I was so, so, so very close to having a passport this morning.
Woke up at 6:40 to catch the 6:45 truck to town, threw on some clothes, stuffed my sleeping bag away, and set off to run through the rice fields to the road (toothbrush in hand, Theresa-style); ran into Caroline who told me the truck wasn’t coming due to the Chinese New Year; ran into Theresa who told me the truck was waiting. Due to the confusion I was the only one (of what should have been a large group of us from the farm) ready to go into town – but I went – managed to communicate with the driver, even, get off in the right place and orient myself in Chiang Mai. Found one of my favorite cafes (tiny place on a side street – amazing coffee, painfully-slow but ever-so-free internet, friendly dog) and settled in.
I called to do a status-check on my passport. Too busy, they told me, call back at eleven. Five minutes later they called me and I was overjoyed to hear that my passport had arrived. I downed my cappuccino and set off towards the Embassy – on foot, surprising myself by remembering how to get there – and made it in less than five minutes.
After spending a good 20 minutes with the guards (I was carrying all sorts of contraband, my small bag was loaded up for an unknown handful of days and a possible trip to Pai for the Reggae Festival and I hadn’t even checked into a guesthouse yet to unload things; the image of three male guards clustered around my bag looking at a tampon in utter bafflement will continue to amuse me for quite a while) I ran into the waiting room – and into August.
I smiled broadly at him.
He frowned mournfully at me.
“I am sorry,” he said, “today I must play the bad man. Tell you the bad news, that is.”
He really did look upset and I braced myself to hear that there had been a mistake, it was someone else’s passport, it would be another week…
Turns out that the State Department issued me a new passport rather than a replacement passport (the difference being some sort of official notice on the back cover stating that my previous one was stolen/missing) and that, if they handed this one to me and I tried to return to the US with it, I’d serious difficulty from customs (interrogated at the very least, he said, possibly held overnight, and my future applications for passports would be red-flagged).
“We can ask them to issue another but, as you have already been waiting so long, there is another option I recommend.” he said. “However I need your approval first.” He described something he called a Local-Issue Passport (I’m not sure if its the same as the Temporary Passport that Immigration had requested); it’s only good for a year but it will allow me to cross as many international borders as I’d like and it will come with a letter of explanation that should get me home – and waive the application fee the next time I apply for a real passport.
More importantly, I can use it to get a visa extension.
Most importantly, it will be (sotheytellme) ready this afternoon.
I’ve been killing time in the closest internet cafe I could find; I’ve got two parties in town to go to this evening (a birthday party and a goodbye party) and, if I manage to leave the Embassy with a passport (of any type) in my hand and manage to make it through Immigration successfully, I’m going to head towards Pai tomorrow morning. There’s a Reggae Festival this weekend with a Global Warming focus and a bunch of Hill Tribes selling handicrafts; Pai’s a bit of a stretch for one night – but I’ve been decadently lazy for a while and feel like doing something new.
Of course, the Immigration Office being what it is, it’s far more likely I’ll be headed to
to jump the border for a visa extension tomorrow.
In other news:
I took the wrong bus back to the farm from Chiang Mai on Wednesday. There’s a truck that runs specifically past the farm; an old battered white saengtow that gets filled with burlap bags of produce and bright blue plastic-canvas bags of unfinished wood carvings. Making it to the right spot at Worowot Market with too much time to spare, peering into the trucks to try and recognize the driver or the car, I was pounced upon by a group of old women eager to help.
“Mae Tang?” I asked. They all pointed at a bus. I talked to the driver. “You Sabai? Pun Pun?” Emphatic nodding but I had some doubts as to actual comprehension. “Baan farang?” I tried. (“Farang Home,” it’s what the local people call the farm, according to Krit.) More nodding. The inside was plush – relatively speaking – with red plastic padding on the seats not only undamaged but patterned to resemble leather. The fake wooden paneling on the roof was intact. There was an extra bench down the middle.
It was definitely not the correct bus. I excused myself, headed off to 7-11 for a few last things (chocolate – I actually found Toblerone – pens and, on a whim that would later prove fortuitous, superglue; when you find yourself compelled to buy superglue, you buy it) and, as I stepped out, was once more seized by the gaggle of old ladies. The truck that they wanted me on was passing by and they waved it down. The driver honked and pointed to the back. “Mae Tang!” she said. I didn’t really have an option. The grandmothers, wearing collared shirts and sweaters despite the heat, several with silk scarves and all clutching leather purses, pushed me on.
I sat between a retired banker and a young woman with an infant. The banker, who’s English was excellent, was quite friendly. We chatted politics (he informed me of the primary election results, down to the precise number of points per candidate and in exchange I explained the primary process and absentee voting) and – after we’d exhausted small talk regarding my education, his family, other American students that he’d met, my career plans for the future, my family, his grandchildren, and global economic inflation – I got a Thai lesson.
Luckily, I recognized the market at which we’d stopped on the way to You Sabai the first time – and very quickly realized that, while the proper truck would have turned at the market, this one wasn’t going to. I gathered my things – my bag was ridiculously heavy, the seams straining with everything that I’d crammed into it and the overflow (pajamas, towel, my sweater) stuffed into a small and rapidly-tearing plastic bag – and jumped off.
At least I knew where I was.
A few phone calls to Krit later, some indecipherable directions, some helpful but uninformed bankers and a smiling but nearly mute man who drove a motorcycle with a sidecar, another phone call to Krit for translation and more directions (he was my deus ex mobile; I’m never going to so much as consider traveling without a local cell phone), and a significantly longer driver from the market than I’d remembered and a much shorter hike across the rice fields and up through the orange grove – and I was back at You Sabai.
I’m still in love with batik painting.
I did two more batiks yesterday (in addition to getting a two-hour massage from Caroline – the wonderful Chilean biology grad student who takes care of the kids at Pun Pun and “needed to practice” the Thai massage routine she’d just learned – enjoying a coconut-lime smoothie, lying on the cushions on the floor of the Coffee Shop to escape mid-day heat, listening to music and playing with Gato – who will finally purr for me, and watching the sun dip below the mountains; it was, as I’m sure you can infer, terribly stressful).
No pictures yet (I left the necessary technology at the You Sabai, unfortunately), but there will be a gigantic update soon; I went a little picture-crazy.
“Don’t take too many,” Yao told me, laughing as I crawled around clicking the shiny button on my shiny new camera. “You will be back!”