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How A Chinese Visa Travel Disaster Helped My IT CareerA couple of years ago I had an issue while I was travelling, which could have left me on the streets of Malaysia with no money and nowhere to stay for a week. I learnt a few things from that experience, and some that apply to my IT career. So, what happened?

The Story

In early 2010 I went on a trip that involved me going to China for a couple of weeks. I was there with a friend of mine, and when the stay in China was over, we went our separate ways. He went off to another country, and I had a few days before my flight back to Australia.

I decided that I had seen all I needed to see in China (where I was, anyway), and thought about seeing another country. I was in the south-east-Asia area anyway, and I thought I could stop over at another country for a few days before my original flight. So, I decided to fly into Kuala Lumpur (in Malaysia) for a few days. This would change my return flight from “China-Australia” to “China-Malaysia-China-Australia”.

I had it all organised. Flights booked, hotels booked, even a couple of things in KL planned like visiting the Petronas Towers. I gave myself enough time in between flights in case something went wrong or was delayed. As I was just transferring through China on the way back, I left a couple of hours in between to change flights. This would mean I wouldn’t exit the airport – I would just pick up my bags from my Malaysia-China flight, and get on my China-Australia flight.

So, after a few days in Malaysia, it was time to go home. It was the end of my holiday (which was about six weeks total). When I got to the Malaysian airport, I got to the passport control section, and the people there were a bit confused about what I was doing. I explained to them that I was just “passing through” China to get my original flight back to Australia.

This is where things went downhill.

The visa that I had to enter China was a single-visit visa, which I was aware of. It allowed me one visit into China. This was OK with me, as I didn’t intend on leaving when I bought the visa a few months before my trip.

However, the airport staff in Malaysia explained to me that because I had this single-visit visa, I couldn’t re-enter China to go back home. Yes, even the airport counted. I couldn’t get my flight from Malaysia to China then to Australia.

So what did I do? The only option to me was to get home without going to China. Which meant booking another flight from Malaysia to Australia. I approached the ticket desk for my airline and tried to change my ticket – which they couldn’t do. They also said the next flight from that airport back to Melbourne was in a week’s time. It must have been a busy period, from memory it was around the time of Chinese New Year. I couldn’t even get a flight to another Australian city, such as Brisbane, and get a transfer!

Great.

I ended up walking around a few different airline company desks, trying desperately to find a flight back to Australia. I finally found one with a different company that had a flight back. It left in a couple of hours – from the other airport in the city, which was about 20 minutes away. Also, as it was the end of my trip, I didn’t have the cash on me to pay for the $800 flight. I had a credit card – but it was maxed out. This was quite a pickle!

I had to call my bank, from Malaysia, to ask for an on-the-spot increase to my limit, just so I could buy a plane ticket home! And get all of this done before the actual flight left, otherwise it was a waste!

Luckily, they gave me the extension. I bought the ticket, sprinted to the taxi rank, and got a ride to the other airport. I ran to the check-in counter, and luckily made it there on time to get on the flight and get back home. What a day!

 

What I Learnt From This Experience

Now, you might be thinking, “Ben, that’s a great story, but how does it relate to my IT career?” Good question.

I learnt a few things from this travel experience that can be applied to our career:

  • Confirm your requirements as early as possible. I should have gotten a more flexible visa from the Chinese embassy before my trip, which would have allowed me to enter China again and get my original flight, avoiding this mess. However, I made the assumption that I was only entering once. Confirming your requirements early in your work or in your project is important, and try not to make assumptions.
  • Leave plenty of time for unexpected events. Things will go wrong with your work. If you don’t make time for things to take longer than expected, or for things to go wrong, then it can have an impact to other areas. Your boss and other teams could be expecting work to be done that is reliant on your work, and if something goes wrong, it can affect many things.
  • Try to remain calm when things go wrong. When things happen at work that cause problems and can impact your work in a negative way, it’s important to try and remain calm. It portrays a sense of confidence, it allows you to think clearly, and improves the mood of those around you. Staying calm allows you to better come up with a solution to the problem or work out what to do.
  • Always have a backup plan. If things go wrong, you need to have a Plan B. Having a backup plan in place is a good way to keep a project going when things fail. This can be done for your work as well – if you can’t get access to someone or can’t get some software working that you need, think of another way that you can do it.
  • Negative experiences often produce lessons. Many things went wrong in this experience, but I learnt a few things from it that I may not have known otherwise. It could have gone a lot worse, but I got out OK.

What Would I Do Differently?

So, after all that, there’s a few things I would do differently. Sure, everyone has perfect vision when having the gift of hindsight, but if I was given the time again, I would do a few things differently:

  • I would get a multi-visit visa to China. This would give me more flexibility, and would allow me to get my original flight
  • I would consider booking my Malaysia trip earlier, so I knew that I was going there for sure. Sometimes it’s good to be spontaneous, especially when travelling, but this is something I would have considered.
  • I would have left a couple of thousand dollars in my account for emergencies. This would be used for booking flights and hotels in an emergency, so if I needed to get home or if I needed to stay a few extra days somewhere, then I could.

On the bright side, though, getting a new flight direct from Malaysia to Australia meant I didn’t have to “backtrack” by going to China and then home again, saving me about half a day in flight time! Every cloud has silver lining!

 

What experiences have you had that have taught you about your career?

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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