marcel barang

Tightening the screws

In English on 25/03/2010 at 5:16 pm


Today was another painful bureaucratic day to get that eleven-month extension of the yearly visa and a re-entry visa while I was at it. The pain was less bureaucratic than real: for the past four or five days, I’ve been plagued by dull to acute pain over one quarter of my face on the left side: jaw, gums, throat, even ear, and clenching my teeth makes me jump with searing pain – to the point that I can no longer eat solid food.
At first, I waited: either the pain would go away (it got worse) or something would swell and be noticeable (nothing did). Finally, yesterday I went to Thonburi Hospital and spent an hour or so to get an appointment only to be told that the specialist wouldn’t be there until Friday (tomorrow) evening. I was told to take Paracetamol®…
My one-month visa was due to expire on Friday. Awoken by pain at 2am and then again at 4am this morning, I wondered whether I should go to Immigration or to some other, specialised hospital first. The pain told me to go to the hospital right away, but I decided on Immigration. I reasoned that since going to Immigration involves a 30-km trip across town, I’d better go today rather than tomorrow because today the red shirts are busy around Parliament but there’s no telling where they might go tomorrow; usually, one could go and retrieve the visa one to three days ahead of time so there would be no problem; and furthermore, because I didn’t know what exactly ailed me, I was afraid to have to go from one doctor to another at the hospital with perhaps no time to proceed to the blasted Government Complex. I was wrong on at least two counts.

When I went to fang phon (listen to the result), I was told, Sorry, come back tomorrow; your visa expires on the 26th, today is the 25th. It’s a new regulation.

After some pleading, I was told to contact my processing officer at the Business desk, dear Nai Aphichai, who contacted a clerk who said Your name is not in the register yet, and then the phoo kong (head of section, a woman) came over, and because they could see I was in some physical discomfort, sympathised with the fact that a double trip through town is no fun (they themselves have to cover miles and miles to go to work and back each day now that they have been summarily relocated across town and are not being provided with sleeping facilities in the neighbourhood) or for whatever other reason (my good Thai, good looks, demure attire and unthreatening behaviour, seniority…), an exception – a special effort – was made, my file retrieved from somewhere ahead of time, the passport stamped, the required signatures from desk to desk provided, and I could then go and apply for a re-entry permit. The whole thing took three and a half hours (not counting the taxi rides, one and a half hour in the morning, one hour in early afternoon).

Nice, efficient, humane service – but then there is the flip side of inane regulations.

With the visa stamp comes a double ‘Notice’: ‘To keep your stay permit re-entry permit must be made before leaving Thailand’ (nothing new here) and ‘Notification of residence must be made every 90 days’.

The meaning of this second obligation escapes me: when one is given a yearly visa, why report every three months? ‘Because some people are untraceable.’ Nonsense. When someone steals something, you tell the whole neighbourhood to report to the cops, do you?

I found out that there is a form for such a chore, and got a few – why not send it by mail, with the stamp of the local police station to make it legit, if you insist?
This is the same kind of lack of common sense that demands to be shown original company documents rather that certified photocopies ‘because some companies doctor photocopies’ – when collective documents should not be used for personal purposes. Police thinking: some cheat, so others might, so let’s tighten the screws and treat all foreigners as potential criminals – or is it terrorists? Then why bother to issue one-year visas at all? Why not three-month visas for ever, while you are at it? To make sure that a maximum of foreigners stop coming to help or invest or relocate to any other country of the region offering five- or ten-year visas.

Even the rank-and-file at Immigration (and the taxi driver who took me there this morning) acknowledge that this is stupid, insulting and counterproductive. One even said, Why don’t you take it up with our phoo yai (bosses)?

I’m sure some of us will, somehow. And, by the way, 90 days from now, I’ll probably be in France for a holiday – then what?
At the Eye Ear Nose Throat Hospital, I took time to swallow some khao tom (boiled rice with minced pork) and within minutes was in the presence of Dr Wirote, with whom I’ve had a decade-long relationship: he treats my recurring ear trouble with great skill. A five-minute session of questions and answers, palpation and oral speleology discovered that it had nothing to do with the mandible joint, the ear, the gums or the teeth, but with tonsillitis. I left the place with enough pain-killer and antibiotic pills to floor a horse, took a pill right away, and this is how I’m able to write this and get on with my work next with equanimity.

3pm: I’m hardly back home when the phone rings. It’s Thonburi Hospital. About your Friday evening appointment, could it be pushed back to next Tuesday? The doctor can’t make it.

  1. I’m sure the love of bureaucracy and paperwork – necessary to avoid the onerous task of thinking – keeps the Thai system functioning as a well-oiled, overstaffed, expensive machine.

  2. For a blog hopping traveller Tuesday is tomorrow, can that help relieve some pain? Where has the pain turned up by now after all the added bureaucracy and criss-crossing if I may wonder?
    You’re allowed icecream after tonsillitis, at least I was at the British Hospital in Paris soon a century ago.

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