Adventures in Errant Errands

Sometimes, I feel like I could live in Thailand forever. That feeling is usually strongest around lunch time:

The lunch that dreams are made of.

The $1.20 lunch that dreams are made of.

Other times – like when I go to immigration at 5 a.m. to make sure I get a place in line to get a ticket to get a number when the office opens at 8:30 a.m. so I can see the immigration official at 10 a.m.  – I’m reminded that Thailand isn’t really my home.

Unfortunately for me and my aversion to paperwork, my passport, driver’s license and vehicle registration all need to be renewed. Soon.  And like a Mobius strip made of red tape, I need each of those documents in order to get the others:

I need my passport (along with 2 photos, a letter from my landlady, an application form, and photocopies of my passport pages) to get a Certificate of Residency from Immigration, which I need (along with my passport, 2 photos, an application form, a heath certificate and photocopies of my passport pages) to renew my Driver’s License at the DMV on the other side of town.

Are you still with me? Take a deep breath, there’s more.

On Monday morning, my plan was to go to the Canadian Consulate, get a quick (but expensive) Certificate of Residency, renew my Driver’s License that afternoon, so I could go back to the Consulate on Tuesday morning to apply for my new passport. It was a complex, but brilliantly efficient plan.

Are you still here? If so, you’re a trooper. Carry on.

First, finding the Canadian Consulate in Chiang Mai isn’t easy. It’s not like the American Consulate, which is right down by the river, surrounded by a giant wall and guarded 24/7. That one’s hard to miss. The Canadian one is in a little out-of-the way building with a tiny little sign you can’t see until you’re right beside it…and since it’s where two lanes merge on a highway, you might be busy looking at a stampede of trucks bearing down on your little motorbike and miss it the first 3 times you drive past.

Oh, there you are!

Oh, there you are!

Eventually, I saw the tiny sign out of the corner of my eye as I was passing it, and slammed on my brakes. I coasted to a stop on the paved shoulder 2 meters past the entrance, and rolled my motorbike backwards down the highway and coasted into the parking lot.

Feeling rather accomplished, I parked my bike, grabbed my mountain of neatly organized paperwork, and traipsed through the wide open door…into an empty office.

Hello? Canada? Is anyone home?

Hello? Canada? Is anyone home?

Really – it was completely empty. For a long time.

It was deserted. Abandoned. Vacant. I could have committed mischief! Or Sabotage! Or Espionage! Or Decoupage! But I didn’t – mostly because I was busy signing the guest book.

Eventually, a shy Thai girl walked past carrying a cardboard box and trying very hard not to make eye contact with me. On her 2nd box-carrying trip, I asked if anyone could help me. She politely explained that someone had been here. They had since gone out – but they would (eventually) return.

I sat down to wait.

After about 10 minutes, Box Girl returned and gave me a phone number to call. I hate the telephone, and wasn’t in a hurry yet, and there were magazines to read, and I had been assured that the person who had left would (eventually) return.

I continued to wait.

After finishing a rather lacklustre article in an ancient magazine, I decided to call the number Box Girl had given me.I spoke with the person who had left, and she assured me she would (eventually) return … next Friday.

Have any of your best-laid plans gone awry lately?

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Adventures in New Kids on the Block

No, I’m not having ’90s boy-band flashbacks. Sorry to disappoint those of you who still insist that Donnie was waaaaay dreamier than Danny. I know who you are, and I know you were looking forward to reviving a rousing debate on the subject. It’s not going to happen on this blog. Not now. Not ever.

Okay, fine. You can decide who’s dreamier. I don’t care.

While I was doing some research on exciting things in the world of writing, I checked to see where this l’il ol’ blog pops up in search engines…and discovered TWO other blogs that share my title, “Adventures in My Shoes.” Both of them have only been around for a year or so – and obviously their authors were blissfully unaware of this aging behemoth slumbering in the cavernous bowels of the internet. I don’t blame them – half the time even I forget it’s here.

Still, it came as a shock to discover that my shoes are no longer the only ones having adventures. It also made me take stock and realize that I don’t even really wear shoes anymore. Since moving to Thailand, I’ve traded in my cupboards full of fancy footwear for a few unassuming pairs of flip flops.

“And to think, I coulda been a Jimmy Choo…”

And yes, I did just go outside, line up all my flip-flops and tell them to say “Cheese!” I think the impish little pair in the back may have said “Toe Jam” instead, but I let it slide, especially since my neighbours were already beginning to look alarmed.

Now, back to the question of the New Kids on the Block – Jordan was definitely the cutest. No, wait, the other new kids on the block. The ones who really are having adventures and wearing shoes. And they probably have real shoes, and real adventures.

Both of them seem like pretty cool women, even though one of them made a typo spelling International Border. (Unless she actually trod upon  a tenant or surfer when she said she walked across an international boarder.) Whatever the truth of that statement is, I suspect she was wearing actual shoes at the time. And doing adventurous things in them.

The other is telling the world she’s pregnant, which is also certainly an adventure, although misogynist folklore tells me that shoes in her case are optional.

I assume that in spite of their typos and pictures of baby bumps, they’re probably very nice women. They might even have interesting things to say. (Unlike someone I know who’s still rambling about boy bands…)

The Canadian in me wants to welcome them to the neighbourhood and offer them some poutine. On the other hand, the crotchety old woman in me (who is old enough to remember too many of the words to Hangin’ Tough) wants to wave my fist in the air and shout, “Get off my lawn!”

Maybe I should change the name of my blog to more accurately reflect my reality. Or, I could lace up my one remaining pair of real shoes and go have an adventure. (Who am I kidding. We both know that I’m going to post this and then go watch NKOTB videos on YouTube…in my bare feet.)

Adventures in Colossal Understatements

By reading my recent posts, my reader(s) might be inclined to think that all I do here is eat, study and interact with lizards.  While that’s not an entirely inaccurate synopsis of most days, I do try and learn about things going on in this corner of the world.  On occasion, my university holds events that are quite helpful in that regard.  Last week, there was a panel discussion relating to migrant workers from Burma.  The panel included representatives from legal, economic, educational and first-hand perspectives.

The panel discussion was timed to correspond with a photographic exhibition at the school by photographer John Hume. You can see some of his incredibly communicative photos here:  In Search of a Job, Any Job 

There are between 3 and 4 million migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, and they compose about 7% of the labour force.  Like migrant workers everywhere, they tend to be viewed as simultaneously essential and disposable.  The folks from Burma usually find themselves doing jobs that are dirty, dangerous, difficult and degrading.  Factory owners often confiscate workers’ documents, and have workers deported for demanding safer working conditions or minimum wage.  It’s frustrating, unfair, heartbreaking … and a ubiquitous rung on the economic ladder. I doubt there is a single country in the world that can lay claim to an economic and industrial history that’s free of widespread exploitation and abuse.  Even today, Americans need only look as far as Arizona, while Canadians don’t have to go any further than Toronto’s garment district.

I wasn’t surprised that an emerging economy is exploiting the labour force of its neighbour’s ruined economy.  It happens.  Everywhere.  Everyday.  After listening to stories of people working in deplorable conditions for12+ hours/day for around $1.60/day, I was angry, frustrated, seething and heart-heavy: not surprised.  What did surprise me were the gentle words coming from the young migrant worker with the brilliant smile who had come to speak with us.  While my mind was whirling with angry adjectives and vitriolic verbs to describe the stories I was hearing, this young man related his experience and softly summed it up with, “The salary’s not good and it’s a little bit hard job.”  What an understatement.