Day 12, 500 words, 31 days.
It’s out of my hands now – my passport, that is. I’m now at the mercy of the designated runner that’s taking my passport to Kuala Lumpur to get my Visa to India stamped in, rushing it back to Penang in time for my flight.
If all goes well, I hope he gets to pocket the extra RM150 I forked out to send him off in the first place.
Apparently, there are two Indian holidays this week – neither of which I was aware of, which prompted the expedited return of my passport, and hence, the extra cost. Otherwise, it should’ve been in my possession by this coming Friday, stamp and all.
So much of this Visa application process has been a headache that it’s a little overwhelming to think I still have a job to do when I get there. Just getting approved to go has been a journey in itself.
First I had to get my passport back, as it was being processed for my spousal Visa that allows me to even be here in Malaysia. That took several days longer than I had in mind, so I was already set back from the very beginning.
Then I needed to fill out an online visa application and make photocopies of my passport, my wife’s passport, both our Visa pages, and our marriage certificate. I managed to get everything together quickly and jetted over to the Visa office located in Little India in Georgetown, only to find out upon arriving that I had printed and filled out the wrong form.
The office staff suggested an Internet cafe down the road and gave me the URL to fill out the right form online. We raced down Chulia street to find the first cafe was saw and pulled up the form, only to find out I needed to have a local Indian reference, or at least provide the information for the residence I’ll be staying in. I opted for the latter, picking some random hotel I could, hypothetically, stay at while I’m in Kolkata. I still have no idea where I’ll actually be staying.
We filled out the form, printed out, rushed back to the Visa office, only to run into another issue – our printed form left out an entire column indicated how long I was to stay. The staff was kind enough to pull up my form online and punch in that I was applying for a multiple entry Visa.
I was wrong. Since my trip is so short, I should have opted for a “single” entry. They had to re-do the entire form, for a fee.
I was fuming. At this point, what should have been a quick trip to their office turned into a series of unfortunate events that would have delighted Lemony Snickett himself.
So we waited at the office for the secretary to fill out the form for me. Once she was through, I was finally able to pay the application fee and submit it. The process would take a minimum of five business days. Or worse, a maximum of three months.
Fast forward to two days ago – I had been waiting for over a week, giving it ample time to check my Visa application status, only, I couldn’t get through the website whenever I punched in my reference code. Turns out, I was given the wrong information. I should have been checking on an entirely different website, and when I managed to find it after some digging, I had been approved several days before.
So, this morning, I drove like a madman to the Visa office to make sure I was there once it opened. I maneuvered through Georgetown one-way streets like a pro…on too much caffeine. Except, I hadn’t had any all morning. It was my adrenaline kicking.
I parked on Chulia street, raced down the opposite way to the office, and explained my urgent situation – I needed my passport and Visa back by January 20, or I’m missing my flight.
That’s when the secretary gave me the bad news – my passport wouldn’t be back in time after getting stamped because of the holidays (which holidays???) and the only way I’d get it in time was if I expedited the processing. For a fee. Another RM200. I explained the whole website fiasco and, because it appeared she felt sorry for me, she was able to get the manager to negotiate the fee price down to RM150.
On top of RM288 for the actual Visa. Not the application fee. The Visa fee.
Somehow, I felt both irritated and grateful at the same time. At least I got it in, in time. According to them, it should be back in their office by Monday morning. I fly out that evening.
I whipped out my wallet and took out my debit card. “Sorry, cash only…”
Insult to injury – one more stop before this saga is over – the bank. I had to head down to Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street) and take out some cash to pay this exorbitant fee and get my passport sent out. I drove again like a man on a mission, a very particular and drawn out one which I was absolutely ready to end.
After withdrawing a couple hundred ringgit, I headed down Lebuh King and parked at the first spot I saw open. It was a ways from the office so I brisk-walked like a competitive power-runner back to Chulia.
And that’s when it started to hit me. A week from now, provided I get my Visa back in time, I’ll be on a flight to Kolkata.
That’s when the sights, sounds, and smells of Penang’s Little India started to come alive, a precursor for things yet to come. The Hindi music blasting on giant black subwoofer speakers in the DVD shop on the corner couldn’t have been more fitting. The booming bass and high-pitched, nasal-singing, the soundtrack for my journey ahead. The enticing smell of fresh naan bread baking, the vibrant sight of desserts the colors of the rainbow, being peddled on the side of the street. This morning, I caught Little India while it was still waking.
But so was I. Waking to the impending reality that, I’m actually going to India, for the first time in my life.