Spinning my wheels with visa renewal

My annual visa renewal time brings me plenty of stress, and this year even more so, as I decided to try a new way to guarantee my income. It didn’t go well.

Previously, I had gone to Bangkok, booked a hotel for a night, and visited the U.S. Embassy for a monthly income statement (Social Security payments). This involves bus trips both ways, the hotel room cost, and meals. Depending on how frugal I am, the cost can be anywhere from $200-400.

The first year, I took a minivan and booked a backpack hotel for $20 – went the low-cost route. Last year, I decided a nice hotel was a better idea, as was a nice dinner and boat cruise, so my costs were higher.

This year, I decided to go the alternate route of having enough money deposited in my Thai bank account (800,000 baht/32 baht=$1) at least 3 months prior to renewing my visa. This would save me the time and expense of the Bangkok trip.

As anticipated, however, it didn’t go smoothly.

I went to the bank yesterday and had no trouble getting what I thought was the necessary certificate showing the money in the account (100 baht fee). Early this morning, I assembled all the forms, already completed except for a re-entry visa for my July Laos trip (1,000 baht). I did that on arrival at the immigration office.

They still use the old immigration office for annual renewals, but many of the other functions have been moved to the Bluport office. The result was a nearly empty immigration office.

However – when I had my passport copied, the woman said I needed my bank book. Nowhere have I seen anything referring to a bank book, only a certificate from my bank. Inside, the immigration officer told me the same.

So back on the back of the motorcycle and returned home for the bank book. After a switch of drivers, I was back at immigration and seemingly on my way. Except for one thing.

I had transferred the 800,000 baht too late (by 8 days) to meet the 3 month window required. The officer was very nice about it and showed me what my fees would be – when I came back – including 500 baht a day for overstaying my visa. Turns out there no longer is a 7-day grace period to renew your visa.

I had read that you could do this 2 weeks prior to due date or up to 7 days after. My renewal date is June 25. I was told the bank record would need to be updated on June 28, after which I can return to pay the fees, including the overstay fee.

Interestingly, the officer did offer me an “alternative.” For 8,000 baht, he would approve my renewal right then, and no return to the bank or to him would be necessary. That’s basically a $250 bribe. I said I would return June 28.

So now the plan is to go to the bank the morning of the 28th, get my bank book updated, and then go directly to immigration. And hope I get it right this time.

(Note: Even with all this difficulty, I will spend far less on my visa renewal this year than the previous 2 years.)

 

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A birthday to remember

As any long-term traveler knows, it can get lonely out here away from “home.” Holidays often are just another day of the week, or spent with people you barely know. You might go by a Christmas or birthday with no presents.

This year, I had my Thai “family” to celebrate my birthday.

I had been forewarned to be ready for a motorcycle ride to Nan’s at 6 pm. There were already about 7-8 people there when we arrived – but an important family was missing, the one with little Tung Mu and her sister.

We sat around for awhile before food was placed in front of me. I sensed a delay was going on and I didn’t want to eat by myself. The rest were waiting for something.

Finally, Tung Mu, her sister and mother arrived. I told them I would have been disappointed if they weren’t there. There were now 15 of us and it was time to party!

Unlike last week, when I was offered a variety of foods I could not/would not eat, the fare this time was mostly edible for me – small shellfish with a ripping hot sauce, a large steamed tilapia (delicious), raw and steamed cabbage, the chicken/mushroom/coconut milk soup I like, a spicy red curry with chicken feet (No, I don’t) and very spicy fish balls, and rice (of course!) and noodles.

First, these photos are a perfect example of why I prefer using a real camera, but these cellcam pics will have to do. I’ll let the captions do the talking:

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Tung Mu and her mother, Nan’s best friend. The gift was a tin of cookies, great for my morning coffee.

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Kit-Kat candy – chocolate! Obviously, everyone was coached as to what I like.

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Lots of gifts

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A special cake

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Nan’s friend, don’t know her name, but she likes the beer.

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Seven fingers for seven decades.

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Tung Mu’s older sister, whose wrapped candy bars required scissors to open.

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Nan’s son and girlfriend, Noi. Their gift was a baseball cap embroidered with “Ken Anderberg” on the front. Not sure I want people to know my name everywhere I go, but nice.

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Nan’s gift, besides the wonderful party, was a money belt

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Nan obviously went to a lot of trouble for this, but then, when we had finished eating she realized she forgot the cake wherever it was bought. A quick dash and dessert was presented.

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You can see the small shellfish in the center here. These were all sealed and required a certain “rubbing and poking” of the shell to open. They Thais know how, I was helpless. Tastes pretty good initially, with a late, unfortunate fishy taste. Tried them with the hot sauce and paid for my effort. Also shown: red curry and fish balls (center), chilli sauce to its left, the leftover tilapia carcass, and the chicken soup (top).¬†

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An ode to my furry friends

When you have been on the road for eight years, away from friends and family for most of that time, there are times when you feel … alone. And when you have moved seven times in those eight years, having friends on your travels can be difficult, as well.

I marked eight years on June 1. I meant to make a big deal out of it, but it passed without note. During that time, however, I have had many close friends, the furry kind.

I’ve been a cat lover forever. Not that I don’t like dogs, it’s just that they take too much care compared to a cat. They’re dirtier, too.

Cats must know I’m a cat lover, too, since they seem to find me everywhere.

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Cool Hand Luke

Last weekend, my latest feline friend, Mama, trotted out into her neighborhood, as she did every day, never to return. Got me to thinking about my cat history on this global journey.

It began before it began. Originally, I intended to bring my U.S. cat, Cool Hand Luke, with me to Costa Rica. All the necessary veterinary shots and paperwork had been completed, only to have Delta tell me at the last minute that I couldn’t take him on the plane.

My last minute panic ended with a good friend volunteering to adopt Luke. That friend recently died but Luke lives on.

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Scat

In Costa Rica, I didn’t actively seek out any cats, but one found me anyway. Scat came for food and ended up lounging around my apartment, a safe haven in a dangerous cat world. We had hardly connected, however, when I decided to pack it in and hit the road for Europe. He was on his own again.

My stays in Croatia and Sicily only lasted three and two months, respectively, so no cats. Indonesia was next, but my stay was tenuous and I didn’t want to risk another short-term cat encounter. One found me anyway.

But first I tried to create my own kitten. I was working and living at smiling Hill and there was a calico that hung around the office, always seemingly with kittens that always died. If I wanted one of her kittens, I would need to find a way to make them healthier.

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Hati

At first, I tried feeding the kittens. No good. Then it occurred to me that feeding the mother was a better idea, making her healthy when the next litter happened. That worked, sort of. She ended up having a healthy litter but I had already bumped into my next cat – Hati (heart in Bahasa).

He was a scraggly little thing, walking around alone in the area, more than willing to let me pick him up and take him home. And then, my job ended, at the same time I was offered another job in the Caribbean. I left Hati in the good hands of Smiling Hill employees.

St. Kitts & Nevis was a disaster, so I headed back to Indonesia. Hati rejoined me in my new apartment in town. One day, however, he, too, walked off into his neighborhood and never returned.

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Spock

It wasn’t long, however, before I found a black kitten in a small litter in an alley close by. I took him in and named him Spock, after Leonard Nimoy passed away. Great little cat, loved to get in my way on the computer.

A confluence of events ended my stay in Batam and I had to find a home for Spock before leaving. Luckily, my taxi driver had two kids and took the cat in. Later, he would text me asking for money for cat food.

Here in Thailand, I’ve had good cats but bad results. First, I was proactive, going to a local shelter and adopting a black kitten. It ran off, never to be seen again. Then, I found another kitten, a calico, but she, too, ran off.

I know this all sounds bad, but I treat my cats like kings and queens. They get good food, medical care and lots of attention. The cats weren’t running away; it’s just a dangerous world out there for them.

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Gypsy

Eventually, a white and grey spotted cat, an adult male, befriended me on the street and eventually followed me home. I named him Gypsy. Shortly thereafter, an orange tabby followed him. I think they were friends on the street and both obviously had previous owners, who had abandoned them.

This newest one was female and much younger than Gypsy, maybe a year old. Before I knew it, she was pregnant. I originally named her Tigger, but when she had the litter of five her name became Mama, and it stuck.

litterWhat a great cat. It was amazing to watch the birth of her four males and one female, and to see her raise the litter, her first and last. I loved having the kittens around and eventually found a home for them, which was harder emotionally than I expected.

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Mama

Not long after that, Gypsy died. she just laid down in an upstairs bedroom and passed away quietly. Mama now was in charge and took it seriously. She learned to open the front door to let herself in. She flummoxed me with what kind of food she would eat. She languished around my computer, often propping her head on my speaker while classic rock played. She liked my music.

One day she brought a rat in to play. It took several days and a new rat trap to fix that. Then five days ago, she disappeared.

We all know the effect pets can have on us. They’re entertainment, unconditional love, responsibility. They fill in the gaps of our loneliness, they make our lives a little better, maybe a lot better. They make you laugh, and sometimes cry. They are your friends.

There will be another cat.

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