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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Visa stress

First I have to confess I don't really want to write this right now, and for the last few days the idea of writing at all, except on a fiction thing has been anathema (am I using this word right here?). [Mmmhmm.--ed.] So, there aren't going to be many details of things here, which is a shame as the Sunday market in Kaili, which spread throughout the old town, and included a mahjong tournament and people blowing horns and many minorties from the area left me feeling just like a cameraman dropped onto a movie set where thousands of extras and workers are milling around getting things ready amidst the architecture, the smells, the faces, and the Chinese-ness of it. Kaili on Sunday morning and afternoon is one hectic place. Horns blaring from 6 AM, and fruit vendors, veggie vendors, clothes vendors, people selling sharp, rusty farm implements, selling Maxell cassette tapes and ghetto blasters, old washing machines (starting price 200 RMB, without bargaining) and refrigerators (350RMB) and other old things. It was a bit like walking through a garage sale in 1985 Middle America, but multiplied to include not just a family or a neighborhood but a whole town.

From Kaili I took a train to Kunming, arriving yesterday morning. Yesterday I shamelessly accosted a few foreigners so I could speak English for the first time in a week, not counting conversations with Natalia. I had planned to arrange for my Myanmar visa yesterday, but it was a holiday in Myanmar so they were not working. Then I called to find out that for Chinese visas I had to prove I have enough cash to last me another month in China, at a rate of 100 USD per day, which I have neither in travelers checks or cash in total. This meant wondering if showing them my bank card would suffice, or, as I ended up doing, calling my mom at 6 in the morning to ask her to fax me a recent bank statement showing what I have.

The rest of the day yesterday, walking through the Flower and Bird Market (nice neighborhood in Kunming, old buildings wooden and rounding with the corner, all two stories or less) and up to Cuihu Park was not all enjoyable as I was fretting about what lies ahead this week (memories of Beijing visa hassle fresh in mind - and a side note, why is it that every city in China has different requirements for renewals?). On the way back to the hostel, where I wanted to get the fax number before calling mom, I did walk through one other street near the market which I found interesting. All the shops sold red lanterns or signs, which meant huge clusters of lanterns hanging from the entrance ways, and also bathroom signs and hotel room number signs and huge chinese characters meant to be placed on buildings, etc. Because it was late afternoon and there was (for the first time since I can remember) a blue sky and sun and a few lazy floating clouds, the colors of the signs and the lanterns burst forth from the shops.

Then it was through a more upscale shopping district in the middle of the city, past modern skyscrapers and back to the hostel.

After doing all the stuff I needed to do, I did laundry and worked on pictures. Fun. Meanwhile, talking to the people sharing my room, a guy from Holland on his way to teaching in Yangshuo (this trip has taken him through Yemen, Pakistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Pakistan before China) and a woman from Laos living in Bangkok who I just could not figure out. The obvious thought, and many other guys who encountered her had this first thought as well...prostitute. But on holiday? Would a pimp let a girl go travel to China on her own? I don't know. She said she worked at a beauty shop in Bangkok, so take from that what you will. More on her in a moment.

Then in the hallway I saw a guy who looked very familiar. He works in Taiwan for the same company I worked for and I realized I've seen him around his school and at meetings several times. He had met another girl living in Taiwan earlier in the day and the three of us went out for dinner...discussing differences between the places and the peoples, and about other travel experiences.

This morning started with a bit of a surprise..well, last night ended with and then this morning began with...the girl from Laos sleeping all but naked. I was woken up this morning as she was packing her things before her bus ride to Dali. She was walking around in her bra and a G-string. One of the more interesting wake-up calls I have had.

Then I headed out to the PSB in Kunming to check on the visa stuff..would my bank statement be enough? A young guy, very handsome, good command of English was sitting at the visa desk. There was one couple sitting with him and then me. It was a well-lit office in a little garden park, and compared to Beijing it was about as similar as two things that are near polar opposites. I explained to the guy my situation and he said everything would be fine, in a very reassuring voice. I asked how long it would take. Three days. So if I drop it off Wed, it will be ready Fri? Sure. Really? Yes. Now, if I drop it off Thur, go away for a week and then come back to pick it up (my original plan, for those who have been following)...no. Ahh...so...a change! Quick calculations and here we go:

So today I left my passport to have the visa renewed for China. This means I lose a few days on this current visa, and that I will have to leave China by the 18th of November, but it fits the timeline for what I still want to see... So now, I pick that up on Thursday afternoon, run back to my hotel, where the Myanmar consulate is, apply for a rush visa, and head off to Zhongdian either Thur night or Fri. This means instead of going near Laos first, and then back to Kunming for passport and then north, I will just head north straight away, to the mythical (or is it?) Shangri La region near Tibet, and then work my way back down south, crossing into Myanmar near the 18th of November. What this means, though is that I will have almost no time to spend in Malaysia and I'm not really sure what will come about in December. We can worry about that later.

So...this is the plan, until Thursday. Let's wait and see how it gets shattered this time, shall we?

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