I decided to go back to Vietnam a few months ago. I have an abundance of air miles that, for myriad reasons, I feel like using, my neighbors had recently relocated (back) to Saigon and it seemed like a nice little sojourn prior to the crazy that I know December will bring. Living in Hong Kong affords one the luxury of taking long weekends to places like Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Macau, China… It is a great benefit. Having taken a long weekend in Bangkok not too long ago, Saigon was the perfect alternative. It would be warm, a great place to do my Christmas shopping, and I could help some friends out be being a pack mule for some of their stuff they were moving from HK in stages. So, I cashed in the miles, got the ticket and worked my way up to the departure date.
Tuesday evening while sharing a sampan with Frenchie, a former travel agent, we were discussing my departure 36 hours ahead.
“So, you got your visa, right?”
“Vietnam? I don’t think so. You need two photos, four days and some paperwork.”
“No, last time I did it on arrival.”
“I don’t think so, I mean, it has been five years for me, but I am pretty sure you need to get your visa.”
I pulled out my passport. I certainly did not remember getting my visa ahead of time for Vietnam when I went in February… but I definitely DID remember getting it when I meant to go in 2006. I looked at my last Vietnam visa, perfunctorily dated the day PRIOR to my arrival. She was right. Of course I needed a visa to enter the SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM. What. The. Fuck. had I been thinking? Of course, the point being I had NOT been thinking. I rarely worry about my visas. There are two really good reasons for this. The first reason is that I have an AMAZING travel agent who pretty much makes sure that I do not screw things like that up. (Ask for Daryl, you will not be sorry.) The second reason, and probably more to blame for this, is that I am American.
Doesn’t that blue passport get me everywhere?
People are always talking about how Americans are so arrogant. And so provincial. And so not-smart. And how they think they run the world. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. Provincial I am not. Smart… I will let you be the judge, if you know me, you already know my opinion on this matter. Running the world? Well, you know, you can only control what people allow you to control. Seriously. And while arrogance is a trait I espouse disregard for, I simultaneously find myself strangely drawn to it. [Note intentional juxtaposition of previous three statements.] Am I arrogant? I imagine a lot of people would say yes, but there are many things that can be mistaken for arrogance. [It takes an intuitive mind to see the difference.]
There are a surprising number of countries that do require visas of Americans. But since few of them are on the top 100 lists of places people want to visit, they are often over looked. Afghanistan. The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sudan (though of ALL the people in the world, only if you are an American of Sudanese descent you can get a visa on entry…) Iraq. North Korea. Then there are places like Cuba, China, Cambodia and Laos where it seems clear that, as self-professed socialist states, a visa would be required by the likewise self-professed disseminators of democracy. Oh, yeah, and THE SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM.
After feeling pretty silly for having over looked this totally obvious issue of the entry visas, the next step was deciding what I would do. It was 10:30 pm on Tuesday night. I was set to fly at 9:00 am on Thanksgiving Thursday. What to do? After considering what story I would tell in order to avoid looking completely stupid, Google, of course. Enter Vietnam-Visa.com. American passport holders are able to get a visa on entry it said. No way! [It is this sort of thing that perpetuates the existence of all the things that people hate about Americans, btw.] I filled in the form and paid US$21. And then guessed I would have to wait and see what would happen.
I did not look forward to admitting that I had made this mistake when people asked why I was NOT in Vietnam over the next few days, but the more I thought about it, a few days at home didn’t sound so bad. I became surprisingly detached from the outcome of this ordeal and just laughed at the way things go sometimes.
I went to bed.
When I got up the next morning I bumped into my neighbors who look after my cats when I travel and told them I might not need their help because I had done something so embarrassing.
“I forgot about my visa. I feel so dumb.”
“Oh stop! Who hasn’t done that?”
— wait, really?– She didn’t roll her eyes and acknowledge my idiocy. It was just, like, no big thing.
I called my parents on the way to yoga and told them the story. It was out of my hands, but I would know by 6 p.m. the day before I was supposed to travel if I would in fact be traveling. It was not so bad to admit it after all. I told my yoga studio that I didn’t think I would be in class on Thursday because I was supposed to be traveling but that I had forgotten about my visa so I might be there after all. They laughed and said they hoped they didn’t see me, but would hold a place for me anyhow. But they didn’t laugh AT me, just with me. Realizing that the issue I had about the visa was little to do with the actual issue and all about my embarrassment for being an idiot made the situation a totally different thing. I didn’t need to be in Vietnam for any reason, it would be nice to go, but I would go another time if this didn’t work out. I called Cathay and told them the situation and they told me that the reward ticket could easily be changed if it was not used. I called my hotel and told them what was up and they said no problem, just to let them know, there would be no cancellation fee.
I told my co-worker about all this and he said, “You live a charmed life.”
That may be so. But it certainly does not go without appreciation.
And then I got the visa.
At 4:00 p.m. I received an email with a letter attached saying that all I needed would be two passport sized photos, my valid US passport and US$25 and I was set to enter the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Just like that.
I woke up on Thanksgiving morning and packed my bag and headed out the Airport Express, where I got my train ticket, checked in my baggage, and got my passport photos all within about 20 meters. In less than ten minutes. It was that easy.
And so my worst habits have all been reinforced. With one little change: an American passport and a smile may open a lot of doors, but it is complete detachment from the expectation of what might lay on the other side of those doors – as well as from the reality that sometimes the door might not open – that makes all the difference.
Happy Thanksgiving from Saigon.