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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Visiting Chinese Officials Touched by Kindness Over a Lost Wallet

By Brendan O'Hallarn

The kindness of a stranger made for a memorable trip to Old Dominion University for two visiting university administrators from China.

In fact, it could be described with the term used by Robert Wojtowicz, the University's associate vice provost for graduate studies: "The Chinese New Year Miracle."

Yu Yi and Li Wenyi, officials with Wuhan Bioengineering Institute, visited Old Dominion University this week, because of professional connections made with Old Dominion's Adrian Gheorghe, professor and chairman of engineering management and systems engineering in the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology. The original agenda included discussions about research collaborations in the areas of risk management and resilience, topics about which Gheorghe is a worldwide expert.

Instead, the visit became a hands-on exercise in risk mitigation after Yi noticed his passport and wallet, containing $4,000, were missing.

Marcelo Siles, executive director for international programs at Old Dominion, had dispatched a graduate student fluent in Cantonese to pick up the visitors at Norfolk International Airport. Plans for a lunch with academic officials at the University quickly changed into a frantic effort to find Yi's wallet.

"He didn't know where he had lost it, whether it was when he was going through customs, or in the bathroom at the airport, or where it would be," Siles said.

Siles took the visitors to the airport, with the sinking suspicion that the wallet, passport and cash were gone. Meanwhile, staff in International Programs called the airlines that had taken the two visitors to Hampton Roads, and made arrangements for a flight or train ride to Washington D.C. if an emergency passport was needed for Yi to get home.

At the airport, Siles first talked with a staff member with United Airlines, and explained the emergency. "She was extremely helpful. She went in the back and in 10 or 15 minutes came out and told us the plane the gentlemen were on was flying to Houston," Siles said. Plans were made for police to greet the airplane when it landed and for the flight staff to check the row where Yi and Wenyi had been sitting.

"The plane was landing in 30 minutes, so I asked the lady if there was a lost and found at the airport as well," Siles said. "We figured there was almost zero probability of getting the wallet back if it had been dropped in the airport."

Amazingly, a security officer staffing the lost and found department confirmed that the wallet had indeed been found, along with the passport. "Then he went into the safe and brought out a sealed envelope," Siles said. "Yu counted the money and every last dollar was there. It was incredible."

The two visitors left Old Dominion and Hampton Roads grateful, and Siles said they remarked at how touched they were by the kindness of a stranger.

"They were extremely pleased. They talked with Provost (Chandra) De Silva about their eagerness to expand the partnership," Siles said.

"Really, this act talks a lot about our city. There are few places in the world where this would have happened. So most of all, I'm grateful for the person who did this. It's truly amazing."

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