Every picture, every chip of rock or wood on or above my writing desk brings waterfalls of thought of my adventures tumbling through my mind, trying to distract me from focusing on a single incident. Let me try:
Any world traveler has at least once experienced a lost or delayed bag at an airport, later to be delivered to his hotel. But this?
I had been somewhere in the backcountry of China. I had landed safely at the wildly modern Bao’an International Airport, 32 kilometers northwest of Shenzhen. I had been here before, so I easily found the shuttle bus that would take me directly to the Hong Kong border crossing. Then by train to the Hong Kong International Airport and on to home!
I travel light. Very light! One carry-on luggage and a brief case is all I need for four weeks of travel. No checked baggage for me to hassle. I boarded the bus. I set my luggage in a compartment in the front with other bags already there. I saw an open seat in the back, on the right side (to my fortune, as you will see). It is a long ride so a bit of snoozing makes the time fly.
From time to time the bus stops for people to get off, walking into the darkness to their villages. At one stop I open my eyes just in time to see a man who has just disembarked the bus, pulling up the handle on my bag! He began walking into the shadows of the trees. I am now wide awake! The bus had started moving on. From the back of the bus, I shouted (in English, of course), “Stop the bus!” I am jostled back and forth as I head to the front of the bus, still shouting. Someone evidently got the driver’s attention, who slows down and stops. By now I am trying to explain to him that the man back there has my bag. (Only in afterthought did I realize how “Ugly American” I must have seemed to the other passengers. The driver was probably used to our sort.) My only thought is the here and now: My bag is not on the bus with me! I said, “I need to get off. I need to go back there to get my bag.” Now, through a translator, the driver explains that the man will realize it is the wrong bag and will bring it to the station tomorrow. Obviously agitated, I said that I have a connecting flight tonight! I won’t be in Hong Kong tomorrow!
Why he opened the door, I don’t know. But he did. And I am running the half-mile along the highway, traffic whizzing by on my right. But I need my bag! Of course, when I got there, no one else was! What was I thinking? How foolish of me. Here I am, out on a highway. A bus full of people are wondering what is going on. I obviously am not thinking. Out of breath, I start running back to the bus, now concerned that the driver might just leave me on the road…with my brief case on the bus! Passport, money, airline ticket, etc! On the bus! And I am on a highway, out of breath! And no bag.
Fortunately, he decided to wait for me. Halfway back to the bus, the man who had translated for me reached me. He said that my bag was on the bus and we needed to hurry. The other passengers were not too happy with this unexpected and unexplainable delay. Foolish American! What is he doing?
As we ran, he explained that the man quickly realized he had the wrong bag. He came back to the highway, flagged down a taxi to catch the bus. While I was running toward the bus stop, the man was riding in a taxi toward the bus. My bag was returned.
Though leaving the bus was foolishness on my part, it did stop the bus, so the man could return my bag.
By the time we got back on the bus, the honest stranger had secured his bag and was gone. Tired from the run...exhausted from the whole adrenalin rush, I jostled my way back to my seat. I only know two words in Chinese: “Thank you” and “hello”. All I could say was, 谢 谢 !
The rest of the journey was punctuated with low conversation and sideways glances at this foolish American, interspersed with giggles and behind-the-hand snickers. But I got my bag back!
READ more stories from Neal and Yvonne Pirolo!