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Identity Crisis – Part 1 – Vietnam

Identity Crisis – Part 1 – Vietnam

Girl with passport in the immigration canter of Hanoi, Vietnam

Her identity was mistaken to be Chinese. So did the immigration officer at the Vietnam airport finally allow her to come back to India?

East India Story is proud to publish for the first time the 1st and 2nd chapter from the soon to be released book by Sashi Sherpa.

CHAPTER 1 – Part 1

At the immigration counter of Hanoi, Vietnam, while coming back to India, my other two colleagues passed through the counter, precisely, in not more than two minutes. Their passports were given one quick glance, another at them, and a sound of ‘thud’ of stamping was followed. They were already standing on the other side of the counter waiting for me – the whole process barely taking more than two minutes.

When it came to my turn; the immigration officer gave the same quick glance at my passport but as he turned around to look at me, he stopped to have more than just a glance. It was clearly visible that something about my face surprised him and I could distinctly see planets of questions circling around his head.

I was not surprised by his reaction. I was standing there, just about five feet tall, with an Indian passport, claiming to be an Indian but with facial feature that was more mongoloid than him. I was absolutely unperturbed by this- because at times, even in my own country, I do get that look, more than often and some are pretty vocal to even ask me- “Are you from China, or Nepal, or Japan?”

I still remember a funny incident that happened during my meeting with one of the travel agencies in Mumbai. I went to the receptionist, requested her to inform the person I was supposed to meet. She politely asked me to take a seat in the plush brown sofa next to her desk.She picked up the intercom, dialed the extension of that person and whispered in English, “Somebody is here to meet you.” Naturally, the person on the other line must have enquired as to who the visitor was. She replied back, in more subdued tone, but it was audible enough for me to hear because I was not sitting too far from her.

However, this time she decided to reply back in Hindi, and putting her mouth closer to the phone, she said Koi Chini ladki aiee hain (a Chinese girl is here). I controlled my laughter, somehow. She turned around to look at me, smiled and asked me in English, “Do you want to have tea or coffee?”

Now you know why it really didn’t bother me. The immigration officer was having quite an interesting time at the moment- looking at me and smiling and again flipping through the pages of my passport as if he was going to get the clue of my originality in there, somehow. In between those turning of pages, he would also stop at certain intervals to look at me and smile and I would also return the favour by smiling back at him.

Now this exercise was going on for about ten minutes, my cheeks were on full exercise mode and I could sense the restlessness of the person standing behind me because when he let out a big sigh, he let out a breath strong enough to reach my neck like a gust of wind. I turned around to see and my eyes met with this white kid who must be barely ten years- no wonder, mystery solved.

He had to be a kid because they were always fidgety and restless and secondly, if that person’s breath reached exactly until my neck meant that he/she was of my height and trust me, finding adults of my height these days is like ‘Ripley’s believe it or not.’ His mother gave me a polite smile knowing what her kid was up to. I gave her back my reassuring smile gesturing that it was okay.

Now in all this commotion, my immigration officer was showing my passport to his colleague, sitting in the next cubicle- his colleague also joined him in that exercise of looking at my passport, then at me, and would again smile at me. Now I was smiling back at both of them. I swear by the end of this drama, I should come out looking like a model with those sharp jaw lines.

Finally, the main immigration officer smiled at me and told me in his best English, “Your face is not matching with India.”

“But my heart is matching with India.” He laughed at my answer and I also laughed hahaha…along with him.

“Hmm,” he said, still not sounding convinced but was still smiling, perhaps not trying to be rude to the tiny guest of his country. My colleagues were looking at me tensely, from the other side of the ‘border’ (well, you could call it a border…because only once I pass through that immigration desk- I would be officially allowed to board the flight that would take me back to India). I gave them ‘just chill’ vibes from my small eyes, which I was hoping, reached out to them.

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I quickly pulled out my mobile phone and typed ‘Sikkim’ on Google. I enlarged the Wikipedia that exactly read as ‘Sikkim is a state in northeast India, bordered by Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal’ and moving closer to his seat, I showed it to him.

“Hmm,” he said again, stamped my passport and gave me one final farewell smile.

One thing I knew for sure that I looked nowhere close to a terrorist with my tiny body packed in that frame of 5 ft- he was just genuinelysurprised. If language was not a barrier and if we had met under normal circumstances, I am sure he would have made every possible attempt to sit down and had a chat with me, about my ethnicity, raceand culture and for having facial structure so different than the ‘stereotyped Indian face.’

As soon as I crossed to the other side, one of my colleagues cracked joke which wasn’t far from what had happened. “Seems your brother did not want his long-lost sister to leave Vietnam,” he guffawed and we all laughed together. Since the time we landed in Ho Chi Minh, such jokes had been the highlights of our everyday activities.

He further added, “You should have told them that you want your citizenship back…did you not tell them that you had left during the Vietnamese war when they were driving away Guerrilla fighters.” Such jokes might not have made sense to anyone but since we could relate to it…we laughed like maniacs, making people turn around and look at us, some smiled and few gave us ‘you guys are obnoxious’ glare. It did not bother us, as we repeatedly laughed at the same joke which we had been doing from the time we had set our feet in Vietnam- that was almost 9 days ago.

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