thursday afternoon mission

April 10th, 2009

Even though it left me feeling unusually sunstruck (I’m blaming the 639 bus for making me walk further down Guanghua Lu in search of a bus stop than should have been necessary, then leaving me standing in the sun for half an hour waiting, then dropping me considerably further past my destination than I expected, consequently leaving me thinking walking to Jintaixizhao subway station would be far better than waiting for a 639 for another half hour at least), yesterday afternoon’s little adventure was very productive.

See, I expire on September 1- or at least, my passport does. I was not relishing the thought of having to go back to New Zealand to get a passport. It’s rather expensive, and considering the northern summer equals the southern winter and there are no major public holidays for my wife to add her annual leave to in order to get a decent amount of time in NZ, the timing was less than ideal. So I asked what the New Zealand embassy could do, and what follows is something all Kiwis outside of the UK, Australia or New Zealand should consider when their passports approach their expiry dates:

I was told the embassy offered a service whereby for an appropriate fee, they’d chuck the passport application into a diplomatic bag and send it to Wellington, then onto the Department of Internal Affairs, then, when the new passport was issued, chuck it in a diplomatic bag back to Beijing. Then, contact me to tell me my new passport had arrived, at which point I would return to the embassy, fill in the necessary form to cancel my current passport, then take both old and new passports down to the PSB for them to transfer my residence permit over to my new passport (well, that last bit about the PSB and the residence permit only applies to us in China, but I’m sure other countries have their equivalents).

And I asked that and got that information several months ago, last time I was at Kiwi Club. So a couple of weeks back I remembered that I would need to get my new passport some time this semester and fired off an email to the embassy. I got a superbly prompt reply outlining the aforementioned service. I wrote back asking for more details of how one actually goes about taking advantage of said service, and got an equally superbly prompt reply asking for my phone number and if it was convenient for the embassy to phone me. So I sent my cellphone number and assurance that now was just fine for a phone call and within ten minutes I’d been phoned by the person responsible for such matters at the embassy. And she was… um… superb. No, really, she was totally down to earth, straightforward, checked up on all possible complications (i.e. Are you in Beijing? Yes, in fact, very close to the embassy. You’ll need a witness. I have a Kiwi colleague who’s known me for a good 5 years now; and so on), and was also amazingly friendly about the whole thing.

So I took careful notes about the process, then got on to DIA’s passport website… or tried to. It took a good half hour before I could convince the bloody thing to stop behaving like it was on the wrong side of a certain infamous wall. But eventually I persuaded it to open and let me get the information and forms I needed, then printed them off.

So I got all the necessary stuff together, filled out the forms, got Roubaozi to witness the application, and yesterday after lunch headed off embassy-wards.

Step one was easy. A 605 arrived at the stop at the same time I did, sweet as, straight up to Bawangfenbei. Pitstop in Xinguang Tiandi (sorry, forgot the official “English” name), then round the corner and west down Guanghua Lu. Shit, took ages to find a marked bus stop heading in my direction. “Marked” being the key word, because I needed a sign to tell me which buses were heading in the direction of the embassy. Walked almost halfway there before I found one, all the time with not one single bus passing me. Then I found a bus stop, so the 629 and 640 were heading where I wanted to go, and waited. Bloody half an hour of standing in the sun opposite the Customs building later, a bus finally shows up. Fortunately it’s a 639. It stopped on the eastern side of Dongdaqiao Lu, but I thought that wasn’t so convenient, then at Ritan Park, which I thought would be better, but the Ritan Park stop was on the far side of the park’s south gate, further than I hoped.

Oh well, the embassy is all quiet, lightly trafficed roads, plenty of trees, and was a very pleasant place for a stroll before those planes hit those buildings in New York and turned the whole world paranoid. It’s still a pleasant place for a stroll if you ignore the rolls of razor wire.

So I got to the embassy, and… well, when I first came to Beijing, you could just walk straight through the gate and in to reception. It was only there that security started. These days there’s an intercom at the gate. Oh well, I got in, handed over my stuff, waited.

The woman who had phoned me came out and said, yeah, all looks fine, no guarantees because DIA processes the application, but I can’t see any problems. I said, well, I’ve got questions about this, this and this. So we sorted it all out, I handed over my money, I got my receipt, all done in half an hour, with about half of that waiting.

And then I was on my way home. Sweet as.

So, expat Kiwis, when your passport is nearing its expiry date, contact the nearest NZ diplomatic mission, be that an embassy, high commission (if you’re in a Commonwealth country) or consulate, and see what they can do to help.

Or put it this way: Renewing my passport via the embassy has cost me 1103 yuan (not counting bus and subway fare) so far, and I can’t see it costing terribly much more- probably a fee at the PSB to change my residence permit over to the new passport, but I don’t think that will break the bank. On the other hand, my contract gives me 10 thousand yuan per year towards airfare to and from home, and that’s probably about what a return ticket to NZ would cost. In other words, I’ve so far spent roughly one tenth of the airfare alone on renewing my passport.

Going home is good, of course, but going home just to renew your passport and justifying that by saying, well, hey, I can catch up with friends and family while I’m waiting for DIA to process my passport, is a waste of time and money, especially when complications like visas and residence permits in your old passport are involved (i.e. if you renew your new passport in NZ, you have to send the old one in with your application; if you go through the embassy, you keep your old passport and it remains valid until you get your new passport and you fill out the form to cancel the old one).

And don’t trust the DIA website. It says passports can only be issued in London, Sydney and New Zealand. This is technically true, as in my application is being sent to Wellington for processing, but the DIA website says nothing about applying via your nearest embassy, high commission or consulate. So check with your nearest NZ diplomatic mission before booking plane tickets to NZ, Sydney or London.

And as an added bonus: On my way from the NZ embassy to Jintaixizhao subway station, I dunno, I must’ve been in a skyscrapering mood, I decided to whip out the cellphone and snip a few snaps:

So, my apologies for the requisite OMG, China has skyscrapers! photos, especially of the by now well-cliched CCTV shot, but something inspired me yesterday. Especial apologies for the remains of the TVCC/Mandarin Oriental appearing in the left of that last photo.

But speaking of that burnt out building in the CCTV complex: No photo or video I have yet seen has done even close to justice to the sheer destruction you see when you see that building up close in the flesh. In the photos I’ve seen, it looks scorched. The few times I’ve seen it up close and personal, I’m thinking it’s a miracle the bloody thing is still standing. We’re talking warzone kinda destruction here. There ain’t too many buildings I’ve seen in such a sorry state.

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