Friday, December 30, 2011

Stuck in customs

We took a taxi to the airport and checked in (Soekarno is another airport where they xray your bags before you go to the check-in desk, and also one that bizarrely collects cash off you before you're allowed to fly). After another lap of the terminal to ensure we'd looked at all the doughnut shops and determined it's not just J.CO that arranges doughnuts randomly, we went through to immigration.

Just as it seemed a bit slip-shod when we arrived, so it was on departure. Every other person to go through immigration had no departure form filled out, so they'd either go through, fill it and and come back, or be sent away to the back of the queue, or wander past people in the queue and pass through. We took our places in two separate lines, in the hope one of us would pick the quickest; my wife was slightly faster.

The guy flicked through her passport, flicked back again, then stood up, walked to another desk, showed another guy the passport, then came back, and took us down to the end of the hall, into an office full of bad furniture. He and our passports went into another room, and when we went to follow they sent us back to sit on a decrepit brown sofa outside.

So we sat there, wondering what was special about my wife's passport. If it had been mine, that would have made sense, because I don't look anything like my passport photo. But my wife's appearance hasn't radically changed in the last three years. And Canadians have never shown up as being the most offensive of travellers in the past.

The room we sat in was full of waterstained cubicle dividers, a broken touchscreen information terminal, and a man in uniform, fiddling with his mobile phone. There was a sense of decay, or slowly gathering doom, or just being forgotten, hanging limply in the air.

A man left the other room, walked back out into the main hall, and came back with my wife's ticket and departure form, which had been left on the counter at the immigration desk. I began to worry that we were trapped, not just in a complicated bureaucracy, but in a disorganised complicated bureacracy.

A man came from the other room and asked where my departure card was. We pointed out he was holding it in the passport. He went away again. Again, I worried that the level of organisation wasn't what it could be.

From the other room we heard the thud and metallic click of rubber stamps being stamped. Another traveller came in, accompanied by Immigration. They went into the other room, spoke, and then left again.

The uniformed man fiddled with his phone some more. I entertained paranoid fantasies where they found contraband inside my wife's passport and threw us in jail for the rest of our lives. There was some more rubber stamping going on.

There wasn't a clock ticking, but it felt like there should have been. My wife grew nervous, having not been held up at immigration before. I tried to not tell her about the Frenchman the British transport police arrested for looking suspiciously calm. We waited. The man in uniform continued to fiddle with his phone.

I hoped he wasn't playing Angry Birds while a man in the other room was writing "This woman is a criminal" on my wife's passport, in invisible ultraviolet ink.

The stamping continued. Thud click. Thud click. I looked at some of the brown stains on the partitions, and hoped I wasn't catching anything from the sofa. We were almost three hours early for the flight, but who knew how long we'd be here? Was there another departure tax waiting for us? Was there a prison cell? A summary execution? Some delicious biscuits?

Then, two more loud stamps, and out came our passports, and off we went, without any explanation. My wife asked if there was a problem, but there wasn't. I've always held that you don't ask if there's a problem, in case they decide there's one after all, and so I took her away and stowed her in the duty free batik shop until all was calm again.


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