The Case of the Chinese Visa and WAIT! THAT’S NOT ME!

while taking part in today’s #JSETT twitter chat, i was reminded of a little (ok, pretty big) snafu that happened two and a half years ago where a trip almost had to be entirely called off.

here’s a timeline of events:

Wednesday, May 5

  • i had planned on going with my parents to China but ultimately couldn’t commit to going due to work obligations. my schedule freed up at the last minute, so i decided to go that coming weekend to surprise them in Beijing.
  • ergo, i needed to get a Chinese visa, stat! 

Thursday, May 6

  • headed to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco and dropped off all my stuff. i could indeed have my visa the next day.
  • with formalities taken care of, i booked a ticket SFO-PEK (via Tokyo on JAL and ANA), leaving in the early afternoon, giving myself the early morning to pick up my passport. (i can still pull it up on Orbitz — $988.89, not bad!)

Friday, May 7

  • my brother, who had long planned on joining my parents and already had everything squared away, drove down to my place and we both went to the consulate to get my passport before heading to the airport together.

side note: while waiting in line, i got a notification from starbucks saying they couldn’t auto-reload my card due to insufficient funds. turns out someone identity thefted me and my account was, iirc, -$1000 or so. i managed to call the bank and they were going to fix it, but they had to cancel my debit card and the funds could not be replaced immediately, so i was cashless. yes. about to leave for an overseas trip with no money in the checking account, linked savings drained due to overdraft protection.  my other (main) savings account is at an online institution so it’d take days to transfer the money over. my brother offered to withdraw money for me but i don’t remember why i declined. silly move, but oh well. spoiler: got a cash advance on a credit card at the airport, enough to pay for cab to the hotel. parents paid for all other expenses (which is why, as a grown man, i still like to travel with my parents, $0 checking account balance or not).

  • picked up the passport, headed back home to drop dog off at the doggie hotel when i decided to take a look and see what the visa looked like. IT WAS NOT MY PASSPORT. name and likeness not even close!
  • freaking out commenced. i called the consulate but by the time i could get back up there, they would be closed for lunch, my brother would miss his flight, and i’d miss my flight anyways.
  • dropped brother off at airport and went back up to San Francisco to wait for the embassy to reopen. i found a starbucks where i could get intarwebz access to research new flight options. i canceled the original flight for a full refund because it was less than 24 hours after i made the reservation (thank goodness for this rule; i have used it to my advantage many times over).
  • booked a new flight (as i recall it was significantly more expensive, like $1600, but still could have been a lot worse) — the red-eye via LAX on Air China (silver lining: i’d earn miles on United).
  • barged my way to the front of the line and angrily picked up my passport from the consulate which i verified then and there. they were not very apologetic, though i didn’t really expect them to be. stunned and embarrassed, yes. apologetic, no.
  • since my flight now didn’t leave until that night, i leisurely (angrily) went home, took the dog to the doggie hotel, and had my pre-trip Panda Express (the start of a tradition). the rest of the night is documented in my foursquare check-ins:

I was finally on my way. With my passport.

Sunday, May 9

  • arrived early in the morning (less than 8 hours later than originally planned, i think, so not bad) at the hotel in Beijing (which, by the way, i’m still foursquare mayor of to this day [as of this writing]) to find my dad waiting anxiously in front because he didn’t think i had money to pay the cab. (my brother, who arrived fine on his originally-scheduled flights, spoiled the surprise due to all the drama.)

the rest of the trip went really well, without incident. the moral of the story is, and it’s something i’m keeping in the forefront of my mind as i go sometime next week to pick up my passport from Brazilian Consulate, check your passport and visa before you exit the building!  (and, of course, Murphy’s law!)

5 Comments on "The Case of the Chinese Visa and WAIT! THAT’S NOT ME!"

  1. Pre-trip Panda Express Tradition! Ha… too much

    What a story. It’s so important to be thorough, especially with International travel. It’s not paranoia, it’s damage control & taking preventative measures. You’re a long way from home & what’s familiar. Things will be more complicated, more expensive, & more time consuming if you have to troubleshoot on the fly!

    • yes! if i could like your comment multiple times, i would! so true, and good advice.

      (and yep, before every big trip i try and have dinner at Panda Express — totally random, but it’s pretty much the only time i eat there.)

  2. When I went to Shanghai around 4 years ago, I began my trip from Singapore so went to the Embassy there to get my visa. I had forgotten to bring enough of one of my pills that trip, so was a bit rushed as I needed to go to a doctor to get other pills prescribed. When I went back the next day to pick up the passport, they couldn’t find it. I was gutted. So I sat in the consulate hall for around an hour, with other people commiserating with me, until at last after nearly everyone had picked up their passports they found mine. Mislaid. I was greatly relieved. And Shanghai was wonderful.

  3. Wow jeez that’s bad luck ! Never had to get a visa to go anywhere, but I will certainly remember to check my passport if I ever need one !

    (About the SFO guy typing away to issue the ticket – i’ve had that in Atlanta two weeks ago when I missed my connection, I went to Delta so they’d get me on the next one and the guy just typed like a whole 500-page novel before it was over, that was weeeeird !)

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