"I said a hip hop a hippy hippy hop to the hip hip hop and you don’t stop”
The Sugar Hill Gang
“Do you like jumping through hoops?” His question concerned me as we were sitting in the visa waiting room of The Royal Thai Embassy of Tokyo. It was the gleam in his eye, the way he started the conversation without the typical lead-ins that people so like.
“Not really. Why?” I was looking up at the counter indicating that I was now only five desperate souls with their futures in their handful of paperwork away from submitting my application for a tourist visa. I should backtrack at this point to mention what I needed to submit to get a tourist visa: a letter of employment (no independently wealthy travelers allowed) two just-so-sized photographic images of yours truly, a round-trip airline ticket with fixed return date (open jaw tickets strictly verboten) paid in full, and me trusty passport with at least six months validity (why? you only issued me a single entry visa anyway, it’s only good for two months without one trip to an immigration office, and then it’s good for all of three months if I’m lucky). All of this to get a visa that I could have pretty much gotten by just hauling my ass and ass pocket containing American passport to Don Muang’s little revenue-generator-cum-airport.
“Because if you’re moving to Thailand to work as an English teacher, you’re really should. You should start jumping rope now, just to prepare for it.” He was sitting next to me and the man at the counter seemed to be applying for the I-want-to-work-and-live-and-retire-and-get-married visa that only necessitates 67 different forms, all copied in triplicate and notarized by Thaksin himself, so I had time.
“Yeah, I’ll bite. Tell me about getting a visa to work in Thailand.” I kept my gaze forward and reclined a bit, making myself comfortable.
He folded his arms and reclined also. “Do you have a pen and paper? Forget it. It wouldn’t do any good anyway. They’ll have changed it tomorrow, except they won’t tell anyone, even themselves. It’s like this. You find a job. The employer gives you some paperwork, a lot of paperwork. It probably takes a long time, so you risk overstaying your tourist visa, so you have to go to the immigration office for an extension, which requires some paperwork that your school probably will be slow in doing because they’re already busy with the paperwork for your Non-Immigrant B visa. Then, once you get the paperwork you need for the Non-Immigrant B you take yourself to the closest border at which you probably have to apply for a visa.”
“You mean the Thai working visa.” I was slightly confused.
“No, of course not. You have to apply for a tourist visa to get into Cambodia, Burma or Laos, not for Malaysia, but then if you’re going to Malaysia you have money and, therefore not an English teacher. Anyway, you get your visa to get into said backwater country where there’s a Thai Embassy, so you can change the status of your visa from Tourist to Non-Immigrant B.”
“So, I have to apply for a visa to get my visa?” My expression must have been quizzical at best.
“Yeah,” he paused for effect. “Then you go to the Thai Embassy in aforementioned UN least-developed-nation-status state and submit your paperwork. The immigration officer then asks you if the school that you’re going to work for is on ‘the list’. Then you say, ‘What list?’ and he says, ‘The list’, then you shrug and he tells you that it isn’t, then you say ‘So why did you ask,’ and he says nothing, and you say ‘What should I do?’ and he says ‘Damned if I care, but you ain’t gettin’ no stinkin’ visa unless your school is on “the list”.’ Then you call the school that employed you and they tell you that the manager is off. Then you go back to Thailand and furiously tell the manager about this so-called list and he looks at you with the same expression that you have right now.”
“I didn’t realize I had an expression.” I retorted.
“You do. It’s called totally dumbstruck.”
“Oh, right. Please continue,” I urged.
“So the manager of the school you’re now maybe going to work for because you still don’t have a visa says “Mai pen rai”, which roughly translates into “Isn’t it funny when I bear no responsibility for mistakes that I made?” You say “Pen Rai”, because your Thai sucks and you think that you’re negating what the manager has just said. Then the manager calls the Embassy in previously stated, landmine infested nation, and says ‘I want to be on the list.’ Then your school is on the list, so you can get a visa.”
“So let me guess,” I say, “I have to go back to the formerly noted formerly war-torn country and apply for a visa to get in, and then go to the Thai Embassy again?”
He smirked. “You’re a quick study, kid. You’ll do well.”
I glanced back at the counter on the wall. It hadn’t advanced. “Go on.”
“Then you’ve got your Non-Imm B visa.” (I guess that’s what those in the know call such things).
“So now I can work?” I ask innocently.
“Ha!” he exclaims so loudly that others are now staring at us.
“What’s so funny? It’s a working visa, right?” I’m getting annoyed.
“How cute! You’ve been in Japan too long. No it’s not a working visa. Now, you can stay in Thailand for a year, but you still need to get your teacher’s license.”
I’m now turned toward the man. “How does this happen?”
“More paperwork, TEFL/TESL certificates, pleading with the MOE. That stands for Ministry of Education. If your school isn’t on the list, then it probably isn’t in good with the MOE, so you’ll probably have some snags.”
“But if I get that and then I can work?”
“Well, then you have to get working papers,” he’s obviously taking a lot of pleasure in this. I’ve furrowed my brow to the point of pain.
“Huh!” I say.
“Yeah more paperwork, little booklets and the like, probably your employer will hold on to your stuff, so you’re at their mercy. Oh it’s almost my number,” he says looking at the counter on the wall.
“Are you a teacher?” I ask.
“Yep. So, how does it work in Japan?” His smile tells me he knows something.
“My company sends me some documents and then I take them to an office about twenty minutes from my house. I fill out a small form, sit down and read a book. When they call my number I submit the paperwork, my passport and a self-addressed postcard. A couple weeks later the postcard comes to my address and I go back to the office. They give me my passport back and I go down the hall to get a multiple entry stamp, which is good for the entirety of my visa. Then I can work legally in Japan and exit and enter as much as I like until the visa expires three years later.”
“You don’t say?” He leers at me and his tone drips sarcasm. “What if you change jobs?”
“Yeah, I change jobs. No worries. What about it?” I don’t like what’s coming.
“In Thailand if you quit you’re job, you’re visa becomes invalid and you gots to haul yo’self out o’ country within a week.”
“Now you’re kidding, right.” I’m starting to get angry. Who is this guy anyway? “Messing about with the newbie? That’s your game, is it?”
“Whatever, friend don’t take my word for it. Maybe one of those fine immigrations officials would fill you in.” I glance at the counter. The officer wears an angelic expression of someone who is about to open fire in high school cafeteria. “They’ll sort you out if you don’t trust me.”
“The whole thing makes me tired just thinking about it,” I blurt out.
Now his sneer Cheshire cats across his face, “Wait ‘till you actually do it!” He breaks into demonic laughter until the piercing stare of the immigration officers causes him to chuckle in soft, yet hysterical way under his breath much like Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. I am relieved when my number is called. I approach and smile politely at the man behind the counter. His thousand-yard-stare doesn’t register my greeting. I remember the line that Pyle utters before offing the sadistic drill instructor, “I AM in a world of shit.”