Monday, 15 August 2011

Run for your Visa

Ever felt like Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise walking down the street ? I just have. That's why I thought I'd stop in a cyber cafe that still has a Xmas tree in the window to tell you. I am in a place called ... sorry just checking the name on my note pad... Yes it's called Ranong. In South West Thailand. You know , a genuine beautiful- Julia Robert look , not a I want- your- money- Julia Robert. Proud. Then I go back to my hotel room and double check. No , definitely not Julia. An exhausted sweaty pale skinned french woman who is still missing a piece of her front tooth. Damn. What were they thinking.

What am I doing in a hotel in South West Thailand when yesterday I was living in a monastery in South EAST Thailand. The beauty of traveling mate.
Wanna know the story? Okay then.

Life was sweet at the monastery. It was like a backpackers hostel with meditation Halls and Monks. No booze , just drink for thoughts aka holly water.
Me and some guys from the retreat stayed behind to really enjoy Holly Life before going back to ''Helly'' Life.
That 's how we ended up having long spiritual conversations over ( long missed) coffees at the little cafe in front.
That's how I met an awesome Dutch guy who has been cycling from his country . 7500 km so far. And an Aussie dude who lives in the Philippines and whose passion in life is to teach little Filipinos to skate board. And many others. We had great days talking about Life climbing mountains. We all wanted it to last forever. The Dutch guy left first. He wanted to cycle to Bangkok. 600km. As we were waving him good bye I said to the Aussie guy:

'' He 's awesome isn't he? By the way, what his name? The Aussie guy answered like in a trance '' I don't know Mate, I don't know''

Then he left too. Damn I forgot to ask his name.....

My friend Jenny from England gave me a wake up call from Hell.

'' Isn't your visa running out in 2 days?''

Damn. " That's fine I 'll just pop in and see Ken ( the retreat's coordinator) and he will tell me what to do for this visa run to Burma.

NB : Visa Run : Common name, singular . in every westerner who lives in Asia's mind. It usually happens every month or every 3 months if you're lucky or rich. It includes a ''Oh shit- no- that- again- feeling'' and a day return to the nearest neighboring country so get a stamp out and a stamp back in.

'' Ken left Koh Samui'' I was told when I tried to get hold of him. No other Westerner around..... Shit what do I do ?
I remember now. There was a poster that explained it all at the end of the retreat. I was too busy listening to this guy's hilarious dreams during the silent retreat that I only took a picture of it.

Shit can't read anything. 3 hours later I managed to decipher 3 key words . '' Ranong'' ''10 american dollars'' '' pier''

The next day ( today) , me and my small backpack were waiting for the bus 8am.9am. '' Only God knows when bus comes'' in this country so better not ask. 9.45am THE bus! No Ranong No. Then took off. That's when I saw a hot lost English guy with the cuttest accent getting off.

Thank God you heard my prayers.Who needs a new visa when you can.... Oh well this Living in a monastery is getting to my head.

How uuuuuu doin'?

Very interesting story he had. Well until the '' My wife is Thai'' bit.

When is that damn bus coming. In 14 hours i'm an illegal immigrant hiding with nuns and monks. So much for Buddhist philosophy.

10.05 THE bus.

4 hours later I had my passport checked for the first time by a Military guy who got on the bus to check.I turn my head and look around : I'm the only westerner on this local bus. If one gets kicked out....

Why am I so paranoid? You would if your ex got banned from the UK and sent back to Kiwi land in 48h as he was coming back from a short trip in France. You would if the immigration officer had called you that day and asked you every possible question about your relationship. When/ where / how we met ( guys, that's THE good reason to remember dates like the first kiss or engagement day. Just if one day your partner gets detained by the British customs and you're the only one who can help. I failed at question 16 '' If he gets 3 more months in the UK Are you sure you will follow him in New Zealand after that?'' I said '' I might'' . Wrong answer. Well I never did, follow, in the end.

Another case : '' Where is Apple Struddle ?'' an Austrian friend I met in Australia.
''Oh you haven't heard? He tried to get back yesterday but Australia deported him. To New Zealand.
Oh shit. Wait , it gets worse.
And New Zealand deported him to Germany. All his stuff is still in Oz. Including a Motorbike
Another one bites the dust.

Anyway the Old Thai sitting next to me mumbles something that must have meant '' Don't worry mate'' so I did not.

Passed the first test.

Arriving in Ranong I started seeing men moving their wrist in a very strange way when looking at me. I heard before that it was not obscene it just mean '' visa stamp'' .
I say yes , getting off the bus but then he was gone and so was the bus. Lovely. Then I saw this most hated sign that I promised to only use in case of an emergency. '' Tourist office'' . Today WAS an emergency.

I shook my hand saying visa in an awful Thai accent and he replied '' please take the bus 6 to the Pier'' in a perfect English. Of course.

'' You 10 Americain dollars?'' a young kid ask me on arrival

Why would I have that with me HERE??????

How much? he asks.

So I get the choose the value of a tenner. I like this game. 300. No. 500. no 400. I got the last word. I BARGAINED a 10 dollar note yay. I have no idea why.

I get my stamp out and bargain a barge trip to Burma. Which must be the only country in the world that has 2 bloody names. To add to my confusion. Myanmar Whatever.

45 minutes later, me my passport and my 10 dollar note arrive in Burma slash Myanmar.

'' You have 10 minutes'' the immigration guy tells me as he was stamping me in the country and taking my tenner ( will forever wonder why 10 American dollars..... )

What do you do in 10 minutes in Burma? You go to the most disgusting toilet in the world and you fall in love with a 10 year old kid who tells you '' francais? Bonjour. You beautiful . Nice to meet you '' I took a picture of him. Could not resist. And no , he did not ask for money.

Back on the barge I start chatting in broken Thai English to this couple. He is Thai. she's from Laos and because she wants to stay and live with him she does the visa run every month. And he goes with her. She shows me her passport with a million Burma stamps on it. How sweet.
That's probably why the Thai customs stamped her back in until 12th September and stamped ME back until the 29th Aug . Logic? None. the 10 American dollar syndrome.

'' You hotel?'' the couple asks me.
'' no plan''
'' You telephone?''
The guy seemed more shocked that I did not have a mobile than that I come from half way round the country by myself and does not have a hotel booked. That is like the 10 dollar thing , I will never know why.

So they drive me to town , find a hotel for me. give me their number and left. I've got no idea where I am and don't know how I'll get back to the monastery tomorrow.

And that 's what I was thinking walking down the street in Ranong. That people are good . If you're open that is. That's probably why I looked so beautiful.......

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