Last Friday, the ground floor of the Labour ministry was teeming; by Tuesday, it was nearly deserted: on Saturday, the long-protesting laid-out Triumph workers had agreed to vacate the premises, provided by the ministry, or so I read in the papers, with sewing machines and what not to produce more of their own brand of bras. More power to breast-boosting workers, I say!
No more temperature shooting of visitors at the bottom of the main staircase either.
Upstairs, in the Outer Space Citizens’ Processing Zone, there was less of a crowd as well. The one-hour Friday queue was down to twenty minutes or so on Tuesday, leaving me with time to pee, have a fruit juice and a smoke and watch the numbers click by rather than the preposterous TV fare or the ‘Please do not wear short or sandals’ sign. (The Thai version of it is more pompous: ‘When visiting officialdom, dress appropriately.’)
I hopped from desk to desk to desk to cashier’s booth and paid two hundred baht for paper processing, twice the usual fare, and was told to come back on March 9 to fork out 7 000 baht and get that two-year extension of my labour permit (3 000 per year plus 1 000 for the company having changed address – I bull-excrement you not). Add to this a 230 baht taxi fare, forth and back from the office.
About changing addresses: when on Friday the processing officer noticed that, on my 2010 documents, my home address had a different street number in Soi Wat Daowadueng from previous years, when I insisted it was the same house the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority had seen fit to renumber ages ago (before they sensibly changed the street address altogether only three months ago so that by now I don’t live in 147/33 Soi Wat Dao, but in 281 Soi 2, Somdej Phra Pin Klao Road – tell this to any taxi driver and see where it gets you), the well-meaning processing officer had me reinstate the obsolete number to avoid filling in another form and paying whatever penalty for it. Isn’t it wonderful how bureaucracy works to blind itself? No wonder I’ll never be anything but a dime-a-dozen ‘English language specialist’ in their eyes.
Anyway, by 11am I was across the road tucking into a pale imitation of khao phat moo (fried rice with pork), having had a pre-dawn breakfast as I had forgotten to sleep altogether that night.
The set of tables was below one of several East Berlin-type buildings of dirt-cheap leased flats, as the food shop matron there obligingly told me (details of rates included). There were no customers but me and, in the table facing me, one of my earlier processing officers, the small stocky one with frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows and a bit of a moustache. She studiously avoided my gaze all the time she ate her mauve-sauced noodles. I noticed that she was sweating as profusely as I was; but then, she had the excuse of chillies. She left without paying. I guess she must be a regular, with a running monthly account.
Now, let’s see:
9 March to Labour again;
26 March, or a day or two before, to Government Center to fang phon (‘listen to the result’ – meaning, an eleven-month extension of the ‘non-immigrant visa’* if the powers that be are so inclined – Saaaaathu!). No more fees to pay, just the taxi fares (about 500 baht). Perhaps I’ll take the opportunity to ask for a 1 000 baht re-entry visa, just in case I feel like exhibiting my family jewels in some airport at any time during those months. And, oh yes, showing my face there every ninety days. Or perhaps not.
* ‘Non-immigrant visa’: the expression has always amused me. ‘Non-immigrant’ is what Thais are, I would’ve thought. But then, who are the ‘immigrants’, where are they processed and what happens to them?
As I repaired to the office, I was reflecting on how much of a cash cow we, all tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of ‘non-immigrants’, are for officialdom in this visa cum labour permit racket, and how the whole rigmarole works out to the enrichment of impoverished taxi drivers, who should be grateful to the system, whether or not they worship their has-been saviour who found himself out of pocket just the other day.
But then, the sobering thought was: how are my brother-Thais being treated when they, like me, renew their visa and labour permit applications in the other land of their choice?