travel

Jumping through the bureaucrats’ hoops – for naught.

I have a new passport.

So I am told.

There is, in existence, a US passport with my name and picture on it. Sitting in Washington DC. Waiting for approval to be shipped here. The shipping process will then take between 7 and 14 days.

So I am told.

Of course, there’s a lot of things I’ve been told.

When asking what to do if my passport didn’t arrive before my visa expired, I was told that I’d have it before the 5th (”No problem! Don’t worry!”).

When given a Letter of Identification by the US Consulate, I was told that all government offices would accept it as identification (when combined with the police report and copy of my old passport).

When I called the US Consulate last Friday, they told me that my passport wasn’t ready and wasn’t likely to be ready before the 5th but that they’d write a letter on my behalf to the Immigration Office and I there’d be “no problem” – I was to come into town, pick up the letter and then head over to Immigration where I’d present the documents and get some sort of extension-waver that would hold me over until I receive my new passport. (There’s a of 500 baht fine each day you overstay your visa.)

To be fair, they did write me the letter. (It only took me three hours to get in and pick it up.) And I think they really did believe that Immigration would be accommodating. And, to be fair to Immigration, it was the simplest part of the process yet – I didn’t have to wait or fill out a single form. They gave me a very clear and decisive answer (NO!) before I was even done explaining, and to their utmost credit, never wavered.

I tried to explain that I wasn’t asking for a new visa or an extension – I understood that had to be done with a passport – I just wanted a waver of the fine due to the mitigating circumstances outside of my control.

They asked for my passport. I’d already given them what I had – no good. They asked for my Temporary Passport. I pointed to the Letter of Identification, explaining that it was all I’d received from the Embassy. They told me it was worthless and that the Embassy gave out Temporary Passports “all the time – we see them plenty”.

Fuming, I called August (I’ve got my own special clerk they always put me through to) at the Embassy to ask for a Temporary Passport. “Oh,” he said, “I see.” Can’t say that helped my mood – I didn’t see and, more importantly, Immigration didn’t see. I asked him to talk to Immigration and passed my cellphone through the window. The middle-aged balding man at a desk talked into it nonstop; August was obviously lectured.

“We make no exceptions,” the man told me with a glare as he passed my phone back.

“I’m sorry,” August said. “They will only accept Temporary Passport and we cannot issue one for you as the system says that you have already applied for a new passport. It is illegal to issue anyone two passports. Had you asked for one before applying for a new passport, it would have been possible, but not now. I am sorry.”

“So what do I do now?”

“You must pay the fine.”

“And my passport will be ready next week?” I demanded.

August hesitated. “We hope so.”

“We make no exceptions,” said the man at the window again. The glare was intensified. “You must pay.”

I backed away from the counter, thanked August and hung up the phone before I slammed my bag down onto a chair and swore. (A tall man in khaki with blond dreadlocks to his waist gave me a sympathetic glance.)

I’m not sure that I’ve got the finances to cover this. 500 baht a day for who-knows-how-long. (I think I’ve heard that the fee increases after a certain time period, too) which is in addition to the $97 USD for a new passport with $70-or-so-worth-of processing fees. On top of the 20,000 baht ($600 USD) that had been in my bag when it was stolen. (The $200 USD in traveler’s checks can get canceled, at least). Not to mention the camera – I paid $230 for it a year ago in the states and the equivalent model in Chiang Mai is nearly $350. – which was next on my to-do list.

Still fuming, I called my parents to vent. And ask for the phone number for my travel agent (can’t believe I left home without it) so I can, possibly, look into coming home sooner. “It’s that,” I said, “or get a job teaching English here – and without a TEFL or even a BA I doubt I’d make more than what I spend on food per day.” They didn’t give me the travel agent’s phone number and talked me out of rearranging all of my plans – I was reminded that there are options, after all. (Just not that many of them. I’ve got no skills to busk on the street and while I can write – I think – without a working laptop anything I can manage to sell would just about cover the internet cafe time to research and type it. I’m pretty much left with begging or settling down somewhere for a job – I’m not ruling that out yet but if I do, it won’t be Chiang Mai. This city has not been kind to me.)

When I calmed down a bit more I realized that 500 baht wasn’t even ridiculously excessive. I’m sure there’s been days I’ve spent more than that on cappuccinos, tuk tuk rides, internet time, fruit smoothies, beer and “real” meals in “real” restaurants that I don’t even manage to finish.) It’s just the frustration of, after having jumped as high as they’ve asked through every hoop they’ve held up, being told that I’ve done the wrong thing.

Worrying about money I did the logical thing – I went shopping. I’d just gotten my bank card that morning and I was eager to hold a camera in my hand. (It’s a slightly nicer model than the one I lost and it’s black and sexy. And it came with a 1GB memory card.) It didn’t stop there, either. I didn’t buy a thing that wasn’t already on my shopping list (shampoo, pens, detergent, a few articles of clothing, tea and chocolate to take back to You Sabai, batteries, and a wide variety of miscellaneous.)

I’ve never believed in retail therapy – and I still don’t – but somewhere between the black tea leaves and cloves at Worowot Market and gorgeous purple skirt with orange-brown-green panels on Thae Pai Rd (it goes to my ankles and – I think you need estrogen to fully appreciate this – it swirls when I walk), I did start to feel better.

Tomorrow I’m running back to the farm. Can’t wait to get out of Chiang Mai, again. (Within the first thirty minutes of my return on Monday, I was limping, bruised, and completely lost. This city and I are not on good terms.) I’ll be back and forth for a bit – friend’s birthday party in town on Friday and August (not that I believe him anymore) told me something about the possibility of my passport arriving by then (we’ll see) – but, weather permitting, I’ll be at You Sabai doing more batik – and starting to put some conscious effort to getting my body into better shape. I’ve got grand plans to go trekking and hiking (hill tribes to the East, Gibbon Expedition in Laos, not to mention everything I want to do in Borneo) and I don’t want to be limited by my (current) feeble lung capacity and extraneous flab.

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