RIP: Passport, Pt. 3

There are only two things on these pages: the second Chinese visa and an upside-down stamp for Palmerston Island (in the Cook Islands). The second is not really a customs stamp, but it is pretty much the coolest stamp in the entire passport. Unfortunately, mine was the only one that got stamped upside-down…

To tell the story of the Chinese visa, I remember back to May 2007 when I went over to Vancouver, on my week off, and spent some time getting visas for the entire crew and Skipper’s family. It is the best summary I have of the story of the second Chinese visa…

Today I went down to W Broadway to the Chinese Consulate to get visas for our crew because we need to get them before we arrive in Shanghai on the boat next February. I got there between 9:30 and 9:45; the embassy opened at 9am. The room for visa applications was already full of about 200 people, mostly sitting down on long benches like they have in train and bus waiting rooms. I was one of maybe 4 white people in the room and I felt like I was in China: all the signs were in Chinese, all I could hear spoken around me was Chinese, all the people were Chinese, I was taller than everyone, and it was very crowded. There was a sign at the entrance to the room saying “No numbers today.” Great, a free-for-all, Chinese style, of people trying to get visas (or so I thought). I surveyed the room for a few brief seconds before deciding to stand in one of the short lines at one of the two windows for visa applications, dreading wasting my entire day (of 5 very precious days off) at the Chinese Consulate. A very forceful white lady inserted herself in front of me: “What number are you?”

“The sign said no numbers today.”

“Oh, there are numbers alright, I’m 791 [or whatever it was].” She proceeded to enlighten me that they had already run out of numbers for the day – people started queueing at something like 6am in the alleyway. Well, I was not about to come back at 6am tomorrow morning, so I decided on trying my luck at today.

Fortunately, the SALTS office had been in communication with someone at the consulate and had given me a letter, signed by our executive director, introducing me to them. I stayed in line, budged in front of people (in the Chinese way, of course) saying that I just had to speak with Ms. Whatever-her-name-was and saw no other way to do so. The best part was an elderly Chinese man, not in the queue, encouraging me to budge in.

I got up to a window and presented my letter (thankfully, I’d worn my Pacific Grace shirt today, one more identifier of me with SALTS) and said that my company had been in contact with someone at the embassy and I was here and didn’t know how else to speak with her. The lady at the window disappeared with my letter into the back for a few minutes. I spent those minutes hoping no one would discover I had no number and shoo me away. She reappeared and simply asked me if I had the completed form. I pulled all 15 applications out of my bag and pushed them under the window.

After a few minutes of explaining that, yes, I am not going to China until February and I know that is a long way away, however I will not be able to get the visa between now and then because I will be out of the country, she informed me that I had to change all of the visa applications to a multiple entry, 1 year visa. As long as it is the one that costs the amount of money for the company cheque I have on me, I don’t care what visa it is! I scooched to the side, unwilling to give up my place at the window in case I never got it back, and changed all 15 applications before shoving them under the window again. After stapling all the photos on to the applications, and removing all the paperclips, she smiled at me and said “You pick up on Friday, okay?”

“That will be just fine!”

Half an hour after I entered the Consulate, I was walking back down Broadway, laughing to myself for a good two blocks: guanxi is alive and well in Canada as well as in China and I am very glad I had that letter.

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