The Expedition Alone

It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, ...

Hello guys, those are the first few lines from the book, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I am really enjoying so far. Before we get into it, let's backtrack a bit. I finished reading, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. As expected there were times when I didn't understand the french. What's sad was that those times happened more than I expected. One is the issue of there's just words I don't know, for example I didn't know the french word for thorn. Then the book also uses passe simple which is a tense like passato remoto in italian, which we (by that I mean me) didn't put much effort drilling into my head. I think I was even absent during the class when passe simple was introduced. This is a tense to describe things that happened so long ago in the past, hence the remote part of in passato remoto. The french called it passe simple, but I find there's nothing simple about it. You're already struggling to remember all the conjugations to explain things that happened yesterday and the people that be thought you need to learn more to describe things that happened years ago, sigh. So anyway, I ended up going online after reading a chapter to read the chapter again in english. This was helpful when the chapter was rather hard for me and was also helpful for me to get the meaning of certain words. The story was very meaningful and also very sad. For a children book, it's kinda very dark, but now I wonder if it's because I'm an adult I find it dark, maybe a child will see the ending as a positive one? I don't know. Looking forward to watch the french animated movie which seems to have another story weaved into it.

So now I am reading The Remains of the Day which as far as I can tell right now, it's about a butler. Life with butlers and such makes me think of Downton Abbey, funnily enough I couldn't picture someone like Mr. Carson being the butler in The Remains of the Day. He just sounds different. Those lines in the beginning of this post is the thought of this butler. As I read those, I was again thinking how sometime me choosing and reading a book is like fate. Those first lines felt like it's speaking to me, like an encouragement, a sign that we'll be alright. You see, the trip this year / my birthday present for myself / my escape from real world / my what sadly now feels like more like a task to complete rather than something I am truly excited about is a trip to New York and San Francisco. Yes, high five all around. That last sentiment about this feels like a task and not something I am truly excited about sounds rather ungrateful. Well I think it stems from the fact that I am doing this alone and that bring sadness and fear and then there's the whole planning and logistic thing which never gets easier. I was packing my luggage last weekend and it took me like one hour plus and I was so tired and I wondered if it has always taken that long. I have a list, but still putting all them together took time and was tiring.

I have a lot of fear about this trip. When I went home this Chinese New Year, my dad said I shouldn't go anywhere far this year because this year is not very good for the dog sign. So me not doing what he says is a bit of a concern for me, if karma is gonna get me. I also have some fear about going to the United States of America:
  1. I'm afraid I'm gonna get mugged and something terribly bad is going to happen to me.
  2. I'm afraid I'm going to get shot in a random shooting by some deranged person with a gun :(
  3. I'm afraid I'm going to get killed for being in a place where there's a terrorist attack.
Number 1 perhaps can happen anywhere, though not really actually. The possibility it's happening in Singapore, Japan, or New Zealand for example is pretty much 0. Number 2 and 3 are highly possible in America :( Then there's also the fear of being in a plane crash and such. It is illogical really how we still get in a car without fear when there are so many more traffic accidents happening everyday and yet when a few plane crashes happened, we'll get so frightened :( I really hope nothing bad will happen to me because that would be heartbreaking for my parents especially when they already said don't go. Mom is as usual has apprehension about me going alone, but when I have made the decision, she's always in a praying mode and tells me to pray, be careful, and be alert. I did ask someone to go with me on this trip and I was declined with a nah (literally!). Well, at least I did try to ask people. Then I contemplated if I should ask other people, but not matter how scared I was, in the end I decided not to because there's a 70% chance I would be rejected again and that sucks and I'm also not sure if I want to be around anyone. It's like I'd rather be alone than be with boring people and I do want a room for myself. This is all weird I know. You would think that when you're so lonely you would welcome any kind of company, apparently I am still that choosy. Also, why can't I be the one getting asked? Why do I have to be the one asking people and no one asks me. It is really sad I know that I never get asked to do stuff, so I am thankful to the people who from time to time will remember that they haven't seen me in a while and ask me out, namely la Gioia and the once in a blue moon Gascoigne. Anyway, I have to admit the benefit of having someone in a trip, having someone to share the room with you cut down your cost like half and at this time when I think I have gone WAY over budget, it does feel good if there's someone to help me cut cost. Some people would say having a companion will also help you in the planning, but from past experiences with 3 different people, I still was the one doing all the planning, so I haven't seen this benefit. I am still thankful for those people though, without whom I wouldn't be able to do some of the things I did.

I'm not sure why I am pretty anxious right now about being over budget. Did I have an unrealistic expectation about the things that I wanted to do? I would only know the extent of the damage after the trip is over, but hopefully it'll be alright. DBS blocked my credit card one Friday evening as I was booking stuff. The booking frenzy was triggered with me finding out that the musical The King and I is staging at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center and Ken Watanabe will be playing the king. I had been googling Broadway musicals for some days before and couldn't really find anything that struck my fancy, but when I found out about The King and I, I just had to. If only I had found out sooner maybe I would have gotten better seats, but I think I was lucky enough to be getting seat at all because it was selling out. So when I bought that ticket, I thought there's no point waiting anymore, let's just book everything we need and after my day tour purchases, I got the text that the card was blocked. I am grateful that DBS is protective of me, but it's such a hassle especially because the same credit card had been used many times before at the same site. The good thing though the number to call that they provide is manned by a real human 24 hours a day and they're very nice and prompt in addressing my concerns. I ended up telling the staff my travel plan in addition to activating my card for overseas use just to make sure I don't get blocked when I'm out of the country.

Everything seems to be coming together. They did fall into their places quite at the last minute, at times when I thought it's not gonna happen, but they're happening so I'm starting to feel positive and think that God is really helping me out. I hope I'll be alright there and come back in one piece. There's things that make me nervous when I think about it, but I need to stop stressing myself out so I have to stop thinking about it. By the way let's talk about visa application which ended up to be one of the easiest process ever. To apply for a US visa for the unfortunate people who have to do this like me, you have to fill an online form and upload your photo and have that photo in hard copy in a particular measurement. The online form apparently would have more questions if you are male. I was quite worried about having to answer when I entered and finished schools, like come on, I graduated university 12 years ago, damn I am so old!. I couldn't remember my exact date of graduation and entering NUS, how on earth I would remember when I entered and finished high school and junior high school. Thankfully since I'm a girl, I didn't get this question. Anyway, then you have to pay the fee at a Standard Chartered Bank which when I did it was at S$ 234. Then you schedule an interview and when I was applying the next available appointment was like more than 1 week away. Being the OCD me, I prayed and checked the website over and over and managed to get an earlier slot when I saw that it suddenly opened up. Then you go to the embassy at the appointed hour and take a number. You'll be called to a counter where they took the photo you brought and the appointment confirmation letter. I was asked about my residency status in Singapore but they didn't ask to see any proof. Then you wait to be fingerprinted. As expected it wasn't all smooth for me even though it wasn't as bad as the traumatic experience in the French embassy and wasn't as bad as that time in the Indonesian embassy. Seriously I would be so happy if someone invent a contactless fingerprinting device. Anyways then we wait for the call to another counter where the staff would ask you questions.

I happened to be sitting waiting in front of the 2 counters so I got to hear some of the questions being asked, particularly by the staff on the left counter because she was louder. The 2 counters were manned by Chinese American and the left one conducted one of the questioning all in Chinese so I think both of them can speak Chinese. Questions varied from people to people and it seemed all the people before me had reasons other than vacation. A few people were asked to show their CV which caught these people by surprise including me. I've applied visa to different places and having a CV was never the requirement. By the way, the weird and strange thing about applying a US visa is that they don't have a list of documents you must have. They have a list of recommended documents to bring to prove our strong tie to our country or the country we live in, but these are not mandatory. Hence I didn't even bother to come up with the 1 piece of paper which I loathe the most when I have to apply for visa. The main important thing for them it seems is that we fill the online form truthfully, but honestly are there anyone going to answer yes to questions like whether or not they're coming to the USA to engage in prostitution, money laundering, etc. I think that perhaps from the online submission they would have a face recognition software to see if the photo we uploaded raise some alarm or if our name is suspicious (or at least I do hope they have this check), but I feel the whole approach is like, well we'll take your word for it. The check did not seem very strong. Another example, they asked my residency status in Singapore and how long I have been here, but they didn't ask to show any identification, which makes me wonder if the Singapore government shares information of their residents to the embassy, like by running our passport number they would already have information on who we are. If that's the case that kinda sucks because I think our consent should be asked.

Anyway, so there I was eavesdropping on the lady on the left who would approve visa by saying, "I'm happy to approve your visa", which must have sounded so sweet to all the successful applicants. The people she interviewed had many different stories and she could be very specific on her questioning. To a newly married guy whose wife is currently stationed in America for work, she asked, so what's the plan, are you going to continue being separated? To the lady who apparently spent some months before living with her uncle in the US as a tourist, she asked, what did you do, just stayed at home everyday and watched tv? The most difficult one was to this Chinese researcher who didn't speak english fluently, she asked him to explain what his research what and asked some details, that was quite painful to hear. Overall I think she only denied one person, the lady that she interviewed in Chinese. As for me, I got the lady on the right. She asked me a few questions like how long I have been here, if I would be travelling alone, where I had been before. I was preparing to show my old passport at that question because my new one is practically blank, but she didn't ask for it, so again it's like, I'll take your word for it. She did ask if I was alone on those trips, in which I said yes, but then I realized it sounded so sad and so I added, on some of it, some of it was with friend, which was true. After that and the only thing she asked from me was to show my bank account statement and that was it, visa approved. So then I learn, it seems how much money you have still matters more than your extensive travel history. It seems all is very straightforward and easy if you have no family staying in the US and your purpose of travel is vacation. Before applying I have read so many blog posts of other people's experience, it seems that there are a few who were not asked to show a single document. So that and also based on my experience, applying a US visa is the easiest process I've experienced. As mentioned above, I'm just glad that I didn't have to show that one letter that I hate the most. The fee may seem rather high, but the visa is a multiple entry one for 5 years. If you compare this with schengen visa which ask you to get a travel insurance too, their visa could end up costing the most. There is a lot of anxiety about applying for US visa, I guess it's because of the interview part which makes people nervous, but I would gladly do this than getting all the different documents, but yes it is also very odd that they don't see the need to inspect all the documents to verify you are what you say you are. Okay, one last thing I find amusing is in that visa room, there's a picture of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry. As an Indonesian, it's odd there's another picture up there, but I guess he's there because he's kinda the boss of the foreign offices.

Alright so that's the story. Leaving Saturday morning, whih means I have to leave for Changi before sunrise, arrrghh!. Will be back late night on the 14th, so it could also be on the 15th if there's a delay. Since everything is falling into their places, I'm not so nervous about it if I don't think about it and I think I kinda manage to not think about it so much. I hope everything will be alright. I thank God for making everything work up so well to this point, hope He'll be with me too (as He always did on previous travels and everyday in my life) and everything will be alright :) I'm still off Facebook, the count is 1 month plus now since I logged in after my birthday to see the messages put on my wall. I reckon I will tweet a lot instead which doesn't help the fact that I would still be like showing off all the nice things I see, but I have so few followers and I don't think they go to twitter much. We'll see how it goes.

:) eKa @ 9:00:00 PM •

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