I’m at the Phuket Immigration office. My three-month visa’s about to expire, and I need to extend it by another month.
I had called weeks in advance to ensure a painless process.
“Yes, you can extend it for another thirty days,” I was told. “You just need two passport photos and an application form.”
I made sure to get to the office in the late morning to give myself plenty of time. A man at the entrance checks my documents before letting me in.
“Oh, you have the Non-Immigrant Education Visa? You can only extend by seven days,” he informs me, passing my papers back to me.
“Seven days?? But I called, and I was told I could extend it for thirty days!”
He shrugs and points me towards a counter.
There is an older woman seated inside handing out application forms. She checks my passport and hands me the right form.
“How long can I extend this visa for?” I ask her, in a panic.
“Thirty days,” she tells me.
“I was just told it was seven days…”
“Nope, you can extend it for thirty days.”
Relief washes over me. After filling out my form, I go back to the woman, but now there is a Thai man seated in her place. He takes a look at my documents in the painstakingly slow manner that seems typical of government bureaucrats around the world.
“You can’t extend this visa,” he tells me.
“What??? I was JUST told by three people that I could extend it, including the person who was sitting here ten minutes ago!”
He looks up at me with annoyance. I am a fly to be swatted out of the way so he can get on with his day.
“Well, you can’t.”
He thinks for a second.
“OK, you can try over there and see if they will let you extend it…” He points me to a room down the hallway.
I go down to the designated room to plead my case. About eight Thai staff are inside, all meticulously ignoring me. There are no other clients in the room.
“Excuse me…” I walk over to the nearest girl, who looks like she’d rather be flaying a live horse than helping a foreigner with visa troubles.
I spend the next few minutes explaining what just happened. She listens carefully, and when I’m done, she turns to the man seated behind her.
“Afaskdfslethsdlkessedfss!” she shouts, saying something in Thai.
The man reluctantly comes over to sit in front of me and the girl runs away. I realize then that she speaks no English. She allowed me to prattle on for six minutes with comprehending a word.
I again explain my situation to this older man. He is rotund, round-faced, and dressed in a formal suit. He seems capable of making only one facial expression: sheer boredom.
He glances at my documents and shakes his head. “You can’t extend your visa just like that. It requires a lot of paperwork. You need some documentation from your school.”
“Ok… what documents do you need? I will call up Tiger Muay Thai, my school, and ask them.”
“You can’t just call them – it will take a lot of time. When does your visa expire?”
“You should have come in here earlier,” he laughs in disbelief. “You won’t have enough time to get all the documents you need,” he says.
Oh my god, this is the Thai version of Debbie Downer…
“I called weeks ago!” I exclaim in frustration. “I was told that this was all I needed. And so far, four people here have given me different information.”
“You didn’t speak to the right people then.”
“Who should I have spoken to?”
“You should have called the office phone number.”
“I did – I just told you I called the office!”
No, you didn’t,” he insists, calmly denying actual facts.
“Yes, I did!”
I am arguing with a child. I expect him to counter with, “I am rubber, you are glue. Anything you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”
I channel my nearly non-existent inner calm. “Well, can you tell me what I need? I’ll try to get the documents now.”
Thai Debbie Downer shakes his head again. “Call your school – they will know.”
“Can’t you just tell me now, so there are no misunderstandings?”
“No, I am so busy,” he says, and goes back to sitting at his desk in the completely empty office.
I call the main office at Tiger and they put me in touch with the woman who handles visa issues, Guggig. She assures me that she is on it and will have everything done within half an hour.
I tell this to Thai Debbie Downer, and he again shakes his head. “They won’t be able to get everything that quickly…”
I want to punch this guy.
True to her word, Guggig sends me everything within half an hour.
“What e-mail address should I send these documents to?” I ask.
Thai Debbie Downer seems to have forgotten that I’m still sitting here.
“You can’t e-mail them,” he tells me patronizingly. “They all need to be original documents, I told you.”
“What??? You never told me that!”
“Yes, I did…”
“Then why would I still be sitting here???”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I don’t know why you’re here, you won’t get all of the documents in time…”
“What documents???” I scream. I know it’s probably not smart to scream at someone who will determine whether you will be allowed to stay in their country. But my options right now are to scream at him, or throw my coffee at him, so I go with the former option because I don’t want to go be arrested for assault with a beverage and thrown into a Thai jail.
He sighs, the burden of answering my questions so heavy on his large shoulders. “I don’t have time to tell you, your school should know…”
“This is ALL they’ve sent me,” I said, pointing to the e-mail opened up on my phone. “Clearly my school doesn’t know, if these documents aren’t adequate.”
“Then you need to find a Thai person. A Thai person will know what you need…”
“EVERYONE WHO WORKS AT TIGER MUAY THAI IS A THAI PERSON!!!” I yell.
“Then they should know…”
I close my eyes, waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out and yell, “You’ve been PUNK’D!” We’d then have a real laugh about the absurdity of this circular argument, and how well-developed and authentically awful the character of Thai Debbie Downer was.
“Help me help you!” I plead. “Tell me what I need so I can at least try to get everything. I still have time…”
Thai Debbie Downer shakes his head, yet again. It seems to be the only movement his head can make. “That’s not my job, I’m too busy…”
“How are you busy??? I’m the only client here!”
“I have paperwork to do…”
“There are no papers!!!” I say, pointing to the empty desk. “You work at a visa office – if your job isn’t to help people with their visas, what is your job???”
The other workers studiously inspect the lint on their clothes or play on their phones, ignoring the confrontation unfolding before them.
He sighs again, like every word and movement causes him excruciating pain. He ambles over to his desk, opens a drawer, and hands me a sheet of paper in Thai.
“Here is everything you need.”
“Do you have a copy in English?”
“No… and I’m not a translator. Get someone at your school to read it, I don’t have time to explain it,” he says, already bored again.
Breathe breathe breathe…
“So if I bring this to my school’s office and get originals of these documents, and bring them back here before closing time, you will extend my visa?” I ask.
“Sure,” he replies amicably. “But you’ll never get all of them in time!”
I will likely commit a felony before this day is over.
I get on my scooter and drive as fast as possible back to the Tiger office. I run into the visa coordinator’s office, shaky and out of breath.
Guggig must be used to seeing sweaty fighters come through all the time, so she’s unperturbed by the red-faced girl having a nervous breakdown in her doorway.
“INEEDYOURHELPTOGETTHESEDOCUMENTSORELSETHAIDEBBIEDOWNERWON’TEXTENDMYVISAANDI’LLBEKICKEDOUTOFTHAILAND!!!!” I yell.
She looks over the sheet I hand her and frowns.
“Hmmm… I don’t understand what some of these things are…”
Guggig picks up the phone. She and Thai Debbie Downer speak for about ten minutes. She doesn’t say much, but nods seriously every now and then. I can hear the sound of his bored monotone on the other line.
When she hangs up, she looks at me with the pitying eyes of a girlfriend about to initiate a break-up. I can already see that she’s about to disappoint me.
“So one of the documents they need is this special license. But we don’t have that kind of license… So they won’t be able to extend this visa.”
“Ok…” I sigh. “What do you think I should do?” I have already resigned myself to the fact that I will likely be deported.
“Honestly? Just leave the country and come back in on a tourist visa. You can go to Myanmar…”
“Alright,” I say. I mentally process how I’ll make this work, with my teaching schedule and the fact that my visa expires in three days.
“You know,” Guggig says, “I’ve talked to that guy several times before. He knows that we don’t have that kind of license, so we’re not able to extend the Non-Immigrant Education Visa. I don’t know why he didn’t just tell you that right at the beginning…”
I am having a rage attack right now. Thai Debbie Downer just wasted three hours of my life and almost provoked me into committing a felony.
“I’m going to kill this guy…”
I run out of the office and drive to the nearest tour operator on the street. There are visa runs scheduled, but only for tomorrow or Wednesday. I hit up four other agencies, but I’m told the same thing at each place. I have classes scheduled for Saturday morning, which I’d need to cancel.
But this is the only way… Wednesday is too late. I book the visa run leaving tomorrow morning, then cancel my classes.
“Are you sure you want to cancel these classes?” the app prompts me.
No, I’m not sure…
I message my climbing partner, who I was going to go bouldering with on Saturday.
“I can’t go to the gym tomorrow. I have to leave the country!”
Everything is set. I am ready for an impromptu day trip to Myanmar…
To be continued…
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