Yesterday I had the opportunity, or really a need, to go down to the US Embassy here in Singapore. This was my second trip there since being in Singapore. I remember the first time I went I was really impressed with the whole idea of being in an embassy, because how many Americans actually get to do that? That’s something I’ve mentioned to my wife before. Most Americans will never leave the United States. In fact, some Americans don’t even leave their home state for the entire lives. That last group isn’t that big, but it’s true. Traveling is a rare thing in the US, and traveling abroad is even more rare. I suppose it has something to do with how big the US is, and how expensive it is to get anywhere interesting. Here in Asia, you can hop on a plane for a short flight to any number of countries and it’s really cheap. In the US, unless you want to go to Canada or Mexico, you’re looking at paying quite a bit of money to make that hop over the Atlantic of the Pacific.
Anyhow, the first time I went to the embassy I was expecting to see a heavily fortified building with lots of guards. I wasn’t entirely disappointed. The building is imposing and there did happen to be guards patrolling the street out front. Oddly enough, though, they weren’t the US Marines I was expecting. It was Singapore police, carrying rifles and wearing blue uniforms with maroon berets. The entrance check-point wasn’t guarded by Marines either. The guys appeared to be a contracted local security outfit. Not that that’s a bad thing. I just had a different image of how regal the embassy would look. I suppose in a country like Singapore, having Marines guarding the doors isn’t necessary.
So, my idea of what the embassy would look like, based on movies I’d seen, was entirely shattered. It was a sort of comforting experience, though, being surrounded by a lot of people speaking English with an American accent. I don’t run into too many Americans here in Singapore.
It was also comforting in another way, both times, but more in a ‘familiar process’ way, than an actual ‘I feel good being here’ kinda way. I spent 8 years in the US Army, and one of the catch-phrases that you’ll often hear associated with getting anything done in the Army is “Hurry up and wait.” I could go into that quite a bit, but suffice it to say that with most things the Army does, you rush to get somewhere and then stand around for hours on end waiting for the actual event to occur. This is never so true as it is with paperwork, and the US Embassy excelled at conveying that old familiar feeling to me.
On this trip, my wife and I went down there to get a document notarized. There were six people ahead of us in line waiting for consular services. I expected to be in and out in about 20 minutes tops, but I kid you not, we sat there for an hour. I suppose you could say this is a reflection of all government related paperwork and processes though. Things take a LOT of time to get done, unless it involves the government taking your money of course. They’re pretty quick on that one.
Anyhow, it wasn’t a completely unpleasant experience. Again, it was nice to be surrounded by native English speakers and the staff were all pleasant. Still, I hope I don’t have to go back down there again any time soon.