Lose your passport somewhere that has your country’s embassy, learnt Melvin Yeo
“Do you prefer to sleep in the departure area or a detention cell?” asked a gruff Finnish security officer at Helsinki airport. At the end of 8 hours of endless arguing with various officials in Helsinki, London and Singapore, it was time to decide on my accommodation for the night.
That morning, my friends and I arrived back in the city centre of Helsinki after a 12-hour bus ride. We had spent a week trying to capture the northern lights, finally meeting Santa Claus and doing various bits of faffing about with reindeers and huskies in northern Finland. Before heading to the airport to catch our flight, we settled for a quick breakfast at a McDonald’s. Wearily, I left my bag containing my passport on top of the group’s luggage at the table before hurrying to the loo. When I returned, the bag was gone. Thus ensued the most stressful experience in my life.
After making a police report, we decided that the best course of action was to chance it at the airport. Getting back to London without a passport was going to be a Herculean task, but I sure as hell was going to try since there wasn’t a Singapore embassy in Finland from which to get a temporary passport done.
Armed with only a photocopy of my passport and a driving licence, I tried to blag my way onto the plane. Even if I could not get out of the immigration area at London Gatwick, there was an embassy in London that I could work with at the very least. The Finnish authorities were all too happy to allow me to leave as I basically amounted to a refugee in the country. In my desperation, I called on the highest ranking contact at the Singapore embassy with the help of my friends to make an impassioned plea to the Gatwick security officers. After much back and forth, the answer remained a resolute no.
Rejected by London, unwanted by Finland, I was presented with the ultimatum of traveling 17 hours by overground transport to the nearest Singapore embassy in Copenhagen to get a temporary passport. I told them politely where they could stick that idea. Instead, I pointed out that I could book a direct flight from Helsinki to Singapore. The only problem was that the next flight out to Singapore was not for another two days, if I could even get on it at all.
Stuck in limbo, I was presented with the choice of accommodation for the night by the airport security officers. Without a moment’s hesitation, I chose the relative luxury of a detention cell. It had a proper bed and a shower after all. The only drawback was that I was left with only the four walls for company for the next couple of days.
The next day, after more pleading from the Singapore embassy officials to let me leave, I received the go-ahead to book my flight ticket home. There was another unpleasant shock in store as a one-way ticket for the following day cost £1000. I bit the bullet and paid what basically amounted to daylight robbery.
The 13-hour flight was a breeze compared to the previous 48 hours of limbo, or the alternative of traveling for three days by overground to Copenhagen. During the ordeal, I was extremely grateful for the support I received from my friends, family and the Singapore embassy who were extremely understanding towards my plight. If there is one lesson I learnt, it is not to lose a passport at a place which doesn’t have your country’s embassy.
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Featured image credit: Melvin Yeo