Sunday we gathered as much intel as we could about what we needed to do, and what the situation was going to be like. Thanks to Facebook and a few random things online we got that sorted.
LTO in Quezon – Head Office
7.30am – Kids offloaded at friends house. We took heed of wise words stating this was not a suitable place to take children (later we would be thanking the heavens we took that advice).
8.36 – We arrive. An unassuming building presented itself to us. One entry point for a building that is to service all of Metro Manila, that being approximately 12 million people. My Driver stood in line for us to speak to the one woman whose job it was to distribute call numbers and field inquiries. As we sat and waited I noticed the lack of care in this place. Broken chairs sat dispersed amongst the rows quickly filling with people. The televisions hanging on the walls do not work.
When my Driver was at the front of the queue, we went up to speak to the woman who gave us our numbers – 93 and 94 and told us to go and get medicals before we were called.
Broken chairs lay in vast numbers
9.40 – We have walked out of the compound, about two hundred meters down the street, past peddlers selling all things license related including biros’ to fill in your paperwork (thankfully, as I forgot to bring one) to the Chow King. Above that is the small doctor’s office where medicals are conducted. The setup looks like a backyard illegal medical service.
We entered a small room filled with people and a few fan’s trying to keep the place cool. Partitions made with ply-wood wobbled in
The Doctors Office complete with makeshift Christmas Tree, picture of Jesus & dodgy eye test sign
place. A bench seat lined the walls. In the center of the room was a semi private alcove which was where the medicals took place. We were given a red number and told to sit down and wait. While we waited we observed the old tattered Christmas decorations spattered around, like an attempt to brighten the place up. We filled in our paperwork and when our names were called we sat at the front of the room and in front of everyone had our blood pressure taken, and our weight and height too, using very old, and very inaccurate scales.
Once this was done, we were given a green number and told to go to the front desk. This was literally half a meter away from this nurse’s station. Our papers and our green numbers were taken, we paid the fee and signed our names on a register and then sat down at the back of the room to wait.
For the first time in my life, my red hair & blue eyes are categorised as ‘other’
In the back of the room there was a small TV set on a rickety shelf and tired, hot people slumped on the snaking bench seat watching the bad reception. I noticed a piece of old Christmas tree sticking out of a metal pipe with a foam partridge tentatively hanging off it. My friend said that was their Christmas tree and we laughed. Finally we heard our names called and a commotion at the front of the room. We obediently walked to the front and saw that the Doctor had come out.
Official signage at the Doctors
She was behind in her appointments because the reception had messed with the system. They had been taking the green numbers off patients when we were supposed to keep them. Otherwise how did we know when it was our turn? The Doctor was a tiny lady, no more than five feet and she bellowed at her staff who just kept on working, seemingly ignoring her frustrated outburst. We went into the little partition and once again sat on a bench seat, lined up in order. There were four of us now. As we waited I looked around this tiny room. The walls were that sickly spearmint green colour, not the nice one. The one that is always on sale at the paint shop. There was a small picture of Jesus hanging on the wall. The eye chart was old with marks on it affecting your view of some of the letters. The floor, the seats, everything had that grotty unclean look yet the photos on the wall near the Doctors desk were clearly taken for advertising purposes. They showed professional looking staff in white coats and fresh, clean décor going about their business. I failed to see the point of having these up when we could clearly see the reality.
The Doctor came in and sat at her tiny desk in her corner of the room and the man before us had his medical. The assistant made the man wobble one leg, then the other. Then both legs together. This is to check there are no false limbs. Even when shorts are being worn and you can clearly see flesh. Then the eye test. First cover your left eye and read the chart, then the right eye. This chap before us was blind! He struggled to read the letters that were a good 2cm in height. The doctor signed him off…
You can just see the queue snaking around the back, & the TV’s that don’t work
My friend went next and then it was my turn. I offered to do a dance when I was wobbling my legs and the Doctor looked furious and turned her head away from me with a bit of a tut-tut. Honestly, if you did not try to find some humour in this process you would be in a pretty bad way by now.
10.30 – Back we went to the licensing center. I walked in and was shocked. By now the place had filled up and the queue was big and snaked around the room. This room, with the one entry/exit point was jammed full. Safety is clearly not a concern here. We had well and truly missed our numbers being called; the red flashing number machine said they were up to 200. The seats were all virtually taken. Even some of the broken ones seemed to have bodies resting in them. The heat was intense, making my breathing shallow. We noticed of the nine active windows servicing customers, there was one for international license conversions. The lady was not serving anyone so we decided to just walk up to ask if we needed to go back into the queue. We stood at the window feeling the icy cold air conditioning leaking through the space you pass your papers through. The lady ignored us for a while, until we spoke to her, forcing her attention. We showed her our numbers, explained we had missed it, and asked if we needed to queue up again. ‘Yes we did’ she replied. ‘You have got to be kidding’, we responded. The lady turned away from us like she was hoping we were a bad dream.
Off we went to stand in this queue. We passed the time with my friend and her very analytical mind working out statistics on the place and having a bit of a laugh at what we were observing. We wondered how many other people had missed their numbers through this process. We observed the one lady at the front managing the queue. There was no love for her job there. The scowl on her face was etched from what has clearly been a long period of time in this environment.
The heat now was suffocating. Despite the fans blowing furiously, with the number of people crammed into this space, our body heat combined was creating a furnace that no amount of flowing air could disperse. The sweat poured off our skin like a waterfall, drenching our clothes. You know that gross feeling when your pants are stuck to your skin from the wet? We laughed it off. We watched as we steadily moved forwards yet the queue kept growing in size despite of this.
Good to see the record keeping is well organised
After forty minutes we got to the front. The red flashing number system was now showing 1043. The lady looked up at us and asked ‘what are you doing back in queue?’ I thought my friend was going to snot her. We told her the lady in the window told us to line up. ‘I will sort it out’ our new friend says and off she goes to speak to the lady in the window. On her return she exchanges our numbers and tells us to go straight up. The lady in the window is now all smiles as she diligently attends to our paperwork.
From this point on the system moved reasonably fast despite the total lack of efficiency and effectiveness. How our papers managed to get from one window to the next without getting lost in the system was beyond us. We played ‘queue jump’ between us and another lady. Each window we had to go to, we waited to see whose name would be called up first as there was no order to the process, except that there were three of us usually called one after the other. A bunch of papers somehow gets placed at the window for the person to work through. The staff calling people up by name were speaking too closely into their microphones so we had to interpret what they were saying through the interference. One of the ladies didn’t turn her microphone off to talk to us once we were at her window so the room got to listen to the static-fueled, one sided conversation.
The irony kills me
We had two photos taken, because they could not use one for both thelicense and their records. Even though it was a digital photo and signature setup. First at one window, then we would shuffle down three windows and wait for the next one. As I stood still to get my picture taken I realised getting up at 5.30am to do my makeup was a pointless exercise as by now the Niagra Falls of sweat down my face had left me shiny, wet with a bit of the panda eye look from what was left of my mascara. It turns out the photo is so grainy anyway you can’t really tell it’s me.
Finally at 11.30 we were signing off to take our new licenses home. We were so excited and proud you could not take the smiles off our faces. We sat in the back of my car and took selfies proudly holding up our licenses. Then we went off for lunch at one of my favourite places to celebrate.
Now for the next step…Now I need to actually drive the car…