Our visit to the passport office proved to be the first time I have felt cold since I arrived in Sri Lanka. The air conditioning in the room must have been less than 25 degrees as that’s the temperature I usually keep my bedroom at. It’s cool but comfortable but the temperature in the visa room was so low I felt cold even in a fairly thick cotton top and trousers.
Although everything I was wearing was cotton I kept slipping down in the stainless steel chairs. You know that feeling that one moment you are sitting upright and before you know it you are almost horizontal and you have to hoist yourself upright again.
Eventually and it was eventually the uniformed official came through with bundles of paperwork and passports in his hands and called out the numbers. It was like a free for all at the January sales in Oxford Street, London, as he was crowded, everyone jockeying for position. I just sat back and the son joined the scrum and at long last I had a passport stamped with permission to stay here until 17 December.
One of the UK visa applicants we spoke to during our morning sojourn in the visa room, explained he had enquired before travelling how long he could stay. He had been told six months and duly booked his expensive return ticket within the six month period. He had been told, like myself on arrival at the visa office, he could only have another two months and was upset and annoyed that he might have to book a ticket out of the country and then apply to come back.
He enquired during the morning of various people and officials but was given a different story each time. Someone told him he could stay 150 days confirming what I had been told at Heathrow, another that he was only allowed this current two month extension to his visa and has to leave the country, and yet another said he could come back and apply for another two months’ visa extension.
He wants to buy a property here but is not allowed. Only Sri Lankan nationals can buy properties except in specific circumstances. There are high rise flats being built all over the place and non-nationals may buy one of these flats, supposing they have the funds to do so but they must buy one say, over the eleventh floor. There is 100% tax on a non-national owning a property here – or so one of our fellow visa applicants told us.
There are distinct economic advantages to Sri Lankans only being allowed to own property here. There would be no overseas property investors, no holiday homes pushing the price of property out of the reach of locals and there is going to be no property boom and bust.
I loved the idea when we went to the Elephant Orphanage of one queue for non-nationals where we as visitors paid a higher entry charge and the locals paid a discounted entry fee.
That most basic of necessities, a toilet, is an adventure in most foreign countries. I couldn’t understand when we visited Malaysia in 1999 why the toilet at a museum we were visiting was awash with water.
When I first came to this country every toilet I used seemed to be awash with water. There is a hose fixed on the wall beside the toilet and what you are supposed to do is wash the toilet down after each use. And that’s the reason every toilet looks as if there has been a flood. Most don’t have toilet rolls, soap or a means of drying your hands. And so it was in the public toilets in the beautiful new passport building as I waded with my open toe sandals through water hoping that it was all clean water.
By the time we had secured the passport it was almost lunch time and as we exited the lift on the ground floor, there were so many people in this building I wondered if there was a concert or a special event. There were literally hundreds of people everywhere and I tried to crane my head over one crowd as I thought that they were watching something but the huge semi-circle of people were all focused on a group of officials behind some office desks.
I wish I knew why they were all there.