an overweight bag had a 90 dollar fee but if it was from 50-70 lbs it would only cost 25 dollars. So after hefting denim, books, and anything heavy from my suitcase and stuffing them into my tiny carry-on backpack and a totebag I had found inside my suitcase, I managed to reduce the weight to 60 lbs. I figured I wouldn’t be able to knock it down 10 more lbs and she had said it could weigh up to 70 lbs, so when we asked her her opinion, she gave us the go-ahead to put things back into the suitcase, as long as it didn’t weigh more than 70 lbs. After restuffing my bag and handing her the credit card, she told us it was a $90 fee. ?!?!?!? Woops, I guess she wasn’t really listening the first time. She meant to say that any checked bag costs $25 and any overweight bag (over 50 lbs) will cost $90 extra. There isn’t a reduced fee if its below 70 lbs. All that for naught. Back to the drawing board. I dug through that bag, underwear and bras flying, people staring at the crazy lady with the huge suitcase, and stuffed anything I could find into my tote bag. Nothing in my suitcase really weighed that much, so it depended solely on how well I could stuff the largest number of items into the smallest amount of space. With a backpack bursting at the seams and a tote bag gushing forth with t-shirts, I weighed my suitcase once more. 50 lbs exactly. The not-very-helpful lady was extremely shocked by the 24 pound reduction. She said I had set a new record. As impressed as I was by this new claim to fame, I didn’t loiter for long. I still had to pay Jillian back for the $300 she lent me the day before and of course the ATM Machine was down on a different floor. Debt repaid, goodbyes said, I shouldered my now 20 pounds heavier backpack, slung the tote bag over my right shoulder, and headed to security, hoping they wouldn’t notice my small purse that would technically set me over the limit for the “two carry-on’s per person” rule… because there was no way that purse was fitting in either of my now-stuffed bags… and I guess things were finally starting to turn around for the unfortunate traveling bird because I got through just fine.