Anna had been extremely stressed about yesterday’s appointment with the US Embassy so we decided to have a pretty chilled weekend.
Saturday was spent looking around town in Bonn, retail therapy helps Anna relax. Nothing spectacular, but Sunday we did something that we had been planning to do for quite a while, but haven’t been able to fit in; We took a cruise up the Rhine. Sure, the weather was terrible, but we might not have many more chances. For those not in the know, The Rhine is a European river that begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Austrian, Swiss- Liechtenstein border, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the Rhineland and eventually empties into the North Sea in the Netherlands. It is the second longest river in Central and Western Europe (after the Danube), at about 1,230 km (760 mi). The reason we wanted to see it? Well, according, again, to Wikipedia:
The Rhine and the Danube formed most of the northern inland frontier of the Roman Empire and, since those days, the Rhine has been a vital and navigable waterway carrying trade and goods deep inland. The many castles and fortifications along the Rhine testify to its importance as a waterway in the Holy Roman Empire. In the modern era, it has become a symbol of German Romantic nationalism.
In layman’s terms? There are heaps of cool castles and ruins. Now, you need to remember that Anna was stressed about the appointment the next day and was not in a particularly good mood. We got to the river just before midday, bought our tickets for the 12:40pm boat and grabbed a bite to eat. However, our food took a while to come and we missed our boat. The lady at he ticket office said there wasn’t a problem, just jump on the next boat, it just meant we wouldn’t have as long in any towns that we stop off in. That wasn’t really a problem, because these towns were tiny and we weren’t in the market for lace. Anyhow, here are some of the sites along the way:
It was cold, windy and drizzling for the most part, but it was a nice, relaxing Sunday which allowed Anna to unwind. Upon our return to Bonn we had dinner, a few drinks and caught an early night. We would need it for…
Our Appointment at the U.S. Embassy
Anna has had a job placement in the US organised for at least 12 months. There were several options for the location; New York, Baltimore, Washington, Boston and North Carolina were the main ones and she decided on New York, it was a prestigious organisation and the lifestyle would be great. The job was sorted and Anna also has family in New York that are now helping us find an apartment. We just need that little detail known as a “visa”.
It was now 6:45am on Monday and Anna was really starting to freak out. When you are applying for a U.S. working visa you are given an exceptionally long list of documents to bring besides the official paperwork and other guidelines, but the list is not exhaustive. These included, among others:
- Appointment confirmation
- Bank statements
- Visa fee transfer statement
- Marriage Certificate
- Work contract for both Singapore and New York
- Photos of a specific size that are different to all other visa and passport-sized photos (check the information about photos in the picture, right)
Some of the questions asked in their own paperwork (left) are just brilliant! Here are a couple of my personal favourites that all people applying for a working visa are required to answer:
- “Are you coming to the United States to engage in prostitution or unlawful commercialised vice or have you been engaged in prostitution or procuring prostitutes in the last 10 years?”
- “Have you ever engaged in the recruitment of child soldiers?”
- “Have you ever been directly involved the coercive transplantation of human organs or bodily tissue?”
To feel a need to put these questions in an official document means they must happen a lot, but, if you were guilty of any of these, who in their right mind would answer these questions truthfully? Well, we could both answer “No” to all of them honestly. Now, Anna is an extremely organised woman, but she was a little worried as she didn’t have our original marriage certificate, only a scanned copy. She found out this was a requirement not long before the interview, leaving us very little time to get it sent over. I guess time would tell whether we needed it or not…
The US embassy is in Frankfurt, our appointment was at 11:45am, but it was a two-hour train ride from Bonn to Frankfurt and the trains only run every hour or two. This meant that we would need to leave Bonn at around 8:00am, but this would make us a little too early, because, if you look at their list of instructions (right), you also can’t arrive more than 30 minutes early. Furthermore, you can’t bring anything with Google Maps on it, so you either need to find out and memorise the route to the embassy or research how long it will take to get there by cab. We did the latter and the time frame we were given was 15-30 minutes, depending on the traffic. We arrived at the station in Frankfurt at 10:00am. Our appointment was at 11:45, but we couldn’t arrive any earlier than 11:15, so this gave us some time to kill. We found a locker at the train station for our phones and keys, because there is nowhere to store them at the embassy and they don’t want you to be occupied while you are standing around, waiting.
We grabbed a cup of coffee and some bagels at a café that looked like it was run by Steve-O (left) and then slowly made our way through the train station to the taxi rank. Train stations and surrounding areas around the world are usually pretty low brow, but Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof was particularly seedy. There was an overwhelming stench of sewerage the second we got off the train, toothless junkies wandering around everywhere and going through the bins and drunks passed out on the floor, completely unconscious. Outside were endless sex shops and strip clubs, plus more alcoholics, junkies and other assorted human faecal matter, both figuratively and literally speaking. We jumped in a cab and made our way to the embassy, arriving about half an hour before our appointment, but not a second more. The frustrating thing with U.S. embassies is that they make you wait outside. I don’t know if it is more paranoia or just a power-trip, but this seems a little unreasonable, especially when it is about 14ºC (57ºF) and raining, with very little shelter. Still, if we were at the U.S. embassy in Singapore it would be around 33ºC (91ºF) with 99% humidity and either scorching sun or monsoonal, pouring rain. I’d be fine with the heat, but Anna hates it and was already in the shits. We waited in the rain for about 20 minutes before we eventually got to wait in a sheltered area, where we were asked to remove any belts, jewellery, metal, etc. and place them in a plastic bag. I did so, took my bag in one hand, hoisted up my pants with the other and made my way to the next security check. Next was an x-ray for our bags and a metal-detector for us, similar to what happens when checking in for a flight. We went to the first counter where everything went smoothly for me, but not so much for Anna; Anna has both an English name, Anna (duh!), and a Chinese name, Cheng Sim. In Chinese culture, the surname comes first, making her Chinese name Tan Cheng Sim and her full name Anna Tan Cheng Sim. This can cause confusion on legal documents that require first, middle and last names, as it is written differently on her passport, but we got it sorted in the end. The next step was to take a seat in an indoor waiting area in the next building. I’m still not sure why we were required to wait outside for so long when there was such a large waiting area with 299 seats. I’m also not sure why they couldn’t just fit one more seat in there. While we were sitting around we saw two interesting things inside the embassy:
- There was a U.S. tourism campaign that had posters with phrases such as “See it” and “Feel it”. The poster for “Taste it” had a picture of Japanese curry rice. Not particularly American fare, and…
- A Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream booth. Now THAT is traditional American fare.
We were eventually called up and we went through the next stage of the interview process completely hassle-free and then we were out of there with the assurance that our visas had been approved. Looks like we’re definitely moving to New York City on the 1st of July. Anna was back to her old, smiley self again, so we thought we’d go explore Frankfurt, but if we hadn’t we wouldn’t have missed much.
I might’ve taken a few more photos while we were in Frankfurt, but this city had nothing that the other German cities we have been to don’t have and, also, I was worried about some bum stealing my phone. Still, we wandered around, looking at all the shops we would look at in an average day in Bonn with the added adventure of weaving through the beggars and dodging the hoards of junkies. After a few hours the shops were closing and it was getting late. We had two options for how to get back to Bonn; We could take the express train that we came on in the morning or we could take a scenic route that was about an hour longer, plus we’d have to change trains, but we’d get to see more castles and ruins. We took option B, the scenic route, stopped off in a very old pub for some dinner and a couple of drinks before making our way back to Bonn. Here’s what we saw on the way back:
Overall, our trip to the U.S. embassy wasn’t anywhere near as stressful as we expected. Now we just need to wait for our passports to return, which usually takes a week, but there is another public holiday this week, which could ruin our planned return trip to Utrecht. For those of you wondering how many public holidays there have been since we moved here at the beginning of April, here goes:
- April 3rd – Good Friday
- April 6th – Easter Monday
- May 1st – May Day
- May 14th – Ascension day
- May 25th – Pentecost Monday
- June 4th – Corpus Cristi
We definitely came here at the right time of year. Also, I’m up to 194/200 different beers, but, because we are moving to New York, this is what I have to look forward to: