Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Immigration and Customs (The Sequel) or Situation Normal All Fucked Up

"Aaaarggghhhhhh!" I am standing at the KLIA cargo and the nice "customer service officer" has just told me that I need to pay him RM230 to "settle" with Customs. Apparently my boxes, just arrived from Perth as unaccompanied luggage, have contraband - as in my DVDs and a bottle of wine.

"But they are old DVDs, not even new, I brought some of them from KL to Australia."

"That's irrelevant. You need a permit to bring DVDs through cargo."

"And I thought we could bring in at least two bottles of wine..."

"No, that's only in your luggage when you're flying. If you want to bring it in through cargo, you need a permit. Problemlar miss," He shakes his head worriedly and I feel my stomach plunge.

"Er... I kinda don't have the cash on me," I say, hoping for a reduction in terms.

He silently takes in my scruffy tee-shirt, hair untidily bunned up in a scrunchy, unwashed face. Then he glances over at my car. (Oh for crying out loud, it's only a Proton, how on God's green earth can you possibly mistake me for a rich kid?) He ponders the fact that I have just returned from Perth, which means I could afford to study OVERSEAS.

"No problem, I can direct you to an ATM."

I give in. Of course, I am getting ripped off, but what if he is right and Customs actually confiscate my stuff? There is my LOTR ROTK (extended version) and Hamlet (with Kevin Kline as Hamlet, a present from Charles, irreplaceable). And the one bottle of wine Katherine gave me before I left.

We collect the three boxes and one small suitcase from the Freight Forwarders. RM110 there, but I already knew about this fee in Australia, so it doesn't sting as much. My mobile goes off. It's the news director of a cable tv station:

"I got your number from Darla. So you're back. Whatchoo doing ah? Wanna come in and talk business?"

"Um, I really appreciate your call, but I'm kinda stuck in Cargo right now. Can I call you back?"

"Sure, fine, no problem."

The customer service officer flashes me a grin. "Was that your Daddy?" It's obvious that he has me pegged as some spoilt rich kid, the kind I personally despise. Note to him: A spoilt rich kid would have other people to do this for her. Or would be accompanied by some big shot from Daddy's office to smooth everything out. A spoilt rich kid would be driving Daddy's BMW. Or Volvo. Or Merc.

Then I drive over to Customs, to fill up a form. Actually, the friendly "customer service officer" (he doesn't tell me his name) fills up the form for me. He keeps up a lively chat on the way, telling me not to worry: "No problem one, I take care of everything." And I think, well, it's like hiring a consultant; you pay them to settle the hassles for you. But the fact is, having just arrived home, without a job, I'm still virtually penniless. I wouldn't be hiring no consultant, and honestly, can I afford to pay top price for one?

So he goes off to fill up the said abstruse form, kindly informing me that he is valuing all my goods at RM200 (that's RM30 less than the fee he expects). I swelter in the car for 10 minutes (aircon notwithstanding) and listen to Light and Easy trying to calm my nerves. The more this guy reassures me, the more anxious I feel. He returns, waving the form in my face. Same pleasant grin. "Service with a smile. We like to keep the customer happy, lalalalala..."

Then we drive to the Customs examination checkpoint, where he gets down again (in all this I don't get to see any customs officers, they're these stern, mythical invisible creatures) and comes back with a stamp on the Customs form that declares I will be subjected to a 100 per cent examination.

"You'd better take out the bottle of wine and put it in your knapsack." I do. Feeling more and more criminal. Why the hell didn't I just put it in my luggage to carry home with me?

We drive off to the 100 per cent examination point. He gets out and some things happen offstage as I wait for the officers to go through my "three boxes and one suitcase" with a fine toothcomb. None show up. He gets into the car, the form suitably stamped. I gape.

"Um, where are the officers? Nobody checked anything!"

"Don't worry, I settled with them."

"How much?"


He pauses. Then: "You can pay me now."

I fish for my wallet and count out RM230. His teeth practically blind me. Easy money. Soft mug. Christmas must have come early this year. I try and calculate how much this guy makes if he does at least two of this a day. The mind boggles.

One more hurdle before I'm home free. The exit, where they may just decide, proper documentation notwithstanding, to go through the contents of my car. Instead, the officers at this checkpoint flash him a knowing grin and smile sweetly at me. I wonder how many of them are in on it and how many will get their cut.

I am out of the cargo now. He alights and strides purposefully to the security guards at the entrance. I made the mistake of asking these guards what I was supposed to do when I arrived, having never collected anything from cargo in the whole course of my interesting life. I remember feeling a little surprised when the security guard in question offered me his seat, pulled out his mobile, made a call after which smiley guy emerged. Only the best service...

Later that day, I'm on the phone with a friend: "Bloody bribery and corruption."

"Honey, don't be so harsh. It's called distributive wealth."

I laugh. "Don't they realise I have no wealth to distribute?"

"Aiya! Welcome home to Malaysialar!"


goldennib said...

Jenn, this was funny.

Did you call the man with a job back, or were you so distracted by the machinations of the customs customer service agent?

Jenn said...

It was a her. And funnily enough, I did. She was offering me, among others, the chance to be a tv personality, interview corporate bigwigs and ask them the pressing questions of the day (along with lighter stuff, like so, what do you do in your free time). I nearly fell out of the car laughing.

Have delayed all job interviews until after Christmas.

Andy said...

What a great read. It makes me think about the Roman Empire. Well, a lot of things make me think of Rome, actually, but it occurs to me how much of their system we inherited. It was all about who you knew and greasing the wheels. And it still is.

Jenn said...

Hey Andy! Grease is the word, is the word, is the word, Grease is the way I am feeling...

I was bitching about it with a friend in the local press (if there is one thing I am rich in, it's friends in the press) and she is gonna tell the local tabloid to do an investigative piece on it.

Har har!