Since it is virtually impossible to get a working visa in the Philippines I must journey to the Bureau of Immigration every 2 months to have my visa renewed. The journey there isn't so bad if traffic cooperates. It's the journey once inside that's the problem.
The visa renewal experience here is something akin to the famous Marx Brothers Stateroom scene from their classic A Night at the Opera.
The room has all the charm of a poorly maintained bus station. In fact, I think that's where they got their plastic, bucket-seat benches. It is crammed beyond capacity and all the anarchy inherent in the antics of Groucho, Harpo, and Chico seems to play itself out, albeit in slow motion drudgery. Yes, if you have to go to the Bureau of Immigration in Intramuros, you'll even have time to watch A Night at the Opera; so before you go, download it to your ipod so you can watch it while you wait.
I was chatting with a woman from New Zealand who had come to Immigration the previous day at eleven in the morning and waited in line for two hours just to get the form required for her extension. Having other things to do that day, she was back this day with her completed form. She had already been waiting in line an hour when we spoke. It was eleven in the morning once again.
She and I watched as several people ahead of us tucked five hundred peso bills into their passports. The money was then collected by the person working behind the counter so they'd be enticed to process the visas more quickly. I've been told this was a common practice before the bureau was cleaned up a few years ago. Well, government employees don't get paid much; so guess what! Income supplementation is baaaaack!
The crowd was big and bad enough that despite my arriving shortly after the stroke of ten, I still wasn't able to hand over my passport and paperwork (no five hundred peso bill within!) before the workers took lunch.
Yes, they all take lunch at the same time!
At one o'clock I was back in line after taking my own lunch. Since I was now just second in line, I didn't have to wait long for my paperwork to be received. A quick stop by the cashier to pay and hand my passport, paperwork, and receipt to the processor and I was out of there with three hours to kill before my visa extension was ready.
What did I do with three hours to kill?
I nudged my friend, and fellow photographer Darz, who had been waiting outside watching Desperate Housewives on his ipod since ten-thirty in the morning (save for the hour he spent with me at lunch). He had come with me so we could take pictures around Intramuros, the original walled city of Manila.
Street traffic. Note the wall which encloses all of Intramuros in the background.
The wall, with subtle, canon-like feature.
Narrow passage to a corner turret in the wall.
Statue in front of bombed-out church (remember WWII?) with stolen hands. The statue wasn't there during the war. It is much newer. There are still quite a few buildings still in their bombed-out state in Intramuros, which saw very heavy destruction during US bombing raids.
Boys playing basketball beside the ruins of the church.
We returned to Immigration promptly at four to retrieve my passport and headed back to Makati, where we met with Edson for dinner.
He had news. He was on the news, actually; being asked about the effects of the US recession on Filipino life. We received many text messages during our dinner as his man-on-the-street interview was being broadcast at that time.
After dinner, just outside our restaurant a concert was beginning. It featured The Company, a group currently popular due to their CD release Destination: Bossa.