May 1994. I’m in Beijing, China, riding around on a rickety rental bicycle.
As I navigate around the hordes of fellow cyclists, I realise that I’m near the embassy compounds and on the spur of the moment decide to look for the Ukraine embassy.
A little voice in my head was telling me to sort out my Ukraine transit visa before I arrived in Moscow, as I planned to stay there only three days.
In that brief decisive moment, I have two choices:
After much internal debate, I agree to listen to that persistent little voice.
I’m soon peddling down a long, tree-lined avenue, peering at the embassy names on the walls, which are invariably all written in Chinese. I eventually stop in front of an armed guard.
“Hello. Is this the Ukraine embassy?”
“Can I go in?”
Still no response.
I carefully hop off my bicycle and slowly wheel it past the armed guard. Well, he’s either going to shout at me or shoot at me.
He does neither!
Inside the courtyard a woman gruffly directs me towards the office, where I sit waiting for an incredibly long time inside am empty room.
I soon hear voices again – this time they’re coming from behind a closed door. And these are loud, angry voices.
Leave, insists one part of me. You could be riding around Beijing on your bicycle. Worry about the visa when you get to Moscow.
No, just wait and see what happens next, the other me advises.
I’m about to reproach those little voices in my head when two large, menacing-looking men emerge from the room, still arguing loudly with each other.
One of them suddenly stops and glares at me.
“What do you want?”
“I… um… need ... a transit visa… please?”
Ten minutes and $US20 later I’ve got my transit visa stamped into my passport.
See, told you to wait, the smug little voice pipes up. Now you can enjoy your three days in Moscow without worrying about getting the transit visa for the Ukraine.
Yeah, yeah. Whatever.
How to amuse yourself on a 6-day train journey
“Are we in Moscow already? That was quick!”
I glanced out the window as the train rolled to a stop at the station, 7621km after leaving Beijing and travelling via Mongolia and the Gobi Desert.
Apart from reading a couple of novels, I spent the 6-day journey learning all 33 letters of the Russian alphabet:
А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я
Okay, I cheated; knowing the Greek alphabet sped up the process.
This allowed me to read street signs as I walked around Moscow during my brief visit.
The moral of the story
When I arrived at the Moscow youth hostel, I was greeted by a huge sign on the wall which said:
Important notice - all visas to the Ukraine take 10 days to process.
Told ya! You should listen to me more often, you know.
New Zealand 2008
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I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
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