Yes, my visa and labour permit have been extended for another year – one day past the deadline. And it was no walk in the park. This is how it went.
Thu 23: I pick up the Ministry of Culture’s jotmai rap-rong (certificate) stating that I’m employed by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), which is the main document I need to present for extension of visa and labour permit before both expire on May 30.
Fri 24: I discover in the morning at Siriraj hospital that yes, I can see my usual doctor, but no, I can’t have a doctor’s certificate for the Ministry of Labour because today is a Buddhist holiday. Come back on Monday.
Mon 27: early rise (i.e. not much sleep). At Siriraj before 8am. I queue up to get my personal file, go to the fourth floor, where the action is, register, go up and down floors for: 1) a blood test for syphilis only; 2) an x-ray of the lungs. By 9am, this is done. Results, I’m told, at 11am. Or later. The middle-aged male doctor who is going to certify that I’m sane and not socially repellent takes my pulse and prods me with a stethoscope. When I come out of Siriraj with the bleeding bai rap-rong phaet, it’s a quarter to twelve.
Tue 28: very early rise (i.e. not much sleep). Taxi over the 39km separating my house and Government Centre, where Immigration is these days. This takes one hour and twenty minutes. Sometime after 9am, I’m number 36 queuing up at N1 counter (diplomats and state employees). One hour later, I’m told the ministry’s certificate is inadequate: it gives no indication of duration of employment. ‘Go back to the ministry and have this added to the letter.’ So back to the ministry. The problem is simple: last year, the same certificate mentioned the then-coming fiscal year; this time, as the fiscal year ends on Sept 30, the young man preparing the letter for me kindly thought that if that FY was mentioned, I might only be granted four months… The problem is simple, but the solution is problematic: whatever the wording, the certificate needs to be signed again by none other than the director general of the ministry, and this TAKES TIME. Will two days be enough? The agreement with the staff at OCAC is for me to wait at home to be told that the certificate is ready. If no word tomorrow (Wed 29), then I’ll go to the ministry first thing in the morning on the last day and wait there until the certificate comes through. For some reason, this piece of paper is not signed by the readily available head of OCAC, as it was last year, but by the director general of the ministry himself…
Wed 29: I spend a nerve-racking day alternating translation of a short story about a chest of drawers and reading of French crime novels on the iPad. When in late afternoon I call OCAC, I learn they’ve all gone to a cultural function. The phone number I’m given for the young man processing the certificate doesn’t work; I leave a message to my usual contact at OCAC for her or the young man to ring me back. You guessed it: no call back.
Thu 30: asleep at 1am. Wake up at 4am. Get up at 5am. At the ministry at 8am. The personnel dribble in at leisure in the next hour. 9am: the young man says he has just gone by the DG’s office and impressed them on the need to deliver that certificate this morning. I sit unobtrusively in an inner corridor. I’m brought a glass of water, then a cup of coffee. Sometime after 10:30am, the word is the director general wants to see me. We have a pleasant chat while he signs the damn pieces of paper, which still need to be registered. I get them at 10:40am. Taxi to Immigration. A miracle takes place: the traffic is light; the 35.5km are covered in only 50mn! At 11:30am, I’m number 117 at the N1 section. I learn that after 12am, no applications are accepted. Between 12am and 1pm, the place is vacated. Before that, I’ve had some Thai food downstairs; I while away the time reading Jadet Kamjorndet’s latest novel, Prathet Mue Song (Second-hand country), which I found in the mail yesterday along with three volumes of poetry sent by good old Siriworn Kaewkan – the SEA Write must be on poetry this year, then. I’m still worried about making it on time to the Labour Ministry, but heck, the visa is what matters most. It gets close to 2pm when my number is called. And when things go wrong again.