Monday, August 28, 2006

Red Dawn

Chiang Mai, Thailand

"She's too hot to be a Communist," I thought as the Chinese consular officer beckoned me over.

I handed her my passport and paperwork, trying not to stare. She was in her mid-thirties, with wavy black hair and not a single visible line or wrinkle. She looked like a more sophisticated Ziyi Zhang, the type of woman who pays for college with beauty pageant winnings and becomes a television news anchor.

Miss Collective Farm 1991 reviewed my paperwork in silence. She must be a Party member to work in the Foreign Service, I thought, and she must be fairly successful to land a cush post like the Chiang Mai Consulate. I didn't see a name plate, so I decided to call her Red Dawn.

"One or two entries?" she asked.

"Multi entries," I said.

"You need letter for that."

"No letter. New treaty," I said, handing her a printout from the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles. "Nothing about letter."

"Need official letter for multi entry," she said, ignoring the printout. "No letter, only one or two entries."

"Two entries, then." I was not going to win this argument.

I used to tell junior lawyers at my old firm that, while the printed and bound Rules of Court were all well and good, the real Rules of Court were whatever the courthouse clerks said they were. Try to convince them otherwise, and you might be in for rough justice. Certain clerks would refuse to file your papers if you implied that they didn't know the rules, so save yourself and your client the grief and just do what the person with the rubber stamp says.

The same applies to visas. While, in theory, every prospective traveller holding a certain passport is subject to the same rules, in reality, that's just not the case.

One of the staples of traveller small talk is the difference in standards imposed by different embassies and consulates for the same request. Sometimes it's easiest to apply for a visa in the U.S., sometimes in one neighboring country but not another. Sometimes the embassy staff in the capital are picayune about your application, while the consulate staff in a province rubberstamp everyone who pays the fee. And sometimes a Communist hottie insists that U.S. citizens need a letter of invitation for a multi-entry tourist visa when official releases from the Chinese Foreign Ministry say nothing of the sort. But you do what the person with the rubber stamp says.

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Blogger Dave Williams said...

If you go to Shanghai, I strongly suggest indulging in excessive karaoke sessions, avoiding freshly drawn snake blood at dinner and dodging the "traditional" Chinese breakfast (as it inspired the runs in my system). Other than that, China is a regular Disneyland of a country — well, except for the sorry bastards who meet their fate with a bullet to the head at the local soccer fields... Swift justice in those Commie countries, you know. But that'll help keep softie Westerners like you safe on even the meanest streets. That and the local Party member charged with following your every move...

12:35 PM  

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