I don't think I have ever been to an embassy before yesterday. I know I've seen them in Washington DC, but I don't think I've ever been inside one. The only memory I have of an embassy is from Budapest, Hungary, when my parents and I saw the US Embassy and tried taking a picture. Apparently you aren't supposed to do that, as we were quickly told to put the camera away and keep moving. We watched cars get searched with mirrors underneath for explosives, and there were elaborate gates with those spiky things to pop tires if you go the wrong way, and of course there was armed security everywhere.
When I was in Cambodia, I was told the US Embassy was the most expensive building in the entire city, which doesn't surprise me. Apparently when James and Leah fist moved in they were invited for things like a 4th of July picnic every year, but slowly those events stopped happening. Today, an American citizen cannot enter Embassy grounds unless they have made an appointment 2 days in advance. That seems crazy to me, as I always thought one reason embassies are there is for emergencies, as a safe-haven for American citizens should anything occur while traveling.
But what I didn't realize is that US Embassies seem to be the only ones changing all their rules. Yesterday I spent the morning at the Vietnam Embassy. Considering Vietnam is a communist country, I always figured they would have a tough security process to get into the embassy, not to mention get a meeting for a visa application. But I was completely wrong.
We wandered around a neighborhood trying to find the Vietnam Embassy, through what looked like million dollar homes each with fountains in front and gates around the property. When we reached the address, the only thing different about the Embassy and the other homes was that a Vietnam flag was flying out front. The gate was open, there were zero guards, and people were coming and going as they pleased. We thought the second we tried going inside we would be stopped, but we didn't see anyone who looked like they worked there, so we wandered in.
There was a nice lounge area, with a few chairs, but no receptionist and still no security. There was a really nice staircase going upstairs, but a small sign printed on a regular sheet of paper taped to the railing said "Staff Only", and still no guards. There was a door to what looked like offices, with some people working who didn't seem to mind us wandering and looking lost. And there was one room that said "Visa's Here", once again printed on a regular sheet of paper taped to the door.
We filled out the form, found 2 employees taking applications, collecting passports, and accepting the fees, and we were done the entire process in under 10 mins. We never saw security guards or cameras, we were never stopped from wandering around on our own, and we were never searched for explosives or weapons or anything as I imagine would be done at the US Embassy.
It seemed very weird to me that a country like Vietnam, a communist country that has barely opened its doors to the world in the last 20 years, would allow anyone to walk in and look around the embassy without ever being approached by an employee. And a country like the US, who historically has been open to freedom since its birth, wouldn't even allow it's own citizens inside the gates (not to mention the actual embassy) without a prior appointment. Seems a bit backwards, don't you think?