Today was a day that could have been a very bad day, a very frustrating day, especially for my poor coworker who got up at 5AM this morning to save an early place for me (his number in the queue at the Immigration office was 13) because of something that got lost in translation. Last week, when we were planning the rather lengthy and tedious process of getting a work permit (it is long and tedious in every country, I think) , I was told that we would be going to the immigration office at 8AM. What I heard by that was “you will be leaving for the Immigration Office at 8AM,” and what was meant was “you will be arriving at the Immigration Office at 8AM,” which is quite a bit of difference, considering that the Immigration office is about half an hour away from where I reside here in Thailand, near the airport and not at all near the little village where I live and teach.
That was a nearly fatal misunderstanding when it came to the process of the review of my documents and the start of the non-immigrant work visa process as far as the Royal Thai Police at the Immigration Authority are concerned. As it happened, I was awake at about 6:45AM, because I do not sleep very deeply these days and because there was a loud sound of honking of horns outside my window. But most of the next hour was spent chatting with our new teacher Hanna and looking up sports scores and videos of the violence between Russian and Polish soccer hooligans from yesterday’s games. Unfortunately, while I was wasting time I thought I had, the driver was enjoying himself relaxing in the main classroom chatting with the students, while I was utterly oblivious to his presence until I got a frantic phone call (the first of at least half a dozen that would be directed to either the driver or me over the next half hour) from my sleep-deprived coworker telling me I was supposed to already be at Immigration.
Needless to say, it was a tense and hurried journey, but it appeared as if it was not fast enough, as by the time our truck pulled into the parking lot a despondent and upset coworker was furious (and understandably so) that his effort had been wasted and that we would have to start again another day, as my number had been missed. Fortunately, though, we were able to stay in the queue without having to pick a new number, and I was only able to read about 20 or 30 pages of the somewhat substantial book I had brought (expecting a wait of several hours) before I was called to one of the desks in the overworked and understaffed back office.
And really, my presence was not really all that important, as the conversation was almost entirely in Thai and (for that reason) almost entirely conducted between the official and my coworker (as well as between the official and the woman at the next desk). The only conversation in English was from the official to me asking me if I spoke any Thai, to which I replied that I spoke “nitnoy Thai,” (a little Thai) qualifying it by saying that it was very little. I understood a little bit of the conversation, in which the official commented to my coworker that I was very “riproy,” which means proper and polite, but I did not understand any of the reasonably short conversation which took place before my passport was stamped with a few stamps and I had to wait another ten minutes or so of reading while standing up before my passport was returned to me. And then it was done, after about an hour altogether from arrival to departure.
I had brought a sizable book to read, and even a scratchpad to write my witty comments on the inefficiency of immigration procedures, but there really is nothing to complain about. Even though someone else sitting in the standing-room only crowd at the Immigration Bureau (which was about halfway divided between Southeast Asians and Westerners) joked that I needed a bigger book to read, and while I saw another Westerner trying to do a children’s exercise to learn the Thai alphabet (clearly he is a serious student of the Thai language to engage in that kind of effort), my experience was far more rapid and far more pleasant, even if it had appeared as a disaster from the start due a simple and unfortunate misunderstanding about schedule. But all’s well that end’s well, so now we move on to turning in more paperwork that I had to sign after lunch into City Hall again, and then the three levels of police investigation (do they know I’m a prolific blogger?). Needless to say, I expect a few more blogs about this subject before the process has taken its course.