Thursday, November 08, 2007

Santa's lap

The camera shutter snapped open and I stared back into it, tears brimming my lower lids. The kind assistant brushed my hair out of my eyes while helping me tilt my head slightly. She spoke words I couldn't understand as my cheeks became hot and wet. Everyone gave each other a look that said "maybe we should do this another time..."

Childhood memories of Santa's lap? I wish. No Ho-Ho-Ho-ing man sent me into this tizzy. Rather the, kindly staff of a Chinese visa office (location: my block, China), paid witness to this regressive event.

Staring down at the most recent rendition of my business reference, the visa officer looked at me with those "oh god, i'm so sorry i'm the one who has to say this" eyes and said (to Kate, who translated) "The first sentence is wrong. The paper is wrong. We need a new one."
The "new one," I learned, could not be phoned in or faxed or emailed.
It had to be hand-delivered. Again. From another town. Ok. I could handle that.
And I needed to get back on the bus right then to retrieve it. Ok, I could handle that too.
And it would cost 1500 RMB. Fine.
And we should probably just take the picture right then to get it out of the way. Fine, fine.
And...well...your head needs to be tilted a little more to the left and...

The tears start brimming. I am four years old again, on Santa's lap. I am excited to be there and I know this is important, but i can't understand what anyone is saying. Smile? Now?! This is scary!! I am confused, and why is that lady touching me??? The tears start flowing, and do not stop.

In China, I can connect with eyes but not many words. I am working with a toddler's vocabulary, and three months of straight-forward openness to every (in)experience has left me a little raw. In front of that camera lens and the unsuspecting visa staff, I finally took full ownership of what it means to employ a toddler's vocabulary, and wailed.