Victory is mine!

I got my China visa!

Coming up in October, my fifth trip to China, and I gotta tell ya, it gets harder every time. China claims to be interested in building both tourism and business relationships with foreigners, but no one’s told the visa people. The sheaf of papers you need to go to the Consulate with is a quarter-inch thick, and now for the first time includes your airline ticket. What, they think having a return ticket guarantees I won’t overstay my visa? And one typo, and forget it, you go home and re-do it and come back.

I thought when I went last week that I was pretty slick, having noticed that as of Sept. 1 they had a whole new form to use, and having made multiple copies after I filled it out so in case they didn’t like the way I affixed (their word) my visa photo to it (I used double-sided tape) I could staple it, or glue it. But it turns out I wasn’t slick enough. I had the dreaded Missing Piece of Paper — or rather, I didn’t have it. So now I tell you this for free: when printing out your airline ticket to prove you have one, do not print it from the United website where your reservations are stored in your account. No, no. Print it from the confirming email they sent you. Why? Because the one in your account folder doesn’t have your name on it. Really not. Because it’s your folder already. And the lady behind Window #2 wanted to be sure the ticket I was showing her was really mine. What to do? Go all the way the hell home, print the &^#%@! thing out,and come all the way the hell back? Why, no. Talk to the security guard, the Window #2 lady tells me. It’s in your email, yes? Yes indeed. Well, then, the guard can tell you where around here to find a printer.

So I ask the guard. He hands me a business card without blinking; this must happen a hundred times a day. Kinko’s, I’m thinking, or Office Max. Nope. The Happy Family Chinese Restaurant, two blocks away. Mind you, it’s 9:30 am. But it’s nearby, so I go there. Place is dark but door is open. I walk in. Two women folding napkins at a table, another taking the stems off string beans. Guy behind the register says to me, “What do you need?” To print my airline ticket for the Consulate, I tell him. “From email?” Yes. “Computer and printer in the back.” I go in back, sign on, find the email, make sure my name’s on it, hit print, collect the paper, go back to the front. He wants five bucks. Way too much for a two-page print job, but on the other hand, a cheap price to save my morning. I go back, cut to the front of the Window #2 lady’s line the way she told me to do. She looks the ticket over, writes on it, staples it to all my other stuff, and tells me to come back today. When they do this, they keep your passport so they can affix your visa to it. So for a week I am passportless, and wondering if they will, in fact, welcome me with open arms when I go back.

And lo! they did. I paid the visa fee — which has also gone up — and walked out with my passport, with its new visa affixed.

I’m looking forward to this trip, which is to Yunnan Province, a part of China I haven’t seen. Still, I have to say, as foreign destinations go, Canada is looking better and better.

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