There are Oceans and Waves and Wires Between Us

Kenny and I have been planning a winter break trip to Vietnam and Cambodia (and by planning, I mean that we bought plane tickets back in June. Aside from that, we haven’t done much). But lately it seemed that forces were conspiring against us and our trip. (Warning: this is a long story. I won’t be offended if you don’t read it. But I’ve told it verbally so many times now I thought I might as well write it down).

Although Vietnam has been attempting to stimulate its growing tourism industry, they have yet to abolish the visa requirement for most countries (rumor has it this will happen in a few years). Applying for a Vietnam visa in the US involves sending your passport to the embassy in Washington, D.C., along with an application, a money order to cover the visa fee (no personal checks accepted), and a postage pre-paid return envelope. While I was a bit apprehensive about sending our passports through the postal system, there didn’t seem to be any better alternatives, and none of our friends who had done the same had experienced any issues. So off they went to the office in D.C., with visa fees to cover two multiple-entry visas (twice the price of single-entry; we need these for our side trip to Cambodia).

Processing of our applications was actually quite expedient, and less than two weeks later, Kenny arrived home from work to find our passports in our mailbox. There was only one problem, that I noticed when he showed me our passports with newly minted visas later that evening — we had been issued single-entry visas instead of multiple-entry.

We spent the next several days trying to reach the Vietnamese embassy by telephone and email. They are only open for a subset of normal business hours (EST), they take a break for lunch, and even when they are open the line is often busy. When Kenny finally got through, he explained the situation and was instructed to send our passports back to D.C. with a note explaining the mistake and another pre-paid return envelope. I wrote a letter and we sent them back the next day, this time with Delivery Confirmation for both ways so that we could track the package on each leg of its journey. I was a little bit apprehensive about timing — it was already early November and we were supposed to leave for Vietnam on December 14 — but unless something went wrong again, we should have enough wiggle room.

I felt less nervous when, upon tracking the package a few days later, we noticed that it had already arrived at the embassy, been processed, and been put back in the mail to us. It left Dulles on November 8. I tracked it again on November 12, and noticed that the status had been updated to “Delivered” on November 10. I was a bit confused by this, since we hadn’t seen the package in our box, but Kenny reasoned that “Delivered” probably meant “delivered to local post office,” and that we should sit tight a bit longer, especially since mail delivery could’ve been slow due to Veteran’s Day.

Still nothing a couple of days later, so I sent an email out to our homeowner’s association to check whether anyone had gotten our package by mistake (this happens all the time). I heard back from almost everyone pretty quickly, and I reached a few others by phone or in person. No one had seen it.

It turns out it’s impossible to get a phone number for your local post office. The best I could do was call the central USPS customer service line and explain the situation. The gentleman from USPS looked up the status of my package and said, “yes, miss, it looks like your package was delivered on November 10.” I told him, “I know, that’s what I saw on the USPS website, but I haven’t seen the package. Do you have any record of where it was delivered to?” “No miss, only that it was delivered.” He opened a support ticket for me and told me I would get a call from the Capitol Hill post office. Which I did, the very same night. The conversation I had with the postmaster was very similar to the one I had with the customer service rep. Her records showed that the package was delivered, I insisted that I hadn’t seen it. She even got the mail carrier on the line, who swore up and down that she had delivered the package (which seemed suspect to me for two reasons: our normal mail carrier is a male; and with all the packages that mail carriers deliver each day, would they really remember each individual package they delivered and whether each one made it into the correct box?)

So much for the USPS, we were running out of time and we figured that someone else had already skipped town with our passports dressed in Lauren and Kenny costumes. Kenny put in a rush order (3-5 days) for a copy of his birth certificate (fortunately I had mine). I made an appointment with the downtown Seattle passport office to apply for expedited passports on Tuesday (the day before we left for LA for Thanksgiving) — we figured we’d have Kenny’s birth certificate by then.

We were now getting very nervous about timing. Even if we did get our new passports within 14 business days of applying, that wouldn’t leave enough time for new visas. Maybe we should fly down to San Francisco and get them in person at the consulate there? We also read about a service that issues visas that can be picked up at the Hanoi airport, so we tentatively planned on doing that (although we couldn’t apply for anything until we knew our new passport numbers). We also came up with a contingency plan:

  • We would arrive at Hanoi, and plan to pick up our visas there.
  • If for some reason something went wrong and there were no visas for us in Hanoi, we’d fly to Phnom Penh and enjoy the Cambodian part of our vacation a couple weeks early. While there, we’d apply for new Vietnam visas (it is supposed to be easy to get Vietnam visas in Cambodia).
  • If that failed, we’d ditch the Vietnam plan altogether and go to Thailand.

All in all, it didn’t seem like such a bad plan. We’ve been meaning to visit Thailand anyway. High class problems, eh?

This past Sunday (two days before our downtown passport appointment), we saw our next-door neighbor walking into his condo carrying a huge pile of mail. Kenny even looked over at him and said pseudo-bitterly to me, “he has a Priority Mail envelope, why can’t we get one?” When we got up to our door a minute later, we noticed a Priority Mail envelope sitting our doorstep — the same one we had seen our neighbor carrying. The address was written in my handwriting. It was the return envelope we had sent along with our passports to D.C. We opened it, and our passports were inside, with brand new multiple-entry visas.

Kenny knocked on our neighbor’s door, and when he answered, gave him a big hug. Our neighbor looked a bit sheepish and said, “sorry guys, I haven’t checked my mail in a week.”

He had been the first to respond to my email to the homeowner’s association letting me know that he hadn’t seen anything. I would’ve thought that he would have checked his f*&%ing mailbox before telling me he hadn’t received my package, but really, I was too relieved to be angry.

Anyway, if you’ve actually read this far, everything is resolved. We leave for Vietnam on December 14, as originally planned, and we’ll be able to make our side trip to Cambodia.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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