Surprisingly, our home exchanges in Australia and China required visa applications ahead of time, something I don’t remember ever having had to do in other countries for a short term visit. A potential visa issue hadn’t occurred to us during our trip planning, but by sheer coincidence, I recalled our kid’s misfortune during their first overseas vacation together. Our daughter-in-law was still a Taiwanese national then, and when they landed in Paris for a short holiday in the City of Light, she was refused entry into La France. It turned out Taiwanese passports are among only a handful of nationalities for which the French government requires a visa. Our poor children were unceremoniously put on the next plane back to the USA, losing all the money they had invested in this trip.
Thanks to the internet it is so easy these days to find out what one needs to know whilst sitting in a comfortable chair sipping coffee. As it quickly emerged, the visa requirements for Australia can be fulfilled electronically, for the People’s Republic not so much.
Australia offers an online visa application which, if approved is forwarded to your airline and entered into the flight manifest. You also get an email to print out if you wish. Easy-peasy! China, on the other hand, demands an in-person interview. In France, there are two designated locations one may visit, either in Paris or in Marseille. There’s none in our nearest big city, Bordeaux. My husband suggested getting the visas while in Australia, so I researched that option. The PRC apparently farms out the process to so-called Visa Service Centers and there is one conveniently located in Melbourne. I emailed them to ask if non-Australians may apply there and received a swift confirmation, potentially saving our Shanghai exchange!
The five-page application form can be filled out online and subsequently printed. You must make sure that your printer understands hànzi, meaning it needs to be enabled to print simplified Han characters because the form is bilingual. There’s also a whole slew of supporting documentation required to present during your interview, including but not limited to your round trip travel information, prove of income, and if you stay at a private residence as in a home exchange, a letter of invitation from your host. Even though travel restrictions have softened considerably since those times when supervised group travel was the norm, one must still be mindful of a lot of detail.
Also online, I had selected the 11:00 to 11:30 timeslot on Tuesday, February 7 for our visa interview. Since one has to take the tram to get from the CBD to the St. Kilda district in which the service center is located, we used our first Monday in Melbourne for a practice run. After a short walk, we arrived at a very busy arterial with trams and busses seemingly moving every which way. But which line, which direction was ours? People our age get easily confused in new situations, you know. But after only a few seconds of perplexity, an orange-vested helper angel materialized in front of us and pointed out the proper tram for our journey. Our hosts had kindly provided us with loaded “myki cards” and explained how to use them. Public transportation is cash-free & ticket-less in Melbourne, instead one uses the myki card, a credit card-sized smart card with which one “touches on” after boarding. The official instructions state that one should also “touch off” before disembarking, however, both our host and the orange angel said not to do so and who am I to argue with an angel?
We enjoyed the passing Melbourne sites along the 16 tram stops and found our destination quite easily. Once at the visa service center, we learned that we could have submitted our paperwork right then and there. Contrary to their website instructions, they actually do allow walk-ons. Go figure. Instead, we started walking back toward the CBD till it simply got too hot for urban hikes and we jumped back on the tram.
At our stop, we got temporarily disoriented and walked sort of in the wrong direction. Let’s just say we took the long way home and were thus not only awarded with additional exercise but also with some amazing contemporary architecture. First, we encountered the Green Brain, also lovingly referred to as Green Snot.
Then we found the New Academic Street.
Meet the Swanston Academic Building, a state-of-the-art eleven story academic facility. It was awarded 5* sustainability rating by the Green Building Council of Australia. You’ll see the details in the link.
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is a public university which was founded in 1887 as the Working Men’s College of Melbourne with an enrolment of 320 trades students. That student body has since climbed to 83 000 and the RMIT university ranks 16th globally in art and design. It is also interesting to note that the majority of designers/architects involved in the Au$700 million New Academic Street project are RMIT graduates.
The seamless mashing of old and contemporary gets a five-star rating from me!