I first visited Thailand back in the late 1970s. I then went nearly twenty years before I returned, but only then because I had met Ploy, in Singapore, and I was visiting her, not the country as such. Neither of us particularly wanted to live here, so we spent the first years of our marriage in the UK, in Singapore and in Canada, returning to Thailand because we had some sort base here by then and as the world became increasingly xenophobic, taking advantage of the fact that Ploy is a citizen here and so has no hoops to jump through to stay and work here, and that it is relatively easy for me to get a visa to stay here; less so to work here.
And so here we are. The house is paid for, we pay each month for the car, but not a huge amount, and the living expenses are reasonable (although increasing - but that is relative of course). Soon we will have lived here five years.
It is impossible to predict the future, especially in such a volatile country as Thailand. Both of us had considerable doubts about moving here - during the happier times in Canada (the first four days) we looked at the news from the country and tutted to ourselves. But still we came and we have seen airports closed and buildings burnt down and people killed. And now we have a happy reassignment of government - or whatever they mandate we should call it this week.
Yesterday I went and helped a couple of locals clear up our rubbish area. We have noticed that our rubbish bins get emptied less frequently so they are overflowing by the time the bin men and women arrive. They seem to have a policy, as the UK did, that if it is not in the bin, or falls out of the bin, it does not get collected. So we put the remnants back into the bins, swept the area and generally tidied things up a bit. And then we complained that we had to do this - when we moved here we didn't have to do it - rubbish was collected every day.
I have just got back from a trip to Taiwan. When I got back Ploy mentioned that we had had no water - at all- for four days. Four Days! Yesterday we received our water bill but of course there was no rebate, no letter of apology. There never is but usually the water only disappears for a day or so. We have large buckets in both of our bathrooms to compensate for this shortfall, but if I had been here instead of travelling we would have reached the point where toilets could not be flushed and we couldn't shower. (It was the whole area that didn't have water so it is not as if we could go to a neighbour).
And our distant neighbour has decided he should share his karaoke with us this fine morning - and share so generously that no windows or brick walls can prevent us from enjoying his renditions. This past few months has seen an unprecedented number of new house christenings, young monks being ordained into the local temples, or just parties - all or which justify ear bleeding noise into the early hours of the morning.
There is now a real likelihood that I will overstay my visa at the end of July. This is the fault of the UK passport office who require nearly three months to renew a passport. But it is also the fault of the Thai government who force me to fill a full page up with a visa every three months and then another page with a re-entry permit with the same frequency (or I could engage in the bribery practices that LopBuri immigration ask of me to get a 12 month extension of my visa). (Of course it is not just their fault for the passport, China visas, Vietnam visas, multiple entry stamps etc. have all contributed. But apart from the inconvenience of not being able to travel for such a long period - a UK issue - it is the constant renewals of the Thai visa that mean I will have to overstay (yes, perhaps I can extend my stay here - but without a valid passport that seems questionable - or I could get an emergency travel document to renew my visa in Singapore but they will not put a visa in such a document. Or I could just leave and enter as a visitor for 30 days but then I would be working illegally).
Last year we had several offers to buy one of our products - one such offer was over one million dollars. For all sorts of reasons we refused that and the other offers. Now we find ourselves being unpaid by the customer we chose to replace those offers. Yes we have other orders in the offing, but nothing is quite coming through yet. Money issues always heighten introspection. Thailand has allowed us to weather the storms we have had with our business. In Canada or Singapore or the UK, we would never have survived because our outgoings would have been too high. Thailand allows you to make to mistakes and also doesn't judge you for making them. But it has also trapped us here. Now you have to buy your way into another country - to the tune of 65,000 pounds for a visa for Ploy to join me in the UK for example. It makes those under the table payments to LopBuri look like chicken feed. Even with the extravagance of the car, our monthly outgoings here would only sustain us for a matter of hours in the UK. We would almost certainly never get a mortgage so we would have to rent for the rest of our lives - I did that in the UK and it rarely turns out well as all landlords there are usurers.
But here we cannot get any loans either. Ploy was out of the country too long to have a credit history and we only have our own company as collateral (we will not use the house). I have no credit card - just a debit card - which often causes problems when I travel (I have to stay at the same friendly hotels who guarantee my booking without a card. Travel in the US is even more difficult where the concept of paying for things with real money has been lost to history). And every three months (or every twelve months if I swallow my pride and pack my morals into a basket for six weeks) I have to renew my visa to stay here. I am 57 this year, in three years I will not be able to get a work permit anymore (it is the official retirement age here). If I don't work we have no income - we should have used that basket to pack away my morals for good and accepted the offer of the dirty million. Whilst in Taiwan I looked at the path to permanent residency - five years - if we had chosen there to live I could be getting permanent residency at the end of this year.
And we living in an age of uncertainty. Thailand is not a country you choose if you are looking for political stability, but the recent events have brought with them a huge carpet under which everything is being shovelled. If you suppress the will of the majority, the majority will eventually react - no free football matches can compensate for lack of freedom. Ploy and I only see one outcome to all of this.
And we will be here to see that outcome. We have no choice.
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