‘All roads lead to Rome’, as the saying goes.
All the things we aim for will eventually unfold, maybe not as we had planned, but we will always get to where we want to go, however, we might have to take a few detours before reaching our final destination.
The story I will share with you in this blog will make you question many things, however, it will also show that with a little common sense and taking action without hesitation, most situations can be guided in the right direction. Besides, if one approach doesn’t work, there is always another one.
Lastly, it is best not to have expectations as they can disappoint.
Most things will not pan out as you had imagined and help often comes from unexpected corners…
So, here we go:
I had just completed 2 months of representing my company overseas. The Japanese company owner thanked me for my dedication and hard work and drove me to the train station where I took the bullet train from Osaka to Tokyo. Upon arrival, I still had to finalize a few promotional visits to local Universities and education agents before hopping on a flight back home.
My Japanese trip had come to an end and soon I would be setting foot on home soil…but what actually happened was very different.
I had exactly one hour from the moment I bought my ticket at the reception desk of the Imperial Hotel Tokyo, until the Limousine bus would pick me up to go to Narita airport, where I would board a flight to Australia.
The concierge asked me if I wanted to leave my luggage in their care, so that I could relax and enjoy a tea in the lobby before getting on the bus. What you need to know is that the Imperial Hotel is world famous and absolutely grand and gorgeous. Many celebrities and royal families from all over the world choose to stay here on their visits to Japan. So, of course, I wanted to conclude my trip in style and let my hair down while enjoying a tea or a wine. So, I gladly accepted his offer. I got handed the two tokens, one for each piece of luggage – my suitcase and my travel backpack.
I made my way to the salon area and ordered some green tea. From my comfortable seat, I could still see my luggage now being loaded onto the birdcage…and then the tea arrived. In that split second, I lost a direct visual on my luggage…when the waitress left…I did no longer see my travel backpack next to my suitcase. I immediately left the table, approached the concierge and asked if they had put my backpack in the luggage lockup. No one seemed to know anything. Three staff members went to check but no luggage was found.
I suggested checking the CCTV cameras – They did… and indeed, 3 men had walked by, discretely taken my backpack and walked out the entrance where a taxi was waiting for them and they drove off.
Here I was – fifteen minutes till the Limousine bus arrived – with no passport, no cash, no credit cards, not even a driver’s license to prove who I was. It was now 3.45PM. I had exactly fifteen minutes left to change my luck…
The duty manager offered me their reception phone and computer directory.
The first phone call I made was to the Australian embassy. I briefly explained the situation: that all my money, credit cards, passport and any form of ID had been stolen just a few minutes earlier and also that I had a flight booked on a 21H flight from Tokyo to Brisbane that night. I explained I was in need of an emergency passport.
Not too sure if the lady I spoke to at the Australian embassy was really willing to assist? It seemed to me that the end of the week had come early and drinks were awaiting her…she could not get rid of me fast enough, in fact, she had no interest in helping me whatsoever. She kept repeating that the embassy would close in 10 minutes and that they would reopen on Monday at 10AM.
I asked her where she suggested I would sleep in the meantime, or what I could do to get some money to buy food… until Monday? She then suggested to connect me to someone in Australia that could possible send me money…I told her that without any form of photo ID I would not be able to collect the money from any financial institution, not even from Western Union. She then stated that it would take up to 48 hours for the emergency passport to be ready and started repeating herself over and over…She was of no help at all. With the grim prospect of no emergency passport till next Wednesday – 6 days later – and zero cooperation, I was forced to terminate the conversation and set the lady from the Australian embassy on her way to enjoy her Friday afternoon cocktail hour.
With 3 minutes left on the clock before it hitting 4PM on a Friday afternoon, I hung up and now called the Belgian embassy. A gentle voice on the other end of the line stated: “ Bonjour, l’ambassade de Belgique, comment puis-je vous aidez?” Oh my God, I could not believe I got through…a few minutes before closing time.
I explained the situation once again and the friendly voice on the other side said: ” Get in a taxi, I will provide you our address; we will pay for the taxi. I await your arrival soon” I could not believe my ears! Wow this was truly impressive – from a twelve-minute conversation with the Australian embassy that was going nowhere, to a willing soul serving his citizens without delay, and all of this happened in less than 3 minutes.
Relieved, I jumped in a taxi and made my way to the Belgian Embassy where I was welcomed with open arms. When I entered the ambassador’s office, I noticed a copy of my stolen passport sitting on his desk. We had a good old chat about the fact that this was a very unusual event in Japan, a country where honesty is valued more than anywhere else in the world. Although my emergency passport was finalized within the hour, however glancing at the traffic outside, it became very clear that I would not be able to make my flight that night.
The ambassador phoned the Imperial Hotel and spoke to the duty manager. When he got off the phone he said: They will set you up for the night, food and everything included, so you can rebook your ticket and fly out tomorrow. Everything would be catered for until my departure. That was great news!
He also called the Japanese immigration department to inform them that I would be leaving Japan on a Belgian passport and also the Australian authorities were notified that I would be entering on a Belgian passport. This very kind man had given me two hours of his time, outside office hours. He once again convinced me that all would go smooth. I secretly hoped he was right…
I thanked everyone as I left and by eight o’clock I made it back to the Imperial Hotel. To my surprise also here they had a key and check in card waiting for me. I was taken up to my room… on the 31st floor. I was given a Premier Deluxe Suite for the night and the majority of the next day, and this to make up for the fiasco that happened in the afternoon. The concierge also brought me a new Limousine bus ticket to the airport and gave me a room service menu. He said: “Anything you would like to eat or drink Madam, in-room or in any of our four restaurants.”
There I was, what seemed a hopeless situation a few hours earlier, was now almost resolved. I called my parents to explain what had happened and my mother booked me a flight for the next evening.
Wonderful, now I was all set. I just sat there for a short while and look around – enjoying the gorgeous views I had from my suite, overlooking Tokyo city by night… I decided to have a bath and order room service. I really had done full circle – flying into Osaka from lush and luxurious Las Vegas, to then spend two months in extremely basic accommodation, sleeping on the floor…(see previous blog) to find myself here once again in a lavish Premier Suite on the executive floor of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
One this was certain: I deserved this for 1000%.
I enjoyed my ritzy surroundings to the max and the next afternoon, I made my way to the airport, caught my flight and landed safely in Brisbane. To my surprise, two customs agents were awaiting me just outside the plane and escorted me privately, so I did not have to queue. They stated that this had all been organized by the Belgium embassy. I was truly blown away with how professional this situation had been handled. If I had left it to Naomi, the lady from the Australian embassy, I would be sleeping under a bridge for six days, without food nor drink while patiently waiting for my emergency passport to be processed in 48-hours, if I was lucky.
When you find yourself in a seemingly hopeless situation, don’t give up because some lazy or irresponsible person doesn’t want to help you. There are many others that do want help if they can. You just have to ask; when you do that, help is on its way!!
My mother told me this when I was a very small child, and it has become my mantra: ‘For every problem there are at least five solutions’.
I have always kept that in mind and apply it daily!