The Long Wait


Chapter 7 – A Visit To The Guangzhou Consulate

Most consulates in Guangzhou were located on a small island off the main city interspersed with buildings housing international agencies and organizations. All consulates here except ours were large stately buildings surrounded by high stone walls with sleepy guards posted at their gates. A beautiful city park was behind this boulevard with fine restaurants scattered around. At the far end of this beautiful boulevard was the US consulate.

Our consulate sat across a street intersecting the main boulevard with the cross street blocked to traffic at both ends by military police cars and barricades. There were more barricades on our side of the street along with armed military police and a roped off entry line with metal detectors. A sign prominently displayed read “Host Nationals not allowed entry into the Consulate without written appointment letter.” There was no place on the sidewalk for my wife, and the wives of other American’s going into the consulate, to wait except on the sidewalk. No chairs or restroom facilities were provided by the consulate.

I worked my way through the roped line, stated my business to armed guards and showed two forms of picture ID.  I walked through the metal detectors and across the vacant barricaded street closely watched from both sides by armed guards. On the other side of No-Man’s land I walked through another roped corridor, again stated my business to armed guards and again showed two forms of photo ID.  Then I was told I could not bring my small camera bag into the consulate.

I left my bag there and made my way inside to a lobby full of people both US and Chinese. There was no one available for me to ask assistance. I did see a row of glassed windows along one wall which I later learned were the interview booths. There was a large prominent sign announcing “Information requests on individual visa cases will not be answered here.” Since there were no signs stating where I could ask questions I made my way through the lobby and up the stairs to the second floor. There was another glassed security booth on top of the stairwell with a guard who demanded to know my business there. I explained I was trying to find someone to ask concerning a visa issue. The guard snapped at me and ordered me to leave.

I went back downstairs, still so tired I could barely walk and now seriously angry. There was a Chinese woman inside a glassed booth labeled “Receipts,” and I sort of walked close enough for her to ask me if I needed help. I explained I was just trying to find some answers on my wife’s visa. The woman’s eyes flicked around, she furtively passed me a slip of paper and said “Thursday at 1:00.” I asked her what would happen then, but she just looked at me blankly.

I collected my camera bag and walked out. My total time spent inside the consulate, a visit for which I had traveled halfway around the world, was 15 minutes.

I located Winnie and we left. We found an American-style steakhouse a few blocks away and had a nice American-style dinner. Winnie had her first taste of baked potato. After we ate we wandered back to the consulate and happened to find a local Chinese woman who operated a “Visa Assistance Center” near the consulate. This woman explained that every Thursday at 1:00 the consulate had a lecture concerning visa issues, and that would be my only chance to find out anything. So we thanked her for providing more assistance than anyone inside our consulate had, went back to our hotel and I finally got some sleep.

As we had two days to wait we headed out to Shenzhen next morning for some touring. Thursday we were back in Guangzhou at the Consulate for their seminar. Once again, my wife had to wait outside on the sidewalk with several other Chinese citizens while I worked my way into the barricaded fortress referred to as the US Consulate.

The seminar was held in the first floor lobby. Right about 1:00 a chubby, baby-faced middle-aged man came out and introduced himself as the person giving the seminar. He started by explaining just how proud he was that for the past year, the Consulate staff was providing free information to American citizens on how the spousal visa process worked. He continued by explaining that questions involving individual cases could not be asked, only general questions involving the visa process. One participant asked where they might gain information on personal cases. The answer given was to call the consulate answer line; I had called this “answer line” several times during the past week without anybody ever answering.

The baby-faced staffer then told us, several times, how proud he was that the current wait time for a K-3 visa was then averaging only about one year. He explained that when the consulate received the visa packages from the US, a notice was sent out to the recipient with application paperwork. At this point, I raised my hand and was acknowledged.

I asked if it was possible for a package to arrive at the consulate and be missed. The staffer stated “no,” then asked how long I’d been waiting for the consulate letter. I answered “almost one year.” The staffer stated “that’s too long,” then abruptly went back to his seminar.

I’d beaten the odds, overcame nearly insurmountable obstacles, and achieved a goal. I’d gotten a US government official to answer a direct question from an American citizen on a visa-related question. I walked out of the consulate, found Winnie among the crowd of people sitting on the sidewalk, and left.

For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be an American.

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