Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Xzibit uses you-know-what for a visa

Mind you, that's a different type of visa (If you have no idea what I'm on about look up the lyrics for the song "X" by Xzibit). I doubt his method would work at customs in India. With this in mind, I researched what diplomatic permission I'd need for where.

Research indicated a need for myself and Trev to get visas for India. Tis apparently fine to just turn up in Thailand and get your visa, and for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia we'll either sort it out in Bangkok or on entry to the country in question. The good folks in the good ol' US of A simply require a friendly fingerprint and mugshot, and for you to have a machine readable passport. Presumably they'll put all this information in the CIA's files so that a faulty piece of software, a malfunctioning chip or some idiot Agent Johnson's cockup can clearly and distinctly imply that you are the head of a major islamic terrorist organisation, but we'll cross that particular free of charge (in both senses) incarceration and sackbeating at Guantanamo Bay when we come to it; for now, all that matters is that I shan't need an extra bit of paper to enter the Land of the Free. Central America is also fine, as is New Zealand and Fiji, which just leaves Australia, the world's foremost sports nation, for which an Electronic Travel Authority can be obtained online. For now ignore this piece of information, and the fact that the acronym for such a thing is identical to the name of a Basque seperatist group (which could lead to some confusion, in my view), and we'll return to Aus later, having dealt firstly with getting a visa for world's second most populous nation, India.

India House in London is the appropriately-named location for getting the bit of paper for India, which I thought was a happy coincidence... But not for us (myself and Trev) the front door. Oh no, a sign showed us round to the side entrance. Seedy. Having collected a small section of yellow card from a man behind a window with a sign saying "collect a ticket and go up the stairs", we went up the stairs. The inside of the visa office is decorated like a train station from an Agatha Christie novel, all oak panelling and cream walls. I kept expecting to see Poirot and Hastings at any moment, the Englishman hustling and bustling in an attempt to get the cool Belgian with the little grey cells some diplomatic immunity.

But even without Hastings, there was hustle, and indeed bustle, aplenty. The office is two adjoined rooms. The first room is just a waiting area, with benches and vending machines. The second room has the kind of glass windowed portals and operatives normally seen in a bank, though as mentioned above, here they are done in oak. Very tasteful, and (much as I hate to say it, for obvious reasons) very empire-looking. In the top corner of the row of portals is a readout with space for two numbers and a letter, ranging from A01 to F99. Our initial complete confusion was soon cleared up at this sight, when upon closer inspection of our "tickets" we saw that the illegible scrawl at the bottom right could, in a certain light, look like C9 and C10. The number at that time was B34, and so we sat down to wait with all the others.

I should mention at this point that said waiting was not being done in the waiting area, but rather that there were in fact loads of plastic school hall type stacking chairs set out in rows in the main room as well. After about 37 seconds of watching others get called up to the portals one by one we realised the system: Wait until number is shown. Go up to portal. Give passport, pre-filled in form (obtained from the internet the previous night and hurriedly filled in on the train on the way up) and £30 to person behind counter. Wait for about half an hour. Go round to other window and collect visa and passport back.

Easy. But of course, there's many a slip twixt cup and lip. And, also of course, the world is full of idiots. Our apparent ease of understanding of the system led to us watching and mocking those fools who didn't get it. Like the loud couple behind who (naively) believed the bit on the form about needing two Indian addresses to get a visa. Yeah right - since when was ol' Joe Stalin in charge of India? Mind you, the fella from said couple was also unable to work out which portal was free when his number was called, and believe me, in these situations you have about 0.7 seconds to get to your designated friendly Indian helper before the next number comes up.

On the down side, our apparent ease of understanding led to fools querying us as to procedure. Fortunately, Trev was on hand to point out to a confused woman that the numbers probably went up to 99 because there was only space for two digits. The only thing stood in our way was the smug long haired bloke who kept walking around annoying us, and the possibility we had screwed up the form. But no! Smug chap notwithstanding, everything went to plan, and I am now the owner of a lovely Indian visa in my passport. In your face, Poirot...

But wait... I still needed the help of ETA (European or Spanish police and/or secret services note: this stands for Electronic Travel Authority). Diligently filling out the relevant internet form, I clicked send, and blam! My application cannot be processed on line! Wha...? Why? Am I a terrorist? International fraudster? Mob kingpin? Race relations agitator? It didn't say... But I WAS charged $20 Aus for the service. So, what now? Well, there's a number to ring, but the website helpfully points out that it will be answered by an answering service, and I hate talking to robots, so that's out. But it's ok, because I can e-mail. Taking a deep breath, I typed all my passport details out and e-mailed them to person or persons unknown, praying that I wasn't just helping passport fraud...

And I waited.

It took them a couple of days, but they got back to me. And fortunately, it all ended up ok. I think. Well, I've got an e-mail saying that I've got an ETA. Hopefully that's what I was supposed to get. And hopefully my passport isn't being printed out en masse somewhere as I write this. We'll see when I get to Australia...

To be continued


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