About two years ago, I had to replace my passport — the only one I had ever known. I certainly wouldn’t dare post the photo from that passport online (I wouldn’t want to frighten anyone with that, even this close to Halloween). Fortunately, my new passport has a much more flattering photo that actually looks like me. I was actually surprised that I wasn’t questioned more with that old photo.
I was 20 when I first got the passport in New Jersey. I needed it so I could study for a semester in London. As initiation into the life of international travel, the customs officer at Heathrow took it upon himself to stamp my passport in the middle of the page, thus making it difficult to fill the page with multiple stamps. Upon my return, US customs stamped another blank page.
When I visited Israel, the airline added a sticker to the back cover of my passport that never fully came off. China added a barcode to the front cover when I got my first residence permit — I don’t know what the barcode was used for, but it became a useless white sticker after less than a year and was never replaced. There’s still a staple on page 15 where Malaysian customs stapled the exit form for safe keeping (which was much easier than losing it and finding a new one at the airport).
Somehow, the gold emblem of the eagle and the words “United States of America” wore off the cover to my passport during my second year in China. The cover is now a plain blue with a faded white sticker in the corner. I found this very useful at customs as no one could tell where I was from unless they opened my passport. I felt like I was walking through borders incognito.
I had extra pages added in Bangkok. I was going to get them added at the consulate in Hong Kong, but I needed to make an appointment. Bangkok was quicker and I was already on my way to Thailand for the Spring Festival holiday. I wouldn’t have needed new pages so soon if it wasn’t for Hong Kong and China customs insisting on stamping blank pages every time I passed through the border (four stamps for a round-trip journey through the same country). Macau usually conserved space when stamping passports. It also didn’t help that in less than four years I accumulated nine Chinese visas (2 tourist, 3 business, 4 residence permits).
The new passport is fancy, with the electronic tracking chip in it, which means I have to be more careful about carrying it around. It doesn’t bend like the old one because the cover pages are thicker (it also cost a lot more). So far, I’ve only had the opportunity to use the new passport twice. I’ve also been able to use the new passport card when I took the train to Montreal.