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Friday, July 13, 2007


Next stop China

I have been preparing for my trip to China. I have made several visits to the Chinese Embassy. I like walking around, finding my way around Hanoi, there's always a lot to see, so I don't mind. I get lost nearly every day but somehow I get back home.

The first Embassy visit I went in the afternoon, not knowing their hours. They are only open in the morning.

I went back the following morning. There was a queue outside and they let people in one or two at a time. There is a form that you can fill in while you wait but it is only in Chinese and Vietnamese. There are instructions in English stuck on a notice board outside but unless you read one of those Asian languages you would have to guess what the questions are. There are people there who try to help you but they don't speak English either. Also, I forgot to take my pen and my reading glasses.

In the instructions there are all sorts of rules and regulations about what you can and can't do when you enter the embassy: no mobile phones, no cameras, no sunglasses and a few more that I don't remember. Is this a taste of what is to come in China?

I took a few copies of the form back to my hotel room. One of my Vietnamese friends helped me to fill it in.

From somewhere I got the information that the visa fee if you do it yourself is $US25 for a one month visa. You can save all the hassles by getting an agent to do it. They charge $US40 for the same visa. I talked to one of them and they didn't seem to know too much about the options or costs if you wanted anything other than the usual one month. $15 is a lot of money in Vietnam and I'm not rushing to hand over my money to someone whose knowledge is little better than mine, if that.

I wasn't sure if the embassy would take dong instead of dollars and I only had dong. I didn't want to turn up with the wrong currency and be rejected. I've had enough of going back and forward and if I don't act quickly I'd have to pay a late fee. I went to the bank and asked if I could exchange some dong for dollars. You would not believe all the rules and regulations involved to do this. Basically you had to prove you were leaving the country. The proof would be the visa that I needed to pay the dollars for but without the dollars...

I came up with another idea and went back to the bank. Yes, they would allow me to do an over-the-counter cash advance with my Visa card and take the money in dollars. The fee is 3% and this from the bank that is recommended as the one with the most reasonable charges in the country. On top of this I know that Visa will charge $A5 and my bank in Australia will charge 2.5%. It's costing me a lot of money to get hold of my own money—one of the travellers ripoffs that I haven't got around to writing about yet.

So, I got the money and headed to the embassy avoiding all the motorcycle-taxi drivers who wish to deprive me of my exercise so that they can make some money from the foreigner. The queue was a bit shorter at the embassy this time. Many Asian people don't seem to understand the concept of a queue. They just push past to the front of the line. There's no point in saying anything. They won't understand. Just stay calm. Eventually I'm at the front of the queue and I get to go inside and join one of the queues in there, in the air conditioning.

My application is accepted. I had requested three months but for some reason he made me change this to one. That's fine. If China won't let me stay that long, I'll spend my money in another country for those two months.

I picked up the visa on Thursday. It cost $30. Fortunately I withdrew a few extra. Everything looks fine. I've bought a bus ticket to take me all the way to Nanning, in China, on Sunday.

If you've been reading this blog regularly you will be aware of the trouble I went through to acquire a copy of Lonely Planet China. Got an email from friends who visited last year. They had their copy confiscated at the border. Apparently it's a prohibited import.

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