After a lesson in border control and international diplomacy (being sent back on the flight from Singapore to Hanoi after not having a Vietnamese visa on Monday) I thought it best to get my Chinese visa now ahead of the game and rocking up on the border from Laos.
So a few Thursdays ago I lobbed in Bangkok, Thailand(no visa required) and headed to the outskirts of town to stay with three English teachers. I have given myself a week here to stay put for a week, visit some schools and get my required Chinese visa.
Friday and up early to get a lift on the back of Amanda’s scooter into the big smoke – and we are talking BIG smoke clogged with cars, buses and other forms and non forms of transport. With all my travel and supposed bravery, transport in developing countries is my downfall – hate it! But with eyes closed, as they had to be with winds whipping into them at 90km/h we got into town and I was at the doorstep of the Chinese embassy at 5 minutes before the 9am opening time.
Quickly inside and my ticket came up before I even had the paperwork done so another ticket and bugger – all wait which is not common at any embassy. I filled out the 4 pages with honestly and sense of pride as I was going to Beijing to work with a youth leadership organisation and add a global education perspective to their already fine work.
Met with a very happy-natured smiling faced young woman who I have since named – the smiling assassin. She started looking through the form and my only concern was that I didn’t have a phone number and the exact address of the foundation I am working with but she read over that and honed in on the bit about my profession.
‘You are a teacher?’ – ‘Yes I am!’
‘You teach at this school?’ pointing to the Global Poverty Project name – ‘well not really I teach at many schools about global awareness (chest protruding…)’.
‘Is this an NGO?’ – ‘Yes’.
‘Let me speak to my manager…’ – must be wanting to tell them about how wonderful I am the service I will be providing in China.
‘Sorry we cannot let you into China as you are a part of this NGO.’ – not quite the response I was expecting so quickly into fighting defence mode.
‘I used to work for them but I don’t now I am just visiting Beijing to see a friend who works at this foundation.’ Sorry Global Poverty Project for the denial but a Chinese visa is on the line here, and technically I’m not working for the GPP at this moment (just always inside)!
So this then set up a lengthy debate and some feigned tears of desperation that I just want to go to China to see my friend etc. In the end after speaking to the manager who gave me a drilling I could maybe go if I got a letter from the Global Poverty Project to say I don’t work there anymore and a letter from the foundation in Beijing I was just visiting as a friend.
Some frantic email work and explaining the predicament to GPP and Beijing and came up with the goods but was resolute that I would just get my passport back and try again at the embassy in Laos and go with the tourist angle only!
On the way back to the embassy in the afternoon when they re-open I was walking down the busy highway and instinctively grabbed a falling leaf from who knows where as there were no trees and decided this was going to be my lucky leaf for the afternoon and my Chinese visa!
Back at the visa counter and some waiting, to make up for the morning. Then I handed over the letter from the Global Poverty Project and said if it is not possible then I would like my passport back. They said hold on and the manager came to the window again. We had it out as I had to clarify my story (with myself as well) and seemed to do the trick and I was granted an 11 day visa which is not long enough to get to Beijing overland do my thing there and then go overland and sea to Taiwan. Therefore we had round two to try and get more than 11 days. After a performance Tom Cruise would have been proud of (no tears this time just good honestly and character) I received a 21 days tourist visa through gritted teeth – just enough to do what I wanted to do AND CORRUPT ALL THE KIDS IN THE P.R. of CHINA!
Again another reminder of the crazy, complicated, random challenges that are at your feet when travelling. Mind you after this kind of week I would prefer less turn around flights and visa fights!
So remember kiddies the moral of story is don’t be so open and honest when getting a Chinese visa…