Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It never rains but it pours

Well I got the visa. And all it took was the completion of six hundred forms, a few dozen photocopies, the odd fax and an awful lot of queuing. The foreign affairs bureau in Beijing seems to exist largely to employ countless members of staff. I had to queue for visa consultatation, queue to get an application form, queue to get an application for an urgent visa (I wanted mine same day rather than the standard 5 working days). I then went off to persuade a friendly local travel agent to photocopy some documents for me and receive a fax with my Tibetan permit on it. Then back to queue to have my photo taken (must be on a light blue background), queue to pay for the photo, queue to have the photo printed out, queue to get for urgency form signed (I picked a rather harried supervisor who looked as if he didn't care) and then queue to make the actual visa application. To my utter relief the offical told me I could pick the visa up at 3pm that day. But then out of the corner of my eye I saw her alter my form slightly. She'd changed the exit date from 26 August to the 10 August. She'd only given me a same day turn around as she'd thought I was leaving the country soon. Thank goodness I persuaded her to change it back and it was just a 3 hour wait to come back queue to pay for the visa and queue again to pick it up. Fantastic. Now I just had to book some flights, get some money and relax. Evening was spent missing the flag lowering ceremony at Tiananmen Square and falling for a classic scam of two students inviting me to have a meal with them (Peking duck in case you were interested) and then leaving me with the bill. As I'd even read about this earlier that day it was perhaps a little foolish to get caught out. Nice duck though.

Another flight, another problem taxi (this time it was a tetchy female driver and her mountain of receipts) and a bus ride and I was able to catch the group in Turpan. To my surprise I was greeted not with the hottest place in China (up to 49 degrees it is claimed) but the first rain they'd had for over a year. This was to cause a couple of problems as we left on the truck this morning (it arrived here at exactly the same time as I did) , got a mile out of town and found a flash flood had blocked the road. Maybe I'll get to Tibet one day....

This was originally written on 07 August 2005. It is from my summer trip to Central Asia, China and Tibet.


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