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GP Week : Issue 180
>>> PERSONAL Last time I reported on the difficulty of breaking into the F1 paddock as a freelancer, about taking the plunge, ensuring I had enough money, finding backing for accreditation, etc. Turns out that was the easy part. As I left the Malaysian paddock on Sunday, my mind was occupied with one thing and one thing only: getting a Chinese visa. Despite the three-week break I wasn’t sure if there was enough time to submit an application and fly to Shanghai, especially given all the stories about China being one of the toughest visas to get. I set to work as soon as ! returned to Bangalore. Getting a visa to report from China requires a lot – and I mean a lot – of paper work. There’s an invitation letter (you can’t report from China unless an organization in the country invites you to) and to get that I had to complete a form and send it to the Shanghai International Circuit. The form would be for warded to the Shanghai foreign office who would decide whether to send an invitation letter to the consulate I nominated. I must admit, I am very sloppy when it comes to forms and paper work and I had nominated New Delhi as my embassy of choice. I then learned I had to go to the consulate in Mumbai, meaning I had to reapply, leading to further delays. Anxious, I was calling the track (who were amazingly patient) on a daily basis to check on progress. Fear of missing the Chinese race was giving me sleepless nights. I had to get to China. When you’re doing a limited programme, you need to hit the marks and get to all of the races you’ve planned for. One of the primary reasons I am attending these races is so people can put a face to my strange name, helping them recognize me as someone who is serious about covering the sport even if he doesn’t have a red permanent pass around his neck. To my mind, missing the race would have been very costly. Thankfully, the invitation letter didn’t take long and the circuit emailed over Easter weekend to say I should check whether it had arrived at the consulate. I rang as instructed on Monday, and it was the most frustrating part of the process. Four numbers are listed on the website, and none get picked up. After hours of calling, someone finally answered. I asked if my invitation letter had arrived and was told ‘the consulate gets a lot of letters – print a copy and bring it along to the consulate’ before they abruptly hung up. So I called the circuit and asked if they could send me a copy of the letter. But with media visas letters are sent directly to consulates in a confidential file. So I tried the consulate again. It was another half hour before someone answered. I explained I was applying for a media visa and wanted to check my invitation letter had arrived. They asked me to call back in thirty minutes. I did and, again, nobody answered. I tried for an hour until the start of their two-hour lunch break. The consulate desk is manned by Indians and I know how much we like our lunch breaks (followed by a bit of sleep), so I didn’t bother calling until much later. Even then the phone rang and rang until someone finally picked up and asked me to call back after another half hour. At this point I was seriously pissed off and explained there was no way I was hanging up. I was finally connected to a helpful employee who confirmed the letter was with them. This was Easter Monday and I was scheduled to fly out in a little over a week’s time. I asked when I could apply. The following Monday, they replied. My passport would be ready to collect on Tuesday evening, which left me with only a few hours to fly back to Bangalore and catch my Shanghai flight. I was cutting it fine, in true ten-tenths F1-style, but had no choice. So that’s what I did. I went to the consulate early Monday morning, showed them all the documents, was told my passport would be ready for collection Tuesday morning. To be honest, it was an anti-climax. I was surprised at how easy it was once I had submitted my application. ‘What? That’s it?’ Given that I was going as a journalist, I expected a grilling. But the officers who handled my application were efficient and true to their word: I had my visa on Tuesday morning. In retrospect, getting the visa was one of the easiest things in the world – once I had submitted my application. The consulate staff were quick and efficient, and I made my flight to Shanghai. But life would have been a hell of a lot easier if people just answered their damn phones ... GPWEEK’s rookie faces another of the great F1 Journalist Challenges – getting to China! Just answer the phone! 1 GPWEEK.com // 1 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: