Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Window to Wonderland

It all started when I had this bright idea of combining a vacation in the Caribbean with the Indian cricket team's forthcoming tour there in May, and a reunion with some of my oldest and closest friends. Rum and beer at the beach, in the stadium, sun, sand, jerk chicken, "rotis" stuffed with meat, it sounded like a plan for paradise. We'd fly down from the east coast, others would aggregate from where they were -- midwest, Rockies, west coast, even a speculative line to the guy now back in Blighty. Mark yer books and make yer plans.

For me, the first step was to figure out how to get a visa. Google searches involving combinations of "Hong Kong", "consulate", the name of the destination country, and various allied terms, all yielded nothing of use. Neither did the guide books. My normally reliable travel agent Enid said, "Dear Professor, Please advise the country of ______." Finally, a friend sent me one possible lead he'd fished out from somewhere. A number and an address. Relief, tentative.

So I called the number one day. The voice at the other end was female, and Chinese, and had a stutter. I said -- is this the _______ consulate? I'd like to get a visa. She transferred me to another voice -- older, male, non-Chinese. Ah, getting somewhere, I thought.

I repeated my line. Hello, I'm an Indian citizen living in Hong Kong, and I'd like to visit ________ for a vacation in May. Could you please tell me what the procedure is for applying for a visa, and what the requirements are?

- You're an Indian citizen, you say?
- Yes.
- And you live in Hong Kong?
- Yes.
- And why do you want to go to ______?
- Um, for a vacation.
- That's not possible.
- I'm sorry?
- People from China don't go to _______. It's too expensive.
- [Double take. WHAT?!] Uh, but I already have tickets. [I do, we finally used my miles!]
- No, no. You shouldn't buy tickets before getting a visa.
- I'm sorry, but most places require you to have a round-trip ticket before they issue a visa!
- That may be the case but people from China don't go to _______. It's too expensive. Why did you say you wanted to go?
- [Gulp] For a vacation? The Indian cricket team will be touring there in May, and I thought I'd relax on the beach and watch some cricket, you know?
- Well, you'll just have to get your friend to invite you.
- [HUH?] Sorry, I don't have any friends in _______.
- You have not a single friend in _______?
- No.
- Okay, any friend in the Caribbean.
- I don't have any friends in the Caribbean.
- You don't know anyone in the Caribbean?
- No, I don't know anyone in the Caribbean. [Visions of emailing Vaneisa Baksh, the cricinfo correspondent.]
- Then get your business partner to invite you.
- But I don't *have* a business partner!
- What line of work are you in, then?
- I'm a university professor.
- Oh, then you should get the University of the West Indies at _______ to send you a letter of invitation.
- Let me get this straight -- you're suggesting that I write to the University of the West Indies at ________ and ask them to invite me over?
- I'm suggesting nothing.
- Oh. Okay. I see. And, assuming they do invite me over, what do I do then? Where do I bring that letter? Is there a form or something?
- Tell me your fax number and I'll fax you all the details.
- Thank you. May I know your name, please?
- Dr. Y___.
- Thank you, Dr. Y.

And that was that. The fax came after two days, along with a cover sheet listing the materials I needed. Prominent on that list was, indeed, letter of invitation.

In desperation, I looked up the University of the West Indies, ________ campus. Did a directory search. Targeted the manager for public relations. Sent him the following:

"I am a faculty member at _________. I am writing to you because I was instructed to do so by Dr. Y, Honorary Consul of _______ in Hong Kong. I had contacted him for a visa since I am interested in visiting _______ for a vacation this summer, and he informed me that I must obtain a letter of invitation from someone in ______ . On learning that I plan to visit as a tourist, and that I do not know anyone in ____ personally, he recommended I contact someone from your University.

I apologize for this undoubtedly strange email. I hope you will take my word that it is not a joke. You may find my professional CV at ______, and I would be happy to give a seminar at your University if you would like it."

I shot that mail off around 1 in the morning and went off to sleep, visions of the vacation fast disappearing. Next morning, I find in my inbox:

"Hi Professor ___

Thank you for taking time to contact us and for the interest shown in our organisation as well as in our country.

I have had discussions with our Executive Director - Dr ______ - on this matter and he is eager to be involved in this development. We are in fact very familiar with your university and will be very pleased to build a relationship with you all. Your offer to give a seminar at our institution is also welcome and we will discuss this in detail at a later date.

By copy of this email, I am introducing you to Dr ___ and Ms ___ (our manager of corporate communications).

Meanwhile, you can kindly furnish us with details such as:
- Tentative dates and duration of your visit
- Area(s) in which you may have a preference for speaking at a seminar / workshop

Thanks again for contacting us and we look forward to hearing from you."


It was at that stage that I began to feel like Alice, looking in on Wonderland. The letter of invitation did indeed arrive, albeit two weeks later. A few days ago I found my way downtown to meet Dr. Y in person. The consulate was a three-room "suite" in the Central district, right next to some of my favorite restaurants. It was populated by three people -- a receptionist, an admin person, and the good Dr Y himself. He turned out to be an old gentleman, of Chinese origin. He invited me to sit on the plush couch while he looked through my papers. It was like no visa interview I've ever had. We chatted for 45 minutes. I felt like I was on a social call -- with an acquaintance's distant relative or something. Some extracts from our conversation:

- So you got the letter? Good, good. See, I told you this was the best way to do it.
- It will take about three weeks. They want to check everything out. Worried about terrorists, you know. So many people carry bombs in their shoes these days. You have to take your shoes off. [Wide-eyed wonder.]
- Well, this is the age to travel. How old are you, thirty? [I nodded yes; heck, why not, between friends?] Add 51 to that, and that's how old I am. Fifty seven years in Hong Kong. When I came here, it used to be like ______.
- So you're from India? What part? Delhi? Ah. Do you know Deeper? [I almost said yes.] And what was his name? Tonoko? Honoko. Do you know Deeper and Honoko? They came from Delhi too. Went to Jamaica.
- You plan to fly from here? It's very long, you know. Oh you'll be in the US? What part? Boston? Much better. You can fly through New York. I don't like New York at all. So many Negroes, as they call them over there. Leave all the public phones hanging down off the cradle. And it's so big. Takes you three hours to fly from the border to Kennedy airport.
- Yes, I went to university in Shanghai. St. John's. You heard of it? Funny, people your age haven't heard of it. [Okay, so I was making conversation.]
- Let me show you a map of the Caribbean. Here. This is ________. And this is ________. And this is Cuba. See, so big.

And so on. He said he'd call me when my visa comes through a month from now. We'll meet again then. We shook hands, and he walked me to the door.

I think this vacation is worth it already.


Blogger wildflower seed said...

What a story! Look forward to it (and visions of Fillmore West).

3/18/2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger Salil said...

Congrats. Hope you have a top time. Assuming your camera's been repaired, hope you also get some top photos.

3/18/2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

heh, yeah, sure. working out disk 2 right now as a matter of fact (ds > ss > 11 > ddhnm). btw, you don't happen to know a "deeper" do you?

thanks :-) yes, the camera's fixed, but it's been sheathed for a while now.

3/19/2006 8:44 AM  
Blogger kundalini said...

wow bon! glad it worked out. sounds like its going to be a lot of fun :).

3/19/2006 1:35 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

Better be!

3/19/2006 9:53 PM  
Blogger Salil said...

Surprising, A. Didn't dust it off for the CNY festivities, or for the Shenzhen trip?

That's one of my major regrets from 4 years in HK - never going to Shenzhen with the camera. Instead I usually took 2-3 empty backpacks, which would later be filled with clothing/DVDs/etc. :-)

3/20/2006 11:17 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

I wasn't in HK for CNY, and Shenzhen? I've seen more photogenic things in this world! For me, the only thing to carry there is an empty stomach :-)

3/20/2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger Salil said...

Eh, might be my obsession with taking a camera everywhere I go. Windows of the World wasn't too bad though. :-)

Have you been to Shanghai yet, btw?
[If not, check out the blog in a few days' time - once this test's over, I'll be putting up a retrospective photojournal from there.]

3/20/2006 1:46 PM  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

What lengths some people will go to just to watch a silly cricket match... I'll probably go further :-)

Sounds like absolute fun, just as this encounter with Dr Y was. Hope you have a great time there. And, while you're there, hold up a banner so that we can spot you in the crowd :-0

3/20/2006 5:42 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

yes, i'm not *that* obsessed yet!

i sure hope so. any ideas for the banner? i can't get beyond "bring back ganguly" :-p

interesting sidenote -- a close friend visited jamaica for the last indian tour there a few years ago, and had great fun watching us get thrammed in the test. i was dozing a few months ago with the tv on, and they were showing a replay of that particular match -- something i hadn't know. i get up for a drink of water or something, and at that exact moment the crowd shot shows this sexy young guy, him.

3/21/2006 12:16 AM  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

How about "Leave Tendulkar alone, you morons" for a banner?

3/21/2006 12:28 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

Sad to see Tendulkar's decline. Him and Ganguly in the same season... wasn't *that* long ago that I was citing their ability to fight the odds as I typed up the acknowledgements on my dissertation. Oh well.

3/21/2006 10:27 PM  
Anonymous said...

hello, this is vaneisa baksh. I am happy to hear you are going to be able to come to the Caribbean.

4/18/2006 4:49 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

wow. hi vaneisa! i hadn't expected to see you here -- thanks!

i believe my visa has been approved, and i hope to be able to pick it up next week. if all goes well, i look forward to a great time at the cricket next month!

4/27/2006 10:50 AM  

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