The Letter

Ben at Pike Place Market
Seattle, USA
January 28, 2010

Out of habit, I first peeped inside the mailbox before climbing the steps to my parents' front door. I didn't know what time of day their mail was delivered. Most of my mail goes directly to my Chinatown studio; I wasn't assuming there would be anything sent to me at the home I grew up in. But there it was: a manila envelope addressed to my full name, bearing the Canadian Consulate as its return address. This was the letter I had been anticipating for the last three months.

I had no clue whether the contents would be good news or bad. I decided to not open it right away. I dangled the letter from my other hand while unlocking the front door--then contemplated what words might be inside over the short walk upstairs to Mom's room. I reasoned that the envelope was full enough and of large-enough size that it was probably good news. A rejection of my immigration application would likely be terse--and therefore sent in a smaller, letter-sized envelope.

I expected one of two possible openings:

Though she was expecting me, Mom was in the middle of a nap when I arrived.

"How are you doing?", I asked generically.

"Not so well today," Mom replied honestly. "Not much energy..."

"Oh. I'm sorry. Well, I'll let you rest, then."

Mom did wake herself up enough to make basic conversation but still seemed foggy. I told her to keep on resting. Before long, I mentioned the letter and asked if she wanted to know what was inside.

"Yeah... sure!"

Her curiosity seemed piqued. Mine was burning.

I tore the seal open. I was correct that the letter was either a rejection or continuation of my application, but I was wrong about the salutation. The letter didn't address me specifically, but opened with a mere, "Dear applicant:"

It continued on:

"This refers to your application for permanent residence in Canada.

"In order to continue processing your application, we need the following items..."

Whew. I let out a relieved chuckle and shared the good news with Mom.

Since the letter arrived I've been following its directions. Providing two recent, passport-sized photographs won't be difficult. Sending my fingerprints off to the FBI along with a "certified cheque or money order for $18 USD" was more involved, but I've already taken care of that matter in one brief afternoon. The sticky part appears to be the medical examination. There are only two clinics in the State of Washington which have a "designated medical practitioner" who can administer physical exams for Canadian immigration. I called the first one listed.

"Hi. Do you perform physicals for Candadian immigration?"

"Yes we do."

"Can you tell me when you would have an opening and how much it costs?"

"We could get you in next week. The total will be $380."

"$380! Uh. Err. Yeah, let me check my calendar and I'll call you back."

This amount was way more than I expected. I've actually gone in for this physical exam before. Twice. The first time I made a trip to Beijing, the second time to Almaty. As the red tape delaying my application keeps stretching out my medical results keep expiring.

I paid about $220 USD the first time I had the physical. I made the trip to Beijing specifically to get it done. The nearest approved doctor to where I lived (Urumqi) was thousands of miles away, in Chengdu. Though it was farther to travel, there were better connections to Beijing--and Zach was willing to host me for days-on-end.

So, I thought it was a bargain the second time I received instructions to get the physical done. I was about to set out on a lengthy road trip, anyway: first stop, Almaty. There happened to be an approved doctor there. I got the exam taken care of en route for a mere $135 USD. The doctor was utterly baffled as to why I was getting a physical at her hospital. "You don't live in Kazakhstan? You have an American passport? Isn't it easy for you to just go to Canada anytime you want? You're not working in Almaty? What... ?"

Befuddled as she was, she did give me a clean-enough bill of health for Canada to not dismiss me outright. Though, I was chagrined to see that she noted "obese" under "unremarkable or minor conditions."

After the sticker-shock of my first call I rang the one other clinic listed in Washington State, hoping they would charge a more reasonable amount. It was a brief conversation. The receptionist informed me that the grand total would come to $471 USD.

What alternative did I have to shelling out the dough? The letter the consulate sent did list some other approved hospitals in states they must have considered proximate. The lone Oregon location, in Portland, didn't seem an unreasonable distance to consider. But how did they determine North Dakota, South Dakota, and Alaska to be options worth mentioning?

I was about to resign myself to forking out somewhere around 400 bucks when I considered another option. The list included Canadian provinces. There were dozens of hospitals to choose from in British Columbia alone. If a doctor there charged significantly less, it might be worth making the drive up and back.

I rang all the numbers bearing addresses in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. Most of them gave rates of around $230 Canadian dollars--which would work out to an even smaller figure when converted to USD. This option might work.

I called Ben up:

"Hey, Ben. I've got a favor to ask. It involves the red car you inherited from Grampa. Want to make a road-trip next week?"

"Sure! That sounds like fun..."

Monday morning we hit the road. I have a 3:30 appointment. And while we're in town, I'm hoping to finally square my dim sum debt to Tiffany.