Play tourist in ottawa I

Well, as the Occupy Wall Street movement raged and endured batons + pepper sprays, global capitalism never missed a beat. Starting from? The English.

On my first day in the city I discovered first-hand that the English consulate in Montreal is nothing more than 2 closed glass doors on the top of an office building downtown. Supposedly, its sole function is to serve the English nationals who make investments in Montreal. Last example I can think of that notion, the Brits were dropping bombs in Normandy. If not for the Americans and a few Canadians as well, the Brits would’ve been driven into the English channel by the Germans for a second Dunkulk. And their heavy bomb investment would’ve made no better than the Lehman brother’s mortgage bets. But sorry I digress.  Now, rhetoric aside, the English do have a good reason. Back in 1970, in an a series of events dubbed “October crisis”, the independent activists of Quebecois kidnapped an English diplomat in Montreal  and demanded an exchange of political prisoners. (for more details on the only peace time War Measure Act in effect in Canada, here is your wiki link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_Crisis)  Well, I can’t really blame the English for holding a grudge, it was only 40 years ago. Northern Ireland, anyone? OK, I should shut up, there may be a few English men in the audience.

Consequently, I need to go to the nearest post, Ottawa for an appointment.  As I explored my options on the internet, it appeared that, the Brits at the consulates do not see applicants in person anymore. All “personal” contacts have been outsourced through a commercial entity, the World Bridge. OK, fine, since that’s my only option, I happily handed over $150 online just to have “an appointment” with a World Bridge “officer”.

The day started when I woke up at an ungodly hour to catch the 2nd bus outbound for Ottawa. If you have never driven on a Canadian highway, it is just like the US highway, minus the cars. I counted about 2 cars per minute before I fell asleep from heavy boredom. It was not until 5 minutes outside Ottawa, I started to see a reasonable traffic flow, semi-resembling a lazy afternoon through Amherst MA.

Now don’t be fooled, traffic jams in cities can be as bad as DC rush hour. I walk by a thru-city parking lot called Rt15 everyday in Montreal. But once outside, there are probably more moose than cars.

Anyway, so I arrived 15 minutes early as instructed to see this “Officer”.  My expectation was high since I paid $150 for a 15 minute appointment, a rate even the 1% would envy.  I checked and rechecked everything before I left for the 2 hour bus ride. Now, I am standing in this pristine lobby of an office building downtown Ottawa, took a deep breath and checked in to get a security badge.  As most things in life, the higher the expectation, the more disappointed one ends up. The officer was obviously in a hurry so he powered through everything in 10 minutes. One picture, ten digital finger prints, staple together the support documents, stuff my passport and legal papers in an envelope, another 300$ for visa fees and expedite service. Then I was out of the door. For all three of my visa related questions, I received the same answer 3 times “as long as you followed the online instructions, you are fine.” Well, it was too late then to pretend I didn’t speak English. but oh well, I guess at least I am doing my part to stimulate the Euro economy. Oh wait, the damn Brits are not even in the bailout program.

As I carried the envelope stuffed with all my neatly stapled legal documents downstairs to the DHL service. Yup, even with a $600/hour rate, I don’t get to leave it with the company.  I couldn’t help but feeling cheated. Well, there are a lot of disadvantages not being born in the “right” country, eh? The Brits charge the same rate for most Asian/African citizens.

I believe there is more common ground than not between societies. You throw money at a problem and get some stamps in the end. Except that, in a capitalist country, you pay an entity and get a receipt; in less savory places, you hand it to a couple of shady individuals with or without names and you certainly don’t get a receipt.  In the end, shit may get done somehow.

Since now I have 6 hours to kill before my bus ride. I wondered into an afternoon of fun in Ottawa, a small and quaint government town.

(PS The British did mail back my visa stamp in 4 days, expedite indeed. So I considered that $450 well spent. On the other hand, the Swiss was much more pleasant despite their 14 hour work week. I was able to hand in my application without my passport, and speak to a lovely quadruple lingual officer who looked over the entire application on the spot. After I brought in the passport and $84 CAD, the visa was in my hands within a week. They are so efficient that they only gave me 2 weeks leeway at the end of my trip, while the Brits gave me 6 months. I guess you get what you pay for.)