MAY 25 ― Inspired by a friend's recent holiday overseas, my husband and I decided to renew our long expired passports. Having heard of the long lines and horror stories at the major immigration offices, we considered going to the smaller one at Port Klang because I figured that the lines would be shorter there.
So we left the house while it was still dark and reached there around 7. We were surprised by the line that had already collected outside the gate of the building. As we scrambled to join the tail end of the queue, I could not help but think of us as a mindless herd of cattle.
But then again, perhaps not! I was sixty five and my husband was sixty nine! We were special! We were warga emas and that meant some special privileges, right? I glanced over at the queue in front of me.
They were all there ― almost every representative across the spectrum of our population ― the withered, the potbellied, the enthusiastic gym goer, the prim yuppy, the middle aged businessman and the flustered parent with children in tow.
And I wondered why. Why was the queue so long?
After so many reports of this overwhelming deluge of passport renewals all over the country, one would think that they would have had a better system by now of sorting out the different types of ‘cattle’ at the gate.
The warga emas, the children, the first timers, the lost passport cases and the online passport collectors etc but NO! That thought did not seem to be part of the job description of those who worked at his office.
Almost an hour passed of standing in that neat queue outside the gate, when suddenly, there was an uproar and a lot of shouting.
A hapless young immigration officer came out to make an announcement to the queue!
This officer told the crowd that they would not entertain any walk-ins unless they were warga emas, children, first timers, those who lost their passport and the online passport collectors. It occurred to me that this could have been made easier if they had a notice about this outside the gate with different notice stands for different queues.
But once again, this was also probably outside their job description. Those not in these categories started to shout and misbehave. Quite understandable.
After all, some were already standing there for more than an hour and some had taken a day off too, to stand there from dawn.
Then these people started to rush toward the officer and the neat line began to disintegrate right before my eyes and become a mob. Others rushed towards the gate. They were like prisoners trying to get out of prison only ... here we were trying to enter one!!
The gate finally opened at ten past eight ― so much for the clockwork reliability of our government departments! The crowd outside the gate had morphed into some kind of madness!!! It was beginning to look like a scene from a horror movie.
I braced myself to sprint. I told my husband that if the others ran, it was every man for himself! I told him that I was going to do my 100m sprint, and that I was going to leave him behind!
But then a thought occurred to me ... what if we fell!! We were already on the darker side of our sixties and our joints were not what they used to be and so I stood my ground and knew that I could have been the leader of the pack ― had this been fifty years ago.
And what was that about warga emas again? We were not emas at all!! Just cattle!! In the end, all the young able bodied walk-ins ― made a dash past the guard. So what was that announcement all about, I wondered.
An early morning exercise in ...making announcements??
And so we passed the gates and joined another cattle queue outside the doorway. By now many of the younger people were ahead of us. Once inside, we were given forms to fill before we could be given our call numbers.
Old people were looking for pens, some were looking for their spectacles and some were looking for other fingers to fill out this form. Once again, the younger ones were faster and got earlier numbers.
Poor warga emas! ― many of whom had queued early but failed the Form Filling Test!!! And so we get big numbers and walk slowly up the stairs.
When we got to the office upstairs, we found that many of the counters were still not open ― but they opened later. We suspected that they were probably having their breakfast or having a meeting about having breakfast - or something else more important.
I resigned from expecting greatness anymore. We cattle will never understand the mysterious workings of an important crowded office.
By now, people were standing all over the place but we, warga emas, needed to sit but there were no seats in front of the passport counters. Once again I wondered about that “warga emas” thing.
We finally chose to sit in front of the visa counters, a very short distance away from the passport counters, from where we could comfortably keep our eye on the call numbers for the passport counters.
Every now and then, “kepo” me would walk around to the passport area to check out the crowd. I saw an old Malay man looking perplexed about making a cashless payment at the counter. All he had was cash. A Chinese lady, trying to be helpful, told him to get someone else to pay for him and to give the cash to that person.
I saw another senior Chinese man holding No. 25 in his hand. I asked him how he managed to get that low number. He told me that he had come the day before and picked up the form a day ahead.
Ah .., ha!!! Here was a secret from a seasoned senior on beating the queue but it was too late for us and what a bother to have to come twice, I thought! Anyway he was not totally prepared either. He told me that he had neither credit card or T&G but I think a middle aged businessman ― No. 28 was prepared to help him.
We finally got our passports before lunch. I suppose we should be glad that it was rather a relatively short wait. But then again ... this was probably because this was the sleepy hollow of Port Klang.
In conclusion, I was taken aback by the way we, the so called ‘clients’ were managed. I was embarrassed that our immigration system was still stuck in some kind of time warp of the seventies ― unprepared for all kinds of surprises ... even after two years of travel bans and lockdowns.
They should have expected this deluge of passport renewals. They should have managed the old and the young better. They should have managed the analogue and the digital era better. And in the end, I discovered, our warga emas was not emas at all.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.