I applied for it in a fit of last minute desperation, expedited as much as possible, during finals week of my sophomore year of college. I trudged through snow to the post office to get my photo taken. Unsurprisingly, it is not a good photo. I look tired and a little lost.
My previous passport had roughly five months left on it before it was to expire, but about three weeks before I was to travel, TECO-Chicago informed me that there was a chance I’d be turned back by Taiwanese immigration when I went home for Christmas. Immigration prefers to allow entry on passports with 6 months or more left before expiry, even for short trips. I remember being on the phone with TECO, saying, “I just want to go home,” and the kind Taiwanese woman on the other end saying that she understood but couldn’t guarantee that they would understand at immigration.
My first stamp was inked on December 23, 2004 in Kaohsiung. I’d slept almost all the way across the Pacific, thanks to being totally wiped out by finals (my first physics one ended at 11pm the night before I left). My parents still lived in the apartment I’d grown up in. My bedroom looked much like it always had, albeit a little less covered in unsorted laundry. I was nineteen. It was a long time ago.
In 2005, I acquired an amazing host of stamps and stickers in that fresh passport. A visitor visa for Taiwan so I could go home for the summer, with another stamp for my extension after 60 days. A student visa for Hong Kong so I could spend the fall studying at Lingnan University. A pair of stamps in October for when I went home over a long weekend, a duffle bag packed solid with laundry, a chance for that “authentic college experience.” A tourist visa for China in December for my first trip across that imposing border, the application process that left me nauseated from anxiety as I came into contact, for the first time, with the government that had until then been a just a constant threat on the western horizon. Stamps for arriving and departing from Beijing, a life-changing trip in more ways than one.
Since then, I’ve acquired another visitor visa and a resident visa for Taiwan, two more tourist visas for China (applying for them hasn’t gotten much easier, I fear), and even a pair of stamps for Japan after a flight delay meant United put us up in the airport hotel at Narita overnight. So many exit and re-entry stamps for Taiwan. Each pair is a bright moment from the past decade.
The last time I used it, coming back into the US this past January, the man at immigration made fun of my picture for not looking much like me anymore. True enough.
I’ve had this passport for longer than I’ve known most of my American friends, my partner included. I’ve guarded it protectively, knowing it’s what allows me to leave this country that, after eleven years, still perplexes me daily.
It’s the end of May and my passport expires in December. I have no immediate plans for future travel, but so that I don’t get caught like I was in December 2004, I’m applying for a new passport now. Proof that in the past decade, I’ve learned one thing, at least.
I’m getting a blank book of potentials for the next decade while putting to rest the adventures of the past one.