Days 79-80: Olympics & The Immigration Officer

Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Aug 19, 2008

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Where I stayed
Ngoc Thao Guesthouse

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, August 9, 2008

Vietnam was fun and all, but by late Thursday night the last minute for planning next week had arrived. We had to figure out just how in the darn-gone-blazes we were gonna to get back to Thailand cheaply and quickly from here leaving enough time to truly appreciate its island paradise. I had no trouble booking dirt-cheap budget flights at eleventh hours in Indonesia and figured pricing would be the same here.

The Thurs night fare for a Saturday morning Air Asia flight to Bangkok registered a whopping $200+, well beyond budget and out of the question. A flight from Phnom Penh was only $30, but this would involve getting another Cambodian visa ($), a long butt-destroying half day bus ride ($) and countless breaths of Phnom Penh's sewagey air (minus 7-10 yrs of life.) Being the cheap Jewish dude between us I was obviously in favor of this option, but Jeff did not want to go back to "that city" and having had my fill of the LDCs, I quite frankly didn't either. So we googled around some more, checking and triple checking airlines, combos of airlines, alternative Vietnamese airports, et al until an unlikely but workable option surfaced. A flight to trusty ole Singapore was half Bangkok's fare despite being twice the distance and offered the option of taking a night bus north through Malaysia, approaching the islands in an ass-backwards but efficient fashion. The inevitable boredom instilled by spending more than an hour in Singapore was the sole minor caveat; this plan would involve spending one night and 2 days there. So be it. Maybe the world's cleanest city would be more fun with a friend in tow, I figured.  And great fun was. More on that next time.

Friday came and went with few still-untold stories, we sat by our traffic circle one last time watching the scooters roll by, slurped at some pho and digested a final dose of Ho Chi Minh's madness. I wanted to give Apocalypse Now Club another visit but was rightly dissuaded by a schedule-conscious Jeff who feared not making our early morning flight without an early night bedtime, a quite FUBAR inducing risk indeed. So we sighed, lowered our blood pressures and just lounged around the guesthouse room for the foreseeable hours. Jeff's quadridecadal Olympics addiction lassoed him to the TV all night for the opening ceremony and I followed suit upon realizing what I was missing. After closely following the tragedies and triumphs surrounding Beijing & Tibet for the past few months, I could not miss this historical moment.

One by one the countries filed out onto the field, we gave our obligatory cheers to the USofA, I gave mine to Israel, then felt boredom hitting until I did something I did not expect: erupting into an equally passionate cheer for... Indonesia? Granted I loved the place and its people, but they were our (weak) competition and shouldn't have prompted a cheer. Nepal followed a shortly thereafter and as with the Indos, I was as proud to see them walk across as I would've been my home country's team. Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, even Laos, a nation we never made it to but researched heavily... I could feel a surprisingly deep emotional connection to each and every one of them. I'm too deliriously tired at the moment to turn this into a profound epiphany about the world and humanity, but I'm sure there's one in there somewhere.

A schwarma nightcap from the magical curbside doner cart and walk around Pham Ngu Lao ended the night, with morning arriving too quickly as usual. We thankfully woke up in time for the flight if not in time for breakfast and made swiftly for the shiny modern HCMC airport. I had trouble getting in to the country, now it was time to see if they'd let me out. Jeff and I split into separate lines, mine was faster (a first) and with some trepidation, I approached the immigration official. He was a young but rigid looking man decked out in the full stereotypical Communist green military uniform + obnoxious peaked hat. He grabbed my passport from me opened it to the photo page, grimacing...

Looking at the photo.
Looking at me.
Looking back and forth five more times.
His eyes were steel, his expression frightening. He flipped the picture toward me, pointed to it, and yammered in Vietnamese what was obviously some disbelieving "That's you? Psshaw." I assured him that the dorky looking man pictured was in fact me, he again did not believe. This was starting to get scary.

Passport Soldier removed my departure card and examined it carefully. He noted that I'd absentmindedly written my birth date in the arrival date field... how dare I! Then came the signature. You see, because I hastily filled out the card on a rickety Cambodian chicken bus, the signature was not up to my usual elegant (not!) standards. He suspiciously asked why it was so vastly different from the signature on my passport. Because he spoke no English and thought himself too bad-ass for charades, there was no hope in explaining "bumpy bus!" to him. Furthermore, I signed the passport almost four years ago and my signature had since evolved.

This posed a new problem... He ordered me to take his scrap paper and reproduce the passport signature.

I could not.

Angry/disgusted/some scary negative emotion... he tossed out the departure card, returned my passport and turned me away. His instructions were to find and fill out a new card and go through a different immigration official the next time around. Aye aye, Comrade! Whatever you say, just let me out of here. I followed the orders, got through the border and made the flight. & Of course Jeff got the hot female guard. Sigh.

Next up: Singapore's Independence Day

---Vital Signs---
Pho Bowls = 8-10
60 Cent Chicken Schwarmas = Mmm lots
Douchey Australian Partiers = Argh lots
Grass Jelly Desserts = 1
Bug Bites = 5, prolly fleas.
Food Poisonings = The salad wasn't a smart call but has yet to wreck any havoc.
American Lives Avenged = 0
Vietcong Guerrillas Captured = 0
Well-Timed Sunset Rainbows = 1

---Quote of the Day---
British Dude: "Excyuse may, do ya have sum cyold wau-tuh?"
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