Think Immigration Department. Think bureaucracy. Think immigration officers working at snail pace just because they survived Immigration School (anything like that, anyone?) and now they control your passports. Think the possibilities of getting your application rejected - your photo is not glossy, your head is too small, the background is not blue, no, not this blue, it must be BLUE. Think the agony of having to queue up at 5am and when they open at 7.30 the number's out. "Come again tomorrow," the security guard carrying a rifle says.
Well, that was in 2004, when our family went through the nightmarish experience for our passports to China. Thanks to our great and far-sighted government, who whipped, tortured, threatened, abused and brainwashed old-fashioned and bureaucratic immigration officers, our Immigration Department had to be one of the best in the world. I had a wonderful experience dealing with them this morning...
Considering young people like me are brought up to have limited interpersonal skills, and in line with all the iPhones and Twitters, the knowledgeable immigration department specially ordered one of these kiosks for the convenience of geeks like me.
It's rather easy to operate, you just follow everything the machine says -
- Slot in your passport, wait 10 secs.
- Insert your MyKad as in an ATM machine. Trap no. 1: Ever treated your MyKad nicely? The chip on your MyKad is easily damaged. If it is...well, just take a number and queue up with 100 people out there.
- Thumbprint yourself on the little inch of screen below. Trap no. 2: Thinking of applying sunblock to prevent dark spots? Some lotions, body creams will smear your thumbprint. If the thing fails to detect you have a thumb, well, just take a number and queue up with 100 people out there. And here's a piece of tissue paper.
- Pay RM300, cash. The machine accepts only RM50 and RM100 notes. Trap no. 3: The monster is VERY PICKY about bank notes. Make sure your notes are immaculate. Even if it is, it will still regurgitate your notes. Just smoother it and try again. If all else fails, well, just take a number and queue up with 100 people out there.
- Take an envelope from here, put in your old passport, two passport-sized photo and a copy of your IC. Seal the envelope and drop it into the monster. Trap no. 4: Forgot one of these? There's a shop behind the office which charges 50 cents per copy.
- Take your receipt and come 2 hours later. Trap no. 5: Is your parking time up? Some might just forget the slip altogether in a hurry to avoid being summoned. Well, we treat these cases as 'lost or stolen passports'. Lodge a police report and come back to take a number and queue up with 100 people out there.
And after all the traps you managed to avoid, the officers will call you on your mobile and tell you your photo is not according to specification. Well, go shoot another one, there's a shop behind our office which charges RM8 per 2 pieces.
You now have 2 hours to kill. Make sure your mobile is with you and is in loud mode. The very efficient officers will call up any minute to report any problems, and tell you to come back as soon as possible. In my case, I was having this nice lunch at a mamak just beside Maybank Lebuh Pantai when they tell me I am short of one photo. Stupid of me, because I remember the machine says one. Anyway, to avoid being listed as a terrorist, I obligingly went back and handed them my gorgeous photo. Guess it was very good-looking they decided to ask for an extra.
Now, some nice places you can visit while waiting for our good and great immigration officers working your passport.
Penang State assembly just beside the office. Romanesque architecture with a beautifully sculpted Scottish gate. See if our wakil rakyat are fighting inside?
Two stone's throw away, The Sire museum and restaurant - assemble some antique furniture, hire a chef, rent a nice pre-war house, and ta-da! You get to charge RM6 for an orange juice.
Spotting antique signs along the Standard Charted building, a handsome granite building with strong British colonial influence.
After 2 hours, go collect a number and wait for your passport. Passport collection is quite painless because the officers are tired after setting up all the traps, and it's usually countdown till closing time, so they're more than glad to shove everything away.
Anyway, the Immigration Department had seen major improvements since our horrendous experience 5 years ago. We should be thankful to our great and good government in providing a stately and human environment for humble overseas scholars applying their travel document.