29 Oct '15
Posted in Blog by Eric Shaw
Bad American! Eric is Booted Back to Bali
After an exit to Bali, I flew back to Perth, Australia on October 14th.
I love Ozzie immigration.
You stick your passport in a kiosk.
It flashes green.
You walk through saloon-door retina scanners toward a guard.
He smiles warmly and looks down at your customs form.
Then waves you through.
Easiest border crossing on Earth.
But . . . not this time.
The kiosk guard directed me to the desk guard.
And the desk guard directed me to the offices.
That guard then began to interrogate me with inexplicable warmth.
(No, I’m not being sarcastic. The Ozzie immigration folk are stunningly kind and fair).
The truth is, I’d been living in-country since March 1st
I say “living,” but I was gone a lot.
Home in Oz (Australia) for 5 weeks, gone teaching in the US and Asia for 5 weeks, back in Oz again, etc.
And I was teaching a tiny bit of yoga illegally in my new home. (A tourist visa explicitly disallows you from “living” in the country, let alone working in it. Sigh.)
Stunned, I listened as the gendarmes carefully laid out their case for visa violations with quotes from my emails and internet ads, showing the trail of my labors littered over the web. (Terrific investigative work!) They offered me cups of tea and gave me several formal opportunities to supply contradictions.
They had me cold, so I stopped my momentary lies.
They then collected me and two other new-made prisoners, put bright yellow vests on us, and stacked us in a van.
We got shuttled to a nearby locked facility that held men and women from Chad, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Korea and other places—treating us like honored guests the whole way.
“Want to fly back to America, Mate?” they asked.
“I don’t think America interests me anymore,” I said, quoting a friend who’d expatriated to India.
“Make it Bali,” I added.
I know. I’m ungrateful.
But I had an appointment in Shanghai in 3 weeks, and had zero desire to zip back to the U.S.
Oz was my preferred home, but Bali’s a nice back-up.
They said a flight would come available in 1-3 days.
So I accommodated myself to my digs.
I got a heap of yoga bookstudy done, notified the people in Western Australia that I wasn’t on my way, and wept over the loss of contact with an Aussie woman I can’t seem to forget and the dream to be an Aussie citizen.
In my grief, I watched movies, played volleyball, poker, and cricket (yes, cricket) with the boys.
I traded stories with the infinitely decent guards and my somewhat neurotic fellow prisoners–some of whom had been living in detention 10 years.
Most—even the German couple who were collected from my same Jetstar flight and who ended up leaving before me–busied themselves with bitter complaints.
But I’ve dealt with immigration officials in lots of places and have seen how evil they can be (and, until this experience, always were).
I knew I’d landed in a golden cage.
They gave us all a weekly $25 Australian to spend at the lockup commissary–and tons to do. Maybe because I knew I wouldn’t be held 10 years, I found it all new and delightful.
They woke me at 4am the third day and told me they had a flight.
Doing the exit paperwork took 20 minutes.
They seized my bags from lock-up.
I changed underwear, showered, and all systems were go.
Two guards chaperoned me to the airport, picked up my ticket, and checked my bags while I sat in the car.
I could have run for it.
I thought about it, but–by then–I was fascinated by the whole unfolding drama.
And I’m only wild enough to deceive the law–not make it wrestle me to the ground.
I got driven (across the tarmac!) to my gate.
They bought me a pineapple juice and sat me down.
We just shot the breeze before boarding.
I looked at the rash of other travelers waiting for planes.
Just for a second, I felt shame.
But then I thought: no-one here really knew if these guys were guarding a detainee or a diplomat.
So I sat with poise–and conducted myself like a well-loved rockstar, a spy stalked from Kiev to Rome, or a CEO whose underpants were stitched with gold.
As one must do in trying circumstances, I just relaxed into it.
The guards were sweet as heck.
They told me stories about their families and their cultures.
(It seems near every Aussie is an immigrant.)
One was born in Pakistan. He said his Mom had died back home and that his time in Oz felt over.
“There is food waiting for me there to eat,” he told me.
I said, “Uh, what?”
And he patiently explained that–in nomadic Muslim culture–people are said to travel only because fate draws them to eat food waiting for them at the place they arrive.
Work stories came.
They told me how they’d flown deportees to Nigeria, Myanmar, and Paris—where they always arranged to stay a few extra days for French cuisine.
I gave them my stories of poking around Mongolia and Korea and north India.
An hour passed with this sweet talk, and then a big Maori tribesman–bald, ear-ringed, tattoo-sheathed and sporting opinions like Archie Bunker–relieved them of their 6:30am shift.
They walked off.
I looked forlornly after them.
I pushed past the Maori’s opinions to get to know him too, but time was short.
A drop-dead gorgeous groundstaff girl was given my passport as we bussed out to the plane.
I made conversation with her, but—paradoxically—she hated flying and travel.
I couldn’t figure out what else to say.
My Maori guided me up the stairs to the plane-door.
He passed my visa, my phone, and me, over to the plane staff.
We fist-pounded goodbye.
Hullo Jestar! I walked happily to the very last row.
The flight was the usual Aussie affair: everybody on board looks the picture of ill-health but happy as sin.
The instant the seat-belt light blinks off, they pop from their seats, talking garrulously, and generously purchasing pasta, sandwiches and beer (Hey! It’s JetStar! Nothing’s free!).
I was feeling distant in my new criminal persona, and my free flight had landed me in a row with 3 vacant seats.
I stretched out to sleep.
Three-odd hours of flying dissolved in a doze.
I woke to the steady tones of the pilot gargling weather stats over the P.A.
The landing was rough, and I wondered if my supercheap airline couldn’t filch for computers, and actually made the guy with the poor oral presentation skills land the plane.
In Denpasar, plane-staff handed me to a smokin’ hot stewardess in a radiant pink company dress, accessorized with dashing black heels.
We sauntered happily together down the concourse. I felt like I could hold her hand.
Exhausted by my dreams of global romance, I had the overpowering urge to ask her to marry, join me in boundless Americaness, and retire with me to Absolutely Fucking Nowhere.
But I elbowed the thought away with notions of the ominous logistical and cross-cultural details and–despite small talk–kept my visionary thoughts close to my vest.
Two bright-eyed and slightly puzzled young male attendants joined us.
We paraded past the mass of eager tourists snaking in infinite lines toward their face-to-face with Indonesian immigration.
My passport was taken into a room and brought out.
My three bodyguards led me to the staggeringly-sky-lit international lobby.
The beauty in pink handed me my passport and phone.
My two boy-guards gave me a last confused smile.
I called my go-to driver for a jump to the city of Ubud.
The thrilling air of the arrivals platform greeted me.
I was free.