When you lose your passports just before Tet in Vietnam, you're in for a long wait.
I've been trying to see my detention in Saigon as a wonderful experience. Get to immerse myself more in the culture. Was so excited to be returning to Vietnam and hanging about for a couple of nights in steamy Saigon bars drinking cheap wine and watching the traffic chaos. That part of it hasn't been bad either. We've knocked back a few bevies between us, Al and I. Self-medication for sure. But we've been here twelve days now.
It takes two days to get your emergency passport. Once Tet is over. You go to the 20th floor of the new Vincom Centre in District 1, pass through a friendly security check and then you're in quiet, pristine air-conditioned surrounds. A beautiful, personable Vietnamese woman with impeccable English, sits behind glass and listens sympathetically as you relay your story. You shed a few tears of relief that you're there making progress; finally organising your precious passports.
The middle-aged Aussie woman ahead of you has a worse story to tell. She was attacked by two men on a motorbike, who nearly ran her over, then fought with her to get at her bag. She had it under a jacket and across her shoulders. They won. She was on the way to the airport; just stepped out of her hotel. Her travelling companions gave her some money to tide her over, then caught their own flight home, leaving her alone to sort it all out. During Tet. She hadn't left her hotel room except to taxi to the consulate.
You fill in a new passport application and write a statement explaining how you came to lose your documents. BTW, make sure you pack a few spare passport photos. We had. We thought we might need them to get visas to visit Cambodia. As if. But they came in handy.
It's Friday, so you have to wait through another weekend. You finally return to the Consulate and collect your passports the following Monday. Huge, inexpressible relief.
But wait, there's more.
You have to take a letter, and your passports, across town - two dollar taxi ride - to the Vietnam Immigration centre. It's a pushing, shouting, crowded run down official building. Total confusion for us idiots abroad. We take a place at the back of a shuffling mass of people. Couldn't call it a queue. It's edging forward and we don't even know if we're in the right place. I hold our spot while Al does a recce. So relieved when he signals me over. He's found the right counter to line up at.
Remember, keep smiling. Speak slowly. Don't shout. Don't lose temper. It get you nowhere. (Learned that lesson when me, Al and sister, Reggie, got thrown off a Vietnam cycling tour a few years ago.)
We're interviewed by a cross, uniformed officer. He inspects our documents, reads our police statement, shakes his head. "You. Photocopy. All this. You go. Over there." He waves us off and we get into another touchy push of people. Another grump snatches our documents. Photocopies them.
Back to the other guy. "You come back yesterday,' he says. "Counter 6. Three hours."
He laughs at his mistake. "Yes. Tomorrow."
It's 12.45 pm here. Killing time on this blog waiting for 3 pm pickup. Can't relax until those passports with visas are in our hot little hands.