Myanmar Memoirs: Burmese Visa Brouhaha (Part 2)

I’m itching to write about my recent Maldives trip (and also my Miri side trip) but I can’t do it knowing that my Myanmar visa story is still left hanging. Not that there are many people who care about it in the first place — I think I can count on one hand those folks who’ve been asking for the next installment. But I like closure more than I do like procrastination, so I might as well get this over with. I know, I know, it’s been a long time coming but better late than never.

Anyway, this story started out as a cautionary tale for fellow Filipinos who’d be applying for their own Burmese visa, but since the visa requirement was lifted as of Jan. 4 this year, then consider this as a funny anecdote you’re lucky enough not to experience firsthand. You can now see this in person without going through the hassle of visa application:

The majestic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

The majestic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

So where did I stop? Ah yes, Claire called me up to let me know that my visa was not only erroneous, but it was haphazardly corrected too, with liquid eraser of all things. She also said that the embassy refused to issue a new visa for me. As this happened on a Friday, I had to wait for the following Monday before I could talk to anyone at the embassy.

Needless to say, that weekend was full of frustrating uncertainty. Would I get a new visa or not after much begging? If I didn’t get a new visa, would I still dare to leave the country? I had three immigration officers to face — one here in the Philippines, one in Malaysia, and one in Myanmar. Was it too much to hope to get past all three with no issues?

As I said, I like closure. I like certainty. The worst thing that anyone can do to me is to leave me guessing. It just drives me crazy. Unsurprisingly, I could hardly eat and sleep that weekend. I couldn’t cope with the worry I was feeling, so I told our group’s de facto leader, Chito, that I wouldn’t be going on the trip if I didn’t get a new visa. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not. Looking back now, it was such a lot of drama over something that turned out to be insignificant, but can anyone really blame me? It’s hard enough for a Filipino to leave the country and enter another one even with all documents intact and complete. I’ve read too many stories of Filipinos getting a hard time at immigration — whether here in the Philippines or some foreign airport. So the fact that I have a technically tampered visa wasn’t in any way comforting.

I called up the Immigration Center at NAIA. The officer who I talked to was friendly and helpful, but not reassuring. He said they hadn’t encountered visas like mine before. He also said it was a common practice for embassies to replace visas if the mistakes happened on their end, so he didn’t really know whether or not I would be cleared to leave the country with my visa as it was.

Out of desperation, I sent an email to the Philippine embassy in Myanmar. I knew they couldn’t be of much help, but I thought it was worth a shot. I was hoping they could tell me that a countersigned visa was a common occurrence and I shouldn’t worry about it. Welp, wrong move. This is the reply I received:

email1

Then, further down the email trail, I saw this:

email2

They forgot to remove their comment. Tsk tsk. But as I wasn’t expecting to get assistance from them because the issue was out of their jurisdiction to begin with, I found the whole thing rather amusing, which was a good thing given the bleak state I was in.

I posted about my troubles on Facebook, and a friend who works at ADB told me their staff members also sometimes got errors in their visas, and a countersign was all it took to correct them. That cheered me up a bit. But because I tend to overthink every little thing, I quickly decided that bit of news wasn’t helpful at all. Of course the immigration would let ADB employees leave the country. They have ADB to back them up. But I was a mere tourist, with no family and friends in Myanmar and no one to cover my ass if an immigration officer decided to offload me.

So yes, I was back to uncertainty again. It was the longest weekend ever. Monday couldn’t arrive fast enough.

But Monday did finally roll around. Kat (whose visa showed her surname and gender wrong), couldn’t go to the embassy, but she sent me an acknowledgment letter she had drafted. She thought that if we couldn’t get a new visa, then the embassy should at least own up to their mistakes in a letter we could present to immigration officers just in case.

Tantan (whose middle name was misspelled on his visa) printed out three copies of the letter then met up with me at McDonald’s in Makati Cinema Square. Together, we went to the embassy to face the music.

We got on the tiny elevator of the Gervasia Building. This elevator feels more like a closet — one I imagine how the wardrobe to Narnia would look like had it been real. With me and Tantan inside, it already felt a bit cramped.

I pushed the close button when a big, burly man (let’s call him CeeLo Green) wearing a barong and holding a mobile phone to his ear stopped the elevator doors from closing in. He held them open, and then a tall, slim man (let’s call him Slim Shady) in a long-sleeved shirt and tie entered. He looked like a young Chinese businessman with his bouncer-turned-bodyguard.

I had to back myself into a corner because it was so cramped in there. If three’s a crowd, then four’s a can of sardines in that elevator.

I could deal with it, though. I had worse encounters in MRT lifts. But what I couldn’t deal with was how CeeLo Green continued to hold the doors long after Slim Shady got in. They were obviously waiting for someone else, judging from CeeLo Green’s numerous attempts to make a call, but for fucking sake, we couldn’t squeeze in another person anymore. And hello, I had places to go.

After about a couple of minutes of silent waiting, I said, “We should go up. I have an important appointment.”

Slim Shady, who was oblivious to my existence up until that moment, turned to glare at me in annoyance and incredulity. On any other day, this would have intimidated me, but I was untouchable that Monday morning. I was pissed off at the embassy for daring to give me bad service after taking my hard-earned money, so I felt like an angry customer with adrenaline rushing through my veins. Like a raging bull, I was ready for a fight against anyone.

So I glared back at him. I even rolled my eyes.

He started to say something, but wisely decided against it. Instead, he waved his hand at the doors, so CeeLo Green released them.

Slim Shady, still looking miffed, pressed the 8 button.

Huh, they were going to the same floor as we were, I thought. What an unfortunate coincidence.

The funny thing about that elevator, aside from its tiny size, is its agonizing slowness. It took more than a minute to get to the top. CeeLo Green tried to make yet another phone call but of course he had no signal, causing Slim Shady to glare at me again, and causing me to roll my eyes again.

After what felt like forever, we reached the 8th floor. Tantan and I turned left. CeeLo Green and Slim Shady went right.

Great, at least I didn’t have to see that arrogant jerk again!

Boy, did I get that wrong.

To be concluded in Part 3!

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