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Sat 21 Mar 2015

Temple of Literature, Hanoi.

Temple of Literature, Hanoi.

Near Ngoc Son Temple, Hanoi.

Near Ngoc Son Temple, Hanoi.

Bridge to Ngoc Son Temple.

Bridge to Ngoc Son Temple.

I ended up staying in Hanoi several days longer than I had planned, because obtaining a Chinese visa took longer than I had expected. First, when thumbing through my passport, I found I only had one blank visa page left. Frequently embassies and consulates will not give a visa unless there are at least two blank pages, and I understood the Chinese embassy was quite strict with these rules. So the first order of business was to go to the U.S. Embassy to have more pages added. Three days and $82 later, I had 26 new pages to work with.

Restaurant in the Old Quarter, Hanoi.

Restaurant in the Old Quarter, Hanoi.

At Ngoc Son Temple.

At Ngoc Son Temple.

Next I went to the Chinese Embassy to pick up the visa form and review the instructions. It was one of the longest visa forms I had ever completed (four pages) and they required that I provide proof of travel health insurance as well as copies of my bookings for all the hotels where I would reside during my visit to China.

After completing the form and gathering all the needed documents, I went to the embassy to deliver my paperwork, hoping that they would not ask for additional information. I handed the papers to an embassy employee who appeared irritated and a bit hostile. She riffled through my papers quickly. Then she riffled through them again. Next she reviewed each sheet of paper for several seconds, and frequently thumbed back to previous pages to compare the information.

She looked up at me smugly and threw the opening salvo. She shoved two papers at me and said, “These bookings are the same.” One point for her. I reviewed the sheets, then said I was sorry, I must have included a duplicate copy. I withdrew one of the pages, carefully folded it up and put it in my pocket with a smile. One point for me.

She looked at my papers again, then accusingly thrust two more sheets under the window. “This booking is for three days, this one for seven, same hotel.” One point for her. I courteously explained that indeed the bookings were for the same Kunming hotel, but the bookings were for different dates, since I planned to return to Kunming on my way back to Vietnam. One point for me.

Then she fired her victory volley. She held out a sheet of paper as if it were dirty underwear and said with disgust, “What is THIS?” I patiently explained that it was the documentation of my travel insurance, as per the embassy’s visa instructions. One point for me. She put the paper back into the pile.

Unable to find any other faults with my paperwork, she pushed the first page of the visa form towards me, crossed her arms and said, “Write down your VIETNAM telephone number at the top.” I wrote down the full number from memory as she looked on with a critical eye. She took the sheet back, looked at the number, counted the digits, trying to find some fault with it. She then turned the page over in resignation (another point for me!) and said, “AND you didn’t fill out — ” she stopped in mid-sentence as she saw that indeed I had filled out the number of days I planned to spend in China. One final point for me. “Come back tomorrow. I have to give it to my supervisor for review.”

I had only asked for a 30-day single entry visa, but three days later I found they had granted me a ten-year multiple entry visa (as per a new agreement between China and the Obama administration). Well, at least I could visit Yunnan province this time. 

The Legend: In the mid-15th century Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To a magical sword which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war a giant golden turtle took the sword and swam into the lake to restore the sword to its divine owners. Thus the name Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword).

The Legend: In the mid-15th century Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To a magical sword which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war a giant golden turtle took the sword and swam into the lake to restore the sword to its divine owners. Thus the name Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword).

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