In Indonesia, immigration is no laughing matter. Authorities take their responsibilities very seriously. In fact, some might say it’s a department staffed by overzealous types. One mention of the word imigrasi among expats and eyes will roll, ears will perk up – and lips will be sealed.
First, about the word: imigrasi. It’s the Indonesianization of an English word, much like many words in the local language have developed. Words such as permisi and solusi, among others, are derived from English, modified to avoid such unpronounceable words (to locals) like permission and solution. For a people that excels at abbreviations and acronyms, shorter IS better. And why two m’s when one can suffice? Hence imigrasi.
You can almost be certain that even if an expat can’t utter more than a few words of bahasa Indonesia, the word imigrasi WILL mean something to her. If she has lived in Bali for any length of time, she WILL know her one- or two-month visa must be extended. By imigrasi. Any changes in her residential status in Bali? Imigrasi needs to know. Overstayed her visit? Good luck getting imigrasi to waive penalties.
Imigrasi is a world unto itself. A well-oiled machine that changes gears often. Rules change, fees rise, new visa agents appear on the scene to help the stranded traveler or bamboozled expat. Sessions are occasionally held to demystify the machine. But just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on new regulations, you get word – usually via Facebook – that yet even newer changes are gonna happen. And soon. Maybe as soon as… yesterday.
Best be prepared. Better yet, best to roll with the punches. Find your sense of humor.
Which will come in handy when you discover that to renew your visa (first time around), imigrasi ‘invites’ you to pay them a visit in person, at their HQ in Denpasar. Bali kopi is not served, nor are those tasty little Balinese sweet treats that you’re typically offered at a ceremony. Instead, you’re ushered into the Foreigner waiting room, where waiting is de rigueur (lucky for 5 minutes, less so when you’re clocking 2+ hours).
When your number is up, and the waiting ends, you disappear into a little room behind door #1, where you will allow yourself (preferably on a voluntary basis) to be photographed – and have each of your ten fingerprints scanned. During the snap and scan, the clerk may pepper his conversation with the word biometric a few times, though if you ask him to explain the word he may respond with nothing more than a smile. As if to say, gotcha. Or… haha.
In a waiting room that has nothing going for it, all eyes are leveled up at a large flat TV screen. With its volume turned OFF. With no book in hand, you’ll dare to look upon this now-foreign looking contraption. (Who needs a TV in Bali when every day provides a new bounty of visual stimulation?)
You will expect to see the usual Indonesian soap opera or a public news channel transmitting grotesque images of this morning’s accident, replete with bloodied corpses.
Believe It Or Not, you will not see any real blood – though you might see some cops and robbers, corpse-looking dummies, strange-looking people or wacky special effects; in other words, a whole lot of funny business. Laugh-out-loud gags. Ha Ha Ha.
It’ll take a nano-second for the image to register. Then your jaw will drop with the sheer hilarity of it all, and, after a quick but pointless scan around the room hoping to find another native from your hometown, you will lean over to your friend and blurt out: Would you believe, they’re screening a comedy show from Montreal?!
Then you’ll revel in a pseudo bit of well-deserved hometown pride, knowing that the peals of laughter echoing through the Foreigner waiting room – and, most likely for the locals on the other side of the building as well – are a nod to the abundantly funny folks from Just For Laughs.
For a moment, just a moment really, you’ll be tempted to do the unthinkable: send a letter to imigrasi, thanking them for reassuring us bules, that despite this unavoidable onus, they will do their best to keep us entertained… even if it means importing a chunk of bona fide Canadian comedy.