23 June 2008

It’s A Very “Special” Reason

Credit Card Man!
Entering the fine nations that comprise Southeast Asia is a fairly difficult task, due in large part to the intense (and expensive) VISA process. Malaysia and Laos offered VISAs on arrival but Vietnam was required in advance and, because we are planning to enter Cambodia via land and not air, we did not qualify for the e-VISA, leading to another visit to another Consulate.

I started Monday morning, thinking I could be home by noon with at least one of the two VISAs in-passport. The Cambodian Embassy website listed an address for their Consular General’s Office in Shanghai. Just a few blocks from the People’s Square metro stop. Perfect. So I head out, walk to subway to walk some more. I arrive at the official government’s stated address to find absolutely no sign of a Consulate. The floor where the office is supposed to be is filled with the offices of international freight shipping companies. The supposed suite is now a Trans-Pacific cargo company who, when I asked them if they knew where the Consulate was, asked me if I had a pet or large chair to ship to America. (First, I clearly did not want to ship anything. Second, how did they come up with pet and large chair in the same breath?). The guard has no idea either. Dejected, I head home, thoroughly confused.

Forty minutes on the internet and I am able to find a personal blog that says the Consulate has moved to another location as of September 2006. That’s right, the office moved in 2006 and nobody bothered to update the government website. Because Vietnam offers express service, I decide to handle that VISA on Tuesday then drop off my passport for the 5-day wait with Cambodian authorities.

The Vietnam Consulate is located way out in the middle of nowhere on the other side of town, so getting there and away is at least a half-day commitment. I set out early and join in the morning rush hour traffic gang. Forty minutes later I arrive at my station and do the last twenty minutes on foot in the pooring rain (it was raining Monday too) and enveloping humidity. I grab the elevator to the third car and exit to find a small group of people outside the Consulate. Not too surprising. Vietnam is all-of-a-sudden a very happening place. Lots of people want to go.

As I go to enter the Consulate a girl stops me and asks, “what do you need” in an overly sweet voice. “Just a VISA,” I tell her. “Oh, sorry, but no VISAs today for a special reason.” This statement is followed by pointing to a hand-written note on the wall outside the Consulate. “Oh, and what is the special reason,” I prod. “MM. Uh huh, yeah. It’s a very very special one.” Aware of the fact that I am not going to be obtaining my VISA today for some “very special reason” I head home, thoroughly irritated.

I wake up Wednesday and try again with Vietnam, enduring yet another hour-long trip to get there. I arrive to find that today, miraculously, VISAs are being issued. I fill out my forms, pay the exorbitant express price and wait it out. “Maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe later today,” the man tells me. I need to drop this thing at Cambodia tomorrow so it’s either now or never. Shockingly, 40 minutes later my passport appears, VISA in tow. I do a mini happy dance in the elevator lobby and head home, too late to drop my VISA at the Cambodian Consulate (yes, I spent 6 hours getting my Vietnam VISA).

I wake up Thursday (the day of my birth – woo!) and head to the new address I have for the Cambodian Consulate, which is only 15 minutes from my place, a “short walk from the metro,” the website had said. Fifteen minutes on the subway and FORTY minutes on foot later, I arrive at the stated address – 267 Tianmu lu – to discover a bank. A BANK! Irritated beyond reason I start searching aimlessly for a Consulate. Now wandering through a parking lot adjacent to the building, my eyes wander upward and come across a Cambodian flag. I ask a few guards where the flag is coming from. One of them leads me to the back of the building, calls an elevator, pushes “twelve” and leaves me.

The bell “dings” and I arrive in the dark lobby of the twelth floor. A Chinese “guard” is there to take my passport information down. He then guides me into the “Consulate” or as I like to call it, a collection of deserted rooms all with bare walls and oddly luxurious leather furniture. At the end of a giant hall, through several different spaces all sparsely furnished, a husky Cambodian man appears. He has me sit at a desk and fill out a stack of paperwork. I then hand over my passport and two small photos, which are subsequently stamped about a million times and then put into a drawer. “Ready tomorrow after 4,” he tells me, pointing to a sign that says “4-5 business days for processing.” Tomorrow it is.

I head home and wait for the sun to rise yet again. It is now FRIDAY – a full five days after this process began and thankfully, as of 5pm, I have two VISAs. Why don’t things just work? Man, I miss Meiguo sometimes…

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