Veni, Vidi, Visa

Hello, again, from China.

Obviously, Christina and I made it here safely, but that is not to say the road was not bumpy. Oh no. <–a lot of negatives in those two sentences …

No, first we had to navigate the treacherous waters of bureaucracy. And not just any bureaucracy. Chinese bureaucracy. Paiyow. This was, naturally, back when we were still in the US. We had to go to Houston, because that is the only consulate in Texas (and Arkansas—but I’m getting ahead of myself).

We cut it a little close. Not our faults, though—it was the Olympics. The Chinese didn’t want too many foreigners amongst them, so our departure date was delayed a month. Alright, fine. We only had to navigate Orbitz’s bureaucracy to make them change our flights. Not so bad, what else you got? A hurricane? Oh … you … you have a hurricane … I did not know that.

Yes, the week Christina flew into Dallas, the week we decided to go to Houston, just happened to be the week that God (or maybe his Chinese Overlords) decided to send Ike our way. Awesome. Of all the fucking …

You know, when my mom told me that there was talk of evacuating Houston (on that Monday), somehow it didn’t phase me. Of course there was a hurricane. I mean, it would have just been too easy any other way.

So I kept a close eye on the news. Luckily, the evacuation talk was set for Thursday or Friday. Christina was flying in Tuesday. We could leave Wednesday, turn in our visas, wait however many hours, and pick them up in the morning. We could still do it. This was made infinitely easier by my wonderful friends, Will and Kay, who were gracious enough to let us spend the night at their house. Kay was out of town, but I got to see Will, so that was fun.

So yes! We raced down to Houston and turned in our visa applications. While at the consulate Christina and I saw no less than three people leave in a fit of rage. The first was an American. We don’t know what the problem was, but we did hear him when he began yelling at the Chinese bureaucrat behind the bulletproof glass, “I drove twelve hours to here from Arkansas! I drove twelve hours to here from Arkansas!” Alas, the Chinese man did not care. The other two were Chinese people. One looked to be in his early twenties. He was with what I assumed to be his girlfriend. Evidently, he did not appreciate the service he was receiving because he threw his pen down and started yelling. Until the security guard came over. Then he was escorted out. The other was a Chinese lady who didn’t understand that when she got out of line to fill out an application, she couldn’t just jump back to the head of the line. Add to this the fact that she was paranoid about losing her passports (she was applying for more than one person) and Christina and I got another bit of a show.

Things went smoothly for us. We filled out our applications, turned them in, and were stoked to get our visas the following day. We had to leave our passports with them overnight. That was something that was hard to surrender to the Chinese bureaucracy. But we did, and we spent a lovely evening with Will. The next day we found out that parts of the city were being evacuated at noon. Crappity crap-crap. The consulate closed for lunch at 11:30, didn’t open again until 1:30. That would have been messy, so we set out to get everything done in the morning. We managed to get there–through traffic and with a bit of Starbucks to keep us awake—around 10:30. We found a parking spot. We got in line. We stood in line. We stood in line. We finally made it to the front at about … 11:05, I think. We gave the woman our receipt, she got out our passports, together with visa, and started to hand them to us when she said, “Three hundred dollars, please.”

I’m sorry, what? Three hundred dollars? Good lord. But whatever, sure, here, do you take Visa?

“Cash only, please.”

Yes, with what I will call a pun in very bad taste, the Chinese consulate did not take Visa. I actually got my wallet out and looked at it (knowing I only had sixty dollars) and was surprised when I did not find three hundred. I looked back at the consulate lady, smiling patiently. The phrase “We drove five hours from Mansfield!” bounced around my skull. Off to an ATM! Any ATM! Anything! We raced across Montrose. We found a Chase ATM—thank god! That’s Christina’s bank. We still have time! Except that it wouldn’t process her card. Dammit. Will it—no, not mine either. Crap!

We raced again. What time was it? 11:15. Oh god … but then! Bank of America! We will pay the fee, just, please, give us money! Success! Back to the consulate! 11:20 and we were back in line. Waiting. Waiting only a few minutes. Finally we made it to the front at 11:25. Yes we do have three hundred dollars (in cash). The nice lady took that money and then she handed us our visas.

Relief … washes over us….

We got out of there with three minutes to spare. Thank you, Chinese bureaucracy. It took us another five or six hours to drive back to Mansfield (thank you, Ike) but we made it. And we were able to keep our already-changed plane tickets. Phew.

That, I feel, is the best word to describe working with any government: Phew.

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