Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cluster**** at the Embassy

Went to the Chinese Embassy yesterday to try to get a visa for our Chinese leg of the trip in June, where we plan to visit Beijing for week. Previous to yesterday's visit, I dutifully called the embassy to make sure that I had all the proverbial ducks in a row (mmmmmm..... duck....), and was assured that all I had to do was show up with my documents, and it would be a breeze. Never trust a disgruntled office worker. When I arrived at the embassy at 10:30 AM, I should have known that something was up when I spotted the Falun Gong protesters set up with their banners outside the door. I walked past them without incident to the second floor office, and I was horrified to find about 300 people in the office, all of whom seemed to know significantly more about the process than I did. A handwritten sign on the central pillar said "No Numbers Today", which I interpreted to mean that the "take a number" system had been abandoned. Encouraged, I wandered over to the shortest line I could. Strangely, the LED sign said "221", which I thought was odd, because the of the message on the other sign. A tired looking guy in a chair saw that I was perplexed, and he asked if I had a number. I looked down at his, and it said "217". He had yet to be served. This did not bode well for any organizational system I was familiar with. "So you need a number?", I asked. "Oh yeah, nothing happens without a number". "Well how does a guy like me get a number?" "Well", he said, "They hand them out in the morning at 9AM, and when the numbers are gone, they're done for the day. You've got to get here at 4 or 5 AM to line up." Now the cryptic message on the pillar became horrifyingly clear. They were done for the day. Another line snaked around the perimiter of the room. This was for people who were picking up their visas. An officious looking man in a dark suit, obviously a card carrying party member, was handing out slips of pink paper. I approached him and explained the problem. "Go to that counter!" he barked, pointing at one that only had 4 or 5 people in it. When I got to the window, the woman behind the bulletproof glass told me that without a number she could do nothing. The reason for the bulletproof glass soon became apparent. As she was explaining this to me, a middle-aged Chinese woman literallly tried to elbow me out of the way and she actually pushed her papers through the opening in the glass as the woman behind it was still talking to me. Barely resisting the sudden urge to knee a complete stranger in the crotch, I just gathered up my stuff and left. Another approach, perhaps one involving bribery, may have to be considered.

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