The Guangdong Development Bank Tower at 555 Xu Jia Hui Road is a rather unassuming building. A typical, early 00’s 35+ floor Chinese modernist piece. The stained white square tiled landscaping, the water/dust tarnished exterior stone material, the marble encased entrance, the marble flooring, the bored security guards, the empty and abused floor space, the dirty opaque plate glass. The doors are open with central air-con struggling in a never-ending battle to cool the outdoor Shanghai air. A child cries, a man yells into his mobile while trading at one of the stock terminals. Someone spits on the floor.
A building that wanted/tried to be so much more, a building that might have been something, but now it was just another desolate Shanghai sarcophagus; home to branch #4384994 of the Guangdong Development Bank and lord knows what else dwelling within it’s forgotten innards.
…perhaps, but this is also the building where dreams come true…
For inside this architectural desert is a one-stop, all-you-can-eat visa bazaar operating between the hours of 8am and 3pm. This months promotion! Get two visas for the price of one every Tuesday (some restrictions apply).
Welcome to the space of the contracted visa service provider. This uninspired wasteland is where Italy, Canada, UK, USA, India, Spain and many others have banished their entrance visa applications in an effort redirect the rage of the rejected away from the peace and tranquility of their diplomatic lives. This is the place that offers clients unparalleled customer services while ensuring costs are inflated as much as possible.
This is the refuge where I was required to go for my Indian visa…and it is also the place where dreams are smashed into pieces, blended into a slurry and fed back to you with a bendy straw laced with a half-hearted “better luck next time”. Just ask the WASPy Western woman in line before me who was promptly denied in front of her peers for not having the proper documents. She looked like she was going to burst into tears.
It wasn’t looking good, that woman looked like she had the right stuff. Wasn’t sure about myself…I was wearing Tevas and cargos. I couldn’t be more North American if I tried. But I had a polo shirt… and a grin that screamed “how could you possibly deny me a visa?”
Maybe that would compensate…
I don’t get butterflies that often. Maybe a first date, or a big presentation and definitely for visa applications. For with travel visas, there is no appealing, no begging, no “we can work out a solution”, no flapping eyelashes, no showing skin, not even a big fat hong bao will help one out. There is just you…with your battered ego, a plane ticket to nowhere, useless trekking gear, an empty passport and a ticking clock to get come up with the required items that you couldn’t come up with in the first place.
The place wasn’t as unfriendly as the Russians, but it was a much, much longer experience.
“Do you have copies?”
“Do you have photos”?
“You need to fill out a different form, this one you have is outdated.”
“ok” *fills out nearly identical form*
“Do you have a ticket?”
“Yes, to Delhi”
“What do you do in Shanghai?”
“I am a graduate student from Canada on exchange at Fudan University”
“Do you have an invitation letter from Fudan?”
“No, I called before and your service told me it wasn’t necessary”
“hmmmm…ok, just write down here what you were doing at Fudan”
*writes down relevant information regarding Fudan exchange*
“Do you have a residents permit”
“No, again, I was told I didn’t need that”
*bloody hell, this was EXACTLY what I was worried about. I’m screwed…screwed! Should just go to Thailand…at least they have streamlined how to separate a traveler from his money in that country*
“Ok, let me talk to my supervisor” *goes behind the glass*………”It should be ok”
*what the hell does that mean? It either is or it isn’t…*
“yeah, they are always changing things here. Oh yes, you need to write out an itinerary for your time in India”
*totally wrote up a b.s itinerary off the top of my head using cities that I knew and dates I made up…and stressed the fact that I was flying to Toronto on Sept 12th. Fingers crossed. It’s all ok if you are leaving, it’s all ok if you are leaving and not hanging out in Mcleod Ganj forever. Don’t be silly Bryan, you don’t have dreads…but you are wearing tevas…why the hell did you wear the tevas?!! No one else here is wearing tevas…*
“alright, good. Just go over there and pay. Should be six days. You can check the status of your visa online.”
*check the status of my visa online? That sounds awful…it implies it may be rejected and sent to the pile entitled “Suckers! We have your money and you have nothing! hah hah hah hah hah hah! Looks like the closest you are going to get to India is peering into that curry place on Nanjing Road wishing you had reservations and a night after night of knockoff Bollywood DVD’s”.
Navigating my way to the Guangdong Development Bank Tower: 22RMB
E-ticket to Delhi to meet visa requirement: 3000RMB
Tourist Visa: 340RMB
Visa Referral Fees: 100RMB
Service charge: 165RMB
Total price: 3627RMB (over 600 CDN).
Price of having no idea if you actually getting an Indian Visa: Bloody terrifying.
The good news is that usually, if one has paid, one is approved…usually…but this is Asia.
Again…some governments just make it so difficult for guys like me to spend money in their countries.
On a more serious note, a Canadian passport truly is a powerful tool. I don’t require a fraction of the kind of documents a P.R.C. national requires for an Indian visa, or almost every other visa for that matter. However, I’ve found in many cases a Canadian passport is stuck in a kind of grey area. Such a passport doesn’t automatically grant a visa, but the restrictions are absolutely bizarre and leave one wondering why one wouldn’t be automatically granted a visa. You don’t ask for my source of funds, or how much funding I have, you don’t ask for insurance, you don’t require a health check, you barely ask for plane tickets, what I am going to do there, my background or when I plan to go home…but you would deny me a visa because I don’t have the proper Chinese visa? I’m going to India! Why does it matter? I would have expected more concern regarding my financial and health situation, rather than a expired Chinese visa. The items that would potentially make me a ‘risk’ to India are never even considered.