Friday, September 7, 2007

Chinese Bureaucracy at its finest…

So, today we awoke nice and early in Hong Kong with what we thought was a simple plan; go over to the Chinese consulate, hand in our updated visa application, and then do some sightseeing while we waited for that to be processed. Easy we thought, and when we awoke the sun was out, which is apparently a rarity in HK, so we hoped that we could take advantage of this and head up to Victoria Peak to enjoy the views.

You’re all laughing now in that you know our day didn’t quite go as planned. True, it didn’t, but in the end we did manage to get our visas and all is well again.

The following story is a somewhat condensed version of our day:

We get our wake up call at 07:30 and proceed to fill out the visa application and gather all of our paperwork ready to take over to the consulate. I check my work emails and send out a few items, then realizing that it’s approaching 08:30 we quickly pack everything up and head out.

It’s a short walk, or so we’re led to believe, over to the consulate so we figure that we can grab breakfast as soon as we hand in our application. They open at 09:00, so we are figuring that if we get there at 09:30 we should be sitting for food by 10:30.

Shortly after nine we get to the consulate, and there’s a line outside the building. Ok, not a great sign but hopefully it will move quickly. Ah, it does move quick, and we are in the elevator heading up within 15 minutes. Upstairs we get a number, 22, and since they are on 9 already we plan for a short wait.

Now, to get an F visa for China you need to have an invitation letter from a company within the country. Jim had written me a letter but because the internet was down most of the day before we left I wasn’t able to pull if from my mailbox and print it out. So I asked Rocky if they could provide one, and he helped me out and printed one for us. At the end of the day I finally had access to my mail again, and quickly printed out the original letter that Jim had written for us.

“Ding”, number 22 flashes on the screen. Ah here we go, now’s when the fun starts, we head up to the counter and hand in all of our paperwork to the girl at the counter. She flips through everything for a few minutes and then starts shoving papers back through the small slot in the window.

“No address, no dates for the stay.”

Ok, I didn’t fill in our address, and hadn’t filled in our length of stay. “I left that blank,” I tell her, “because we need to know what to write to get a 90 day visa.”

“No. Can’t. You only 30 day visas.” She quickly responds, “For longer you need a letter from the Chinese government authorizing it.”

Tina points out that she current has a 90 day visa and it was only good for 2 entries, but that we should be able to get that again.

“No. Different visa agency, different rules. All are different, in Hong Kong you only get 30 day unless you have a government approval letter.”

Ok, we understand, apparently we will still need to leave China every thirty days. “Ok, 30 will do, thanks.”

Now she flips through Tina’s application. “What’s this? You’re going to university? You say on the front that you are here with your husband?”

“Yes, I’m here while he works, and will take classes while I’m here.” This is what I think to be a simple question and answer, but again I’m proven wrong.

“I no understand, you are housewife, you do not go to school. It say’s on application ‘wife’ how can you then tell me you are a student?”

Ah, so these are the options for the women in China – work, study, or be a housewife. Apparently you can’t do both, who knew?

Ok, so a few more discussions about how Tina needs additional paperwork for university, and finally Tina’s just crossing out all the information about schooling on her visa.

Fine, we’re almost done we think, all of her questioning seems to be done when she pulls out the invitation letter and presses it against the glass for us to look at.

“Where’s the stamps?”


“Stamps, stamps! You know that China loves stamps, you need stamps on the letter to make it authentic.”

“But it was a fax, how do I get it stamped?” We had given her both the letters from Jim and from Rocky, and neither had the required stamp. This is when concern sets into my brain, Tina can’t get back into China on her current visa and if we don’t get these today we need to push back our flights so that we can stay until Monday to get new visas. She gives me her fax number and tells me to contact the inviter and have them fax a new stamped letter to her.

So we hop into a taxi to head back to the hotel, call Rocky and ask if he can fax over a stamped copy of the letter to the Chinese consulate in Hong Kong. Luckily he’s near his desk and is able to get this done quickly for us. I ask him to also scan a copy in and e-mail it to me. I print my copy out at the hotel copy center and into another taxi back to the consulate.

In case you’ve lost track of time, it’s now shortly before 11, and if your passport isn’t in their paperwork queue by noon, you’re not getting your passport back in the same day.

Taking from the Chinese playbook, we skip getting a new number and instead march right up to her window and wait behind the person currently talking to her. We haven’t learnt enough as another small Chinese girl managed to sneak in right when the people in front of us left. But she was quick and we were back at the counter where we needed to be.
“A stamped version was faxed to you.” I tell her, she steps back and looks off at something and replies “Nope, no faxes, sorry.”

“Ah, I brought a copy of the stamped copy.” I say, and honestly there was a look of disappointment in her eyes, I think she was hoping to send us away…

She looks at everything again and tells me that mine will likely be rejected and I’ll only get a 6 month visa instead of a one year one. Fine, whatever, I don’t care anymore we just need to get back into China. She looks at Tina and marks hers down for an L visa. “What? She had an F before, she needs an F visa.”
“Why? She’s just a wife, only an L, she doesn’t need to work and she wasn’t invited.”
“Yes, she’s also mentioned on the letter, we would like an F visa.”

She pulls the letter back out and gets that little smile, “It only says ‘your wife’, it needs to have her name. How I know this your wife? I need marriage certificate.”

Ok fine, we concede, we will take an L visa as long as we can get home on Sunday.

Ok,” She say’s putting our passports into the basket behind her, “but she will probably only get a 6 month or a 2-entry visa, very hard for her to get a year long multiple entry. Come back at four today to pick these up.”

Ah, so now we leave and have just over four hours to wonder what visas we will receive. Worst case, Tina gets a double entry 30-day visa and we suddenly need to plan a return to HK in two months…

But, all our worries we for naught and we both received one year multiple entry visas. We can only stay in China 30 days at a time, not as nice as we had hoped, but at least we can go home Sunday.

Sorry for the book, once I started writing it just rolled….

1 comment:

Lisa Wilson said...

This was great entertainment for me to read on the train this morning!! I am sorry you had such a hard time but am sure by now you are laughing about it!!