Wednesday, March 08, 2006

trip to get my visa -- half-sleeping nonsense -- a sky held up by towers -- back home

All those who live in the Northeast, from Maine to Rhode Island and all the way to Ohio, and who desire to travel to China, must make the long or possibly-not-long trek to the Chinese Consulate at 520 12th Avenue on the shore of the Hudson, between 9am and 5pm Monday through Friday, allowing for an hour lunch break from 12pm-1pm. This is because you are not allowed to apply for a visa by mail. It is incredibly inconvenient.

Since I did not at all desire to spend the night in Manhattan, I decided to go to the consulate early and pay for expedited, one day verification; since I wanted this service and knew from previous experience how long the lines could become, I decided to arrive as early as possible, at 9am. The one problem with this method was that I live in Boston. I could take either a 2:30am Greyhound bus (the Chinatown bus being out of the question because of Chinatown’s distance from the consulate—the port authority bus terminal is just a few blocks away) that arrived at 9:03am (over six hours!) or a 12:30 bus that arrived at 4:50am. There is little in this world that is more awful than riding greyhound and so I decided to take the 12:30am bus despite the fact that it would drop me off in the middle of Manhattan with nothing to do for the four hours until the consulate opened.

Five hours. The bus arrive at 4:10 instead of 4:50. I can never sleep on buses and didn’t on this one. The bus terminal was surprisingly busy for this time of night, although I use “busy” only in the sense that there were many individuals in the station. Almost everyone was asleep—in chairs, against the walls, sprawled out on the floor, and so on. Every conceivable location in which a sleeping body could fit contained a sleeping body. I wanted to sleep but I didn’t want to on the floor and, anyway, there was no room. I left the station into bright quiet of 42nd street at night. A man asked me if I knew where 42nd street was and I said no, not realizing at first the obvious because I assumed that no matter what he asked I would not know the answer.

I started walking, past closed shops, homeless alone and asleep on the sidewalk, a Times Square still alight despite the hour, and all of the west side of Manhattan. On 8th Ave a shivering man approached me outside an adult video store and asked me if I wanted any entertainment, a sensual massage, and so on, I said no; then he asked if I wanted to see any shows, any sex shows, they had single girls, girl on girl, guy on girl, and anything else I wanted. I said no thanks and wondered why I inserted the thanks, then kept walking until I found a diner. I entered, nodded my head at the half-sleeping cashier, sat down, and then ordered coffee and three eggs over easy with hash browns and toast. Two men sitting to my left and behind me talked about their theater production and the awfulness of the Oscar nominated songs this year. A group of college students at the front discussed their top ten lists of women and men (they all had awful taste). I tried to study Chinese while I ate but couldn’t focus so I finished my meal quickly and left.

Again I wandered to the times square area, this time passing by all the morning television shows preparing their sets, and one woman who stood in front of a wall of television screens filled with nasdaq stock quotes. She shifted and fluttered her eyes. Then to the cavernous Avenue of the Americas with its modernist towers reaching artlessy upward, where I looked once again down 42nd street and for the first time noticed the New York sky (so different in this city from elsewhere) as it fell down from the meridian directly above and progressed in increasingly softer and lighter colors to the horizon, a swath of blue-light to black encased between the opposing, bleak, slate-colored faces of the tall-buildings at dawn.

I walked around aimlessly until 9am, when I dropped off my passport at the consulate. Afterwards I continued my wandering. My legs were tired. I was functioning on an hour of bustime half-sleep. I saw things. I ate. I drank coffee. In my half-consciousness I remarked vocally on the ugliness of that city, that part of the city. I searched continuosly for bathrooms because coffee passes through my system so quickly it's as if my digestive track were just a funnel.

At 2:20pm I picked up my passport and by 3:00 I was on a bus home.

I’m leaving for Chengdu next month.