Once Upon a Time…

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

It’s funny how I’m technically a teacher, but every day, I feel like a student. Constantly learning. Everything feels new. Something I love about teaching is re-learning the basics. In kindergarten, we’re constantly going over shapes, colors, letters and numbers. I love asking my students what their favorite shapes and colors are. Not surprisingly, every girl loves pink and purple and every boy loves blue…or black…or green…or red. All girls love hearts and diamonds while every boy loves squares and triangles – except for Tikhong, he loves hearts. Makes me smile.

When our letter of the week was “Q” I asked my class what words start with “Q.” “Queen!” “Quilt!” “Cucumber!” Errr….well….I mean, technically no, but it does make sense.

And I cracked up when Djung got a little scratch on her middle finger and proceeded to flip the bird at me with the most innocent face in the middle of the cafeteria.

Oh, and I can’t forget about the time when Shirley saw my friend Nate who works at a neighboring school and asked me, “Is that your Dad??” He’s 25….

I love the way their brains work. So innocent and pure. I’m grateful to be a kindergarten teacher because I don’t have to worry about text analysis, grammar, or multiplication. I am introducing the most basic of concepts to my students – and what those basic topics are? Thankfully, the school allows me to choose. So I have been focusing on kindness, dreams, wishes, fairy tales, and community. My students love talking about their nap time dreams – dragons, castles, and sharks, oh my! And each of them wish for candy – and not surprisingly, their wishes always come true!

If I can prolong their sense of wonder and innocence just a little bit longer, I’ll consider my job well done.

Here are my personal moments of wonder these past few weeks…

I took a trip with my friend Liz to an island of floating houses and did oracle card readings on the dock. The card I pulled was “Rainbow Blessings.” Sounds about right…

“Feel the fear…and do it anyway.”

Surrounded by beauty.

Elephants made completely out of fresh blooms.

Elsa rules the World.

My group of girlfriends here in Chiang Mai…and some random dude. This is in one of the many markets where you can get a fresh plate of pad thai for less than $1.

I miss being near water so much. Thankful for many waterfalls to adventure to.

Be like water and go with the flow.

Went with the flow and visited a magical temple high up in the mountains. This ceiling was painted with puffy white clouds that transformed into a night sky, complete with twinkle lights. #ceilinggoals

An homage to my old life… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Preen is my superhero.

Made friends with the teeniest, tiniest frog.

Fingerprint hearts… Love grows every day in K1B.

Love love love.

Dr. Seuss Day. Oh, the Places They’ll Go…

The typo makes it better…

Big Ass Mistake…

We are currently in smoky season. To give you reference – air quality in Seattle averages about 20 AQI (air quality index). Chiang Mai during this time reaches 200 AQI. Constantly coughing, having to wear my mask, and not being able to play outside. Seattle got dumped with snow and we are in a constant haze. There’s always a crappy weather season, no matter where you go! Here are some clouds being eaten by the smoke. Wish I were joking – fires everywhere!

Took a visa run to Laos. Here are some elephants, made out of…

…dishes!

In Laos, I found a cafe called Once Upon a Time and had the most delicious crepe and latte – sitting in the face of the giant clock. It was a dream…

Speaking of Laos…let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Andrea who wanted to be a teacher in Thailand…

So in order to work in Thailand, you have to jump through about 50 hoops to be legal. So many forms, constantly paying fees, doing police background checks and medical checks, visits to immigrations, passport photos, making appointments, etc. etc. etc. The list of things to be on top of to remain legal is INSANE.

One of the most important steps is getting your non-immigrant visa. Most times you enter a foreign country, you are on a tourist visa that lasts 30 days. You can extend a certain amount of times, but you also have to do a few “visa runs.” You have to leave the country and return on a new visa.

So last weekend, I had to do a very important visa run to Vientiane, Laos. This wasn’t an ordinary visa run where I leave, turn around and come back. In order to get a work permit, I can’t have a tourist visa. I needed to get a non-immigrant visa which requires me to visit the Thai consulate in Laos, drop off a ton of documents, an application and my passport. Oh, and don’t forget yet another payment. Then you go back to the consulate the next day and pick everything up and head back to Thailand. Well….sounds like an easy process. But IT IS NOT.

There is SO much room for error. And unfortunately, a stereotype of Thailand that holds true is there is a lack of communication and things change constantly. You can’t just google the process because there are steps that have likely changed since any article or blog was published. So the best reference is talking to someone who has recently done it (and even then, there will likely be some unknown changes).

So I sat down with my co-worker Amy and wrote out a detailed list of every step (as detailed as which window at the border to go to first – no joke, you go to window 2 before you go to window 1, because that makes complete sense, right?!). Well….I go through all of my steps to enter Laos flawlessly and enjoy my Sunday night of exploring. The next morning, I start making my way to my 11am appointment. The application says to show up 30 minutes before my appointment. I’m perpetually early, so I leave my hotel with plenty of time to be extra early. I make my way to the Thai Embassy, listening to my tunes, feeling blissful and connected to the Universe. Hell yeah, I got this.

I get to the embassy and there is no one there. Hmmmm, maybe this is the wrong building? Or maybe I’m just that early. All I see are construction workers and piles of dirt surrounding the building. Weird… I find a security guard and he hands me a map and points at the word “Consulate.” OF COURSE I WENT TO THE WRONG PLACE. It’s cool, though, because I still had 45 minutes. My bliss was gone and I pay a tuk tuk driver 50,000 kip (equivalent to $6) to drive me 5 blocks. A complete rip-off and I know it, but I don’t care because I needed to get there on time!

I arrive at the consulate with a hoard of people standing outside of a gate – there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Someone asks me what number I am and I say, “301.” “You’re late! They’re in the 400’s!” The tiny ounce of bliss remaining instantly disappears, frustration takes over – I was 35 minutes early!! How am I late?? Then they look at my passport photo and say, “No blue background!!!” They point me to a side market where a man is taking photos for $5. Ugh. He points me to a stool with a white piece of paper taped on the wall behind it. I made the mistake of wearing a white t-shirt, so he hands me a piece of fabric that sort of resembles a business jacket if I wrap it the right way and smelled of hundreds of previous unprepared tourists. “No smile!” I didn’t even have any time to take my hair down or wipe off the sweat from my face. Bam, photo is taken and he’s cutting them up. You know how everyone seems to have a license or passport photo that they’re sort of embarrassed by? I’ve never had one – I don’t know how I got so lucky with my official photos. But my luck had run out…

I was hiding my photos when I walked up to the zig-zagging line outside the consulate. The guard rushes me in and I go past about a hundred people waiting in line (did I totally F this up?!) and make it to a table where they highlight my name and point me to window 2 (again with the window 2!!) and I hand my application and passport to a man with a scowl. He glances at it, checks a few boxes, and hands me a sheet of paper, “Come back tomorrow.”

Hm. That was surprisingly insane…and easy at the same time. Was that it? That was my appointment? I’m done already?? What are all these other people waiting for??

So I make my way back to my hotel and plan to spend the rest of the day by the pool. I felt accomplished. I noticed that Vientiane was a city where all that’s done is killing time. I kept running into the same people over and over – we were all doing the same thing. Visa appointment, then killing time until our second visa appointment the next day. I was so happy I made it to the ‘killing time’ portion of my day.

I get my bikini on and tidy up my stuff…then I see my packet of documents that I had been holding onto the entire process. The packet given to me by my school’s visa department: a bunch of documents written in Thai, copies of my degree and transcripts, sponsor letters, and background checks. That’s weird…aren’t these important? Shouldn’t someone have asked to look at them or keep them? Panic starts setting in. OMG. Did I screw up again?!?! Was I supposed to leave those documents with them?

I start messaging anyone and everyone who could possibly help me. After 30 minutes of freaking out, being told “you’re probably fine” (‘probably’ was not going to calm me down!!), and asking my visa contact if my documents had been e-mailed to the consulate and that’s why they didn’t ask for them (yeah right, but a girl can dream), I finally I get a call from an HR woman I’d never met. “They definitely need that packet.”

You know how when you’re so focused on the little details, you forget the biggest, most basic steps? This is what happened with me. I was nitpicking at which box to select on my application (Single entry? Multiple entry? WHAT?) that I forgot the most important step: THE PACKET. I knew I had to go back to the consulate straight away.

Shit. The consulate was only open for people picking up their visas at this time and I had no idea how I would finagle this with the frowny-face men. My contact said I’d probably have to make a new appointment for the next morning, start over, and extend my stay. NO. NUH-UH. I refused to let that happen. I went above and beyond to make sure I was on top of everything, I was not going to let a stupid mistake cause me many more problems!

So I let another tuk tuk driver rip me off because desperate times call for desperate measures, and we rushed back to the consulate. But of course, I choose the tuk tuk that only moves 5 mph. A rip-off and a slow poke. Great. But this did mean I had a lot of time to pray, that’s for sure. I crossed my fingers, I prayed, and I rubbed my lucky hamsa hand all the way back to the consulate. Yet again, another hoard of people. I explained my situation to the guard and he pointed me to the fancy building next to window 2.

I walk in and I see piles upon piles of passports. Damn, there are A LOT of people getting visas for Thailand!!! I plead with the one man who knew English to accept my documents – and he walks away and I’m not quite sure if I was successful or not. After a couple minutes, he comes back empty handed. Damn, I failed. “What’s your nationality?” “American.” He walks away again. Crossing, praying, and hamsa. 2 more minutes that felt like 2 hours went by and he comes back with my passport and takes my documents. “Come back tomorrow.” Ok, but that’s what the last guy said, and it wasn’t complete! I ask him, “Am I all good?” He gave me a thumbs up. Yesssss.

Back to the pool I go.

It took me a couple hours and dips in the pool for the adrenaline to fade away. Mistakes that happen with this process don’t just delay things or create a minor inconvenience. Mistakes mean you don’t teach anymore. You leave the country. Or you pay big bucks, use precious vacation time, and redo tedious processes over again so you can stay.

After the pool session, I went to the street market, ate a bowl of noodle soup, drank the most deserved glass of wine ever, and went back up to my room to pass out from a truly exhausting day. To ease my paranoia, I double-check my backpack and make sure nothing else was forgotten. I see my embarrassing passport photos that were taken earlier that day and I start laughing. I could not. stop. laughing. The laughing turns into full-on cackling. Even now, I’m chuckling because that morning was just so damn ridiculous. The silver lining of that whole experience were these photos… I have some hilarious souvenirs from my time in Laos that will remind me of this series of unfortunate events.

After laughing so hard, I stopped taking everything so seriously and remembered that these are going to be memories that will make for a good story…

The next afternoon, I went back to that hoard of fellow time-killers (extra, extra, extra early), prayed my number would be called, and then I could go back ‘home’ on time.

“301.” HALLELUJAH.

I pay my hefty fee and let out a huge sigh of relief when I see the giant sticker in my passport with the words, “Non-Immigrant B.” SUCCESS.

Then after multiple shuttles, busses, lines, hours of waiting for more shuttles and a plane – I made it back to my own bed late into the night.

But wait, there’s more! Of course it’s not done yet!! I had to go to immigrations in Chiang Mai the next morning to ‘check-in’ with a form that I, of course, had never heard of before. Thankfully, the owner of my room happened to return from Bangkok the night before and could quickly sign the necessary paperwork I needed so I wouldn’t get fined. I turn in the paperwork at immigrations, get a stamp, and I finally head back to K1B.

I surprise my class when they’re returning from morning assembly and they run in with happy faces, “Teacher Andrea!!!!!” I fell to the floor from all of their hugs.

This is why I am going through all of the confusing and tedious steps.

Money, time, paperwork, appointments, multiple thoughts of calling it quits, and so much sweat.

My students. My kids. My reason. Love.

So if you’re ever stressed, don’t worry too much. It will work out the way it’s supposed to. It always does. And if there’s ever a mistake made – which WILL happen – find the humor in it.

Laughter does a body good.

And she lived happily ever after…

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