Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TIALFTITUS, Part IV (The Conclusion)

Living in Thailand as a farang has given me a small taste of what it is like to be a minority. I don't claim that it is the same as being a minority in the States, but there are some similarities. It’s odd to not be able to find hair products that work for fine hair (Thai hair is coarse) or a facial product without bleach. It's hard to get a decent haircut, because the techniques are different. All the cosmetics are the wrong colors for my skin. Clothes are too small; only a handful of stores carry my size -I’m a ten in the U.S. - and even then the clothes are cut all wrong for me. If you’re Thai and my size, you’re really fat. The shirts that button comfortably on me are also baggy around my waist, and the pants that fit me through the hips need a belt to stay up. We get stared at wherever we go. Many people assume we are rich and don't speak Thai (which is true for me but not for John, and even I can sometimes understand that you are talking about me).

People have asked us why we are going back to the U.S. The simple answer is that John wants to go to grad school, and we miss our families. Totally true. There's also the fact that there is no long term future for us here. English teachers don't get retirement packages and raises every year, there isn't much upward mobility, and we can't put down roots. We're not allowed to own property or businesses, though it's possible with the right lawyer(s) to set things up. We can't send our kids to public schools, even though we pay taxes, and we can't afford the bilingual private schools. None of the schools in Khon Kaen would prepare our kids for an American college. Even the school where John teaches, even though it's good, would not prepare them, and it's only through sixth grade. There are no bilingual high schools that I know of. It's not important to me that my kids go to college, but it's important to me that they have the opportunity to prepare to be successful in college in case THEY want that.

And then there's the visas. We've already had a visa saga. A couple weeks ago Jick, John's boss, went with some of the other teachers to Immigration for visa renewals. They told her the laws are changing and getting dependent visas (which is what Trea and I have) now takes a substantial amount of money in the bank. I've researched it and as near as I can tell, that's only true of retirement visas. For a retirement visa you need a pension of roughly $2,000 a month U.S. or nearly $23,000 sitting in a bank account, either one will qualify you for a retirement visa if you are over 50. I'm not sure if it is true for dependents of work permit holders. The thing is, if it is true, we could never afford it - we don't have anything near $23,000. If it's not true, we'd still be in trouble because this immigration official adamantly believed it to be true, and wouldn't renew our visas, and we'd end up hightailing it to Laos with two small kids and then, since Adia had left the country, she'd need a visa too. It gets expensive.

Immigration status is a tricky thing. John's work permit and visa are tied to his job. If he were to change jobs, it would totally mess with his visa, and Trea's and mine as well. We're lucky his job turned out to be a decent situation because it's nearly impossible to change jobs without leaving the country, from what I've heard, especially now that they've changed the laws again. As for me, I'm in the country legally but I'm not supposed to work. My visa doesn't prohibit working, but I don't have a work permit. I thought the school would get one for me (they have to sponsor it) but they didn't want to spend the time and money when I didn't need it for a visa. Now I only want to work part-time, and it's near impossible to find a school that will get you a work permit for part-time employment (many, many schools will hire you part-time, just not get the work permit). Working illegally gives you no rights. One of my employers didn't pay me all semester. The paperwork got lost and all that. They did pay eventually, but if they hadn't, what was I going to do? Nothing. I couldn't report them without getting arrested and/or deported. I don't like the feeling of being on the wrong side of the law, or of being helpless. I don't want to work full time right now, I want to be with my kids. So, until Thailand figures out whether it really wants farang teachers or not, I'm going home.