It takes a lot to write about shame.
With age, grace and humility, I am turning the corner towards becoming a bottle of fine wine, full of the wisdom of my experience.
With time and humility, I am finally able to share my embarrassment. The point in time where I realized I was no longer 20, but in fact had woken up at 31 : an overgrown child in a long-term remedial relationship; the promise of an unfulfilling career; the pervasive sadness of a mid-life crisis archetype – equipped with protruding belly and freshly-purchased Mustang.
And it was exactly at this shocking junction of my 3rd decade that I was deported from my home of five years in Hong Kong.
American born and privileged. Untapped potential. Bred from a life of innumerable opportunities. I was spending my late 20s and young adulthood squandering my privilege in illegalities. Just skating by.
I bet y’all can relate.
Living in Hong Kong was a miasma of white cocaine and white privilege. NOTE* this is not the white privilege of America. We are talking of a deeply engrained, deeply inherited, deeply believed notion of whiteness as greatness. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Asia, know now that bleaching your skin was not a Michael Jackson anomaly. Know now that marrying “white” is an automatic status signal that invokes the awe of your friends and counterparts.
Also know that the Eastern hemisphere is still dominated by their self-driven determination to aspire to “Western” appearance (whiteness) and lifestyle (European-ness).
I was living the white American dream in Hong Kong. I used my foreign privilege – a right that didn’t exist for me back home – to martyr myself amongst other Asians in Hong Kong, which worked…to a degree.
Until the day that it didn’t.
Are you ready for the story yet?
I had had the most adventurous two weeks of my life. I had overcome my phobia of plunging head under water. I had dived to 26 meters under the sea and encountered incredible marine wildlife. I felt invincible.
It didn’t matter that my passport had been stolen two weeks prior.
You never want to believe the stories they tell you about 3rd world countries, especially innocent ones like Indonesia.
But desperation speaks volumes above crass news stories. Take time to walk down any avenue of Jakarta’s streets and take a glimpse at where poverty (or privilege!) can really take you.
I, the privileged, walked down the Jakarta street at dusk, just steps from the train shuttle that would bring me to the domestic airport terminal and deliver me to my 5-star vacation on a dive liveaboard in the Indonesian Archipelago. How little I realized about my vulnerability.
Because, in a moment, I felt gravity tug and clatter my phone from hand to ground.
Then another tug yanked at my clutch, which had been dangling from my loose fingertips.
In another moment, the bag was gone. In an eternal daze that really only lasted only 3 seconds, I gathered my phone from the pavement. It took me several more seconds before I could scream.
“My passport! He’s stolen my passport!!”
That poor beggar could never have won. No money. No cards or checks. No means for forgery. There was nothing of life-ending importance in that clutch. In the end, he ended with nothing. Nothing but the risk of his life.
In Indonesia, the penalty for theft is DEATH. Any witness – ANYONE – has the unquestionable, irrevocable right to beat a person to death for stealing.
I would not wish that on any poor man. Not even one who had stolen my means of departure from an underdeveloped country.
In a panic, I fled to the nearest police station I could find. It was my first experience with lackadaisical foreign police who could not act beyond a 1 mph speed limit – not without pay first, anyway. After an hour of sitting through the slow paced drudgery of passport recovery, I gave up. I located the police headquarters at the international airport and made my way there immediately.
Thankfully, the airport police were more on the ball, more up to date with foreign interaction, more… ‘speedy’.
And hopelessly and equally as ineffective as the rest of Indonesia’s judicial task force. They apologized profusely on behalf of their unidentified countryman, desperately apologetic and rueful that this had to be my first encounter with their beautiful country and hospitable populace. And that, sadly, there was little they could do. They reassured me – or so they thought – that, had the theft been witnessed – the man would have been beaten to death by any number of citizens.
A fate I would wish on no person.
Despite my temporary ban for international travel, I was able to fly with my local US id card to my domestic holiday destination and live out my 2 weeks of ocean-filled, unencumbered paradise.
After which, it simply cost one day, one embassy visit and $200 (on the behest of a good benefactor loan – privilege noted) to obtain a temporary passport that would deliver me home to Hong Kong.
That was a short-stop and long straw compared to the hypothetical cost that the man who robbed me might have paid – his life.
I learned an important lesson that day: outward perspective is the objective of a life led in kindness. I could have looked inward at the victimization of my circumstances; I could have wondered why this man followed and targeted me, robbed me of my means of travel and a day’s worth of dignity.
But looking outward, I was able to see that two hours and two US bills helped save a desperate man’s life. There is and was never a price to pay for that.
So how does this relate to my being deported?
To be continued…