January 21, 2018 – Jinmen, Taiwan
I ran to break my 20 before the bus rumbled off toward the train station. I would not pay 20 yuan for the 1 yuan bus fare so I sprinted past the trucks where slack-faced men heaved crates or gray, wriggling, water-squirting shrimp out of the truck interiors and into stacks on the street hoping to find a market or a stall.
It was 9:15 a.m. If the bus made it to the train station by 10:15, we could get the 11 o’clock train to Xiamen, where we could get the 1:30 p.m. ferry to Taiwan’s Jinmen Island by 2:15. The nice relaxing boat ride to a nice relaxing tropical island was still salvageable, with a little added transportation and a bit of extra money.
We made it to customs just in time for the ferry. My friend breezed through. They scanned my passport. Then scanned it again. Then called a second immigration officer over to scan it a third time. Then they called the supervisor. Then they took my passport away and asked me to stand on the side and wait. My friend never looked back, I lost sight of her, and I got scared.
I waited five minutes, then almost 10. The ferry started to board. At last, the scowling supervisor brought my passport back. Sometime in the past I’d folded the front page, and it would no longer scan. But they stamped me out of China, and I hustled to the ferry, hoping they’d let me into Taiwan and I wouldn’t end up stuck on the ferry dock for the rest of my life, unable to enter either country–or get anywhere else.
I did get in. Relaxation at last! We entered Taiwan, changed 300 yuan to Taiwanese dollars, and walked around the corner to rent a motor scooter. We explained our situation and our plan to take the last ferry of the day back to Xiamen. We would take the 5:30 ferry. Could we bring the scooter back at 5?
“No,” the clerks said.
“We’ll pay for the whole day, no problem.”
“No,” they said, one of them arching her eyebrows. “The last ferry and the one before that and the one before that are already booked. If you want to get back to Xiamen at all, you need to go buy a ticket. Now!”
We’d been on Jinmen about 10 minutes. By the time we reached the front of the ticket line, we’d been there 30. We had just enough time to eat a bowl of noodles at the gift shop, drink a Taiwan Beer next to the parking lot, and, since the currency exchange had closed in those 30 minutes, try to get rid of some of the 1300 dollars I’d exchanged.
By the time we got back on the boat, we’d gotten to spend about an hour in Taiwan. And I still had one more boat lurking in the future.
Eleven hundred Taiwanese dollars still dwell in my wallet.