Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

The Dues

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Eight hours.   Eight.   Standing.  Standing in a hallway from 7:30am until 3:30pm to have someone draw my blood and take a chest x-ray.  Eight.  Eight hours.

Then it was off to the Shanghai Exit-Entry Bureau.  A 30 minute cab ride away and another hour in line.  Another hour of my life, all to procure a few more precious days of waiting in line at the mercy of bureaucracy.

It was expected.  Some of it.  The waiting, the sweaty rooms where the AC just doesn’t seem to reach.  The ugly girls who think they are cute enough to cut everyone in line– and still somehow get away with it.  The people who no matter when you come always seem to be next to you– like the loud, rich, fat girl blabbing about how she had a nanny in Portugal and how she hasn’t eaten all day (as if it were a crime).

I expected that stuff.  The wait.  Ok, I was prepared a bit.  Registration took four hours, maybe even six, in South Africa at UCT.  But that was it.  One hellacious day, and goodbye.  Not so in China, my friend, not so.

For all the bickering about the US I do on this page, one thing we do got right is our gosh darn bureaucracy!  I ran out of empty pages in my passport six months back– in Cambodia.  Logically, it was a bit of a panic.  The immigration control allowed me into the country on the condition that I find the US embassy and add pages to my little book of life.

Cambodia is desperately poor.  Phnom Penh is a shell of what it once was, meaning a bombshell (no idea how that came to mean a sexy woman).  In this case, it means what you would see after a level 5 hurricane smashed a city that had been abandoned after an atomic bomb, somehow sparing the mansions and temples, and then repopulated in low-level housing.  Trash, faded walls, hollowed out buildings, crumbling sidewalks, men on motorcycle whizzing around harassing you for a few dollars– that kind of bombshell.

And in the midst of this, there she was.  The she was.  Like a shiny new Pentagon in the heart of the city.  The Unites States Embassy.

I walked in, immediately.  No line.  Opened right on time.  A security guard cleared me, and I proceeded to the inquiry hall.  Inside the compound were lush gardens, marble foyers– so nice in fact, that I recently read there is a waiting list for Cambodian newlyweds to have their wedding photos taken here.  I was given a number, and promptly called after just a few minutes of sitting on a comfortable chair watching CNN International on a flat screen above me.  When I told the women my situation, she smiled, gave me one form, took my passport, and told me to wait ten minutes.  Five minutes later, I hear my name and grab my passport.  Free of charge.

My story is rather utopian.  I recall one man in there having a helluva time with some receptionist, bemoaning how he had brought all the documents three times and each time someone told him something new.  And, yes, the grandeur of this embassy is in such stark contrast to Cambodia itself that one cannot help but feel a bit pretentious upon arrival.

Yet, for that one glorious moment, for those 25 minutes, I was back in America, back in a place where you have a chance they might just do things the right way.


Written by Miles

September 6, 2007 at 2:02 am

One Response

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  1. I hope you can laugh at this now. I know I did the whole way through.

    In coming to New York I imagined the same sort of headaches. Getting screwed over minor details, not knowing the proper protocol and not knowing what’s expected. But shit works out in America. Most likely because I know the system well enough that I know how to massage it.

    We put up with tripping over bureaucratic red tape in foreign countries because, well they’ we know we’re foreign and we’re lucky they let out of America in the first place. You’ll learn the system soon enough. Good luck and make sure you’re laughing.


    September 6, 2007 at 4:54 pm

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