The Bureau of Immigration does not care if you're beautiful

I had my passport renewed last Friday, conveniently avoiding a fire drill - but that's not the point, for it's merely a coincidence. Anyway. Rewind. I had my passport renewed last Friday, and despite the many branches in Manila and the later appointment time, I still spent a good two hours there.

The thing is, you spend most of your time there seated. There are five rows of seats by the processing area, which is your second stop, and where you spend half of your time. (There are also five rows of seats in the encoding section.) I knew I'd have lots of time, so I brought a book - Then They Came For Me, still unopened, the book Jon Stewart is turning into a film, the reason why John Oliver is now with HBO - but I ended up not touching it at all, since really, how can you read if you have to move seats so often? You shuffle your butt across the benches, some perfectly fine, some slightly dilapidated, but enough to trigger images in your head, of you sitting down, and the bench giving way, and you getting a big gash in your leg, which will cause tetanus and lead to your death.

No, I told myself, I can't think of death today. I shouldn't think of death today.

I was talking to a security guard, who was next to me on the queue. It's his first time to get a passport, and since I looked pleasant enough he asked me questions about what to bring. Well, he should have known by then, or else he'd have to go back and gather all his documents, while grumbling about wasted time. I think he was just looking to make sure that he does have the right documents. Yes, your work ID should be fine, and your birth certificate should not be a photocopy. Either that, or he was just looking for someone to talk to, in which case I felt guilty when I put my earphones back on, listening to Helen and Olly.

I lost him at the encoding section - the most important part, the place where you get your photo taken and your information verified - because, well, he's getting his first passport. I'm getting my third, so the process is much quicker. I didn't talk to the lady beside me, but I found myself looking at this little girl who was wiping the same dilapidated benches with her mother's handkerchief - or at least I assume it's hers. I don't remember if it's pink.

By this point you grow a little more impatient. I've been waiting for a little over an hour now, and I don't want to go through five more rows of benches, your butt rubbing against the metal, that sort of thing. Also, by then you know that some people take forever to get off of their seats when it's their turn to have their photos taken. "Number 26, dalawa!" one of the staffers would go, and the two people whose turns have come don't stand up yet.

"Number 26!"

Someone finally tells them that it's their turn, someone from the queue. Yes, we know the passport renewal process takes a while - and the process is certainly much better now than a decade ago, when you still had to have your photo taken elsewhere - but that doesn't mean we can't be a bit contemptuous to those who hold up the line. I definitely felt just that with two girls who were in front of me - second row for them, third row for me, which means they're way ahead - who did not stand up and move seats because they were busy taking a selfie of themselves.

Renewing our passports! they might've said on Instagram. Bangkok, here we come! Hashtag blessed. Hashtag I want to kick your faces. But I was wearing rubber shoes; it would do nothing.

I watched them both get called to one of the counters - yes, number 26 - and I noticed that one of them held a styrofoam plank.

My college friends should know this. Photography class. Lighting lesson. If you don't have one of those "fancy" reflectors - aren't they essentially sun shields, only not as bendy? - then you can use a styrofoam plank. I remember our equipment room only having one reflector, which you definitely had to sign forms for. Otherwise - and especially if you're only using the photography studio at Miguel's second floor - you can use styrofoam; it works just fine in reflecting some of the light to your subject, making features look softer, that sort of thing.

Yes, those two girls are going to try to game the system by making themselves look better in their passports.

I don't look good on my passport. Either that, or I just perceive that, because I am tired of my own face; that's what I get for living 25 years. You can't do anything about it, because you're not supposed to smile in your passport photo, although you're not explicitly told that. Besides, the only people who will see that ugly mug of yours is you and the immigration officer at the airport. If it was 2011, and I was in Hong Kong, the immigration guy wouldn't say, hey, this guy is cute, but rather, hey, he's from that country that killed my countrymen. No amount of looking good will make things better.

(Well, other people will see your passport photo. Perils of it being a government ID. I saw Rainy's passport photo, which she was humiliated of, and... it's best that I shut up.)

Still, they're trying to look good on their passport photo. With a styrofoam plank. To act as a reflector. And I am livid. Perhaps because I know what they're doing. I mean, did anybody else? And if they did, why are they keeping quiet? Same reasons why I am keeping quiet: security guards, risk to national security, that sort of thing. Besides, you're close to the end. You'll be called soon, and you'll be out of this place in no time.

My booth happened to be next to those two girls. When I finished everything, they were still there, trying to manipulate the little light they have, I assume. The process took me two hours. Maybe theirs took four.

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