Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Endless Waiting Game, or A Day of Style Without Content

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - For this week's entry, I was originally planning to expound upon the intellectual and visceral revelations of Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman (to put it in drooling-fanboy terms, yes, it is as amazing and perception-altering as you've heard) and maybe put in a mild defense of the new Martin Scorsese concert documentary Shine a Light, which some critics seem to be complaining about because: a) it isn't The Last Waltz in tone; b) the Rolling Stones are way past their prime and are more or less on autopilot in this movie; and c) Scorsese, visually speaking at least, seems to put Mick Jagger & co. on a pedestal too much. (Short version: I agree with a lot of those criticisms, but I was exhilarated by the film anyway, and even found something rather transcendent about the group's refusal to let their age show onstage even as Scorsese's constantly roving camera scans the members closely for even a whisper of their individual 60-some years.)

But I think I'm going to set that aside for now and steer My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second---at least, for this one entry---back to diary mode. Because...what a day I had yesterday! And not exactly in a good way.

First, to set this story up. If I haven't informed you faithful readers, hear hear: I, and members of my family, will be embarking on an 8-day trip through parts of China toward the end of May, with---for me, at least---an all-too-brief 8-hour stop in Hong Kong and a couple days or so in Taiwan at the tail end.

But, of course, in order to get into China, we need visas.

Apparently, it costs a bit too much extra for my mother's taste to try to put in visa applications through our travel agent, so she thought it'd be better to just go to the Chinese Consulate in New York and give them the papers there. But my mother has been having foot problems of late, so she asked me to go into the city to do it.

So that's what I did yesterday. My mother and I drove up to Jersey City (she's thinking about buying a house up there, so because she had a day off from work, she figured it'd be as good a time as any to check out the area), and I took a PATH train into the city to the Chinese Consulate.

Then the nightmare started.

I got to the consulate at around 11:55 a.m.---after being mocked by a paid-parking cashier when I asked him for directions and said "New York Consulate" instead of "Chinese Consulate," not knowing that there are different consulates in different parts of the city---and then I saw the huge waiting room swarming with people.

I wasn't worried about that at first; previous waiting experiences at the DMV have conditioned me to expect, and endure, long waiting times. But then, I got my ticket and looked up at the display of the ticket numbers being served at the front of the room.

Of the four windows servicing visa applicants, the highest number was somewhere in the V0020s.

My ticket was V0301.

My impatience soared when, about an hour later, the highest number was something like V0029.

"Having fun yet?" I said sardonically to the man next to me, sensing that he---a big traveler, from what I gathered from talking to him---was feeling the same frustration that I was.

Readers, I ended up spending a little less than five hours in the same room waiting to put in those visa applications (mine, my mother's and one of my younger brothers'). Worse, I was without food (I hadn't packed any lunch, and I was afraid to leave the building lest they decided to open up another window or something), without water (I had finished up my bottle), and with only my iPod and an occasional conversation to make me feel less bored. I've never applied for visas before---and apparently my mother hasn't either, so the extraordinarily long wait surprised the both of us. I can imagine that this is what being stranded in an airport feels like (the measure of how sheltered I've been most of my life is in the fact that that is something I can only imagine). Actually, with the lack of food and water---I didn't end up eating anything 'til I got home at around 7:15 p.m.---I might as well have been trapped in a desert, sans the stifling heat.

And yet I haven't even gotten to the really good part yet (read: it's not good at all).

Well, first, the actual good part: after the consulate closed its doors at 2:30 p.m., the queue numbers started going up at a quicker rate than before---so now, instead of, oh, 8 numbers in a couple of hours, one could see 20 numbers pass by in maybe half an hour. It looked like a lot of people got impatient and left. Not that I was wondering too loudly.

I eventually got to speak to someone at about probably 4:30ish...

...and then I find out that, after all that waiting...after all the gum-chewing attempts to convince myself that I wasn't all that hungry...after wearing down the battery life on my iPod considerably---after all that, I find out from the lady I speak to that our applications are incomplete. Suffice it to say, there are bank statements and employer letters that all three applications still need.

Thus, after playing the American-Idol-results-show version of the Waiting Game, I leave the consulate with all the papers I came in with---in this case, not a good thing.

I can see some of you now, clucking your tongues at me and saying, You should have been prepared with everything when you came in, obviously. First of all: my mother's been doing pretty much all the planning of this upcoming trip, so I relied on her to know exactly what was needed for the visa applications. (If you're going to say I should have been more involved in the first place, fine, that's a fair point.) Second: it's quite possible that the things that were missing from the applications were the result of recent new requirements that not even our travel agent knew about until today. (My mother called our travel agent after I told her that our applications had been rejected for the time being, and apparently the agent said she received a bunch of rejected applications at her office too.) So I'd like to think that this near-waste of a day for me was not the fault of anyone in particular.

Still, when all is said and done, it was, to put it lightly, supremely annoying.

Live and learn, though. I had no idea about how notorious the wait times are in the Chinese consulate going in, so if I have to do this again, I'll actually know what I'm getting into.

Either that, or a) next time I pay whatever is necessary to get a travel agent to put in the visa application for me; or b) just don't ever go to China again. (I haven't even stepped foot in Hong Kong, and already I'm dying to spend a lot more time there.) Heck, if there is truth to some of the horror stories my parents were telling me in the car about the Chinese government's ruthlessness---and, judging from what I hear every day about China and Tibet, I have no reason to doubt their stories---maybe it'd just be better not to step foot there at least until the country becomes less, uh, Red.

Despite all that, I'm trying to look on the bright side of this lost day in New York City. Here's what I got for the bright side: it was a lovely 80 degrees or so out today. (So you know what that means for sex-starved gentlemen like myself: exposed female flesh and a reasonable amount of covert gawking opportunities. Sorry, I just had to say it.) I got to walk outdoors in New York City for a bit, while listening to my iPod. It was a nice day weather-wise: warm, but with a decent breeze and without an excess of sticky humidity. Near-perfect for me, in other words.

The style of the day looked good, but the content underneath turned out to be a grave disappointment, because the story eventually went nowhere except back to Square One.

And no, that is not a review of Wong Kar-Wai's latest film (which I have not yet seen, and am dying to, in spite of its generally middling reviews).

I just wonder if I'll have to do this again...


Anonymous said...

There are Visa Processing Services who, for a fee, will handle the entire thing and you would not have to wait in ANY line. I am sure that whatever fee they charge, you would agree, would be money well spent to avoid the wait.
You are only going for 8 days? Seems to me that traveling such a distance, the trip should be a minimum of two weeks. Its an awful lot of trouble for just 8 days. And if you have never been to Hong Kong before you surely need more than one day there. Remember also that it will take 24-48 hours to overcome the fatigue of the flight alone. Anyway, use a Visa Service.

Kenji Fujishima said...

There are Visa Processing Services who, for a fee, will handle the entire thing and you would not have to wait in ANY line. I am sure that whatever fee they charge, you would agree, would be money well spent to avoid the wait.

I probably would---certainly now that I know what it's like to wait in the line---but like I said, my mother's been the one arranging all this. So it's her call. I can certainly suggest paying the extra (and maybe chip in some if she's so worried about how "expensive" it is), and raise objections if she decides---even after this experience---to send me out there again, but it's her call.

(Yes I know, that sounds very Mama's-boy-ish...)

You are only going for 8 days? Seems to me that traveling such a distance, the trip should be a minimum of two weeks. Its an awful lot of trouble for just 8 days.

I probably didn't make this clear in the entry, but this is all part of a tour package. The tour package through China is only for 8 days---although actually, my vacation is 2-3 days longer because of the stops to Hong Kong and then Taiwan. But anyway, that's the way it is.

And if you have never been to Hong Kong before you surely need more than one day there.

Yes yes, everyone I've talked to about this upcoming trip has told me the same thing. I initially just wanted to go there to check out the Wall Street Journal Asia office, really---that was before everyone else started telling me that you need more than a day to take in the pleasures of Hong Kong. Now you're all making me feel frustrated that I'm missing out! Wasn't arranged that way; what can I say at this point?

Well, I'll say one more thing: apparently, when I suggested Hong Kong, no one else in my family going on this trip seemed interested. So I will be in Hong Kong for my 8-hour stay all by myself. Not worth it, you say? Maybe, but it's too late to back out now.

And again, yes, I should probably have put in more personal input in all of this. Assertiveness, if you haven't guessed already, isn't always my strong suit.

Sorry if parts of this response sounded snippy or something; maybe I'm still just recovering from yesterday.

Anonymous said...

You can get an idea of the fees for Visa Services online. After all, people in Kansas or wherever travel to China and they have no in-person access to a Consulate. Just tell your mother this is what you want to do. What can she do to you? If she wants to stand in line, let her do it herself.

Anonymous said...

Have a great time on the trip and No family arguments! Argue all you want before the trip, but once you get on the plane, don't argue over anything, no matter what. Nothing is worth ruining a nice trip like this.

Kenji Fujishima said...

Thanks, will definitely try to steer clear of arguments. You never know what might set me or my mother off, though...