How many times since you arrived in Thailand have you experienced something that your mind can’t quite sort out; a series of events that defy logic ? You are not alone. If I had 10 Bht for every time someone told me of an unfathomable occurence here I would be a rich man. When - not if - this happens to you remember that anger is the weapon of the defeated man here in Thailand. Keep your cool, take deep breaths, turn away for a second or two, then repeat ‘This Is Thailand’ five times and you will feel better - well, maybe. The following are just a few of the more recent times when the thought ‘This Is Thailand’ has come to my mind.
We should start with arriving in country. The first time I arrived at the new airport I was travelling with a 12-month non-immigrant visa that accorded me 90 days in Thailand before it needed renewing. I queued for about 45 minutes at the single farang passport desk that was open with a few hundred others whilst we watched the two or three Thai people take their pick from the three Thai passport desks that were open. I finally made it to the front of the queue and was greeted by the immigration official. We discussed the visa and 90 days please, yes no problem, passport was stamped and I was in. As I walked away I glanced at the passport to find in spite of our conversation the gentleman - he was still a gentleman at this stage - had only granted me a 30 day stay.
I turned back to the desk but my place had already been taken by the next long waiting farang in the queue. I waited patiently until he had finished then approached the desk and started to explain what had happened. I was told in no uncertain terms to rejoin the queue. I pleaded that it was an easy oversight to have made and would only take a second or two to rectify but he wasnt listening anymore. I sighed, ‘This Is Thailand’ and returned to the queue where I was fortunate to be allowed to join somewhere near the front by a kind soul. A few minuted later I am approaching the same desk but as the gentleman sees me coming he places a ‘closed’ sign on the counter and turns away. Now I know that saving face is a big issue in Thailand so I guess that he has realised what he has done but does not want to acknowledge or address this situation. I don’t push the issue but patiently stand in front of his counter whilst he ponders what to do next. After a couple of moments he turns back to me raising his hand to silence me, removes the ‘closed’ sign, takes my passport, amends it, gives it me back and waves me on all without saying a word. He had found a solution to his problem. I strolled through to collect my baggage thinking what was that all about and welcome to Thailand.
For a few years I have been coming here on a short term visa and in early 2007 went to a bank to open an account only to be told that this was not possible with such a visa. Had I come a couple of months previously, before regulations were changed, then this would have been OK but, sorry, not anymore. I tried two more banks just to be sure and was told pretty much the same thing at each. Having arrived with a different visa this time I thought I would try again. The first bank I tried, Bangkok Bank, told me the same thing again, sorry visa no good for account here so I moved on to a second bank where it was no problem at all and an account was opened swiftly and politely. Before leaving England, I had transferred some money to my partner’s bank account at Bangkok Bank, not having one of my own, and as a week or so had passed thought we had better check up on this money and have it transferred to my new account. A pleasant young lady with good English, but it transpired little banking experience, greeted us. She checked my partner’s account and told us that the money had not arrived yet. I gave her details of the transaction and asked her to check bank records. She was a little reluctant, I suspect not knowing what to check, but after a few minuted went away to consult with someone else. I eventually discovered that the money had arrived with the Bangkok Bank four days earlier but instead of being credited to my partner’s account the money had mysteriously been sent to a holding account at a completely different bank. Why ? I asked. I don’t know was the reply. Can you find out please ? No, was the reply. I’m sorry, I continued, but did you just say that you could not find out why your bank has sent my money to another bank ? After a few such exchanges it became evident that she had no idea why this would have happened and no intentions of trying to find out. I asked if I could speak to someone else, maybe her manager, but again no, that was not possible. I turned away did my deep breaths and ‘This Is Thailand’ routine then decided to try another approach. OK, I don’t care why my money was sent to another bank but when can you get it back for me and credit it to my partner’s account. Ah, that was better. No problem, we can get the money for you by this afternoon. I decided that at the time this was the best thing were going to get so we left and sure enough by mid afternoon the money was present and had even been exchanged at a favourable rate adding to my surprise.
The money was withdrawn and deposited in my new account, my ATM worked, and for several weeks everything was going worryingly well. Then, a few weeks later, I was in a small town in Isaan where I am having a house built with my partner and went to the bank to withdraw enough to make the first payment to the builder. I was a little surprised when I was asked to produce a passport but fortunately had it with me and even more suprised when they asked to see my partner’s ID card. I’m sorry, but this is me trying to withdraw my money from my account but ... Anyway, go with the flow and both documents are photocopied, attached to the withdrawal transaction slip and the money is counted out. I am then told that I have to pay 200+Bht for the bank’s commission. I’m sorry again, but I have to pay you to give me some of my money that I have invested with you ? Deep breaths, ‘This Is Thailand’. It was easier to pay the fee, take my money and leave than to stand and discuss things.
Moving on a month or so I was checking my passport to ensure that I did not overstay my 90 days and find that my departure card is no longer stapled in my passport with the visa. As I look at the lonely staple my mind goes back to the cashier at the bank in Isaan taking a copy of this page. She must have removed the departure card, made her copy and not replaced it. God bless her. I contact immigration at Chiangmai to ask if I can get a replacement and am told that I need to report the loss to the police first to confirm that I no longer have the card. I ask if this is really necessary, I am telling them that I no longer have the card, why would I lie about this, the police are not going to be able to recover the original card and isn’t this rather wasting their time. No, this is how the system works. ‘This Is Thailand’, ‘This Is Thailand’ ... I go to the police station, speak to several people who each ask me the same questions then am given the lost document report in exchange for 10Bht. Now I understand. This is a work creation and money redistribution policy at work here. With passport and lost document report in hand I then make my way to the immigration offices near the airport as I had been told. After a short wait I am told that they are unable to assist me here but that I would have to go the airport itself. At the airport things are surprisingly easy and after about 20 minutes and a few phone calls I now have a replacement card.I can now continue to enjoy my stay here and look forward to my next ‘This Is Thailand’ moment !!
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