I thought that our move to Thailand at the beginning of January would provide me with much blog material. Much is different here, of course, and difference and contrast can lead to an awareness of the wonders of cross-cultural experiences.. I already wrote about the driving and traffic habits, but of course the differences go much further. The university hierarchy is different (why does Bangkok and the central government get involved in classes we offer?), there was a snake out in front of our apartment the other day (didn’t hurt us), the students at the university all wear uniforms, and I only have six students in my statistics class, and they are from four different countries (Thailand, Finland, France, USA, and two from Myanmar). What are the stories of the bar girls we walk past, and is it true that most are from neighboring poorer countries like Myanmar/Burma? And then this morning, I dealt with they guys installing screens in our house—something that our landlord didn’t want to pay for, even though our apartment building is located in the middle of a swamp. All kind of mixed observations, without conclusions.
And then today, I was sent to the Labor Office with a think sheaf of papers, and directions to a “warehouse” out in the middle of nowhere. I went there so that I could file for my Work Permit. A Work Permit is something that all foreigners need to file within 90 days of arrival, and it is of course a reminder that we are different, and here only with the permission of the Thai government. The paperwork has to do with my employer demonstrating that they are making efforts to find Thai people to fill my position. Thailand has millions of immigrants–most of the from Myanmar and Cambodia who work in factories, construction, and the sex trade. All of them must deal with the bureaucracy of the Labor office, too by either ignoring it and going underground, or by dealing with the paperwork and fees that my employer does.
As with many immigration facilities around the world, the immigration office was poorly marked. This one was also up on the third floor of a warehouse which otherwise had nothing to do with immigration. I trudged up there and was confronted with a crowded roomful of people, all with a slip of paper patiently waiting their turn for a turn with the clerks at the desk. The Thai official organizing the room, without examining my passport, noticed that I am um, white. And he motioned me toward a back room. I dutifully walked past all the Burmese, Khmer, and followed his order. This after all is what you do in an immigration situation—do what you’re told, after all you are not in charge! Anyway I rounded the corner, and there they were—five clerks all waiting patiently for people to bring them labor forms, proving that they were needed in Thailand’s labor force. I dutifully handed the clerk my forms, he smiled, and we ended up chatting a bit while he thumbed through my forms to make sure they were complete. He then charged me three dollars for the process,provided me a receipt for the money, and instructed me to come back in a week to pick up my Work Permit.
And this is how my days in Thailand are going. There are stories to tell, but so far few conclusions to be drawn, which makes writing blogs difficult. What conclusions are there to be drawn? I don’t know—which is of course what organizes a good blog. What is the significance of having only six students in my statistics class? I don’t know. Are there going to be more snakes to see? I don’t know. Is our landlord being unusually cheap by not providing us with screens? I don’t know. And why did I get some much privilege (if being required to go to the Labor Office in the first place can be called privilege) at the labor office? And what about all those Burmese and Khmer, who are they? To be honest, I don’t even know who they were or why they were there–are they construction, agricultural or even sex workers looking for a Work Permit to?. I’m just kind of muddling through—without conclusions, at least yet. And as conclusions are drawn, and stories begin to have endings, I will be writing more.