Monday, 23 April 2012

Day 24 - A very brief visit to the fine country of Singapore. (Border crossing Malaysia to Singapore)

We eventually managed to get our car out of Customs at Port Klang, after attempting to figure out the ridiculous system whereby we are responsible for moving the container our car was shipped in to its next location ie. hiring a truck to freight it to another port. Then one of the officials tried to bribe us for yet more money, but luckily we’re all really smart and don’t let anyone muck around with our finances, so he left us alone and we were on our way.

We drove out of the port and with only a map of South East Asia as a navigation tool, headed towards Singapore. The compass was buried somewhere deep in the boot, but fortunately the Malaysian roads are pretty well signposted and made quite a bit of sense. On the freeway they actually don’t drive much unlike Australians – other than the odd undertake and use of the hard edge as a third lane – so it was an easy start to the driving leg of our trip. We stopped at a brilliant truck stop for lunch where we found some funny cheap versions of various liquors. I bought a bottle of something similar to Baileys, Ben got some type of gin and Denner found something claiming to be whiskey.

We had our second experience of the Carnet process at the Malaysian side of the Singapore/Malaysia border, which was much more rewarding than our first experience in Port Klang. The ladies in the Customs office were super duper and we had lots of fun chatting to them while they sorted out our paperwork.

When we eventually arrived at the Singapore side of things –there was a huge bank up and the weather was still shocking - we pulled over at Customs to go and sort out our Carnet, at which point we were asked if we had anything to declare such as alcohol or tobacco. So out came our newly purchased bottles and suddenly they’re all over us asking what belongs to who and if we’ve got anything else (we don’t). Tunkles being the only one who didn’t own any illicit substances, waited with the car while we sat in a dingy waiting room wondering about our fate. After about five years they called us into the next room where we were ushered by a Customs Officer into what I can only describe as a holding cell. The room was about 1m x 1m with no windows and the sliding door was closed on us from the outside. It was at this point that we started to worry.

The same Officer who had shown us into the room returned after a few minutes and began with “The reason you’re here is that you failed to declare taxable substances”. We almost spewed – we had declared it! That’s why we were there in the first place! But as it turns out, by pulling over to sort out our Carnet we had unwittingly driven into the Nothing to Declare queue and therefore, technically, we had failed to declare it. He went on to inform us that we were now liable for a fine of upto $10,000 each or jail. Surely not! But because none of us had been to Singapore since being over 18, they would let us off with a warning. We did however have to choose whether to pay the $200 of tax that was due on the three items, or have them all destroyed. Considering we could make the purchases again more than tenfold for that amount of money the decision was simple, but by this point we were a bit fed up and wanted to know whether we could just do a U-turn and return to Malaysia instead. Apparently this was Immigration’s call, not Customs where we were, so Ben ran off to ask Immigration and returned with the good news that we could. In the meantime Tunkles had been off organising the Carnet in a separate building, so we were all running around frantically trying to let Customs know not to proceed with the already started paperwork for destroying the items, looking for the Carnet to have that process stopped or as it turned out voided, and find each other so that we could communicate all these things.

Eventually we got it all sorted out and our precious items were returned to us. We got back in Trevor and with a very friendly policeman named Rahmon on a bicycle for a police escort, we were able to cut all the way through the Singapore border crossing to do a U-turn back to Malaysia. We had fair few bizarre looks at this point – I don’t imagine it’s often that whilst waiting to drive through the Singapore border, one sees a policeman on a bicycle being followed by an Australian 4x4 cutting across all the queues and driving up one way lanes, eventually passing through all the bollards to enter the other side of the border.

We were very happy to find the same shift on duty at the Malaysian Customs office so we could hang out with them again, and they were very helpful in drawing us a map of Jahor to help us find some sort of accommodation.

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