Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lessons learned at the Chinese consulate

Disclaimer for this entry: I am so very, very grateful to the Chinese consulate in New York City for giving us visas. Third time's the charm, as the saying goes. This entry is merely meant to poke fun at what is, inevitably, a bureaucratic process. Thank you, this is a recording.

Avoid being a journalist.

In the months leading up to our trip abroad, I solicited advice about the visa process from a colleague, Steve, who has traveled to China a few times with his family. Steve is a photographer at the Post-Gazette, but he also teaches a class at a local university here in Pittsburgh. He explained that the few times he applied for a visa to China, he made sure to put down "teacher" for his occupation. However, one time, his wife filled out the paperwork and unbeknownst to Steve, she wrote that he worked for a newspaper. Enter consulate hell.

The situation resolved itself only after he procured signed letters from the PG confirming that he was in fact going for tourist, and not work-related purposes. 

His advice was simple enough: Listen kid, (okay, Steve would never say "listen, kid" but let's just go with that for now), don't make that mistake. Don't put down that you work for a newspaper. Whatever you do. Write absolutely anything else, but don't say you work for a newspaper.

Luckily for me (or unluckily, depending on how you look for it), my time at the Post-Gazette will end before we embark on our trip, so I wrote "unemployed" on my visa application with the veritable confidence that I was being truthful.

Confidently unemployed. There's something you don't read every day.

2) This is not the time to skimp on passport photos

Will and I had the bright idea that instead of running to CVS to take $10 dollar passport photos, we would simply take digital photos of each other against a white background, photoshop them down to the appropriate size and print them out. Needless to say, at the first consulate visit, our photos were immediately deemed unacceptable. We should have figured, really.

3) Double check everything. Twice. 

On our third attempt to get the visas, we were informed that they cost $140 a piece. We had two money orders, each for $130. Not good. When I looked back on the consulate's website, it turned out that on one page they had the $130 price, but on another they showed a new "updated" price of $140. Since the consulate wouldn't accept cash, my poor father had to make yet another trip back and forth across the bridge from Queens to Manhattan the following Monday with the appropriate money in hand.


But now, at long last, we have our visas and it's a pretty great feeling.

Countdown to the trip? ... 15 days

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