8.55 AM: Holborn Viaduct. We discover that we forgot to get a few photocopies. Decide to ask the security chap outside the visa service centre instead of trying to find a photocopy place by ourselves.
8.57 AM: In front of visa centre building. No queue outside. Convinced this is the wrong building. Check door number. No mistake. Go through revolving doors. No security. No X-ray machine. Totall puzzled and about to walk out when we see a sign telling us that we have come to the right place.
8.58 AM: Man at front desk is actually smiling. WTF? We can see the room beyond the desk. Its not the airless basement rooms we are used to. This one is bright, airy, and spacious. There are about 30 people in the room. We ask front desk man about photocopy places. He tells us to go inside and we should find a machine. Fair to say we are a little disoriented at this point.
8.59 AM: Yes, there is a working photocopy machine. Next to a photo booth. On the other side there are a few computers with Internet access. There were a couple of people printing stuff out. Bill gets photocopies while I go grab a comfy seat. We will probably be here forever so might as well make oneself at home types.
9.00 AM: Five counter shutters go up simulataneously. Five numbers get called one after the other. One has a different sequence - this is the passport collection queue.
9.03 AM: Bill is done with the copies. We gets all documents in order. Look around for vending machine. None. Just a water cooler. I whisper to Bill that we are going to starve. He points to Counter number 3. They are calling number 6. I look at our token number. 13. I tell Bill he can't be serious. He points to Counter 4. They are calling token 7.
9.06 AM: I tell Bill that this is the first step. After this, they would send us to the basement where there would be 100 people before us and we would be stuck there forever. He points out that the people who were done with the counter went straight out of the door. I tell him that must be the way to the basement. He looks skeptical.
9.09 AM: 13. We lug our stuff to the counter. This guy is smiling too. I slide in our applications. He asks for photos. I give him the photos followed by our passports. He flips through my application. Flips my passport (the first visa officer to flip the new passport) and within 2 second finds the page he is looking for. This is a record. Writes down a few numbers on the application. Does the same with Bill's. The he asks if we want to pick-up or do this by post. I say pick-up. He takes out a receipt, writes down a date and my phone number and hands it to me.
"You can come back on Tuesday 9..."
"I have these supporting documents"
"I don't need to see them"
"Are you sure? We have air tickets, invitation letter, bank statements, pay slips..."
He laughs. "I don't need to see them"
We say thanks.
9.12 AM: Back in the street. We take a few minutes to recover from this surreal experience before we head our respective ways.
These Chinese bloody scare me sometimes.