Friday, July 17, 2009

Oh the bureaucracy

There were some boxes of books sent to me via cargo service. On Wednesday a notice was delivered to me that seven boxes were waiting for me to come pick them up at the cargo import terminal. So I took a taxi, the notice and my passport to see about claiming them.
To get into the cargo terminal, you have to have a gate pass. That would be the first step of bureaucracy. The guard had to send me to a small office beside the gate where a guy printed up my name, passport number and the airway bill number for the boxes, and then I was allowed in with my taxi.
The cargo terminal is several big buildings for, well, cargo. And no where did anything look like an official claim-your-cargo-here area. It all looked like loading and docking and such. But there was a security guard who did not like that my taxi was idling in front of the buildings. He directed me to the Thai Cargo office.
I still had to ask two or three more people where the office was, before I found it. At the office I had to pay a delivery fee and sign and collect my first set of documents. The man behind the desk told me to take these documents to customer counter no. 1. He said it was just at the bottom of the stairs and to the right.
It was not at the bottom of the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was one of many loading areas and half a dozen men staring at me. Nothing anywhere nearby looked like customer counter no. 1. I searched around a bit and looked lost enough that someone finally directed me to the next building where there was another loading area to walk through before I got to the air conditioned waiting area and counter no. 1. Where there was no one. The light was even off.
So I went to counter no. 2 and asked where the counter no. 1 man was. And then he appeared. Which the counter no. 2 man thought was funny because he could just point and say, "He's right there."
Counter no. 1 man gave me a form to fill out, half of which I didn't understand because it was abbreviations asking for my AWBs and MWBs and AMWBs. Huh? I returned to counter no. 1 man and he helped me. Then charged me 66rs and told me to wait while he processed everything.
It was while I was sitting and waiting that I first noticed the Flow Chart For Clearance of Unaccompanied Baggage. The man in the picture appears to be laughing, but assure you, it is not funny. There were fifteen stages and some of it I just couldn't follow. The suptd. was going to do what?
My papers were processed and I was allowed to go to counter no. 2 where the man stamped something and gave me a new stack of papers to hang onto. He said my next stop was the help desk which I would find by going out of the office and turning left to find the man with heavy glasses.
When I went to turn left it was another one of those loading areas with security guards and it didn't look like a place I was allowed to go. But when I asked the security guard he pointed and, sure enough, there was the help desk inside. No man with glasses, though. No glasses on any of the four men who were all determined to see my documents.
I had to sign one of them and the men directed me to a row of chairs along the wall: waiting area 2. I perched on the edge of the cleanest chair I could find in the hot warehouse.
Waiting area 2 was the inspection area. All the suitcases and boxes were brought out, opened and their contents were examined by Madame Ji, the customs inspector lady. There were a dozen khaki-shirted men who had to open the boxes and reseal them when she was finished, but she was the one who had to see inside.
I sat there waiting for a long time for my boxes to come. It was hot. Other people were coming, had their luggage brought out and then they left again. I was still sitting there. After about fort-five minutes I went back to the help desk where now there sat a man with glasses. "Where are my boxes?" I asked him. He looked at my documents and said, "Oh, madame, your boxes are in the last building. This will take much time. They will come."
I got to observe the system at work, though. First the boxes and suitcases come. They are opened and inspected. Then they are resealed with straps and tape and man with a bucket of hot wax comes around to put a stamp on them all. Finally they're taken away again.
There were two very large boxes brought out. I didn't know how big my seven boxes were going to be, so I was glad there were only two this large size and they could not be the seven I was expecting. I would've needed more taxis.
It was ten minutes before the lunch break when my boxes finally appeared. Seven of them. Because I'd been waiting so long, Madame Inspector Ji made the other people wait while five boxes were opened and she looked at them. "Only books?" she asked.
She stopped the men from opening the last two and took my documents to put her approval stamp on them.
But now the security guard was waving everyone out of the building and I had to return to waiting area number 1 until after lunch. The air conditioned room. Good thing.
As I read the Flow Chart for Delivery of Unaccompanied Baggage again, I saw I'd made it as far as stage five. Ten more to go.
After lunch I was directed to a door near the inspection area with a 2 on it where Madame Inspector Ji had passed my documents on to a guy with a computer. Just as he was about to enter some information on the computer another guy rushed in and said, "She hasn't been to the DC yet." Where?
"DC customs office, ma'am. Next building over."
So I took my documents and went to find out what a DC was. The next building over was full of cages and people running around in them with packages and papers and much chaos. Nothing looked like an office. The security guard in the corner, though, said I had arrived and he pointed to a sign over the door he stood in front of. "Deputy Commissioner of Customs".
Wonderful. But he wouldn't let me in. The DC was doing some other work just now. How long would it be? He had no idea.
During the ten minutes or so that we waited, the area outside the office door filled up with men and documents all waiting to see the DC. They were getting pushy. But when the door was allowed to be opened, the security guard made all the men move out of the way and he let me go first. I appreciated that.
Seeing the DC, though, was the most ridiculous part of the whole day. I entered his cubicle office--an island of cleanliness and air conditioning in the gigantic, steamy warehouse and he told me to sit down. He barely glanced at my papers before saying, "You go," as he waved his hand at the door. Huh? That was it? He hadn't signed or stamped anything and he hadn't given me any new documents.
"I can go?" I asked.
"I will release your parcels."
"You will call someone?"
"I will enter it in the system."
"Oh. Very good. Thank you." And I went. How absurd.
Back to the other building and door number two. There the man with the computer asked me if I'd really seen the DC because he hadn't received any notification yet. Then he admitted maybe his computer was too old and slow.
But apparently the DC had sent the notice of parcel release to Madame Inspector Ji instead of man with the computer behind door number two. So I had to go back to her office window, smile at her while I waited for her to email the notification and then walk back to door number two where the man with the computer told me it was time to go to the bank. He gave my documents to one of the men in his office who led me to the bank to pay the customs fee.
The men in the bank were talking about the foreign lady who came to get boxes thinking I couldn't understand while the fee was processed. The banker handed me my change. "Ten rupees more, hm?" I said in Hindi.
Oh ha ha, my guide thought that was funny, "Ha ha, she knows what we said. Ha ha, she knows about the ten rupees. Ha ha ha." He led me back to door number 2. Then door number 3. I don't even know what happened in there, it was so fast. Signature? Stamp? But it was one more necessary step we couldn't skip.
Next was through the inspection area and in the back door to the waiting area number 1 and now I was right in the office of counter no. 2 guy. A/C--nice. Two signatures, one stamp.
On the way to the next stop, my guide was telling me all the remaining steps. Somewhere in there he said, "And then will come the part where they ask you for bakshish (bribe money)." Huh? He was telling me about it?
One more signature from Madame Inspector Ji, in and out of door 3 again, and back to the help desk. "Finished," said the guide.
"Finished? Everything?"
"Everything. Ha ha," he chuckled to the other men at the counter, "Madame ji speaks Hindi. She knows what we say."
Hilarious, yes.
I called the taxi driver and two of the warehouse men brought out my boxes to his car. He'd been waiting four hours. The warehouse men saw his car and asked would all the boxes fit? Sure, he said, they can go on the roof. Two fit in the trunk, four on the roof, and one in the back seat with me--we could have handled 2 or three more.
And we were off.
Almost. First a stop at the gas station. Which was a good idea because I needed some water.
Even though all the work was over, the drive home was the hardest part. It took two hours, most of it sitting in the traffic at stoplights. It was melting hot on the pavement.
As we rounded the corner into my neighborhood, the driver leaned out the window and told one of the cycle rickshaw drivers to get in his car, madame needed help with her boxes.
Good. Coolie taken care of.
The rickshaw guy carried all seven boxes of books up four flights of stairs for me. I gave him some water and some money; then I laid down on the sofa and took a nap.


Josephine said...

OK. Everytime I have to wait 15 minutes in line for something, I will now try to remind myself of your horror story.

Janet said...

Wow! I became tired just reading your experience. Phew, now I need a nap. :-\ Maybe I better not send chocolate chips if you have to go thru all that! They'll be melted for sure :-)