Yesterday I got back from a whirlwind trip to Chicago to get my visa to go to China. You’d be shocked at how hard the whole ordeal was, and I keep telling people, I don’t understand why my life needs to continue to be so damn epic all the time. To start with, the Chinese Consulate General changed the rules on me right before I left — namely, that I had to have hotel reservation information or proof of relationship to family members (?) as well. At the time, I had virtually no information about where we are going to stay in China, and I am still a little shady on the whole thing.

Anyway, I had chosen to take the train, considering I wasn’t about to drive to Chicago alone, not in this state, not a mere month after nearly getting killed. I guess it was a good choice, but characteristically, Amtrak was late. To be specific, the train was an hour and a half late getting to Ann Arbor. I’m used to late Amtrak rides, but instead of arriving in Chicago at 11 in the evening, I arrived at 2 in the morning, groggy, confused, and angry. Luckily Mariel was kind enough to come pick me up at the train station, but we finally got to her apartment at 3.

It was there I arrived at the realization that, to get to the Consulate at 9 and drop off my materials so I could pick it up the next morning before catching a noon train back to Ann Arbor, that I would be getting up at 5.30 to shower, dress, walk to the Red Line, stand on the L for a little over an hour, get some food, find a Kinko’s, get my photos done, print out the remaining flight invoices, and find the damn place so I could be one of the first in line. I didn’t get the hotel information in time, by no fault or choice of anybody’s, except maybe the Consulate changing the rules at the last second.

It was a bit of an ordeal to find the Consulate itself. The visa office is housed in an innocuous-looking marble-faced building on East Erie. When you go inside, you need to take an elevator up to the fifth floor. The hallway seems to be in the process of getting its carpet replaced. When you turn a corner, you are faced with a white room with a copy machine, five rows of chairs, some flat-screen TVs, and six windows, which, at 8.30, were not staffed yet. I took a number and sat down — even at 8.30, I was sixth in line. I was glad that I had chosen to get up really early.

The people waiting to be helped were mostly of Chinese descent. There was one couple with young kids who were hybrids. Some people were talking quietly in English, some in Chinese. One of the TVs was playing a morning news program that was busy bashing Barack Obama. The other was playing a DVD of Shaolin kung-fu, filmed with a soft-focus lens and in very brilliant colors. The volume was turned down on both of these. There were two tall men in security uniforms walking around the room, scrutinizing the visitors.

At about 9.10, clerks appeared in four of the six windows and the process began. I can’t blame the clerks for being very gruff — all they do all day is take applications for visas, passport renewals, certified documents, and other such things, and have to listen to a mechanical woman’s voice call the next ticket holder up to their counter. I think I would go nuts. When my number was called, I handed over the relevant information. She went through my papers and didn’t say anything about my lack of hotel booking confirmations.

The clerk informed me curtly that they no longer offer 24 hour turnaround.

“What?” I said.

“We just stopped doing it,” she replied. She gave me a funny look, like maybe I should have heard.

“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”

“Pick up Tuesday,” she said, giving me a pink receipt. “Pay when you pick up.”

And that was it. I walked away with some confusion, looking at the pink receipt. Tuesday? Shit. I was returning to Ann Arbor next day, and either I’d have to come back to Chicago or send someone to get it. Luckily, Mariel volunteered: I had to leave the $130 visa fee with her, as well as money to overnight it back to me. I’m a bit antsy about overnighting information like that, but I guess people do it all the time.

Exhausted, and a little defeated, I took the Red Line back out to Mariel’s apartment. It wasn’t even noon yet. I haven’t worked so hard for so little return in quite some time, but I did manage to pass out for five or six hours as a reward for waking up early just to be stonewalled by bureaucracy.

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