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Hey Tourist! Let's Clear Immigration!    

By Ken Silver About Asia
3058 Views | 8 Comments | 3/18/2012 4:05:37 PM

Don’t forget your passport! A friend of mine – we will protect his identity by calling him "Big Idiot" – booked a flight from San Francisco to Bangkok via Tokyo, and in his happiness didn’t notice that the last employee at San Francisco International to handle his passport had somehow failed to give it back to him.

Without his passport, Big Idiot, in Tokyo, was refused a seat on the Bangkok plane. With nary a bow, the Japanese ushered him to a seat, by the toilet, on the next plane back to the States. My dear friend Big Idiot had blown a thousand dollar ticket, his entire vacation, a budding international romance; gaining only weeks of depression and self-anger, through one moment of inattention.

Don’t be a Big Idiot! At least don’t be a Big Idiot like Big Idiot! Know where your passport is, and make sure of it!

Even with paperwork intact, it pays to put some attention into clearing Immigration and Customs. You figure you are there to spend money, most probably you have just stepped off a big magic metal bird, everyone official ought to make way, make way!

Wrong! You are after all at a doorway, and the uniformed gatekeeper does not have to let you in. (Globally, there is a movement to cultivate richer tourists; the weeding out of us poor folk has begun.)

If there are multiple choices as to which Immigration officer to go to, spend a few seconds eyeballing the possibilities. Arriving with a plane or bus load full of fellow travelers, it’s no problem to inconspicuously study the situation while pretending to make last minute adjustments to clothes or hand luggage.

I always try to pass through a male immigration officer. Males are simply less fussy than females. Women – bureaucrats of house home and family - are genetically hard wired to be very serious about “everything being in order” (And God forbid she is studying your passport while suffering her period, of course.). Look for a young, smiling male officer. What you see is what you get. There is a theory that in life an official of the opposite sex treats you better than an official of your same gender will treat you, but in this situation I would definitely go male gender.

I know you are tired after the long journey and anticipating what lies beyond the official gateway, but try to control your wagging tongue. A brassy lady friend of mine when asked by a handsome male officer what her reason for her visit was replied “Men like you honey. When do you get off work?” The officer smiled, but an older supervisor overheard and a search of the lady’s hand luggage ensued. Some mild pictorial erotica was found. The superior reached for his glasses and the lady rashly quipped “These are black men, honey. You won’t need your glasses.” Fighting words in any Asian country! Finally she was let through, being well dressed, essentially polite, entertaining, and with a First Class air ticket, but the footnote in their computer database promised individual attention for every subsequent visit.

Well, maybe she likes it that way.

Arriving by expensive airplane does give you a certain status. Arriving by train, or worse, bus, puts you in the same class with drug users and (gasp!) poor people. It really pays off to be deferential and nicely dressed then. Immigration officials at the ground entry points handle lots of smelly people, risk possible disease, and don’t get the structured breaks of airline schedules. Jesus loves poor people, and Saint Christopher loves poor travelers, but nobody wearing a uniform seems to.

I limit myself to a smile and perhaps a short precise remark about how happy I am to “once again be returning to your beautiful country” A heartfelt thank you and smile when my stamped passport comes back to me and I am gone from the booth before they realize I am really Adolph Hitler. Just out of his line of sight I check to make sure the officer did the stamping and dating properly.

O.K., maybe I sound a little paranoid. But having a uniformed official stand between me and the Promised Land…

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2012-03-18 13:16:31 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

I came so close to doing this same thing to myself that you're all free to call me, as my wife often does, her version of "Almost Big Idiot". I had passed through security and had forgotten to grab my passport and small items that were in the little tray that came through the xray machine because I was busy concentrating on my computer and carry on bag. Wife and I had walked the 800 or so meters to the gate for our plane when something clicked, and it could easily not have until we were taking off, and I thought about my passport.

I ran back and was lucky enough that someone official had spotted my stuff lingering there unclaimed before some less than honest tourist had noticed it for what it was - lost and lonely and looking for a new home. The security folks graciously handed it to me with pleasant smiles, but their eyes clearly indicated they were secretly calling me "Almost Big Idiot". And when I got back to my wife she was less kind than the security people, and not at all secret, but she called me the slightly more intimate name of "You F**King Moron".

And being a female (whether Chinese or not makes no difference in these cases) she never fails to remind me of my new pet name every time we pass through airport security. At least your friend, Ken, was fortunate enough to be alone.

#2012-03-18 19:34:58 by cstorvik @cstorvik

Ah, this happened to a passenger I saw last year who was on her way back from prague. She was crying a lot and it turned out she lost her passport and was forced to go back to Norway.

Yeah, I'm going to china this summer and I'm really afraid of something like this happening. It would be an absolute nightmare, especially since I'm only 23 and still a student.

#2012-03-19 11:12:49 by twhite725 @twhite725

“Twenty-three hundred years ago, Zhuang Zi, in giving advice to a king, made him observe that when a small boat drifts in the way of a huge barge, the crew of the barge will immediately shout abuse at the stray craft… if they discover that the little boat is empty, they will simply shut up and quietly steer clear of it. He concluded that a leader… should first and foremost learn how to become an empty boat." Quoted from Simon Leys in an article about Zhou Enlai. Applies equally to clearing borders, as well as encounters with law enforcement or other fatuous authorities.

My advice based on experience is similar. Wear a sport jacket or more formal clothes including even a tie. Look/act humble and modest. If that's not your normal style imagine you are playing the role in a skit or play acting. Be clean shaven. Don't joke unless it's the officer's initiative. Look for an immigration line with an older man (with a beard or not so clean shaven if that applies in the country in question.) Why? Obviously he is not worried about superiors looking over his shoulder and probably has the confidence and flexibility that comes with age and seniority.

So much for good advice! I drove 6 hours to the MSP airport and did not discover I left my passport in a similar looking safari jacket at home (lots of pockets in this style of coat) until two hours before the flight. Fortunately I contacted United Airlines and they rescheduled me for the next day without charge and a neighbor was coming down to the city that night who could bring my passport and save me an extra 12 hours driving. But too much of that level of stress will give you the same type of PTSD and flashbacks as physical violence.

#2012-03-23 21:34:34 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

Here is a true story. I was flying from Bangkok to China. A few days earlier I and my friend had run across one of the few honest cab drivers in Bangkok. we literally sought a dozen cab drivers to take us from the spot we were visting to our hotel and they all quoted us outrageous price. He gave us the same price we had paid to get there, We used him for the remainder of our trip and he always gave great advice and fair prices. He was such a great guy when he took us for the airport for our departure, I gave him a $50 tip. After I had checked in at the aiport and was headed to the gate I noticed my passport was missing. This was the first time in decades of travel this had happened to me. I was screwed. I ran back to the check in desk and asked around. No. This was it. I had not even followed my usual procedure and made a copy of my passport. I was really screwed. At just that moment, I heard a voice over the intercom announcing my name and telling me to come to a desk. Sure enough, there was my passport waiting for me. There is no way to prove that fifty dollar tip had anything to do with it, but there is nothing that will stop me from believing it did. Try to create good karma on your trip. You never know when you are going to need to tap into some of it.

Re the advice on immigration agents, I would have to say in China to stay away from the male visa immigration folks, especially the younger ones. In Rivertown Peter Hessler notes that he always found Chinese males in positions of power gave him much more s**t than female agents, and from my experience the same advice valid today in China. Chinese guys have issues with foreign guys, especially American. In any line for anything in China I will go out of my way to get in a line with a female service person.

#2012-03-29 22:32:41 by PeterJ @PeterJ

King Moron in Waiting? Off to England, and a week to go, everything arranged, everything organised. No. Last minute change of destination and so change of flight. Re-pack. Re-check. Put travel documents in a safe place, switch everything off, lock the door and head for airport. Arrive in good time, open my case, but can’t find travel documents. Panic. Rush out to find a long queue for taxis. Negotiate with a truck driver for a very fast trip home and back. Off we go, very fast. Then I realise that I am expected to keep him awake with gentle nudges. In the end we detour and pick up his girl friend, who keeps him awake with hard slaps on the back of the head. Back home at amazing speed, rush up to apartment, find the power switch and switch on the lights. Search the whole apartment, but travel documents are not there. Blind panic. Empty case on floor and search all pockets. Travel documents are quite safe in an inner pocket where I had put them. Re-pack case. Everything off again, down to the ground, and a fast return to the airport despite the driver’s attempts to go in to a deep sleep. Good news. Booking-in delayed by one hour. Deep breath, calm down slowly. Eventually reach England. The weather is dull but dry, for the first time in a long lifetime. Find waiting friends and exit airport. Raining. Welcome to England.

#2012-03-30 09:45:22 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

OK, I'm seeing a bit of a common theme here. There seems to be a bit of a competition for the "Big Idiot" title. PeterJ seems to even be inviting a handing over by me of the crown my wife gave me, although I'm not sure he read it correctly, and might not be so anxious to receive it if he had noticed it wasn't "King Moron" but was the less eloquent "F**king Moron".

My wife BTW will not allow me to relinquish the title of "F**king Moron", but in deference to the greater and even dumber self inflicted wound suffered by PeterJ, we here at CLM/ALM have instituted the official title of "King Moron" for the member who has done the best job of causing him/her self some serious, albeit it comical, pain. And we hereby anoint PeterJ as the current reigning monarch. Are there any usurpers to the throne?

#2012-03-30 12:20:23 by PeterJ @PeterJ

I did notice the full title. I thought it would be ill-mannered to claim a title awarded by your wife for outstanding merit, so I aimed a bit lower in rank and status. I feel very honoured by your award of ‘King Moron’ – it makes up for the big handful of RMB that day cost me.

#2012-12-29 13:04:37 by Chicano @Chicano

"Big Idiot" had to be born in or next to the monkey boy's "Kenya Watermelon Patch"

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