Since I’d landed back in Manila, I decided to brave the Immigration Office. I had planned to get my visa extended in one of the smaller provincial offices to avoid the rumored headache of the main branch. I rocked up just before 8 a.m., filled out the paperwork, got chatty with a young guy from California, was friendly with the clerk who did my intake, had to beg 30 pesos off my new friend (why did I buy that water?!) to pay the inflated fees, and settled in for my one-hour wait. End relatively-normal-bureaucratic-process.
Eventually I saw the two men who had been in front of me in line walk up to the receiving window, take their passports, and float out the front door. Since I possess a small degree of common sense, I figured it was my turn. I went up to the window with my receipt in hand. The keeper of this space was seated a few meters away in a chair, facing the window, reading a newspaper. Early 50’s, greasy comb-over, pudgy, glasses. He casually glanced up, saw me, and went back to reading his paper. He turned the page, glanced up again, and continued reading. Eventually, he undertook the laborious task of folding his newspaper very precisely, making sure all the pages were exactly aligned. He heaved a big sigh and ambled over to the window. “Yes?” I handed him my receipt and he reached into a tray where my passport was sitting. Just before his hand landed on the worn, blue cover, he withdrew, peered at the receipt, and announced, “You still have two more minutes.” He abruptly thrust the receipt back at me and turned away. ARE YOU KIDDING?!
I tried not to give him the reaction this type of person is clearly hoping for. Instead, I went to the bathroom, wandered around a bit, counted to 60 (I don’t wear a watch), and approached the window again. The same “too-busy-for-you” routine repeated itself before I again presented my receipt. He looked at it, looked at me, paused, and said, “Have a seat. I call you when it’s ready.” HUH? What happened to the 500 peso express fee you forced me to pay? GRRR! Of course I kept my calm demeanor. Suddenly the gross old white dudes with all their young Filipina girlfriends in tow became a shining light in a sea of mounting desperation. After quizzing a few of them, I discovered some were having no problem and some were having my problem. Another trip to the window twenty minutes later only earned me the loss of my receipt and the intake man wandering over and telling me, “Do not worry Jema Rae.” When I tried to inquire about what was going on, he would only repeat, “Do not worry, Jema Rae.”
I then made friends with four Filipino guys and told them what had been happening. They expressed genuine sympathy, which I tried to keep in mind as I read the same paragraph in my Michael Pollan book over and over – unable to concentrate. Eventually, I resorted to scribbling in my journal to ward off the wave of hopelessness and frustration headed my way. As I scrawled out my thoughts, I was drawn of out my revery by “psssst! Psssst!” It was my four new friends up at the window. I walked over to their grinning faces, my nemesis behind the counter handed me my worn-out passport with a fresh extension stamp in place, and freedom was mine – just like that! Thank you! ♣