Mar 6 2011

A hairy night

It was autumn in 1991, Golfer and I travelled to Europe. Our itinerary was landing in Munich, spent a few nights there, then head over to Salzburg for the Mozart Festival; spending a week in Vienna, taking overnight train to Berlin for the Rembrandt exhibit, then drive down slowly to Frankfurt visiting the Hardings, making few overnight stops on the The Castle Road. Everything was nicely planned out and seemed very routine. After a gorgeous week in Wien, between Opera, chess tourney (held in the City Hall, right behind our hotel and the Polgar sisters were playing), café, dinners, bars, more Mozart concerts (it was an overdoes!) .. we left for Berlin.

Actually after dinner that night we had a few drinks at the hot bar Keller that located in a basement. A group of youth shared better part of the long table with the three of us. My German wasn’t functioning and only said hello with the young Germans. After a little while, my friend said quietly that they were from where we were going, because the atmosphere was bit less than friendly. Germans are very racists, especially right after their reunification.

Anyway, that was the least problem we had that night.

The train conductor was a chubby old man, very jolly. After he learned Golfer is an American, he told us to wait, he’d get us an empty sleeping booth for the night, so we didn’t have to share with others. The train wasn’t crowded at all. Golfer thanked him and tip him generously. What amusing was there were few non English speaking female travellers, either out of boredom or just glad to see a cute guy, they giggled and came over, surprised to find an Asian.
“You amerlica?” They asked him repeatedly.
I guess the face of the USA is still very Waspy even the underlying says otherwise. The girls surrounded him, asking if he’s married or I was his girl friend. ..

The train left Vienna around 11pm. By 2am, we were awaken for the passport check, the first stop in Czeckslovakia, a former communist state. I suddenly realized I forgot to apply for a visa. Initially we were thinking to fly up to Berlin, which no visa was needed. But when we changed to train, I forgot all about it. I dammed myself, because I used to travel a great deal with my Hong Kong ‘passport’, had to deal with visa wherever I went. That time I was using a Chinese passport that I just obtained here in New York. It was a novelty to me because I never had a Chinese passport before.

The border patrol came up and he pointedly knocked on our door loudly and demanded our passports. Then told us to get off the train because I didn’t have visa for that dumpy communist country.

My feeling was that he was so glad to have found something to pick/do and especially at the expenses of an American. Once I was in Vienna in the 80s, went to Hungarian embassy applying for a visa to Budapest. There were three young Americans and the clerk was very rude to them, even ordered them to wait off line, till the rest of us – the non Americans – were processed first.

So at 2am on a chilly night, we got kicked off the warm train to a deserted train station in a communist country in Europe, was told to wait there for the next train back to Vienna.

I wasn’t easily frightened, but that night fear was looming large. I felt sorry for Golfer, because of my oversight, he had to experience this. .. anything could happen to us in that nowhere station and no one would know.

The station master came out of his sleep, rubbing his eyes, pointed to the bench and then clock, said, “wait .. 5 ..” So the next train was three hours away. Before he vanished to sleep, I asked for a set of chess. As we were playing, mostly waiting, I joked to Golfer, “See, I’m not the meanest commie you’ve met.”

That three hours was like three years. Neither of us had much of interest to actually play the chess. We discussed to change our travel route to the Romantic Road instead, driving thou the Romantische Straße up to Frankfurt.

AND I was debating if I should tell him more bad news .. that I only got a single entry visa to Austria. Meaning, legally, I could be refused at border.. ..

When the train rambling into the station, I was over joyed because nothing terribly happened to us. I didn’t mention the single entry visa, since Americans have no concept of visa. .. Luckily, no one picked bone with me on the way back to Vienna. Perhaps the conductor/police took pity on me – who else would board a train in 2am in that little town? He just waved us though.