Going for the Gusto:: GETTING TRAVEL-LEGAL IN INDONESIA
It doesn’t feel tons like Christmas here in the South Seas.
This is the story of how I’ve flung myself at 5 government agencies belonging to 3 different countries on one December Friday to get a teeny holiday gift: my government-snatched U.S. passport.
As the holidays begin, the bad Santa of Indonesian customs still has it in his frigid grip.
Wisely or unwisely (you decide!), four weeks ago I mailed away my USA Passport to the USA.
In that sylvan land, I’d hoped to get a Chinese business visa stamped on my travel documents, and gain entry to the Middle Kingdom for a 4-town tour that my lovely Chinese-Indonesian advocate, Rosa Chen, had arranged for me.
FedEx: With everything they’ve got
Though FedEx was lazy, the passport DID eventually get to America, and the Chinese Consulate DID quickly yield up a business visa, and said visa DID make landfall in the Independent Republic of Indonesia and, and, and . . . in effect—that’s the end of my tale.
“No wonder people dismiss this story,” you say.
Oh, but my drama just gets its Nikes into the starting blocks there.
The gentle folk at Indonesian Customs in Jakarta sequestered my mailing three weeks ago.
And now they won’t release it to me.
Surely, they’re good people who love their children, but they’ve had that envelope three weeks now and have earned themselves a big Christmas gift of whoop-ass. (Bummer that Indonesia’s Muslims aren’t as jazzed by Jesus’ birthday as I am!)
No passport means I can’t renew my Indo visa, now 2 weeks expired.
After holding daily screaming Skype sessions with FedEx, I’m done.
In fact, I was done 6 days ago.
Those customs guys gotta watch out, because in the pool last week at my lovely Bali Dacha where everybody is beautiful and I love everyone and where—daily—I meditate on peace and harmony, me and my buddy, Beni, gave the Indo customs folk the old fleas-of-a-hundred-hairy-camels-infesting-your-armpits curse.
They have no idea.
Curses sent, I went sternly to the local police station on a fine Friday morning to wrestle an official “Lost or Stolen Passport” report from Ubud officialdom (a document demanded by the American Consulate for a replacement).
Anticipating the worst, I put my grim unhappy-white-man face.
After walking in door and wading through a few bureaucratic roadblocks where I showed—quite squarely and Jean Claude Van Damme-like—that I was not to be trifled with, a one-finger-typing cop smilingly poked out my “stolen passport” form, printed it on his trusty, dusty inkjet, and pumped a blue-ink rubber stamp on it before warmly passing it to my cool, casual, yet greedy hands.
I grabbed a breath like it was the last one in the oxygen store.
Putu is my go-to driver.
He had a phrase-long cameo in my last visa-focused blog.
He’s an interesting cat.
Good English, kind demeanor, and dresses like a Chinese hit-man.
He has taught me so much about Balinese culture, language, and governmental behavior on our endless drives that I’m fecklessly grateful to him.
I regularly overpay him as overtly or slyly as I can.
In the early afternoon, he drove me 25 klicks south to America’s Denpasar Consulate.
As we drove, he boyishly supplied me with the devilish details of how Balinese mobs kill local Javanese thieves when they’re caught.
Everywhere I looked, rough justice was at play around me.
My eyebrows shot up.
“Death Councils” indeed.
The well-secured gate outside the American Consulate, Denpasar
But we had cheerier work ahead of us.
At the quaint and cramped consulate, I accepted the di rigueur body searches and bomb-house lock-up of my over-the-shoulder bag to submit my passport application to the helpful consular general there who dispensed his duties in a Lively Hawaiian Shirt.
As I departed, the frontgate Balinese guard with a gigantic policeman’s hat was really smiling at me like the sun itself—for whatever reason.
He seemed sincere, so I met him second-for-joyful-second of beaming full-gaze broken-English conversation while Putu brought ‘round the car and—doing his best to be kind—dropped me off at the local high-end mall whose food court seemed to have something good for an American to eat.
After some deliciously-overpriced Chinese food, I was ready for another government institution.
The speed of our little van downticked as we came up on the crowds milling around Denpasar’s Indo Immigration compound.
I hopped out and went in.
Thus began my campaign for a reprieve from the $22-dollar-a-day penalty I knew would hit me upon my airport exit as I overstayed my now-lame tourist visa, day after durn FedEx-shouting day.
I quickly found myself shuttled from one sound-stopping, bullet-proof window to another.
Eventually, several sturdily-built, handsomely-dressed immigration folk steered me to a back-building where a bank of chairs sat generously in front of a wide-screen TV.
I dodged around the hallway corner for a video-free seat, and was able to watch the good-looking men, and terribly poised women, in their epic blue tunics and black pants stroll to and fro talking and shouting and cajoling and regrouping and entertaining me endlessly as I just observed the way they rested their heavy limbs into their gleamy black dress-shoes, living apparently unselfconsciously and acting together like one big complicated family.
I must have sat there an hour.
It was only when I put my book away on the pre-classical meditation traditions that a fellow scholar had stolen from the University of California, Berkeley, unholstered my laptop, and figured I’d better get some real work done that I was inexplicably called to a desk to be dealt with.
Our parley ended in a minute.
Men at desks
Basically, I was told that if I didn’t have a passport, they didn’t want me there, and they couldn’t do a durn thing for me.
They tried to be mean about it, but I was feeling too sincere to be perturbed.
I had already surrendered all my drachmas to Caesar, as it were.
I nodded. I grinned. And dropped all hope of working with the Indonesians till the race to get a new passport was done.
Putu was sucking on a cigarette in the parking lot.
Ever-forward to the Chinese!
Now, my unsuspecting reader might wonder why—by great Caesar’s ghost!—I would wander toward the massive, two-story, gold-stuccoed Chinese consulate that made its American counterpart look even more like a mold-riven outbuilding that had suffered swamp-rot since the Louisiana Purchase despite representing The Democratic Ideal All Humanity Has Pinned Its Hopes On.
What I was thinking was, “Gee. It’s their business visa.”
“The world’s greatest bullet-train nation will know instinctively that my work there will make each and every one of them wealthier.”
“And they know how to talk to their fellow quasi-lawful societies like the Independent Republic of Indonesia as well as they know artificial island-making in the South China Sea.”
“Maybe they can speak a non-Gringo language that will pry my passport from the death-grip of Indo Customs.”
That’s what I was thinking.
We tooled up and—directed by watchful guards—parked our innocent Toyota a safe distance from the front gate.
Surprisingly, within minutes of our approach, a white-Polo-shirted official appeared to hear our case.
His English was whipsmart and his cosmopolitanism and youth reminded me of all those fresh-faced, Chinese students chattering in Mandarin that filled the sidewalks and cafés close to my old Cal Berkeley home.
Yes, that’s the Campanile behind them
For all I knew, this kid was my neighbor.
Terribly courteous, thoughtful and articulate, he was—nevertheless—equivocal.
I couldn’t make the argument stick that he should intervene with Indo customs to Let My Package Go.
His obligation was to Chinese citizens only, he said with regret.
The last chapter in our journey ended.
We went home by new routes.
Weird roadblocks appeared—an unexpected festival there, uniformed girls standing 5-wide in the middle of the road there, etc.
Getting home, I peeled off 600,000 rupiah for my gangster driver. I gave him a happy hug, while girding myself to wait till eternity for America or Indonesia to help me be As Legal as I Wanna Be.