Expat

Great expectations

Thailand offered free tourist visas for the past year and when I went to extend mine for another month, I had to pay for an ‘application fee’. I was pissed. I handed my two 1,000B bills to the immigration lackey, along with my paperwork and passport, and walked back to the seating area in a foul mood.

“I don’t know why I’m upset!”

Brad was reading and replied, “I don’t know why either.”

Six months ago, we both were ready to light the fine immigration offices of Chiang Mai on fire. (flames rise higher, higher!) I had suddenly become extremely sympathetic to immigrants in America trying to maneuver through this system of rules and regulations, paperwork and more paperwork. And in a foreign language no less. I knew America was much much worst than my perceived Thailand nightmare.

Since my arrival in June 2009 I have gone though two visa extensions, two visa runs to Kuala Lumpur and one to Vientiane. My biggest headache by far was figuring out my education visa.

But now I feel like this is just the way things are. I know (more or less) what to do and what is expected of me. Brad accidentally got two re-entry permits since he is on a year-long ed visa and I paid for one trip too many to KL. You’d be amazed at how often you’ll hear, read and receive wrong and conflicting information. It’s a constantly changing world where expats are at the whim of the Thai government.

Expats are not only whites either. I’ve seen plenty of Japanese, Korean, Filipino and folks from neighboring countries sitting in the offices asking questions, looking lost, holding stacks of paperwork and waiting for their turn. And who hasn’t seen the gay couple, the retired farang with his Thai wife, golden robed monks and the mysterious Thai woman with a fat stack of passports?

And when you visa run to another country you better know what set of rules they are operating under and what to look out for. In Laos I had a man say, “How are you doing this?” I looked confused. “You are always ahead of me.” He was referring to the fact that I left the border to head to the immigration office after him. What can I say, I got lucky. I made small talk with our taxi driver who drove like we were on the Amazing Race. I ran into the embassy while my companions argued about something and grabbed the last two numbers. I constantly went up to the queue, pushed my friends to go as a couple and eventually we all got in.

If that guy sticks around long enough, he’ll get lucky, unlucky and learn when to be aggressive and when to be patient too.

I feel like living abroad has broken my spirit. But I say that laughingly. Americans are used to a certain level of service and have their own unspoken rules of expectations. We’ve come to rely, depend and know that traffic moves in this way, and the internet will work at blinding speeds with the reliability of the pill. I will know what I am eating most of the time. But in Thailand?

I’ve learned traffic works under a different set of assumptions and rules are more like guidelines. Education is not taken seriously. It looks like serious business but it is not. Classroom culture I am convinced mimics societal culture. And the internet! If I’m connected I’m happy. If it is down, I no longer foam at the mouth, I do something else. I no longer feel personally affronted if someone pulls out in front of me in traffic, or if I have to wait a very long time. It is not mai pen rai it’s arai-godai. Comme ci comme ça.

But just when I feel like I’ve come a long way from being an uptight American (I thought I was easy-going), I’m slapped with an unexpected fee and I feel irritated all over again. Although I immediately recognized this and soon afterward I forgot about the whole thing because it’s pointless.

I was getting what I wanted anyways. The electricity went down for the whole building so many folks who needed copies and photos left. Everyone who was there was uncomfortable from the heat. I was already hot from one lackey telling me I didn’t need a photo to the other toady telling me that I did. But this is all a lesson in expectations isn’t it?

Even though I had been saying I’ve come to expect the unexpected it has been a long time (several weeks?) since I have unexpectedly expected the unexpected. So I was due.

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2 thoughts on “Great expectations

  1. I think most expats in the LOS are of a mindset that they need to expect the unexpected, and try their best to roll with the punches. But yeah, the frustration does build up over time. We (Americans) take a lot of things for granted that are continually changing and uncertain in Tland (you know, little things like the rule of law, etc.) which can make living there an unsettling experience to say the least.I haven't figured out yet what exactly it is that can be most frustrating to expats. I think its the mix of uncertainty, vulnerability, and lack of control or agency that can drive some people up the wall when it comes to living in a different nation/society. But in the LOS, throw in arbitrary governing, corruption at all levels, and a fluid political situation (to put it mildly) and the uncertainty one encounters on a daily basis there can be quite disturbing. By the way have you tried a visa run to Penang yet? Its got a really nice and unique character different from KL and makes for a nice vacation for a few days as well.

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  2. No, I heard bad things about Penang (taxi drivers ripping you off – 555) but it's good to hear a positive review.I think it is the lack of control and vulnerability that makes expats in Thailand feel frustrated. You never realize how much you take for granted until you are truly at the mercy of another gov't system, etc.You learn a lot about yourself and human conditioning and behavior tho'. Lincoln eh? Always just went to Omaha and blew by the capital 😛

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