Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Border Controls

One consequence of sleep deprivation is that I become increasingly ill-tempered, beyond the point where I subvocalise curses at the nth Singaporean who's incapable of walking in a straight line, and approaching the moment in my life where I punch somebody out for something trivial like breathing too noisily.

Clearly it's not good to combine this frame of mind with going through passport control, but that's an unhappy conjunction that I can't avoid.

Perhaps because I've been through the US several times recently, with its border staff incredulous that they might encounter foreigners, in an airport of all places, that I'm oversensitive to this. Or perhaps the rage flowing through my jet-lagged mind acts as a black hole, sucking trouble towards me.

At Singapore, they look at your boarding pass and then x-ray your luggage, unless there's a lot of people, in which case Security Uncle will wave you through. This is because smugglers and terrorists never travel in groups, I suppose.

Then you go through the automated passport gates, and after that a man in a uniform wordlessly takes your documents and peers at them for a moment or two. What is he looking for? Why wasn't the previous person looking for it? Are they trying to ensure full employment? Am I high on crazy pills?

I assume if you went through the non-automated gates, they wouldn't have another person look at your documents, but that suggests the automated gates are just something pretty and shiny rather than functional, which is all a bit odd.

It's the lack of conversation that gets me, I think. In the US they have a person who asks you questions like "do you have a visa?" where the correct answer isn't "of course", but they do seem to be paid to check something. I arrived at Kuala Lumpur and Nurul, the immigration officer, didn't even bother taking our her headphones. Part of me wants to be charitable and say "well, in Malaysia the immigration officials must get their updates via Blackberry, which is why she's playing with that rather than paying any attention to me", but like I said, I was feeling punchy today.

After she'd finished composing a text, she put my passport on a reader and then hit the "Enter" button on her keyboard ten or twelve times. There's a problem with making the counter low enough that I can see what you're doing: you're not doing anything, apart from tap through some defaults in a menu, stare blankly at the front cover of my passport (have you not seen a passport before? Perhaps you're qualified to work in Border Control at Chicago O'Hare) and then hand it back to me.

On the one hand, I rejoice that I don't fit a profile for further questioning. On the other, I worry about putting your security in the hands of people who look like they need to get back to an important game of Farmville. I need to spend less time in airports.


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