Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Friday, August 24, 2007
Well, I must say, that was rather anticlimactic.

The Chinese Visa office is in a very nondescript, shabby looking, 70's era, office building on Wisconsin Ave., about 4 blocks before you hit the Georgetown shopping area. It's on the first floor, down a dingy hallway, next to a State Farm Insurance office.

It reminded me a little of jury duty. Lots of security (metal detectors, and a very thorough bag search), and then one big room with fraying carpet, uncomfortable chairs, and two TVs blasting Chinese language shows. One was some kind of variety show at a big theme park with a cheesy host, and the other station showed idyllic scenes of Chinese landscapes and forests.

On one wall, there are four window booths. Two for applications, one for cashier, and one for pickup. I got there about 10 minutes before they opened, and all the seats were already filled. I took a number and waited. The mix of people were interesting. There were a lot of Chinese families, a fair number of students, some elderly couples, and then there were the visa agents. These are the guys I could have paid upwards of $250 to run this errand for me. Stacks and stacks of passports and paperwork flowing out of bags and briefcases. For anyone too busy or too far away, this is the alternative. I was glad to be there in person. The one guy was big and beefy looking and at 10:00 AM, his shirt was absolutely drenched in sweat. It looked like he got caught in a rainstorm. Ick.

With perfect Chinese efficiency, the blinds on the windows opened simultaneously at precisely 10:00 AM. From there, things were pretty straight forward. I got to the window at about 20 after ten, and I had already completed all the paperwork the night before. They seemed very interested in the fact that I was going alone to visit someone, as opposed to going there to study or as part of an organized tour, and in the cities I listed. They seemed very concerned that I might be heading into the western frontier all by myself, which is most definitely not allowed. I assured them that I was part of a group for that portion of the trip, so they made me write down the name and contact info for the group we are going with, and then said that they would have to verify it. That made me pause a little, because I was pretty sure no one was going to answer the phone at nearly midnight Beijing time, but I wasn't in any position to argue with them, and they said I could come back and pick my passport up after 2:00 PM.

So, I went across the street to Starbucks for morning coffee and to check email at the office, and then headed to Georgetown for a few hours of shopping and a leisurely lunch at Bistro Francais.

Back to the Visa office promptly at 2:00, walked right up to the cashier, plopped down $130, slid over to the next window, and a very nice woman with stacks and stacks of passports, handed me mine.

All in all - it was a MUCH better experience than say, the MVA.

The only downside to the whole thing was the $8 in parking and the fact that it took me from 2:20 to 4:30 to get back to Baltimore in bumper to bumper beltway traffic. Going down there at 8:30 this morning was a breeze. Not so the ride home.
posted by Broadsheet @ 4:42 PM  
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