Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A passport photo is NECESSARY! Unless... - Hong Kong

An old 20 HKD banknote and a passport picture
Usual stop in Hong Kong to get a Chinese visa. Usual stay at the Nathan road mansions, where the foreign hasslers who come here to start a new life are getting more and more annoying and the smell more and more pungent. The beehive cell-like rooms haven't gotten bigger by a bit though. Only the prices might actually have been increased. 
The Forever Bright agency at the New Mandarin plaza by Tsim Sha Tsui East MTR station is way more crowded than the last time I was there. They have even hired a guy who wears a suit and a tie and stands by the door and mounted a movable structure for the customers to form an ordered line. 
The situation at the counter is chaotic: it's a mess to receive the forms, to get information about the fees and to hand in the application papers.  I was planning to get a six-month, multiple-entry, business visa but in just a few years the fee went from 600 to 2000 HKD. I opt for the three-month, single entry, tourist one which only costs 500 HKD. 
"You need to give me a passport picture."
"Here you go!"
"No, this one has a white background, we need one with a blue background."
Shit, the blue background...
At the Chinese consulate they probably think that a caucasian, being white, will tend to disappear against a white background, a little like those leaf or stick insects do among the jungle foliage.
"Well, either you get one here for 30 HKD..."
"...or you pay 20 extra HKD."
Which means that the background must STRICTLY be blue, but if you pay 20 HKD it can also be white.

However, China is not the only place where things like this can happen.
Last time I went to Laos, at the border with Thailand I went through the procedure to get a tourist visa. 
"You need to give me a passport picture."
Fuck...a passport picture...how could I forget that?
"Actually I don't have it. Can I get one anywhere near here?"
"Absolutely not, it's not possible."
Panic. However this kind of panic is totally out of place. This is not Singapore, or Switzerland for that matter. This is the border between Thailand and Laos. A solution is always at hand. And most of the times it's just a well-dosed blend of smiles and money.
"The passport picture is necessary, otherwise..."
"...otherwise you'll have to pay 100 baht more."
Here you go, 100 baht. And the usual smiles. And finally a nice new visa stuck on a page of my passport. Welcome to Laos!
The flexibility of the developing countries is (almost) always a great thing.

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