The Lord Of The Visa

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Chinese Sweets — 请,等一下。
— 当然可以。

Waiting two more minutes doesn’t sound so bad. We have been standing in the small — yet overcrowded — room for about two hours, browsing brochures about the latest Shenzhen fair trade and exchanging exasperated glances with our unfortunate lineup mates. I went out twice for a smoke, drank about two liters of water and read all the notes taped on the wall. One of my eyes is wandering. Lack of sleep. Got to get up early if you want to make it to the Chinese embassy.

Excepted for the many notices (“For an individual U.S. passport holder, any visa will be charged with 130 Canadian dollars“, “The applicant must fill out the “Visa Application Form of the People’s Republic of China” accurately, seriously, and carefully” etc.), the room is pretty bare.

Every fifteen minutes, someone moves forward and smiles nervously at the officer behind the glass window. It’s usually not long before the shy applicant raises his voice:

— But I need my passport, I could be going to the USA tomorrow!
— Sorry, not ready.
— But, but…
— Sorry,not ready. Pick up, tomorrow. Not ready.

The lord of the visas doesn’t raise his voice. He doesn’t need to. He has all the passports locked in his drawer. Get that, Western bully!

And the shy applicant leaves the room fuming and slams the door behind him.

下一个人。 Next.

The lord of the visas is very picky. He double-checks all the documents and asks a lot of questions to each person who apply for a visa. The slightest hesitation means being sent back to the small wooden desk at the very far end of the room to fill more paperworks out, or to start another application. If something doesn’t match, he sees it right away. Like if you stated you would be staying in “Beijing” but spelled out “Beijin” later on on the same form because you’re a stupid Westerner and can’t write in pinyin, he will mention it. And send you to the wooden desk to fill a fresh application out. On which you will no doubt do your best to spell the name of your host city correctly.

People are complaining. Of course. The embassy’s opening hours are too short, the lineup doesn’t move fast enough, there is no air-conditioning and above all, these Chinese drive us crazy with their stupid visa requirements — these are popular subjects in the queue. Of course, the closer they get to the lord of the visas, the quieter they speak. Little do they seem to know that most embassies around the world only open in the morning and that visa requirement for Canada (or the U.S.A, or the Schengen area…) can be a headache for foreigners.

Our turn. We stand there, a shy smile on our faces, documents in our hands. Plane ticket, itinerary, everything that the lord of the visas needs. Applying for a Chinese visa used to be really straightforward, but you know, the Olympics: “同一个世界同一个梦想”. One world, one dream, and a lot of security.

— 对不起,需要看看你的飞机票。

We hand our plane tickets and the lord of the visas squints at them.

— 你为什么现到芬兰再到中国?
— 比较便宜啊!

It must sound very logical to fly to Finland to go to China because the lord of the visas nods in agreement. Phew. He is actually more concerned about Feng going to see his family in China (not going to happen) and where we would be staying (Beijing). We patiently explain. I have a flashback: 1999, the sixteen-years-old me trying to get her student card from the Chinese University I was studying at and ending up spending about five hours going from the foreign student office to the student office. Patience.

He takes our passports and tell us to come back. Thank you, lord of the visas.

We got our visa. We’re going to Beijing for the end of the Olympic Games,a couple of weeks between mid-August and early September. We have tickets for the Olympics. We have plane tickets. And we have a one day stopover in Finland — don’t ask.

I can’t wait to go back to China. Told you I wasn’t going to boycott the Olympic Games!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I can’t read simplified Chinese. Well, I’m boycutting the Olympics, but you have a great time in China.

    bluefishs last great read…Out of service

  2. Well I must say this scenario is very much the same here in Singapore. Long queues with people inching their way under the hot sun. You rightly pointed out, slight mistakes would delay your application or even to come another day.

    Been to China so many times, although need not apply for a visa I have seen enough of ‘security personnel’ executing their job ;(

    Still, nothing is gonna dampen your time in Beijin…oops BEIJING 😀 Have fun Sister!!

  3. I appreciate this post so much you have no idea. As a citizen from a “third-world” country, most of the developed countries require me a visa whenever I need to visit them. And yes, the US visa is the one that caused me the most headaches. Schengen visas aren’t that much; as long as you have everything in order, they give it to you, no more interviews, no Lord of the Visa doubting whether you will be overstaying or not. I have to say that most Americans are spoiled in this way; they think that they can just buy a plane ticket and jet off (I suppose given the fact that since Europeans are more prone to traveling internationally, this is not much of a problem). I’ve heard stories of being denied boarding to a jet flying to Brazil since they didn’t know that US citizens need a visa to visit.

    I am apathetic with regard to the Olympics. I do know that this is a political venue as much as a sporting venue, but I suppose I do not care anymore and would like to spend my energies somewhere else. However, I do wish you a good time, enjoy your trip, and come back with stories.

    Linguist-in-Waitings last great read…Country No. 16

  4. Froggywoogie on

    That’s when you begin to love the administrations of your own country: they are picky but at least you’re familiar with them.
    Enjoy your trip. No doubt you’ll come back with lots of stories and pictures.

  5. i love your story about the visa lord. i imagine the airless room, the long line of people shifting their weight from one leg to the other, the guy with the deep voice that everyone can hear even when he whispers.
    patience. i’m still learning. i had absolutely none as a child. i’m good at waiting now, but i know every little trick to avoid waiting unless i have to. take a deep breath and try to look normal.
    looking normal is a big asset when it comes to airports, police and visa lords. smile, don’t say anything you don’t have to and maybe above all, don’t fidget.
    i fidget a lot. it’s why i had no patience as a child.
    the guy with the deep voice is talking about how he hates standing in slow-moving lines. i’m embarrassed for him. everyone can hear, and i know when he gets to the visa lord that he will have to go to the little table and fill out additional forms. they will do that to punish him.
    maybe they won’t notice me fidgeting because they are too busy thinking about the guy who hates slow lines. is that a camera? of course it is, they’ve been watching me the whole time. they just saw me look at the camera.
    i feel guilty. my face burns. i didn’t do anything.
    have a fun trip zhu. i hope you get to do eveything, see everything. wear your lucky bracelet, and above all, don’t fidget.
    there’s likely to be lines at the olympics too.
    bon voyage.

    Seraphines last great read…Ten Cents a Can

  6. Whether heads of state go to Beijing for the Games, I don’t really care. But I hope no country stages a boycott. Sure, the Chinese government sucks in many, many ways, but boycotts only end up punishing innocent athletes who become pawns in political disputes. I remember reading an article about some U.S. athletes who were on the 1980 Olympic team when it was announced that they wouldn’t go to Moscow because of a boycott. For a lot of them, 1980 was supposed to be their year to shine – they would be past their prime by ’84. I can’t imagine how brutal that must have been for them.

    Jamess last great read…Une réduction du taux de chômage…

  7. lol visa stories…I have my share, I suppose. For example, I currently have two valid US visas – one B1 (tourist) and an F1 (student). Long story.

    Add to that the fact that I have to lug two passports around because the one with the valid visas expired. I hate long lines with a passion.

    Oh, and I have no money to go anywhere so – meh.

    Ulquiorras last great read…Moar Tweaks and Random Ramblings

  8. Yeah Yeah someone is sounding Games, Cheers and lottsaa FUN 🙂 Great! It will be a nice experience! Looks like everything is quite planned up!

    For Visa story; wait for few days and then I will have much much much more to write 😉

    Will look forward for blogs/Stories from China 🙂

    Have gala time Dear!

  9. Salut Zhu,
    I think that you will agree that you have been through the worst there… now comes the best; the travel part 😉
    I’m not a sports person at all, so I don’t plan to be going crazy with that.
    There will be lots to say and experience once in China.

    But for now, yeah ! You made it through the Lord !
    That sounds like an achievement…

    Take care 🙂

    barbaras last great read…Love is gone- David Guetta Feat. Chris Willis

  10. Must have been frustrating, but the bureaucracy rools!

    Like Diane said: We envy you – no reasons to boycott the Olympics – it can open the world to and for the Chinese and that’s an improvement! Democracy isn’t build in a decade.

    Trough Finland?!?! Why not Oslo, Norway and we could have a seafood delight gathering in our house and you could see the land of the Trolls with your own eyes 😉

    RennyBAs last great read…Torsö island at Mariestad, The Pearl of lake Vänern

  11. @bluefish – I learned simplified characters and even though I can read some traditional, I must say they are a bit Greek to me! Why will you be boycotting?

    @Aiglee – I do feel lucky!

    @shionge – Oh, it’s the same in France, bureaucracy is a bit slow over there… I’m used to the Canadian efficiency now! I have been to China quite a few times too but I always love it 😉

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – Even though my experience is different because I’m European, I completely understand you. And I agree about what to say about Americans (and to a lesser extend all first-word resident). They are spoiled and don’t realize how hard it is to just travel when you’re a developing country citizen.

    @Froggywoogie – French administration can be crazy too… I have some stories!

    @Seraphine – I’m not that patient either but when it comes to visas, I learned to be through my Canadian experience. And I’m with you on the “looking guilty even though you’re not!”

    @James – I feel the same way. I don’t like the current China-bashing and while I’m not the biggest fan of the Chinese government, I do think a lot of us are too judgmental and don’t realize our country has its flaws as well.

    @Ulquiorra – Two visas and two passports? Hint: Ebay! 😆

    @Annie – I’m looking forward to hearing your visa story! I’m sure you had your share, coming to the U.S…!

    @barbara – I’m not that much into sports either but I think it’s just a great experience to go. I had the chance so… Plus, I love Beijing!

    @beaverboosh – Yep, in the French/ Canadian blogger category! 😉

    @Eric “SpeedyCat” – Thank you for the praise, I’m blushing now 😉

    @DianeCA – Yeah, the requirements changed for the Olympics… I went to China a few times and it was always super easy to get a visa, and you didn’t have to have your trip planed before.

    @Priyank – Visa experience as well?

    @RennyBA – I wish I could have flew though Norway but the only cheap ticket available was through Finland… go figure! I know I’ll only be there for a day, yet I’m looking forward to it. And Beijing of course!

  12. Well, I’m boycotting because I’m anti-China and political reasons. I can sound biased but I stand for my homeland-Taiwan. I’m banned to visit China from Passport Canada because Taiwan is not recognized as a country by some nations. Hence, why I dislike China and Chinese people so much. I do have Chinese friends but they speak Cantonese, not the aggravating Mandarin. I’m Pro-Taiwan and it’s only understanble if one is Taiwanese.

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