Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Land of Efficiency, or not?

Singapore's just great for that. Every thing's fast fast fast. So we thought, hey Julien's PR application will be a breeze too. We sort of took our efficient system for granted and just submitted the papers, not thinking too much into it, and maybe even forgetting about it after a while since we were both pretty busy in our daily jobs too. Then I read an article in the papers about permanent residents applications one Saturday. Apparently, according to the straits times article, it takes averagely about 4-6 months for an application to be processed. I thought, okay, that's pretty reasonable. There's no issue that it will be processed since Julien's married to a Singaporean. And then it hit me. Holy Molly! It's BEEN 6 months. First thing we tried to do was to call the immigration checkpoint authorities. However, we never could manage to get them on their 24 hour hot line. We could never get through in the day and by the evening, there was a voice message that told you the office was closed. Heh. So much for a 24 hour hot line. Anyhow, Julien had also dropped them an email and they replied pretty quickly, to inform us that they are still looking at the case (since 6 months??).

So we thought, heck, it's more than the average time to process an application, and we needed to give them a push. Found out from a friend about this thing called the "Meet the people session" where we could meet a Minister of Parliament to help us address this issue. We checked up on our website for our session in our area and that's when things started to get really interesting.

So we arrived at the address given on the website. It was a really small corner office under a block of residential flats. We walked in and instinctively sat down with a cluster of people who had arrived earlier than us. I took some time to look around while waiting. The place was really small and it reminded me of an old hospital in the 80s where the patients sat facing a row of counters numbered 1 - 5, and the nurses would call your name when it was your turn to collect your medication. That's when I turned to Julien and asked "how do we know when it's our turn?". We looked around for a ticket dispenser or something, and saw a bright yellow "REGISTRATION" sign on a school desk that seemed like a make shift registration counter. We weren't sure if this was the registration counter because just beside that sign was another sign that said "ceiling leak". Not wanting to make a fool of ourselves, we decided to ask an old lady passing by. She greeted us with a smile and pointed us to the same desk we saw for registration. Okay we said and walked towards the empty desk. The nice old lady was following us and we thought she was leaving so we gave her some space to walk past. She thanked us politely, walked towards the exit, and detoured to sit behind the desk. She turns to me and asks for my Identification card.

Now this is where it starts to get complicated. I have not changed my address in my identification card since I've moved out of my parent's place. I didn't think it was necessary since we weren't certain if we were going to buy a flat in this area or somewhere else, so it didn't make any sense to me to change my address for 1yr and then have to change it again each time we moved to a new location. Plus, we already had our bank statements or phone bills stating this current address as proof, so I wasn't too worried. What we did not anticipate was that she would insist on me giving her my identification card because I was Singaporean and Julien wasn't. We had also forgot to take out these bills. We didn't think they'd needed to see any. We thought we could just walk in and have a chat with the minister. How naive. Why do you need to know all this you may be wondering. The address stated on my identification card falls under the opposition party. That's why. So she takes a look at my ic still being polite until she keyed it into some system and looked at me like I was the enemy spy. "Are you sure you're living in this area now?" she asks. And after much affirmation and reassurances, she tells me that I cannot see The Man until I change my address. She points me to the police post just opposite and stared after us as Julien and I walked out of that little office like school kids on our way to the principle's office.

So we crossed the little street to the police post. We tell the policeman about our situation, that I need to change my address before we get to see Mr. Big and he says sure thing. What a relief! "I need proof of your new address". Dang it! "You just need to SEE proof?" I asked. He nodded. So I asked Julien if he could access his iphone and pull out my latest phone bill with the new address. Then this guy says he needs to have a hard copy. Do you need to SEE it or KEEP it, we ask. So he caved in eventually and actually told us he would help us in any way he can. And started to commence with making the change of address for me. Triumph!

After about 10 minutes, and starting to already frown at the screen, he asks if I have changed my identification card before. Okay, this is where it gets a little more complicated. I had lost my 1st identification card before. It was in my wallet and I had lost it with everything in it, including my ic. So I went to make a new one. After which, someone returned my wallet with my old ic. At that time, I had somehow misplaced my new ic as well, so since I had my old ic back, I decided to just use it since it was just for identification purposes. But now that it was for something like a change of address, of course it would be invalid. That means I could not change it even if they could do it for me on the spot! So we went back with our biggest, brightest "graduation" smiles, explaining the situation, and since we had proof of the new address in electronic form, we showed it to them too. Thank goodness they accepted it and we got our queue ticket! All that for just a number! We were No. 28! We started to wait for our number to be called since 9.00pm. After 30mins, our number was called and we proceeded to the gentleman at the counter in front of us.

"How can I help you?", he asked in such seriousness that I had to choke down my laughter. "It's nothing serious," I replied, frantically waving my hands in a cris cross manner. He continued to look at me through his thick glasses, that serious look not leaving his face, as though he did not believe me. His peeling lips unrelaxed, had further tightened up into a little white knot. They were white from dehydration. "Mm-hmm", he responds, impatient for my story. So we explained patriotically that we are wanting to settle in singapore and start a family like the government is encouraging us to, but we cannot do that without a home. And the only reason why we can't do that is because Julien's application is taking way too long. You get the drift.

He rubbed his chin in deep thought, and slowly unknotted his lips into what I think was a smile. He explained that the Minister will write a letter to the immigration checkpoint authorities on our behalf to request for the application to be processed quickly, of course with the reasons that we are planning to set up a family, etc. Great! Just the thing we need. So then he tells us that in a while, we will be called up to meet the Minister in the adjacent office, and that he will be asking us some questions. Sure, we can handle that. I thought that was the end of our session. But the gentleman started to crumple up his face in all seriousness again and commenced typing furiously on his laptop. Then I realised - He was typing out that letter for us! That letter that he mentioned the Minister will write, he was actually typing it out on the spot! How hilarious! We sat there for another good 15 minutes, watching this guy talk to him himself, refer to his notes, nod to himself, type furiously again, like a student rushing through his assignment to meet the dateline. I felt so sorry for him I almost wanted to ask if I could offer to get him a cup of water from the water dispenser. It was during these few minutes that we also found out the people here were all volunteers. The gentleman that was on our case actually had a normal day job. But he volunteers for this every week as a way of giving back to his community. And I must say it's hard work. Sometimes, they don't end till 1am in the morning, and he goes to work the next day like any other executive would. I was impressed. Finally, he had finished with our letter and asked for my identification card, julien's employment pass, and our marriage certificate. Thank goodness we had all three! He took my ic with a genuine smile this time, and started to type something into his laptop. Within seconds, I was given that same look the elderly lady earlier had given me. Enemy spy. "You're staying in this area now right?" He asks again, looking at me right in the eye, almost wanting to catch a bluff. His lips tightened up into a white bud again.

So I had to regurgitate that whole story about how I lost and found my old identification card.. as his facial muscles started to relax a little. "Oh I see" he reponds, his eye slightly twitching, trying his best to uncrease his lips to a limp smile. No it wasn't okay. Not to him anyway. He excuses himself to make copies of our documents and re-emerges to invite us to go back to the sitting area where we came from and wait our turn to see the Minister, gently reminding me to change my address as I got up to leave.

By this time we were starving! It was 10pm and we have not had a morsel of food! My stomach juices were starting to churn. A few minutes later, some lady shouted "Lumber twanti egg!" I thought, "Yeah! Throw me a couple lady, I'm starving!". This went on for one or two more times before I realised she was calling out OUR number. Number Twenty Eight. A very hilarious moment indeed, but I was too hungry to laugh. At this point, all I wanted to do was get this over and done with. Then stuff my face with glorious food.

We entered the room, said hello, and comfortably sat ourselves down. I'm not sure if the people there are just tired at that point, or if they've been listening to too many complaints from the community every week, but I was honestly wondering if keeping a serious face was one of the policies set. He had such a serious look on his face he almost looked like he was in pain. Trying my best to ignore my own stoopid thoughts, I just smiled.

"Congratulations," He starts, still looking very much in pain. We were thrown off our seats. We were seriously not expecting that. Congratulations on what? Did we just get punked? Are we on TV? Did we win a million dollars? We looked at each other bewildered, then turned to look at him with expectancy.

"You both will be celebrating your 1st anniversary in a couple of month". After he'd finished congratulating us, a side of his mouth started to shiver almost uncontrollably, exposing a little of his coffee stained teeth. Good Lord. He's smiling. "Thank you" we both said. bracing ourselves for a series of questions that might come next.

"So you like Singapore? Apart from her of course." He begins to chuckle at his own joke, his side lip twitching more aggressively now, while the other half seemed paralysed. Julien answers too quickly, "Yes of course I like Singapore and I intend to settle here for long term, till old age even... unless.... yeah." of course, ending his unfinished statement with his sexiest smile. That seemed to work, because the minister asked us next what we were doing for a living. That was easy. He continued to ask us a few more questions, all which were pretty manageable, until he found out Julien was from France. This led to the next most important question.

"So did you watch the world cup?". Julien embarrassingly confesses that France played a pretty disappointing game, and then both men went silent as if taking a moment to ponder over the events of the France Uruguay draw game. Hello..Waddup?!?! So then the minister breaks the silence by asking us both if we subscribe to cable tv. We both answered this at the same time.

Julien: No, We don't have a TV.
Me: Yes, my parents place.

I guess all three of us realised that our conversation was starting to get more and more deviated, and almost out of it's point. Thankfully, to save any of us from further embassement, the minister told us that recently there has been an influx of foreigners and therefore immigration is a little more strict on who they allow as permanent resident. However, he did reassure us that in our case, there should not be any issue since we're both married. That's good news.

And that was it! We said thank you and good bye, and headed straight to Macdonald's for two overpriced value meals at 10.30pm. The world cup was playing in Macdoland's. Julien was so excited he decided to check his mailbox after dinner just to see if by some miracle his application would be approved by then. Grin. Of course, he came back empty handed.

Guess we'll just have to continue to be patient.

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