Baidu Maps says the American embassy is 1 hour and 22 minutes away from where I live by public transportation. This is a lie. It is at least two hours. At least.
Good thing I left almost two hours before my appointment, and biked to the subway station!
The newest subway line in Beijing, Line 15, is being built very close to us. The line isn’t completed and doesn’t seem to be very busy yet, but it’s a convenient way to get to other lines sometimes. Today I took that and (after a 30 minute wait) a bus to the embassy.
Going to the US embassy in China is an odd feeling. I kept flashing my blue passport as if it were a VIP ticket or backstage passes, but I kept being beckoned in without any questions. This was greatly appreciated, as the line of Chinese nationals waiting for their visa interviews did not inspire envy.
Once I got up to the counter of American Citizen Services, I felt myself subconsciously relax. Maybe I could sometimes do things in China in English, but I never do. Here, though, was an English oasis. My people! Fellow native speakers of my mother tongue!
I was at the embassy to get a letter notarized, indicating that I had replaced passport #xxxxxxxxx with passport #yyyyyyyyy. I’d emailed and they’d said that was no problem, just bring photocopies. They did not mention that it would be $50 (USD! Not divisible by 6!!!!), so I nearly choked when I saw the fee schedule. That’s almost half of what I payed to renew my passport!!
The whole thing was painfully trivial, too. I literally filled in my name, both passport numbers, and swore that everything was true while he stamped it. I paid my $50, and left the oasis.
I went to Bank of China immediately afterwards. I had gone through all this hassle to reopen a bank account from five years ago that surprisingly contained about $300 more than I had expected. That was great news, but for some reason my account seems to belong less to me, and more to my passport. Instead of the passport being used to prove my identity, it seems that the passport is my identity. Because of this, the fact that I recently got a new passport presented quite the difficulty – hence the embassy trip.
I got there right around lunch and had to wait about an hour to see someone. She spent at least 30 minutes shuffling through the papers, taking innumerable pictures of each one, and clicking on her computer. I signed in a few places. Then she handed me carbon copies of all the forms and said I was good.
That was when I mentioned that, by the way, I also don’t remember my password. She had clearly been ready to be done with me for a whlie now, so this was not good news. “You’re quite annoying!”, she exclaimed.
I had thought that re-opening a frozen account for a foreigner with a new passport would be about the most difficult operation she does in a day, but somehow resetting my password took at least twice as long and just as many signatures and pictures of my documents.
I got home and, about an hour later, got a phone call. It was the bank, telling me I still couldn’t use my card online (which I had also, after her outburst, requested), so could I come back in? I walked back and it appeared that the woman who had helped me earlier had had lunch and a nap and was refreshed and ready to deal with me. She took all my forms, took more pictures, got a few more signatures, and then pushed it all back to me and said I was ready.
So, that was an all-day affair. Let’s not calculate my hourly wage, shall we?
Today I learned: The real name of the United States of America. For the entirety of my first 8 Chinese-speaking years, I have said that I am from 美国, but today I was confused by the Chinese translation on the official embassy letterhead – 美利坚合众国. They’re basically just equivalent to American and the United States of America; the former is almost always sufficient, but it is good to know the actual name of one’s country.