Americans can get pretty good at being paranoid if they wanted to. Generally.

I got my visa done last week and it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Passing through a metal detector at the guardhouse, I had to remove my belt and empty my bag of all my electronic devices—iPod, headphones, handphone, USB cable, and car keys. After this hurdle, I still could not put on my belt because there was another metal detector before entering the building.

Obviously the B-word is more deadly and foul than the F-word.

Then I was in the waiting room semi waiting for my number and semi watching and gasping at the “video” on proper embassy conduct and procedures. Very PowerPoint savvy. Pretty much how I’d react to a horror film. (I know, I hate being a graphic designer sometimes.)

When there is nothing much to do—the only magazine available is Expatriate and you’d have to do a 360˚ to watch the weather on CNN—the best thing to do is to be civilized and eavesdrop.

There was an old woman who could not speak a word of English and wanted to go to the States to stay with her friend’s daughter who was getting married and whose address she could not produce. They denied her a visa. There was also this kid who wanted to go to Michigan to study and live with his uncle. He just graduated from high school and did not have an acceptance letter. The interviewer suspected that he’d be working there instead, so she denied him. Then there was another kid who was almost close to tears, begging the interviewer to approve him so that he’d get a chance at better education. They denied him too.

I felt really bad for them.

Then it was my turn. The lady told me my photo (which I took a few days prior to the interview) was not recent because I look the same there as in my passport photo (which I took 2 years ago). I think she expected me to grow a full beard, dye it red and pleat it within two years. And because she was so amazing, I spent extra RM40 on new photos. This time I didn’t smile. I went back to the embassy again and another lady looked at my photos.

“So what was wrong with your previous photo?”

“I have no idea.”

“I think your first photo works just fine.”


But they used my non-smiling photo anyway. Grrrrrr.

She left me annoyed and pissed. So pissed. I started to think about how everyday they have a certain reject quota to fulfill. I also started to imagine about how she was sadistic and would laugh about this over coffee in the pantry. And then coffee will squirt out her nose. But I caught myself. I couldn’t bring myself to forgive her for not making sense, for making me rush for a photo (ugly) and waste RM40 on it.

But I was reminded of how I should think of what is true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse—even when I can’t see it. Ok, so she had really nice glasses. Very chic, Tina Fey style. Then I saw her as a mother, a loving mother with her own children. They’re happy. She’s a wife and a best friend to her husband. They’re in love. She’s a person and she’s really beautiful.

There’s something holy about the space between her eyelids and the gap between her teeth. I become less human when I don’t forgive, as though a part of me dies when I withhold love. Unforgiveness is as corrosive as gastric juices in an empty stomach. It eats you up from the inside out. Unnecessary.

Finally, they gave me a 10-year visa and I’m not complaining.

I need to work on trembling at a love bigger than my own.



  1. america!

    hooray for a 10 year visa. my goodness.can’t wait to photograph seattle.

  2. Anna

    Unforgiveness IS corrosive. I thought of this post earlier when I was struggling to forgive someone.

  3. alaina

    Wonderful post. Wonderful reminder. Thanks!

  4. thundered cat

    josh: me too. and you should leave some locations unexplored for me.anna: glad to have contributed somewhat.alaina: thank you :) and you’re welcome.

  5. Eww Gene

    receiving a 10 year visa is like winning 20 years supply of toothpaste! YAY!if only labelling ppl in real life would be as easy and acceptable in the movies. oh.well.too bad.p.s. fortunately for me my experience at the US embassy was more pleasant.

  6. thundered cat

    like 20 years supply of toothpaste, you never know what to do with it. i think i wouldn’t have felt so bad if i didn’t eavesdrop on other people’s stories. rejection always cut deep.

  7. johne nomad

    A 10-year visa?!? Wow. Nice. Love the way your title & lead pic capture the emotion/vibe of your story.

  8. johne nomad

    I’m curious what the “PowerPoint savvy” link shows. YouTube is blocked in Thailand.

  9. thundered cat

    yeah. i wasn’t expecting a 10-year visa as i’m only planning to travel the states for a month.thank you!it’s a really old video of comedian don mcmillan with a powerpoint presentation. how can any country ban youtube? it’s a total time waster filled with so much rubbish. totally necessary.

  10. agung

    looks like someone’s a polaroid pro now…..

  11. Kimberly Sink

    While checking out your flickr page after you “favorited” one of my pix, I noticed you blogged; so I moseyed on over here.Wow. So glad I did.My throat grew tight as read your thoughts on forgiveness. I’m ashamed of how many time I’ve felt the same anger at things/people beyond my control, and instead of graciously letting it go, I’ve allowed it to stick around and pollute my day.In reading Matthew 5:44 and 48 yesterday, things finally clicked in my head. Only when we forgive can we reach for the Divine.

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