Welcome to the Third World

Trip Start Oct 29, 2009
Trip End Dec 24, 2009

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Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Sunday, December 6, 2009

Many Westerners lump Malaysia and Indonesia together in their minds, but the two nations are actually worlds apart. Malaysia is rapidly developing and even aspiring toward first world status--it's per capita GDP is over $15,000 ; Indonesia's is only $3,900.

My introduction to Indonesia began right at the Jakarta airport. I walked to the kiosk to purchase my Visa on Arrival for $25. The first official had no problem taking my money, but then the problems began as I shuffled on to the person in charge of stamping the visa.

"You have another passport?"
"Uh, no."
"Because, you see, this one full. We need full page for visa."
Ugh. I hadn't realized the visa was an actual page-sized sticker, rather than just a stamp. I had some empty squares on my passport, but not a full blank page.
I inquired about my options. Could you just stamp the visa on one of the blank pages at the end of my passport?
"No, sorry. Is regulation. Has to be on page that says "Visas."
Could I peel off one of my old visas? I started picking at the corner of my Cambodian visa which was practically falling off anyway.
I was met with a forceful shaking of heads and a facial expression akin to what I would expect if I had suggested that a shortage of toilet paper could be remedied by using a few pages from the Qu'ran.

Well, what are my options then?
"Maybe you fly back to Singapore, go to embassy, get more pages in passport"
Okay, let's file that under plan Z.
At this point, a colleague of his suggests that maybe he can help. Well, I'm no dummy, so I discretely inquire if there's some sort of "fee" I can pay to expedite this whole matter. I'm hoping he'll simply accept the offer on the spot, but instead he hems and haws and eventually fobs me off to his boss.

So after some more delay, I'm finally escorted several hundred feet away to the back office.
Big boss man asks me to take a seat, and then has me wait several more minutes. Also with me is a Nigerian in a wheelchair, and an Arab sounding gentleman complaining on his cell phone to his friend that his passport has to be good for 6 months after the date of entry, not 3, and his is only good for 5.

Finally big boss man attends to me and once again delivers the official spiel about how I need a full blank page in my passport, and right now we're stymied because I don't. Another attempt at paying an expedition fee; another demurral.

At this point, I've decided my best chance is to just get my passport back, pull off one of my old visas, and either wait until the shift change or possibly find another visa kiosk, if there is one. So I contritely ask for my passport back so that I can leave and find a flight back to Singapore. But again, no dice. Boss man insists that he doesn't want me to have to do that, but he needs to ask me a few questions.

And so the third degree begins.
"Where are you staying in Jakarta?"
(Crap, I've got my hotel info in my checked luggage.) I tell him such.
"Where are you going in Indonesia?"
I give him an outline of my itinerary.
"Where have you traveled already?"
I tell him.
"What is your departing flight?"
(Crap, again, in checked luggage.) I give him my best estimate about how I'm leaving on the 20th for Brisbane, but have no flight number or reservation slip to give him.

The barrage of seemingly irrelevant questions continues. He flips through my passport and asks about a U.S. entry stamp. Apparently, U.S. citizens don't normally get a stamp when returning to the U.S. Or something. I have no idea. I plead ignorance as to the entire procedure.

Then the fun one.
"What you do for living?"
(Don't say professional poker player, don't say professional poker player,..."
That seems to satisfy him.
"You have business card?"
I start to reach for my wallet. Then I remember that I'm not really a lawyer, and my business cards say professional poker player on them.
"Uh, sorry, on vacation, I left all my business cards at home."
He instead has me write my phone number on some form.

At some point during the interrogation, the Nigerian asks if he can smoke.
"No, because I am not smoking."

Between this exchange and the stream of questions, it dawns on me what's happening. This is a power play, nothing more. Boss man doesn't want to send me back to Singapore, he doesn't even want a bribe. He wants to show that he's in charge. He's an Indonesian Cartman, insisting that I respect his authori-tah. So I do. I politely answer all of his inane questions, and when he finally gives permission for the visa to be put on the back page, I thank him for the favor, when I really want to scream at him for wasting an hour on something that should have been resolved in five minutes.

Back at the Visa on Arrival Kiosk with my official permission slip, I finally get my visa and am on my way.

Welcome to Indonesia!

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