Time: T-10 Minutes, July 30
The Place: Cambodian Immigration, Phnom Penh Airport
An unlikely fog has descended over the Pochentong airfield. JM, Mrs. JM and their little one are just about to depart for Bangkok. Meanwhile, in California, the family wait, and wait, and wait…..
THE BUREAUCRAT (TB): Oh my, I’m afraid your daughter has a VERY big problem monsieur…
JM: Monsieur?? What problem would that be?
TB: She has no exit visa. See (waving the passport), she has no entrance visa for the country, so she needs an exit visa. It’s a BIG, BIG problem. No one told you?
JM: Of course no one told me. She is a US citizen born in Cambodia so of course she has no entrance visa. And she needs what? An exit visa to leave? You mean like a Letter of Transit, signed by General DeGaulle himself? Which cannot be rescinded, not even questioned?
TB: Oui Monisieur.
JM: That makes no sense, does it?
TB: You are correct, it does not, but she cannot leave without it. I am sorry.
JM: And how do I get her this?
TB: Just go outside and apply. It will take about three days.
JM: Three days!! Our plane departs in less than 10 minutes. What else can we do?
TB: I suggest you talk with my boss over there.
JM: I need to talk with, with who? Captain Renault over there?
TB: Oui monsieur.
JM: Monsieur?? Ok.
CAPTAIN RENAULT (CR): Your daughter is very lovely yes, and your wife, well… but the child has no exit visa. Perhaps if the lady were to stop by my office later something could be done…
JM: Our plane is leaving in 8 minutes. What can we do now??
CR to THE MRS: Hmmm…..bla bla bla bla bla ….
THE MRS: He says we can pick up the paper tomorrow morning.
JM: That is no help. Our plane leaves early and the ticket cannnot be changed.
CR: Wait one moment…..(moments pass, conversations among a growing group carry on…) Perhaps if you step over here this little man with the monkey eyes can help you.
ME: That would be….Mr. Ugarte I suppose?
We step to the side:
UGARTE to MRS: bla bla bla bla $50 bla bla bla bla sign this paper bla bla bla
$50 is delivered. We have the Letter of Transit. Signed by General DeGaulle himself, very difficult to get especially in five minutes. But as my friend Stuart says, there is no corruption in Cambodia but a very flat management structure….We’re on the plane, the last passengers, with no time to spare.