Prologue

First published

I’m hopelessly ambivalent about travel. The first thought that comes to mind is the excitement of going places that I’ve never been before. This is balanced, however, by the annoying reality of the bureaucracy that surrounds the whole deal. My foremost worry this time around was that some immigration stupidity would tie me up for long enough to strand me in a foreign country. So lo and behold, what should happen when my dad and I check in for my flight at RDU on Saturday morning?

Do you have a visa for Singapore?

Granted, this question sounds somewhat reasonable without the proper context, which is that NUS’s process for acquiring the Student Pass needed to study in Singapore for longer than 90 days is completely brain-dead. I still won’t get my pass until tomorrow at international student registration. This means that a paperwork snafu could leave me without the documents I need to study here, after I’ve already flown here and checked in to my hostel (which I did this morning, though I’m staying in my hotel one more night because I might as well use the reservation and avoid having to make my own bed). Suffice it to say, though, that I don’t (and shouldn’t) have official documentation at this point, because it hasn’t been issued to me yet. So I answer honestly:

No, I don’t, but it’ll be issued to me when I get there.

Well, we don’t have proof of that, and ICA says you have to leave within 90 days.

Okay, never mind the fact that she’s just a check-in attendant and shouldn’t be asking these questions anyway. I give her a bunch of earlier paperwork to show that I wasn’t making this all up.

But you don’t have a visa.

Yes, that’s true….

In that case, we can’t send you there unless we can show that you have a way of getting back to the States legally. The only way we can do that is for you to buy a ticket back home within the next 90 days. Now, I can find a refundable one, so that once you get there you can walk up to the desk and get your money back, but this isn’t going to be cheap.

An awkward silence ensues. Thankfully, my dad sacrifices himself for this insanity. Yeah, sure, we can do this, he says, rifling through his wallet. How much will the ticket cost?

It’s going to be $2,810, but it’ll only be on your account for a couple of days.

Dad visibly flinches, but hands over a credit card anyway. I just sigh. The check-in attendant shoves my one piece of checked baggage on its merry conveyor way and, after handing me back my papers and the card now bearing almost three thousand dollars’ worth of annoying idiosyncrasies, wishes us a nice day.