I hardly dare tell the story. I know how it sounds. But the thing is, I already went. I already did it. And by myself, too. Hitchlessly. Took myself there, got around, made it back again with only a minor foray into the hospital to show for my troubles. There were no major problems, no incidences to speak of. I was a female traveler, flying solo, getting myself around SE Asia, being competent and on-the-ball the entire way; having fun, of course, and remaining inappropriate, of course, but competent, functional, like a Packsafe handbag or colourful socks. Others looked to me for advice and direction – not existential but important nonetheless. I navigated new cities, negotiated bad deals on bargains I didn’t need and traveled in successful mediocrity from place to place without disaster. In short, dear reader, I knew where my shit was at.
Fastforward a few months. I’m flying back to Vietnam. I’m participating in a skate tournament: speed slalom, are you kidding me? It’s organized for me, everything is arranged on my behalf. All I have to do is show up.
3 days before I leave I can be found at immigration getting my re-entry permit. I feel smug. Look at me, remembering my administrative loose ends like a queen – on it, in control, the boss.
“Don’t you need a visa?” Wei asks me.
“No,” I say, “I asked”, I tell her, “Lion says I don’t”. Matter solved. Unarguable. Lion travels all over for skate competitions. He too knows where his shit is at.
“Oh,” says Wei in her considering and thankful manner. “Is he British?”
“No,” I say, “He’s Thai,”, I tell her, and then I say more things to justify the veracity of his knowledge. But even as I hear myself saying words, there’s the worried tightening of intestines, the stomach-clench of anxiety. I think back to trip 1. I got a visa in advance that time, but why? There was a reason, I know there was. What was it? How does this memory relate to my current situation? There’s something important here, I can feel it, but it’s just out of reach. My brain’s sounding a warning call into the fog, but it’s not clear whether this is the real deal or just a drill. A drill, surely. They would’ve told me. Someone would’ve mentioned it. I’m no longer sure. The ghost warning remains indistinct. There’s a thought in there somewhere, Jim, but not as we know it.
I go home. I get on Google. The first thing I see are the mighty and glorious words VISA ON ARRIVAL. The concertina relaxes. A sigh of relief. ON ARRIVAL, by air. Simple. And of course, last time, overland, buy in advance. I relax. I am safe.
Even when the flight attendant – the last checkpoint before the plane; mentally I’ve boarded, I’m flicking through the in-flight magazine, looking at the people on the safety brochures; we’re taking off! It’s happening! I’m on my way! – even when she says to me “Visa?”, there’s no glimmer of fear. I’ve looked this shit up, man, I know what I’m talking about.
She looks at me, taps my old, used Vietnamese visa…
There’s a peculiar beauty in the absoluteness of being refused boarding on a flight. Your expectations for your day, your evening, your weekend, your fortnight judders. It’s physical, a crunching of gears that puts the world off-kilter. I was living in the 5-minutes-from-now, I was in the future; I was at the skate event, I was laughing off my slalom failure, I was open-mouthed at the skate cross, cheering the kids who’d come with us… and now this? Thwarted? Denied? Suddenly I’m facing a wall of quiet refusal so impervious that it’s almost impressive.
Being led the wrong way through immigration is fun. People look at you like you’re some kind of drug smuggler. I’m as clean as roses in real life so the perceived notoriety is briefly pleasing – after all, nobody knows. I could be anyone, a baddie, a gangster, a Notorious Person. Or not.
Right now I’m in the business centre of the posh airport hotel tapping this into a Word document that will cost 250 baht. I’ve just paid 70USD to apply for a visa I could apply for for nothing at the embassy. The visa itself will cost 50USD, the flight changes well over THB1000. All because I’m too apt to trust what I’m told, to trust others to think for me so I don’t have to think for myself.
It’s 8.55am and I’ve been awake for 24.5 hours after a quick hour-and-a-half’s nap on the airport floor this morning. But even as I wait, I find myself doing the occasional little grin. An adventure is in progress, an anecdote in the making. We get so little time, we may as well enjoy what we can, right? Even if it isn’t quite what we expected or hoped it would be? Who knows.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Enid’s Misadventures.