Lost effort in dysfunctional systems
Last week, just as we left the country, we passed through immigration. We’d always gone through immigration without a hitch: we’d just have to fill out forms, answer a few questions, go to the gates.
This time, however, we came up against the eTravel requirement: We had to fill out all our passport, residence, and destination information online, in advance. We had no reminder about this anywhere—not on our ticket, despite the immigration officer’s insistence—so we were told to go to the back of the hall. There, we had to do last-minute form-filling, on tablets that were unwieldy, temperamental, clumsy, and redundant. At one point, they went offline.
Thankfully, my mother had the good sense to check with another immigration officer, and to ask how the task could be made easier, especially since I’d have to do all the input for our party of six. This time, the new immigration officer looked at my mother in disbelief.
“Who told you to do all that?” she asked.
My mother pointed to the officers at the other end of the hall, the ones who were supposedly tasked with manning the courtesy lanes for senior citizens.
The immigration officer rolled her eyes and told my mother to simply hand her passport over for inspection. No new forms needed, no more questions asked. We went through with zero effort.
How … strange. I had spent decades as a traveler, filling out forms, obedient in following the sequence required for departure. Apparently, even the digital version of the form wasn’t needed, and we simply had to show our passports and tickets.
What was the use of the electronic form? And what was the use of all those decades’ worth of forms? What was all my effort for back then?
It’s something, I believe, that we constantly come up against now, more than ever, as we grapple with the reality of living in a country that looks like it’s willingly eating itself up with lies and deceit—and it’s something we keep asking when we have to maneuver through public services, struggle through supposedly basic procedures, and tolerate leaders who use our tax money to fund processes that are labeled as confidential in the name of national security.
What is all my effort for?
It’s a question neither uncommon nor unexpected, especially in a time of floods, a failing basic education system, and immigration requirements that are uneven and dependent on officers’ moods.
Flood risk management agencies should coordinate efforts to ensure traffic flow and efficient drainage, all of which are problems that require expertise of both the sciences and engineering, and both the natural and social sciences. An agency in charge of education should have a way of fixing the system from start to finish, to ensure that knowledge acquisition and application are linked in the long term, and are assessed regularly and rationally. An agency in charge of immigration should have good record keeping that does not come at the behest of public convenience, but whose gathered information is both secure and useful.
Instead, our tax money funds government agencies that work on reactive, piecemeal solutions that are instituted to suit the mood of the moment and whims of the implementor. Put funds here, change a form there, take away school subjects, erase history, try to fix pieces of a complex system—and then rely on influencers to smile and say that everything is working, let’s celebrate, raise your hands and dance, you blind and drunk idiots.
On the other hand, those of us who try to open people’s eyes are laughed at, derided, and ignored. We are often told to just give up because the country is hopeless, that we are simply ranting, out of touch, just writers whose voices will be shut down in the wake of the “more effective” TikTok.
There are signs, however, that not all is well in the constructed paradise. So-called influencers have been exposed online for abusing hashtags to create propaganda videos for the administration. People are angry at exorbitant budgets for government agencies, all while our cities are steeped in mud and filth at the slightest rain, all while our students cannot get through the simplest reading materials, let alone understand them. Not all teachers subscribe to classrooms with empty walls and textbooks with sanitized history.
It’s not because there are constant rains, destabilization plots, or bratty people. It’s because we’re starting to see that there are things within our control.
Maybe the voices will keep getting louder. Maybe more people will realize that there’s more to their existence than being entertained. For now, perhaps it’s enough that we start with a question, and see how we can keep working from there.
What is all my effort for if I have to work for leaders like this?
And maybe, after this, find a way to take action.
We’re not rebels. We’re citizens of a country rather than accidental occupants of its islands, and we can’t go down without a fight, no matter what the propaganda says.