(PLEASE EXCUSE THE LACK OF PHOTOS…)
Today was the day we had both been waiting for. I had been waiting for over a month to pick up my new (replacement) passport and visa. Frances had been waiting for over a week to find out where her new school placement would be in Thailand! When her phone went off in the early hours I had imagined that it was the all-important call, but alas, it was just an alarm.
After a brief nip to the post office Frances headed home, only to realise as soon as she got back that I had accidentally pilfered her sunglasses. So, I fast walked through the red lights district (there is a distinctly different feeling in the morning and the night) to meet her at the hotel where she was waiting for me with a cold glass of pineapple juice. Refreshing. After handing over her sunglasses I walked even faster down our long road (Sukhomvit Soi 2), round the corner to Phloen Chit Station, straight ahead, across the insanely busy road ducking through swarms of motorcycle taxis, and finally turned right to find the British Embassy before me. Mam, who has been appointed as the ‘pastoral care’ office for the North of Thailand, was waiting for me with her colourful and very important notebook with all of her ‘to do lists’ for various ETAs, and herself. She had accompanied me to the Embassy when I was applying for my replacement passport so it was some kind of reunion for us.
Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, Mam was not allowed to come with me past the front gates. As my phone was confiscated I couldn’t even tell her how long the queue was and she had to wait at a bus shelter outside until I was done, bless her. She was probably working away constantly as she is being kept on her toes by the ETAs. There were 32 seats inside and only 3 of them were free so I imagined I’d be there for quite a while. The ‘occupants’ of said seats were quite varied, but consisted mainly of pairs of young female travellers who had been robbed and couples usually consisting of young Thai women and always (at least slightly) older British men. This was the case last time as well. It sounds like for them to get married it takes an awful lot of paper work and frustration, one man had travelled back to England solely for the purpose of collecting a document that was vital to the process of the application! When it was my turn (after about an hour) I went up and collected my passport from the same woman who had been ‘dealing’ with me last time. She remembered me and even what job I was doing, which I thought was really sweet.
I feel pleased that my new passport has such a story; that it was replacing one stolen in Lumpini Park on my second day in Thailand and the story of the photograph. On the second day after our activities with the British Council at the Ambassador Hotel in Bangkok I was sent off with a couple of their young employees to get some photographs taken. This all went smoothly, the pictures were taken and I was told to return in one hour. A reasonable request, I thought. I pottered off with the others to MBK (an enormous shopping mall) to Skype my mother to hell her what was going on and told them that they could go if they wished, that I would be able to make my own way back. This was not the case. First off I spent more than 30 minutes trying to find the right exit, after this step was achieved I ran outside into the hot, dank, darkness; into the tropical rain which everybody else was sheltering from; and straight down the road ahead. But, wait, was it that other road? After 10 minutes I was drenched and felt totally ‘at sea’ (lost!) The shop was closing at 8pm and I kept running madly around until this point, my map soaking and tearing in my shaking hands. There was no hope, so I had to return to MBK to get another one. By this point I looked like a drowned rat and had been crying (it can be overwhelming when lost alone at night in the rain in a new city). This is the story of my passport picture. Much better than my last one, ‘Ummm… Sorry, I was tired’.
After reclaiming my confiscated phone and backpack Mam and I headed across to a quiet shopping mall where she took a few calls (busy, busy) before hopping on the Sky Train to Mo Chit Station. I had been here before for Chatuchak Weekend Market, so it looked totally different today. There was no time for food (unfortunately, as I hadn’t eaten yet and was getting peckish), so we jumped straight into a ‘meter taxi’ to go to the immigration office. It took us about 30 minutes and cost 98 Baht exactly (about £2). We bee-lined for the food court, where Mam spied us out some vegetarian food. The choices were excellent and yet again I was impressed by the price; 15 Baht (30p) for an amazing meal. I made the beginners mistake of eating a red chili thinking it was a red bell pepper causing me to cough, for my eyes to water and for me to go bright red. Thankfully Mam has a lot more dignity than some of my other friends (no names) so I lived it down and the burning sensation diminished with a little time.
The whole process of getting a replacement visa was actually amazingly simple. I had to bring:
- A copy of my original passport
- A copy of the crime report
- A copy of my new passport
- A letter stamped by the British Embassy
Simple. Then there were two short queues where people from the world over gathered. We were sorted into different sections of an impossibly large waiting room. It looked like we would have to wait for about 4 hours when we went in, but as it turned out there were only two people in the queue in front of me and one of them didn’t show, so we weren’t waiting long. After a little bit of confusion about which kind of visa I needed my passport was stamped very precisely and neatly by a young woman who was in training and being supervised by an older gentleman. I was amused to see that the document they were holding had a picture of me when I arrived at immigration for the first time in Thailand (the sneaky one they don’t tell you they are going to take) and a copy of my passport. Very efficient. The visa was also free and I had expected it to cost £50, which goes VERY far here, so that was an added bonus!
After a couple of phone calls in Thai to my mentor in Wangsaipoon and various bus companies it was agreed that I would get the 8pm bus from Mo Chit back to school. This meant arriving in at around 2am, but Teacher Tim was willing to pick me up. I was slightly taken back as I had envisaged another night in Bangkok, but I was pleased to know that my students (fellow teachers…) ‘needed’ me. By this point it was only early afternoon so I headed back to central Bangkok for one last time and happened to meet up with Frances again. She find out about her placement finally so will be in Bangkok indefinitely. I had a waffle before getting onto a rush hour train to Mo Chit (again). I had been warned that the traffic was bad so left lots of time… perhaps a bit too much as I was two hours early for a bus that both arrived and left late.
The bus ride felt long but was greatly ameliorated by having a free seat beside me and by putting on an extra skirt as a strange kind of sleeping bag (use your imagination, I have no photos). The driver dutifully shouted me awake at 2.30 am when we pulled into what seemed like a fairly dismal Wangsaipoon. It was raining heavily, there were various people sleeping on benches at the bus station, lots of barking dogs, mosquitos, flies congregating in light, dry areas such as under the shelter of 7 Eleven (which really NEVER closes). Thankfully Teacher Tim came quickly and whisked me off home on her motorcycle. I awkwardly held an umbrella to keep us dry but it felt like a work out because of the air pressure pushing against its pore less surface, If I had changed its angle slightly we would have probably flown off in another direction.
After a warm welcome home from the ‘school dogs’ who I’m more used to seeing in the staffroom, or on the football field than in my living room guarding the fridge I headed bed-wards, dreading the meeting at 9am the next morning.