Thursday, May 2, 2013

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's $80 Airfare

The Original Story:
Along with only knowing three English words, Fu Ping came to the US with only $80 in her pocket. In Bend, Not Break, she explained on Page 260:
I converted my entire savings from my factory work and the sale of most of my personal items into US dollars, and received an eighty-dollar cashier's check from China Bank in return. This would cover the flight from San Francisco to Albuquerque.
She also explained that her mother just received a large sum of money from someone who owed her family money and used that money to buy her the ticket from Shanghai to San Francisco.

On Page 4, she described the trouble she encountered at San Francisco:
Although I had exact eighty dollars in traveler's checks to pay for the connecting flight, the airline staff refused to issue me a ticket. I couldn't understand why; that had been the price when I had checked in Shanghai.
Apparently the price had gone up $5 by the time she took the flight. Learning her trouble, a fellow passenger offered $5 to help Fu Ping get her ticket.

The Debunking:
If Fu Ping had indeed been in that situation, it is fairly reasonable to believe that someone would offer the help she needed. The questions, however, are in the setup of this story.

First of all, it is very hard to believe that the ticket from San Francisco to Albuquerque, bought at the counter without advance reservation, costed only $80 or $85 in January, 1984. Airline tickets should cost substantially higher.

It is also a strange coincidence that Fu Ping's entire savings would convert to exactly $80, no more, no less. But if it really did, she would not have been able to obtain the $80. In the 1980s, US dollar, as a luxurious foreign exchange, is under very strict control and is very difficult to obtain. In 1986, when I was leaving China for US, the government only allowed me to convert $52 worth of currency, which is what I had in my pocket, in cash. How did Fu Ping manage to exchange $80 two years earlier -- and got it in either as traveler's check or cashier's check? If there were no limit at the time, why did she exchange just a few dollars more, just in case? Her mother had enough fund to purchase a $600 ticket for her but could not provide another extra $5 or $10?

Fu Ping was already aware of the connecting flight as she looked up the price while in Shanghai. So the reasonable thing to do was to buy the entire airfare from Shanghai to Albuquerque instead of trying to get a ticket at the counter. What if the connecting flight was sold out by then?

It just does not add up.


  1. Was Bank of China able to offer cashier's check in US dollar at that time?

  2. At that time, there was no internet in China, how did she know the ticket would cost $80? Did she ring up the airline? No, it was impossible - she only knew 3 English words. The only person she knew was her father's student who lived there; maybe he told her? No, it doesn't sound right either. If they had been in contact, why didn't he tell her that he would be away travelling by the time she arrived?

    1. She could have checked the ticket price at the airline while buying the Shanghai-San Francisco ticket. The airlines most likely had Chinese speakers in Shanghai. The strange thing is that she didn't buy the connecting ticket at that time as well.

    2. It was also strange that she said she later found out that the guy graduated a few weeks earlier. Why a person graduated in the middle of school year?