me in the piazza

I'm a writer, publishing both as SJ Rozan and, with Carlos Dews, as Sam Cabot. (I'm Sam, he's Cabot.) Here you can find links to my almost-daily blog posts, including the Saturday haiku I've been doing for years. BUT the blog itself has moved to my website. If you go on over there you can subscribe and you'll never miss a post. (Miss a post! A scary thought!) Also, I'll be teaching a writing workshop in Italy this summer -- come join us!
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SJ and the Chinese visa

As you may or may not know, I'm planning a trip to China in May. A day in Hong Kong, three days in Shanghai, then west on the Silk Road from Xi'an. All very well, but to go to China you need a visa, and to get a visa you need to fill out a form and then stand in line at the Chinese consulate in a room that resembles nothing so much as "Casablanca." Chaos, many languages, everyone desperate to get their papers stamped. Lots of people hire professional visa-getters, but right now I have more time than money, and being a writer I'm always interested in new experiences. So last Wednesday I filled out the form and went to the consulate myself. But apparently money isn't the only thing I'm short on: brains would be in that category, too. In the place where they ask your profession, I put "writer."

Getting to the application window is an adventure in itself, because it's kind of like a cross between The Wizard of Oz and the post office. You take a number when you come in, and go to the window when your number's called, and then the visa officer behind the window reads your application and sends you away to dot some i's, cross some t's, and bring her the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. When you're ready, you don't take a new number, you just horn your way back in to the same window, in front of people who just started and people who're horning their own way in for the second or third time because they brought the wrong broomstick. So in all this I finally get to the window, the officer reads my application, puts a big dark circle around one of the boxes, and tells me "Window One!" With the exclamation point, and sternly. I mean, this is an order.

Window One is the Boss Window. I go over there and wait in line behind other people who clearly have problems. I have a problem, too, because what the officer circled is "writer." The good news, when I finally get to The Boss, is that she's a smiling young woman with very good English. She grills me on what I write. As I tell her, I glance onto her desk, and see a handwritten list with organizations on it like "Falun Gong" and "" And concepts like "Beijing air quality." And names of individuals, too. The list is in both Chinese and English, the better to help her recognize forbidden names, words and topics.

In the end I passed. I promised I write only fiction, and I promised I'm not a reporter, and she saw that my itinerary is obviously a tourist one. She took my passport and my application, on which she scribbled notes, and she told me to come back today. I did, and the experience was totally different. To pick up your visa you get to go around teeming Casablanca to the peaceful far window. You turn in your pickup slip, they find your passport with the visa stamp, you hand over your credit card, and voila. You have your passport back with the Chinese visa pasted in.

On, for some reason, page seven, of a brand-new, empty passport.

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