By Ying Xin
As a Chinese passport holder, you could learn a lot when applying for a visa to travel. One word for this: unpredictable. One rule: never leave your passport at an embassy when it is uncertain if they will or will not issue a visa for you. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
I'm a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest dance company in the world, internationally well known. We travel all around the world. And, this summer we are touring in Europe- Italy, Greece, and Turkey. After that we are going to Canada.
It all started when I got my first O1 visa sticker in Beijing. It was a 3 month (with one single entry) visa. This means after I use my single entry (returning from China to America) and I travel to another country (after America), I have to get a new visa to come back into America again, when I'm ready to come home. So, I had to get a new visa while on this European tour. Greece was the best city of choice for me to get my visa in since we would spend most of the time on tour there. So, I finished my application form called 'DS160' and made an appointment for 8 am, the morning of June 30th in Athens. My BFF, Natasha, went there with me. There, at the front of the line, one of the guards asked her "Do you have an appointment"? I swear we both heard it as "Do you have a boyfriend?" Her answer was NO in both instances. We laughed. She wasn't allowed to go in with me. So, she waited outside of the embassy, while I was inside, for 105 min. The reason I know the exact time of waiting is because she had her timer on from the moment I walked in till I came out. She got so bored that she started dancing outside of the embassy. The guards enjoyed her performance very much and they all had smiles on their faces. In the mean while I was waiting, alone, inside of the embassy. Finally my number came up at interview window #9. The moment I saw the lady who was going to interview me I knew something would go wrong. She must have had a couple bad days, or years. After I gave her all the necessary documents she said, "I need more support for your petition"! I asked her if she would like to see my award certificates, as more proof, and she said "NO". I even showed her a post card from my dance company with my picture on it- just to prove that I really am a professional dancer with performances there, in Greece. I swear that I had everything in my package of papers, and I gave it all to her. But, still, she handed me a letter and asked me to come back with more petition support. I emailed my lawyer in NY immediately, sending her the request from the embassy lady. She then faxed back to me the exact same letter that I had already given to # 9 lady at the embassy!
I went back the next day. Natasha went with me again and this time with a fully charged IPod and professional headphones. This time she waited outside for about 35 mins. I met Lady #9, still there, with the same facial expression. After checking my papers she said, "Oh, I already have these". I was screaming inside! Of course you do! This time she said she would need some time to check everything, think about it, then, maybe, she might call me back for a follow up interview. "What? What's wrong with my case"?
Staring at me, her answer was, "You know that O1 visa is for extraordinary ability".
"And I am"! I said
"Do you want to come to see my performance"? I step back a little, ready to dance for her if she needed to see. She said she was not allow to take that offer.
I didn't understand why she couldn't give me a straight answer about my visa, like YES or NO. All I got was more uncertainty for my future. She asked me if I wanted to take my passport back for now. I said, NO. Her question should've been my cue to say "YES". I said no because the idea of having my visa rejected threatened me. I ONLY WANT MY PASSPORT BACK WITH A BRAND NEW VISA STICK ON IT! That was my one and only thought that caused me to make a stupid choice...I left my passport there. Once again folks, never leave your passport behind!
I found out I was in trouble very soon after. We were to perform in different cities around Greece, we would have to take buses and flights to get around. And of course, I left my only valid ID (my passport) with the woman who didn't like me very much: Lady #9 at the Embassy. And to make it worse, it was the 4th of July long holiday weekend. I had to find a way of getting that passport back immediately!
Next, the company will travel to Thessaloniki. There I am supposed to have my premiere for a work called "Echo". But I couldn't go with them. I had to stay in Athens. I needed to get to the embassy first thing Monday morning to get my passport back, no matter what! A wonderful lady named Janis canceled her flight to Thessaloniki, and stayed with me in Athens.
|The last bus ride with the company before everyone went to Thessaloniki.|
My Executive Director, LaRue was pulling strings trying to help me get my visa. My manager, Simona, was struggling with all my other problems. My Artistic Director, Janet, and Rehearsal Director, Denise, were getting ready for back up plans A, B, and C for the casting, if I was unable to get my passport and didn't make the show.
Every dancer in the company was sending their love to me. My dear roommate Natasha arrived at the hotel in Thessoliniki and put 2 little angels above my bed to protect me. I am loved. I know.
|2 little angels on my bed.|
So, I stayed in Janis' cozy apartment in Athens for the night. I was surprised at how close it was to the cute restaurant where many of us loved to go to when we were staying in Athens. The cute waiter there recognized me and asked me where all my friends were. I was crying inside. I told him that I had something to take care of tomorrow morning and my friends were in Thessaloniki. I could tell he kinda felt bad for me from the bill I received. They gave me free wine and ice cream! That was really cool!
|Free ice cream.|
That night I was thinking a lot at Janis' place. I was thinking about all the "what ifs". There were so many possibilities but not many of them worked in my favor. Finally, I fell asleep with the musical company of Bach.
Monday morning arrived. I was going to face my destiny.
Janis came with me to the embassy and my worry about getting in without my passport went away very quickly. My name was on the list, thanks to LaRue! The guards there knew me very well now. Even the lady who hands our numbers to everyone waiting was very happy to see me again. Lol. Anyway, I waited about 30 mins this time. I was so worried about what I would say to lady #9. Soon I was called to the window. Usually, at windows 4 and 5 you hand over your papers. Then you go to interview at window 7 and 9. I thought I would just give the woman a copy of my passport at the first window and go for an interview at window 9, like before. But this time, a different lady with blonde hair was there. Apparently, she was aware of my visit. I could not thank LaRue enough! This blonde lady got up and went back to the office area. I could see she was collecting the papers I had brought in the first time along with my passport. I was thinking F!! They are going to reject me!?! They are giving everything back!! I stood there thinking it's ok, just be cool. At least I can return with my passport to Thessoliniki and stay with the whole company for rest of the European tour. She sat back down at the window and said to me, "You need to get a new passport soon. Your pages are running out". I couldn't really hear everything she exactly said to me. She opened my passport. Now, when I rethink that moment I truly believe that I saw light shinning from my passport. But the possibility that I had heard the word "visa" woke me up a little inside. "I'm sorry, what did you just say? A visa"?
She looked at me with a playful smile and pointing to the visa on my passport said, "Yes. Visa. I just printed it out a few minutes ago. You don't want it"? I was jumping for joy right there! I was so close to breaking the window to give her a kiss. She passed my passport to me and I kissed my visa so many times! I love you, America! How precious precious it is to have something that was once lost come back to you again. I leapt my way out of the embassy. I think I saw mean lady #9 on my way out. She looked great with her new curly hair cut and pretty ear rings on. She must have really needed that 4th of July long holiday weekend. She was happy. I was happy.
Everything was so amazingly bright and colorful outside of the embassy. While I waited for Janis to pick me up, I sat down at a place and asked for a fresh orange juice. The waitress told me that they didn't have anything freshly made that morning but a minute later she came back and told me they did have it and it was the last only one for that morning. "Today is your lucky day", she said to me. After that I knew everything else would work out perfectly for me. Janis and I were booked onto the next business class flight to Thessaloniki. We both took a very deep breath as soon as we were in our seats on the plane. I arrived back home to my Graham family in Thessoniliki. I missed all of their cute faces so much even just for 24 hours we were apart. My love Natasha had a bag of M&M on my bed in the hotel, welcoming me home with the sweetest little note. Thankfully,was able to make it for most of the tech rehearsal that day. I had my "Echo" premiere that night and my heart melted from all of the love surrounding me.
In China we have a saying, "Huan Nan Jian Zhen Qing (患难见真情)" it means: you will find a true friend whenever you are in need. And I did. With the love I received from my Martha Graham Dance Company Family, I quickly came to understand true friendship. I realized that their help through the difficult times I was faced with, really showed how much they care about me: "Huan Nan Jian Zhen Qing".
This was my adventure, finished with the perfect fairy tail ending. Thank you universe for giving me amazing and loving people in my life. Thank you! I will live to make every moment worth a million.
Love you all my Martha Graham family!
The happy family picture from Instagram.