– Gud Kop, Bud Kop –
“Follow me now” said the gruff immigration officer as he held my passport in one hand and beckoned me to follow him into a dimly lit room. I looked around at other people passing smoothly through immigration and realized that I had been singled out for a reason.
I should have known something like this was going to happen. Everything had gone too smoothly. I had no problem getting a seat from Doha on my standby ticket and right after I stored my luggage and fastened my seatbelt, I fell asleep. I pretty much slept the entire flight from Doha to Singapore only waking to adjust my neck pillow or wear socks. The transit time from Singapore to Bali was less than an hour. Just enough time for me to freshen up, stretch my legs and get back on the plane to fall asleep again. It was too easy. No problems with my exit permit, no anxious waiting by the standby booth to get a seat from Doha, no last minute panicking from having left my passport or wallet behind – the usual mishaps I go through before my trips.
There was a lady sitting next to me who gave me a wry smile when I entered the immigration room. She told me that she and her husband were being told to go back to America because their passport did not have enough space to put the visa (which we already paid 25 dollars for on arrival). “My husband is inside trying to fix this” and in a hushed voice she said
“I think we have to pay them”. Ah, it made sense now. Conspiracy theory bells started ringing in my head. This was probably some protocol, the grey lining in the immigration requirements that no one tells you about, that is not mentioned in the guidebooks, and that you never quite find out about until it happens to you.
The officer came out of the room and told me to wait. He had that same stoic look of gruffness but suddenly I could detect a hint of play-acting in it all. He was icily preparing me for the routine of what was about to happen .
He probably thought it wise to separate me from the other American woman and led me into yet another tiny room where he told me to wait again. The faded green paint, the plain wooden furniture, and the over-all dingy ambience of that entire room made me feel like I was in one of those class-B movies where some tourist is cringing under a low lamplight to the drilling of a corrupt local officer.
Sure enough, the immigration officer came back and explained the situation to me.
His face had that familiar look of hardness and meanness that I can instantly detect in people. He reprimanded me for having not known about the law that upon entering Bali one ought to have two whole blank pages in their passport. I had to go back. I could take another flight and come back with a new passport. They would not let me into Bali.
But I did have blank pages! I had three whole blank pages!
“It’s not for the visa” he said. (I checked and although he was right, I knew I checked online and this was never mentioned!)
“Then stick it on the used pages! Those countries won’t mind!”
“is not me, immigration laws!”
I tried explaining, reasoning, in a sweetly desperate voice, but he just cut me short and told me to “SHUT UP, SHUT UP!”
He was playing his part well. He left and then came back and told me “do you want to leave? So you will go back to America now?”,
(I’m not from America!!!! I wanted to scream in his face. But I did not want aggravate the situation)
So I said “I don’t want to, but you are telling me I have to.” Then he would get up and leave again and come back and explain the situation again and then ask me what I could do. I was actually acting surprised and innocent but after the lady told me that we might have to pay I was already computing how much I was willing to give up from my budget and still have enough money to stay for my 4 day trip. I could also tell he was getting impatient with me and could see that I was already distressed enough. However, I was acting as if I was resigned to the fact that I was being sent home. This was not what he wanted. He wanted desperation. He wanted tears. He wanted me to say “i’ll do anything! anything!”
This was when I pulled the “I’m a flight attendant – I work for an airline that flies here everyday” card. I knew that would not work because airline staff traveling as regular passengers never have any special benefits and are subject to the same rules and conspiracy theories as anyone else. I knew I was just stalling and still deciding what to do. However, there was a small change in his face when I pulled out my airline I.D and showed it to him. I guess he realized that it was time for the good cop to come in.
The good cop definitely looked the part. His face was pleasant and good-looking. He was fairly tall for an Indonesian and looked young, around 24 or 25, with a lean body and clear face. He entered with a smile and did not sit behind the desk like the bad cop but sat on the bamboo bench beside my seat. He gave me his name. He said he was sorry for this problem and that these hassles happen all the time. It wasn’t my fault. It was the stupid immigrations fault in the U.S because they let us travel without checking if we have two blank pages in our passport for the Bali visa. He asked me where I’m from. His eyes took in my black hair, my asian face, as he looked at me and at the details I had written on my arrival card. I tried making small talk about how I was just here in Bali a few weeks ago and that I was working as cabin crew and I did not get to enter Bali and that I was really looking forward to this trip. I was here to do yoga (and heal my broken heart) but I didn’t tell him that last bit.
I was still undecided what to do exactly and I saw that he was trying to find the right segue to let me know that I should pay some exorbitant amount if I wanted to enter Bali. I beat him to the punch and innocently asked “is there anything I can do, like maybe help pay or something”. He said yes and went on to explain that usually this was the case because immigration laws are so strict. He said he would try to help me and do his best. He was then called out by some gruff voice and he excused himself. I heard people talking outside the room (there were no doors in between these rooms ) and the conversation was punctuated with words like “cabin crew” “airline”, “first time” . But I wasn’t really listening. I had closed my eyes and I was desperately praying to God. “God help me, what do I do, it’s all up to you, ” I kept repeating in my heart “God help me” “God help me”.
Past experiences have shown me that when I work too hard to go against the flow of my destiny I end up in a dire situation that has me wishing I had not forced things in the first place. Like when I left my jacket before I left for Athens, like a relationship that I kept forcing but should never have happened.
I wasn’t sure what to do but as I kept praying I knew I would not force this trip if it was not meant to be. After all this whole trip has been inspired by my finding a balance/compromise between ‘what is meant to be’ and ‘shaping my own destiny’ with God leading me both ways.
Before I knew it the good cop came in with his boss, a higher ranking officer. This other officer had a smile on his face and with the look of a king bestowing grace and mercy on his subjects he asked if I was traveling alone. Then he explained that I was free to go. That next time I should know better and if I were to come back to Bali I ought to have two whole pages on my passport.
What??!?! Just like that?
The immigration officer and the good cop were smiling at me as I was smiling at them. After all that red tape it seemed to good to be true.
My defenses were up and I was mentally preparing myself for anything, assessing my surroundings and telling myself that in no circumstances would I allow myself to be led into another room alone with an officer if I was indeed ‘free to go’. Instead, they asked about me, and told me I was pretty. I said ‘selamat’ (which is ‘Thank You’ in Bahasa) and the good cop said “selamat maram”. “Oh just like Filipino! Salamat ng marami”. I’m actually Filipino” “oh Filipino, that’s why pretty! you know pacquito?” I did not know any pacquito (he pronounced it pak-wee-to) and then he made a gesture like a boxer. “oh yes, Pacquiao! of course!” I said.
“yes yes, He Pacquiao, win no?!”
“Yes, pacquiao is the best!”
After a little more small talk and more hearty selamat maram’s the good cop led me out of the room and even assisted me in getting my luggage. He talked to me and led me out of the airport rolling my luggage along the way. I kept expecting something else to happen and I asked him if there was anything I could do to say ‘thank you’. He said no and that usually people have to pay 250 dollars,(250 dollars!!!) but in my case it was o.k. He told me that the going rate is 250 dollars and that he talked to his boss for me and everything was going to be o.k. The good cop suddenly seemed like a shy boy as he led me out of the airport and assisted me in finding the airport pick-up I arranged when I booked my hotel. I was elated, but I was still tense. As a female traveling alone I always feel cautious. In the words of my good friend **Kat** “I know i’m such a girl right now, But I just need a man. I need a man!”.
Yes, this is one of the difficulties of being a woman traveling solo. I have to be extra wary of ‘kind’ strangers. I feel as if I have to hide and conceal whatever sexuality I have in order to be safe and inconspicuous. At the same time, what single lady would not love to meet her prince charming in an exotic and foreign land?
Anyway, back to the airport-
My defenses were still up and I was half expecting and half preparing for something else to happen. Was I being let go because I would be followed and kidnapped instead? Was I supposed to pay him 100 dollars as a sign of my gratitude? But when I asked he just said ‘no , no need’ as if it was an embarrassing topic that we should not talk about. He asked more about me and said he would look for me next time I travel to Bali as crew.
After helping me find the information booth he was called from the walkie talkie and told to return to (what I assume) was that unlucky American couple that got left behind in that office. And just like that, he was gone.
I am now in bed in my comfortable and tiny villa here in Ubud, Bali. It was 9:00 p.m when I got here. As I walked through the narrow pathway embraced with lush foliage I could hear the nighttime sounds of nature completing the silence. I am surrounded by an explosion of raw colors and the complete ambience of this tropical, native island. I am still half suspended in disbelief that I am actually here! I am in Ubud – near the mountains, surrounded by rice paddies, tropical trees, native art and lush nature. I am lying under a high raised bamboo ceiling on a queen size bed with red silk sheets and a white mosquito net. I’ve had a hearty dinner, changed into a comfortable nightie, and am now tucked into bed as I write this.
I still don’t know how I got through the way I did.
I wish I could claim that I just batted my eyelashes and used my natural good charm and charisma. But I just know that this isn’t the case at all.
I wonder if it’s because I work for an airline and they were afraid that I would report them for taking bribes or if it is because I work for an airline and they have a soft spot for airline crew (most airport staff seem to have the opposite). I wonder if it’s because they could tell I was just a lonely soul searching budget traveller on a five day stay and not some American tourist they could exploit money from. Whatever logic or compassion that made them decide to let me go, I know that it was God who let me through. I’m excited because I hope that this is a sign that I have Gods blessing in being here.
My heart deepens with gratitude as I thank Him for his protection and the many blessings he bestows in my life. God, my saviour: the ultimate good cop of the universe.
Good cop, Bad cop. Good and Evil. Joy and Sorrow. Pain and comfort. The world operates on an axis of opposites that are constantly tilting and pulling us in both directions. One cannot exist without the knowledge of the other. Balance would not exist without it. Love would not be as meaningful without it. Being able to understand this and ultimately accept this is another step I take in this Broken- Heart-Curing-Treatment that has set me off on different journeys these past few months.
AND now I am here and I don’t know what this adventure shall bring.
Heck, I don’t know anything about anything. But gosh darn-it, I’m going to keep on trying.
“Happiness is a consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings”
– Elizabeth Gilbert “EAT, PRAY, LOVE”