This afternoon I found myself spending entirely way too much time at the Chicago Chinese Consulate, all because I decided to be a good girlfriend. Stephen has an obscene amount of stuff on his plate today, so I offered to pick up his passport for him. He dropped it off last week at the Consulate to get a visa for our trip next month. I had dropped off and picked up my own passport a few months ago and it seemed like a fairly straightforward procedure. The key word there is “seemed.”
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of waiting at the Chinese Consulate, allow me to enlighten you. The closest comparison I can come up with is the DMV—except the employees are even crabbier and majority of the time bark Chinese. When it isn’t frustrating, it’s quite an entertaining experience.
I showed up this afternoon with the sacred pink slip. This receipt ensures they give you the correct passport back. They do not take kindly to those who do not have their slips. I waited patiently in line then presented my slip. “ID,” the woman barked. I tried to explain that I was using my boyfriend’s credit card to pay for his passport. She would not allow it. So I stepped out of line and called Stephen to decide what I should do. While I waited for him to call back I enjoyed the free show.
A woman steps up and tells the woman behind the glass that she had her wallet stolen and thus does not have her pink slip. “Give me your ID and wait until I call your name,” the disgruntled employee says.
Next a white guy steps up to the window and tells the woman he left his pink slip at home. That is a huge no-no. I heard him talking to the woman in front of him about how he lives in Shanghai and needed to renew his visa. “I cannot give you your passport without the slip,” the woman says. Then the white guy launches into Chinese, hoping to impress her. She replies in Chinese then switches to English. “No slip, no passport.” “Can’t I just give you my ID like the lady in front of me?” he pleads. “She lost her wallet. I can see you have your wallet. You need to bring back the slip.” They go back and forth in Chinese some more until the guy walks off in a huff. It was starting to remind me of a Seinfeld episode—“No passport for you!”
A blonde girl in her 20s is next. She smiles sweetly to the woman and tells her that her mom threw away her slip by accident. “Give me your ID and wait until I call your name,” the woman responds. No questioning, no arguing. Interesting.
Behind her is another young girl. “I lost my slip,” she says. “How did you lose it?” the woman demands. “I dunno. I just lost it.” Following my observations of the past customers, I learned that is the absolute worst thing you can say. It seems the employee needs an exact excuse in order to process the payment without the sacred slip. “I need an exact reason why you don’t have your slip,” the woman insists. “Ok. My mom threw it away!” the girl says. “You just stole that excuse from the girl in front of you!” the woman barks back. Things are really heating up now. “Well, maybe it fell out of my purse while I was biking,” the girl reasons. The woman is getting angrier now. “We need the receipt to give you your passport. Otherwise anybody could pick it up. Now tell me why you don’t have your receipt! Tell me the truth!” The girl comes up with some excuse about sharing a purse with her mom and her mom throwing away the receipt. After a sigh and an eye roll the woman allows the girl to give her ID.
Later on an older white woman approaches the counter. “My grandson died. He was hit by a car,” she said. “I’m so sorry,” replied the woman, displaying the most emotion I’ve seen yet. “But the visa has already been processed so you have to pay for it,” she adds, switching right back to her old self. “Oh. Ok,” the grandma says and pulls out a wad of cash. “No cash!” the lady barks. “Only credit or credit. No cash for half a year now.” The old lady digs in her purse for a credit card. The whole thing was incredibly sad to watch.
Finally I got a hold of Stephen and got back in line. After sitting in the Consulate for an hour I was able to pay for his visa with my own credit card.
Explain that—I can easily pick up someone else’s passport, no questions asked, but I cannot use that person’s credit card to pay for it. I guess it all comes down to the power of the little pink slip.