They never go away.
Thailand never makes you feel settled. I had a nice e-mail comment from a friend about an old diary entry this morning. I searched back to re-read it but instead came across the entries for a year ago. Things were a bit rough then as we had little money and no orders. As it turned out we didn't get any orders of substance for several months. It is in times like that you tend to look at yourself but also elsewhere, especially if you are not living in the country of your birth, but living in country that we sort of arrived at by accident. It is no surprise then to find I had written about moving to Singapore and had even contacted a company there about establishing a company and getting a work permit for us. But we decided that was a backward step; we owned our house here, we had no money but no debts, we would weather the storm. And we did.
But a year later, after a very good three months at the end of last year, we find things are getting tight again. Only this time we have 8 serious enquiries and we have recently had two orders, small but nice, but each could lead to something much bigger. Next week I travel to China to visit a company there which could also bring about a big order. But the US company I visited have gone quiet. The gamble in visiting them hasn't paid off, yet. They are still evaluating, so they say, but I think it has gone cold. All that time and money wasted, to say nothing of the effort spent vomiting on the American Airlines plane.
It is not coincidental that today is my ninety reporting at Lop Buri immigration; a pointless procedure the Thai government insist on for all aliens to keep us in our place. 2-3 hours, longer if they are busy, of pointlessness. And it always seems to arrive when you least need it - in this case when I am frantically trying to get everything ready for next week's trip.
Yesterday Ploy was in Bangkok trying to get my China visa. I have visited China before, the last time when we first arrived in Thailand. That time the application was straightforward, just a form and an invitation letter and a photo and my passport and some baht was all I remember taking. The only hitch was they said I couldn't get a multiple entry visa because I didn't have a work permit. So before Chinese New Year Ploy went down to the embassy armed with all the above plus my work permit. But no, they wanted more this time. Letters from SingMai confirming my employment (even though Ploy, the managing director of my employer, was standing in front of them). And it didn't stop there, company registration documents, Ploy's tabien baan (her house book - but she was not traveling!); we gave in. New Year was approaching so we postponed the trip until after the celebrations.
So armed with everything we could think off Ploy applied again and this time it was accepted. But only a single entry visa despite my 2 year validity work permit. You need a letter from the Chinese government to get a multiple entry visa, Ploy was told. What! The company I am visiting are a large company, established in China for decades. Their CEO has signed my invitation letter. But no, now I need a personal invitation from the Chinese government to visit. Unfortunately I am not on first name terms with Wen Jiabao so bollocks to that.
It may be the Chinese embassy but the people behind the glass are Thais. And Thais in a position of power, at least in their eyes. And of course they do have power, to reject or accept your visa application or at the very least make life difficult for you. And they love to weild that power. That is especially so when the China embassy website has no information on the requirements for a visa. When I used to renew my Thai non-B visa in Singapore I could visit the Thai embassy website and get a clear list of the requirements. Provide them and the nice Singaporeans behind the glass granted your visa. But with no published guidelines the Thais at the Chinese embassy can interpret how they wish. And they do. And not just there but also at Lop Buri immigration or the local amphur (district office) or at the Labour office; (actually the latter are pretty consistent and do have a list of requirements - in Thai only for a work permit that only foreigners need).
Last week our electricity went off. It is not so unusual but this time it didn't come back within the hour. As the evening approached I decided to go out to eat. Ploy was in Bangkok again and I couldn't be bothered to make something myself. But as I left the house I noticed the street lamps were coming on. Strange, I thought. I returned to the house and checked the trips but all seemed OK. Next door were also out, as were the people opposite. Luckily it was at this point that Ploy came home. Who do we call, I asked? Do we have a number for the electricity people. We didn't, but next door did, scrawled on their little plastic container that hangs on the gate that they put the bill into. They answered and said they would check. A short while later a lorry arrived, from the electricity company. They fiddled with our meter and the electricity magically came back. The next day they replaced our meter, at our expense (800 baht on next month's bill) and with a scolding that we shouldn't use our air conditioning because that is what burnt out the meter. Bollocks again. Good service, so I thought, tempered with an unnecessary comment that diminishing the feel good factor of the quick service.
It is the little things that wear you away. And they are heightened because we are trying to run a business here. If, instead of trying to finish a product, I was reading a book and the electricity went off. Well I could sit outside on the balcony and read there, or if too dark I could take Pinky for a walk or sit in a restaurant that did have power. But I wasn't reading a book. I was trying to finish something so I could send it to the customer and invoice for it and get paid for it. And try telling a customer, I am sorry, I didn't send the product yesterday because the power failed, or the Internet was down again, or because someone was having a party with 'music' loud enough to make your ears bleed. It doesn't wash.
I won't apply for permanent residency here. OK, I shouldn't say won't. But I can't handle the bureaucracy and although Ploy buffers me from most of it the PR application is more about me. Like the interview for example. I doubt they will let Ploy sit in for me. And can I bring myself to learn the national anthem - no is the answer to that. I don't know the British anthem except the first line so why make an exception. And if I learn it perfectly I bet some bureaucrat will tell me it is wrong because they have their own version and they make the rules. Go away and learn my version they will say, but I won't tell you what that is; you guess.
Singapore, that nagging doubt, is not an option. The revolt has begun. It is always the quiet ones. No here we will stay come hell or high water. We have already had the high water and we will have hell if Thaksin returns, which he will. That is why Ploy is looking for land in Pak Chong to build our factory. Far from the madding crowds. Far from the Thai bureaucrats. Just the three of us and those doubts.
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