Listening In

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Are we there yet?

28-29th September 2006

...and Kyoto.

Not a long journey at all - about seven hours by plane then two by car - but it feels like it began years before. Still, the people who handle things like visas are not particularly interested in the length of the road behind you, only in what is prompting you to take the next step.

To them I say that I wish to go to Japan to study the language. This happens to be true. There are other reasons too, of course, but that's another post and will be posted another time.

However, a journey of a thousand miles sometimes begins with a single misstep. Mine came at the immigration counters of Singapore's Changi airport. At the entrance of the land into which those without boarding passes may not go, an officer looked at my passport.

Oh, new one. Why don't you try the machine? he said.

He guided me to a fare-gate-like contraption and laid a page of my new passport on it. The first set of gates opened. I went through and a message flashed on a screen telling me to put my thumb on it to open the next lot of gates. I did.

Press harder, said the machine.

I pressed harder.

Press higher, said the machine.

I pressed higher.

This isn't working, said the machine. Go find the human on duty.

Another officer climbed down from his post and let me out of the contraption, criticising my thumb-pressing technique all the while (`Don't press like that - you press like that, how to work?').

The first officer laid my passport on the reader again. I stepped through and presented my thumb. The second officer monitored my progress. Or rather, lack of. `You press so high for what?' he asked.

Because the machine told me to. Being Singaporean, I do not question orders, especially those issued by non-humans.

As I stood there trapped, he stared at the image of my thumbprint on a screen. `Why your thumb got so many cracks?'

I don't know; it came that way.

The machine remained unmoved.

`Cannot, cannot. See, your thumb got so many cracks.'

A charm offensive had been pushed through Singapore's service staff and officialdom for the recent IMF and World Bank meetings but this man had clearly emerged unscathed.

`You know what, I think I'm going to do this the old way,' I said. I took my passport back from the first officer. `I've got the wrong sort of thumb,' I told him. He looked blank.

I handed my passport over to a woman at a counter. In less than a minute, she handed it back to me. And with a smile.

In the walk to my departure gate, I wondered why the sheep-pen machines had been introduced. So that by enabling people to check themselves out of the country, less money and manpower would be needed?

But let's see. With the new method, one man had to guide me to the machine, another had to tell me my thumb was defective - and I still couldn't be read by the machine. Whereas the old way took just one human and less than one minute.

But what would I know? My thumb's all cracked up so who can say what state my mind is in?

New things do help sometimes but there are also times when the old ways are better. And now, I have come to a city full of them.

And a dormitory full of them. Is there really no way I can get an Internet connection in my room? Really, really?

But for now, let's leave Internet withdrawal symptoms aside because, for now, There has become Here and I am in Kyoto.


No comments: