Singapore has loomed in the humidity like an impending hernia operation. Or some boisterous relative you’ve been avoiding until Boxing Day. We attempted to go to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore from JB (Johor Bahru) a few days ago but it was a total disaster. A write-off. We queued. It rained. We queued some more. We missed the Embassy. It rained. We spent a million dollars in taxis. We had a heart to heart in the basement of a wildly over-priced mall. We cried. We went home. We watched a terribly uneventful movie with Nicholas Cage. True story.
We are back now at Woodlands: the place where you cross from Malaysia to Singapore. Unless they don’t want you to. I don’t like it at all. Things should not be this way. Help.
After the taxi jam, there are escalators to the atriums. Atriums everywhere. Marble and air conditioned atriums. Stainless steel bollards. Yellow demarcation lines. Trained cameras. Perspex auto barriers. Warning signs. Too many reminders of the death penalty. ‘Be Quiet’ signs. Red lines through all sorts of weird contraband: fair enough heroin, but durian-fruit? Men in suits. Police. Auxiliary police. Security guards. Yellow lines for filing humans. And humans that are not smiling. Any of them. Queues of doom. It feels like a great, tragic dystopia of broken spirit. Everyone stairs at their mobile phones and does what they’re told. Take me back to Pai. When we eventually reach passport check, I am interrogated.
“What’s your business in Singapore?” She has that look that says, I’ve seen a million people like you and don’t give me any shit because if I have to press the button under my desk you’re gonna get a Malaysian style cattle Tazer in your kidneys and wake up in D-Block.
“Hello. I need to get to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore, so that I can fly to Denpasar.”
“You have a flight booked?”
“Yes. On Thursday.” Collette always makes the travel arrangements so I am pretty pleased I knew this.
“But you don’t have a visa yet?” At best, she’s stony-faced.
“How do you know you’ll get one?” It’s a fair point.
“I suppose I’m just hoping.”
“But you bought a flight anyway?”
“Yes.” Jeez lady. Relax.
“Who did you book your flight with?” Now this is definitely Collette’s remit. I could guess but she looks like she’ll prove me wrong or know the routes or call someone to check or something.
“Oh my wife deals with bookings.” I make a gesture towards Collette who’s already through another gate. We’ve gotten used to referring to each other as husband and wife since India. There, it was a tactical decision to ward of lecherous, virgin men assessing whether Collette was a Western whore or married. The lady turns to assign diligence to my claim then her gaze returns to me. She’s unmoved. Calculating eyes.
“So you’re married?”
“No.” This looks bad now.
“Why are you lying?” Still dead in the eyes. Her fingers closer to the cattle Tazer alert button.
“We’ve just been pretending to be married.” This looks even worse. “Because of being in India.” Her eyes narrow. I’m failing here. She looks again at the picture in my passport. In the photo I’m clean-shaven and all debonair with a curly-do. I look like I’ve been airbrushed for the DVD cover of a rom-com co-starring Sandra Bullock. Here I stand, four pints last night and a sniff of kratom, full beard and a crap, short bowl-head, courtesy of an ill-advised cheap hair-cut at Chiang Mai Market a week ago. There is no way that hunk in the passport photo would associate with a low-life, bag-eyed, Swampy like me. But despite her suspicions, there are no Police dogs sitting next to me and I don’t break into a sweat. I’m through.
It’s at the second gate where I come unstuck. My finger-prints don’t match. I’m told to wait for the Police. Collette is told to go ahead. I’m led upstairs. It’s like a waiting room outside a court (someone told me what they look like). The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. People in uniform have my passport. Four fuss over my on-screen profile, speaking in Malay. Perhaps they are discussing my drunk and disorderly arrest outside Sam’s Bar on Stockport Market in 2000? Maybe they can see the article from the Jewish Telegraph about the 22 man brawl for WIBS FC at Potternewton Lane in my first game as Manager? Maybe they have secretly detected the kratom with their machines? Quick-fire questions start getting thrown at me from the Power Bitch. She’s like a hangry, shorter version of Condoleeza Rice. The type of woman that probably hates dogs and takes the lettuce off her shop-bought sandwiches. I bet her husband hates her.
“So, siblings, yeah?”
“You got the siblings, yeah?”
“How many, yeah?”
“Oh four, yeah?”
“Are you the oldest, yeah?”
“Yeah.” No I’m not. I’m the youngest. She’s too quick. Fuck. “No.” Fuck.
“What’s the problem, yeah?”
“I don’t have one.”
“You don’t have the siblings, yeah?” She must be the bad cop. Good cop butts in.
“Mr Philip Peter Boydell, we are going to need all of your fingerprints now.” I comply. Power Bitch hates me and so she starts making jokes about me that I can’t understand. What have I done?
“Do you smoke, yeah?” I’ve recently stopped after smoking in India but last night I had a fag, so I’m unconvincing with a response to what should be really quite a straight forward question.
“Erm, no.” She is convinced I’m a smuggler. They must either want to frame me for some unsolved, Singaporean rape-crime or perhaps this is an endurance test to get into the tall arm of the Malaysian Secret Service. No. I’m released. I’m not the droid they’re looking for. Thank fuck I’m through. I can now start getting charged four times as much for lukewarm pak choy in this strangely, soul-less hunk of: concrete, 90’s-boy-racer-tech, capitalism and miserable bastards. I’m yet to be sold on Singapore. Roll on Bali.
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