Singapore: 4½

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Asia » Singapore
January 26th 2008
Published: February 9th 2008
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"Death to drug traffickers under Singapore law". These words scream at us and every other passenger on the Tiger Airways flight from Macau. Right next to "Welcome to Singapore, they were. In RED to boot. No 'The Friendly Island' like St. Maarten or 'The Nature Island' like Dominica. Not even 'The Super Clean Country' like Singapore was trumped up to be. But "Death..." And In Red and bolded. We hurriedly filled out the immigration forms and 'stowed (our) tray tables' as the pilot announced preparations for landing.

We had heard a lot of good things about Singapore and we had come, for only two days, en route to another destination. With visions of bazaars, city parks, lots of greenery and a laid-back but professional atmosphere, we were rather excited. Expectations were running high. The Changi Budget Terminal was 'nice, nice'. Clean, landscaped, airy. We bounced down the corridor leading to immigration overtaking less enthusiastic passengers. The time: 1:58 pm.

[b[Stop! Due to the nature of the events about to unfold, we choose, for easier writing, to borrow from Keifer Sutherland's award-winning drama '24' and title this section '4½'.

"The following takes place between 2:00 pm and 6:30 pm"
Changi Budget TerminalChangi Budget TerminalChangi Budget Terminal

At this point we were in high spirits. Happy to be in a sub- tropical country once again! Little did we know what Singapore had in store for us.........

We bounce up to the lady at the immigration counter and handed over our passports and immigration forms. Shanna is cleared first, her passport stamped and returned to her. The lady refers Vibert 'for routine checking' to a special immigration desk at the far left corner of the hall. Shanna, concerned, moves away to baggage carousel. Vibert is escorted by an immigration officer, bespectacled and a gimp (name withheld but we'll call him Officer G), to an enclosed holding area. The room is tiny and rectangular and contains only 3 chairs. The door is locked from the outside. There is no door handle on the inside and there is no window except for a small glass square set high in the door. The glass square contains metal wires. Twenty minutes pass.

Outside, Shanna stands with the backpacks. Worried. Pacing. "I'm sorry Ma'am but you can't stay here", she hears. Turning around she sees a female security officer. "But i'm waiting for my partner. He is still in there", Shanna said pointing at the closed room. "This is a restricted area. You will have to wait outside". There was no arguing with her. Shanna exits.

Enter an immigration officer. Not Officer G. He escorts Vibert to another room. There is a big computer screen on the wall, a keyboard and some sort of pad. The officer lifts Vibert's hand and places it on the pad. He is taking fingerprints. First the left thumb and then the right. He taps away at a keyboard, clicks with a mouse and then 'No Matches Found' appears on the screen. Vibert is escorted back to the holding area. Forty-three additional minutes pass.

Shanna is worried. Very worried. An officer comes to inform Shanna that they will not allow Vibert to enter Singapore and that they will detain him. She gets coins and call the Tourism Hotline. They say that they can't help and that it is an immigration matter. She calls up three asking for their assistance, for which she would pay, and for a good immigration lawyer. They deny assistance. One says 'Get a criminal lawyer. Maybe your boyfriend has drugs'. 'He is NOT a criminal. He doesn't have drugs', Shanna almost screams into the handset but to no avail. She wonders whatever happened to the lawyers' code which obliged them to render legal assistance. With no other options, she calls the Dutch Embassy for advice. Their emergency number is unanswered. She is crying now. A total of 2 hours have passed.

Officer G escorts Vibert back to the counter in the immigration hall.
G: "Why did you come to Singapore?"
Vibert: "For vacation"
G: "Where will you stay"?
Vibert: "The Hive" (address also given).
G: "How long will you stay here?"
Vibert: "Two days".
G: "Where will you go from here?"
Vibert: "To country X" (named withheld from reading audience for dramatic final effect)
G: "Do you have a ticket?" Vibert hands over the e-ticket printout.
G: "How do you intend to pay for your stay here?"
Vibert: "I have credit and debit cards". He hands them over.
There is a pause. A long pause. The officer surveys the items before him. Then he insists on chronicling all the places Vibert said he visited in the last 5 months. One by one, Vibert and the officer leaf thru his passport and create a list of 18 different destinations. He had all stamps into and out of each territory. He had no record of ever overstaying. Another pause.
G: "I'm sorry but you are not eligible for social admittance. We will detain you and arrange deportation".
Vibert: "What? Why? Where to? When? Why?" I have a hotel, more than enough money, a confirmed onward flight in two days and I don't need a visa for Singapore. Why?" He is flabbergasted.
G: "You will get official paperwork and I will have to talk to the airlines".
Vibert: "Can I call a lawyer and also speak to my girlfriend. She's outside?"
G: "You don't need a lawyer. You are not under arrest. I will see what I can do about your girlfriend". He escorts Vibert back into the holding area. Total elapsed time: 2 hours 45 minutes.

Shanna visits the Terminal Manager's office and insists on meeting him. He listens and lends her his office phone. She tries calling more lawyers but without success. That the next day is a public holiday is even a bigger concern. Plus, it is getting late and all the law offices are closed or closing. She asks the Terminal Manager (name withheld) to see what's going on and if he could lend any assistance. He consents. The pangs of hunger start setting in for both Vibert and Shanna. Their only meal was breakfast in Macau at 6 am. Vibert and Shanna have not yet been allowed to talk to each other. Time check: 5:45 pm.

Vibert is back at the counter. The Terminal Manager is now present. He tells Vibert that he is in touch with Shanna and that she knows the situation. The officer has consulted with the airlines.
G: "We have no immediate flights. Therefore, we will hold you for 2 days and deport you to country X on flight no. XX (number withheld)".
Vibert: "What? You mean you will detain me only to send me out of Singapore on the SAME flight I am originally booked to travel on?"
G: "Yes. In the meantime, I have prepared transfer papers for you and this officer (a new arrival) will escort you to another place. You will be more comfortable there". He hands the transfer papers to the new officer and motions for the officer to leave thru a back door.
Vibert, who had been uncharacteristically calm throughout the entire ordeal, now became ever so slightly agitated. "I am not leaving this building until you inform me why you are detaining me when I surpass your entry requirements. Plus, I need to speak to my girlfriend and a lawyer. Why are you detaining me? What have I done wrong?" The officer didn't answer. "I believe I have a right under law to be informed about the reason for your refusal to admit me into Singapore. Why are you detaining me? I have a hotel...", Vibert demanded while rehashing a previous defense. The officer whispers to a nearby colleague and then he picks up the phone. Time expired: 4 hours.

Shanna is livid. The Terminal Manager has not returned. She feels helpless. She prays.

Inside, Vibert prays silently. After a long telephone conversation in a language Vibert did not understand: "We've decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. We will issue you a Special Pass for two days after which you are to leave Singapore", the officer informs taking the transfer papers back from the new officer. The new officer exits. Vibert hides his elation. "What doubt?", he persists but quickly eases up. He wants to get outside to see Shanna. Officer G types up a Special Form and hands a copy to Vibert. He is free to go. His passport was not stamped in.

Vibert and the Terminal Manager walk back to the office. They turn a corner and almost collide with Shanna. Her eyes are red and puffy. She was in a hurry to somewhere. Vibert and Shanna embrace. Long and tight. They both cry. The Terminal Manager exits. Tick tock tick tock. Time expired: 4½ hours

The Aftermath

We grabbed a cab and he noticed the stress and enquired. "Hard time clearing immigration", we said. "It's like that sometimes. You're out now. Just forget it and go shopping", he replies. "Go shopping? Go shopping? Singapore wouldn't get my hard-earned money. They don't deserve it. I would not even send my neighbour's mangy dog here", Vibert vented at the driver. He thought about apologizing. He didn't.

The guys at 'The Hive' - a backpacker's joint - were a topnotch bunch of youngsters. The place was decently priced, trendy and had free breakfast and wifi. We spent virtually all of our two days indoors refusing to visit any sight or spend any unnecessary money. The times we did venture outdoors were when we got hungry. Dinner was Indian-style in the brightly decorated Little India district. It was the day before Diwali, the festival of lights. Before we left, we wrote an official complaint letter via email to the Quality Service Manager of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (name withheld) and CCed it to several other high-ranking public officials who had anything remotely to do with ICA and unlawful detentions. We also visited his office and personally lodged the complaint. On the scheduled departure day we received a reply email stating that he will investigate the matter and get back to us.

We had no troubles leaving but as the aircraft rose higher in the night's sky, en route to country X, our fears about returning to Singapore rose as well. The officer couldn't 'guarantee any better treatment' if we returned to Singapore. Unfortunately, we had other travel plans out of Singapore when we would have returned from 31 days of backpacking thru country X. (Bring up the music, darken the screen and run the cast).

Thanks to:
😊 The Budget Terminal Manager

A first - apologies to: The taxi driver

Vibert as 'Vibert'
Shanna as 'Shanna'
The Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority
The Terminal Manager
Various lawyers

Note: This script is based on a true story. The identities of some actors have been withheld for obvious reasons. No Hollywood gimmicks or special effects have been employed. All stunts are performed by the actors themselves. Filmed on location in Changi Budget Terminal, Singapore. There are NO copyrights on this script. Feel free to download, rip, burn, crack, bootleg and distribute at will and far and wide. For commercial and private consumption.

A TWO4DEROAD production in association with "out a possible ten".


9th February 2008

Without drama your trip won't be as exciting and talkable...but such airport drama is not what you want.Sorry you guys went through that, but why did they hold you for that long? that suspence is still there.You guys be careful and i can't wait to get your net blog.
9th February 2008

41/2 hours detention.
I was so excited to hear about this trip only to hear what you two went through. Thats sad, I'm glad you did not go do any shopping either, they don't deserve your hard earned money at all. Take care you two.
9th February 2008

Hi Shaan/Vibert, What an awful experience! Hope you guys recovered well from this nightmare. And Singapore is so famous for it's nice attitude towards foreigners! If this had happened in some African country (no prejudice here, but from stories I have heard from the horse's mouth) I could understand, because then you should have known that the immigration officer wanted money. It's that simple! But Singapore!! F... them!! Sorry, but I am still very upset that Vibert was treated in such a manner, without any reason, and that you Shanna had to go through this without him being around. The bastards! Boycot Singapore:-) :-) Lots of love! Annelies
9th February 2008

4½ out of approx. 6,200 - not bad, really!
"Shanna feels helpless. She PRAYS." "Inside, Vibert PRAYS silently". Yes, my friends, the formula never fails - you are positively on the right track and you are being guided by Love, Light & Peace. Despite your ordeal (or maybe because of it), you have maintained your flair for reporting and have added a new and interesting dimension to the narrative - the film script - (Sutherland eat your heart out!) :-)) We love it and look forward to your next "port-of-call".
9th February 2008

I've seldomly heard good things about Singapore
My parents lived there for work twice in the last 10 years for little under a year each time and both dislike the social control the Singaporian Gov't holds over it's citizens. Sounds rough. I meant to ask you your experiences in Asia for things like this. Sarah and I are back in NYC freezing our tail feathers off. I still wish I was you. Traveling the world making all sorts of experiences. I wish we coulda spent some more time together as to hear all your wonderful stories. Guess I'll just have ta read about it..
9th February 2008

I love Singapore.
10th February 2008

Is this for real ?
I have never heard about such treatment at Singapore immigration before. Is this for real ? or is it some sort of a joke or story you made up ? If it's real, you can and you should write to the press in Singapore - The Straits Times. The authority WILL investigate and gives you JUSTICE. Unless you have some sort of criminal records or has been suspected of terrorism or other serious crimes, you won't be treated like the way you said you did. Did you miss out anything significant in your story? What's country X ? Myanmar?
10th February 2008

Moving right along!
I'm considering this a small bump in the road. I hope you guys are too. Onward to bigger and better places.
10th February 2008

Too Bad
Sorry you had to endure that. Been through the twilight zone of Immigration myself. The helplessness and fear over the control one person has is daunting. You feel the weight and force of that government behind the creepy officer. BUT you guys keep your heads up and keep praying you have a bigger and more powerful army with/behind you, and you have each other. i was moved by your commitment to each other. go well.
10th February 2008

Wow, Shanna and Vibert I'm so sorry that you all had such a bad experience in Singapore, but thank God that you all are Ok, now What a scared!
11th February 2008

Tres scary!!
Oh my goodness!! I got chills reading that. Glad you both safe and sound. Love the reference to 24 hahaha! Enjoy your next destination.
11th February 2008

Don't let this get you down!
Hi Shanna/Vibe, Sorry this had to happen to you guys after all the wonderful experiences you had till now! Your story was so frightening!! I can imagine what you went through Shanna seeing Vibe being taken away and staying back all alone, terrible! Thank God He came back to you safely! Shanna and Vibe, remember all the wonderful people you guys met elsewhere! Build on your happy memories of nice, loving people. We are glad to hear that you "prayed". That is the only thing that keeps us safe in a world full of unfair, frustrated and deceitful people. We do hope that you will keep enjoying the rest of your adventures as you were before. Don't let such an event get you down! Keep up your positive spirits and be safe on the rest of your journey. Also remember to keep praying! Not only when you are in trouble but be thankful daily for all the wonderful people you meet and beautiful places you see. Keep being positive and all will be well!! Love, Claire and James
12th February 2008

Was nice to hear how neat the place was but seem so dirty for holding u up at airport. sorry to hear. Hope u have some more esciteing time to take a way that drama. God be praised though, for answering your prayers.
12th February 2008

Praise God!
Give God the praise and Glory, prayer works. They only held you for 41/2 hours.
6th April 2008

Hi there, I just want to share my story which is similar to yourself. A week ago I was supposed to do a stopover overnight holiday in Singapore as the airlines transit there. Well let's start with my outbound trip. This is my long awaited holiday. The first visit is Singapore. I arrived 6am and immigration officer stamp my passport with pass to enter singapore. There i spent one day (12 hours) shopping and eating around Orchard then go back to airport and continue my journey (all smooth and no issue). Inbound travel back to where I live three weeks later. I have two boarding passes printed by the airline from the departed country and have hotel booked in Orchard area for 1 night only as my connecting flight scheduled the next evening (i want to stay over as well). Arrived Changi at 12pm. All my luggage already checked to my destination country (not collectable in Sing). At immigration checkpoint the officer referred me to his supervisor. Spoke with the supervisor who ask me that i can not enter singapore because my passport expire in 1 month time (i realise this and plan to extend soon as i get back). I argue that few weeks back the immigration allow me to go out. Talking with this guy is like talking with the brick wall. He would not listen to my argument. I showed him all my hotel reservation as well as my connecting boarding pass. He does not seem care and said i have to be deported back to the country where i just came. Ok waited until 1pm. The airline guy come to me asking if it's ok to change my ticket back to country where i just visited and i said no and i insisted that the airline fly me back to where i live. waited another 30 minutes. this time the airport police come to me and ask me to follow him to wait at his office. Well i thought that the airline guy is going to arrange something for me and rather than me waiting at check point they want me to wait at their office. I said OK then i followed the airport police officer. Then i told him that i want to make a phone call to some friend that already awaited for me in Singapore and also to let my family knows that i already arrived in Singapore. THe officer said no and told me that i'm not allowed to make a phone call!! I was surprised and i insisted again. He then said that he need to get permission from the immigration officer. I'm just getting uncomfortable and told him ok to find out from the immigration guy. The officer got the permission and only allowed to make two phone call which i have to pay for it (not from their office). I called my friend in Singapore informed them that i could not enter singapore and also told my family overseas that i may get deported back and ask them to pick me up at the airport. Then I got into this so called office. Apparently it's their detention centre!!! they searched me and stored all my stuff in the locker before getting in. i couldnt bring anything. Then inside it was like a prison. there were no window. the toilet is filthy. there were bedrooms with few bunkbeads but really smelly and all the beds have mould. Now i feel like a nobody and no one would listen to me. I waited patiently for 3 hours as the police officer told me before that they will give me an update in two hours time. Nothing happen. I asked the officer overthere which all not helpful and unfriendly which said that no one has called regarding my case. OK. it's 5 pm now. it's been 5 hours i'm in this detention room that full of people from africa, india, and china (i don't know why they are here but i learnt some already stayed for days!!!). i approached the officer again and asking an update. She probably get irritated and told me to just wait like the rest!. I'm getting nervous and afraid as no-one knows that im here and i couldnot make any communication to outside world. Then there's another officer come from their office (probably after seeing my argument with the other officer) and told me i will be send to the country where i live tonite at 9 pm. OK thanks God i feel relieved. and i sat again waiting. 8.45pm the officer called my name and told me to follow her. She escorted me to the airplane! i felt like a criminal! I dont even have my passport back. At the flight i vomited few times as i felt really sick to what has happened to me. Arrived at 6am. even the stewardess treated me like im a criminal. dont they have to be friendly? they told me not to leave my seat until everyone is got out the plane. ok i followed them. then once everyone got out the asked me to follow them to meet the ground staff. outside the plane the ground staff then handed me my passport and told me that im now free to go. ????? Am I a criminal???? What did I do so badly that i get this treatment???? Now that i'm safe here i really don't want to ever go visit Singapore again!!!! First time in my life i was in prison for nearly 9 hours!!!!!!!

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