God knows how many times I’ve been to Singapore in the past few years, my overflowing passport seems littered with stamps from their reliably welcoming immigration staff (New Zealand could do well to send theirs to study how its done). Suffice to say it seems thoroughly routine these days and I’ve grown to quite like the conformity of it all after the often dysfunctional chaos of Indonesia.
Another reason to like the trip is the exit out of Denpasar. Ngurah Rai International Airport provides one with a bizarre mix of humour and frustration. The frustration comes mostly from the creaky bureaucracy of the place – the six levels of officialdom one has to pass to get out is just another sign of the bureaucratic overkill that Indonesia inherited from the Dutch, which they’ve managed to add bewildering and confusing layers to with no rhyme or reason.
But even here the humour creeps in. On leaving the Indonesian resident has to pay an exit tax equivalent to two and a half times the average monthly wage. There are a variety of reasons put forward by the government for this but needless to say, none stand up to much scrutiny and in a land like this if you have the right connections or bucks you can easily get an exclusion stamp. Indeed in Indonesia if you have the right connections you can become a government minister as recent statements by the Minister of Aviation are evidence, ability or common sense being irrelevant to the job. But that is an aside.
You can also get an exclusion from the exit tax if you have a tax number, so, as usual, I wandered across to the Fiskal office with NPWP card in hand to get the exclusion stamp. When I arrived the two guys running the office were, like two spoons, wrapped together asleep on the floor. There was a pile of cash on the top of the photocopier next to them and the door was open. I banged on the window rather loudly and they woke, rubbing their eyes.
They studied the passport and our marriage certificate (married men can take their family out free, married women, even if they are the breadwinner, cannot. Women have a different status here, a mix of an Islamic philosophy ingrained in the central government, and the saying heard here that the Dutch packed up logic and common sense and took it with them when they left in 1949. You do wish that somebody would ask for it back).
Still yawning, the guy stamped my departure card without asking for the ‘processing fee’ others have had to offer. Upstairs, after the counter for airport tax, and the immigration officer, unsmiling, which is unusual these days as someone seemed to have implanted these formerly sullen guys with personalities in recent months, we wandered through into the departure zone and noted a couple of new shops to add to the grossly overpriced food and duty free outlets (champagne for US$120 a bottle anyone, or a bottle of water at five times the rate outside the doors of the terminal).
Yes, there is now a brand new store – selling pirate DVDs next door to departure gate 4. After a what-in-gods-name-were-they-thinking moment, and noting the endless displays of single packets of cigarettes (at twice the non-duty free price), shitty Javanese made Balinese souvenirs, shitty Javanese made Australian Aboriginal souvenirs (Why? I can’t answer that), and the large carved penises that if you look closely are bottle openers, you pass two more officials, one to take the airport tax sticker you were just given (to prevent the first tax collector stealing the money we are reliably told) and one to take the departure card that the first immigration officer studied earlier.
And you’re in.
I enjoy the flights to Singapore on Singapore Airlines. It’s a relatively civilised airline, unlike, say, the shitty Malaysian Airlines flights into KL (crap Airline, crap service, crap airport) full of young Indonesians flying full of hope into Malaysia – about to have their illusions shattered by horrific Malaysian labour practices.
SA offers practised smiles, legroom and good food.
But mostly, on SA from Bali, I enjoy the people watching, and extra mostly that means the Russians, who feed from these flights onto some flight to Vladivostok, or somewhere else northerly and obscure, out of Singapore
They were there this time in some numbers and if you ever wonder who buys all that overly branded fake designer tack you find in the dozens of ‘Versace’, ‘Armani, ‘Paul Smith’ and ‘Prada’ stores that fill the streets of Bali, then look no further than the Slavic tourists heading home.
We also wondered how the two Japanese girls managed to get their breakfast boxes, complete with 300ml orange juices past the promised ‘heavy and through’ security and 100ml liquid paranoia with multiple x‑rays. I guess it cost them a smile and perhaps a pastry or two.
Two and a half hours later, after an aborted landing due, we were told, to crosswinds (I suspect an Indonesian airline would’ve landed anyway) which meant a massive surge upwards when we were less than 10 metres from the ground and a loud uneasy silence in the cabin, we were through the ridiculously fast arrival process and in a taxi on our way into Singapore city.