Sunday, September 18, 2016

LOVING & LEAVING: WHAT SOLO TRAVEL TAUGHT ME




You are wherever you are in the world - checking into your hostel in Siem Reap, strolling along beside the gentle waves of Hoan Kiem, by the shore of Koh Tao when you see them ; in solitude as you are. 

Your gazes collide, you exchange mutual smiles, they come over and introduce themselves. Then a friendly expectant pause, waiting for you to fill the silence and bridge the gap.

You only get this one chance before they drift out of your sight - very likely forever.

So what do you do?

You cut the coy act, drop the games, lean in a little closer, let your touch linger a little longer, words speak a little truer.

You take chances you wouldn't have back home, you don't hmm and haww when they ask you if you want to visit the temples of Angkor, explore the waterfalls of Sumatera, or if you'd like to experience the night scene of Hanoi.

You don't say " Let me check my schedule ", " I'll have to get back to you ", " Maybe I'll see you around " or whatever other bullshit people say to 'keep their options open' or 'play it cool' when in fact you're actually dying to jump pillion onto a rusty scooter, marvel in awe at the thundering magnificence of a mighty waterfall, or down one too many shots en route a bar crawl to tipsy delirium.

You spend a day (maybe two) together wandering cobbled ruins, scrambling over massive boulders exploring the tropical inland, drinking too many fruit shakes, watching sunset from the rooftops.

You know your time together has an expiry date, but you do not sigh and agonize over it - you simply relish and revel in the presence of this person and the beauty of this very moment for what it is.

You part ways in the end, but there is no crying, no cursing. No tearful name-calling nor hateful blame-shaming. It is done lovingly and gracefully. There are no faults and no flaws. Both of you simply accept that you are heading to different destinations and have different paths to follow. 

Maybe someday you'll find your way back together, maybe you'll never see each other again. Regardless, that does not make your time together any less precious nor cheapen it for anything less than it was.

Loving and leaving on the road is so effortlessly beautiful.

***
I ask myself why we fail so miserably when it comes to the same back home. 

When break ups occur, it is always 
   " I said this you said that "
   " She doesn't act like my mom / he treats me better / insert whatever reason people use to cheat these days "
   " You never put down the toilet seat / do the dishes / feed the cat / insert whatever reason people use to breakup these days "

This is not limited purely to romantic relationships. Friendships are not spared either.

We 'make plans' weeks in advance only to cancel at the last minute citing the pathetic excuse of a 'deadline' or 'something came up' (translation: I just didn't feel like it). We say 'let's hang out' or 'catch up soon!' when we know we're blatantly lying through our teeth.

Is it because we know they'll always be there anyway, floating about in the ever familiar social circles? Because we know we can always 'get back to them' because after all, they'll always be available? 

Whatever it is, I wish we all dared more and did more - just as everyone does when it comes to love on the road.

***
Seize chances. Treasure the moments. Live with unapologetic defiance. Leave with love. Regret nothing.

This is what solo travel has taught me about loving, living, and leaving.










Tuesday, September 6, 2016

REVIEW: MALAYSIA PASSPORT ONLINE RENEWAL 2016

As of 1st September 2016, the immigration office of Malaysia revived their online passport renewal services.

(They used to have this service for a brief while in 2014. However after only a couple of months of being in place, it was discontinued for goodness knows what reasons.)

The premise is that you can fill in all your necessary information required for a passport, then pick it up at any of the valid collection points. This is to bypass the lengthy duration of queuing and waiting which is so synonymous with conventional passport renewal.

This is an account of my experience with the Malaysian online passport renewal system, as well as a review of the service at UTC Kuala Lumpur.

***
Part 1: Malaysia Passport Online Renewal

On 2nd September 2016, I decided to apply for my Malaysian passport renewal online.

You can do so here:

As this system is still in the test phase, passport collection can only be done at selected branches. I opted for UTC KL (the one in Pudu Sentral).

You will be required to digitally upload a passport sized photo as per the following guidelines



After that, you will have to fill in the mandatory typical information i.e. date of birth, expiry date of current passport, etc.

This process is then followed by online payment. I paid Rm200 for a passport with 5-year validity.

It was very seamless and I completed it in less than 10 minutes.
Upon clicking 'submit', a message popped out right away

" Tahniah! Anda adalah calon PERTAMA untuk applikasi myonline passport di UTC KL! "
Well gee, thanks I guess?

I immediately went back to the main page to check on the status of my passport. It stated that I could collect my passport within 1 hour. 

Really? Knowing how our government departments are run, I took this information with a big pinch of salt. Whether it would be ready within an hour or not, it wouldn't have been possible for me to collect it so promptly anyway.

***

Part 2: UTC Kuala Lumpur (Pudu Sentral) Service

I gave it 3 days before I called in to ask if my passport was ready. The person on the other end of the line told me that my image uploaded did not adhere to the requirements so I had to come in to have my photo taken. 

UTC Kuala Lumpur operates from Monday to Sunday, 8.30am - 9.30pm.

I made the assumption that meant I would be able to walk-in during those hours, but the officer informed that since I applied online I could only come between Monday to Friday from 9am - 5pm. How inconvenient!

I tried to argue my logic that since their operation hours are Monday to Sunday from 8.30am - 9.30pm, why should I be bound to Monday to Friday from 9am - 5pm for collection?

All I could get in response was 
" Sorry miss, system macamtu means macamtu miss. I tak boleh buat ape je. "

(Translated:
" Sorry miss, it's the system miss. It's nothing to do with me. " )

I fumed at this, but in the end decided not to risk anything going wrong and comply.

I went to UTC KL in Pudu and found a parking spot with ease. Parking rates are RM4 for the first hour and RM3 every subsequent hour.

Arriving at the immigration office, I immediately got a number upon walk-in at 11.15am. I asked roughly how long I would have to wait and the staff told me that since I applied online, I was a 'special case' and would be attended to very soon. 

True enough, it was my turn in less than 10 minutes. I had my picture taken at the counter and the officer informed me that I would have my passport ready in about an hour.

I took a seat while waiting and started chatting to a lady next to me, who informed me that she had arrived at 7am to queue before the office opened. She finally received her passport at 12.45pm with a 6-hour wait time.

On the other hand, I got mine at 1.05pm, less than 2 hours after I'd arrived.

***

My major conclusions from the whole experience?

On online passport renewal: 
While the online passport renewal system has still to be improved on, I would say it probably wasn't the worst.

On the service at UTC KL:
UTC should allow online applicants to collect their passport within regular operating hours.