How I (miraculously) got a Chinese Visa in Bangkok
On June 11, 2013, I left the US for 18 days of travel. The trip had two main goals:
1) Provide Change Management training in China and Thailand
2) Participate in a 3 day meeting in India.
Due to a host of reasons, I left home with an airline ticket from Bangkok to Shanghai but no Visa from the Chinese government that would allow me to enter. After talking with my company’s travel representatives and doing some internet research, it was clear my only option was to go to the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok and apply for the Visa. An employee in our Thai office sent me a checklist of things to bring with me. It was much more extensive than the one on the Embassy website so I diligently prepared:
A colleague also helpfully offered that he had recently been refused a Business Visa but had been allowed a Tourist Visa…so I prepared two copies of that form too!
Armed with forms, letters, and passport I left for the Embassy at 7:30 am expecting a 30+ minute commute through the (infamous) Bangkok traffic. I didn’t think much about it when the trip only took about 15 minutes and I arrived at 7:45. A friendly Thai security guard helped by providing change for me to pay the taxi driver and I was third in line at the doors which opened at 9 am. While standing in line, I talked to a nice Danish guy who offered that traffic was light and the line was short this morning. I started wondering if my good luck was a little more than luck now.
I passed the time until 9 talking to the Danish rubber plantation owner and a German guy watching the Stanley Cup playoffs on his tablet. Once the doors opened, the travel agents and people with a pink receipt (indicating they had already applied) were let in first, followed by the ‘new applicants’. We went through security and up a flight of stairs to the application room and we took a number …then rushed to the counter and got in a line. I had expected that they would call us by number but in the end it was more of an ‘admission’ ticket to be handed to the clerk behind the desk.
I waited behind 2 people in my line, silently sweating as I realized that I had one form that I had forgotten to complete. I scampered to finish it while the German hockey watcher had his application rejected. Once I got to the front I had to stoop down to see through a small half circle. The (extremely nice) lady behind the desk took my forms, reviewed them, asked a couple of questions, and said, “I give you 7 days Visa”. Phew. I felt a sense of extreme relief. She handed me a small pink slip that indicated I could come back tomorrow and get my passport (China used to offer same day Visa service but this has been suspended – the hours when I went were 9-11:30 M-F). I held that piece of paper tightly as I left, found a taxi, and headed to work. I’m sure that God doesn’t love me any more than He does anyone else but I sure felt special as I left…thinking the most harrowing part of the process was complete.
The next day, I got to the Embassy around 8:45 with the goal of waiting in line as little as possible. While waiting, I struck up a conversation with a Swedish guy who was 2 people behind me in line the day before. We got ‘moved up’ to the line of people with pink papers and entered at 9. We waited a few minutes to pay. I got out my credit card and looked to the front window to find the familiar Visa/MasterCard logos indicating I could use it. Wait, I don’t see them…what does that say on the middle of the window, “Baht Only”. Oh no. I don’t have enough cash to pay for this! I expressed my dismay to my Swedish friend as he (very kindly) said ‘that stinks for you’. He thought for a second and said, ‘I might have enough for both of us. Let me pay first and if I have enough left, I’ll pay for you and you can go to an ATM to pay me back.’ I could have hugged him. We compared prices and found that the ‘express 1 day’ Visa for Europeans cost less than half of the cost for a US Citizen – the free market at work. Thankfully, he had enough money left over to help me. I paid, we picked up our passports, and headed to an ATM. It took a few attempts as I forgot to use my PIN but I finally got all the steps right and handed over the loan. We wished each other well and headed our separate ways.
As I got in the taxi, I couldn’t help but think about all the ‘coincidences’ that led to me getting the Visa, I was reminded about how helpless I was during the whole process.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36
It just takes a little getting out of your comfort zone to realize how much help we really need. I am certainly thankful for the kindness of strangers and can promise that I’m now looking for more opportunities to be on the delivery end and not just the receiving one!