Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sleepless in Bangkok

Bangkok isn't all temples and glittering spires.

It's a bizarre mix of brutal concrete and glitzy commercialism...

...but it can be cheap and cheerful and surprisingly human at times.

I always thought that retirement was going to be easy. You just sit around and watch the telly and eat too much food.

Like hell it is! Sometimes it can be horrendous.

We’ve just done the nine hour bus journey from the village to Bangkok and arrived at our grubby room in Sukhumvit Soi 71 at four in the morning. One of the objectives was to arrange reprinting of THAI GIRL and MY THAI GIRL AND I as stocks are low, but the first job was to move flats, to pack up a horrific accumulation of six years of stuff and move to our new place in Sukhumvit Soi 97.

A very tolerant taxi driver stowed a mountain of bags and we went and paid the deposit, signed the agreement and got the keys to our new room on the eighth floor of the nicely named ‘Romance Mansion’. Built I think as a hotel, it’s all very decent with polished granite corridors and everything as neat and clean as the old place was disgusting.

While I was to go back to the hospital the next day, Cat faced the major job of hiring a pickup and transporting the rest of our furniture, boxes and a small stock of books to Soi 97. I won’t bore you with details but having several family members in attendance as always, there were now five of us living in a room full of boxes (this is Thailand and that’s normal!) but yes, it’s been challenging.

Then we went to Tesco which is close by and bought a new TV which supplied Cat with her principle necessity in life and slowly we began to sort things out.

We also bought a new blender/liquidizer which is still my main necessity in life. Sadly when I went to the hospital to have the wiring in my broken jaw removed, things didn’t work out. On releasing the rubber ties which keep my jaw firmly closed, my mouth opened for the first time in a month but my jaw sagged sideways and my teeth wouldn’t meet or bite properly. The jaw seemed to be displaced just as it was after the accident.

Unlike me, the surgeon didn’t seem to be too alarmed and told me the bindings would have to be on for at least another two weeks so we are now staying in Bangkok until I go back to see him again. This was quite a shock and a big set back as I thought it should now be healed, but I shall lower my expectations and be prepared for the long haul.

Having one’s jaw broken and being unable to eat or speak is nothing though to the ghastly trauma of applying for a British tourist visa.

I very much want to take Cat with me to see family in England this summer. Back in the village I’d spent the best part of a week scanning the three different websites that contain the necessary info on applying for visas, putting together and copying the papers and filling in the application form. Having done this four times before and as paperwork should be second nature for a lawyer it should have been easy, but it wasn’t.

For example, there was ambiguity about which application form should be used. I went to the original laws that underly the process and I three times emailed the Embassy help line but got no clear resolution of the problem. So I filled in both forms to cover ourselves. It is all so very, very complex.

While the visa form for the Schengen countries of Europe is just two sides, the British form is like a book and asks ninety three questions such as ‘how much money do you, (the applicant) give to your relatives?’ and ‘are you a terrorist?’.

Anyway, we spent a long and horrible morning submitting the application and maybe I’ll tell the full story later when we’ve waited the estimated fifteen days for our case to be processed.

Right now my point is that here am I, a sixty two year old law abiding, tax paying citizen married to my Thai wife of six years who is not a terrorist desperately wanting to be able to take her to see family and friends in England and I’m as anxious as hell. We've been there together three times before and she didn't overstay but nothing is ever open and shut. The Embassy can make us wait weeks for an interview if they have any queries and they have an absolute discretion to refuse the visa… and it’ll be all my fault for getting the papers wrong.

Our flights are booked, the timing arranged with the folks back home but it could all get totally screwed up. I can tell you that I have not slept well for the last couple of weeks because of this and what with trying not to die of starvation because I cannot open my mouth it has been a busy and difficult time.

Do I by law have a universal human right to family life?

In theory I do but I can tell you it ain’t easy to assert it. Retirement abroad can at times be challenging.

On the other hand, if I were alone and retired in England there wouldn’t be three noisy young females sleeping in my bedroom at night keeping me awake and I’d bored out of my mind.

At least living here with Cat there’s never a dull moment.

Copyright: Andrew Hicks The ‘Thai Girl’ Blog March 2009


Camille said...

Good luck with the duration of your stay in Bangkok and your jaw being unwired!

Brunty said...

Sorry to hear about the jaw. Only two weeks more. I hope that will go fast for you.

My friend just got a visa for his partner for the UK and it was harrowing for them as they to had travelled back before but this time was for good.

He is heading home and going back to university so the wait was killing them but they got great news eventually.

I hope the jaw mends well and in two weeks is like new. I am sure Joke and pureed food must be getting boring.

What's drinking beer through a straw like?

Thai family together, especially young girls is always interesting and never dull.

To see girls so entranced in Thai TV and then when an ad comes on launch into conversations is always entertaining.

Thai Girl said...

Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate your thoughts and support.

Life has it's inevitable ups and downs and I have no complaints at that.

What is distressing is when the downs are unnecessary and n this I include the arrogant paralysis of the visa phenomenon.

I's not only the Brits. I want to take Cat to see friends in France but the French Embassy in Bangkok requires a prior apointment even to apply. The on-line booking system could only offer us an appointment months ahead when we will not be here.

Do they not want tourists?

We took five hours to submit our British visa application but at least that's better than a wait of months.


Lloyd said...

I would say the UK Visa application is not that bad given the freedom, and length of travel it offers. Using the online application and appointment scheduling and with the right documentation and honest answers you can be done in an hour one day and a lot less time the day of your appointment, and best of all their processing time is pretty much down to days, not weeks.

Thai Girl said...

Thanks for your suggestion Lloyd. In future I should try the appointment and online application system... if we know when we'll be in Bangkok and if my internet connection can cope with it.

Yes, the standard six month visa is generous in comparison with Schengen's three months.

They say visas are processed in three to five days but in fact at the moment it's three weeks as we discovered to our dismay. I dread to think how long it takes if they then ask for an interview. That would really screw up all our plans.

Much of the complexity is of their own making though, which rarely contributes to good immigration policy.

The quality of decision making at the Bangkok Embassy is poor in my view. The Independent Monitor noted with dismay that some officers refuse more than twice as many applications as others and the Embassy's reply was unconvincing.


BritinBangkok said...

The British Embassy in Bangkok is horrendous. I've never had a problem at the US Embassy, but the British Embassy staff should all be fired. They make me ashamed to be British.

Good luck with the jaw and, if you aren't already, start taking tons of Vitamin C. It always sounds far-fetched but my fiance (years ago!) was deathly ill in the hospital with nothing healing. I started feeding him 30,000 mg of Vit C every day and within 5 days he was well enough to go home. Doctor couldn't believe it, even when I told him about the Vit C. Said he should have been dead!

David said...

Stumbled upon your blog and read about your troubles with your jaw.
Sorry to hear about that and trust all will be well soon.