Monday, July 30, 2012

The Importance of Plans D, E and F

This is going to be an interesting entry, comprising of a matter before I left China and one just prior to my return. My head is once again faster than my fingers, so I hope I can get everything written the way it sounds in my thoughts.

As I’ve noted before, I’ve saved a substantial amount of money in anticipation of my trip stateside. Originally I was going to convert the bulk of these funds into American currency, thus being assured I would stay within a certain budget while flitting about and stocking up on what I would need for another year here.

Plan A was to withdraw funds from my Chinese bank and deposit them into my international bank account. That way I would only need my HSBC bank card to assure a steady cash flow while stateside. That plan failed. I could not deposit any funds because my HSBC account is strictly an online account. I could transfer funds into it online for later ATM withdrawal, but being as I did not have my account’s online access information – a full 2 years after requesting it multiple times! – that plan pretty much disintegrated.

Plan B was to convert the amount I had planned to deposit from Yuan to dollars prior to leaving Wuhan. That too failed because no Chinese bank had that level of American currency on hand. As Sam mournfully informed me, one has to schedule such a transaction. Neither of us knew that going into this affair, so we ended up running around from bank to bank in my last days in Wuhan, trying to find a bank that might perchance have such an amount of foreign currency.   

Plan C was for me to take all that money – Yuan, in cash, stateside with me, and then convert it as soon as I touched down on American soil. Not an effective plan being as currency exchange rates stateside would not be as lucrative for me as conducting the exchange here. To say nothing of the danger of carrying large amounts of cash while traveling. 

Sam, as always, was indefatigable. I, worn out from the heat, the boarding and debarking of buses and the stress of it all reasoned that I had funds waiting for me stateside in the form of an IRS return. Much as I did not want to spend that money I would be kind of forced to, because I would not be able to deposit it into my HSBC account as I had anticipated, for the same reason I was not able to deposit funds while in China. It is strictly an online account. I can only transfer funds into it. I cannot make any outright deposits.

That international bank deal seems to not be working out as I had planned. I can tell. Still, it is nice to know that I have a little nest egg, a cash cushion in case things don’t work out as planned.

On the day I flew back  to China, they didn’t. Here is what happened:

Reasoning that I was visiting Tampa before my longer stay in California, Jennifer and I worked out a plan in which Gabriel would fly to California with me to enjoy the last of my visit and to meet his new cousin, Benjamin (AKA Bun). We had a great time. Somehow, in the thick of it all I was under the impression I was flying back to China on Monday. More specifically, Gabriel was flying out on Monday morning, unaccompanied, back to Tampa. Twelve hours later I was to fly out of the same airport. The intent was to make the airport run as hassle free as possible for Darrell and Sammi. I had the times right but the day wrong. It wasn’t on Monday that we were supposed to fly but on Sunday! 

So, here we are, enjoying the last of our time in sunny California. Gabe spent the night at his aunt’s house while Sammi and I talked and drank wine till nearly 3AM. Darrell was asleep on the couch and Bun was down for the night. A great time was had by all. Later that morning our sleep was shattered by my daughter, calling from Tampa, asking if her son was on the plane home, as scheduled. 

Well, no, because I thought we weren’t flying out till the next day!

Leaping off the couch at the sounds of Sammi and Darrell’s discussion in the kitchen, I stumbled to my travel papers and looked at the date. July 22nd, fly out date for both me and Gabriel. I did not get that wrong. What I did get wrong was that the 22nd was not a Monday but a Sunday. THAT very day!

My first selfish thought: my flight is still secure. I wasn’t to fly out till 11PM. It would have been substantially more expensive and more difficult to rebook that flight than rebooking Gabriel’s. In the meantime, Darrell jumped on the phone and managed to get Gabriel on a flight back to Tampa the very next day, and only for a small rebooking fee of $100. That was the exact amount of cash I had left, and it was meant to cover the ‘unaccompanied minor’ fee to get Gabe back to Tampa.

FYI: in case you didn’t know, kids can fly unaccompanied by family but it does cost. For that small fee and a small forest worth of paperwork you can put your child on a plane and he/she will be supervised from point of origin to destination by a specially trained flight attendant. Identification is required to pick up your child once the trip is complete.

Fortunately, rebooking Gabe’s flight turned out to be easy. Paying for it was a different story. Neither Darrell nor Sammi had that much money on their respective credit cards, and a panicked phone call to Jennifer yielded the same answer. Of course, I have no credit cards, having divested myself of all such things prior to leaving for China 2 years ago.

Again, Darrell’s quick thinking and connections prevailed. He appealed to a friend who lives downstairs to offer up the credit card in return for the cash I would provide. Tom and Judy had no problems helping out, once the situation was explained. I handed over my $100, Judy handed over her card, Gabe’s reservation was secured and now all is well…

Except for one thing: I had no money to pay for Gabriel’s ‘unaccompanied minor’ fee. And I had no extra money to give him for food or drink while in flight, and nothing extra to give Darrell and Sammi for the expense and trouble of making an extra trip to the airport. Here again, flexibility prevailed. I used my HSBC card to withdraw money from that seemingly useless account.

Except for Gabriel’s heartbreak at having to see his beloved Mema get on the plane instead of my heartbreak at witnessing my beloved Gabriel board a plane for Tampa, all went well. Darrell and Sammi were compensated for the extra gas and time they will have to spend taking Gabe to the airport the next day, and I even had the cash to leave them a small gift, tucked somewhere safe in their apartment for discovery once I’m gone. Had we not been flexible in our thinking and actions, especially Darrell, we would have been stuck with all of our carefully laid plans that didn’t work out. Thus the importance of having more than just a plan A, B, and C.

And now, a funny: after everything was resolved I hugged my Darrell close. I just wanted to let him know: “Somewhere in your apartment, you will find a small gift.”

He replied, dismayed: “Oh, No! We’ll never find it!” referring to the fact that neither he nor Sammi have time for in depth housekeeping with their schedules, especially now that Little Bun takes up whatever free time they once might have had.  And, they weren’t that great at housekeeping to begin with. Fortunately Sammi is in on the joke. She is the one who hid the gift.

The subsequent laughter at his repartee was a great stress buster.       

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