I’m not an overly superstitious person. I do avoid walking under ladders; but more for the practical reason that there is more chance of something falling on you in that situation. And I do have a thing about not opening umbrellas indoors; although my wife has no such compunction and doesn’t appear to be punished for it. So when a friend told me that he refused to fly on Friday the 13th, I understood his reluctance but I knew superstition wouldn’t have stopped me from doing so.
Friday the 13th 2009 started with a comedy of errors. We descended the 27 floors from our apartment in a building with the slowest elevators in Hong Kong, only to realise that I had forgotten our passports. On completing the second descent, I realised that I had now left my hat upstairs; and had to go back for it. All set, on the third attempt, we took the shuttle bus down the hill to Central; and within minutes of leaving the bus, I discovered that I no longer had my hat. For me, to walk around all day in the sunshine without a hat is tantamount to committing suicide; but the bus had already departed for its return journey and the hat was not lying on the sidewalk, so the purchase of another hat was added to our list of errands prior to making the ferry trip to Macau.
Our first item of business in Central was to change money at the bank on Des Voeux Road. I took our three passports out of my bag, handed one to the bank teller for verification, then put them back in my back and locked the compartment for safekeeping, having first transferred my street map into another pocket for ease of access.
We stopped at a department store en route and bought me a new hat; then continued our journey to the Macau ferry terminal where we bought return tickets for the next available ferry. It wasn’t until we reached the departure hall and were about to go through the immigration formalities that I unlocked the compartment in my bag to retrieve our passports and discovered that I only had two. The missing one was my own.
A frantic search of my bag failed to produce any more passports and failed to stop that feeling of plunging down an endless elevator shaft into a darkening void and impending doom. Losing a hat was careless, but easily remedied. Losing a passport on the first day of one’s vacation, however, considering all the time and trouble it had taken to secure visas for China, was downright catastrophic. I had visions of spending the Hong Kong part of our vacation shuttling back and forth between consulates, trying to replace my travel documents. I’d been through this before with a travelling companion who was robbed on her way into Paris on the Metro from the airport. It had taken us a week on that occasion; and we didn’t have a week in Hong Kong before leaving for Shanghai. My only hope was that I had dropped it in the bank and that someone had been honest and kind enough to hand it in.
My wife suggested that we retrace our steps but I felt that there was no point in us all going so she and my son went on to Macau while I returned to the ticket office to get a refund on my ticket; then walked (as quickly as I could) back to the bank, praying that I’d find my passport there. I found the same teller who had attended to us earlier and explained the situation to her. She made enquiries. But no passport had been found or handed in. I could see my trip to China fading.
On my way back to the foyer, I decided my next stop should be the Australian Consulate. I delved into my back, retrieved my street map of Hong Kong, unfolded it and heard something fall at my feet. I looked down and saw a passport lying there – an Australian passport. Relief and elation were mixed with disbelief. I bent down, picked up the document and opened it up, half expecting, with my current run of misfortune, to find someone else’s photograph staring back at me. But it was, indeed, my passport.
For the next half an hour I walked around Central in a daze, like a James Bond Martini that had been shaken AND stirred. I didn’t know whether to stay in Hong Kong and try to take some photographs; or head to Macau and try to catch up with my wife and son who would be anxiously awaiting news of my lost passport. After three months of not taking any photographs, I had planned for this day to be my practise round before meeting the Hong Kong Walk group tomorrow afternoon; but I was so distracted by the narrowly missed catastrophe that I couldn’t settle into a photo frame of mind; so I headed back to the Macau ferry terminal, hoping that the cruise would calm me down.
In Macau, I almost left my new hat in the Visitors’ Bureau; but a little old Chinese lady came running after me, waving it frantically and calling out something unfathomable in Cantonese to attract my attention. On the way back to Hong Kong, I discovered that the lock I used to secure the passport pocket of my bag was missing. And the swell in the estuary of the Pearl River was so strong that cabin service had to be suspended. But after the near miss with the passport, these things were trivial by comparison. And I still had tomorrow, and the Hong Kong Walk, to look forward to.
I had survived Friday the 13th; but only just.