I got my VISA! Whoop whoop!! But a tale shall be told about it, as it is dream-like, and in need of no help for the details to disappear from mind as I slip into unconsciousness in an hour or so. This tale, as so oft do they, begins in a mini-van, in Penang, Malaysia. It was late, as usual, we had left Komtar at 4:00pm, instead of 3:30, and had made our way around the city of Penang, meaning that at around 5:00pm I am exiting the city. A mute, middle-aged Indonesian man on my right (probably not mute, just didn’t speak Thai, English, Mandarin, or Japanese), and a sleeping-almost-on-my-shoulder Japanese student on my left. There are one-to-many passengers for the available seats, but meh, this is South-East Asia, it certainly doesn’t come close to a bakkie in SA, nor a taxi in Myanmar. Anyway, stuck between my new two friends I am relieved to find that we are finally out of the city. At this point I start to feel rather odd, and something completely out of the blue comes to mind.
Today they will ask to see the 20,000Baht.
You will show them 10,000Baht, and pray your way through.
I hadn’t even taken notice of the signs before, sure I’d seen them, but they had never asked me, and I’d never needed to, there are plenty of signs all around telling people to have this and that, but really, a passport is all that is needed 99.9% of the time. But it is true, when you go into Thailand, on my Visa, you need to be able to show you have 20,000B. So over an hour later I pitch up at the boarder, easy as can be, take my passport, and only my passport, and make my way to the counter. I don’t even show them the passport, I just say that I’m South-African, they point me to the office (they might as well start charging me rent for offices at boarders…), and I walk over. I walk into the cool, air-conditioned room, and immediately know I’ve walked into a pit of the universe that no one dares to wish on their worst enemy. This lady has had a bad day, and it’s written all over her face. Her name was Grumpy Woman, hereafter (GW), and by bad, I mean she hadn’t slept for a year, and all the world has been against her her whole life, and this morning, instead of her regular tea, she walked into the side of a shipping container. That swung to meet her. I’m in trouble now. GW takes one look at me, takes my passport, and in the most non-Thai way asks; “money now!!” The blood was gone instantly I tell you, I swear she could smell the anxiety… and I’ll be frank a little fear. I look right at her and kindly explain that I’ve been in the country plenty of times, as my plethora of Thai-Visas show her, and that at no other time had I been asked for money, so naturally I didn’t bring any. GW repeats the command. I ask her if she knows English, she replies with the wrath of a dragon; “Yes. Speak English. 20,000 money now!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I asked her, could I get my wallet? She replied with her favorite command.
I’m at a loss, so I ask the room if anyone knows English, and in steps the other character of this tale. He too has lost all to this cruel world, and burnt himself on spilt hot coffee this morning, and on every coffee his whole life. Angry Man (AM) is one of the guards, he looks at me, and demands that I show money now, or leave. I tell him that the money is on a card in my wallet. AM tells me in stunted English that he too has a card, but that doesn’t mean I know who he is, and unless a receipt can be shown, I will be leaving the building. I take my leave and return to the van to get my wallet. As I leave I ask the others there, that, by any chance in heaven, they had 20,000B around. obviously, they declined. I got 1000B from the Japanese student, and 100RM from the Cambodian-lady-who-speaks-Mandarin who sat in front of me. I return to hell, only to have GW look at disgust at my card and a few thousand Baht, and commands that she needs all 20,000B, now!! AM tells me to go to an ATM. I ask him where? He replies in Thailand. In Thailand!? Apparently it’s all goods for me to waltz across the boarder, wallet and passport in hand, to get the money, and then return, obviously, with 20,000B, which I do not have, oh and don’t run away….?
In disbelief I walk across the boarder, without hassle, into the country I have a Visa, but no permission, to enter into. I reach my first ATM. No way to check balance, let alone to get a receipt, and no way to draw cash, and it shuts down periodically, almost swallowing my card. I walk down the street to the other ATM, apparently a MasterCard isn’t cool enough for this machine. I ask for another. There is none apparently. According to all the locals, those were the only two ATMs…. Does the street vendor perchance have 20,000B I could borrow? No (no kidding). But I have no choice, I have to find another, so I continue my dash across this town, in Thailand, and come to the third ATM (I’m not kidding here, nor exaggerating, it was madness I tell you). This ATM tells me I have cash. That brilliant sigh of relief. I don’t have 20,000B but I do have enough to draw 10,000B, which is all I can draw anyway. No ability to print a receipt, so drawing the money is the only way. Now here’s the thing. I could have drawn this money a week ago apparently, and would have to pay my school fees off, which numbers just over 10,000B, but I didn’t know I had all of it. Instead I told my school leader I’d draw it after the run, if I had it. Thankfully, the machine lets loose it’s bounty, and I bound for the office. I walk up to the glass door, I’m praying hard now; “you made the blind see, now let the seeing blind” just like I’d read in all those Bible-smuggling stories….. No kidding, I was freaking out inside…. Outside, all good, inside, was like a team of mice running a marathon….
I walk in, and am met by Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It’s as if the night turned to day, the demons shrunk back into their hovels only to turn out to be Easter bunnies, a double-rainbow drove across the sky above multi-cultural children playing happily on a bouncy castle made of marshmallows. I’m not kidding here, there were smiles all over. I hand over the 10,000B plus the extra thousand from Japanese-student and 100RM from the Cambodian lady. GW smiles at me, looks at the money, counts it, takes my passport, and stamps me in. I could not even believe it. I was feint I tell you. I got out there as soon as humanly possible, after another man had taken copies of my passport (to my almost-horror of fear of being denied again), and reach my van. Apparently Japanese student and Mandarin-speaking-Cambodian woman had had to stand outside the vehicle to stop the driver from driving off. I sat there, driving though the countryside of Thailand, laughing nervously for close to 15 minutes I tell you.
I had turned down an opportunity to pay off school fees, numbering 10,000B, without really knowing it, only to have all of it get to the account in time, to be able to only draw 10,000B anyway, with no possibility of getting a receipt to show my true amount because of three faulty ATM’s, to show them 10,000B when I had to show them 20,000B, all of it now!! Was told about it before hand, and only have it turn out exactly as told. I couldn’t even believe it.
So that was my day…
I lied, I will never forget a day like that…
Tomorrow we continue the filming, in Thailand, with my freaking Thailand visa safely in my bag. Thank you God, I give all the glory to you!!