Thursday, October 10, 2013

How I Spent My Thursday Afternoon

In a slightly complicated but terribly interesting (to me) development, I recently learned that my passport, which expires next August, is not good enough. When we apply for our visa at the end of November, we need to reassure the Chinese that we both have passports that are good for the full 12 months, not 9 months and change.

You'd almost think the Chinese don't want us to stay.

So I went to the U.S. Embassy a day before the government shutdown to apply for my new passport. I always love getting a new passport every ten years so that, unlike Dorian Grey, I can really see that whole aging process. Anyway. The good news is that the shutdown in Washington does not prevent passport processing. Phew.

New passport in hand, I marched over the the famous Public Security Bureau, the entity that decides whether foreigners in China get visas or residency permits to stay longer than a few days. The place has that whole unfriendly feeling of a DMV in Washington, D.C., with the added color of multiple languages being shouted all at once. I also could have sworn somebody was smoking pot in there, but it could have been moxibustion instead. Look it up.

After some confusion caused by the fact that I stood for a good long while in the wrong line (I think I said to Bob, "I don't need a Chinese speaker with me! I can do this myself!"), I finally got a number to wait for the visa folks.

There were only 200 people in front of me.

The afternoon passed. The seats provided were this hard metal, totally uncomfortable for people who might be suffering from what I call Rickshaw Butt. So I stood and studied Chinese, read email, and listened to "This American Life" on my phone, all of which wore down my battery big time.

Finally, I got to my own visa person, a sweet-faced young woman who could not have been more than 17. She stared at my documents for a few minutes, and then said, "Can I use your phone? I need to call the local police."


My phone had about 11 percent batteries left, and I thought it was odd that she needed to use my phone. After having me wait a few minutes, which translated means about 20 minutes in China, she informed me that I needed to go to the local police station to register FIRST, then come back and get my visa.

I was seeing my vacation to Thailand, supposed to begin Nov. 2, disappear with the wind that was blowing through Beijing that day. I mean, I could leave the country, but I didn't know if I could get back.

You'd think...

As I left the PSB at rush hour, I decided I would walk home. Besides, there are rarely cabs at rush hour, and my bottom was resisting the idea of being subjected to another bouncy rickshaw ride. And my reward was a lovely sunset. Now this is not the Hudson Valley or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or Bali, or any one of the many gorgeous places my Facebook friends show in their pictures. But it was a sweet treat after a headachy afternoon with bureaucrats. Dante knew nothing.

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