We’ve been living in Vietnam now for 23 weeks, and tomorrow we head off on our first family holiday. Over the next 6 days we’ll be far away from the city on a beach resort in Mui Ne, about 5 hours drive up on the coast.
We are looking forward to a change in scenery. My readiness for a break away was confirmed earlier today when, after lunch out with friends, I suddenly panicked that I couldn’t see Flo in the huddle of children walking down the street, “where’s Florence gone?” I asked to no one in particular, but in a slightly fretful tone, (which I now wish I’d internalised). “She’s on your shoulders, Tim,” replied our friend. Sure enough, I was clutching both Flo’s ankles at the time, and she had her hands resting on my head.
All the more embarrassing, these were the same friends who, when we first met them last month, asked Lou the name of her baby, to be met with stoney silence from Lou who’d decided to have a sudden memory loss, took a full two second pause, stared at me, and as I was starting to mouth the “M” of Martha, just managed to find the name herself, from a distant corner of her memory.
So, yes, some beach time is overdue, and Vietnam has 3,000kms of the stuff, so we’re spoilt for choice. A good thing really, as we wouldn’t be able to leave the country at the moment en masse even if we wanted to, as Martha still has no passport.
To be more accurate, Martha is not yet registered in any form as a British citizen – and between Lou’s memory loss and my own “where’s my child gone?” moments, she possibly doesn’t stand much chance anyway.
The truth is that we have been trying to get Martha an official identity, in fact the process for this was underway before she was born, as we’d been tipped off as to just how complicated it can be over here. Dual nationality for anyone born in Vietnam where their parents are both foreigners is not an option, instead a rather lengthy 101 step process is put in place, to which you must adhere.
Some people require process in their lives, whereas others thrive on an “order from chaos” model. After enduring 2 months of Vietnamese paperwork in simply getting to first base, and acquiring Martha a local birth certificate, I think it’s fair to say that regardless of where you sit on the process vs. chaos barometer, there are times out here when even the hardiest of process junkies would find themselves exhausted by the many systems in place.
My initial outing to the ministry department we needed to check in with was a short lived affair. I was still on paternity leave at the time, and was turned away before even entering the building because I was wearing shorts, and not trousers.
The tone for the next 8 weeks was set quite precisely, and ominously, there and then.
After this, and dressing to impress as I did on every occasion, it was not so much the requirement of our passports, visas, proof of residence, hospital certification, and even our original marriage certificate, that was complicated, it was that most of these documents were then subject to 2 or 3 stamps of approval from different local ministry departments. They were next translated into Vietnamese somewhere else, and then, when we’d thought all bases had been covered, Lou was made to go off and sign an affidavit at the British Consulate, declaring that both her maiden and married names belonged to her.
At this point in the proceedings, which was about week 7 of making a combination of over 30 separate visits to different offices, we began to lose the will to live.
In fact, I’d go so far as to admit that some choice words were had as we paced around the inside of the British Consulate, alongside queues of Vietnamese students having their passport photos taken for their visas to the UK. Words I won’t repeat now, but which were all the more heated once we’d also been informed by our good friends at the Consulate that they were going to charge us $91 for the privilege of signing their affidavit.
$91 which, from what I could tell, was paying not for the inputs of a well qualified lawyer but, instead, 5 minutes of data input to a computer by the office clerk, one sheet of paper on which it was printed, and the ink from yet another official stamp.
Left with no options though, we swallowed the costs, and the day came when I could march in to collect the certificate itself. Surely, this is now in the bag, I thought. However, in my haste that particular morning to pick up the document, I turned up in shorts again, and was not allowed entry.
Flo was with me on this occasion, and was in 3/4 length trousers. I think we must have turned some heads at that point because, with will to live fully lost, and a sudden resoluteness coursing through my veins, refusing me to go home empty handed, I smiled at the security guard, pointed at Flo, and said “no problem, my daughter will go and collect the certificate”.
I handed the receipt to Flo (who was staring at me as if I had gone truly mad) and told her to walk the 10 metres over to counter number 3, and hand it in.
It might have been the bizarre look in my eyes, or the fixed maniacal smile, either way the security guard dropped his jaw slightly, turned to Flo and then back to me, and suddenly took my arm as if I was a patient on a ward having trouble standing, and beckoned me over to the counter to pick up the sacred document.
Success! So, we now possess a local birth certificate for Martha. Or, as she is named on the form, “Bishop Joan Edna Martha”, which is the way the names are arranged in Vietnamese. From here on there is no looking back. Next stop a UK birth certificate and finally, a passport.
With all good luck we will have one in time for our return trip to England next May.
But first, the beach….