Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pay Peanuts Get Monkeys

Something has been on my mind lately, in fact, it has caused many sleepless nights. You see, our first wedding anniversary is coming up in August which also marks the anniversary of my residency & DNI or Documento Nacional de Identidad application. This identity card is important because it functions as a work permit and much more. No, I won't be toasting the latter occasion because I am still DNI-less.

I wouldn't want to force the galling details of my application on anyone; let me just say that the staff at the immigration office at Retiro and the DNI office in town are equally ill-trained, untrained would actually be a more appropriate word, to deal with any issue that is not cookie cutter perfect.

For the expats who have "someone at the office" to deal with the tramites (all forms of paperwork, mostly created because of bureaucracy) or those fortunate enough to have a straight forward set of documentation on their exsistence: relax, this post probably doesn't concern you and you can continue to rave about how the people of this country makes it so special, etc. However, please try to understand that those unfortunate souls who suffer similar predicament may not be so ethusiastic in their praises for the people, especially if they are part of this insane, paper shuffling bureaucracy they call a government.

I am an Australian citizen born in British Hong Kong. My parents being Roman Catholics, only put my chinese name on my birth certificate. I was then baptised, at three months, and given a christian name (occidental name) by some Italian Padre Riccardo or Luigi. Years later, I was transplanted to Sydney, via Sussex, England. A few more years later, I became an Australian citizen. It has been close to twenty years since I obtained an Australian passport with my christian name and chinese initials; I never ran into any problem even with the extensive travelling I did for work and pleasure. But that was then, this is now.

Mine is a typical story of many American, Canadian, Australian and British immigrants. In fact, it is a typical story of many Argentines! However, reason and logic have no place in the head of an immigration officer working in the casa amarilla (the immigration dept is located in a yellow house in Retiro), let alone empathy. At some point during our impass, I was told, in seriousness, to obtain an Australian birth certificate!

After numerous trips between this depressing yellow house which is teeming with people from other Mercosur countries and the tranquil Australian Consulate in leafy Belgrano, I passed that particular hurdle. No, I didn't produce an Australian birth certificate but I did pay for a number of pages signed by the Australian Consul which I then had to pay more to get copied and certified by an Escribano (Notary) before passing them onto the immigration department.

However, that was just part one of the obstacle course towards DNI ownership. With my residency paper in hand, I went to apply for the DNI in their office in town. My problem now is to persuade the officer there to let me have my DNI in the same name as all of my other official documents which list my christian name and chinese initials.
According to the officer, the name on the DNI has to be the same as the name on my birth certificate, therefore, only my chinese name should appear. So, I may end up with an official document which officially bears no relation to me. The jury is still out on this one, but the reason for my DNI induced sleepless nights is something I had not anticipated but potentially a lot stickier...

My fellow Hong Kong born friend, Zoe, is still applying for her DNI after 2 years. Last week, when she thought all was done and she just needed to stroll into the office to pick up her DNI after the 120 day processing period (from the day they approve your application to the day you get your DNI- usually a 120 days' wait, if you are lucky), she was greeted by an officer who told her the tramites were problematic. It turned out the officer decided that Hong Kong was not the right answer to the question of where she was born!

"Hong Kong no fue un país, no es un país"
(Hong Kong was not a country, is not a country) this officer said with much conviction. He decreed that Zoe was born in Great Britain and needed to get her paperwork changed at the immigration department!

So my friend hopped back on this bureaucratic merry-go-round to the yellow house. The officer there told her the DNI office was wrong. Yippy! She thought for a brief second, all she needed was this officer to tell the other one his mistake. Oh, no, two officers from different departments of the same government talking to each other? That won't do, just too hard. Imagine what the country would become if they start communicating among themselves!

In fact, the immigration officer refused to stand by what he was saying – he refused to give his name or write a note to state the position of the immigration department on the issue. Zoe's saga continues because the note she paid the British Consulate to write, in hope of clearing the matter, hasn't helped to address this issue at all.

I am being kept up to date on her progress and I pray she gets through this lunacy somehow not only because it will be my turn next month but more importantly, I need to believe we are not living in a joke where monkeys are running the country and thus, our lives.

No pun intended here, this o-so-good monkey bread recipe is from the doyenne of American domestic serenity and order, Martha Stewart. For the non Americans, monkey bread is a big cinnamon and pecan bun baked in a ring tin.

For the bread:
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for pan and bowl
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus a pinch for yeast
1 scant tablespoon of dry active yeast
3/4 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the coating:
120g unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

For the icing:
1/4 cup milk
2 cups icing sugar

Lightly coat a 10-inch Bundt pan and a medium bowl with butter; set aside.

Put the warm water and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl; sprinkle yeast over top. Stir; let the yeast soften and dissolve, about 5 minutes. Beware, too hot, you’d kill the yeast and too cold it won’t grow.

Place butter, milk, sugar, salt, and egg in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.

Add yeast mixture to the mixture, and beat to combine. Slowly add flour. Knead on medium-low, 1 minute. Transfer dough to the prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place, 20 minutes.

Make coating: Place melted butter in a bowl. In a second bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts; sprinkle 2 tablespoons nut mixture into prepared Bundt pan.

Cut dough into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll into balls. Coat in melted butter, then roll in nut mixture, and place in prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Bake, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Invert onto a serving plate, and let cool 20 minutes more.

Make icing: In a small bowl, combine milk and icing sugar. Stir until smooth. Drizzle over bread.

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