Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Consul General of Myanmar Stalls Tourists


***A true account of my own experiences today***

Wiping the sweat away from my brow and practicing line over line in my head, I approached the service window at Consul General of Myanmar's office today. Perhaps I had not in my mind developed a clear strategy, but my purpose was more or less clear: Get a tourist visa. In a time like this, why would anyone think of visiting Burma for travel and/or leisure? Maybe it was not the safest or smartest approach, however, I wanted a legitimate greenlight to enter the strife-ridden country to bear witness to not only the carnage of the past few weeks, but the difficulties of daily life in Burma. I had no set plan to step foot over the border, but just in case the situation got much worse, a visa would allow me to roughly document events of which the world needs to be aware. Only now do I fully understand how stupid and risky this would be and that I must more attentively keep my rash superman complex in check. I had to keep in mind that unlucky fates have fallen on other journalists, and I would need to reevealuate my choices.

I nervously approached the counter. In the elevator, I had planned to start with a "Beh lo leh," which is the equivalent of an informal "How're you doing?" But I could tell by the clerk's demeanor that I could spare her the superficial niceties.

The ensuing conservation went something like this:

I told her I'd like to apply for a visa.

"What kind?"

"A tourist visa...um, how long does it take to process?"

"Not sure...2-3 weeks. Maybe longer"

"But the sign over there says that it can be issued in one day"

"That's old. That was before."

It didn't dawn on me that this sudden change in policy was in response to the recent protests. On the way back to the ground floor, I shared an elevator with a couple other workers in the consulate. When I asked about the new visa processing wait time, one responded, "The visa office now is under special conditions. We have to [do background] check[s]."

What was originally a one day turnover time now was an indefinite wait. How I read the situation was that the Consul is taking efforts to keep tourists out, hoping that the current unrest in Burma quickly "blows over." I suppose this is the Consul General's precaution against journalists' posing as tourists and tourists' smuggling photos and information out of the country. There was no way I was going to leave my passport there and give them the luxury of a couple weeks' time to do a comprehensive background check on me.

**pictured, a tourist application form for the Union of Myanmar

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