Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the last two pages

So, I just got my new B2 business visa, and now that I have it, I can stay in Laos for a year and come and go as I please. Getting it was a bit of a story that I have reserved only for my friends and acquaintances on Facebook, most of whom I know personally. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but dealing with passport issues can be scary.

For example, I thought I wouldn't get let into Malaysia this past winter:

We were coming from Singapore and the Singapore immigration officials had told me, each time we went in and out of Singapore, that I needed to get a new passport. I thought they were just being anal. I mean, Singapore is where they used to stamp SHIT in your passport if you were a Suspected Hippie In Transit. So I just said "Thanks for the warning, and the mint," while to myself I was thinking, "What, no gum?"

So we get to Malaysia and they just kind of look at my passport and scratch their heads. The sexy but demure Muslim woman in the jersey- cotton headscarf uniform calls over the balding guy with the glasses. The guy waves for me to follow him and I go with him into a little side room. Valerie comes too.

I'm thinking maybe they are taking issue with my name because I'm a yid and Israelis aren't allowed in Malaysia. Or maybe it's just a routine customs check. I hope they don't think we have drugs. I wasn't really prepared for the whole rubber glove treatment.

But the guy just thumbs through the last two pages and shrugs his shoulders and laughs. I laugh too. Valerie just looked at me like I was crazy. He points to the empty pages and says "finished." It slowly dawned on me. He needed a bribe.

"No... not finished.. See?" I tapped the pages a little too abruptly. Valerie gave me a warning "Isaac..." The guy repeated, "Isaac- Muslim name." "Yes, Muslim name!" I said and laughed.

Picking up the passport, he laughed and said "cannot stamp- finished... see?" and handed it back to me. I looked closely. In tiny print on the sides of the last two pages it said "For additional pages only- do not emboss" or something to that effect.

"Oh! Now I understand! Oh, woops! I was wondering why they kept telling me I needed a new passport in Singapore. You see I blah blah blah..."

I carried on like this for too long until the guy just stamped my passport on the last page. What else could he do? He waved us through with a smile.

I felt like a schmuck. Valerie said "Maybe it's best in those kind of situations to just be quiet and find out what they want." She was right. But we made it into the country with smiles all around.

But now the problem was getting to the next country. I needed more pages!

So we went to the US consulate where I was told I would have to get a whole new passport. It wasn't because the passport was disheveled from living in my back pocket. Nor was it that I had handwritten on the first page ,"In case of death please donate my organs" which had prompted at least one US border guard to ask if I planned to die overseas. It was because the lamination over the photo had a tiny crack in it. So tiny.

Ten days later, my new passport arrived with an RFID chip embedded in it and pictures of the buffalo and Native Americans that were wiped out by previous generations of Americans. Having read that RFID chips are fairly insecure, I now carry my passport wrapped in tinfioil to match my proverbial tinfoil hat.

Of course, if someone wanted to copy my passport, they would have had ample opportunity when it was out of my hands for the Lao visa, as my friend Matthew recently pointed out. I hadn't thought of that. Eh, what are you gonna do?

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