Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Fine Print

Have I mentioned we're traveling for spring break, China with the whole family?  Anyhoo, it's another country which requires visas and so I've been ignoring my Kenya pics to get it all prepped.  The online form, per person, is seven pages long.  Plus I had to print out individual copies of our confirmed flights (2 pgs), plus a list of hotels from the tour company where we'll be staying (1 pg), the official itinerary (2 pgs), a copy of our US passport as well as the front and back of our UK resident visa (2 pgs). That made a grand total of 14 pages each for the three of us that I checked over about a zillion times.  And I swear every time I checked over it again I caught another error - danged middle aged eyes!

Lest you think I'm being hard hearted and making the husband do his own paperwork, I would like to point out that he is working in the US and will have to submit his own application to the nearest Chinese visa office in Houston.  I have a difficult time feeling sorry for him since he's enjoying friends, spending time with family, eating Tex Mex at will and no doubt guzzling bottomless glasses of sweet iced tea on a daily basis. And getting to shop at Target or go through the drive thru at Chick-Fil-A, not that he would on a daily basis but rather that he could do either at will.  I won't even get started on all of the fun parenting things he's missing, like homework assistance every danged night.

Yesterday morning, armed with my snap-close plastic folder full of visa applications as well as our US passports and UK residence cards, I rode the commuter train into London.  At Waterloo, I caught the tube over to Regent's Park and walked from the station to the embassy. I was told at the door by the nice uniformed guard that the visa extension office was down the road. I walked another 1.5 blocks down the same street to find it.  However, this is only for Chinese or folks of Chinese descent needing a visa or passport.  As a foreigner seeking merely a travel visa for China, I had to proceed to yet another location.

The appointment I made online was for 10:00 and it was already 9:50.  Thankfully the nice lady at the second location handed me a brochure with directions to the visa location where I was supposed to be and I all but climbed over the people in line behind me to make a break for the door and hustle it back to the tube station.  I searched the street for a taxi, but of course there wasn't one to be found when I really needed it.  I have this compulsion to be early and just about stand on my head at not merely being late but even the thought of arriving past the alloted time makes me a raving lunatic. It was like some sort of twisted treasure hunt, only not fun and I didn't get a prize at the end but rather had to pay money for the pleasure of it. 

Thankfully, rush hour was over and so it wasn't too terribly crowded on the tube  as I backtracked on the Bakerloo Line to Oxford Street where I changed to the Central Line and made my way to Bank Station. Speed walking down the street like a madwoman, I arrived at 10:12 all ready to explain to the receptionist my snafu with the location, inability to follow directions (even though they were written in this tiny little italicized print at the bottom of the page and I'm sure most folks assume the Chinese embassy is the place to be) and plead my case.  However, the distracted gal behind the desk just had me show her my appointment booking confirmation and handed me a number in the visa queue.  They were currently helping number 1063 and I was 1093.  

Despite my best effort at self-sabotage, I got everything submitted and was given a ticket to return Monday in order to retrieve our passports with the Chinese visas in them.  And pony up the payment of $120 per person.  Ouch - Kenya was only $50.  It makes me wonder if the US charges tourists to visit our country, and how much it costs if they do.  Because based on the crowd of folks at the foreign visa facility on a Wednesday in February, they're making quite a bit of cash off tourists before they even set foot in China.

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