How to get a US visa

Basically, it takes serious determination. Our experience has taught us that the US has a purposely Byzantine system of application for an immigration visa specifically to weed out those who are not full-throttle determined to get one. And really, you can’t blame the US. Just look at all the people trying to get into the country every day.

I neglected to mention it, but last month we received a package from the US Consulate in Guangzhou, where they process all the immigrant visas. They had received our application via Beijing (where it had been approved) and therefore had sent us “the next step.” See, information in this process is given out on a need-to-know basis, and until you reach any given step in the process, you don’t need to know about it.

US flagSo, we get the package and it’s full of papers, one of which is an “application for immigrant visa.” Forgive me if I thought we’d already filled that one out and had it “approved.” With it is a list of documents which we are to procure, including Yoyo’s birth certificate, passport, and something called a “police certificate” which basically asserts that she has never been arrested. But the wording is not clear on that and we weren’t sure whether she needed only one certificate, or one from “every locality” in China, or just one from each place where we had lived for more than 6 months. A call to the Consulate (for which one has to pay $6.50 for 12 minutes, including time spent answering questions by pressing numbers) gave no answers, as the woman on the other line kept saying things like “I think…” until I had to blurt out, “Is that what you think or is that the real answer? Because I’m not interested in what you think. I need to know the truth.”

Luckily, when we received the police certificate from Chengdu, which was procured by Yoyo’s parents (as were the rest of the docs, bless them), it stated unequivocally that Yoyo “has not been arrested in the whole of China through September 4, 2006.” So that seemed to clear it up.

This week I went to the Consulate to have my “affadavit of support” notarized. This is a crucial part of the application, as it seems the number one worry of the government is not that the immigrants it allows to enter the country will become terrorists, but that they will end up on welfare. The affadavit is therefore a way for them to reduce this risk by legally obliging me to take care of Yoyo (which, as her husband, I believe I already am. But not all immigrants are spouses…) I actually had to raise my right hand and “swear or affirm” to support her! Well, if that doesn’t get her into the country, I don’t know what will. Maybe we’ll have to go with Sascha‘s plan…

“Man, just bring her into Canada and take a dinghy out into Lake Superior. I’ll meet you there at midnight. No customs, no red tape, no problem.”

Lord Byron, RIP

Byron Nelson
Byron Nelson

The great Byron Nelson is dead. At the ripe old age of 94, one of golf’s greatest legends has passed on. The New York Times did a great obituary on this giant of the game, in which they said

Nelson won the Masters twice, the P.G.A. Championship twice and the United States Open once. His triumphs in those five majors were among his 52 tournament victories, placing him No. 6 on the PGA Tour career list. His 18 tournament victories in 1945 remain a single-season record. During a seven-year stretch in the 1940’s he made 113 consecutive tournament cuts, a total exceeded only by Tiger Woods, who passed him in 2003. He was named male athlete of the year for 1944 and 1945 in an Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters.

They should have added there (they did later) that part of those 18 victories in 1945 made up a stretch of 11 consecutive wins. Both records still stand, and will probably stand for all time. No golfer has come close to either. The great Sam Snead “only” managed 11 in one season, and Tiger, in all his glory, has only gone as far as six straight – impressive feats, nonetheless. And I believe Tiger has gone 6 in a row twice. But nobody has touched 11 and 18, and I doubt they will.

Another noteworthy part of the article says that Byron Nelson was once an assistant pro in my hometown of Ridgewood, NJ, at the storied Ridgewood Country Club. Actually, the RCC is in Paramus, but hey, what can you do.

Here is my favorite part of the article, which I think sums up the way that I want to look at my own life, whether in golf, music, business, study, or anything:

“”What I did in 1945 was mostly a mental achievement”,” he recalled. “”In those days, I could drive the ball so well that I would really get bored. I just decided I was not going to hit one careless shot. Plus, I had the focus of the ranch.”” Nelson needed $55,000 to purchase ranchland, something he had long coveted. In his memoir “How I Played the Game,” his recalled: ““Each drive, each iron, each chip, each putt was aimed at the goal of getting that ranch. And each win meant another cow, another acre, another 10 acres, another part of the down payment.””

Nelson’’s winnings in 1945 —- about $63,000 in war bonds -— enabled him to buy a 740-acre spread in Roanoke, near Dallas, that he named Fairway Ranch. It became his home for the rest of his life.

I’ll raise my glass to that.

UPDATE 9-28: NYT has a new piece on Nelson here (requires subscription) which includes this anecdote about Ridgewood:

Nelson hit the ball so straight, the caddies there once challenged him to try to hit the flagpole about 100 yards away across the practice green from the slate deck outside the pro shop. Together, the caddies put up about 55 cents. They put down three balls on the deck and gave Nelson three shots to hit the flagpole, which was about six inches wide.

“I used my 3-iron,” Nelson often recalled with a smile. “My first ball just missed the flagpole, then my second clanged off it. I picked up the 55 cents.”

Damn. And here’s what kind of a guy Lord Byron was, in the words of Ken Venturi:

“I once asked Byron why, wherever we went, he would always go into the pro shop and ask, ‘’What is the course record and who holds it?’’”” Venturi recalled. “”He told me: ‘‘If the home pro owns the course record, you don’’t break it. The home pro lives there. We’’re just visitors.’’ Now that’’s class.”

Crabfest and a kind stranger

Seaslug
Seaslug

Last week we had a boys’ night out and went to the seafood market somewhere in northern Shanghai. It’s a bit out of the way, but well worth the trip. It was me, Coley, Adam and Chris – Chris is a chef and posted some of his pictures from the evening on a “foodie website”, to use his term. Check out such delicacies as the “Sausage of the Sea” (pictured above).

We walked around the market buying mostly crabs and then wandered into one of the local restaurants, which cooked all our purchases for us and charged by the pound. These guys had been a few times before and so knew that for maximum effect, one should bring his own butter and ask the waitress to melt it for dipping.

Another interesting part of the evening was that we were in a traffic accident on the way to dinner. Our taxi slammed into the taxi in front of us on the elevated expressway. Being up there without a ride is not one of the more fun places to be in Shanghai. Since there are no available taxis driving on the gaojia we tried to flag down anyone. It didn’t take us long to catch a ride with a young successful Chinese businessman, who was driving a rather plush auto. Not a beamer, but one of the nicer classes of locally produced cars. He was happy to drive us, while extolling the virtues of the American economy (I think). He also proclaimed that it was no bother to help us, that certainly if he were stranded on the road in America, everyone would stop to help him. On that point, I had to politely correct him. As the four of us later agreed amongst ourselves, we would never pick up a stranger on the highway.

Sanya Getaway

 

Sanya
Sanya!

We took a trip to Sanya – China’s closest thing to a resort city – earlier this month, and I must say, we were very, very impressed.

The beach was absolutely beautiful. Long and wide, with clean, fine, white sand and (gasp!) clean, clear, blue water, it was an absolute joy to lay out, walk through the surf, and swim in the ocean. There weren’t too many people, as it was not a national holiday (we did the long weekend: Thursday evening to late Sunday night), but it wasn’t deserted, either. Just enough people to make us feel comfortable and not crowded.

Our hotel, which was across the street from the beach, had a gigantic pool which usually had no one swimming in it, to our utter delight. The staff were courteous and friendly, and the food was better than I expected. The room itself was big and breezy, with a small balcony where we could sit out and read or eat. We even had HBO and CNN on the tube.

Two years ago I visited the beach in Xiamen, another Chinese city (on the mainland, as opposed to Sanya, which is on Hainan Island) and I came away very impressed with the cleanliness of the beach and water. But in Xiamen, I have to say, they didn’t have a clue about beach culture. Everyone walked around fully clothed, often with shoes and socks. Most of the women had umbrellas. One guy was riding his bike down the beach. No one sold any bathing suits, towels, sunscreen or any beach paraphanellia.

But in Sanya, they knew what they were doing. The hotel provided sunscreen in the room. Every shop sold rubber tubes, towels, floating devices, bathing suits, and cheesy Hawaiian shirts. They even had jetski rides and parasailing. We did the former, but not the latter. And you know I bought a lame Hawaiian shirt.

The only drawback of the weekend was when we showed up to the hotel on Thursdsay night. They tried to put us in a room with twin beds, when we had reserved a king-size. They told us they were out of double beds, and they expected us to resign ourselves to pushing the beds together, I guess, because they refused to put us in another room, insisting that they had no double-bed rooms available. Well, they calculated wrong, because we were ready to fight tooth and nail to get what we were paying for, and they cracked after about 15 minutes, MIRACULOUSLY finding a room with a king-size bed THREE DOORS DOWN FROM THE ORIGINAL ROOM THEY TRIED TO GIVE US. Someone please tell me, when will the Chinese learn the value of good, honest service?

Other than that, things went fine. The area of town we stayed in (Yalong Bay) was a bit more exclusive, meaning more isolated, than the beach area closer to town (Dadonghai), which meant there were no restaurants or shops near our hotel, and we had to take our meals in the hotel restaurant. We did take a cab to town one night: we went to an awful Italian restaurant that someone had given us a flyer for on the beach, stocked up on drinks for the room, and vowed not to come back.

I also got out to play golf one day, which was great. I was able to play alone, which I love, because I’m not really into meeting strangers on the golf course (although, I must admit, when I do play with strangers we usually end up getting along pretty well). I had a nice caddy, the course was great, it had stunning mountain views, and I carded two pars and had my fair share of good shots, considering it was only my second round of the year (and probably my 3rd in two years). My best two shots were: 1) a long, sliding downhill putt from about 20ft which dropped center cut for par; and 2) a 5w which I absolutely HAMMERED on a par 5 over water, though sadly it was still 20yds short of the green 🙂

We both got good and tan in about our first 20min on the beach, and just had so much fun swimming and reading and resting and eating. It was a truly relaxing and enjoyable getaway.

And now we can look forward to a weeklong vacation for National Day, Oct 1-7. Haha 🙂

Bowling Birthday Party

Stretchin Out
How I Roll

It’s high time I reported on the doings and misdeeds of the celebrations in honor of my 26th birthday almost two weeks ago. It was Saturday night, and a momentous convergence of huge excuses to party. Not only was it my birthday, it was also Christine’s, and furthermore, it was Natalie’s final weekend in Shanghai (for the foreseeable future, anyway). So we pulled out all the stops.

The evening began with about 30 friends gathered for a Sichuan meal around the corner from our house. The theme being “trash”, everyone was dressed in their worst gear. Except Imani, who incorporated “Eurotrash” into the idea, and was therefore sporting some fine threads. The meal was organized and coordinated by my wife, who did a superb job of ordering and keeping the waitstaff attentive and orderly.

Then, on to the lanes for a rollfest! We were all in fine form, having polished off a few bottles of baijiu during dinner, and were ready to engage in some thrilling athletics, such as this:

All in all a wonderful evening. Great time had by all. In fact, I think I summed it up best in this post-round interview with legendary sports anchor Ty McBenson (friend Sol).

Word. Now we’re off to the beach, folks. More on that in my next post…

My Own September 11th Memorial

Today being the fifth aniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US, there is going to be a lot of to-do back in my home country. I remember well the terror of that day. I watched it on TV in Washington, DC. From some of the rooftops in Georgetown, so I heard, friends watched the Pentagon burn. We gathered at the Tombs that night to eat and drink in silence and kept our eyes on the TV.

Watching the president’s speech in the evening, we all felt he would do the right thing. We all knew that meant going to war. I thought it would happen sooner. Only when I was driving to my Aunt Katie’s house about three weeks later for a family party did I hear on the radio that we had started dropping bombs on Afghanistan. I was morbid, but I felt we had to do it. There was only one way to bring justice to the situation, and that was by capturing or killing as many Qaeda as possible, and most of all the King of Evil himself, Osama.

Since that day we have gotten so much wrong. Bush made a conscious decision to prioritize the invasion of Iraq over the capture of Bin Laden, and let the mastermind of the Sept 11th attacks escape into the ether, probably never to be seen again. Since reducing the country to rubble, we have not done nearly enough to build Afghanistan back up; a large reason for this is the shifting of major resources to Iraq for a completely unnecessary invasion and occupation. The populations of these countries are more inclined to hate us than ever before, especially Iraq’s. And now we’re beating the war drums again, with Iran in our sights.

In a few short years, we Americans went from having the sympathy of the whole world, to having its universal condemnation. Wasn’t it a French woman who said five years ago, “Today, we are all Americans”? Didn’t peace-loving and rational peoples everywhere grieve with us? We even had the full support of the international community in our invasion of Afghanistan, though surely there were many – smarter than I – who knew where it would lead. To never-ending warfare of the type depicted in the pages of Orwell.

Today we will collectively remember what happened when we were attacked, the terrible fury of it. But how many of us will think of what we’ve done since then? What actions have we taken to ensure that we are never attacked again? I believe that the course we’ve taken has not diminished, but in fact greatly increased the likelihood that we will suffer more devastating attacks in the future.

It would necessitate an entire new blog to go into the details of why this is true, and I have plans to eventually create one. It is not my intention to make The Portfolios a political blog. But today is a day to remember, and so I offer this remembrance:

Mark Twain was one of my country’s greatest writers, and no lover of war. As I watched the beginning of the Notre Dame football game and saw a priest offer a prayer for the country, my thoughts went back to Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”. It is worth visiting the link to read the entire piece (it’s not very long, considering its power). Here I quote the crux in the hope that providence may grant us some perspective.

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.