Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our first encounter with the Chinese - Getting the Visa!

September 30, 2010 As usual, we had a whole list of things we wanted to see and do while visiting our sister and brother-in-law in Chicago. But the most important thing was getting a Visa to enter China on our trip next spring. It turns out that there are only three places in the USA where you can personally pick up a Visa – L.A., D.C. and Chicago. If you don’t go to one of these places, you have to pay extra to have a middle-man type company process your application. Sounds simple. We found the Chinese Embassy website and then the fun started. We are leaving the USA on Jan. 2 and won’t be in China until April 23. We won’t be in Chicago again this year, though. So we wanted to apply 8 months in advance. There are three types of Visas – valid for 3 months, 6 months and 1 year. We wanted the year. Good news - all of them cost the same. Bad news – 3 month Visas are for single entry; 6 month are for 2-3 entries; and one year is for multiple entries. We were hoping that since we will be there for 4 days, that that would count as multiple entries. The problem was that Hong Kong (2 of those days) doesn’t count as a Chinese city and doesn’t require a Visa.
Well, we arrived at the Embassy address and, guess what? They’ve moved! Thank goodness, they were only a couple blocks down the street. When we arrived at 11:00AM, there was a large room full of people, a take-a-number machine and lots of folding chairs in rows. We were number 078 and they were calling 048. Uh, oh. Thirty people to be processed ahead of us and they were closing for lunch at noon. We visited with some American business men who had been through this before, and they were less than encouraging. We found out the application forms on the web were not current and we needed to fill out new ones located on a counter in the room. We quickly wrote in all the information.
At noon, there were only 5 numbers ahead of us. Amazingly, they did not stop and our number was called. We walked up with big smiles, our passports, immunization records, the filled in applications and passport photos. The woman behind the window was surly, to say the least. We had two questions – which didn’t help the situation. May we apply for the year Visa, even if we are only going to be in China for two days? “You want year Visa?” Yes. “You apply year Visa.” Yes, but will they allow that? It says you need multiple entries? “You apply year Visa.” OK, we’ll mark that box. (Does that mean we can get it?!) Next question: Today is Thursday. We would like to pick up the Visa on Monday. It says expedited processing takes 3-4 days. Will the Visa be ready on Monday? (“A string of words we didn’t understand, ending with “Monday”.) I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I rephrase my question trying to speak very clearly and smile a lot. Can we come on Monday to pick up the Visa? (“Another string of garbled words ending with “Monday”.) Then we’re coming back on Monday, OK? No answer, but she writes Monday on our claim check. We hand her all of our paperwork, passports and photos. She grabs her scissors and with a flash of deft origami cuts that even Edward Scissorhands would envy, she snips our photos to the proper size and staples them to the applications. We leave the Embassy. Who knows what just happened? We didn’t pay any money and all we have is a claim check.
On Monday, we arrived in the afternoon; just to give them more time to process our applications. We saw the same huge crowd; but with our claim check, we were pointed to a different line and in 5 minutes we were greeted by a smiling Chinese woman who spoke beautifully in English. She took our claim check and retrieved our passports from her file. Of course she was smiling . . . “That’ll be $320.00, please.”