31Jan2013

A Very Merry Christmas at the Chinese Embassy

This yak very much expresses how I felt at the Chinese Embassy Kathmandu visa section.

If there’s ever a way to get your Christmas off to more of a flying start than a trip to the visa section of the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu, I have yet to find it.

My first challenge on Christmas Eve?

To change some of my enormous wodge of Nepalese rupees into dollars at a rate that won’t make my eyes bleed, because for some reason the Chinese, despite holding rather more dollars than the US government and most American banks put together, would still rather have greenbacks than Nepalese rupees.

Leaving Zac Skype chatting with his father, who is fresh back from the slopes of Colorado, I progress to reception, where – yes!!!! – the nice man is working.

“I need to get a China visa,” I say. “And they want dollars not rupees. Which bank will give me the best rate?”

He sucks his teeth a little. “You could try Everest Bank,” he says. “Round the corner and turn left. But there’s a high commission…”

“Oh,” I say. It’s 8am and I’m really not in the frame of mind to walk around every moneychanger in Thamel noting down their best offer, as I did when I had to change the Saudi riyals a family member gave me because – well, she had a whole BUNCH of them, and they’re virtually monopoly money aren’t they? No way she was going to spend all THAT! – in Sydney.

“How many do you want?” he says.

“Two hundred,” I say.

He riffles through his safe. “I can do it for you at 89,” he says. That’s undoubtedly the best deal I’m going to get without sacrificing an organ or selling my firstborn and my Kathmandu Loveometer swings from “Time to Go Now, Thanks, Kathmandu” to “Yeah, Nepalis Get Stuff Done, Alright! GO KATHMANDU!”

“Not here,” he says. “Bus. That way.” “Eyow,” I say, donning my best cut-glass British accent and nicest poor-helpless-but-very-polite-lady-with-no-husband-to-help-her-out smile. “Do yew happen to kneyow heyow much it would be in a texi?”

We still have the photos we got taken for our Nepali visa and trekking passes – I look like I’ve just been busted for running a crystal meth lab, and am only partway through the gender reassignment surgery it was supposed to fund, and Zac’s wearing a sort of stoned but supercilious sneer accessorised with a trail of snot from his left nostril – so that’s sorted.

The form on the embassy website looks different from the one I filled out in Kuala Lumpur, but, ever since the Timor Leste visa fiasco, I never trust a website when it comes to visas.

I force Zac into the shower and a clean white shirt, tart myself up in my jersey frock, leggings and newly mended boots and smear foundation over both spots and wrinkles while bemoaning the biological injustice that means I can actually have BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, and decide that we look borderline presentable.

I summon a taxi, which, as usual in Nepal, is a battered 1970s Fiat with stuffing spilling out of the seats and rust where other vehicles have bumpers, attempt to open the door, wait for instructions to pull hard – because, seriously, one day I’m going to pull hard without being asked and the door is going to come off in my hands – and progress to the Chinese Embassy, which sits behind quite remarkably unwelcoming walls flanked by armed guards, somewhat in the manner of a US Embassy in, say, Yemen, or Somalia.

“Visa?” says one of the armed guards out of the front.

“Yes!” I say.

“Not here,” he says. “Bus. That way.”

“Eyow,” I say, donning my best cut-glass British accent and nicest poor-helpless-but-very-polite-lady-with-no-husband-to-help-her-out smile. “Do yew happen to kneyow heyow much it would be in a texi?”

“100 rupees,” he says. “Wait!”

He heads out into traffic, summons a taxi, agrees the fare in Nepali and waves us off to the Chinese Embassy Kathmandu visa section.

Aw, I think, as the Kathmandu Loveometer veers from “Makes Me Stabby, Very Stabby”, hovers over “Frankly Delightful” and then swings back to “Olde World Charm and Courtesy”, the Nepalese are LOVELY.

The girl starts to giggle, partly because this request is so bizarre as to be actually funny, and partly through embarrassment that she’s going to have to say “No”, an extremely humiliating thing in China that always takes an unconscionably long time.

When it comes to process, Chinese bureaucrats make the Germans look positively Italian (cf, also, trains). The visa section opens at 9.45am sharp and closes at 11am sharp: the forms required are handed out when you do your weapons check at the door, and there is an orderly queuing system.

But these forms have all sorts of sections.

They want tickets! Hotel reservations! Contact numbers.

Last time, all I needed to write down was where we wanted to go and why.

I head to enquiries. “Hi,” I say. “I’m hoping to get a 90-day tourist visa.”

The girl starts to giggle, partly because this request is so bizarre as to be actually funny, and partly through embarrassment that she’s going to have to say “No”, an extremely humiliating thing in China that always takes an unconscionably long time.

“90 days?” she says, tittering. “Oh, I don’t think…”

It has been vaguely at the back of my mind that, what with the new leadership in China, and general sensitivities in Nepal, and what with me being British and our lords and masters persisting in playing nicely with the D**** L*** and bitching about human rights violations (while simultaneously cuddling up to the Saudis, FFS), Kathmandu might not be the best place to go for visas.

Her superior comes to the window. He’s not giggling, just smirking. “The most we can do is a 30-day visa,” he says. “But you can extend it in China. Do you have flights? Hotel reservations?”

“No!” I say. “Last time….” I wave our old visas at him.

Normally, the more often you visit China the nicer they are about the visas for your next visit. But we’re still in the throes of the leadership transition, with new apparatchiks posing in front of scary backdrops left, right and centre, which means that everyone is staying on the most conservative interpretation of whatever the rules are in case they lose their jobs.

“You need tickets,” he says. “And a copy of your passport. Where is your travelling companion?”

I point to Zac, who is sprawled, fetidly, across a series of plastic seats, oozing boredom from every grimy pore and ratstailed curl.

Jesus, I think. I really do need to talk him into that haircut. He has, actually, had a shower, but you couldn’t really tell, what with the hair and all.

I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ve over-estimated Zac’s road-crossing skills – while Kathmandu traffic is no bagatelle, he has spent time in China, where a green light for pedestrians is also a green light for traffic to turn through them – and concluding that I’d have heard the bang by now if something had actually hit him.

Time is ticking, which means I need to divide the work load.

“Right, son,” I say. “You go to the place across the road that does photocopying and get our passports copied – the main pages and the ones with the old Chinese visa. I’ll fill out these forms.”

I start work. Travel insurance number. Don’t have that. Didn’t matter last time.

CONTACT NUMBER OF HOTEL?! They’re going to ring and check?!

Just as I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ve over-estimated Zac’s road-crossing skills – while Kathmandu traffic is no bagatelle, he has spent time in China, where you often have to dodge vehicles on the pavement – and concluding that I’d have heard the bang by now if something had actually hit him, he returns, having spent his photocopying money on a can of fizzy pop. “No copying,” he says. “It’s load-shedding.”

Bugger.

“OK,” I say. “We’re not going to get this done today. They want plane tickets, and hotel reservations, and all that jazz. Do you know when the power comes back on?”

“Not before 11am,” Zac says, looking at the clock. For we do, indeed, have barely 15 minutes before the Chinese Embassy, Kathmandu, visa section, downs tools for the day.

Looks like we’ll be spending Christmas Day here, too! Festive! Perhaps they’ll all don flashing Santa hats and put some tinsel up! Because, lord knows, after trekking to Everest Base Camp, this is exactly the kind of relaxing environment I need.

NOTHING says “older woman I have no idea what to buy for” like a pashmina, unless it’s bubble bath, Thornton’s chocolates or cooking sherry.

As we walk back, for the visa section is within easy walking distance of our hotel, my newly “mended” boot breaks again, in precisely the same place.

“Wow!” says Zac. “That’s some quality repair work. What do you reckon he used? Pritt stick?”

“I don’t know,” I say, and, as I drag my flapping sole along the pavement, tsk at a persistent child beggar, fend off a tiger balm man and inhale a lungful of dust that probably is at least 5% human remains, the Kathmandu Loveometer spins wildly and settles to hover somewhere between ‘Doing My Fucking Head In’ and ‘Actual Nervous Breakdown If China Doesn’t Let Us In’. “Can you remember when load-shedding ends?”

“I think it’s 4 today,” says Zac.

Fuck, fuckity fuck, fuckity fuck, fuck, fuck. Unless I want to get dressed up and go pester the concierge at a 4-star hotel I am obviously not staying at, I can neither print nor copy any paperwork until the electricity comes back on. This is quite indescribably frustrating.

“Oooh!” Zac says. “Quick! Give me 2000 rupees and DON’T LOOK!”

“OK,” I say, idly inspecting pashminas and wondering how the fuck one tells the difference between shoddy and non-shoddy pashminas, and then concluding that these, the last refuge of the Christmas shopper before the dreaded bubble bath – because NOTHING says “older woman I have no idea what to buy for” like a pashmina, unless it’s bubble bath, Thornton’s chocolates or cooking sherry — are almost certainly shoddy.

Zac emerges from a “North Face” shop. “Here!” he says, bundling a plastic bag into my arms. “Happy Christmas!”

It’s a pair of trainers! Gawd bless him. Right colour! Right size! Shame about the pleather, but really, not bad. I thank him profusely.

As we progress to the Northfield for brunch, we pass the wandering shoeshine man. He’s bought a pair of spanking new pinstriped trousers with the proceeds of his repair work and, from his merry smile, is probably plotting a holiday to Rio.

I now have under 12 hours in which to sort out Project Christmas, because it will actually be Christmas tomorrow, and we’re booked in for turkey at the Northfield at 8. Aaarrgggghhhhh….

The bar was reliably full of Tsing-Tao swilling reprobates, layabouts and loafers – it takes a special kind of person to do northern China during winter, and that type of person tends to be my kind of person.

After brunch, where we break down our Christmas shopping list into items of Chinese-manufactured tourist tat charming Nepalese crafts, and allocate them substantially at random to our dearly beloved family members, I spend a frustrating couple of hours online.

The Nepalese government appears to have placed a block on price comparison sites to protect their indigenous travel agents, so I renew my VPN subscription and dick around trying to find flights to Beijing that won’t cost me a kidney or involve an awkward 10-16 hour layover.

Then, on the When in Rome principle, I call a Nepalese travel agent who takes an hour and a half to find any flight to anywhere in China, let alone Beijing, promises to call me back tomorrow, and doesn’t.

Finally, with flight prices visibly rising in the run-up to Western New Year and – oh dear god, please no, not Chinese New Year, not already?! We can’t be in the travel chaos period yet! We haven’t even left Nepal! – I plump for the Sunday flight rather than the Thursday flight on the basis that anything that can go wrong, based on the last week or so, almost certainly will, and wonder whether we can sleep in Kunming airport.

Then I try to get a booking at the place our friends are staying at. They’re full.

I remember our last Beijing abode as being a charming courtyard place on a hutong, eminently pleasant and sociable, 10 minutes walk from Tiananmen, with a bar reliably full of Tsing-Tao swilling reprobates, layabouts and loafers – it takes a special kind of person to do northern China during winter, and that type of person tends to be my kind of person – but a room that was absolutely bloody freezing at night with only the patchiest of hot water.

Zac remembers it as having PlayStation, PSP and dumpling parties, and will not contemplate staying anywhere else.

Then I book a place in Harbin on the basis that the booking’s fully refundable, and we can decide whether we’re living in Harbin or Jilin once we get there.

Then I fill out both our forms for the Chinese visa and get a mildly deranged festive blog post up on my poor, neglected blog.

It’s the type of sound that my pre-frontal cortex registers on the crudest mammalian level as indicating a saber-toothed tiger has just entered the savannah, and therefore wakes me up every single bloody night in a state of fight or flight.

Next, I try to book tickets for The Hobbit.

QFX Civil Mall cinemas, I learn, after calling the only number that they will answer, do in fact have online booking, not that you could tell from their website, but only does phone bookings on the number that they don’t answer.

I can’t work out how to book online, so I Google, and find out you need to join their club. I join. Even then I can’t find a mechanism for booking, although I can find a place to click to see my current bookings, so I go back to Google and find a page that tells me I can book tickets by a convenient bank transfer using any one of an enormous range of banks, all of them containing the words Nepal, Nepali, Everest, Sagamartha or some combination of the above.

I yell at Zac to do something educational, such as writing something about mountaineering and Everest, and, ooh!

There is that sudden, deeply unnerving reduction in ambient noise that indicates the generators are switching off and the power coming back on. It’s the type of sound that my pre-frontal cortex registers on the crudest mammalian level as indicating a saber-toothed tiger has just entered the savannah, and therefore wakes me up every single bloody night in a state of fight or flight.

Excellent! Power! I can get our passports copied! And our tickets printed!

Civil Mall is refreshingly unfestive and appears to have some clothes shops, which, while rich on the Mid-Priced Indonesian Hooker and Elderly Eastender Dressed for Christmas Bingo fashion ranges, also have items that don’t make me want to stab my own eyes out with a fork.

Without going in to quite how many “Photocopy Here!” signs I have to navigate before I find a place that has a fully functional photocopier with both ink and paper, by the time I have spent my 10 rupees on copies of our passports and old visa pages, I am in a quite stunningly bad temper, the Kathmandu loveometer needle is now pointing to “Third World Shithole I Can’t Wait to Leave” and I am longing for the peace, calm, fresh air and general spa ambience of Beijing in December.

Zac has wisely opted to sit this one out, which is good, as it’s also not easy to find an internet cafe that will allow me to print out copies of our tickets for China and even without anyone to talk to I’m getting quite sweary.

Further, I only have three hours before our turkey date in which to sort out Project Christmas, now broken down into three projects, Project Book Tickets for The Hobbit, Project Find Something – ANYTHING – for Zac and Project Sort Out Everyone Else at Some Point.

It is also beginning to dawn on me that small presents for a person approaching his teens are going to be harder to find than they were when he was, well, nine, say, or four, when pretty much any piece of plastic crap would do.

*sigh*

I jump a taxi to Civil Mall which, bar some token tinsel, is refreshingly unfestive and appears to have some clothes shops, which, while rich on the Mid-Priced Indonesian Hooker and Elderly Eastender Dressed for Christmas Bingo fashion ranges, also have items that don’t make me want to stab my own eyes out with a fork.

Ooh! Hope dawns for Project Kneeboots.

But first… Project Sort Out Christmas, Sub-Project Find Something – ANYTHING – for Zac.

“Do you mind if I…” says the lady behind me in the queue for cinema tickets, stepping in front of me with what appears to be an actual, bona fide Mulberry handbag, presumably bought in Delhi, and an expensive smile. “Yes,” I say, body-checking her. “I do.”

“Do you mind if I…” says the lady behind me in the queue for cinema tickets, stepping in front of me with what appears to be an actual, bona fide Mulberry handbag, presumably bought in Delhi, and an expensive smile.

“Yes,” I say, body-checking her. “I do, actually.”

She seems rather taken aback by this but hears my subtext – “I too am busy, bitch, and further I am from London and have lived in China” – loud and clear.

“Two tickets for The Hobbit, please,” I say. “3pm tomorrow. In 3D.”

They haz tickets! I buy seats in what I understand to be fifth row from the front.

Score one for Project Christmas! I tuck the flimsy pieces of paper into my purse, try not to get distracted by the kneeboots, which on this floor all come with hideous bobbles and sequins anyway, although maybe I could remove the sequins from that pair, if only they had them with a heel, and, Oh Jesus GOD a toyshop! YES!

And a DVD shop! Zac’s been eyeing the Simpsons for a while now, so I buy him the first 20 seasons by way of a substantial present, then brave the toyshop with a sorrowful sense that my little boy really isn’t little any more.

Bouncing ball? Dubious. Bubble gun? Probably yes, for about five minutes. Toy cars – nah. Ooh! Cuddly toys! Small, cute cuddly toys! He still likes cuddly toys! For about five minutes, anywise.

“This is a pencil case,” says the shop assistant, brandishing a Hello Kitty pencil case.

“I know,” I say. “I am buying for a boy.”

“This,” she says. “Is a train.”

“He is twelve,” I say.

A pair of trainer liners to stop him wearing his trekking socks with trainers and shorts – yes, I have bought my son socks for Christmas, and, no, I am not ashamed, and, yes, my son does wear shorts in Kathmandu in December, through the same kind of macho bravado that had him humiliating lowland Nepali guides at 4800m by wearing less than them of an evening – and we’re done!

I think about getting him an Everest Base Camp badge for his backpack, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about those in Lukla, so I don’t see what will have changed now, and anyway that would mean shopping in Thamel.

And, I think chirpily, Nepal has lovely handmade wrapping paper, absolutely beautiful stuff. Both urgent elements of Project Christmas are now complete! I can address Project Kneeboots.

They have a 40! Sure, I can only get my enormous bloody feet into them by wearing plastic bags on them, which also means I fall over, at least while wearing the plastic bags, but they will do.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed across Asia that malls will often feature remarkably similar shops, with substantially identical stock, but different owners and marginally different pricing, on the same floor. And in this, Civil Mall is no exception.

OMG! OMG! One has, while not EXACTLY the perfect pair of black kneeboots, what with being fake suede rather than real suede and a little TOO visibly cost-effective, at least a pair of black kneeboots that are free of dangly bits and plastic gilt.

“Hi,” I say. “Do you have these in a 39? Or 40?”

No. They have them in a 38. Even with the vigorous application of plastic bags and elbow grease, they’re not going over my elephantine Western feet.

“We have them in brown,” says the girl.

I DON’T WANT THEM IN BROWN! I WANT THEM IN BLACK!

I progress next door. Next door has the 39, which is, basically, a guy’s size here, but not the 40, although they do have a 40 in the brown.

“Could you order them in?” I ask.

The girl actually laughs.

Bugger, bugger, bugger.

Down a floor.

Nope, nope, nope, nope.

Down another floor.

Ooh! Another store has the same pair of boots, which appear to be the only inoffensive kneeboots in all of Kathmandu. I wait, on tenterhooks, while the lady goes “to the storeroom to check”.

They have a 40! Sure, I can only get my enormous bloody feet into them by wearing plastic bags on them, which also means I fall over, at least while wearing the plastic bags, but they will do. I’ll work out a way to get my feet into them without plastic bags at a later point, or a way to get the plastic bags off my feet, and anyway the salesgirl says they’ll stretch.

I drop £20 on a pair of plain black, suede-like, platform-heeled kneeboots with no buckles, dangly bits or stripper accessories that make me look instantly thinner, tauter, taller and, by way of distracting attention from my face, younger and hotter.

And, yes, I know this is exactly how one embarks on the slippery slope to mutton dressed as lamb, but I have no idea how far down it I am yet and I’m honestly not sure I give a toss. In these, I’m almost six foot tall and thin.

And then I collect my spawn, drag him away from his dad, don plastic bags and boots, and we go eat turkey. With gravy! And mashed potatoes!

Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT, which is fine if you’re going forward, but really challenging if you’re going backwards, because you have to subtract 15 minutes, only not, because you’re already subtracting, so you kind of have to add 15 minutes instead.

Christmas, for us, is all about family, which in this instance means a veritable scheduling nightmare of calls to folk in various time zones. Nepal is 5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT, which is fine if you’re going forward, but really challenging if you’re going backwards, because you have to subtract 15 minutes, only not, because you’re already subtracting, so you kind of have to add 15 minutes instead.

Zac has a Skype call scheduled with his dad for his Christmas morning, his father’s Christmas Eve post-slopes yet pre-apres-board, Zac’s post-rifle-through-presents and pre-get-bored-of-presents, so I leave them chatting as I head to the Chinese Embassy.

Because it doesn’t get more festive than Christmas morning at the visa section of the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. No sirree!

I arrive at opening time, queue, and present my paperwork, complete with reservations, tickets, photos and copies of our passports.

Oh, I’ve missed a form.

I go and get the forms, fill them out, jump the queue to the window, and hand over everything for the second time this Christmas.

That’s weird, I think.

There’s a kind of huddle behind the counter. Our guy is showing something in our passports to the rest of the staff. More and more of them are coming to look.

Oh Jesus! I’m trying to think what it could be. It’s not like we’ve been to Japan lately. The Philippines? No, that was a passport ago. Lebanon? China doesn’t give a monkey’s about the Middle East. Timor Leste? Why would China give a shit about Timor Leste?!

I know we have space in our passports, although Zac’s only got one full page left…

Another bureaucrat is summoned from a back office to look at the passport. Oh fuck. This isn’t good. This really isn’t good. Merry bloody Christmas.

“No,” he says. “The Nepali visa has expired.” “It CAN’T have done!” I say. I paid $100 cash each for these suckers at the airport, under 60 days ago. “We have 90-day visas,” I say, pleadingly. “90 DAYS!”

My bureaucrat friend, for I am now beginning to think of him as a friend, given we’re now on our third conversation in two days, returns to the window. “The visa has expired.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s an old Chinese visa, that’s why we’re getting a new one.”

“No,” he says. “The Nepali visa has expired.”

“It CAN’T have done!” I say. I paid $100 cash each for these suckers at the airport, under 60 days ago. “We have 90-day visas,” I say, pleadingly. “90 DAYS!”

We were supposed to be meeting friends two days from now. Our entire plan for the next few months revolves around being legal in China, and, provided they let us in, I know an agency in Beijing – or, more precisely, I know where to find a man who knows the agency in Beijing – that can flip our cruddy 30-day tourist visas into 6-month multi-entry full-blown loafer visas for a few hundred bucks.

CHINA! WE LOVE YOU! YOU HAVE TO LET US IN!!!!

He shows me the relevant page in Zac’s passport.

It emerges that someone at Nepali immigration, when filling out the expiry date on Zac’s 90-day visa, has put February 2012, instead of February 2013.

“But…” I stutter. “But this is clearly a mistake…”

“We cannot issue a visa for China when your visa for Nepal has expired,” he says. “You need to go to Nepali immigration and get it changed.”

There’s absolutely no point in arguing with any Chinese person, let alone a Chinese bureaucrat, so I look at the offending page. All I actually need do is take a black pen and change the 2 to a 3, which would be perfectly doable with a single stroke, but that’s the sort of outside-the-box thinking that can land one in really big trouble, particularly when dealing with Chinese bureaucrats around the leadership transition period.

“If we get it fixed,” I say, making the best approximation to puppy-dog eyes my Polish features will allow (think Hound of the Baskervilles, or possibly Droopy). “Can we have the visa?”

He nods.

I do the maths. The pair of us will be spending Boxing Day at Nepali Immigration, and there’s no way on earth we’ll be through there by 11am. Assuming Nepali Immigration only takes one day, which is a large assumption, we can then return to the Chinese embassy on St. Stephen’s Day, rush process it, and pick it up on Friday.

If they take more than a day, we change our flights, we miss our friends, and we spend not only Christmas but bloody New Year in Kathmandu. Not good. Oh god. And what if the new leadership doesn’t want us, after all?!

But I LIKE the new leader! His wife is such a good singer she’s a major-general in the People’s Liberation Army! The new regime is all about openness, and loveliness! Unless you’re Japanese, obviously.

I apologetically ask for a new steak and they apologise for the old steak, then I apologise for asking for the new steak and they apologise for me having to apologise and apologise again for the old one, then we both reassure each other that no apologies are required, then apologise for apologising, for hours, and hours, and hours, and hours.

By now in a state of rising panic, I collect my spawn and head to K-Too for lunch, the centrepiece of my Christmas since I’m treating myself to a 16-oz Chateaubriand steak. And Negronis, obviously.

The Negroni is correct – the bar staff don’t just know me, but eagerly await my arrival – but my steak “Chateaubriand” comes cooked well done, an omission that, what with Lukla, the intermittent Drunkovision flashbacks still playing in my head from the weekend, the Chinese Embassy and the looming awareness that I haven’t done any bloody work for weeks, makes me positively tearful.

“It’s well done!” I say to Zac, brattishly. “And it’s on a sizzling hotplate so it’s still cooking! And it’s CHRISTMAS!!!!”

All I want for Christmas is a gigantic, bleeding steak. Oh, and the kneeboots, of course. And this steak isn’t bleeding! It’s brown!

“Well, tell the staff and ask them to change it,” says my son, chowing into his sizzling chicken fajitas.

After an exquisitely British-Nepali scene, whereby I apologetically ask for a new steak and they apologise for the old steak, then I apologise for asking for the new steak and they apologise for me having to apologise and apologise again for the old one, then we both reassure each other that no apologies are required, then apologise for apologising, for hours, and hours, and hours, and hours, my new steak arrives enormous, bloody and on a plate.

I like it. A lot.

Rather more than I like The Hobbit. I spend the first fifteen minutes wondering why one of the dwarves looks like a low-rent Viggo Mortensen and why on earth anyone thinks Martin Freeman’s a character actor when he plays the same bloody role every time, then manage to catch a discreet nap.

Disappointingly, I am awoken by my spawn during a gallumphing F/X sequence virtually cloned from Lord of the Rings, which seem to be logjammed in to what I suppose one should call the narrative arc, apparently at random, by way of diverting from the complete absence of characterisation, something that often helps with plotting.

Then there’s an intermission, and popcorn, which I spend trying not to spoil my son’s Christmas by explaining the myriad ways in which The Hobbit sucks arse, with only fair-to-medium success.

It begins to dawn on me that we haven’t done our Christmas shopping and that, further, we’ll have to find a way to post it to people in various corners of the globe. Fuck that for a game of soldiers, I think, festively.

Skyping family in the UK, before we head out to K-Too for more turkey (Zac) and Negronis and salad (me) – hey! It’s Christmas! – it begins to dawn on me that we haven’t done our Christmas shopping and that, further, we’ll have to find a way to post it to people in various corners of the globe.

Fuck that for a game of soldiers, I think, festively.

We need to get this China visa sorted first, and then have New Year with our friends in Beijing.

After that, there’s only the little matter of flipping our visas, deciding whether we live in Jilin or Harbin, finding a place to live in Jilin or Harbin and getting Zac into a Chinese school, despite the fact that my Chinese language skills might be uncharitably summarised as “Transport, directions, shopping, food and basic social pleasantries provided you speak to me very, VERY slowly and very, VERY simply” and might not stretch to the jawdroppingly complicated etiquette that undoubtedly surrounds bribing teachers to let the laowai sit quietly at the back for a few months.

Fuck it, I think. It will be fine.

“Well,” I say to Zac. “I think that’s been quite a good Christmas, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It has, actually. I have…” and my atheist child pauses to allow the sheer unutterable wonder of this to sink in… “I have had turkey TWICE.”

I give him a hug.

Because THAT, quite frankly, is what Christmas is about.

14 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    What can I say!

  2. Catherine Hartmann says:

    This was absolutely the best, funniest thing I have read in a long time
    “I look like I’ve just been busted for running a crystal meth lab, and am only partway through the gender reassignment surgery it was supposed to fund.”
    It made me laugh out loud again when I just read it in this comment.

    It all sounds nightmarish but makes for very entertaining reading after the fact.

    • Theodora says:

      Ah, it really wasn’t the best week of my life…. Poor Kathmandu. It’s such a lovely city except when you’re trying to get anything done.

  3. I find it kind of “funny” how so many comments describe your posts as funny and hilarious.
    I find your narrative perfectly normal for the circumnstances…OK, I get it now, but I’m not about to say it publicly.

  4. Julia says:

    This is bloody brilliant! As a frequent traveler to certain African countries whose bureaucratic servants deserve medals for idiocy, I appreciate everything here and can’t wait to read your entire blog accompanied by a very large whiskey.

    • Theodora says:

      Have an extra couple of fingers for me, Julia… Although I’m sure African bureaucracy makes South Asian bureaucracy seem like Switzerland, or something.

  5. Nick says:

    Good to see Project Kneeboots resolved. Been waiting for each new episode.

    • Theodora says:

      Thank you! And Project Christmas, which was, OF COURSE, my absolute priority focus at every moment….

      • Anne-Marie says:

        Ah! So that must be why my pashmina hasn’t arrived yet (only thing for elderly rellies….). Seriously, another laugh out loud post. DON’T stop them coming!

        • Theodora says:

          Ahahahahaha! Zac did choose a pashmina for someone, and now I’ve written that I’m not even sure I can send it to her…

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