Thursday, January 27, 2011

Labour & Immigration, Take Two

I can't stop coughing. I definitely have an upper respiratory infection at this point. I started myself on antibiotics after several days of holding out for my immune system. Yes, feel free to scold me for not going to the doctor - I don't have time for that right now, especially when it's mostly paperwork and here have drugs! Well, I have them already, I've had this kind of infection many times in my life, let's skip that part.

I take 4 or 5 medicines - over the counter and the antibiotics, and take fifteen minutes to pull myself together to go in. I put on jeans, t-shirt, my one long sleeved hoodie and tennis shoes. I won't be teaching today, we're going back to Labour and Immigration. The thought of doing so in my skirt and dress shoes while feeling like death warmed over is too much; and on our last trip my liaison and half the waiting room were in pants and t-shirts. I don't really care. I would have called in if we didn't have to make this trip today.
Traffic is awful - and I wonder if it's backed up from a yellow or red shirt protest or just the usual traffic chaos. The reds and yellows have both had protests this week - but before you start yelling danger! danger Will Robinson! This mostly just blocks intersections and stops traffic across town; and I happen to be in between the two main spots - so traffic comes to a standstill from both directions.

I hire a motorbike - I haggle for 30 baht not 40 baht, and we zip between the lines of traffic to get to school. Last time I hardly had time to be in the office before being whisked to the school van and setting off. This time, with traffic, the school secretary who will be my liaison this time has not yet arrived, so I have to sit in the office. My boss is interviewing a new student for next year, and her father is there. Suddenly jeans seem like a very, very big mistake. Soon the secretary arrives. She says to me, we will go after your class. To which I simply say, no, we will go now. But who will cover your class? Gen is covering it, we will go now. In fact Gen is only covering the second half of it, everyone has a first period class. But as many times as classes have been cancelled for lack of teachers (we don't have a sub system, teachers must cover for each other), events, or I've been pulled from a class I planned to teach for some other last minute reason with no cover, I simply don't care, this is more important. On occasions with many teachers out, classes are allowed to hang out, play guitar, connect their electronic music players to the sound system - they'll be fine. As it turns out the worst trouble they got into in my absence was they were about to play the movie EuroTrip over the projector when they were interrupted for actual grammar lessons. Oh well.
As we're walking out the students are walking in from the morning assembly, giggling at my attire and one asks me where are you going? Then who will be our teacher? To which I reply, "pretend you have a teacher." He grins. Not my proudest moment as an educator - but again, this is simply more important.

We get in the school van. I'm advised to dress professionally next time, but this time it's ok, you're a foreigner you don't know - that whatever my previous liaison told me, is not the right way to do things. I'm learning very quickly how much misinformation I've been given so far.
We drive, we nap, we're both coughing like crazy. We should both be home in bed. But my visa expires tomorrow, and if anything goes wrong we have to go back on the last day.
We go to Labour to pick up the Work Permit. This turns out to be fairly painless. I check the spelling of my name, sign the page, and pay for it. Then we leave. Less than 15 minutes. My partner in crime checks the details of the Thai writing and hands it to me to put in my file. Surely, that was too easy - and it was.
We get back in the van and drive to Immigration, well, are driven to Immigration. We go in, queue up, and I explain which additional forms from the counter I need. No, you don't need it. Yes, I do need it. No, you don't need it! Yes, I do need it. What? Why? This continues until I have my way. She's still confused - but I don't blame her, all this was explained to her by the previous, shortcut taking liaison, and improperly. I don't blame her, but I don't trust she knows everything I need, either.

Here's the thing. Do not believe the Thai government website, do not believe a Thai that doesn't personally work in Immigration about this paperwork. If you need answers about Work Permits and Visas, you need to personally ask another farang or go to expat web forums. That's where the information will be correct. And it doesn't help that they've recently made it much more strict, but most Thais are still operating in the previous regulations mindset.
We have several hours to wait for our number to come up, so we find a better place to sit and I fill out the forms she doesn't think I need. Then I lay down on the bench to curb my dizziness, at which point she tells me no no sit up this is Thailand, I don't know about other countries you can't do that here. Right.
Our number will be served after lunch, as last time. We go to the food court and each get some sort of noodle soup. I give her American cough suppressants and two Thai medicines. I'm not due for more yet. She looks even worse than I do - and I wish we didn't have to be here.
We go back to the Visa queue. She gives me Chinese cough suppressants. They don't taste good but they relieve the cough, she says. She's dead on. We're both half hunched over trying to nap sitting up between coughing fits.

Our number comes up ten minutes after lunch. We might even finish today. I hand over 1900 baht and we go back to wait. Over an hour passes. Finally we're called back. I have no idea what was said but I can tell there is a problem. We go back to sit down and she gets on the phone. She's calling the previous visa person - the one whose last day was Friday, whose signature she'll be foraging for the power of attorney over my paperwork. There is a form missing. One that she didn't bother to complete, saying oh, for the previous two people, didn't need it. It's a form that takes 15 days to obtain. My visa expires tomorrow. Liaison number one instructs liaison number two to negotiate with them. We try this several times. I'm informed I may have to go out of the country - tonight, or in seven days. I can't get any straight answers, and she's on the phone or talking to the Immigration officer. I call an English speaking colleague that actually knows the deal with this stuff. We discuss what it will take for me to leave for Laos tonight.
Then I find out my liaison has called my boss. My boss is negotiating with the Immigration officer. Somehow I wonder if this won't just make matters worse - but again, it's out of my hands. After over two hours of all this back and forth - my boss has negotiated a 7 day extension of my visa, she doesn't want me to leave the country. I both appreciate this and fear this fix won't actually prevent a border hop, just delay it - and I'm apprehensive that on our next trip the quick-fix seven day extension will not be honored by a different Immigration officer. This could result in a fine, not deportation or anything, and if it happens my school will be paying for it, not me. I think they've already planned that, but I will make sure of it.

My liaison is talking to the Immigration officer. I don't speak much Thai, but I've learned numbers below 100 - and I can tell she doesn't believe I'm 25. I point at myself and say "yi sip ha" and nod up and down yes, I am 25. I highly doubt wearing business attire would have convinced her of this either. For Immigration Take Three, I will be dressing to the nines. Should I pencil on some wrinkles too? Honestly. There's no way to know if business attire would have been the push to get around that missing form - but the fact is the form is on the list and my school didn't take care of it. It's not a form I fill out, it's a form the school must submit. We leave Immigration - with my passport and it's seven days of negotiated, borrowed time and without the 1900 baht. That extension should have been 200 baht, and I protest. I'm assured my boss will take care of it. This had better be the case, this is not my fault.

The two of us are seething with anger and trying to hide it from each other, as required by Thai culture. I consider the school secretary, my liaison number two, my best Thai friend. This has definitely put a strain on things. We open up and discuss our anger that the previous person cut corners and made things difficult. That we couldn't just do it properly the first time, that it doesn't have to be this difficult. But we are the 'younger sisters,' we are lower in rank than many of the people we needed to get stuff done; and though liaison number 1 is also our age - this was her job, so from a task standpoint - hers to take care of.
We nap and talk on the long drive home. We return to school. I explain the days events to a colleague. My boss pulls me aside and further explains how she will take care of it. The other teacher, the secretary and I discuss the fact that I have a seven day extension for a fifteen day piece of paperwork. That I may still have to make a border run. That my boss plans to call on the influence of parents of our students who work in the Ministry. In any case, nothing more will be done today, and I don't have to leave tonight. I'm taking more cold medicine, going home and going to sleep.

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