Today I went to Immigration for the third time. Best skirt, dress shirt and makeup I spent a fair amount of time applying. I skipped penciling on wrinkles. It didn't even take all day this time, and before lunch hour for the Immigration officers I had not only my one year extended stay permission on my visa but my multiple re-entry permit. I will still be researching to make sure the re-entry permit is correct (multiple and not single)- it's a stamp about half the size of a passport page and some of it is not inked very clearly. Without also having the proper re-entry paperwork; my visa is void upon leaving the country and must be remade - for any reason. Apparently you should also be sure you are stamped in correctly upon return to Thailand - stamp errors are common enough to have their own queue for fixing them at the Immigration office. It's been said to me Immigration is the worst part of Thailand. I'm happy to agree with that statement until proven otherwise, and I see no reason to hope to find worse - Immigration can keep the bottom spot. I'll refrain from getting on my soap box about United States Immigration - except to say for any country, this has got to be one of the most frustrating things about trying to move between countries.
My situation with visa and work permit is not uncommon - it is a rather run of the mill story as far as Thai Immigration goes, and I actually obtained legal status. Many just go without or are in a perpetual state of border running. The rare situation is not having trouble with this in some way. I also received my January salary properly. I'm finally in the system and not stepping on someone's toes to get my pay. Even my attempts at trying to go about this within cultural bounds still enlivened intra-school rivalries I wasn't aware of through the way things were subsequently handled. Lovely. Advice that I've heard now, of course, is bring several months worth of income to support yourself (if you can) while all these glitches occur. No really, several, not just a couple. I'm grateful to the co-worker who loaned me money last month, and reminded me she started off just the same - on a shoestring, borrowing and dealing with confusing school interactions that aren't sorted out easily.
I'm grateful for Ming, one of our resident alley cats for coming to visit on nights when it's most needed, even if she does insist on being let back out at 5 am sharp. I'm sure she prefers the corner of the bed to her options outside.
So about culture shock. There are many things about it, obviously. Awhile back I was asked, "well what are you having culture shock about?" And I'm really not entirely sure how to answer that question. Saying "everything," is overkill. Saying "nothing," is fooling oneself. But categorizing each daily interaction into the binary of yes, culture shock or no, not culture shock - doesn't take into account any of the other factors of daily life. It's frustrating trying to explain culture shock to someone that hasn't experienced it. It's frustrating when you realize you're having a culture moment (or worse yet, finally realize one from awhile back) - but still don't know where to turn to move forward; or at least, not in a positive way forward. And it's most frustrating when you perceive you are receiving the criticism of 'you should know that already,' or 'why didn't you find that out already?' in some shape or form. Right. I'll continue asking 'Ajarn Google' and hope I find something. Ajarn = teacher/college professor. I'm directly quoting foreign teacher Thai culture training by saying - "ask Ajarn Google."
This past Friday, Saturday and Sunday I attended a 'foreign teacher Thai culture' seminar - 8 hours a day. I'm not sure how recently this was made a requirement for foreign teachers, but it's within the last three years. While it sounds alright in theory, and some parts were alright - it's rather new, and like many newly implemented things has a lot of bugs to be worked out. I was the youngest in the room, one of my colleagues who was also required to attend the next youngest - most attendees were older western men. I think the most I got out of Thai culture training was a clearer picture of the gender/age makeup of foreign English teachers in Thailand. And some Thai proverbs so full of cognitive dissonance I'm simply going to pretend I didn't hear them for now. Apparently that's how to survive in Thailand any way. Oil. Water. Brain is fried by that statement. Nod. Smile.
On Friday after the first seminar day, I embarked on my first visit to a Thai hospital to obtain a chest x-ray. I did this on my own to be sure I did not have pneumonia. Half the school has whatever this is - several students have been hospitalized (though I'm told they do precautionary hospitalization much more here). I filled out an intake form and got through triage by pointing to words in my Thai English dictionary. The doctor spoke English well enough. I went to a public hospital, not a private hospital. Bit more language barrier, but otherwise no reason not to go to the closest place for a non-emergency. Chest x-ray: 170 baht. No pneumonia, just bronchitis. I took a ziplock bag of all the medications I was taking or could possibly take to be sure (as best as I could) there would be no medication interaction for anything prescribed. The look of puzzlement on the doctor's face was priceless - you have all this medicine I don't know what else to give you! Well how about something to get this cough to stop, not just placate it? Believe it or not my main intention was not obtaining pills. She then proceeded to show me about each drug she prescribed via Google - the language barrier was a little shaky for that part. Thanks Ajarn Google. My total visit took less than two hours, I had very little waiting - and it cost me around 26 US dollars including four medications, chest x-ray and doctor's fee. Granted, my U.S. Passport and cash were my passes through. I think the most valuable part of that trip is the inhaler that is now keeping my lungs from running away to the countryside. I'll try to get to the park this weekend and out of the smog for a bit. Yes, we do have a few of those in the city still.