New York City – August 6, 2009
About a month ago, Zhou and I wrote about our first visa adventures in Washington DC (Part 1 and Part 2). As much of a disaster that trip turned out to be, we were at least able to write about what not to do when getting a visa. Today we attempted to get our China visas in New York City. By the end of the afternoon, we had become closer than we’d have liked to (1) two random European people, (2) three of the four Chinese visa tellers and (3) the manager of and several workers at the Lucky Strike bowling alley.
(1) This morning we woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (no, I do not keep up with kids’ lingo these days), ready to explore the Big Apple. Since Zhou and I had learned what not to do during our previous experiences, nothing could stand in our way this time. We knew everything you could possibly know about getting a Chinese visa, probably more than Confucious himself. First though, we had to get to the Chinese consulate.
After picking up Zhou’s car from the shop, we caught the 10am train into New York City with the intention of getting to the consulate by 11:30. We boarded the train in the front row – the row that has two seats facing forward and two seats facing back, with about a foot of leg room in between. As we sat down I asked Zhou if people were really expected to sit down facing each other with that little leg room. It almost seemed illegal – I actually felt claustrophobic with the other seat wide open. She assured me though that only families could be comfortable that close together, so we put on our iPods and went to sleep. When I awoke, several people were standing in the aisle, but no one had dared tried to sit across from us. Then the train stopped. Not at a scheduled stop, but because of a TTJ (train traffic jam). This train carries thousands of people each day smoothly into the city, without delay. Yet for one hour we had a delay. That in itself wouldn’t have been so bad, since we had plenty of time to get into the city. Then the worst happened.
A large European woman and her medium-sized teenage daughter showed up. The lady said something which I did not understand, and then they began pushing their way into the seat across from us. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Sometimes I don’t even like to get as close to Zhou as they were getting to us. But they had pushed my legs so far into Zhou’s lap that I couldn’t get out. I could hardly breathe, and my body tensed up seeing the proximity of their body parts to mine. I did the only thing I knew how – I began to stare at them. What’s more awkward than staring at a random stranger while your knee is jammed against their hip? To Europeans, apparently lots of things are, as they continued to sit and look uncomfortably comfortable. Not a great way to start the day.
(2) We ended up making it to the visa office by 1:30, an hour before it closed. This place was a zoo! Except the cute baby giraffes were replaced by angry Chinese people, and instead of monkeys there were an inordinate number of police officers. Amidst the sea of English-less papers and signs, we finally figured out where the forms we needed were, and we sat down in the lengthy visa application line and filled them out. Windows 2 – 5 were open.
Window #5: “You guys will need to fill out an address you’ll be staying at while in China.” An address? We didn’t have one yet. We called Zhou’s dad and he gave us one. Back to the back of the line.
Window #2: “Mr. Curry, you’re all set. Ms. Zhang, we will need to see your previous Chinese visa since you were born in China.” Previous Chinese visa? Zhou didn’t have it – it was at home. Maybe we could pretend she wasn’t born in China? Shoot, it was on her passport. We called her sister, Amy, and she said she could fax it to the consulate. Back to the back of the line.
Window #4: “Sorry, you cannot use our fax machine. You will have to find another way to get it.” Great, it was now 2:15, just 15 minutes before close. We went outside, dejected by the wasted day.
(3) We looked around outside for someone or something that could help us. There was nothing for miles. Then a light from heaven shone down on the building across the street: a Lucky Strike bowling alley. It was our only shot, so I told Zhou we should go inside and ask them if we could use their fax. I think she was ready to give up on the day, as she didn’t really want to try it. I made her do it anyway (I still occasionally have that power since we’re not yet married). After talking to several workers at the alley (all very helpful, might I add as a promotion to Lucky Strike), we were allowed to use their fax machine. Amy had the documents ready to fax. 2:22 – nothing. 2:23 – nothing. 2:24 – Amy called back, the fax was sent. We rushed to the manager, who went back to get it for us. 2:25, 2:26. We got us our papers, all smudged and not at all legible since faxes never really work in my experience, but they were there. We ran across the busy street, a la George from Seinfeld playing Frogger, and slipped in the entrance two minutes before closing.
Window #5: We got our visa applications submitted.
Afterword: the visas should be ready in a week, after which our friend Rachel is picking them up for us. When she offered, she was definitely being nice, but to wade through that office without speaking Chinese – she’s definitely going above and beyond, so thank you for that. We owe you a huuuge favor in return. But with this task out of the way, there’s not much remaining between us and our first flight across the Atlantic!
Picture of the day: Only in New York… it takes three policemen to retrieve one clumsy pedestrian’s keys from the sewer.