marcel barang

A day in history

In English on 27/02/2010 at 11:39 pm

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I understand someone lost a lot of money yesterday. In the drudge of that six-hour-long reading, the highlight was obviously that eminent jurist who kept stumbling over figures; perhaps he needs new glasses. I must say that those figures were staggering, down to the last ‘point twenty-five satang’, and at least three zeros beyond what I may hope to earn in my entire life. All things considered, though, it makes me quite proud to be that rare bird that refuses to encumber his life with a portable phone (and thus has to bear with TOT occasionally depriving me of internet, as happened Thursday night and for much of Friday, but that’s another story).

Anyway, I had other more pressing concerns: yesterday was Renewal of Visa and Labour Permit Day for yours truly, coinciding with the 23d birthday of my daughter, Oramart Aurore, aka Tam, who has started on her way to the Supreme Court herself. We celebrated with a Korean dinner in farang land (Bang Lamphoo) and were back in the nick of time to hear the verdict. Poor little rich man.

Up at six, out at seven, there at some time past eight. Government Center, where Immigration has now migrated, is as big as or bigger than the new airport, and as much out of the way for the working man. Fourteen had formed a queue before me, but by 8:30 I found myself M5-1 in front of the M5 booth, which was manned by none other than my last-year processing officer, helpful Nai Aphichai. I thumped on his desk the neat stack of documents a whole team of our people had gathered over the previous month or so to satisfy the whims of Immigration. (Out of vanity, I added to the lot a photocopy of that splash in the Bangkok Post of 22 February that proclaims me, shaved or unshaved, the main key to Thai literature’s radiation abroad (http://www.bangkokpost.com/leisure/book/169298/man-of-letters).)

Out of the seventeen ‘headers’ involving about a hundred pages altogether, only three (five A4 sheets in all) are related to me; the others concern the company I work for, Thai Day Dot Com Co Ltd, that obscure hole-in-the-wall which, on the 15th floor of a Silom skyscraper, employs 407 people including lone farang me, whose office remains at Phra Arthit anyway, never mind that. Ownership, shareholders, financial statements, you name it, they want it: most were updates of previous years’ statements, gathered from relevant ministries in town where the information is already official and secure, one should think.

The cops don’t want to know whether I am sound of mind and body, have a criminal record or mix with my co-workers. They want a map of my office location and pictures of the staff, but don’t ask me to feature in them. In effect, they use me as a spy to check on my employer.

The innovation this year was presentation of a set of original documents belonging to the company for perusal. Is it legal, is it fair, to demand that collective documents be handled for personal use? What if I lost them in a taxi or it rained on ’em or the dog had a go at ’em? What’s wrong with certified copies by the ministries concerned?

When will all this last-century paperwork be scrapped in favour of electronic databases? I can’t remember seeing a single computer in those swanky, spacey premises where you have to go down one floor and walk hundreds of metres to make a photocopy.

As demanded, proof of payment of VAT by the company went back three months, October to December 2009. Ah, but it should have been November 2009 to January 2010, see. So, I was given a one-month extension (standard procedure) on the condition that the January VAT payment photocopied slip be faxed forthwith.

‘Oh, by the way, there’s a new regulation: you have to come here and report every ninety days. Don’t say I didn’t tell you about it,’ said Nai Aphichai as a parting shot with what looked like an uneasy smile. After thirty-two years of presence in the kingdom, being required to show my face across town every three months to make sure I am still around? How considerate!

At the Ministry of Labour, whose ground floor was as usual the playing and working and sleeping ground of sundry long-time demonstrators and where young women shot at you to take your face temperature before you went up the stairs, again the vagaries of number listing sent me face to face with a long-time acquaintance I greeted with ‘Happy New Year to you’. I called myself ‘Phom’ and called her ‘Khun’; she called herself ‘Noo’, out of deference for my age. The stack of documents was a third as thick as at Immigration, and was in order, except that, hey, your company’s address has changed! Well, in this case, I can’t process you; take that form at the counter and come back with a complementary set of documents (only twenty pages or so, including a copy of your employer’s ID card) before March 5, since your labour permit expires on that day.

‘Oh, by the way, since your company is making so much profit, you’re entitled to not a one- but a two-year extension of your labour permit,’ she said as a parting shot with a kindly smile. Quite obviously, a different philosophy reigns here, called common sense, where I feel I’m being treated as a human being rather than a petty criminal on a leash that needs to be monitored not just once a year but every trimester.

I rushed back to the office, which I reached by 12:30, to report and return those precious originals. Next round next week. Had lunch. Made it back home by 3pm in time to turn on the telly for the other melodrama of the day.

Total mileage: 60.5 kilometres; total taxi fare: 575 baht; half a day’s work lost; tired zygomatics.

All told, compared to previous years, and especially last year, which bordered on hell for a whole week, quite an easy ordeal (thanks to Personnel and other staff at the office), even if it isn’t over yet. Besides, it was the occasion of renewing acquaintance with Nai Apichai, and the lady at Labour I’ll be seeing again next week, and of lengthy conversations with taxi drivers during which, with my political if legal-untrained mind, I predicted exactly (ask that young fellow) what the verdict would be and how it would be dubiously viewed by the many as fair, would lower political heat temporarily and solve nothing.

PS: Of that Franco-Thai wedding dinner Chart and I attended and fled from before dinner on Thursday evening, all I need to say is that the water served there was delicious, if a bit costly. In retrospect, Nick and Mem’s wedding the other month was a genuine display of human warmth.

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