the Machu Picchu story

The world is an orderly place until…you are a Chinese applying for a Peru visa.

Having been to the Market Street so many times, I never noticed there are offices on top of the shops. On the tenth floor of the Anthropologie building, the U shaped corridor is lined with dark wooden doors. Bold black letters printed on the patterned glass pane offered a hint of the business behind the door. Psychiatrist, appointment only. Some association I never knew existed. Doors with no names – blame the economy. Peru Consulate.

The front room of the Peru Consulate is the size of a normal living room. Vertical to the door are four rows of metal folding chairs, two mismatching coffee tables that looked like coming from a garage sale. The chairs are all facing a mirrored wall, with a narrow rectangular window cut in at the eye level. Through the window one can catch a glimpse of the office inside. Desks facing each other, steel storage cabinets with paper plates piled on the top, people sitting around and chatting. Right below the window there are some restaurant brochures. Inca soda, I wonder how that tastes. Besides the window there is a row of numbers like the one you would find in a fish market. I took one. My number was 93. The display screen was showing 81 when I walked in. Almost two hours later, it was proved that just like any other “third world” country, queuing is not necessarily the way things get done.

There were five to six people waiting when I arrived. Another five to six walked in during the next two hours. The people are relatively short, dark, bearing strong facial features. There are also a few looking totally Asian – Cantonese Asian. The room was live with conversations. They talked with the people they came in with. They started conversation with strangers. They constantly tried to catch the attention of the only person that came out behind the closed door. This middle-aged lady, in her hot pink blouse and black suit, coming in and out through the door between the waiting room and the office. She took a look at the room, decided whom she would talk to, asked questions, examined documents and tried to explain (what I think) some policies. She also decided who entered the back office (not by the number we took!). When she finally gave me some attention 30 minutes into my waiting, her words were sparse. I was simply told to wait.

An hour later, more conversations were observed. People who just walked into the room were greeted. Two women with young kids exchanged phone numbers. A guy tried to arrange a movie outing with his friend over the phone. I did not understand a word. I watched and deciphered from their tones, expressions, gestures, and some English words such as Avatar. More people who came in later got their documents right away. The number on the display screen had not changed in the past hour. The pink lady still controlled the flow. When I tried to talk to her, she weighted her words as if they were diamonds.

Suddenly the number jumped to 96. My “third world” instinct overtook my “first world” manners. I walked up to the lady and asked how long I should wait. She gave me a side glance and murmured something totally incomprehensible. Door closed. Five minutes later I opened the door and popped my head in. Two ladies sitting at the desk facing the door shook their head, shrugged and carried on their conversation. I stared on and looked around until an Asian looking lady asked me what I wanted. Some ten minutes later, she opened the door the took my documents. Another fifteen minutes later, a new woman came out holding my documents. In an almost angry voice, she told me that I needed to come back in person another day with the address and telephone number of the hotels. Such an excuse! I thought. In the next five minutes, many broken sentences were exchanged. Each of us tried to repeat what we said and no points were getting across. Finally it was made clear to me that it will take her two hours to process a visa, including taking the photo and finger print. Since it was already close to 2pm at which time they closed for the day, I was asked to return another day at 9am. It did not matter to her that I had been waiting for two hours; and many people came after me got in first. When she she said “I’m the boss here”, I got the point and left.

I was upset. But why was I not surprised? Well, there was the American Consulate in Shanghai, where you could wait for three hours in a crowded room, standing, after you already queued up on the street in front of the Consulate for hours. Somehow the time of the “third world” people does not worth as much. So anyone can afford to waste it.

I once saw a map online showing the countries a certain passport can enter without a visa. Those countries that waive visa are marked in blue. When visa is required, in white. For the Chinese passport, the globe is white.

Americans, what stops you from traveling the world?!


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