Our first brush with communism

We said farewell to family and friends for our June 5th departure… but we’re still state-side?

Well we still need to obtain those pesky visas…

If we followed all the rules we would have flown to Chicago for our China visa and Dallas for the India visa, but I don’t like always following the rules.  Mostly, I didn’t want to waste the time and money traveling to Illinois and Texas.  Nothing against either state, but I quite like California and we have some very delightful friends and family who have graciously kicked out kids and pets for our sleeping comfort.  More on that later.

Today began the “international” planning we hadn’t done much of to date.  Monday morning, 7:30AM, we eat a delicious French breakfast at LaBoulange.  Quite fat and happy we arrive at the SF Chinese consulate (which is ironically in Japan-Town) ready to knock this out.

Hour one – we’re both pretty optimistic, as we’ve brought good books to read and have seats.

Hour two – I wait in line for nearly 30 minutes to use the single restroom serving 100+ people.

Hour three – our ticket number 65 is called.  Paul gets worried that we need to adhere our passport photos more securely to the applications… so he runs down the street for a glue stick.  We determine that we should start a black market business charging for the use of glue sticks at the Chinese consulate.  You don’t even need an app for that.

Hour four – we move 10 feet closer to the single window processing visas since everyone has now taken lunch, during which we furiously watch woman after woman scurry in line ahead of us with stacks of visas they are processing for others.  (Apparently they’ve cornered the market on counterfeit number tickets).  Somebody is paying off somebody.

Finally we reach the window with all the required paperwork:

  1. Completed visa application
  2. Two, 2″x2″ passport photos
  3. Invitation letter from a Chinese national (needed since we haven’t purchased tickets yet)
  4. Chinese national’s ID and work permit

We feel like we’ve finally reached the pot at the end of the rainbow.  (maybe that was just my feeling) Our attendant looks over the paperwork and the quizzical eyebrows begin.  Butterflies and rainbows turn to panic as she tells us that our friend’s work permit is expired.  Shit.  She says she’ll check with her supervisor.  This is our only shot at getting a visa and if they don’t let this slide we’re not going to China.  That simple.

As you might have guessed, our nice attendant had a nice supervisor, and just warned us with a, “it’s ok this time, but next time make sure…”  Assuming no one has changed their minds, we’ll have a visa tomorrow.

Yes… unfortunately we must return to wait in a different line tomorrow.  I can only hope it is 100 people shorter with fewer old Chinese women cutting in line.  There will be no buttery chocolate croissants tomorrow morning.

We’re reconsidering the India Visa… do we risk taking too long to get our passports, or live through this kind of communist hell in Bangkok or Shanghai getting our India visa there?  Stay tuned.


Tuesday started out well at the consulate.  Early arrival, easy parking, shorter line.  The PA system was up and running and the credit card system was also accepting payments:  Both improvements from Monday.  We were in and out in about an hour.  PHEW!  What a wonderful relief.  My cheerfulness faded when we got back to the car and realized that we’re idiots and can’t read signs…  Tuesdays are street sweeping day behind the consulate and the state of California is obviously digging out of a debt.  $64!  This turned into a very expensive morning. $130 visa + $30 expediting fee x 2 + parking ticket. Ouch.

Despite this annoying hiccup, we decided to take a stab at the Indian visa.  After observing a heated exchange about bureaucracy from a fuming Indian gentleman, waiting on hold for 30 minutes for clarification on processing times and expediting fees, ultimately learning it could take more than a week to process the visa, we decided to go through this new visa process when we have more time.  Maybe it’s easy in Tokyo?  Probably not, but we’ll just have to find out later!


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