Wednesday, February 02, 2011

St. George Street: the patron saint of quality quackery

St. George Street is one of my favourite streets in Toronto. It runs north-south from Dundas to Dupont. It's nice because of the quiet streets, old houses, University of Toronto and proximity to Chinatown and the Annex. For the most part, it's quiet, a street of leisure (ie not business-oriented) and rather beautiful.

Then there's the stretch of St. George from Harbord to Bernard. At Harbord you have the University of Toronto's Robarts library, a 14-storey concrete peacock that no one would willingly visit, then a palatial Scientology building at Lowther, and then the Chinese consulate at Bernard.

I visited the consulate twice in the last two days, spending four hours there. Here are my observations:

1) The building requires ID to enter. This performs no obvious function other than the appearance of security. It's a good example of China's nascent rise to match America for superpower paranoia and security theatre. The American consulate on University Avenue added protection against car bombs a few years ago, so China still has a long way to go, though I remember metal detectors at all subway stations in Beijing and at bus and train stations all across the country.

2) The visa section of the consulate is a complete disaster, roughly on par with trying to board a train at a Chinese megacity. When I walked into the room, it was filled with people. There were no signs, in English or Chinese, indicating which windows did what. The act of moving in the room required pushing people away. At one point, a couple lined up in the winding line just to be told that this 20-deep line was for the photocopier, not visa applications.

3) There are two windows for picking up visas, two windows offering consular services to Chinese citizens, and three for visa applications. For visa applications, two people dealt with travel agents clutching passports by the dozens, and one dealt with ordinary people.

4) I waited one hour and forty minutes in line to be served for one minute. People occupied windows for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, for reasons I don't understand at all.

5) Lest anyone forget what a dodgy government this is, even in Canada, the Chinese government is not above stealing the passports of Canadians it doesn't like.

6) The only pleasant part of the experience was the constant Falun Gong protest outside, meaningful only because this sort of thing would earn you a disappearance in China.

3 comments:

andré said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paorta said...

It actually runs from College to Dupont. And Beverly runs from College to Queen. But if you're biking you might as well turn left at the crosswalk before Queen and head down John to the Rogers Centre.

Adeel said...

Thanks for the catch.