Letters from Thailand











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I just joined a Facebook group called ‘You Know You’re From Devon When…” which mentioned Gus Honeybun, the rabbit, who should be familar to everyone born in the 70s and 80s who lived in the South West. It was a 5-minute show at tea-time where the presenter (the legendary Ian Stirling is pictured here) would read out birthday cards to the lucky select few, and Gus would do bunny-hops (one for each year) wink (ditto) or if you were REALLY lucky, press the magic button which changed the colours of the scenery (if you were REALLY, REALLY lucky, it would be the RAINBOW button!) Even the most boisterous kids parties came to a standstill at this time, when parcels having been passed and gallons of fizzy pop (orange or lemon?) consumed, everyone would sit, with baited breath around the TV to see if their host was one of the chosen ones.

Obviously, there was a limited amount of time, so not every card could be read. I think I managed to tally up two birthdays altogether, no magic button though, just bunny-hops for me, most disappointing. And, of course, there was an unwritten etiquette on how to behave, especially if you weren’t one of the lucky ones. In this case, any reaction at all would be regarded with utter disdain by your peers. In fact, I remember attending a classmate’s birthday party one year and the birthday girl broke down in tears and had a tantrum that the wondrous anniversary of her birth had not been read out on live TV (can’t remember her name, but the look of her face creasing is imprinted on my memory, in minute detail). The rest of us sniggered silently, rolled eyes at one another and ignored her for nearly the whole year. We started to speak to her again in the run up to her next birthday, ensuring (we hoped) an invitation to a repeat performance of brattishness. Not a chance. Her parents decided it would be much better to take her, and a couple of her less bitchy friends, to the cinema instead. Things changed when you reached the age of 12 or 13 (the upper age limit, if I remember correctly), your family sent in a card, and your name was read out. That was enough to ensure that you endured the worst teenage years EVER. No one ever forgot that. I still bear the scars!

 

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{October 11, 2007}   A Brush with the Inquisition

I’ve just returned from Hong Kong, which was great. I stayed with an old friend from way back, met up with a couple of others, ate some great seafood, drank some cool cocktails and generally had a wonderful time.

The main reason for going there was to renew my visa at the Thai Embassy. That was not so wonderful. It seems that the Gestapo are alive and well and working in the Thai Embassy in Hong Kong. What had previously been a simple, stress-free experience in the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, turned into an interrogation.

The first indication that things were not going to go as smoothly as before came on the Sunday evening I arrived. Over a few Sauv Blancs, I was telling my friend that my plan for the next day was to get up early and get to the embassy, leaving the rest of the day free for fun stuff. She then informed me that it was a public holiday in HK, and that the embassy would be closed. Whoops! Rather than panic, we just sank a few more wines and spent the whole of the next day (and night) doing fun stuff (a bottle of Veuve, a couple of lychee martinis and – for old time’s sake – vodka red bulls in Insomnia. Suffice to say that sitting around waiting in the embassy the following day was an even less attractive prospect than it had been the day before.

So, I arrive on time at the embassy, slightly worse for wear, but ready to be all smiles as I flirtily requested a fast-track application as my flight to Bangkok was the following morning. The exchange went as follows:

Me: Good morning. I’m here to apply for my visa. Here is the paperwork you require. I’m ever so sorry that I wasn’t aware that….

Embassy Man: Fill in this form.

(I go off to fill in form, asking official-looking lady at information desk if I can borrow her pen. Answer: No. This is my only pen, and I am using it. Finally ask another applicant if I can borrow her pen, she graciously lends it to me. I return to EM)

Me: OK, here is the form. I’m ever so sorry that I wasn’t aware that yesterday was a public holiday here….

EM: Be quiet. I am looking at your papers.

(A bit of shuffling)

EM: Where is the xyz form you need?

Me: I’m sorry, what form is that? I wasn’t aware I needed one. I didn’t need one the last time.

EM: New regulations.

Me: Since when?

EM: Since May.

Me: But the last time I went was in July.

EM: You need the paper. Wait. I will speak to my Supervisor. Sit!

(I sit and observe a dodgy looking bloke incoherently explaining to his Embassy Person about how his girlfriend stole his passport somewhere in the North of Thailand. He had a new one and was now going back to look for her despite the fact he did not know her full name, address AND had overstayed by 2 years! Good luck, mate!)

20 minutes later, the Supervisor (previously known as the”I don’t lend my pen to anyone lady”) arrives, beckoning me into an office where there is a suspicious looking spotlight shining from the ceiling and a rack in the corner (OK, so I made that last bit up).

IDLMPTAL: Why do you have all these stamps in your passport?
Me: Well, I used to work in Thailand, then I went back to the UK for a couple of years. My job back then involved a lot of overseas travel, so that’s why there are so many stamps.

IDLMPTAL: Are you working at the moment?

Me: No. I’m applying for a job and waiting for my work permit to be processed.

IDLMPTAL: Did you have a work permit when you were there before?

Me: Of course.

IDLMPTAL: How long was it for? (Translation – I’m going to trip you up if it’s the last think on earth that I do)

Me: The same as every work permit – one year and then renewable after that (right answer – do I win a prize now?)

IDLMPTAL: OK. This time I will give you the visa. (Undertone – don’t ever come here and bother me again, I’m busy taking care that my pen doesn’t get borrowed or stolen.)

Me: Thank you so much. By the way, I wasn’t aware that yesterday was a public holiday here. My flight is tomorrow, so is there any way my visa could possibly be fast-tracked? I’d be ever so grateful.

IDLMPTAL: No. It’s not fair on other people. You must change your flight.

Me: But, that’s not possible. My flight is not changeable (a white lie, but what do they know)

IDLMPTAL: Then there is nothing we can do to help you.

Me: OK, OK. I’ll come back tomorrow.

IDLMPTAL: Now take another number and join the queue. My colleague needs to check your documents again.

I wait another 15 minutes, during which time I decide to try again for a fast-track.

Me: I’m so sorry I wasn’t aware that yesterday was a public holiday here. My flight is tomorrow, so is there any way my visa could possibly be fast-tracked? I’d be ever so grateful.

EM: No.

Me: Come on, a little act of random kindness is good for the soul, you know.

EM: No. Come back tomorrow.

I decide I’m probably pushing my luck and go back the next day. Luckily, the powers that be in Hong Kong have the foresight to open check in desks at the airport express station, so you don’t have to go all the way there and miss your flight. Other cities, take note.



et cetera