Monday, September 06, 2010

The catalyst

I realized I had to start writing when I ended up in Singapore on a Korean tour bus to get a work visa for Indonesia.
No one seems to understand why it's required that we go OUT of Indonesia to process a work visa for work IN Indonesia. Since I've just changed jobs, I had to head out to Singapore again.  I'm not complaining. Singapore is clean and organized. It has great Indian food and cheap shopping.  Last time I went (February) to process my visa for EF, I was on my own.  EF gave me a half a page of vague instructions; the most unsettling of which was "go find the man sitting under the umbrella in front of McDonald's.  give him your passport, your visa paper work provided by EF, and X,000 Rupiah".  I  have not met a single other person who completed this process for EF without a flash of doubt about doing this.  Who in their right mind just hands over money and their passport to a guy in front of McDonald's?  Well, we all do.  And for the most part we get the passports back.  I got lost in the mall on the way back to meet him.  To get to the street from the MRT (mass rapid transit-think subway) to the correct corner of the street takes some doing.  The malls connect underground and you must pass from one to the other underground because you are prohibited from crossing the streets above.  Singapore does love its rules.  I kept getting turned around in the 2 floors and 6 turns, 4 escalators and 200 meters to walk that it took to get out (funny enough I only went out that way once this trip and did it without a problem).  Because of this inane system I showed up at 4:10 instead of 4pm to meet him.  He wasn't there.  He refused to leave my passport with a girl I'd met earlier that day from another EF; good to know there were some safety precautions. The next ten minutes were filled with me panicking.  I couldn't find him, couldn't reach him or the EF office on my cell or a payphone and the realization that not only did I not get the visa (kitas) I wouldn't even be able to leave Singapore without my passport.   This mystery man, who had shown himself at the drop off to be less than friendly, turned up and proceeded to lecture me about not being late before summarily dumping my passport in my hands and swiftly walking away.
This time around was so completely different that I couldn't complain.
 I  was met at the airport by a Korean woman.  After 8 of us had gathered there we went out and got in a small mini bus.  It was quite nice inside.  I was the only "foreigner".  None of us were from Singapore, but they were all Korean. We trolled around the airport, waiting in the bus while the overly busy woman jumped in and out, for almost an hour.  We then proceeded into town.  I had to get new photos take because the ones given to me by the school were the wrong size. This was the point where, luckily, the woman pulled to the side.  she confirmed that I had been to Singapore before and asked if there was a part of the city I'd like to go to.  I said Little Indian. She promised they'd drop me there.  In the mean time, the tour started.  I was reading Paulo Coelho in English while the woman gave a narrative in Korean that sounded to me like "blah blah blah Chinatown blah blah blah Singapore".  I was grateful to get out and be on my own in Little India.  4 hours of shopping, roti prata, more shopping and walking later, I met the group at a hotel to head back to the airport.  She seemed genuinely surprised that I had a good day.  I had a good shop in the airport, especially the pharmacy, and managed to buy two bottle of alcohol to bring (sneak) home. Then headed to Jakarta.
I was relieved to see my ojek driver at the airport waiting.  That morning he'd been 20 minutes late to pick me up, we hit construction on the way and he had to stop for gas (though I'd asked him the previous day to make sure he was ready to go to the airport) and I ended up with a 500M sprint to and through the airport to the ticketing booth where the agent chided me as cutting the time close. More about the ojek issues to follow.

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