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The Visas

My passport, 2015
My passport, 2015

One of the things I love about Feng is that he is always very punctual. As long as we set a place and time, we will find each other. And we have had a lot of practice over the past fifteen years—we’ve met in airports, in front of landmarks, in hotels, at bus stops, you name it. We’ve even found each other in crowded places like Tiananmen Square, the McDonald’s in Wangfujing, the Obelisk in Buenos Aires or the Sydney Opera House.

No such challenge today. We meet downtown Ottawa, at the Byward Market. It’s 11 a.m. and the parking lot behind Chapters isn’t even full.

We are both on time. I climbed in the car and he drives away.

“Do you know where it is?”


Another thing I love about Feng. He can read a map and find pretty much anything, anywhere.

I make a mental note of all these good things about him for the next time we argue over something stupid.

He found a parking spot—he also has perfect parking skills—and we stand there, on the sidewalk, in front of the embassy.

“Let’s go.”

We are not applying for the visa today yet, we just want to ask a few questions.

We do just that. Questions are answered and we leave.

Time to get to work and “earn” these visas.

First, we needed passport-size pictures. Done. We needed to pay the visa fee by money order so I stopped by the bank. We had to fill out the application online—this took several hours, late at night, after Mark was deep asleep.

Feng was stressed out about the application. He doesn’t like paperwork. I shrugged it off. I’m used to red tape and paperwork because I often work with the public sector and I generally don’t find the exercise difficult. It is a chore, yes, but really, it is a matter of reading documents thoroughly and entering the information or answering questions.

But this time, Feng was right. Filling out the online application was tedious. One application for each of us, and we had to upload our pictures and a scanned signature according to very specific requirements. Through trial and error, Feng’s application eventually went through. We printed out the receipt and then got to work on mine. By the time we were filling out Mark’s application, tired, I paused and asked Feng: “What do we put at ‘Name of Parents’? Oh yeah… it’s us. Never mind.”

The following day, we brought the applications, the pictures, the passports and the money order to the embassy. Feng was nervous—he often is in semi-official situations. I was more relaxed. Applying in person was a chance to correct any mistake we could have made online at 1 a.m., I rationalized.

We were so prepared we even brought a stick of glue for the picture.

The applications were accepted.

We were told to come back two and a half weeks later.

The day finally came. Once again, we met downtown Ottawa, once again we climbed the steps to the embassy, holding hands. I handed out the receipt and the woman disappeared in the back room to find our passports.

We stood there, distracted by another applicant, a woman standing beside us who was also picking up a visa. She had this annoying “valley girl” speech when every statement turns into a question. Like, you know…? The embassy staff had brought her passport and the visa had been issued, but he mentioned some restrictions or a potential issue because apparently, when she had applied, she had been abusive to the staff.

“I WAS NOT IMPOLITE!” she shouted. “YOU WERE!”

The man behind the glass window was calm and very formal. “When you came for your application you… said some words I cannot repeat. Including a curse word. This is an embassy, everything is recorded.”


“Anyhow, your visa was issued but…”


Meanwhile, our passports were brought by another member of the staff, and we checked that all the information was correct. We thanked her, she wished us a good trip and we left.

The woman was still arguing.

“What an idiot!” Feng said once we were outside.

“I know! What the hell is wrong with her?”

“She had the visa! Just take the passport and leave!”

“Don’t start another argument, gee!”

“Ah,” I said. “Wait until she actually travels. She is going to be a disaster. You can’t behave like this with officials.”

“Even Mark knows how to behave when the situation calls for it!”

“We would never do that.”

“Nope. We are good travelers.”

“Better than everybody else.”

“Of course, honey.”

We have the visas.

Time to travel?

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