I am handcuffed and being escorted by several security officers into a dingy cell. I can hear the word Filipino in a thick Malay accent mentioned a couple of times and the rest are gibberish to my ears. The looks on the faces of the foreign people, who are now gazing at me, are nothing but hollow and terrifying. I am wearing a bright orange jumpsuit with my last name on it and a capped letter P at the back. I got busted for a crime I irresponsibly and unknowingly did.
After our 5-day stay in Phuket, we flew to Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysia league of our short Southeast Asia trip. It was my turn at the immigration for the entry stamp when the immigration officer, upon examining my passport, left me and her post without a word. Something’s not right, I thought. I was so anxious I didn’t notice that I was pinching my orange plush I was carrying with me so hard I swear I was almost ripping it. Rowjie, who was assisted by another officer in the booth beside me, was apparently cleared and was let off the immigration hall. He waited at the area that connects the immigration and departure zones of the airport, might be ten to 15 feet away from where I was standing. He couldn’t go near me but I know that wondering look in his eyes. What’s going on? Why are you being held up?
Then the immigration officer went back with her supervisor, an older woman with a poker face. I asked if there’s something wrong and got stunned by what she replied which was another question, “Where is your Thailand exit stamp?” She had flipped my passport a dozen times but couldn’t find what she was looking for. “What are you going to do here in Malaysia? Who are you with? Let me see your documents.” I politely responded, “I’m here with my husband (with a quick glance at Rowjie who’s still in awe) to visit Melaka just for two days. We will head back home to the Philippines after,” and handed her the documents I had with me including tickets, itineraries, and lodge vouchers.
She murmured something and sought the advice of her supervisor now standing beside her also scanning my passport. Then they fixed their eyes on Rowjie, who was holding the same plush as mine (but different in color), as if examining him. I was numb and couldn’t feel a thing.
I am in a place where I know no one. I feel like fainting. The scent of the cell makes me want to throw up. This can’t be happening. We are supposed to be on a holiday. I shouldn’t be here. Tears are now gushing down my cheeks, warm and hopeless.
After a seemingly infinite discussion, I assumed that the two immigration officers came into an agreement. This time, the supervisor spoke. “You do not have your Thailand exit stamp. We will let you in but next time, do not leave the immigration without checking the passport.” She handed me back the documents I submitted earlier.
I passed out after nearly four hours of crying when I heard my name being called by an officer. I am told that I am free, that I can leave and be with my husband. Tears start to fall down again, this time out of joy. I took off the orange jumpsuit I was wearing and asked the prison officer for all my possessions back. Rowjie is already waiting for me outside the prison cell. He got help from the Embassy officials. We were told that we can carry on with our vacation. Nah. Never mind the money we lost out of paid hotels and tours. I just want to go back to the Philippines.
I thanked them several times and left the immigration hall. I, without noticing, irresponsibly and unknowingly left Thailand without an exit stamp on my passport, one that could turn out into something serious if not for the consideration of the immigration officers who assisted me. I ran to Rowjie nearly crying with the thought of me being Viktor Navorski, if you know what I mean. I can now forget about the thoughts that were clouding my mind earlier, of me inside a prison cell.
After the incident and becoming afraid of what could have been, I did a little research on what could possibly happen if one entered a country without passport exit stamp from the country which s/he left. Majority of what I’ve read says that though few countries strictly demand passport stamps, most countries, especially non-Asian, do not require stamps as long as you have all your legal documents. Some countries even have their own advanced (digital) way of knowing who comes in and out of their premises.
But you can save yourself from trouble of long interrogation and possibly being suspected of doing illegal business if you’d regularly check the stamps on your passport or if in doubt, asking the immigration officer about it before leaving or entering a country just in case the state you’re entering strictly requires such. You’d never really know when you need it.
No exit (stamp), no entry.
Kaiz is a stay-at-home mom and currently works as an Operations Specialist for a software engineering company based in the US.