Early Sunday morning, I hopped on a flight bound for Washington, D.C., by way of Chicago. I was going to D.C. to get my work visa (hereafter Z-Visa) from the Chinese embassy. While it's possible to complete that process through a mail service, I wanted to leave as little room as possible for errors because my departure date is so close (13 days away).
I flew on Southwest Airlines, an airline which has taken to being sassy in the last year or two. Their flight attendants regularly say things like "This is a sold out flight, so please use as little overhead bin space as possible. Purses, backpacks, shopping backs, children under 25 pounds, all need to be placed under the seat in front of you." It may read as corny, but it all comes across with spontaneity, and, speaking as someone who has flown with regularity since September 11, it's nice to see a sense of humor coming back into the fold.
I arrived in Washington Dellis, and took a cab to the hotel, where I had about five or six hours to kill before my friend Dena drove down from Delaware. While I'm still disappointed I didn't get to take care of all this business in Chicago, where I had four or five friends I was going to see, I was thrilled to have Dena's company for Sunday night and all of Monday. I haven't seen her in almost two years, and it was great to catch up. I intended to spend that time finishing Philip Pullman's amazing The Subtle Knife, but I turned on the t.v. while I ate a late lunch (I've never mastered eating and reading at the same time), and got sucked into Vh1 Classic's marathon of "The 7 Ages of Rock". So that felt productive.
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Monday morning, we got up around 6:30 and took a hotel shuttle to a bus which we took to the metro which we took to within a mile of the Chinese Embassy. I enjoyed walking around that section of D.C., full as it was (and, I assume, still is) with most of the 175 embassies in the city. They were fun to look at. The Bahraini embassy, for example, looked like a building air lifted out of the middle east. The Swiss embassy had an appropriately art deco exterior. The Norwegian embassy had a sort of Victorian Estate front and an intriguingly modern side. The Chinese embassy was a different beast entirely; significantly bigger than most of the others, it gave me the unsettling impression that the people inside would be safe from an atomic blast, or perhaps some sort of small-scale invasion. Safety is not unsettling; it is that they seemed to have planned for the aforementioned circumstances.
It looked mighty imposing, but I never went inside. Turns out I was meant to go to an office about two miles from there. I don't always read things carefully. When we arrived at the Visa and Passport office, there was a line of forty people between me and being processed. It was a race against the clock, as I needed to have my passport in before 12:00, so I could pick it up the same day. It was about 9:40 when Dena and I arrived, and for a little while, it looked dire. But we played a good sporting game of that game where you try to complete squares (Pegs, is it called?), and my time came closer and closer. I even made a friend, who will be teaching at one of Disney's English language schools in China. We exchanged e-mails, because I'm curious, and want to learn more of this.
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Lunch was spent at the National Zoo, before we walked back to pick up my passport. Long story short(ish), I have a visa.
Now the only thing between me and my new adventures in China is thirteen days of wait.
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Diplomatic relations between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America started working, in large part, because both sides agreed not to discuss certain issues. The concept of One China, for example; For a while, the United States only recognized the government in Singapore as the proper government of China. This was anathema to the rest of China, ruled at the time by Chairman Mao in Beijing. Singapore was a contentious issue, involving displays of naval force on the part of the U.S., passive-aggressive warnings from China, and generally a lack of progress. In the name of mutual national interest, the PRC promised the United States that they would not invade Singapore, that they would absorb it back into China peacefully, and so the United States promised not to make an issue of it anymore. We ignore the issue of China's belief that China and Singapore are one in the same, and China ignores our recognition of Singapore, all in the name of mutual advantage. So this made me laugh: