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Kazakhstan Embassy: Take Two

Yesterday I lamented about the refusal of the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington, DC to take my visa application package when I showed up 20 minutes after scheduled closing. How about 30 second before scheduled closing?

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“The Amazing Race: Matthew Edition” took off this morning from Georgetown Law at 11:42a after a rousing discussion with former Solicitor-General Gregory Garre. The meeting was supposed to conclude at 11:30a, but went a little over—as I raced down New Jersey Avenue and made a beeline for Union Station, I flagged down a taxi. Under a District of Columbia mayoral directive, cab drivers are now required to accept credit cards. In practice, though, most have ignored the rule and continue to insist on cash, as this one did. I had cash, but only Euros and Hong Kong Dollars..

So on to Union Station to the Red Line Metro. The escalator, of course, was broken, and upon reaching the station entrance I saw that the next Shady Grove train would not arrive for another six minutes, so it was back outside to hunt down a cab. Cabs were lined up outside Union Station, but one after the other said no when I asked about credit cards. Finally, five cars back, I found a driver who accepted credit cards. I dislike most cab drivers, but this Nigerian-born man named Mike was great--I have his number if you are looking for an honesty cabby in DC and will use him in the future.

The time was now 11:51a. He pulled out of Union Station as quick as he could (the station is under construction) when I told him I had to be at 16th and O St by noon, telling me not two worry while berating his colleagues who refused to abide by the credit card rule. But as we wheeled down K Street, we hit every red light. Literally every signal. That didn’t stop the driver from holding down his horn for most of the journey and weaving between the special loading/parking lane and the through-traffic lane.

I think the driver was enjoying himself, and at 15th he took a sharp right turn and made a beeline up the street before taking a sharp left followed by another sharp right onto 16th. By now it was 11:59a and things did not look good. We hit one more red light at Scott Circle before pulling up to the embassy, just as the church bells across the street were striking noon.

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I grabbed my belongings and made a beeline for embassy visa office. Like last time, the gate was open and door unlocked. Inside—and I swear this happened—as I ran inside the same man from Friday looked at me, then lowered the “gate” (like a store closing at night) between the visa lobby to the small hallway just inside the entrance.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH

His colleague was still behind the window and I asked him politely if I could hand in my completed visa packet. NO was the quick answer. By then, my friend from Friday had walked over and with a little grin on his face gave me the “no” sign with his hands and told me it was too late.

It was either now or never—I quickly responded back that it was not too late—I had arrived at noon and the Embassy is open from 9:00-12:00 (meaning until the clock turns to 12:01p). That didn’t work convince them, so I ratcheted up the drama.

After groveling for mercy, in rapid-fire succession I pulled out the contents of my application envelope and said, “I just want to turn this in! Everything is here! Stamped envelope with return address label, completed application, photo, copy of itinerary, money order.” I dramatically raised and lowered each item as I named it and told them I was leaving town that evening and again asked them to please just take it.

The new guy just shook his head, but my “friend” from Friday said a few words to him Kazakh, they looked at each other, then simply said, “Ok” and motioned for me to hand out over the items.

Whew! Now for all I know they will shred the passport, for I did not receive any receipt, but figured if I asked for one they would have handed back the package and told me to come back on Thursday with everything. Plus, had I just mailed in my whole application (which certainly would have been less stressful and expensive though not as adventurous as my cab ride), I also would not have had a receipt.

Oh what a day.

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Comments

#1
matt February 29, 2012 at 04:59 am

If the cabs are required to accept credit, what situation would occur if you just took one, and at the conclusion of the trip revealed you only had credit?

#2
Rapid Travel Chai February 29, 2012 at 10:00 am

Great story.

When I applied for a Kazakh visa in Beijing they would only expedite it if I was flying Air Astana. Since I was on China Southern I was going to have to wait nearly a week and so had to find another option, an agent that was able to arrange a visa on arrival for me. Took a prolonged discussion with Chinese immigration officials at Urumqi to let me depart for Almaty, finally with them warning me that if I am not admitted to Kazakhstan it is my own fault and none of their responsibility!

#3
AS February 29, 2012 at 11:36 am

Close call - at least you got it in this time. They really made you earn it!

#4
LarryInNYC February 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Honestly, if this stuff is bothering you that much it's possible Kazakhstan may not be all that much to your liking. I don't think it gets better when you get off the plane!

I believe you mentioned that you worked in the Bush Administration so I'm surprised to see you support a regulation that not only interferes with cab drivers' decisions about how to run their businesses but exposes them to a private tax (the credit card fee) on money they've earned.

Finally, I think that the common interpretation of the phrase "Open from 9:00 to 12:00" is that the office closes at 12:00, not 12:01. Even if 12:01 is the legalistically correct, however, it might be that the folks at the embassy decided to bend the rules having read your article yesterday.

#5
Matthew February 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm

@LarryInNYC: I anticipate Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to be grueling in some respects, like all former Soviet Repbulics are to travel in--but I know I am going to have an incredible time, like I always end up having.

I never said I supported the credit card ordinance, only that it is on the books. And I failed to mention that unlike in PHL where I call home most of the week, DC cab drivers charge a $1 fee to use credit cards. That more than covered the 3% fee on my $10 trek across town.

I'd love to think the folks read my little article, but I doubt it! I'm just thankful the one guy remembered me--I think that saved the day.

@Rapid Travel Chai: Thanks for your comment! Sounds like you were fortunate they let you on the flight. I think most UA folks would have said "heck no" unless it was explicitly clear in their GDS that you could get a visa on arrival!

@matt: I did entertain that thought, but didn't have a copy of the regulation handy and didn't want to make life more difficult than it already was.

#6
Franklyn Miller March 3, 2012 at 04:54 pm

Very simple solution to the "Credit card machine doesn't work" issue. I do this all the time in NYC "Listen, you should have said when I got in the cab your CC machine doesn't work. I don't have to ask if it works, I get to assume it works. I don't have cash, you either get it working or you don't get paid."

Magically the machine works.

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