A Passport Adventure…Or Why We're Always Behind Singapore

Lots of people find difficulty in creating blog posts.
I can tell you that if you observe your daily life long enough or meet enough people, you will have plenty to blog about.
Case in point – today we were at the Penang Immigration Department on Beach Street.
Most people, especially Malaysians, hate dealing with Government departments.
The waiting time is long as hell and you get crappy service most of the time. I say this because sometimes, like a glimmer of light from beyond, one or two officers will come forth and shine and make your dealing with them a lot better. But these people, once we come across them, are like gems. Few and far in between.
The rest have this “attitude” which you really dislike.
Like intensely.
Nic for one hates bureaucracy. As the rebellious person that he is (and he is famous for this even when he was in USM – he was well-known for his rebel nature), he finds such experiences tiring. I do too but I take these experiences better than he does.
Anyway, based on our last experience at renewing our passports, we figured it would be a breeze. At least you now do not need to wake up at the ungodly hour of 6 am and wait in line for a number. With improved services, we now have a passport renewal kiosk – a machine which shortens the time considerably.
The last time we renewed our passports, it was easy. Just get there, get your number, and do the needed at the kiosk. The kiosk scans your passport, scans your MyKad and scans your right thumbprint. Plus it also accepts your cash. And it spits out your receipt. Your new passport will be ready in an hour, give or take a few minutes. So in that one hour, you can go and do other things, run some errands, have your breakfast and later come back for your new travel document.
This time, we thought, it would be relatively quick.
I think I give our Malaysian departments too much trust.
How To Renew Your Malaysian Passport
Here’s how the procedure works and I experienced it first-hand today.
So consider this post a how-to, so you can save time, prevent yourself from tearing your hair out and cut out the stress. At least if you can learn from this post, please do. Go all prepared. Then you have less issue and less frustration.
I don’t know why this time we had to get the passport renewal forms to fill up. But we did.
If you see a line of people, skip the queue. These people are lining up for their numbers.
If you haven’t gotten your form yet, go right up to the counter (which lies smack in the middle as you enter) and ask for the form. You DON’T need to line up for forms.
Next, you need a photostat copy of your MyKad as well as 2 recent passport-sized photographs. I brought along mine which was taken not very long ago (I had a hair cut since then) but they told me that I had to take my photo again! Of course I grumbled. Surprisingly Nic was calm.
You don’t have to go very far to get your instant passport photos taken.
The Immigration Department has a little annexe (more like a hastily put up shack) behind the main building. You go around the building (walk to your left as you exit the main entrance) and you will see a line of people waiting in the sun for their turn to get their photos snapped or to photostat their MyKad. No shade whatsoever. The smart aleck who is doing a roaring good business behind the main building charges RM0.60 for photostat and RM10 for 4 pieces of photos.
So we had to wait in the bloody hot sun, in a line, to get our photos snapped.
Once you get that, you check your form – fill it up properly – and attach your 2 photos, your MyKad photostat copy and your old passport. Of course, none of this is written down on their Immigration Department board or website.
I check websites religiously – I even told Nic we could do the renewal online but Nic does not have faith at all in the online system. If it failed, we’d have to do the regular way. So might as well save ourselves the agony and do it the regular way. That is how mediocre our Government departments are. That is how much trust we have in them.
With your form and necessary stuff in hand, you now get back into that stupid line again (yes) to get your number. Tell them you want to use the kiosk. It is much shorter (unless the kiosk throws a fit and refuses to scan your passport, in which case you need to do the Manual Renewal method…which I will clue you in, too, since I am in such a good mood…NOT).
With that number in hand, you go to the kiosk which is a little room and get this, with one of their officers inside! (We can’t trust machines too much, can we?)
Basically, the kiosk scans your old passport, scans your MyKad and scans your thumbprint. Then you “feed” it with money (RM300 for 48-page Malaysian International Passport of 5 years’ validity – update: as of 2015, it is cheaper to renew your passport) and you get a receipt.
In usual cases, you are asked to come back in one hour. Today being a Friday, I was told to collect my new passport at 3pm. Done deal, right? Not so. When you come at 3pm, you line up AGAIN to get a number.
When Being Punctual or Early Can Be Bad
The officer won’t give you a number if you’re early by a few minutes. Oh no, it must be on the dot.
I was early by 5 minutes and he told me that but I told him I wasn’t going to line up again.
I am quite nice most times but I can be nasty when I want to.
I told him, “Look. There’s a line behind me. I am NOT lining up again.”
Maybe it was my Tiger face because he finally decided he didn’t want to argue with me and gave me my number. Earlier I had made a fuss when his colleague told me I had to take my photo again – and that colleague (when I went back to him again to get a number) told me not to be so mad. I was quite furious and when I get mad, it shows on my face. You don’t want to mess with me then.
With this number and my receipt, I went to Kaunter 8 and dropped the receipt in this pathetic, cheap red plastic tray. The guy behind the counter will call your number. You just need to present your MyKad, sign the new passport and sign the form (the one you initially had) and scan your thumbprint. That is it.
I was lucky. My passport was deemed accepted by the machine.
Nic wasn’t so lucky. The machine refused to scan his passport and finally he was asked to do the Manual Way. This is something we dread because it is long, tedious, bureaucratic with stupid systems!
When You Renew Your Passport Over The Counter
Here’s the manual way, explained step by step:
1. You get a number. (If you don’t have a number, you won’t get anywhere. Get in line. Get a number.)
2. You wait your turn. Remember to check if you have: your old passport, your xerox copy of MyKad and 2 photos and the stupid form (which you got earlier and filled up).
3. The wait can be horrible. You see, the Penang Immigration Department is one of the most run-down and dismal places to be in. The wall where the cheap Kilometrico pens are (tied with string no less, just in case you decide to steal some Kilometrico pens! Oh for god’s sakes)
are littered with such interesting profanity and art that it shows how bored mindless the waiting can be. The desk here is dirtied with ink of leaky pens.
4. The wait is annoying because there aren’t enough seating or if you do find one, it’s a dirty seat with stains and what-not. When I am here, I feel like I am in some dingy Third World country – oh wait a minute, I am in a dingy Third World country. Like the LCCT in Sepang, this waiting area makes me ashamed to be called a Malaysian. Is this Malaysia? Not only are the seats dirty and cramped, most people hang around and wait, making it utterly claustrophobic.
5. When your number is called, you go up to the counter. The officer takes your form, processes it and asks to scan your thumbprint. You get to ink your thumb and put your thumbprint on the form too.
6. Do you pay your RM300? Oh noooo….. you take a seat again because your money will be paid at another counter.
7. So you return to your seat and resign yourself to another 30 to 50 minutes of incredibly mindless waiting. The officer who takes your form doesn’t take your money?! This is a system problem. Why must you be re-routed to another officer so he can collect your money and give you a receipt?
No wonder our civil service is so bloated. It takes 2-3 people to do one person’s job!
8. So you endure the wait until the officer calls your name.
9. When he calls your name, you pay and get your receipt. When you get your receipt, you are asked to collect your new passport in 1 hour. (Now’s the time to go around the corner and have a cup of coffee while you wait out the hour.)
Some Useful Tips
Make sure you renew your passport for as long as you can. You never want to endure this ordeal too many times in your life. It kills you.
A woman complained that she had been there since 8.30am. A woman we met said she was scolded by the officer when she stood too near the counter (she had seen her form on the next pile and knew he was about to call her name). He actually slammed her form on the counter, showing his displeasure.
If I were her I’d say, “Go ahead and get mad. Then give me your name because I am going to write a letter of complaint to your big boss and report you as rude and uncivilised.”
What sort of civil service is this if you treat fellow Malaysians like they didn’t matter?
Here are people of all walks of life with most being nervous when dealing with Government Departments because they lacked proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia and don’t know how to fill forms. I saw many people like this. They worried not knowing what to write in their forms.
They hung around, unsure of what came next. Uncertainty is a horrible feeling when you are illiterate and the worse thing is when some officers throw a tantrum in front of the people they are supposed to serve with a smile?
Some are friendly – no doubt – the lady who served me when I was at the kiosk was a cheerful spirit.
But I was lucky. How many others got horrible officers?
The moment we got our new passports, I told myself that I won’t need to step into this place for another 5 years and that’s in 2017.
I met a friend too who was lining up for a second time to get her number – she was apparently too early the first time around and the officer refused to issue her a number. She said,”Oh but it’s like that. We’re not like Singapore you know.”
But why aren’t we like Singapore?
Why do we accept mediocre service and think it’s OK to be bullied by rude officers? Why do we take such crap without even a squeak?
That is why Malaysia will never progress beyond what we have now if we don’t speak up and get services improved. Many Malaysians are too accepting of rubbishy service particularly from the Government departments.
Just like the other day when a bank officer at the RHB Sungai Dua branch (a woman no less!) was rude to Nic.
I told him never let that get away. We have been loyal customers of this bank for more than 10 years. Is this any way to treat your customers?
Then and there, Nic went up to the bank manager and told him that he was unhappy that not only did she not offer a solution to his ATM card problem, she laughed like a hyena while walking away. I hope she gets a good earful from her bank manager.
So don’t stew if you get bad service – write about it, blog about it, write to your newspaper, write to the company. Let them know that you are unhappy. At least then something can be improved.
Of course don’t just complain for nothing. Complain so that they improve their services. That’s the goal.
In Singapore, businesses take complaints seriously. Customer service is a serious culture over there.
Over here, we take crap from people who should be serving us with a smile. Why?

4 thoughts on “A Passport Adventure…Or Why We're Always Behind Singapore”

  1. Hi Maya
    I came across your blog while stewing in UTC Puduraya. Its supposed to be state of art building with all government facilities (JPJ, JPN, MoF, PERKESO and of course immigration).
    I work in Penang and back in KL so thought I would renew my passport here.
    No mention of closure of UTC immigration branch.
    In accordance to the opening hours it SHOULD be open.
    Arrived and thought yay finally!
    Alas, they are closed. Wtf??? Through VNY??

    • Hi Liz: Sorry to hear of your predicament. I know. I try my bestest to avoid any government agency or department. It’s sad and debilitating because despite their “sedia berkhidmat”, they seriously don’t give a damn about the rakyat’s inconvenience. Take any Government website for instance. I bet you that you can’t find anything you want and in the end you’d just have to pick up the phone and call 3 layers of people before you speak to someone with authority. Even then, you’d be re-directed to someone else who is most likely on leave and won’t be back till 3 weeks later. By then they’ve forgotten your “case” and ask you to start all over again! When I hear stories of Singaporean’s efficiency, I want to ask our Malaysian civil servants, “Why can’t you drop your ego and go learn from our neighbour?”

    • Hi Liz: Yeah, sometimes it gets too frustrating and we all want to move down south. But slowly we will get there. If enough of us don’t stand for it, or make a comment directly (like most angmoh’s normally do), perhaps some things will change. I went over to read your blog too….interesting stuff you have going on. I always say I am happy to be a Malaysian because we are born into diversity. Yet I also know many Malaysians who don’t always appreciate this diversity and instead choose to see it as “us” versus “them” or divide ourselves into comfortable, familiar groups.


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