Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The annual "looking back" year-end post

Yes it has been a while since I've been here.

Christmas was incredibly busy and tiring, with all the stress of present-buying and worrying what to give who and dealing with the crowds and devoting all my energy to willing people to stay away from the shopping mall I would be visiting that day. Stressful is also when I have to get as much work done as possible while doing all of the above. And keeping Schrobbenmaster entertained on his holiday in KL.

I think I managed to do all of that - without too many frowns and sighs - pretty okay.

In a way, I'm glad December 25th has passed, and I'm glad I can still enjoy my little Christmas tree with the wooden toys and red shiny balls. But the year is coming to a close and it's kinda nostalgic.

The time is drawing near when I'll be moving (immigration allowing) to NL, and it's starting to scare me, all the people and things that I'll be leaving behind. It's gonna be really hard. And also knowing that I might have to leave everyone at the airport and fly alone, that's kinda worse. I'm crossing my fingers that Mumsy Bumsy can find time off work and a cheap flight to go with me.

The best presents I received this Christmas were from:

Schrobbenmaster: A new Lacoste purse. Really needed a new purse as the threads were already unravelling on my old one.

Mumsy Bumsy: "Maxi the mini", a soft toy version of Maxi, my Silky Terrier. Except that the soft toy is a Golden Retriever. She said she couldn't find the exact breed, but nevertheless, Mini Maxi is soft and good company for falling asleep. And will keep me safe in NL.

So what have I achieved this past year?

Off the top of my head, I suppose I have...

  1. Kept Goodputty Design going for another year (2 years now!)
  2. Visited friends in Melbourne after some time
  3. Visited Bangkok for the first time
  4. Visited The Netherlands for the first time
  5. Stayed out of Malaysia for 3 months in one go, longest ever
  6. Learnt Dutch
  7. Designed a wedding invite for one of my closest friends
  8. Twisted my ankle
  9. Learnt how to cook about 8 dinner dishes AND cooked almost every day for 2 months
I guess that concludes my end-of-the-year post. Will definitely try to get another in before we actually say Goodbye to 2009 *sniff*.

Until then, hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and here's to a brilliant ending to 2009 and a promising start to 2010!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dutch Embassy. FAIL. Incompetent and incapable.

I haven't been writing much because I've been quite upset the past week and I can't write when I'm not happy.


On a separate note, I just wanted to say that with all my complaining about Dutch grammar and Dutch language being difficult to learn, I realised a few days ago that English pronunciation is even more complicated. The two vowels "ie" together in Dutch are pronounced only one way (right?), but in English, you have "pie", "thief", "pier", "drier", "friend" and probably a few more I can't think of right now. I definitely don't envy people learning English as adults.


Anyway, here's the story of why I've been unhappy the past week.

The Dutch Embassy in KL: FAIL. And I found out yesterday... the Dutch Embassy in Singapore: ALSO FAIL.

I have been making effort towards getting an MVV, which is a temporary residence permit for The Netherlands. Among the things I have to do are to sit for an exam called the inburgering exam, which is to make sure your knowledge of Dutch society and the language are sufficient to live there.

There are lots of information available online and there are official books to buy to practise. But sometimes you just want to ask someone directly about things you're unsure of. Here is my experience with the KL Dutch Embassy.

I would like to ask if, in the inburgering exam, there are one or two nazeggen sections? When I took the sample test from the Naar Nederlands package, there was only one, but I am currently doing some sample practise tests with my teacher, and there are two sections to repeat sentences. It has me a little confused.
Another thing, is there a waiting list to do the exam and do I have to make my appointment to sit for the exam early, or can I just call a week ahead and arrange a time to go to the embassy?

And the reply I received was:
Dear Jun-Yi
We do not know because we do not take the exams.  You will be using the head phones and will directly dealing the exam dept.   so I really do not know wheather it has 1 part or 2 parts
Carol Peters

Can you believe the way she replied me? I was surprised and annoyed with this reply. How can they not be able to answer my questions "because we do not take the exams"? If they don't know it, why not FIND OUT? What are they here to do, if not to help Dutch citizens and Malaysian citizens? This was my first experience of their laziness. Secondly, they did not answer my question about making an appointment to do the exam. Such a short email and she can miss out this question? It just doesn't make a good impression on me, that this person is not observant and not careful in her dealings with the public they serve.

So I asked again...

How about making the appointment to take the exam? Is there a waiting list, or can I just call up a few days in advance to make the appointment?

And take note of her answer. It's important:

You can call up the embassy and make the appointment anytime. 

After stewing about their incompetence and laziness to find an answer to my question about the structure of the exam, I let them know I wasn't happy with their "We do not know so don't ask us" answer.

Could you please find out if the Nazeggen section has one or two parts? There is no one else I can ask the answer about the Dutch exam as you are the Dutch Embassy. If you can't tell me how the exam goes, how else can I find out? It's really important for me to know and be prepared as this exam, I believe, costs 350 euros and I'm taking it quite seriously.

After this email, I thought she would at least make an effort to write one little email, or visit the website related to immigration to find out. She took two days to write this to me:

There are 2 parts in the exam. One is the language and one is th cultural.  If you need more info I think you will have  to write to the IND where you made payment for the exam maybe they will be able to help you more.
I very sorry that I cannot assist you  more.

Thank you.
Carol Peters

Did I not already know this? Was this my question? Omg.

Anyway, after that, I found out that I was mistaken earlier, and there are indeed two nazeggen sections. However, advised by Mumsy Bumsy and Schrobbenmaster, I did not inform the embassy of this so that they could either let someone else know they are stupid and lazy or just continue living blissfully in their ignorance.

Finally, after several weeks of Dutch lessons with Geraldine, 3 times a week for 2 hours each time, the time to take the exam arrived. I had planned to take the exam in the first week of December so that Schrobbenmaster could send in all the documents for the processing of the MVV application before the holidays started. And so that I would have my permit (if approved) in time to head over at the end of February or early March.

I called the embassy on the 1st of December to make an appointment on the 2nd, but they said they weren't available and if the 3rd was okay, so I said yes and made the appointment for 2pm.

The day arrived and I was really nervous, not helped by the silent and empty lobby where I could hear the tiniest tap of my feet echo on the tiled floor.

After 5 to 10 minutes of having my passport and doing whatever they have to do, a blonde girl brought me to the exam room. She was nice and understood that I was nervous and told me that I could take my time if I wanted to, but I told her that I wanted to get it over with. I did all the fingerprint scanning, and she registered me into the exam system. While doing that, she asked me to read laminated A4 cards on the structure of the exam.

And there, right in front of me, was the exam structure. 2 nazeggen sections, 1 korte vragen section and 1 tegenstellingen section, in addition to the Dutch society test. It was right there the whole time, and the lazy woman who replied my email did not even know that! Imagine my disappointment again. I didn't dwell on it because I had other things to think about, but I was just thinking to myself, not for the first time, "Omg.".

I sat there, with the headphones comfortably on, heart beating quickly and trying to keep my head clear. I chose to do the Dutch society section first so I could attune myself to people speaking Dutch to me. So I sat and waited while the blonde girl dialed a number on the phone. And dialed again. And I waited. And watched her. As she dialed again. Then she goes, "Let me just double check this number.". So I go, "Okay.". And wait. And she dials again. And one more time. And finally says, "There's something wrong, let me check with my boss if they've changed the number.".

She leaves the room and I sit there on my own, not wanting to remove the headphones in case the next time I put it on, it doesn't fit as comfortably. Yes, I get quite paranoid about little things that might jeopardise my results.

1 minute passes...
2 minutes...
5 minutes...

It feels like 10 minutes have passed, but it's possibly just under 10 and more than 5, sitting on my own in the exam room with my headphones on, tapping my fingers on the chair. All I know is that I was in the embassy for just over half an hour, without achieving anything, except that they now have my fingerprints on file and will be able to find me if I ever kill someone in The Netherlands.

The girl comes back after what is ages to me, and says apologetically, "I'm so sorry, but I have bad news.". Jolly good. I remove my headphones and wait to hear it.

"It seems that the phone number has changed and we have to wait for the Orange network in the UK to start work and give us the new number. But that means that it's 5pm our time and we're closed then. So tomorrow morning I'll give you a call and you can come in, about 12.30pm to do the test, as we close at 2pm tomorrow (Friday)".

What could I do but say "Okay"?

I headed home, frustrated. I had put so much effort into being ready for this moment, taking classes right up to the day before, listening to the audio CD in my car and memorising 180 words and their opposites.

The thing was, my friend Euying had experienced this same thing a year ago. There had been no sound when they called up the exam centre. They told her it would be fixed. She waited a month. And they finally told her, "I think you should do it in Singapore.". Wtf! So she told me while I was having lunch with her at her home in Eindhoven: "If the same thing happens to you, don't wait. Just go to Singapore. I wasted a month of my time on them and time is money. You need to get your application processed.".

I decided to give them a chance till Friday morning.

I studied again on Thursday night, when I shouldn't have had to. I set my alarm for 9am to call them in case they forget to call me.

All groggy the next day at 9am, when of course they hadn't called, I called them instead. And she says the same thing, that they haven't fixed the problem, and, "To be safe, I won't promise that you'll do it this afternoon, but probably Monday.".

It was very, very irritating because now my plans were being held back. Schrobbenmaster was supposed to hand in our documents that day itself. I had hurried to renew my passport, get my unmarried certificate from Putrajaya, and he had done his own arrangements and got his certificate (which is valid for only 30 days). And now because of the KL Dutch Embassy's incompetence, everything had to be put on hold.

On Thursday itself, Schrobbenmaster had already called up the ministry in NL to scold them for this. And on Thursday, they told him that there was no problem with the connection. Then on Friday, he called to scold them again. They then told him there was a problem with the exam centre's connection with the KL office and that the IT department would be at work on it immediately.

I couldn't leave it in their already-proven-to-be-incapable hands, so I sent an email to Singapore:

I'm a Malaysian citizen who has made an appointment with the embassy in Kuala Lumpur to take the inburgering exam, but they have postponed my exam TWICE now with the reason of technical difficulties, and it's very upsetting for me.
I was advised by a friend who took the exam last year and faced the same problem. She ended up doing the exam in the Dutch Embassy in Singapore. I was wondering if you could make this allowance for me, as I would rather not wait for Monday to find out that my exam has been postponed yet again.
The reason they give is that there is a technical problem with the exam centre in The Netherlands. If you don't have this problem and everything is working properly, I would like to make an appointment with you in Singapore to take the exam. Your quick response would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Jun-Yi

Then we gave the KL office the weekend and a Monday to sort it out.

On Monday I called the embassy again and she tells me the same thing, that she's still waiting and still not receiving any updates.

On Tuesday (yesterday), I received a reply from Singapore:

Dear Ms Lee,
You need to come in contact with the Dutch Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to make the necessary transfer to this Embassy if you wish to sit for your civic integration exam here.  
Please note that our next available dates for the said exam will be from 20 January 2010.
For collection of the approved MVV, one needs to collect at the same Embassy where one had sat for the mentioned exam.

Best regards,
Mei-Li Sim

What the hell! 20th January 2010? That is just over 6 weeks from the date I'm supposed to have taken the exam! Will they compensate me for this 6 weeks when my application could be halfway through it's processing? Hell, no!

I forwarded this mail to Schrobbenmaster, who called up the Ministry again and spoke to the head in charge.

And paraphrasing Schrobbenmaster, her reply was:

You don't have to rearrange with KL to do it in Singapore, it's bullshit that the next exam date is 20th January as it's mandatory to have the exam done within 7 days, and you don't NEED to collect the MVV at Singapore, as they should send it over by post and arrange all the formalities.

She was apparently very upset with the behaviour of these two embassies we had asked help from. And she was taking steps to get a solution for us asap, opening an emergency file and setting two people on the case. Which is what has to be done to get these two embassies to buck up and stop passing the responsibility onto each other, as if they can't communicate with each other, and making the public they serve do everything for them.

Additionally, doing the exam in Singapore would have cost us more time and money. Not to mention, my Dutch skills are slowly deteriorating as it has now been a week since I had my last Dutch class. We are expecting to receive some sort of reimbursement or compensation if I have to take my exam somewhere else besides KL. It's their incapability and incompetence that's causing all this trouble and, potentially and probably, a difference in my results in the exam.

It will be 7 days since my appointment to take the exam tomorrow, and we'll see what happens by then. After tomorrow, I feel that we are perfectly within reason to really put pressure on them and, in a manner of speaking, step up the aggression.

Will keep everyone updated.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Perfection doesn't come often

I just love heavy rain at night without all the stormy elements like thunder and lightning. There's something very calming and romantic about quiet, heavy rain.

Feeling really comfy on my bed with the MacBook Pro, Ivy on iTunes and my Christmas tree lights twinkling outside. I love my lights so much I actually sometimes stand at my bedroom doorway just to look at them for a few seconds every once in a while.

It's a wonderful night :)