Foreign embassies are entertaining places. To get through smoothly you need patience, common sense and a sense of humour. It is amazing how many people lack these faculties and mistake their own misgivings as the fault of others. I proceeded through the Embassy of India smoothly today. Sure, I was sent away to get a photocopy of my Myanmar visa (the requirement for which I had not come across in all my preparatory reading). And sure, I was confused by the fact that despite being the first in the line, I was barred from entry as locals were let in first (I think the guy who deals with foreigners just wasn’t in yet). Even so, I felt like I passed through smoothly. The same cannot be said for several others who let frustration get the better of them, providing the aforementioned day’s entertainment.
So, what was the process? I arrived about 8.10am and was the first person there. The doors opened around 9am (though the opening hours sign said it opens at 9.30am) and locals were let in. After the majority of people waiting had gone in, I approached the door again and was told I still had to wait outside. The doorman then called me up and explained I needed exactly US$42 and that I needed to complete some forms documenting each bank note’s ID number. I did not have any US$1 bills, so I raced to a money changer in the building next door and waiting ten minutes for them to open for the day, then exchanged a US$10 for ten US$1 bills. With my forms completed, I returned to the embassy and still had to wait outside. Eventually, I was called in and had to wait in a chair around a coffee table headed by an Immigration Officer and also attended by a few other travellers. The Officer looked through my paperwork and told me I needed a copy of my Myanmar visa. I raced down the street to get one, then returned to the coffee table. Once he had verified my paperwork, I had to wait in another area across the room. The chairs were all super comfortable and to pass the time I plucked a book about West Bengal off a little bookshelf. My turn came to see a lady at a booth. I handed in my documents, which included a completed application form (with passport photo attached – I had made sure mine was 2” x 2” as specified on the form, but I saw other people with normal-sized ones), photocopy of passport, photocopy of Myanmar visa, $US and bank note registration forms. I did not have to provide evidence that I’d booked flights or accommodation. I was told to come back on Friday at 3pm, which made it four days instead of three as advertised. I asked about and was simply told to come back on Friday. I didn’t push the issue.
After submitting my application, my next task was to find Yangon’s Air India office. Since searching for it the other day, I have learned that in Yangon, it’s pretty much pointless to look up an address on the internet, because it’s bound to be wrong (if you can find one at all). Instead, it’s easiest to just ask people on the street for help. I had sought advice from three different people by the time I found the office, where I enquired about sending a bicycle on a plane. The lovely girl at the counter rang her manager to check and ended up handing the phone to me. Unfortunately, I simply could not understand the lady on the phone. I am bad at understanding accents in person, let alone a thick Indian accent on a bad phone connection. I asked her to repeat herself, but when I still couldn’t understand a thing, I just said ‘Yep’ at what I thought were the right places and the conversation came to what felt like a natural end. While this happened, an Indian man next to me (just a customer) came to my rescue. He explained the terms and conditions of the tickets available and suggested I go next door and talk to the Air India Freight section about sending my bike with them rather than as extra baggage. I went next door and was eventually put on the phone to a manager. The manager explained that using the freight service would mean officially importing the goods; he said that the processing time and paperwork involved (plus the fact I would have to pick up the bicycle from a freight service centre, not from the airport itself) probably makes it an unattractive option. I became convinced that the easiest solution would be to just cop the excess baggage fees. The manager assured me he would ensure the staff at the airport give me a discount.
It became time to buy a ticket. I checked whether tickets bought online or over the counter are cheaper, and learned that an office bought one could be cancelled or changed, whereas an online sourced one couldn’t. I went away and had a think. I decided to buy the ticket from the office and get it all over and done with. Before I could buy the ticket, I had to get more US dollars, which is the only currency accepted as payment. This meant finding an ATM that accepted my card, taking out a bunch of Burmese Kyat, then exchanging this kyat for US dollars at a money changer. With US$300 in hand, I returned to Air India and bought a ticket. I couldn’t remember what day I need to be out of Myanmar (and with my passport at the Indian embassy I couldn’t check), but I think the day for which I booked to fly is the last day I’m allowed in the country. If not, then Myanmar only charges US$3 a day overstayed. I’m less worried about the money than I am about the fact that apparently a whole page in your passport gets taken up by an overstay stamp. With a ticket bought, I only have two things to do to be ready to leave: get even more US dollars to pay for excess baggage at the airport, and find a box for my bike. I hope to achieve these tomorrow.
It was almost 1pm by the time I was finished at Air India. I returned to my guesthouse to send some emails and complete some travel research. I then decided to tackle another to-do list item: find a shoe repairer to get one of my cycling sandals sewn. I received a hint about where to start looking from an online forum post from 2014 and got lucky – the street I aimed for did indeed have a street side shoe repairer. He sewed it then and there, taking about five minutes and charging 500 kyat (AU$0.50). I returned home via a food stall and that was when today’s monsoonal storm hit. Such fierce rain. I arrived home soaked to the skin.
|Distance ridden today||0km|
|Total distance ridden||14,162km|