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