Yesterday, HR informed me that I’d be going to the immigration office to extend my work visa. Bring a book, they said, you may be waiting a while…
We left school at 7:30am, presumably to miss the traffic. Spoiler alert: We didn’t. Thirteen miles and an hour and a half later, we arrived.
The office opened at 8:30. We arrived at 9:00. Tony, the HR rep, lined up to get our queue number (yes, you line up to line up), and emerged with the saddest face. Number 194. One hundred ninety-four.
Around 10:00, we went to check the progress of the queue. The red LED lights displayed number 20. Twenty!?!? You mean we have 173 more people ahead of us?!? This is insane! Free from sitting in the rows upon rows of seats, Tony tells us we can meet him back here at 2:00pm. He tells us about the indoor market full of food stalls and the underground food court we could walk around.
My companion, a 16 year old high school student who is a part of our school’s boarding program, and I slowly, and I mean slowly, make our way around. The market was pretty intriguing! There was the typical market fare, but there were also unique foods I’d never tried. We’d occasionally stop to watch as they prepared the food, asking questions about ingredients and preparation techniques. Almost always we were offered a sample, which I gladly took, but my picky friend did not. The coconut and black sticky rice balls were good, but not good enough for me to buy them. They were sweet, but the texture was too gooey. The curious yellow fruit I’d seen peeled and wrapped in cellophane at previous markets, yet didn’t know the name of, was there. Only this time, I saw the woman removing it from it’s large spiky exterior. A quick inquiry revealed it was jackfruit. I was offered a taste, which I took. The texture reminded me of flesh, and it had a sweet, yet slightly stinky, taste. I decided to pass on that one. I also tried rice crackers, cashew and sesame crackers (which I bought!), and pickled green mangoes, which smelled and tasted like alcohol.
Sufficiently killing time and our boredom, we headed down to the food court for lunch. My high school buddy ordered 2 double cheeseburgers and 10 chicken wings. And ate it all! I ate the PB and J I’d packed and a few fries. After a stop at 7-11 for a slurpee, we checked the time, certain it was nearly time to meet up with Tony. It was 11:19. We had successfully killed one hour and nineteen minutes. Man, this was going to be a long day.
Exhausting all the entertainment the market could provide, we sought out a place to sit and rest. I toggled between texting Shaggers, reading my book, people watching, and scribbling in my notebook. My friend watched YouTube videos and played games on his phone. Lunch break for the office came at noon, at which time they were only at number 70! Everyone was ushered out into the lobby area during the hour they are closed for lunch. Throngs of people, all dressed in black and white, sat motionless on the stools, staring into their screens as the time slowly ticked by.
As I wondered how many more hours we’d have to continue the waiting game, I noticed the hours on the door. They close at 4:30. Will we make it? Will they stay open later? Will we have to come back? Oh, please, don’t make me come back. Just as I’m wrestling with this idea of running out of time and having to do this all over again, a rather large man and his partner walk up.
He’s obviously annoyed and disgruntled to see the doors closed and the lights off. A quick look at the hours posted on the door reveals they’re on lunch break. Looking around, unsure of what to do, I reach out to him. “Yeah, they’re closed for lunch. Should be back in half an hour, but you might not want to come today. We got here at 9:00 and are number 194. They were only on 70 before lunch.” I give him a sympathetic smile.
Anger begins to set in. “But I have to get it. My visa runs out today and I am getting on a flight later, and I need my visa so I can come back into the country.”Setting his jaw, he says, “It has to happen.” I ask him when his flight is, and he says he has to be at the airport at 4:00pm, but he first needs to go home and get his luggage.
I wonder, Why did he wait until a few hours before his flight to try to do this? Will he get it in time? What happens if he doesn’t? Will he make a scene? Desperation makes you do crazy things.
Settling back into our seats by the entrance, I notice security is lax. There’s this illusion of safety, what with the metal detector and the baggage screener set up near the door, but the security guards are mostly on their phones and people just walk right in. Sometimes, when their eyes aren’t glued to their phones, they ask people to put their bags through the scanner, but other times, they don’t. It doesn’t matter though. They never look when the bags go through anyway.
Dude, I hate waiting. I wish I could take a nap. I try in vain to get comfortable on the hard plastic seat.
Restroom break time. Surprisingly, it’s decent. Not super clean, but not abhorrent like it could be. A common occurrence in Thailand, we are provided with one-ply toilet paper with which to dry our hands after washing. Tiny pieces of wet paper get stuck all over my hands. This only adds to the frustration of my day.
Now back in the rows of seats inside the office, I try to read, but the constant ding followed by the robotic-sounding voice calling out the next number in the queue interrupts my flow.
At 3:30, they are only at number 137. Fifty-four more to go. And they close in an hour. Let the nail-biting commence. And the annoyance continue to fester.
On a positive note, I got some mango sticky rice for a snack. The mango wasn’t very ripe, so it wasn’t amazing, but it was good enough to quell my grumbling tummy and take up a bit of time.
Throughout the day, we’d run into familiar faces as we trod along, all of us in on this shared experience, never to see one another again. One in particular was a couple…well, were they a couple? I couldn’t exactly tell. The young man, who couldn’t have been more than 24, was handsome in that boyish, he-knows-he’s-handsome kind of way. Dressed in a fitted suit, red tie, and blue paisley pocket square, his hair perfectly in place, he had an air of arrogance about him. I caught his accent briefly. Definitely not American. British perhaps? I’m not entirely sure. He strode confidently, followed quickly by a young Thai woman, at least a foot shorter than him, cute, hair in a ponytail, and wearing a brown velvet dress and sneakers. She was obviously in love with him, or at least infatuated. She had all the tell-tale signs…laughing at all his jokes, gazing up at him with eyes a sparkle, and lightly touching his arm every chance she could. He certainly wasn’t bothered by it, but he never touched her. That’s why I don’t think they were a couple.
Coming up on 4:30, the crowd thinning, seats emptying, people break free of the imprisonment we have all found ourselves in today. Tony tells us they’re going to keep working past closing time so we will be seen today. Hallelujah! Trying to unsuccessfully distract myself with my book, I am fidgety, wanting this day to end.
Finally, at 5:15, my number is called! A brief interaction with the immigration officer, a few signatures, and a photo later, I’m done. Or so I think. Nope, I now have to wait on my passport.
At 6:00, we load into the van, headed back to our area of town. By this time, I’m hangry. I just want food. Real food. And I want a massage and a shower. And I need to slice. Climbing into the back, I try to lay down, but sleep eludes me.
I finally arrive at 7:15pm. Nearly 12 hours after we left this morning. Such a waste of a day. Relieved it’s over, I get some Kao Soi for dinner and a quick massage on my leg, where I’m certain I pulled a muscle. If I never have to do that again, it’d be too soon.