Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This Illegal Immigration Thing

This Illegal Immigration Thing

Back in September and October 2000, I went on "spring break" while an exchange student at the University of the Western Cape near Cape Town, South Africa.

All of the group had student visas glued inside our passports. I recall having quite a long wait that July for my passport to come back to me after I mailed it off to the South African Consulate in Chicago (even now, their Chicago branch office has no website of its own!). Most of us were US citizens, one was German. We spent a couple days in Namibia during our spring break safari, then re-entered South Africa at a different Customs station.

At the border, we had no problem with Namibian border control agents, but at the South African station, we all were given crap because our study permits said "Single Entry Permitted."

So, an additional notice was glued into each of our passports that said "Report to Home Affairs."

For those seven days or so between when we re-entered SA, continued our trek, then came back to Cape Town and started classes again, we each may have been considered "illegal immigrants" of a sort.

Of course, once I figured out where the nearest Home Affairs branch office was, in a non-descript office building in the business district of Bellville (not Belleville), it was pretty quickly straightened out. Single-entry did not prevent you from leaving the country for a few days and then coming right back; it just meant you could not try to come back after your visa had expired.

Yes, I was probably treated better -- and certainly, in an expedited manner -- because I was a white foreigner, an American no less, who had shelled out a couple hundred bucks for my student visa. (My scholarships pretty much covered all the costs, although I'm still not 100% sure I was billed correctly by UWC for the dorm room, but I digress...)

Actually, I was able to leave the Home Affairs office, walk across the street to the local library, hang out for an hour, then walk back over to Home Affairs to pick up my passport, with yet another notice glued inside, with something to the effect of "Landed incorrectly on Visitor Visa" and citing some legislation/code number.

Bureaucracy at its finest!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gobble Gobble!

Gobble Gobble!

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! While the forecast of snow might be OK, the sleet I could do without.

You may ask "Where have you been?" Good question. It's been incredibly busy lately, both at work and with other stuff. Sure, I need to make time to blog... but I also need to make time to do a million other things that I'm not doing.

Some of my experiences over the last month have included:

* Spending several days in Washington DC and Northern Virginia for a professional conference. While the sessions were informative, the more fun part was exploring the city on foot and on the Metro. Those stations are so space-agey inside, and huge compared to the MetroLink stations. I am still unsure whether I prefer the turnstile-system, which the DC Metro has, over the honor system used here. Both have pluses and minuses, I guess. One think the DC system has, like the older traditional subway and El systems in other big cities, is attendants in glass booths at most of the stations. We certainly don't have that. However, the DC system does have some sections outside the central business district that operate at-grade, rather than in a subway. So in that sense, it is more like our system than a traditional urban subway.

Of course, given the high cost of housing and transportation in the DC area, I'm not sure it's somewhere I'd want to live anytime in the near future. I actually stayed at a hotel in Crystal City, a 1960s-planned community within Arlington, VA where all the buildings are connected with underground passageways to each other and to the Metro station. So, for that much at least, it was a pretty convenient place.

On the last night there, our organization sponsored a reception for members of Congress and their staffers, in one of the House office buildings. Afterwards, the place was so locked down we had quite a time figuring out which doors we could actually exit without setting off the alarms! Then we had to make our way from there to the nearest Metro stop. And I had dinner plans after that, which involved transferring at Metro Center -- where the crowds were incredibly huge -- to take the Red Line up to DuPont Circle. Later I found out about a shortcut.

Still, one night I walked up and down Pennsylvania Ave from the Capitol to the White House. Of course, you cannot really get anywhere near the White House; there's only one little spot where you can kinda see the front from the Ellipse side. And even though there were plenty of homeless people sleeping on benches outside various Federal office buildings along Pennyslvania, I felt pretty safe walking along there. Granted, I'm not sure any of those night watch guards at the various Federal buildings, the Canadian Embassy, etc. would do anything if something did happen, but it certainly seemed safer than you'd generally expect DC to be.

On the other hand, I had dinner with a cousin who lives in one of the inner-ring Maryland suburbs, a couple blocks outside the DC line, and she mentioned friends who live near the Washington Navy Yard just south of the Capitol complex who'd been mugged, etc. So despite the rapid gentrification and concomitant rise in housing prices in parts of the District, there's still a ways to go.

The other thing I noticed is how many of the ads on the Metro were from major Federal contractors -- especially at the stops at and near The Pentagon. It kinds of illuminates the obstacles that my small business clients have in even getting noticed; they certainly could not afford such an ad blitz.

* Several long drives for work after flying back from DC; one each week for the past several weeks. First, Columbia for a meeting at MU. Then, a presentation in Farmington. Then, a two-day overnight meeting at Big Cedar Lodge, located south of Branson near the Arkansas border. We also went to Cape Girardeau, but that was for my birthday, so I didn't have to drive that time. ;-)

After all that time on the highway, I'm glad we're just going a few miles for Thanksgiving!