Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Picking up my visa

The day I picked up my visa from the Australian consulate in Auckland is a tale worth telling...

Milord and I were staying with Heidi, who lives about an hour's walk from the center of town. She and Craig had to go to work, so we would be making our own way into the city... we considered taking a taxi or a bus, but decided it would be a nice walk and we needed the exercise anyway. So we pulled up a map on the internet and worked out which road to go down from where we would cut through a park and pick up the long road bridge into town. We left the house at 10:30, expecting to get to the consulate at 11:30, in plenty of time before they closed for lunch at 12. We'd also keep an eye out for an internet cafe to print off the grant letter that had been emailed to me as Heidi didn't have a printer.

It was a lovely walk though a stunning suburb. The day was cool and overcast, perfect for a long walk, and we dawdled along oohing and ahing at the lush gardens and huge mansions along the way. We could see the Auckland Skytower in the distance and we wandered along in its general direction. After a time the road began to turn away from the city, and we realised that the park we had expected to cut through was actually impenetrable bush above a steep drop. We'd been walking for long enough that turning back was not really an option, so we decided to continue, because surely the road we were on would descend to the road and bridge we could see crossing the water to the city.

Well, yeah, eventually. We finally found ourselves on the several kilometers long bridge at 11:30... Remember, the visa office closes at 12? We picked up the pace, blessing the fact that it was a cool and blustery day. At 11:45 we reached the city, and found ourselves on the correct street - what a stroke of luck! Only... we needed number 189, and we were at number 1... so we picked up the pace a little more, almost jogging now.

We reached the Price Waterhouse Coopers building which houses the consulate at 11:53. I knew it was on the 7th floor so we bolted in through the lobby to the lift foyer, and leapt into the first lift we saw. The doors closed and we turned to the control panel... which wasn't there. Seriously. No buttons. The lift went up to the 8th floor and someone got off. It went to the 15th floor and someone got off. It went to the 28th floor...

"Psychic lift?" I hiss to Milord.
"Security tags?" He mutters back.

By now we are getting some very strange looks from the suited and booted people with us in the lift. We are scruffy and panting, and m'Lord looks like he is about to expire on the spot. He has gone a strange shade of red and sweat is literally pouring down his face and through his hair. We're also quite wild-eyed and are pulling frantic faces at each other.

A young man took pity on us. "Do you know how to work the lift?" he asks. "NO!" we chorus. Turns out each lift foyer has a console where you request a floor, and it tells you which lift to get into, which then goes to only those floors. Wierd. He led us out onto the 30th floor, we requested floor 7, then boarded the appropriate lift to go down again.

We exited onto floor 7 at 11:58. The security guard told us that unfortunately the visa office was closed for lunch... she then asked m'Lord if he was alright, and did he need to sit down! Ok. No problem. We'd come back at 1pm and try again... We called another lift to the lobby. Walked very slowly over a set of chairs and sat down gently. Drank a bottle of (crazy expensive imported from Europe - why?) water and felt our pulses return to normal and our high colour fade. We giggled for a while and felt human again.

Ok, an hour to kill. We never did find that internet cafe on the way, so we decided to do so and pick up some lunch. We circled a few city blocks in our search, and finally found an internet cafe. Now, either folk in Auckland are mostly Asian, or that part of town is their Chinatown, but almost nobody spoke English! I asked the lady in the internet cafe if I could just print something, and after a lot of waving and repetition I found myself looking at a computer screen with a login dialog. Which was all Chinese with the odd English word. I had no idea what to enter so typed the word "yes" into the "Print Document" textbox. Instantly all English disappeared and I was faced with a dialog entirely in Chinese. Hmmm. Interesting. So I clicked every button on the dialog. Turns out one of them represented "Shutdown". Riiight... and as the computer shut down I caught a glimpse of the file I wanted to print and double clicked on it and managed to abort the shutdown. And was in! I hacked a New Zealand Chinese internet cafe login screen - how cool am I?! We printed off my document and went to find a coffee.

We popped into the first coffee shop we came across and I went up the counter to order two plain white coffees and two pre-made sandwiches. After a lot of repetition and waving we finally got biggest mugs of coffee I have ever seen and the sandwiches. As I gratefully sank into my chair and took a deep gulp of the enormous coffee m'Lord, who'd been reading my document, said "Is it supposed to have Chinese characters in it?" ...!!!... Somehow every "'s" and semicolon had been transcribed into funny little Chinese symbols. Oh man.

We ended up abandoning half a bucket of coffee and made our way back to the consulate, selecting the lift correctly this time and saying a friendly greeting to the security guard. We took a number which put us second in the queue and waited for half an hour for the office to open, watching the wierd and wonderful visa applicants file in. m'Lord, like most Aussies (and probably most people in the world to be honest) is a bit of a xenophobe, and had a low grumble going on until I reminded him that I too am an alien import! Once the staff deigned to turn up and open their stations my document was accepted in spite of its new decorations, and I had the visa sticker in my passport within minutes. We wandered out to the lifts, looked at each other and said "That's it?".

What an anticlimax!

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