Chinese visa

Trip Start Oct 08, 2007
Trip End Dec 16, 2008

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, May 12, 2008

China fascinates me. It has become somewhat of an obsession ever since I had to abandon my travel plans and leave Chengdu in a hurry last November because my visa has expired.
I took a cab across Bangkok. 45 minutes and 85 Baht later, I am in East Bangkok. It is 7 am and there are very few people waiting in front of the Chinese Consulate. Good. That's why I'm here so early - to claim my spot towards the front of the line.
There is a note on the window of the entrance door with all the new requirements - invitations, flight bookings, hotel reservations. It is clear as a glass - I ain't getting this visa today. Relax. Om!
I start chatting to an English bloke. He is squatting by the ashtray in the corner by the entrance. I'm here for the third time, he tells me. He seems frustrated. English. They don't know what it is like to need a visa for everywhere. I feel my past humiliating experiences acquired on countless visa lines have turned into a competitive advantage, almost tangible enough to wave in his English face. He seems like a nice guy, so I don't. Instead, I reach over for the ashtray and extinguish the cigarette butt that has been fuming annoyingly in my face. I'm a bit cranky. A bit. 
I decide I still have time to print out at least my outbound flight itinerary. I follow the English directions to the internet cafes. Thirty minutes on, hot, sweaty and a tack crankier, I'm only able to find internet in a 5-star hotel's business center. It is $5 per 10 minutes. I print and pay.
I make it back just in time for the great opening of the door. There is a huge crowd now. Somehow, I manage to maneuver my way close to the entrance. When the doors open, I push in with everyone, run upstairs and manage to snatch ticket #08.
Half and hour later, counter #5 is calling ticket #07. I take a start position. Counter #5 calls ticket #09 skipping my number all together. I approach the counter and very politely, trying not to piss off anyone, I argue my case. The young lady behind the counter is dubious. She wants to know if I bought my ticket. Bought?! I try to be outraged just the right amount - offended, but not offending. I got my ticket from over there - I point to the ticket machine by the door. Why would I buy it if I can get it for free?! She takes a look at my outfit and agrees. I must fit the profile.
And so, it starts. I need a double entry visa. I don't have all the documents, I say, but you tell me what I need and I'll come back tomorrow. She goes over my application and ticks few boxes, then starts looking through the printouts.
Hotel reservations? - she asks.
    I don't have.
You need.
    But, but, I am going to travel around. I can not book for every day.
Then book for first day.
   Okay. [big smile] That I can do.
Then comes the really long discussion on the plane bookings. I need to show booking in and out of the country. If I want a double entry visa, I'll need to show I'm going in and out of the country twice. Hong Kong counts as an out. That's why I needed the double entry visa to begin with. I wanted to stop in Hong Kong before I go north to Beijing. Come to think of it now, if I get the double entry visa I'll get 2x30 days in the country - a much better time frame to explore China. Trying to do everything in a month would be frustrating. It is a big IF though. The rumor on the street is that no double entry visas are being issued this days. 
Flight bookings?- she asks again.
    I am going overland. I am not flying. Can I prove with a buss ticket?
No, can not. I need to see plane bookings. If you show me plane bookings, I'll give you double entry visa. [Did I hear that right?! She would?!]
    But, but, plane tickets are expensive. I am on a budget. I want to use the buss....I whine.
I'm half bent forward, so I can see her directly trough the small opening on the thick glass that separates us. She looks me square in the eye and repeats: "Booking, Booking!" . I light bulb goes off. When she says booking, she, booking. It's not that she means plane tickets. She needs bookings!
I lighten up. Shei-shei (thank you in Mandarin). See you tomorrow.

Bookings? - I am greeted by a ladyboy as I exit the consulate. She is neatly dressed in a pencil skirt and a tailored blouse. Her long black hair is pooled in a ponytail. She looks like a stewardess. I look at her name tag. It says "Mr. Swarasdi".
Sure, I can use a booking, I say and follow her to the near by travel agency. The small office is bustling with activity. Eventually, Mr. Swarasdi manages to get the attention of one of the other ladyboys working there, who announces a price of 500 baht ($17) per booking. I try to negotiate - two bookings for 500 baht? Ii is not happening. They are too busy. They don't need to give discounts. 'We are risking it, because we issue tickets, she says. Can't give you a discount.' She is lying. 'I understand', I reply and head for the door, giving Mr. Swarasdi a "sorry it didn't work out" look as I'm exiting.

Eventually, I head to an internet café and make my own bookings.
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