12/5 – Today was our fourth and final (we dearly hoped) two hour journey to the Chinese Consulate, to pick up our passports and new Chinese visas. While walking to the Metro, we encountered a harrowing scene – a beggar woman being dragged down the street by men in black, while her two young daughters were dragged away in the opposite direction, screaming for their mother. We’ll never know the story, but it shook me to the core, and I found myself sobbing as I walked. The crowd bustled on, as if nothing had happened. We got on the train.
We had instructions to first go to a certain bank and deposit $280 in the Chinese Consulate account. We took a taxi to the specified bank, and waited patiently until our number was called. We handed over the form the Consulate had given us. We were asked for our Turkish Tax Number. What the what??
We explained that we were Americans and had no Turkish tax number. They politely told us they could not take our money without a tax number. Perhaps we should take a bus to another town where we could obtain a tax number. Not acceptable. We talked to several people with varying degrees of English and arm-waving. We marched upstairs to speak with the manager. There was nothing they could do. The Consulate was called. Someone from the Consulate instructed us to come to the Consulate right away. We caught a taxi and arrived at the Consulate within minutes. The guard told us no one was there and the office would not reopen until 3pm. We waited outdoors in the grey and rainy afternoon. There are lots of cats here, as we have noticed throughout Istanbul, independent and seemingly well fed.
When we were finally admitted to the Consulate we found the young woman we had met on the first day. We explained the current situation, and she went Back Behind the Door. She emerged with a solution – we could give her the money directly. Great! We had the cash, in Turkish lira. Not acceptable – they needed US dollars. She told us to go back to town and change the money. We explained that we couldn’t change money, as they were holding our passports! Eventually, the young woman understood our Catch 22 situation. She gave us one passport, and held the other. We caught a cab back to town, found the HSBC bank where money could be changed, got burned with a terrible exchange rate (what choice did we have?), took another cab back up to the Consulate and retrieved our second passport a half hour before the Consulate closed for the weekend. Whew! Success!
Then we looked at our new visas. We had furnished an itinerary that said we planned to be in China for three months. Our visa was good for two entries of 30 days each. Our itinerary said we would get to China by mid March. The visa said we had to be in country before March 1. Sigh. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. Time to rework our plan.