I am seating in a coach leaving Paris for London on the overnight service. Our driver is a nice little italian man I met a couple of times before on my regular coach travels. As usual I dream of an improbable nice woman that would take the seat next to mine for the 7 hours of the journey, and as usual, I am disappointed. And here he arrives, the chinese guy. He does not ask if the seat is free nor take any sort of inquisitive attitudes to question the availability of it, to his discharge it is obvious that it is available. Not very talkative then, fair enough I do not feel like talking to him either. Another point, he does not have any hand luggage. Strange. Not strange, unusual, not rare, just unusual. He seemed to have arrived with another man similar in feature to him, thin, bonny, vaguely chinese or asian, and no hand luggage.
Here we go then to Calais, to take the ferry to the other side of the English channel. Of course, Customs make ID checks at either end of the crossing. As a supplementary measure tonight, non european travellers have to fill a landing card for Her Majesty Customs. My neighbour seems lost, in doubt the driver gives him a card to fill. More puzzled looks. At this time I begin to question his understanding of what he is meant to do with it. He tries to look over a couple of asians seated in front of us. He gently pushes my hand and make of gesture towards his cards, is he mute? I look at his passport, the photo looks quite old, it says: Bristish national living overseas in Hong Kong. Ouch. Does he qualify as european? I am not sure to be honest. He shows me an empty space on the card labelled "address". "Where do you live?" I ask him. Blank look again, he shows me his date of birth on the passport. "No, your address". Right, this guy does not understand a word of english, let alone french, the card is labelled in both languages. Tough luck. His passport is written in english, how could he posses a legal document he barely understands? He has not spoken a word, is he really mute on top of it? I give up at this point. He is likely to be removed from the coach by either the french or english customs for further questionning, at least so that he could be understood by an interpreter. Two nice young women (deep sigh) seating across the gangway try to help him as well, to no avail. Furthermore it appears that he has not even signed his passport and that there is no address of main residence at all.
I start to wonder: how on earth did he manage to get on this coach, find the coach station
, book his ticket, find out about the timetable if he is illiterate in french and english? Maybe he has not left Paris for twenty years. Here, as in any city that has a chinatown,some people live without knowing a word of the language
of their host country. They are helped for legal documents by the community. How sad this is or how alienated
these people are, I leave it up to you. Maybe is it not the case for my neighbour after all. As predicted however, the custom officer kept his passport and a few moment later, asked him to follow her along with the other chinese guy. A quick tap to the compartment above the seats "Any hand luggage?" , "No, no". Oh, he is not mute then. I can hear the same gesture on the baggage room of the coach. The coach leaves without the two men.
In London, an announcement was made 3 times that a luggage from Paris was waiting for its owner.