Aah, the welcoming embrace of Communist China!
As you may or may not know, I'm travelling to Thailand at the end of next month to attend the wedding of my best friend from law school, Ada, and her man, Zach. (It probably won't surprise you to hear that I've committed myself to singing at the wedding as well).
Anyhoo, after the wedding some of the other guests and I are going to Beijing to see the forbidden city and the Great Wall (definitely worth taking another week off from work, right?). In order to travel to China for tourism, American citizens need to obtain a visa. You need submit your application in person to the Chinese embassy here in Washington or to one of the handful of Chinese consulates sparingly scattered across the country OR you can utilize one of the services registered to obtain these visas on your behalf. Given that I live in the DC area, the travel agent suggested I might want to go ahead and apply in person thus bypassing the middlemen who make a living out of exploiting this pain-in-the-ass requirement (I guess the US requires people from lots of countries to obtain visas in order to visit here, so we really can't complain too much). This is where today's misadventure begins....
But I am getting ahead of myself... like three months ago, I checked out the Chinese embassy website and printed out a tourist visa application. This application ended up sitting untouched on my desk (drawing the attention of one particularly nosey coworker when I was mercifully out of the office) only to be ruined when something oily spilled on it. So last week, with the trip coming ever closer, I reprinted the application and began filling it out. I had some little unflattering pictures of myself left over from when I got my passport renewed, so that was convenient, but I didn't have my passport handy. Thus I had to wait for another day in order to complete the form. When I printed out the form I scoped out the address of the embassy. I remembered that it was on Wisconsin Avenue, that it was far away, and that I would have to take some bus to get there.
Today, I finally remembered to bring my passport to work and I completed the application. But when I looked up the address of the Chinese Embassy online I saw that I was mistaken: the embassy was actually on Connecticut Avenue between Dupont Circle and Woodley Park -- not that far at all. So at 1 o'clock this afternoon, I set off on my quest for a Chinese visa. It was a beautiful day, and it seemed stupid to take the metro one stop to Dupont Circle, so I walked to the embassy. When I arrived I was greeted by a plaque beside the door bearing the embassy's hours of operation and informing stupid Americans like myself that the embassy's Visa Office was located on Wisconsin Avenue. D'oh!
At this point, gentle reader, I felt I had travelled too far to walk back to the office defeated, my tail between my legs. So I started wandering cluelessly in what I imagined to be the direction of this Wisconsin Avenue Visa Office. I bumbled down some discouragingly quiet streets, through a leafy, affluent neighborhood which seemed to house several ambassadorial residences. When I stumbled upon a couple of Ethiopian limo drivers sitting by their cars I asked them which direction Wisconsin Avenue was in. I gave them the exact address, and -- after a lively back and forth between the two -- they basically told me it was way too far to walk to and that I best take a cab.
I managed to flag down a cab on Mass Ave without too much trouble, and it took me the rest of the way to the visa office. Looking out the window I glimpsed such sights as the National Mosque, and I marvelled at my own foolishness in imagining I could walk all this way.
The visa office is located inside a nondescript office building surrounded by little shops. When I went inside I was shocked to see that the place looked like the DMV: there were several different lines and lots of people sitting in chairs who looked like they had already been waiting for quite a while. And you had to take a number. I ended up waiting for an hour and a half in a chair in the corner watching ugly Americans, people of Chinese extraction, and a few of the couriers employed by those visa services go about their business. When my number was finally called it was a bit like when you have to go into the bank and you wonder why the line is moving so slowly because it took the woman behind the counter all of a minute to look over my application, take my passport and write out the receipt that I would need to collect my visa next week.
During the eternity I spent in the visa office I did learn that xie xie is Chinese for thank you.
And what can you learn from this story? Take advantage of the visa services!
SONG I'M CURRENT LISTENING TO: Katia B - Are you sleeping?
BEVERAGE I'M CURRENTLY DRINKING: mango juice and water
WHAT I HAD FOR DINNER TONIGHT: 2 empanadas (1 chilean and 1 turkey)
COOL LINK OF THE DAY: For the Love of a Good Burger