Chicken or Egg? Visa or Apartment?
While in Paris we were looking for a place in Beijing but without success. So we decided to look for a car, and drive around Europe, but we couldn't find that great bargain we wanted. We decided that we would wait until August 12 to make our final decision on which to buy. Then, as they say in French, a coup de Theatre: With a week to go we got an e-mail message from Beijing forwarded from a friend in the USA — maybe an apartment would be available. Exactly what did we want? Two days later we had a specific offer. Did we want it?
Now we had to face something that wasn't a real question for France: could we get a visa? How long it would be good? What would it cost? Were we allowed to rent in China? In France we could ignore these questions. First, Jan is a European citizen, and clearly has the right to rent here. Second, Gerry is an American, and as such doesn't need a visa for a six-month stay. And third, even if the other two didn't apply the border here is almost as much a sieve as in the USA. For example, we attended a court session at the Palais de Justice where a half dozen misdemeanor cases were tried. One of them was the case of a black Guinean who had been picked up just the day before trying to take the Eurostar train to London. He had a stolen French ID card, for which he had paid about $500. He'd bought it in Germany. If he had just been content to stay in France he probably would never have been picked up.
Getting our papers in Order
The very day after getting the e-mail from Beijing we went to visit the Chinese consulate. It’s in Issy les Moulineux, a town bordering Paris on the south-east, on the exact opposite side of Paris from where we live, and it would be an hour subway ride if we went directly. In fact, on the way there we stopped at the American consulate, located a few hundred yards from the Place de la Concorde (sort of the center of Paris). From a recorded phone message we had learned that to get a Chinese visa takes ten days; its good for three months from issue, and a passport is required that still has six months validity. Jan got her USA citizenship in September, 1989 and got her passport the same day. So the ten-year clock had nearly run out and she needed it renewed soon, independently of getting a Chinese visa. She'd already made a phone inquiry to the US Consulate and it seemed that things should go smoothly. But now that it was important Murphy's law meant that it probably wouldn't.
As said, we took the Metro to the consulate and got there about noon. We had to get through three security zones/checks to enter, but once completely in things seemed relaxed enough. There was essentially no line; she had filled in the form, paid her 240 F (about $40), and was told that it would take 1-2 hours. We decided it was better to wait than take the trouble to go through the security checks a second time. Happily - were you worried? - Murphy's law was violated. Jan now has a passport good until 2009 (the year of her 60th birthday!).
After lunch we went on to the Chinese consulate. As we approached we saw several Chinese couples enter or leave, so we knew it was the place. We went in and were about to join the obvious line, when a Chinese woman stopped us with a rather brusque "What do you want?" She probably didn't mean it to be as brusque as it seemed to us. It certainly made us wonder what problems lay ahead with getting the visa. As we asked questions it became apparent that neither she nor the other two people with her had a particularly good command of either French or English; that is certainly the reason for the brusque appearance.
We learned that a visa is good for entry anytime within three months of issue, but that one can only stay in China for two months. Any longer stay requires an extension, which much be requested in China and is very likely to be granted. After conferencing together none of the three could think of any reason why we couldn't stay in a friend's apartment, rather than a hotel. All the answers were very satisfactory. We decided that we'd actually apply for the visa once we had confirmation that an apartment was reserved for us.
Going to Beijing
Back to the e-mail to China. Yes, we wanted the apartment. Please reserve it for us, etc. We would take it for September, October, and November. If we were going to China we wanted to be there well before October 1, so that we could be comfortably installed in the apartment in time for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. This celebration in Beijing could exceed what is to been seen anywhere else for the Millennium. Arriving just before it and trying to find a hotel room would be loco.
Two days later the reply came that the first deal had fallen through. The owner was unwilling to rent for such a short term or at least he wouldn’t properly furnish it. Short-term panic until we read the next sentence : a second, even nicer apartment in Beijing had been found, described in the email as follows
Fortunately, there is an other apartment available as follows: area ~120square meters (construction); 3 bed-rooms with beds (2 double beds, 2single beds) and wardrobes; one living room with TV, sofa, dining tableand chairs; kitchen with refrigerator and gas oven; a toilet/bath room. Allthe bed rooms and the living room are equipped with air-conditioners. Andto my surprise, BBC and HBO are available on the TV, it should be very goodfor you. And a telephone and a wash machine are also available. It 's indowntown area, and in a high building. There are several restaurants andbars around. A small shopping center is within the building, and a largemarket is about 1 kilometer away.
On Thursday, August 12 we lazily went over to the Chinese Consulate in Issy les Mulineaux. We spent the morning filling our their form and preparing out photos. We did not know what a shock we would get when we got there. They refused to take our application. Our pleas fell on deaf ears: we were told that since we were not resident in France we could not even apply for a visa in China. We could go to our home country — the USA or China. Neither was very attractive.
We didn't know what to do but we didn't want to be stuck with an apartment in Beijing that we could not visit. So it was back to the email — please put it on hold. That's how it was when we left Paris on August 27 for England. There we hoped to get visas from a more friendly and accommodating consultate. We went to Manchester twice: once to apply and once to get the results of our application. It was positive, and we sent off an email to China asking that our apartment be taken off "hold". Too late! The apartment was no longer available.
But ... another was available. It was closer to the center of town, but smaller and more expensive. We happily took it. And that's how our residence became the Warwick International Appartments.
Renewing Our Visa in Beijing
We hadn't been in Beijing but a few weeks when we knew the trip would be a success and that we couldn't seen everything in Beijing, let alone China, in 30 days. So we set off to get as long a renewal as possible of our visa.
More on this to come later.