Yesterday I spent six hours trying and failing to get a Chinese visa at the Consulate General of the PRC. I showed up at 12:30, right in the middle of the lunch break. Not wanting to wait a half-hour without any sign of a line, I walked around for a bit and talked to Tiff. Then I came back around 12:45, and all of a sudden a big line had formed. And then a huge throng of people all waving tickets in the air showed up and moved straight ahead of the line I was in. They opened the doors at 1 and started letting all the people with tickets in, and nobody had a clue what was going on.
Our line didn't move for a solid hour, which we eventually realized was because they had a hundred people left over from the morning session (9am-noon) that hadn't been served yet. I started to think things were looking bleak. Finally around 2pm I got inside the room and got my ticket, which was number 281. I looked up at the board and saw they were on... 200. Yikes, another hour to kill. I went outside and re-parked the car in another 2 hour spot, then made it back inside (now having a ticket I didn't have to wait in the outer line again, thank goodness).
The only decent thing about the entire disaster was I was able to use that time to read some Harry Potter. That made the hour inside pass a lot faster. So, around 3pm, I get my number called and walk up with all my papers. I hand them to the woman behind the window, and the first thing she says is, "This is red ink, you cannot use red ink." Me: There was zero indication that red ink was not acceptable. "Sucks for you, jackass! Go back and fill out the application in black ink, then come back to this window. Use this [cheap, easily replaceable] pen, but make sure to bring it back!"
So I go back and copy my application over in black ink, then go back to the window. But there's one person already at the window, and another person in line at the window who must have been like me and missed something on the application. So finally the first dude finishes, and then the next guy goes up. I kind of look over his shoulder and overhear the conversation, and it sounds like the guy is trying to do a study-abroad in China, but didn't buy a return ticket yet. After a few minutes of talking, the poor guy has to leave because they won't give him a visa.
So then I get up to the line, and once again hand over my papers. This time she looks them over and says, "This picture is unacceptable. It must be printed on photo paper, not ordinary paper." Me: But there was no indication on the form that photo paper was necessary! "Doesn't matter! Go to the information desk to get your photo taken." So I walk over to the information desk, where I wait in line behind a few other people. Then I finally get to talk to her, and she says, sure, I'll take your picture. Ten bucks please! Obviously I have no choice, so I fork over the cash.
Five minutes later, my shiny new, printed-on-photo-paper visa picture is in my hands. I walk back to the window and wait again behind someone, and then finally I hand everything over and miracle of miracles, there are no problems. She hands me the slip of paper and says, "Come back and pick it up on the 16th." I'm about to walk away until I realize, "hey wait, I want that thing mailed to me!" So I remind her that I want it mailed to me. And she's like, "Oh yes, right. In that case, you will need to pay the $130 in cash, in person, immediately." Fuck! I don't have that much cash on me! So that ends that!! No hope of getting the damn thing mailed to me. I'm totally, completely livid at this point, but there's nothing I can do. I grab the slip and walk away from the window, not having anything to do but pace around the stupid consulate general until they open the door (which they do every five minutes since it's after 3pm). What a horrible experience.
And now, oday, I discovered I don't have my passport. I had it right up till the very end, when the woman told me I would be able to have my visa mailed to me unless I paid in cash (this fact was NOT made clear on the website!!). Naturally, I did not have $130 on me, so I was left to walk out of there dumbfounded. After all the other crap I went through, I was completely livid. I don't remember picking up my passport, but I really thought I did. Then there was about a five minute wait to get out of the building, since it was after 3pm and they only opened the doors every five minutes or so. Then I walked straight to the car and got in. I didn't have anything in my hands, I remember, so I must have lost it before then. Maybe somebody pick-pocketed me in the five minutes before I left the building? It was only a block or so from the consulate general to my car, so it's hard to believe I could have lost it then. I was just so upset at the whole thing I wasn't thinking about anything.