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Level 100 Passport

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My passport is maxed out. No more blank pages. Well, there are two or three pages in the back that are blank but I didn’t realize until today that these are special pages only for amendments or stuff to your passport. I’ve got no more blank pages for visas/stamps. Normally this would be an awesome thing – a fine accomplishment for a world traveler. But today it helped make my morning a huge pain in the ass.

I’m heading to Qingdao, China next week. I was planning on going to the Chinese embassy last Friday to get my visa, but I realized that you have to already have your roundtrip airplane ticket and hotel reservation made to apply. I didn’t have that, so I booked them over the weekend. This morning, I headed to the embassy to apply for the visa. They’re only open from 9AM-12 noon, and the place is about an hour away from me, so it’s already a little inconvenient. I planned on getting there at 11-ish, and to play it on the safe side I grabbed a taxi from the station since I didn’t remember how to get there and didn’t feel like wandering around lost in the cold wind and rain. As an added bonus I found the long-lost sixth Great Lake separating me from the taxi, which I discovered by using my foot as a measuring device. The depth was “knee.” The taxi was also far away enough that I needed to step into the water with my other foot too, which ensured I would be squishing my way around town the rest of the day.

Got to the Chinese embassy, waited a while, then presented my finished paperwork and passport, at which point it was explained that I’m an idiot who should have read the actual passport text: the last two pages are for special amendments only and NOT for normal visas or stamps. So my passport hasn’t had any fully blank visa pages since July, and I find this out with less than 7 days before I’m supposed to go to China. Chinese embassy can’t let me apply for a visa with no blank space, so I’m referred to the US embassy who can add the necessary pages. Went into the hallway to call the US embassy, with a nice receptionist who transferred me to the passport department. No one picked up at the passport section, even after I navigated through 3 levels of their phone menu system, with each stage having what seemed like a 10 minute message of instructions, menu options, and probably the entire United States Constitution. The long menu at least let me know that the passport section is only open from 9-12 and 2-4, which is 2 hours better than China.

Either way I figure I should get out of there and head over to the US embassy, in hopes of getting helped during that 2 hour afternoon window of service. I already know I’m going to have to come back to Tokyo at least two more times this week. At this point I was getting pretty pissed off, walking back out into the pouring rain down the street screaming obscenities and making other weird noises. Probably not the best of choices since I was walking past Chinese guards who were likely armed and looking for an excuse to shoot someone cursing in English and growling like a dinosaur.

Finally got through to the US embassy, was told that they usually require a web reservation and all reservations for today were full. I explained my situation and they told me I could come and wait, but there was no guarantee they could help me. Chinese visa takes 4 days to process or 2-3 days with the extra 3000 yen rush charge, so I figured I needed to try and get my passport fixed ASAP. Grabbed lunch and entered the US embassy at 2, waited in line for about 45 minutes before I got helped, which wasn’t really that bad. During my waiting I got to observe some military wife who reminded me how annoying people can be, as she seemed unable to shut up. In between her sentences she spat out a constant stream of “OK”s and “yeah”s, and even when she was walking out of the lobby to the passport photo booth she was talking to herself the entire way. There was also what appeared to be an American guy with his Japanese wife and their kid applying for a passport. The kid was maybe 14 and had the rattiest rat-tail I’ve ever seen, going all the way to his waist. I hope he gets refused entry into the US – we’ve got enough of that kind of people as it is.

At first they were going to mail my passport back to me in “5-10 days” but I told them my story and they said I could come get it tomorrow. Of course it only takes 1 day; all they’re doing is putting a few extra pages in the passport! But I was at least grateful they could do it for me. I’m going to go back tomorrow morning to pick up my passport, then head back to the Chinese embassy. It doesn’t help that there’s a typhoon on the forecast.

But yeah in short it’s pretty sweet that I filled up my passport. But if anyone else is getting close don’t make the mistake that I did in assuming the last 2 pages are just normal visa pages. You can apply to get extra pages for free if you’re getting close. At least I didn’t find this out trying to get back into the US for X-Mas or something.

中国大使館 in 東京

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I went to the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo this morning bright and early to apply for my visa. As if it weren’t bad enough that the Embassy is in my favorite part of Tokyo, Roppongi, the real kicker is that the office hours for the consulate division are 9-12, M-F. Yeah. The place is only open for three hours in the morning. Talk about a pain, especially when you live an hour away from the place. I will at least say that of the various government and immigration offices I’ve been to here in Japan (and probably in America too), this embassy was the easiest and quickest to use. I entered, went through the metal detector, and filled out the form I had printed from the website. Luckily I was able to bypass the long-ass line on the first floor, which was for the lone passport-size photo booth. Thank god I had gotten pictures the night before in Chiba. Otherwise this probably would have taken me even longer.

Headed up to the 3rd floor and got a number. I only had about 9 or 10 people in front of me for the visa counter, which wasn’t bad. There were people waiting, some using the copy machine, and some filling out their forms, pasting pictures, etc. I waited less than 30 minutes I’d say, compared with the several hours I’ve waited before at the Chiba immigration office. Apparently 12:00 is the time they stop letting people in, so as long as you’re in the building before that you’re fine. Had a bit of entertainment as some British guy was trying to argue with the lady at the counter about how he’d have to get a new visa once he leaves Shanghai and goes to Hong Kong, since he’s coming back to Shanghai after that. I guess UK passport holders can’t get a multiple entry visa? Not really sure, and of course I don’t know the guy’s situation. I really don’t care either. But as it always is, it was fun to see this guy loose his cool and literally shout “you mean I have to get another bloody visa?” to the poor lady behind the glass window. He huffed and puffed his way out of the room, wheeling his laptop/briefcase on wheels. And yes, you can imagine he’s the tooly kind of middle-aged businessman wearing tight jeans and a blazer as if it’s the officially licensed uniform of international businessmen who think they’re more important than they are as they scream on their Bluetooth headsets. Can’t stand those guys – and they usually travel in packs throughout any airport I’ve been to.

I snickered as I was applying for my visa a few minutes later, since US passport holders can easily apply for a multiple entry visa for the same price as a single entry. Sucks for British Business Man. I was doing my best to joke around and be friendly with the worker lady because I’m sure she has to deal with enough business guys who treat the workers like crap. I am, after all, a man of the people.

However, this man of the people is not happy that he has to go all the way back to the embassy on Monday to pick up his visa.

Hauled myself out of bed this morning at 6:45. I don’t even really have anything to do today except work, and that’s not until the late afternoon. The reason I woke up so uncharacteristically early was to try and get a parking spot at the big bike parking lot near the station. You need to register for a spot there, and they only accept applications on the 25th of each month, and only if there are openings. You’d think this was some exclusive country club, rather than a small stretch of blacktop with fencing around it. Applications open at 7AM, and I arrived at 7:02 according to my cell phone. There was some guy applying, and apparently he got the last spot. WTF. I suppose people were actually lined up for this? Or maybe there was only 1 opening. Either way, it was a wasted morning except for the fact that I got McDonald’s breakfast.

This is why I continue to park my bike illegally. It’s not that I’m unwilling to pay for bike lot use – I just can’t make the ridiculously tiny window they have for applications. And yes there are other lots, but I’m not going to go that far to pay the city anymore money.

I’m going back to bed.

Going postal

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I was at first a bit impressed, but now just frustrated with the Japanese postal service. Here’s what happened.

I got a package delivered earlier today when I was still at work. It’s actually for Steve, who will be in Japan tomorrow. So they left me a notice of failed delivery, since I guess they need someone to sign for it. This is despite the fact that my apartment has special locked boxes for large packages. Anyway, Japan Post does have a nice system to schedule redelivery, either via phone or the web. Usually this works fine, but I’m planning on being away all day tomorrow, and I’m going to meet Steve later in the afternoon after he arrives. I wasn’t sure if the package would arrive in the morning before I left (the earliest time slot is 9AM-12), so I figured I could just pick it up. Why? Because I live right across from a post office. I’m not exaggerating. It is literally across the street. I can see it from my balcony, and I could probably break a window with a rock if I wanted.

As soon as I got home, I used the web form and told them I’d pick up the package at the post office across the street. I then noticed that the pickup window is open 24/7, which is quite impressive. I just went over to see if I could get it, and apparently I can’t. My package is being held at a different post office, about 15 or 20 minutes away by bicycle. The worker there said that if I requested it to be sent to this post office, it might not arrive until the afternoon. So now I’m going to try and re-use the web form to have it re-delivered to my apartment in the morning. Hopefully it will get here before I have to leave…

I don’t understand a thing about postal zoning, let alone Japanese postal zoning, but my own naive logic would say that a package would be left at the post office closest to the delivery address. It’s not like this is a small branch or anything. It’s huge and has a 24 hour counter. Oh well.

Hermes Conrad

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I haven’t really had to deal with any Japanese bureaucracy for quite a long time, although today’s trip to the Immigration Office certainly made up for the drought. The basic premise of this journey was simple. Since I’m going to Hong Kong next week, I need to get a re-entry permit for Japan, otherwise my work visa is canceled when I leave the country. I can’t do this through the mail? Fine. I’m fine with that. I thus have to go in person to the closest immigration office, which is luckily up in Chiba not too far away. I was informed to go there with my passport, fill out a form, and I will then receive the stamp in my passport that will allow me to come and go as long as my working visa is valid. Sounds easy, right?

I went to Chiba, took the monorail to the City Hall station, and found the Chiba Chuo Community Center where the immigration office is housed. I enter and the place looks like a terrible airport terminal waiting area. Boring white walls, boring white furniture, crappy signs all over the place in Japanese and Engrish, and 1 tiny TV against a wall that was playing some samurai soap opera. On the far side is a barricade of counters, where the officers were working and slowly calling people to step up with their paperwork This place was packed. It actually seemed to be primarily packed with hostess ladies and/or prostitutes, either active (with their old man Japanese sugar daddy in tow), or former (older, even fatter and uglier, and with a bunch of kids). Now, of course not all of these women were necessarily sleazy bar hostesses, but I’m willing to bet a good share of them were.

I use the dispenser machine to get a number for waiting in line. I was number 457. I looked up and saw that they were on around 305. Great. I go back to one of the tables and get my form and fill it out. Went downstairs to the Post Office to get a 6000-yen stamp for the payment. Pretty much the Japanese equivalent of a money order, although it’s just a small postage stamp. I remember holding it and going back upstairs thinking to myself don’t drop it, don’t drop it. I come back upstairs and check out what number they were on. 307. What?! About 20 minutes and they had only moved 2 numbers? I knew then it was going to be a long day.

There is actually a Yamada Denki electronics store less than a block away, so I figured I would have time to go there for a quick look around, then come back. I was gone for almost 25 or 30 more minutes. They were on like 312. To make a long, long, painfully long story shorter, I spent about 3 hours walking around the Community Center building, either listening to my iPod, calling travel agencies to finalize my HK plane tickets, or staring at the Yamaha Music store wondering “why is this in a supposedly government building?” When they were at around 450, I went to go sit near the number display on the counter since you can’t really see it unless you’re really close. Finally, they called me, I submitted my application, passport, and Gaijin card. I sit down, and start writing a mail on my phone. Before I can even finish the short little message I was writing, they call me up. I thought there was some kind of mistake. Nope, it was done. In less than 2 minutes, he had approved, processed, and validated my passport for multiple re-entries into Japan. I’m sure the most time-consuming part was him peeling off the printed barcode to stick in my passport. 3 hours of waiting for the guy to give me a sticker.

I don’t completely understand why you have to hand them your application/passport. You are waiting to just give them your paperwork. You’re not waiting for them to process it, because you don’t need a number for that. You are taking a ticket and waiting for several hours just to hand the desk clerk your documents. Wouldn’t it make more sense to immediately upon arrival receive your paperwork, maybe even do a quick check to make sure that’s you, then let you go do whatever for a few hours, coming back at your convenience to pick up your newly stickered passport? I hate government offices like this.

Anyway, I am all set now. Booked my plane ticket on JAL, paying for it tomorrow, then I’ll be ready to go. I’m looking forward to not only having a 4-day mini vacation, but also to being able to buy tons of counterfeit stuff and eat awesome Chinese food for cheap.

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I just spent 45 minutes making phone calls, primarily to UITS and related departments. I’m supposed to get information on the Fiber-Optics network that we need to use for the IUSTV InfoChannel. These people keep transferring me around, giving me other phone numbers to call, bla bla bla. I’m a bit disgruntled now.

I also need to study a lot this weekend. I’m such a slacker. >_<

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