Thursday, June 3, 2010

And You Tell Me A Singapore Passport Is Priceless!

And You Tell Me A Singapore Passport Is Priceless!

So sorry to just jump up on all of you like that after close to a month of not posting and then diving deep into a chant-like rant. But really, the impetus for this post is this nagging frustration I have had over the past 10 years and a sudden desire to transcribe the abstract ideas into prose.

Well, it just happens that I am about to collect my new passport (it’s still a red one, unfortunately, if you happen to make some remote connection) tomorrow and have been flipping the pages of my old one. It is a respectable booklet which has served me well, in my honest opinion. It has identified me to numerous customs officers, gained me entry to many countries, and unbelievably survived 6 separate trips to the singapore immigrations and customs authority (aka passport office) for extensions to its validity.

“6 trips to the passport office in 10 years?!” you must be thinking now, “is this person a criminal or what?”

I’m sure that the common person’s experience with passports is a simple one: collect passport from passport office, use it till it expires in, perhaps, 10 years time, done deal. No, I apologise, not for me. My passport was issued in October 2000, and expired in July 2001. Yes, however impossible, that’s what’s written on its photo page.

Which is the reason why I always get one, if not two, stares from customs officers each time I travel. I do not blame them – just imagine if you were the officer at Washington Dulles who, in March 2010, was presented with this passport which has ‘expired’ for 9 years!

Continuing on with the customs officer role play, you would then be told by none other than myself to “flip down a couple pages”. What you will subsequently see confirms your suspicions of my ‘criminal past’.

~~~flips 2 pages~~~
- 9 month extension in March 2001
- 2 year extension in May 2001
~~~flips another 2 pages~~~
- 2 year extension in October 2002
- 2 year extension in June 2004
- 2 year extension in November 2005
~~~flips another 2 pages~~~
- 3+ year extension in May 2007

By the time you actually flip to the correct “passport extension” stamp, you would not only be irritated, but also puzzled all the same. “Why was this young man given a restricted passport? What crime did he commit?”

Truth be told, I have never committed any crime. This passport pain in the butt is also not an isolated case. In fact, every Singaporean male of my era (they scrapped passport restrictions on NS-liable Singaporean males in 2006) has experienced it before.

The incredibly long afternoon queues at the passport office (which really were incredibly long) just before an overseas trip to extend our passports; the odd stares from customs officers in foreign lands; the hassle of not being totally sure of our passport’s expiry date each time we fill those customs forms out on claustrophobic airplane seats. That was the price we paid since age 11 for the paranoid and autocratic policies of our government.

Yes, when I was only 11 years old, my government was so afraid of my leaving the country to escape military conscription that they issued me a passport which was only valid for 9 months. It signals paranoia when the government of a country which is not at war forces all males into 2 year conscriptions. A panic attack occurs when such a government pre-empts AWOL attempts and implements unnecessarily strict passport restrictions on all 11 year old males.

I’m not here to effect any changes – those passport controls have been abolished since 2006. I, however inappropriate this may sound, am just here to rant. You may be a Singaporean female or non-Singaporean, and do not know how being issued a passport which is valid for 9 months feels like. Let me tell you straight in the face now: it sucks.

Many people have ridiculed my every attempt at bringing up the topic of migration. They typically centre on one main argument: that the red little booklet gains you visa-free access to a buffet selection of countries. They then tell anecdotes of non-singaporean friends having to go through the troublesome motions of applying for visas, and expect me to conclude that a singapore passport is best. Well, haven’t I been experiencing that all this while? If we summed up the total amount of time I spent queuing at the passport office for passport extensions, I think it would be enough time to apply for all the visas I would have ever needed in the past 10 years. And how about my 2 year conscription? 2 years is definitely enough time to apply for all the visas the world can offer you ten times over.

And now you tell me a singapore passport is priceless? So sorry, I must be blind!

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