Based on how much paperwork and bureaucracy is necessary to work legally in Thailand, one would think that Thailand is a booming developed country with no need for foreign labor or expertise. The reality is quite different. Though Thailand is a beautiful country with warm people, it certainly has its fair share of problems. Thailand needs to learn to admit its faults and risk conflict or else its primitive societal structure will continue to hold back the lives of the majority of its population.
I realize the ideas I have listed above seem disparate, so please allow me to explain. I have recently started a new job at an education company in Bangkok and have spent the last month dealing with visa and work permit issues. Towards the end of last month, I had a 30 day stamp after doing a visa run in Myanmar. My first step towards obtaining a work permit was to convert my visa into a non-immigrant B visa. My company lawyer thought it would be easiest for me to upgrade to a non-B visa while remaining in the country.
I scanned a copy of my passport (every page), my old work permit, my original college diploma, a letter from my college indicating that I had graduated in good standing, and my sealed college transcript. I was told that I needed a letter from my previous job detailing my position. The letter required the signatures of my former boss and the school director.
Moreover, I needed to scan this letter by the next day. Now, if you know anything about Thai government schools, you know this was an impossible task, especially considering that school directors often do not show up for work. Luckily, my boss was incredibly helpful and I was able to pick up the letter within two days. Unfortunately, the letter did not have the necessary stamp so I had to go to back to the school and have the letter stamped with the official government seal.
I then went about getting my medical certificate, which was easy enough. Everything seemed to be going okay for a couple of weeks, when I was notified that, since my college diploma was in Latin, I would need to go to the US embassy and have them prove that I did, in fact, graduate. Considering that I had already sent in a sealed transcript, a letter signed by the chancellor of my university, and an original diploma, I was quite frankly stunned by the request.
I finally realized what the Thai bureaucrat I was dealing with was: a micro-megalomaniac, the most insecure of all figures. The micro-megalomaniac has so little power that he or she will dominate their little world as they see fit and will never stop letting you know who is in charge.
Being from the United States, I realized I had no right to comment on unjust immigration officers, so I politely agreed to go to the US embassy as requested. However, I was notified before my appointment that the lawyer had spoken with a different immigration officer and that I now had my non-B visa. I was elated to finally get my visa changed, but something about this left me unsettled.
It is one thing for a control freak, or even many of them, to attempt to get his or her way, as is the case with many of those who work at US customs, but it is quite another for laws to change with the caprices of petty officials. The rules were different with this immigration officer, and it worked well for me in this case. Yet, laws should not be changed depending on who is working that particular day. This was a minor case, but I think it illustrates a bigger problem. The rules in Thailand are different depending on who is applying them, and who they are being applied to.
Thailand is ruled by men, not laws. The rules do not apply to the Bangkok elite, who are able to run over their fellow citizens, often purposely, in luxury cars with no negative repercussions. In Thailand, if you are rich then you are right. Here, the circumstances of the event have no bearing on who is at fault. The person with less power is always to blame. The fact is, Thailand is a kleptocracy. Society is run based on a feudal concept of patronage and rulers have been using their privileges to self-aggrandize for quite some time. However, most Thai people are apparently just figuring this out. Though the protesters seem to think corruption has just started, the fact is corruption has always been here.
Thai people appear to only see what they want to see. They complain about foreign customs ruining traditional Thai culture, but then they go and spend all their money on foreign gadgets and clothing. They claim to be humane and compassionate Buddhists, but their efforts are focused on not euthanizing feral dogs with two legs instead of on stopping fundamental human rights abuses, such as child prostitution or the over 2000 extra-judicial killings involved in Thailand's war on drugs ten years ago. I understand that Thai people do not like causing conflict or losing face, but the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one.
The average Thai has too much faith in the feudal system that exists here. The middle class Thais are afraid of the great unwashed masses below and too deferential towards the oligarchs above. This feudal system has not always existed. It was invented by people and it does not have to exist indefinitely. Neither does the Thai emphasis on saving face.
I understand the desire to uphold tradition, but not at the cost of human suffering. If the Thai attitude does not change, then I am afraid Thailand will become a banana republic, with a moneyed class taking its stolen funds and leaving its destitute and structurally deficient homeland to rot. I hope that Thailand will change its ways soon and abandon its pre-modern societal structure. Until then, saving face and preserving the social hierarchy will continue to trump human rights and development.