Sunday, November 6, 2011

Debit Card

It's still 2008, I have my visa and passport sorted.  I'm not sick of paperwork yet so I decide to apply for a debit card. 
It's a simple process I am told.  I was told wrong. 
They lied to my face.


A common occurence when dealing with bureaucracy.

I was told I would need three forms of identification.  I asked what was best, and they told me that as I was young so not likely to have much identification yet that a provisional license, a birth certificate and a letter addressed to my house would do.

I arrive with the documents and lined up for 20 minutes, only for them to tell me my birth certificate was not valid because it doesn't have my face.

My birth certificate has caused me many problems over the years.  For one it has my place of birth as a suburb not the city I was born like it is supposed to so I often need to clarify my country of birth.  Not having my face is also a common issue.

So I asked what else I could have.  A student ID would be ok as it would also have a picture of my face.

The next day I returned with the provisional license, student ID and letter.  Again I was denied for not filling out the page of paerwork properly.  I had not completed the signature portion.

I was a little confused at this as the signature portion specified it had to be done in the presence of the teller.  I told her this and she told me 'No it has to be done in the presence of your parents.'

I told her I was 18 now and not likely to need parental signatures. She told me that was the case and I needed to come back with the paperwork, documents and a parent.

I went back the very next day with all three only to be told I was right the first time and the paperwork had to be signed in front of a teller.  I took the paperwork off the lady and filled it out right there, ignoring her protestations that I was holding up the line.

She took the paperwork and signed it and told me to wait 4-6 weeks for the pin number followed by the new debit card.

4 weeks passed and I recieved the card with no pin.  I went to the bank after hunting for it and asked what could be done.  The teller took the card and said I would have to be issued a new one.

4 weeks passed and I recieved a pin number and no card.

I went back and gave them the pin and said I was not waiting another 4-6 weeks for them to screw up again.  They blamed the Post Office, me and even asked if my dog could have gotten to the letters first. I assured them the problem was theirs and even if it wasn't I didn't care I wanted my damn debit card.

They handed over a card the very next day.

Not my last issue with debit cards, but probably the lengthiest.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My first visa encounter

So the year is still 2008, I have a passport now and can start finalising plans to travel. My initial plans were to go to Europe for 3 months and then work in an American summer camp.

They were quickly shot down as the American consulate wanted to know exactly where I would be going for 3 months and exactly what I would be doing. I had to write a 3 month itinerary, for each day.

My plans for Europe were basically, fly into London, start exploring, see Ireland and Hungary, and some other European Places, fly out of London 3 months later to America. Very vague and exciting and no doubt were giving my mum headaches.

Not very conducive towards a detailed 3 months itinerary. Not wanting to be restricted by The Man, and not even my Man some other countries Man, I decided to do it the other way around. Neatly avoiding all that paperwork.

So of course I applied for my visa to America.

I was given about three hundred pages of forms.

I dutifully filled them all out, and realised that the photo I had left over from my passport shot was no good for the visa as America has different sizing. How inconvenient. I was soon to learn that America does everything different to the rest of the world.  Still using the Imperial system of measurement which is a very odd way to measure things.

So I trotted off down to the Post Office to get a different sized photo and encountered the Hag (this lady still hated me about 2 months after our first meeting for my passport, I would only make it worse).

She promptly informed me that I was making things up and America would be happy with the Australian way of doing things.  I said 'No I have the specifications and it specifically says DO NOT USE AUSTRALIAN MEASURMENTS'.

She scoffed, snatched the paper out of my hands and said well this is only a guide.  I asked her if someone else could help me.

Mistake number one of that day.

She looked at me, trying to cause me physical pain with her mind, and told me 'Everyone else is busy, it looks like your only option will be to deal with me'.  I looked around at the empty shop.

'There is no one else here, that guy looks helpful lets ask him if he can understand the written English language, specifically where it says 'DO NOT USE AUSTRALIAN MEASURMENTS'.

Mistake number two of that day.

She got mad

She huffed up, gave me the evil eye and started this huge lecture on respecting elders, the state and her position as a official.

I told her that I would find someone else who respected the English language enough to understand that DO NOT means exactly what it says and left.

The Post Office near my mum's work was very helpful and sorted it out fine.

I booked my appointment and waited two weeks to head down to Sydney and enter the American consulate.

I stayed the night before my interview in Sydney with my grandparents, who checked my forms for me and found some discrepancies.  I quickly fixed them on a new set of forms knowing that mistakes cost time and money.

At the entrance to the building I asked the kindly people behind reception where I might find our friends the Americans and their consulate. I was told to proceed to the lift and go up to level 10

I followed instructions and stepped out of the lift and into the arms of two security guards. I was ushered into a line and told to empty my pockets of all metal items, place them in a tray and walk through the metal detectors, and God help you if you had brought electrical equipment.

Luckily I had been warned about this and so had left all my electrical gear elsewhere. A massive Tongan guard watched me carefully as I stepped through the detector.  

Thankfully I didn't set it off and I was allowed to proceed to my second line of the day where I would have my forms checked.

It was sitting in this line idly passing the time talking to my fellow travellers that I heard rising voices behind me. A businessman needed to go to America urgently and wanted a visa. The problem was he didn't book an appointment, which was frowned upon.

He began to yell, as I tried to mentally silence him. The idiot was arguing with the very people who could write him down as a terrorist forever denying him entry to their country! Also they had BIG GUNS.

Fearing the worst I tried to blend into my surroundings. The man continued to yell, until at some unknown signal or code phrase two massive Tongans grabbed him by each arm and escorted him into the lift, no doubt to be killed. Or used in tests by bureaucrats to see just how many forms it takes to break a man.

My forms where checked and I was allowed to proceed to the next level of the consulate, which was 49 floors up. There was just a blank space between the number 10 and number 59 in the lift and I was not allowed to press the button myself, a security guard had to do it for me and also scan his ID card.

I got out at 59 with two other travelers and watched a young guy come into the lift throwing his passport into the air and catching it.  Just as I thought 'That seems like a bad idea', he dropped it and it went towards the crack between the elevator and the floor.

Once I got out at the other end I was ushered into another line, with more Tongan security guards and more metal detectors. I passed through unharmed once again, and made it to the other side. I felt like I was running a gauntlet.

I opened the heaviest door I have ever had to open and saw the biggest man I have ever seen. 

He was easily two heads taller than I am, and about two of me wide, all muscle. He took one look at me, than looked at the window near him. I knew right than that if I messed up I would go out that window with extreme force, as surely as the sun would rise the next day.

 I accepted my fate, took a number and sat down, praying to every single benevolent being I could think of that I would not mess up in anyway.

 My number was called, I handed over my forms. I was told to sit.

My number was again called, my fingers were scanned and once again I was told to sit.

Again my number was called, I was asked a few questions and finally told that my visa was approved.

Thanking the teller and all the benevolent beings I had earlier prayed to I left, looking back only once at the man-mountain that guarded this place. He acknowledged my passing with the smallest of eye flickering. I had been allowed to live by that man, but I knew that next time we met I might not be so lucky.

Some of you reading this might feel I was being sarcastic towards the Yanks in this latest addition to my encounters with bureaucracy.

I say you are wrong, in fact you couldn't be more wrong. They made it easy for me to get into their country, and were much nicer and more professional than my own country's bureaucrats.

It is sad that it was easier for me to get permission to go to another country, than it was to register to vote or get a passport, things that I receive as part of my rights as an Australian citizen.

Of course it is not just Australian bureaucrats that cause me problems, but so far I had only encountered the American consulate in Sydney, and my relationship with the American consulate in Sydney is a good one. Possibly the only set of bureaucrats to treat me well and with respect. Bureaucrats could learn a lot from these guys.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Clarification on my story

I realised I mentioned my Dad and our conversations as he fills out forms.  They are usually amusing and seems like we are having two very distinct conversations at the same time.

The main one I use as an example is as follows.

I am often accused of never giving straight answers but sometimes its because the questions are not right themselves.

Dad: Hey when did you turn 21?
Me: You forget my birthday again?
Dad: No not your BIRTHday, when did you turn 21?
 Me:.....this year?
Dad: no, WHEN did you turn 21?
Me: Mentally?
Dad: You're mental, just give a straight answer
Me:(giving up on making sense of the question) Your face is.

They run in a couple of ways.  He asks a question I don't comprehend so I give a flippant answer. 
 Or he makes a vague statement that I take as a question and take time trying to stumble over an answer till I stop when I realise he is not even paying attention as he didn't realise I would respond to his rhetorical statement.
Or he asks something when I am not paying attention, repeats it while I still not paying attention and then gives up and asks my brother who gives a flippant answer.
Getting my family to be serious and fill out paperwork is hard. 

Adult passport

Having had very little to do with bureaucracy after my electoral roll fiasco I realised that my upcoming plans to travel the world for 7 months were hampered by the fact I had only a children's passport and would need to upgrade due to my new adult status.

I looked into and saw it involed lots of forms.  Joy.  Already I hated these things.

I picked one up and asked Dad to look it over and help me fill it out, still hurting from the electoral roll being mean to me.  He started righting in blue ink and wrote my first name before seeing it was not allowed and everything had to be in black.  He carefully got a black pen and expertly went over the blue ink so you could barely see it was there.

He filled the rest out for me while I booked an appointment at the Post Office. I had it signed by a guarantor and took the forms, my proof of ID and my delightful nonsmiling photo to the Post Office to get signed and sent off to receive my shiny new adult passport.

The lady at the Post Office and I had never met but it was apparent from the look she gave me and the way she snatched my forms that she hated me.  I had wronged her in such a way that could never be forgiven and needed to be punished for it.  She made me stand there for 20 minutes while she served other customers as I hadn't booked the appointment properly.  I was truly a monster.

My punishment over she deigned to view my peasant materials.  Instantly there was an issue.

"You started to fill this out in blue pen.  The computer doesn't see blue pen".

I sighed, I knew that mistake would haunt me.  However I detected a note of possibility in her complaint.
"That's OK then, my Dad filled out my name in blue but went over it in black.  If the computer doesn't see blue it won't be affected, it will just see the black".

The look on her face crushed that note of possibility.  She took the possibility that this would end well and ground it beneath her hefty hoof.  Which was a creative way of saying she was FAT.  Also ugly, life hated her and she hated me.

"That is not how it works young man".  Every time I hear young man I smile and think of the Village People.  It was mistake to smile that time.

"This is not a joke sir, so do not smirk at me.  I simply cannot process this form, you will have to fill out a new one and come back.  In addition we cannot have people filling out other people's forms.  You need to fill it out yourself to ensure all details are correct and no one is submitting false data".

I sighed and left.  I wanted to argue the point but was keen to leave her presence as soon as possible.

I filled out the second set of forms myself.  I was about 97% sure Dad would put the right day down the right details but some of our conversations as he fills out forms can get worrying so I figured I'd tough it out myself.

I explained what happened to my guarantor who kindly signed again, I booked another appointment to the Hags specifications and went on my merry way.

I waited in line and sacrificed the guy behind me to the Hag by letting him go ahead of me so I could get the nice lady. 

Of course the nice lady was still new at passport forms so had to ask the Hag a question.  That question spelled the end for this set of forms.  Apparently my guarantor had let the 'r' at the end of his name get outside the box he was given to sign in.  This is apparently high treason and the very existence of such a thing could mean we have to hand over Tasmania to New Zealand.

That last bit is not true, but could very well have been they way the Hag acted.  My god, I thought my guarantor had signed in the blood of one of her 50 cats that way she went on.

Needless to say it was rejected.

The third set of forms were filled out very carefully, I scrapped three completely due to tiny errors to ensure the third appointment was the charm.

So for my third appointment and sixth set of forms I didn't book an appointment.  A rookie mistake some may say but I knew better.  If I booked the Hag would be ready for me.

I casually strode past the Post Office in the morning and saw she was on.  I walked past, went to the cafe and ordered some lunch.  I ate my lunch slowly, read my book, had a drink and waited.  Prior study of the Post Office habitat had lead me to realise that those that worked mornings switched at lunch and by 2 all new staff were on.  I finished my lunch at 1, decided to risk it and luckily the Hag was gone.

My passport forms got approved and I was told it would arrive in 4 weeks.

7 weeks later it arrived.

Electoral Roll

So I am going to start at the beginning.  My first real clash with Bureaucracy on my own.  I am sure there were some involving me that I was unaware of that my parents had to deal with, it can't have started out of the blue at 18, but this is my first ever clash.  It was not a good start to our relationship.

In Australia it is compulsory to vote.  You have to or you get fined.  In a staggering case of needless red tape and paperwork you also have to sign up for it. 

They are able to send you a letter and a pack of forms on your 18th birthday saying you have to enrol, which means filling out the forms and giving them back the details they just used to send you the paperwork. 

You also have to include proof of identity in case you are committing electoral fraud and signing up as people who are dead or animals, like on The Simpson's when Sideshow Bob becomes mayor (that is how it was explained to me and is how I explain to others).

So I dutifully filled out the forms and included photocopies of my proof of identity like a good citizen and promptly forgot I ever had to do it.  I may have mentioned it at school along the words "I can now control who is the Prime Minister" in  staggering misunderstanding of how politics actually works.

Three weeks later I was surprised when I received a package from the electoral commission in the mail.  I thought I had to wait till the election to vote and was confused as to why they would send me forms now.

I opened the package to find a new set of forms detailing how to register to vote.

Included was a letter apologising for the inconvenience but that they old forms had been sent to me by mistake and I needed to fill out these new forms.  As far as I could tell the old forms where green and the new ones purple, and there the differences ended.

I once again sat down filled out the forms and sent them off, and maybe mentioned it twice this time, "Silly government departments and their forms".  However it was not an interesting story yet so didn't get much airtime.  I mean it still might not be but there is a lot more to it now.

Three weeks later another package arrives from the electoral roll.  It is a new set of forms.  Still purple so at least they are the latest ones.  Apparently I had signed my name wrong.  It was on the line and my name, but it was just fundamentally wrong.

I was confused.  This form was the first one I had had to sign, they didn't have anything to compare it to.  Was it a condemnation of my very ability to write?  I was sure signing meant my name in cursive.  I asked my Dad if I signed things wrong.
He looked at me "What exactly you signing?"
I told him and he asked to be shown the forms. 
He looked it for awhile, "well it is your name and it is in cursive. I don't know what more they want. Maybe blood."

I asked my mum thinking Dad sign doesn't much, Mum is the one that signs the most and working in an office she sees loads of signatures. I'll ask her.  Her verdict was the same, it was my name, cursive and fairly legible.

I filled out the forms again, signed the same way and hoped for the best.  Maybe I just caught someone who was having a bad day

I was shocked when the fourth package came from the electoral roll.  Surely they couldn't still be hating my signature.  Maybe Dad was right about the blood thing.

No. Of course not that would be silly, my signature had passed muster this time.  What had not passed was my birth certificate.  It was apparently out of date.

I checked my pulse, and yes I was still alive and not a zombie.  A time traveller hadn't gone back in past irrevocably changing time itself and rendering it obsolete.

I sat down to think.  I was still alive and time had not been changed to render my birth invalid, how exactly did my birth certificate come to be out of date.  My sister helpfully suggested I was past my useby date and should go sit next to the garbage bin for collection.

I rang the electoral office and asked how a birth certificate could be out of date.  They laughed and said it was impossible.  I told them my tale and they said, "well can't argue with letters like that better fill out the forms again and send them off'.

I was annoyed by this stage.  So far I had to fill out three lots of forms and all had been rejected for no logical reason, reasons that could not be explained even by the people who were giving them to me.

I sat on the fourth set of papers for awhile.  One day a census guy came around, he was from the electoral roll and was going door to door to make sure everyone had filled their forms out and sent them off.

I told him my bizarre tale and he said, "well I have time I can sit here and help you with them to make sure they get through this time".  So we sat on the front veranda and filled the forms out, he signed them as a witness they were legitimate and I happily sent them off, problem solved.


Seeing the fifth package from the electoral roll sitting on the table after school threw me a little.  Surely it couldn't be a fifth set of forms?  That would be preposterous, the electoral guy had triple checked everything and even signed off on it.  It must be compensation for all the hassle.

But no, of course not.  It was a fifth set of forms.  No real reason given, just that the previous ones were incorrect.  I rang them up and complained.  If they were fact checking me and could verify information on the forms like that they should just use that to put me on the stupid roll and leave me alone.

I was told to 'calm down sir' and that I had to fill out the forms regardless of how many times I had done it in the past or face a $450 fine.  They told me they had no information about me on the files.  I asked how they kept sending me forms if they knew nothing about me, and how come I was on the census that they had access to but still couldn't find me.  They reminded me of the fine and hung up

I took the forms and burnt them.  Mum said I was being dramatic but I told her I was now a political outlaw living outside the system.

Finally my school held a period of class which was everyone over 18 sat down and filled out the forms.  I told my teacher the story and he made sure everything was correct, the Dean cam and checked and I made four other teachers check them.

All the forms got sent off in one big bundle and I was set.  I could now vote.

Since then I have voted twice and missed four due to being overseas.

So that was my first battle.  Who knows how long it would have lasted had I not put my forms in with the other 400 kids in my year.  I guessed the only way I got accepted that fifth time was due to no one really looking at the names of 400 simultaneous forms so let me slip through.


I have some serious issues with Bureaucracy.  Serious issues.  Every time I meet it I lose.  I have never ever been able to 'stick it to the man'.  He always sticks me.  It has gotten to the point that it is one of the things people know about me. 

"Oh yeah that's Ryan he travels all the time, reads a great deal and bureaucracy hates him.  Really hates him.  It hates him more than anything.  No one knows why, some say he killed bureaucracy's parents, others say he turned down the title Emporer of the World and this how they break him to get their revenge, one guy reckons it cause he figured out how magnets work and they want him to appear crazy before he tells others to descredit him.  Most just say he must have someone like Attila the Hun in a past life and this is his karmic reward."

I will confirm or deny nothing.

So I decided for those late in the game to document the times I have been stuck by the man in the best form available to someone like me who travels too much for people to hear every story in person.  This has been suggested to me a number of times in the past but it wans't until this past year of getting stuck by the man every week that I decided I probably had enough material for a book.