Where Bridget and Hwee Yee are not on their Sapa holiday at all yet.
In the last episode, we find out that Bridget’s passport expired, and we eat Mcdonald’s hotcakes.
We’re never up early enough for breakfast at Mcdonald’s, so those shit-hit-the-fan hotcake moments were bittersweet.
We got into a cab and headed down to the ICA, luggage and all. Got our luggage scanned at the ICA entrance.
“What is that stick in your bag?”
“It’s a Monopod. For me to take picture of myself.”
“OK, as long as you don’t take picture of me!”
The first thing we had to do was to get our ICs replaced, because if you don’t have your IC, you can’t get your passport. As some of you might know, we both walk around IC-less because we’re never up early enough to go to the ICA.
You can’t get your IC or passport if you have no picture! So we were sent up to the photo taking level. I thought it was going to be a few automated booths, but NO! There was a photo taking auntie photographing everyone who need a passport photo – $10 for 4. In the same room as the photo taking auntie was a photocopying auntie photocopying everybody’s documents.
We didn’t take a picture, but I drew a stick people diagram of what the room looks like.
If you don’t look spiffy enough, you can borrow a coat or a scarf.
There’s a communal mirror, communal comb, and communal jar of water, in case you need to do your hair.
“Who will use this?? So dirty!!! Oh my god, were you going to let me go take my picture with my hair like that??” I picked up the comb and used the water on my severe hat hair.
There are two grids of passport photos. The Wall of Nos is FAIL photos – hair covering ears, fringe covering eyebrows etc. I think the photo taking auntie will take a FAIL photo on purpose, and then tell the person “aiyoh your hair cannot be like that. now your photo go up on this wall.”
When it was my turn, the photo taking auntie told me to take off my glasses.
“Auntie I look like a pig without glasses.”
“Your glasses will have reflection.”
“But I wear my glasses all the time. I must look like myself in the passport. And my glasses are hi-index, no reflection!”
“OK we try.”
All of this seemed a little manual for Singapore, but that is because the set up is not for us. Most people with business at the ICA seem to be low wage foreign workers, and they all come from places where this is the way things are done. Efficiency is not the meaning of life. Hi-index, non-reflective spectacles are not the norm.
I look like the world’s most satisfied pig in my IC photo. Absolutely ecstatic. I’ve never seen a happier IC photo. Here it is:
Bridget finally looked like herself in hers, so customs people will no longer openly giggle at her passport.
We got our ICs sorted out quite painlessly, mostly because we were floating around like zombies from no sleep. Stress requires presence of mind, and our minds were absent.
Then came the time to negotiate for Bridget’s new passport, under the specter of Lady No Never *.
We told the ladies at the counter about our predicament. Bridget told them that we came straight from the airport and she was sick and she didn’t get any sleep last night. We told them that we would postpone the trip if we could, but all our train tickets were booked, and we couldn’t cancel it. They said they would issue a temporary travel permit for us, since the express passport service would still take 5 days.
I called the Vietnam embassy and the guy who picked up (he sounded like Phua Chu Kang) told me that we would require a visa to use the temporary travel permit.
Which is fine, except that the visa service at the embassy closes at 12pm and it was already 11.15am. I told Mr Phua Chu Kang of our predicament and asked him if he would please extend his hours by 30 minutes for me.
“30 minutes only ah!!! Don’t be late!”
Went back to the counter and told the ladies if they could process the travel document in an hour. They said the earliest they could get the document ready was 5pm. Well fuck. Bridget blew her nose.
“Is there anything you can do?”
They went away to discuss something with someone. When they came back they asked if we could show them our flight schedule. I showed them the e-tickets on my phone – 9am, the following day.
They looked at Bridget and tore up the temporary permit form.
“We’ll get your passport ready by 5pm. But this will be the only time ok! Go home, get some sleep, come back at 5.”
I’ve never been so grateful for our civil service in my life. Now when I think of the ICA, I get all warm and fuzzy.
I think it really helped that Bridget looked cute that day. She was carrying a backpack with a pink skateboard strapped to it, and her usual samurai topknot was down. Plus, she had a cold and kept blowing her nose. She looked like a sickly, earnest child going on an excursion. Everybody wants to help a sickly, earnest child.
Bridget says that it’s important to share stories with other people, then they will share theirs with you. And then they will try to help you, because most people are really not assholes. But there’s so much mistrust between people here (me included) that we try to preempt everything. That makes us cold. I watched Captain America on the plane and the bad guys have these drones that kill people before they even commit a crime.
That’s us. We’re drones. We should stop. We should be free (I love super hero movies).
We went home, got some sleep, collected Bridget’s passport at 5, and went to Orchard Road like two teenagers. It was a stolen day and it was a good day. When we went to the airport the following day, it was deja vu, minus the excitement, minus the hotcakes, and minus Lady No Never.
* I think I should describe Lady No Never. Lady No Never is a middle aged lady** with hair just slightly less coiffed than Condoleeza Rice’s. She wears 80s pink lipstick with no lip gloss on top, so her lips look all wrinkled***. Her face is overly botoxed, chin, cheeks, forehead… She speaks in an oddly precise manner, and this manner is an exact reflection of her face.
** I keep forgetting that I am middle aged. Lady No Never is older than I am, so I should say upper middle age. Botox age I guess. Sometimes I don’t understand women. The sure fire way to reveal your age is to get botoxed.
*** I’m really thinking of something a lot more vulgar but precisely descriptive of what her lips look like. OK her lips looked like labia minora. FOR SERIOUS.