I was looking at a friend's photos on Facebook. Photos of temples and trees and waterfalls. We have them here too, lots of them, especially the former. But for some reason these photos brought out a nostalgic feeling in me. Maybe it was the mist on the water, the coolness apparent from the clothes, the emptiness.
Next month will be the fourth anniversary of us moving to Thailand, the longest we have lived in a country together. Two years in the UK, three years each in Singapore and Canada, and now here. Most of that four years has been spent working seven day weeks as we try to get our business established. We feel we are on the cusp of something but we have felt that before and nothing came of it. There is more reason to feel optimistic this time but we are not breaking out the champagne yet (not that I like champagne). Work and no play taints your view of a country.
Last week I finally went into Saraburi to replace my debit card. It had almost split and with three more business trips likely in September it was not likely to stand up a vigorous swiping. Now I remembered from before that I had to authorize the card to use it for Internet purchases, but I couldn't remember how to do it. But when I asked at the bank they said I didn't need to. Unconvinced, when I got home I rang the number on the back of the card but there was no option for authorizing the card, so I spoke with someone who didn't understand the question and put me back in the queue to increase my daily limit (which was useful but not what I wanted). So I asked Ploy to call for me and this time she got through to someone who knew what I wanted - and reminded me it was done via the bank's website (after you call another number to get an authorization code). So it is done. But why did the bank not tell me to do this (in fact they seem blissfully unaware of this requirement). Why did the first customer advisor I spoke with know nothing about this. It is a silly thing isn't it, but it wasted a few hours that didn't need to be wasted. And I could go on about the fact that I still can't get a credit card which makes me persona non grata in places like the US (but not so much an issue in Asia). But I always have to be prepared with sufficient cash for the hotel that does not accept the card.
It is the weight of the little things, they accumulate and eat away at you. Little things that could so easily be corrected. Am I the only person in Thailand that uses my debit card on-line, or do they refuse to tell me because I am a foreigner.
We don't argue much, in fact hardly at all. But if we do it is usually Ploy getting frustrated at me ranting on about something that neither I or she can change. Why couldn't our accountant tell us how much tax our company had to pay for last year. It is not like we have a thousand invoices a day going out. Money in minus money out times the tax rate. Just to give us an idea what bill we can expect. But no, she can't do that reports Ploy. So we wait for two months not knowing if it was millions or thousands of baht we would owe. A little worry, a niggle that could so easily be salved. But wasn't. And after four years and two accountants we have never had this information. So why don't we do our own books. Because auditors will not accept the books from anyone other than accountants, so we could do the bookkeeping ourselves but we would still have to pay an accountant to do nothing so we could get audited.
In the four years we have lived here only twice can I remember having people spray to kill mosquitoes. This year is one of the highest death rates for dengue fever for a long time: our neighbour was in hospital for a week with the disease. It was even mentioned on the news. So you would think some preventative measures would be taken, but no. This year there has been nothing. Despite the attempt to increase the service charge for our estate by a magnitude nothing has been seen. Money trickles down from the government, each layer taking their cut and by the time it got to us I guess there wasn't enough left to pay for the mosquito killers. Or maybe they just didn't think it was worth the bother.
Next month Ploy has her needless court case. We don't know the outcome, it is far from cut and dried. There is no doubt it is worrying her as evidenced by her more frequent visits to fortune tellers and monks. It is tempting to laugh it off but you can't do that here where this type of case is a way of life for politicians and government officials, a way of controlling the opposition and your opponents. It doesn't matter how ridiculous the claim, you have to be able to defend it. Prison is a very real outcome of this if Ploy loses. And you keep telling yourself 'how can she lose such a ridiculous trumped up charge'; I can't answer that, but she could.
Niggles. Eating away. Is this the country we are to see out our days. If it isn't then where is. Money is a big factor of course. As countries draw up their drawbridges options become more limited. But the ASEAN integration in 2005 is not a good thing for Thailand. It is just not prepared for it and doing almost nothing to prepare for it. With free movement of workers, with Thailand's poor English language skills even against countries such as Myanmar, they can only lose out. The problem with that is Thailand is currently in recession and no-one foresaw that (here or abroad) and no-one seems to know exactly why. It is predicted that the country will recover in the next quarter, by the same people that failed to predict the recession. If you had to choose the most unlikely people to get you out of a recession, well we have them in government now. They are busy organizing a reconciliation summit, inviting world leaders of the status of Tony Blair, to come and help the split in this country. A man that started a unnecessary war because god told him to. That is going to work out well.
The red shirt/yellow shirt split is a festering sore. There is no solution to it as it is so deep rooted in society. Corruption here is so deep rooted, so accepted it will never be stopped. But a split in society that has already led to the deaths of hundreds can only get worse if the country stays in recession, as people lose their jobs. As people lose their jobs to foreigners that they cannot stop coming into the country. I am a foreigner here. It won't matter that you pay taxes (and my neighbours do not), that I contribute to charities, try to integrate into Thai society, I stick out like a sore thumb. How long will it be before we get bricks through the window.
Should we wait for this to happen, as it surely will. Few countries are as xenophobic as Thailand. Foreigners skip along the surface of society here, never being able to own land or get permanent residency, (at least not in the structured way it can be done in other countries), let alone citizenship. Three monthly immigration reporting or three monthly visa runs - for life. A work permit that ceases once I reach sixty, (which also means I lose the health care). An inability to own my own company. Of course I knew all of this before I came here. We have legally managed some things, such as the house being in our company's name so if anything happens to Ploy I am not on the street. Some things we can't manage hence my return to three monthly visa runs to Singapore.
I feel a disquiet in me. I look at those photos on Facebook and I can feel the cool mist on my face, the perfect cleanliness of it all with no piles of rubbish scattered along the pavements. Unspoiled. Quiet.
But where would we go. No country wants an old self-employed man. Maybe China? Maybe Taiwan? Maybe, dare I say it, the UK?
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