Oh operator’s manual / I’d just fall apart without you

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.

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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.

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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.

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