There was a beep and the number 222 flashed up on the screen. ‘Won’t be long now,’ I told myself, glancing at the piece of paper in my hand marked 225. I started gathering my belongings, ensuring all my documents were in order and practising what to say in Vietnamese in my head. I was suddenly nervous, convinced I had forgotten some essential stamp or not brought enough photocopies of a particular document with me. Palms sweaty, I began to stand up ready to head to the appropriately numbered window.
There was another beep. Number 278 flashed on the screen. I sat back down.
I had been at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 9am. The time was now 11.30am. It had taken me an hour to figure out that, although I was in the building already, I had to apply online for an application to request for authentication of the documents I had certified by the British Embassy in Hanoi a week ago, to legalise the certification. Or something. I lost track about a month ago. Incidentally, it was the lady at the British Embassy who told me about this extra step in the process of obtaining a Vietnamese work permit, while assuring me that they spoke great English and I could definitely go by myself without any real Vietnamese ability (I can order coffee, but not sure that is particularly useful in this context). This turned out to be an unfortunate mistake, and after wandering blindly back and forth between windows for some time I realised that everyone that wasn’t being ignored had the same document. A document that I did not have. Luckily, a kind lady saw I was about to have a nervous breakdown and pointed to the computers at the back of the hall. Success!
Aided by Google Translate I successfully completed my application form and generated my number (225! Lucky 225!). Buoyed by my success, I clicked print and looked around naively for a printer. I should have known better.
After another twenty seven extremely awkward minutes (approximately), and having text all my Vietnamese friends in my phonebook for help, I called my nanny to ask her to speak to a random stranger to find out where my form had printed. Not entirely convinced she understood what I was about to do, I pounced on an unsuspecting stranger and shoved my phone in her face. Before Thoa had a chance to say hello, the lady smiled at me and told me she was going to collect her form and she would take me to get mine. Sweet relief.
Obviously, the printer was in a photocopy shop across the road (one of three identical shops).
Armed with documents up to my eyebrows, photocopied in triplicate with bonus photocopies just in case, I returned triumphantly to the hall of windows and verified my existence in said hall with my freshly printed application form, photocopies and a new outlook on life. The tv screen beeped. Number 193. Not long to go, surely..
It wasn’t this bad
The cashiers abandoned their posts (presumably lunch was beckoning). The lights were slowly turned off. The crowds dwindled. And still I sat, waiting. And waiting. And then, 225! I leapt to my feet and hurried to my assigned window, beaming. The lady behind the desk did not smile. She did not even look at my face. She took my documents and gave me a blue slip of paper with the price and tomorrow’s date on it. Then the lights turned off and they motioned to me to leave.
I will probably get my documents back tomorrow, right? Probably.