Across Continents

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Stanley and the stamp

Time for some more armchair adventure. Wrestling with officialdom, a less than useless guidebook, flurries of taxis, and an evasive stamp. Struggling to smile. Masking frustration an unenviable necessity. No matter how tempting it might be to do otherwise.

Progress hadn’t been what I’d hoped for. I’d always known it would take the best part of two to three months to cross China, comparable to my journey through Europe. But a few bouts of illness now meant I was running out of time on my current visa. Not an unsurmountable problem. Entitled to apply for a further thirty day visa whilst still in China. Not as much as I’d like, but it would do for now.

So, consulting my dubious guidebook, it was off to the local Police Public Security Bureau. I’d done my research. Photocopies of my passport. And my bank cards to show I could support myself without being a burden on the State. Couple of mug shots and a pen. What could be simpler? Quite a lot it seemed. For one thing, a friendly policewoman explained, yes, this was indeed the Bureau. But they no longer processed visa applications. Hadn’t done so for a while. That was now done at the Traffic Police Headquarters outside the city walls. Obvious really. So, helpfully provided with the correct address in Chinese, I headed off to find a taxi. First of many.

Eventually finding the right building, found myself in a large hall, packed with passport photographers, photocopiers and long queues. Quite bewildering. It was going to be a long morning. Or it would have been, had someone not encouraged me to wander up to the next floor. The visa office for foreigners. Manned by a solitary policewoman. She looked bored.

“Yes”, she said nodding, “You can apply for a new visa here”. Provided me with an application form. But my photocopies weren’t quite in order. Had to be A4. And I’d need a copy of my ’Aliens Registration Form’ from the hotel. Seemed reasonable enough, plenty of time to put everything in order and submit my request before they closed for the day. So, off I went. Another taxi.

A little while later….. and another taxi

Back once more at the PSB, the mornings helpful policewoman had been replaced by a policeman. This time there was a problem. My registration form from the hotel needed an official stamp. Smiling with gritted teeth, I enquired as to when the Bureau would close for the day. “Perhaps four” he suggested, a little shrug of the shoulders. I doubted I could make it back in time. A day lost. But surely a problem easily fixed. Return first thing in the morning.

Back at the hotel….

The hotel did have a stamp. But it was in Shanghai. Which is nowhere near Xi’an. This was not going well. I enquired as to whether John Lei, the hotel manager I’d met on my first night, might have one. Stanley, the front desk manager, assured me he’d try and contact John, away until the next morning, and see what could be done. Fingers crossed. Resigned to a frustrating evening of waiting, of hoping. Then a phone call. From reception. Problem solved. With what looked like a very shiny new stamp. Back on track.

Stamp - web

The next morning. Early

Same solitary policewoman. Still looking bored. But very helpful. And impeccable English. All was now in order. Just had to pay about sixteen pounds for the visa. Another office. Return with the receipt and I’d be finished for the day. Took about ten minutes. Return in five days to collect my passport. Things were looking up at last….

[Author’s note: Despite the term ’visa extension’ being widely used, it’s a misnomer. What you actually get is a new visa – a zero entry one as you’re already in country – obtainable from the local (Police) Public Security Bureau (PSB).

In theory, you could apply anywhere but, unless you’re a fairly competent Mandarin speaker, I’d recommend locations, such as Xi’an, where they’re used to dealing with foreigners. And where they speak English. Note that your thirty days starts from the date you submit your application, processing normally takes five working days, so once you get your passport back with the new visa, you’ve usually got just twenty three more days.

If you want to find the PSB in Xi’an – about four kilometres outside the city walls – just show the following to any taxi driver. About £2 each way from the city centre:

PSB - Xian - web

Worked for me!]


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