So I went to the U.S. Embassy to try to find out what I can to about the fact that I am consistently being harassed by immigration officials at ever border I cross because they are confused by my beard. Yes, that is right, it seems as if they cannot imagine my face, as it is represented in my passport photo, with a mop of hair hanging off of it. So I go to the embassy and was pushed around by a little Vietnamese guard whose job, I suppose, is to push people who are trying to enter the embassy away from the door. I understood from the fact that I was being physically pushed that I was not going to be allowed to enter the embassy, and from the way the little guard was mumbling unintelligible English that I would have to go to another location. So I tried to get where I had to go out of the little pushing mumbler but I could not understand anything that he was saying. He just kept mumbling something like “rose garden, rose garden” as if it meant something to me. Just as I was about ready to stand my ground against the little Vietnamese and demand to be allowed to enter my embassy, another guard came to the rescue with a little card that had a map printed on it of where the U.S. Consulate building was- in the Rose Garden building around the corner.
So I followed the map on the little card around a corner and found the building with no great difficulty. I went through the unlabeled double doors and up a flight of stairs and found the glassed in row of cubicles that I would need to talk through. The room was full of hopeful Vietnamese trying to obtain U.S Visas; the Vietnamese version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was on the television. I walked in and looked around the room like I was lost and was immediately called over to a glassed in cubicle. The man that stood behind it looked to be of Vietnamese origen but spoke the English of a native of the United States.
I told him my problem and he understood. “They probably don’t recognise you because of your beard,” he said, “but it looks like you’ve been growing that thing for a while and don’t want to shave it off.” I smiled as I agreed. I tried to get an additional temporary passport out of him to travel the Middle East with but he would not allow it. “But my friend Loren Everly has one……” I began stammering and then figure it a useless venture. “What I can do for you,” he began, “is give you a travel document to accompany your passport.” The travel document reads:
To: Immigration, Customs, or Passport Control Authorities
From: Steven F. Brault, Consular Chief, US Embassy Hanoi
Subject: American Citizen Wade Patrick Shepard
Mr. Wade Patrick Shepard came to the U.S. Embassy on June 6, 2007. He established his identity through his passport and New York State Driver’s License. As of today, Mr. Shepard is growing a beard and mustache. He also has enlarged piercings on the bottom lobes of both ears.
Now that my beard is US government sanctioned, I can continue on my journey. Now I can tell immigration authorities to not worry about my beard……because it has been verified by the United States Government and I have a document to prove it! This “travel document” may work in some cases, but I think that I will only pull it out in extreme circumstances as a last resort. So for the next three years until this passport expires I will just continue using the “handful of additional ID’s” method and hope that I don’t come across many more overly vigilant border control guards.
I also had another bunch of new pages put into my passport. Now it is growing to the size of a sandwich. I bet myself a dollar that I will get one more bunch put in before it expires. Then it really will be the size of a sandwich.