Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Difference Between the American Embassy and the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur

Well, we have been in KL for the last couple of days, taking care of business. On Tuesday morning we didn't get any sleep after our five hour delayed bus trip. The strange thing about it, is that there was no report about it in the paper. I mean, the North-South Highway is the major highway in Malaysia, and something closes it down for five hours and there is no report? It must mean that something too embarrassing to report happened. Like if it was an accident, it involved some negligence on someones part. Then someone high up is going to look bad. Or possibly it wasn't an accident at all- maybe it was closed because they were moving in the construction equipment to do some work. I couldn't tell from the bus- the bus driver had the air-conditioning on so high that the windows were completely fogged up.

Anyway, after leaving the Internet cafe across from the Puduraya Bus Station, I got some money, and then we went off to KL Sentral, so that I could leave our bag there. They won't let a bag in the American embassy, and they won't let you leave it at the guardhouse either. Americans are so paranoid!

What a difference between the American embassy and the Philippine embassy. The American embassy looks like an armed fortress. The walls around the embassy must be close to thirty feet tall, and thick. The guardhouse where you check in looks like a stylized painted WWII German pillbox. It's easy to imagine armed storm troopers pouring out of it with their Mauser's blazing. There is a police box outside the embassy, and guards around the entrance. When you get to the guardhouse, you have to hand in your cellphone, and turn it off before you give it to the guard. Then you wait until whoever is in the guardhouse being searched is let out. When you get in the guardhouse, you are locked in there until they decide you are no threat. You give them all your metal, they x-ray it, then you go through the metal detector. (I forgot to take off my crucifix, and wedding ring when I went through the detector. They didn't set off any alarms. If they did, I'd probably be writing this Blog from Gitmo).

After that, you walk through a long open courtyard to the embassy. That's so they can watch you pull out the weapons of mass destruction you have hidden up your ass on the close circuit TV.

Once in the front door of the embassy, you have to go through the same metal scanning routine again. This time, though, you have a tall regal looking Indian Malaysian asking you to empty your pockets, etc. He looks straight out of central casting, and is friendly enough. Then you look over his shoulder and notice a dour looking Marine sergeant sitting in a blast proof booth watching everything on his monitor. He looks like he is permanently having a bad day. Maybe he is pissed off about missing all the fun his buddies are having in Iraq. Or maybe his computer locked up in the middle of playing Grand Theft Auto.

After going through all that, you finally get to walk into the reception area and take a number.

When you get there, you notice that all the workers are behind the same type of blast proof enclosure that the Marine security guard is, except it encloses the whole office. They are also behind bulletproof glass a couple inches thick. Anything you have to give them goes in a little metal slot under the window. It's as if they are hermetically sealed in there. They communicate with you through a microphone. You get the feeling that they half expect you to tear off your clothes to reveal that you are wired up with TNT.

After all that, you can't wait to get out of that bastion of paranoia and back into the real world.

It's ironic that when we walked in the entrance of the embassy, that I turned to Trien and said, "Well, you are officially in the USA now". Yup, if we ever go there, you can expect much of the same thing. Especially being a minority.

The Philippine embassy, on the other hand, is probably the worlds most casual and relaxed embassy. It is a security experts nightmare. The attitude is "Hey, we're Filipinos, who would want to hurt us?" The embassy sits in a depression at the bottom of a hill. The road looks down into the embassy. It is boxed in by high rise apartment buildings, one of which is more than twenty stories high. In American thinking, that gives a sniper a free field of fire covering every bit of the embassy.

The wall around the embassy is about five feet high, and with no razor ribbon on top, or sharp objects sticking out of it. There is a guardhouse, with a single guard there. When we first went there, the guard was a guy about 70 years old whose main duty seemed to be keeping the cats off the sign in book. Now it is a slightly built guy about 25 or so, who looks like he couldn't stop anyone under 80 from forcing their way in. You sign the book, hand him something which passes for an ID, and that is it. You are free to come and go and walk all over the grounds and go anywhere you wish.

When you go inside to the offices, there are no guards, and no bullet proof and blast proof enclosures. The downstairs office is an open office, with a bunch of casually arranged desks, with normal people behind them. The upstairs office is very small, with seating for five people. It has a counter with a normal sized glass barrier, with circles cut out of the glass so you can talk normally, instead of shouting through the glass like in the American embassy. There is a big space between the glass and the ceiling, so that if you felt like it, you could easily climb over it.

The first time we went there, the embassy was closed, but the old guard let us in anyway. He told us to walk in to the chancery, to see if anyone was there. Yes, someone was there. It looked like the ambassadors wife, dressed for a fancy dress ball. She was really sweet and casual about us walking in, and asked us to come back the next day. She wasn't angry or anything. That would never happen in the American embassy. We'd be dead before we even made it to the front steps.

And my wife wonders why I like living outside of the USA? Just compare the two embassies, and you'll see why.