Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Ya Had Me, But Then Ya Lost Me

August 31, 2008
by Stuart
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Due to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China made some changes to the visa application process making it a bit more complicated. You now need proof of travel in and out of China and hotel reservations for your ENTIRE stay in China. This is to discourage independent travel and encourage traveling with a tour. And because Tina has to come back to SF while we are in China, she needed proof of her flight from Beijing to SF and back for her multi-entry visa.

Getting our train tickets from Mongolia to China turned out to be a problem because you can’t book train tickets online (it also costs more buying them over here). So instead, we got one-way flights from Ulan Bator, Mongolia to Beijing, then from Beijing to Bangkok.

So last Thursday, I got up early and drove to the Chinese Embassy in SF. There was a long line but I finally made it in and waited in another line. Once I got up to the window and handed in our paperwork, the woman “helping” me starting going through all the forms circling dates and highlighting names and checking them against our passports. She started asking me questions through one of those speaker things like at a movie theater box office. Except her’s didn’t work that well. And neither did her English. So I couldn’t really hear her. But when I could, I didn’t really understand her.

Turns out I had left some pretty crucial information back at the ranch. Thankfully, the ranch had a fax machine – or at least Tina’s office did. So I got outta line and had Tina fax her flight information to the Embassy. Then I got back to the window and we started it all over again – the highlighting, the circling. When she asked where my hotel reservations where, I explained that Tina had made them and that I was going to be staying with her. She gave me a long cold stare. It was then that I noticed, right in front of her,  a big stamp. The size you use when you really mean it. Or when you don’t want someone to enter your country. Ever. With the bold, red letters, “DENIED“.

After understanding me about the hotel reservations, she got curious how we were getting to Mongolia in the first place. We were taking the train from Russia, I explain. She asked where our flight info to Russia was. Wondering if she was gonna need anything else, I asked if she cared what we did after China. “No”. So, I got outta line again and had Tina fax our Russia flight info to the Embassy. When I got back to the window she asked where the train tickets were. Again I notice the stamp. I explain that we don’t have them because they’re hard to get over here. Cold stare. Have I mentioned the stamp yet? She asks me to write on the Mongolia to China flight reservation printouts that we are taking the train from Russia to Mongolia.

Apparently that was good enough – she finally approved our application. So I left the Embassy, walked past some guy praying for Tibet, got into my car and wondered if it’s not too late to get my job back.

Adding Pages to Your Passport

August 30, 2008
by Stuart
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A few of the countries we are going to require visas, and most visas require at least one blank page in your passport. Once I realized I might not have enough blank pages, I checked the San Francisco Passport Agency‘s website to see about could be done. To get pages added, I would have to fill out some forms, drop off my passport downtown, have them ship it to the National Passport Processing Center in Philadelphia and – if I paid a rush fee – get it back in two weeks.

Since we didn’t have time for that, I did some Googling and found a handy article in the Washington Post mentioning that you can get this done in a US embassy or consulate abroad in less time. Since our first stop was St. Petersburg, I emailed the US Consulate there – it takes about 20 minutes and it’s free.

Hello World!

August 11, 2008
by Tina
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