Don’t forget your umbrella

DSC_0371Thailand has transitioned from being very hot and dry to its wet season. The rains started slowly in June and now come almost daily. Yesterday, in fact, there was a long deluge that flooded parts of the city, sending torrents of water flowing toward the sea and cascading down the beach stairwells.

Today, it started to rain shortly after noon and has been ongoing for almost 5 hours. Water is seeping into my kitchen and I’m sure the flooding elsewhere is worse than yesterday. Fortunately, unlike yesterday, I stayed home today in the afternoon.

But yesterday I had to see an apartment so it was off to Soi 80 after my news feed was done about 2:30. It was cloudy but I thought it might not rain, or at least not until a little later. I didn’t think I would need my umbrella.

The rain started just as the apartment owner arrived to show me after she had reintroduced furniture to the unit I saw a week before, and had also created a makeshift kitchen, sans tableware, silverware, pots, pans and several appliances. The living room furniture she bought to please me was almost childlike in size.

I told her my concerns through a translator she brought from across the alley. And I was able to reduce the rent from 12,000 baht to 11,000 baht a month, about $300, on a one-year contract. I told her I had other units to look at and would get back to her.

DSC_0372Today, I went out to see another apartment in the same location, but this time did it in the morning, just beating the rain on my return. I should explain that this is a long, narrow street that connects to and parallels Soi 80, a bar and restaurant area. Along the row are two-story town homes, some in better shape than others, some looking like their occupants had been there many years. Interspersed with the homes are a few small restaurants and a couple of laundries. There is a mix of farang (foreigners) and Thais living on the street.

The unit I saw today was much better equipped with better furniture and more stuff in the kitchen. Also, these are all 2-bedroom, 2-bath units. The units yesterday and today also had washing machines.

My appointment today was because a person I called about the unit had to meet in the morning. When I arrived, I called the wrong person for the wrong apartment, but a young Thai man showed up. This unit was set up better with furniture and the kitchen but he is adamant about 12,000 a month. I offered 11,000 on a one-year lease and told him to think about it.

When I returned home, however, I received a confusing call. The Thai man on the other end wanted to know why I didn’t make our 11 am meeting at his townhouse. Oops! Apparently, I got confused by which phone number went with which house and called the wrong guy this morning. Now, I’m rescheduled to see this next house on the same street tomorrow morning. I will bring my umbrella.

One of the advantages I have now in selecting a place to live is time. I really didn’t have that when I arrived in January and am quite frankly pleased that I was able to find as nice an apartment as I have at the rent I wanted to pay. But knowing “where” to live in a new city can take some time to figure out, which is what I’m doing now. I’ve got maybe three months to find a place that’s right for me, with few concessions made. So I’m being picky.

 

This and that about this and that

Mostly, for this post, I’ve got some random photos taken recently but I also wanted to discuss my latest banking foray.

It turns out that it’s not a good idea to forget your PIN for your ATM card. I received an ATM card when I opened my Bangkok Bank account in January, but I never used it until last week. The reason: I couldn’t touch the money, as it was supposed to be my income guarantee for my one-year visa.

As it turns out, my monthly income verification from the US Embassy in Bangkok was sufficient and I never actually needed to transfer a large sum to a Thai bank after all. Not a problem, though, as now I have a bank account that I can withdraw money from without about $11 in bank fees every time I make a withdrawal. With a local bank, I have no withdrawal fees.

So, it’s all good on that aspect but when I finally decided to try my ATM card last week I found out that I had forgotten the PIN. Thought I remembered it, but I was wrong. The ATM machine ate my card as a result.

It was on a Sunday and while the bank was open I was told to come back the next day because they didn’t have the key. So I returned the next day, when I was told my card was not found in the machine. After a long, drawn-out discussion, they finally found my card, but because it didn’t have my name on it I could not identify it. I had to go back to my bank to order a new one.

Back at Bangkok Bank, the lady was very polite and patient in helping me apply for a new card and PIN. There was a 100 baht ($3) fee, which I was glad to pay.  was told to come back in a week to pick up my new card, which I did today.

And I am happy to report it worked! After six months, my banking situation has finally been resolved.

Incidentally, I will have been in Thailand for six months as of July 8.

Now here are a few photos, with explanations:

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This is what the basement at the Market Village mall looks like. Can you imagine trying to find your bike in this maze. Luckily, there is signage, as you can see.

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Speaking of Market Village, they often host a vegetable bazaar in front. Durian on sale below

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Just the late evening light and clouds on Hua Hin beach

Photos inside immigration, taken secretly.

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Where I take my good shirts to be laundered. Two pretty ladies run the place. 20 cents per shirt, washed, ironed and folded.

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Of course, everywhere I go, I carry a little bit of Costa Rica with me. Pura vida.

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This is how I dry my clothes. Fortunately, the apartment comes with a washing machine.

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On the 4th of July, I took my flag off the wall and hung it outside my apartment.

With the birth of three more, we now have 11 cats on my cul-de-sac. The latest three are from Little Mama, who is the one of the group that lets me pet her. She’s also the loudest and makes a habit of showing up at my door loudly calling for food, which I’m not providing anymore.

The little white and slightly orange kitten is a female, no name yet. The other with the striking markings on his/her face I call Splash. (It looks like someone splashed the colors on him/her.

Finally, that’s Little Mama rubbing against the fence.

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Finally, I’ve been doing some house hunting when I’ve had the chance and felt motivated. No rush, I have 6 more months on my lease, but I should find a place while we’re in the slow season and before October, when the rents will rise.

The street above is one I’ve checked out. I also walked through another two-street neighborhood that looked like this but the rents were a little higher. There are several 2-story townhouses available on the street above, one for 10,000 baht/month ($285) that has two bedrooms, two baths, furnished, A/C, but no washing machine or Internet.

The second I looked at Sunday and it was similar but a little bit better, but there was no furniture and, unbelievably, no kitchen. There was a room in the back that could be a kitchen but the unit did not have one. The lady showing me the unit said they would put in a kitchen and bring the furniture in and I can see it again next week. We’ll see. This unit does have a washing machine, A/C, two baths, two bedrooms. However, the monthly rent is 12,000 baht ($342), but I’m hoping I can play one apartment off the other and get the better one (if the furniture and kitchen are good) down to 11,000 baht.

Here’s the unit for 10,000 baht:

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Celebrating my first one-year retirement visa

Yesterday, I was officially granted a one-year “O” immigration (retirement) visa from Thailand, meaning I can stay in-country through next June. It has been a long and tricky struggle to get to this point.

For example, only the day before, my lawyer called to tell me my rental agreement – a mandatory document for filing – was incorrect. The lease had my 6-month term ending in June instead of July. A small mistake, granted, but one that would have derailed the application process.

Paying attention to the details in your paperwork is essential.

That mistake did mean I had to have a new lease agreement right away, so I called the apartment manager and she came over the same day. I agreed to a 6-month extension on my current apartment, although I doubt I will live in it that long.

My lawyer also gave me some good news, although I could have used it before I arrived in Thailand. Before I moved here, I was told I would need 800,000 baht deposited in a Thai bank as an income guarantee. This was because my monthly retirement income does not reach the required level.

Then, after I arrived, I was told I would need a monthly income verification letter from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, necessitating an overnight stay in the capital. I was advised to give the embassy a higher income number than what it really is, which I did. The letter was issued and used when I applied for the 90-day visa you have to have before getting a one-year visa.

However, my lawyer said the embassy letter would be too dated by the time I applied for the longer visa and that I would need updated verification from my Thai bank about my deposit level. But then, two days ago, he called to say the embassy letter is all I would need. The Thais had changed the rules again.

So now, for at least a year, I will be using my Thai bank account for living expenses, while saving my monthly retirement checks. This will save me quite a bit in bank fees, as there is no withdrawal penalty for taking my money out locally.

To recap my visa journey, thus far:

  1. Initial 30-day tourist visa upon country entrance.
  2. 30-day tourist visa extension.
  3. Visa run for new 30-day tourist visa to Laos because there was less than two weeks left on my extension and to apply for the one-year visa you have to have two weeks remaining.
  4. 90-day visa extension granted
  5. one-year visa granted

For #5 yesterday, I had to make my way to the lawyer’s office ( half-mile walk, songtoew taxi 5 miles), where “Tubby” met me to go over the paperwork. She is a paralegal who has been working on my account, and has the nickname for a reason. I signed a few papers and handed over a wad of money (1,900 baht for visa, 1,900 baht for a single-entry visa, allowing me to make a trip outside Thailand during the year, 3,000 baht for the attorney’s services, all told about $200), and then we drove off to the immigration office.

I was relieved that immigration was not busy (it is the slow season) and we were seated in front of an officer within 10-15 minutes. However, he proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes handling someone else’s paperwork. Finally, I signed some more papers and he did a bunch of initialing, rubber stamping, computer typing.

Then, I waited for about 10 minutes before getting my passport back with one full page taken up by the new visa, including the single-entry stamp.

Let me explain the latter: With this visa, I can’t just travel wherever and whenever I want outside Thailand. I can leave the country without the single-entry visa but if I return I lose whatever time was left on my retirement visa. You’re kind of stuck here unless you pay to get out and come back in.

I could have bought a multi-entry visa, allowing me to come and go as I please but the one trip option is less expensive and I doubt I would take more than one trip during the year. If I do, I simply pay for another exit-entry visa.

One more requirement: Every 90 days, I have to report to Immigration and fill out a form. I can be deported for not doing this.