Monday, October 29, 2012

The Hassles of Crossing Indonesian Customs


The most harrowing immigration/customs experience I have ever had was in Shanghai, when I got scrutinized by the customs agent and had my backpack inspected all because I had Taiwan arrival and departure stamps. It was all political, and I guess branding it as racial profiling would be extreme. Besides, even the term 'harrowing' is an exaggeration here. It was over in a few minutes and the next thing I knew I was chomping on a burger at Burger King.

I have been to all countries in the northeast with the exception of North Korea. All I ever got was a glare of indifference from immigration officers, or a question on when do I leave. Not even a smile or a wink. In the southeast I have been to the former British Malaya, Vietnam, and Thailand. Same thing except that they ask for a return ticket sometimes. Come to think of it, the biggest hassle you would encounter as a Philippine passport holder would be in getting out of the country care of the reptiles at NAIA. And then Indonesia.

If you have not read it yet, I suggest you scan Chyng Reyes' traumatizing immigration experience when she and her friend did Bali. Now that IS harrowing and really leaves emotional scars. Mine, not really and way milder, although it also leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. I just came up with this article simply to relate to my fellow Philippine passport holders that these things do happen, and you might be next. In any case, you have nothing to fear, as long as you are clean. But if you are smuggling drugs, then Fuck you. With a capital F. You are part of the problem.

I was supposed to cancel Indonesia because my flight from Haneda to Kuala Lumpur would be arriving at 6:30 AM. My flight to Surabaya leaves at 7:20, which meant that it would already be boarding by the time we land. I could not use the transfer facility because I have two separate itineraries, and Air Asia seems to have a stranglehold of that section for some reason that remains unfathomable to me. Is that section not owned by the airport? When it was announced at Haneda that our flight would be delayed, I already gave up and came up with alternatives such as staying in Malaysia to do Legoland, crossing over to Singapore, and then flying back to Manila from there with a relatively cheaper Airphilexpress flight to Clark if booked that day or the next.

It was supposed to be my second time to cancel on Indonesia, but then despite the half hour delay, my flight arrived at 6:20 AM. How the pilot did just that, I had no clue, although I did hear him announcing that he would be taking shortcuts. Whatever that meant. With a boarding pass I obtained from Air Asia's kiosk before I left for Haneda via the same airport the week before, I was able to convince the immigration usherette to let me skip the line. 10 minutes later and without any check-in baggage to drop, I was already on queue for boarding to Surabaya. Indonesia, looks like we are meeting at last.

After a three hour flight and my phone's clock jumping an hour behind Manila time, I arrived at Juandah airport. Immigration time. I do not know if I was just imagining things but there was that feeling that something was going to happen as I handed over my maroon passport to the officer. He started asking questions, for a return ticket, and my itinerary which I gladly explained to him. We were done after 10 minutes or so but still, I thought of it as spending more time there than the other foreigners, mostly Caucasians. What is with that passport that triggers something in them to react differently?

I thought customs would be a breeze, only that it turned out to be where all the action was. As my bag passed though the x-ray, the officer asked to inspect it. In all fairness to those customs officials, they were not disrespectful in any way, but I would not even hide my annoyance for being treated as though I was some drug courier, which is probably what all those strict measures are about.

All the contents of my bag were removed, all the way to the last pockets. Yes, kindly sniff my dirty laundry. My camera. My shades. My laptop. The only drugs he found was Conzace, which is my multivitamin of choice. Pucha, nag plug pa. Endorser lang? He then brought my bag back to the x-ray scanner after inspecting my clothes one by one. The toiletries. That was pretty much it. All I travel with are clothes, mostly. And then he found my Japanese language text book.

I have this habit of leaving all the receipts within the pages of the book after enrollment and use them as bookmarks. In this case, there were three, one receipt each for registration, certificate of completion, and late examination. He held on to those for quite a while, asking me all about the figures in them and what they were. What for, I had no clue. Perhaps, inspection for money laundering? 250 pesos worth? Seriously?

The next thing he found was the Thailand souvenir plate with a thousand baht under it. Mom's souvenirs. He then began asking where I came from, if I worked in Thailand, etc. And so I explained it to him clearly that I was coming from Japan, and Thailand before that, and then another barrage of questions while my passport remained in the hands of another one of them. What was my job. Where did I work. All the basic questions that were mostly repetitive. He also kept on hovering that scanner thingy over and under my bag even after expecting it twice manually and twice by x-ray, as though he was convinced with all his heart that I was hiding something and he just could not figure out where.

Guilty until proven innocent. That is what I was most irritated about, even though I understand that all the power tripping must be stemming from some  strong precedent. It is just depressing that it only takes one busted drug mule for them to brand us all as such. The other guy then gave me back my passport, all of the receipts and admission tickets in which were in disarray. I just finished grouping those per country! It is difficult to be OC in here.

The frisking episode was next, and they found my shoes particularly interesting. Okay, this might sound like another endorsement, but my shoes are from Bradford. It adds two and a half inches to my height, and all those are hidden inside the soles rather than outside as heels. This means that the base inside, when felt, is more elevated than it should be. And so he did the x-ray thing again and brought them with him somewhere. I was thinking that he was going to destroy the shoes. He should have tried because I was, by then, really ready to unleash the Hulk. I also thought of the possibility of them planting evidence in it, but then again why would they do that? Bribery? Luckily, none of that happened.

I went out of there without any effort to conceal my frustration. So what if I did? I travel because I can. Not to do something illegal. I just hate it when the reasons for which I do it are perversely twisted just because of some indirect unfounded accusation that I am doing something not in compliance with the law. Well, I guess this is how it works in some countries. I have not been to the US, but I have heard that going through their immigration and customs is also a big pain. Oh well, time to move on. How I wish i already included Bali in the itinerary. I think i would not want to be going back here any time soon.

I know they have their reasons pero ewan. Parang mga nagmamaganda lang e. First world lang ang peg? As if magti-TNT ako dito. Naman. Of all the places. Di bale, I know Yogyakarta would be worth it. It better be worth it. I hope this incident does not taint my overall perception of the country, though, as that airport scamming incident did Vietnam.

7 creature/s gave a damn:

suroysuroy.ta.nijo said...

wow.. this is another 'scary' immigration story.. planning to travel solo next month to Indonesia.. sana naman maging mabait saken ang IO.. kinakabahan na ako.. haha.. thanks for this info..

Escape Manila said...

OA ang IO ha, man, I am about to book my flight to Indonesia for next year, now I'm having a second thought. Sana naman di ko maranasan 'to.

ihcahieh said...

@suroysuroy.ta.nijo and Escape Manila - may mga nababasa naman ako na blogs na mga nagpunta rin ng Indonesia na di naman nakaranas ng ganito. I guess they do it in random. In my case puro Indonesians at Malaysians kasi kasabay ko. Kaya siguro ako na single out. Dunno.

chyngreyes.com said...

haha, korek. as if 1st world country ang peg. tse sila! ^_^

ihcahieh said...

@chyngreyes - True that! Nakakapanghinayang kasi pag tinignan ang map ng Indonesia, ang laki, ang dami sanang magandang i-explore. E kaso kung ganyan naman ang sasalubong sa yo, nakakawalang gana.

tina said...

hi ihcahieh! you've been living an exciting life :)

ihcahieh said...

@tina - Hehe, thanks.

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