Hasta la visa!

If my arrival in Beijing was troublesome, the next morning was a train wreck of self-loathing, despair and mental torture – normal service resumed at the visa application office! The visa in question was the one for Mongolia, which I needed in time for our train from Beijing only two working days later. I was forced into this tight time schedule by the scarcity of Mongolian consulates in the Guangdong area. There was in fact an embassy in Hong Kong, but I discovered that it only served Hong Kong residents. The Internet, that ever-wavering fount of information, assured me there was a same-day Mongolian visa service in Beijing …not so. I called the embassy the day before to find that the fastest they could manage was a one working day service, which meant entrusting my passport to the embassy over the weekend. It also meant that my decision to allow myself one day to spare proved most prudent!

I decided that I should aim to get to the Mongolian embassy for the start of its opening hours (9-11am). This afforded me little sleep given the night before. I checked and double-checked that I had packed absolutely everything I could possibly need for my visa application. Just before leaving I decided to take advantage of our hostel’s included breakfast. I was slightly delayed because I had to check us in before they’d let me have any breakfast. At last I left for the metro station, whose location I knew well given the previous night’s wanderings. I experienced the horror show that is Beijing’s rush hour. I reached Beijing’s diplomatic quarter, almost a city in its own right, shortly after nine. As I approached the embassy I once again checked by bag for everything I needed. When rummaging for it, it took me a few seconds to realise, to my dismay, that my passport was sitting on the reception desk in our hostel.

Trying not to panic, I immediately reached for my phone and the number of our hostel with the intention of asking Jo to bring my passport to the embassy, allowing me to maintain a place in the queue. Another problem struck: my phone credit had dipped below 10 yuan, forbidding me from making any calls (I had tried to top it up the night before to no avail). Having reached the embassy, I asked in stuttering Mandarin if I could use the phone of the person in front of me in the queue. She obliged, responding to me in English …no reply. Not wanting to ask too much of the helpful person, I left the queue in search of someone else whose phone I could use or a place that sold credit. I found another person with a phone I could use …I was told I got the wrong number and I needed to call a different number. Starting to panic now at the time that I was needlessly losing, I eventually managed to top up my phone …I finally got through and explained my predicament. They told me that Jo wasn’t in her room, which I thought strange considering her firm intention to lie in that morning (I later found this to be false).

With no other option left to me, I made my own way back to the hostel (which I could have done immediately), calculating that I had just about enough time if the metro took the same amount of time as before. On the way back to the station I saw a couple of taxis and, in a moment of insanity, I supposed it might save time to catch a taxi to take me to the door of the hostel, wait for me and bring me straight back. I explained to the driver in Mandarin what I wanted and that I was in a hurry. As the appalling Beijing traffic thickened, it dawned on me how grievously I had underestimated the efficiency of Beijing’s metro system as compared to its roads. With me sitting in the passenger seat, the driver witnessed almost total breakdown as more and more precious time slipped away. Biting my nails and repeatedly checking the time, I realistically contemplated the total disintegration of our meticulously planned trans-Siberian trip. In a fit of desperation I called the embassy to see if there were any hope of getting a visa in time. The Mongolian officer at the other end of the phone was reluctant to speak English, so I did my best to find out what the situation was speaking in Mandarin. To my surprise, he told me that the visa department, contrary to all available information, did not close until 12. Suddenly, the trans-Siberian trip was back on. But the taxi ride took so long that even an additional hour was only just enough. I was the last, or perhaps last but one, person to hand in their visa application, by which time I was emotionally spent.

I picked up the visa the next Monday having gone to a nearby bank to pay for it – straightforwardness is an elusive quality in visa departments the world over, The matter-of-fact nature of the hand-over belied the turmoil that I went through to get to that stage.



12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Julie
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 16:46:01

    This is so well written I felt nervous with you in the Beijing taxi! Glad it turned out well in the end and I hope Mongolia was worth it. Julie


  2. Laura Fransella
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 16:47:50

    My goodness – I read this with bated breath and really shared your panic. What a sense of relief at the end! And how fantastic that your Mandarin didn’t escape you even under all that stress. Terrific account!

    Bon voyage!


  3. OAE Fan
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 17:06:44

    What a brilliant evocation of the panic we’ve all felt as a deadline ticked passed and more and more things went wrong! My palms are very sweaty….


  4. Kerree Ahern
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 17:50:19

    Oh God Chris I felt sick reading this. I’ve had to go and have a cup of tea as its far to early in the day for gin! That sheer and utter impotence, the potential crushing disappointment, the knowledge you so made the wrong decision – train or car, I felt it all. Mongolia is worth it tho and the Trans Mongolian unforgettable. xx


  5. Mum
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 19:05:03

    I felt every anguished moment, and as for sitting in the taxi with an important deadline, I’ve been there too,but nothing quite as dreadful as the possibility of missing your train back from Beijing to Moscow. Doesn’t bear thinking about. Impressive that your Mandarin, although stuttering, came to your aid! Much love.


  6. Simon Webb
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 21:19:22

    This is classic you! I love that you open with all the problems put in front of you, (finding an embassy, checking into a hostel, eating breakfast … … … ) when the real problem was that you left your passport somewhere. HAHA! Clever writing!

    I do feel for you though pal. & glad it all worked out. Nice pun also – Your family will be proud!


  7. Mum
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 21:34:14

    We are, Simon! Vintage punnery!


  8. Dad
    Jul 19, 2012 @ 06:38:58

    Chris, I feel sick just hearing about it all. You can imagine what it would have been like if I’d been there, steam would have been coming out of my ears!
    Dad xxx


  9. Judith Ross
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 04:36:15

    Chris, what a nightmare! You probably aged by 10 years…


  10. Maddy
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 01:35:05

    Chris this made me want to cry…wayyy toooo stressful!!!!!!


  11. Hannah
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 01:46:46

    Oh my God… nightmare scenario! Sweat breaking out at the thought. (The most impressive revelation must be your mastery -enough to make a difference – of Mandarin.) Stiff drinks all round to recover from that one.. and that’s just for us readers…..


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