09 March 2007

New Passport

Today, three and a half weeks after applying for my new passport, and a week and a half after they had said it should be ready; I have it. Getting into the consulate takes time and, if I go by taxi, gets expensive. It gets more complicated because you can only go to the citizens service office between 8:30 and 11:30, Monday through Friday.

I started calling them last Monday to check on the status of my document. I just don’t trust this, “we’ll call you”, especially when cell phones in Vietnam do not have voice messaging. When I called on Wednesday, a woman told me “it is on the way”, and that I could come in on Friday to get it.

How they actually make the passport is by sending all the info electronically to DC, where they print it up and FedEx it back to Ho Chi Minh City. What that means is that my beautiful, six-hour fashion shoot hairstyle/make-up was going to loose definition. Actually, it already had been degraded because when I went to apply for the passport I found out the size was wrong. And when I went back to the photo lab they had already deleted my pictures so had to scan the prints I had before enlarging them.

I arrived at the consulate at 8:30 and noticed that there were no lines of people. Oh no. Then I talked to the guard at the door who asked if I had an appointment. Double oh no. But hey, the woman on the phone said I could come in Friday so that was an appointment to me. I went through the security stations, handed in my cell phone, and then on in to the office. In the waiting room, normally packed to the rafters, there was only one, older couple. It was then I figured out for sure that citizen services only operates three mornings a week.

Even though there were only two other people in the room, I took a number from the machine. I was number 2. I could see that only one window was open and although I could hear voices from behind the five inches of protective glass, no one seemed interested in actually helping the waitees. After another woman came in and walked directly to the window and was helped, I started to wonder if waiting patiently was the right move. Apparently so did the older couple because they got up and stood in front of the window until someone helped them.
I followed suit when they finished.

A Vietnamese employee asked what I wanted and I said I was there for my new passport. “We are closed today”, she said. I explained that I was told to come in. She ran off behind a large partition to talk to someone. A few minutes later she returned to my line of vision and started searching through a file, then disappeared again. Eventually she came back and said that although my passport was in, it had not yet been processed and that they would call me next week. I explained that I worked and couldn’t get in during the hours they were open. Then I asked why I couldn’t get it now. “We need to run a security check”. This was really getting tedious. I asked if I could speak to the State Department Officer, or whatever they are called. She told me to have a seat, and then once again disappeared, I presume to talk to said individual.

Another five minutes, and I had my new passport and my old passport, now punched with holes. I sat down to look at the new one. Yikes! The picture is so blurred-out that I wondered why I had bothered to get the ‘touch-up’ at the photo lab. The few red, and I mean real red, highlights are no longer noticeable because my whole head looks punked-pink/red. I also have a nose twice as large as the real one. I am thinking of taking one of the really good photos and glue-gunning it on top of the DC issue.

One accomplishment for the day and I was bound and determined to make it two. I walked down to the Vietnam Airlines office to, once again, try to get credit for the ticket I wasn’t able to use when I wanted to go to Malaysia. This would make my fourth trip there.

The day after my failed flight, I went to my travel agent and was told, “It’s not our problem”, and that I had lost the ticket. Then I went to the Vietnam Airlines main office and was told the same thing, but that it would be looked into. A week later I got a call saying that they would only refund the tax on the ticket. Then I wrote a detailed letter and took it back to Vietnam Airlines and had it delivered to the managing director. And today, I went again to check on the status of the ticket.

It is always a bit of a problem when I go because I have to explain the entire situation, to three new people, who have limited English. Their office has around twenty-five service counters and three million agents just to add to all the confusion. Nevertheless, I sat down at counter eight, pulled out my slips of paper listing everyone I had talked to so far, and slowly rambled off my tale. The agent needed to go into the back to check.

She came back to tell me that the validity of my ticket had expired on March 11th. I started to say, “But I have been coming in and phoning since February 13th”, but wisely shut up. It seemed the agent was aware of this. Talking to her further, it seemed that half of Vietnam Airlines was aware of my situation. She told me that she would re-book the ticket, but would need to send all the info to the head office in Hanoi for the final ok. I will have to wait two or three days to find out if I really do get a new ticket, but it looks very, very good. She also did say that the fault for the entire mess-up was that of my travel agents and not mine.

A fruitful day indeed!