It was a chilly and windy mid-October day in New York City and the second time I had to make a trip down the Chinese Consulate on 12th Avenue and 42nd Street to renew my long-expired passport. I hadn’t prepared sufficient documents the first time, and it really irritated me to walk back and forth from the E train at Port Authority to 12th Avenue. The stroll down each avenue felt like the longest journey, my lanky body struggling against the heavy wind.
The Chinese Consulate is a plain, tall building with no extraordinary architectural designs or apparent signs. I didn’t even see a national flag. I had to follow Google Maps and was rerouted at least three times. Who knew Port Authority had so many exits? I passed by Lincoln Tunnel and two 7-Elevens to finally reach 12th Avenue, or the last avenue till you see Hudson River and the sightseeing boat Circle Line. I entered the consulate after a difficult search and the security that stood behind the metal detectors kindly ordered me to put my bag and jacket inside a box. I walked through a security system, then picked up my belongings that went through the conveyor belt.
I went upstairs for the renewal process at window 13. The woman worker demanded a new set of passport photos without even looking me in the eye. I did not have any on hand because my family notified me that the consulate provides a photo service downstairs. The woman shook her head and furiously sent me to take photos outside because she had already signed my renewal form. I felt like I’d wasted her time since she couldn’t even suggest a passport photo place. I exited the consulate and aimlessly walked a few blocks and found a CVS. I was so relieved and waited at the Kodak printing center line for 10 minutes, until a worker showed up and said the printers were down.
A white man in his early 30s with dark blue eyes, who was also on the line, stormed out after hearing the news and met up with a man who seemed like his father. I noticed a folder in his hand while the older gentleman searched for a new place on his phone. He asked if I was also having trouble getting passport photos because of how puzzled and helpless I looked. He called a cab and gave the driver directions to the closest passport photo business. He kindly asked me to join and I agreed after a short hesitation.
It was a seven-minute drive and I was quiet for the most part. I anxiously checked my watch because the consulate was about to close in less than an hour. It was also crazy that I was in a taxi with two strangers I’d never met. The driver dropped us off on 34th street and we wandered around. I learned that the younger man was going to teach English in Beijing for a year and the older man was indeed his dad. They asked me why I was going to China. I said I was born there and just needed a renewal. We went on talking about college majors and careers.
It took us three tries to find the privately owned photo business. I read the requirements for the photos and simply tucked my hair behind my ears. I forced an unnatural smile and the owner snapped the photo. The young man went after me and the dad went to pay. I followed him, and when it was my turn, the worker ignored me and I realized the dad had already paid for me too. He refused to let me pay him back no matter how much I insisted.
“I want to wish you the best of luck in your future career, young lady. So it’s okay!”
We took a cab back together and I completed the renewal process and gave them my sincere gratitude. The precious kindness offered from these two strangers made the earlier struggles seem like not so much of a struggle anymore.