The Adjustment Bureau

1 Jun

Apologies for a blizzard of blog entries… so much to write about….

So… Beijing. First job… get my visa sorted out.

It sounds easy. Go to the entry-exit bureau with all the documents, apply for visa. Pick up visa, go to Tibet.

I haven’t factored Chinese bureaucracy in though….here’s my stack of documents . . .

DSCF5165

(left to right – police report..train ticket..certificate of lost passport..emergency travel document..hotel residency certificate (Beijing)..hotel residency certificate (Shanghai)..Tibet permit

So, here’s how it actually goes down. Brace yourself.

I rock up at the entry-exit bureau confidently – it’s fairly close to the hotel (two tube stops to Yanghegong), but a bit of a walk from the tube station. The policewoman checks my documents, and all is in order. But can I get the visa before I leave for Tibet? ‘Ah, you will have to check with my supervisor’. Another queue, this one occupied by the harder cases so it moves s-l-o-w-l-y. When I finally get there I smile at the hassled supervisor and greet her with Ni hao– one of two Chinese expressions that I know. She examines my documents, and advises me that if I bring in the ticket for the train, she can try and get my application processed in time. Great! So, off to the travel agents – I need to go anyway so this is another job off the list.

Back down the tube line to Zhangzizonglu. Stop at the hotel to pick up directions. Back on the tube, this time to Dengshikou. Arrive at the travel agents location to realise that I haven’t got enough information to find the office. Back on the tube to Zhangzizonglu, back to the hotel. Copy the documents to my Kindle so I KNOW I have the details I need. Back on the tube to Dengshikou again, feeling slightly stupid. Find the right building. It’s obvious when you know what you’re looking for, of course. It even has the travel agents name in big 2m high letters on the outside. Get the ticket. Simple!

Back on the tube to Yanghegong. Walk back to the entry-exit bureau. Confidently, I present the ticket, hoping that she will be able to get something for me early.

At this point, the wheels come off the train. ‘Lhasa’, she says. ‘This is not the ticket I need – I need the ticket that you will use to leave China’. I explain that my plan is to walk across the border. No flight, no train, no ticket… just my feet.

‘We need a letter from your travel agent’, she says. I ask if an email will do – but no – it needs to have one of those magical Chinese official seals on it. But if I can get it by 5pm, they can do it. I stagger out of the bureau and back down the road, to be honest, a little disorientated…

So, back on the tube to Dengshikou. Back to the travel agents…. at which point I find out that the ACTUAL travel agents’ office is hundreds of kilometres away. There is no way they can get the right documents with the right seals to me in time.

At which point we hatch plan C. I will get my visa in Lhasa. I have no idea if this will work, but the travel agent seems hopeful. At this point, they can get me all the documentation I need.

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I hope this is going to work… because the last thing I need is to take a 48 hour train journey to Lhasa only to be put back on a train to Beijing.

So far, though, things have worked out, even at the last minute. In many ways it’s been a journey of faith, trusting that I can get to the next part of the trip, trusting that something will open up to make the next step possible. I’ve had moments with only just enough money to make it through the day….and I have also had some wonderful friends (and family) who have helped me out when things got really desperate. I have had moments when I haven’t known exactly what happens next. But I am still here, still on the journey, still having fun, still smiling… and still learning and growing…

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