Somehow government offices look the same everywhere.

It looks familiar. The walls of the complex are dirty and there is some trash on the corner. Signs are posted everywhere. Mostly in Thai, some English. Even in Thailand, you can tell it’s a government complex. Somehow government offices look the same everywhere.

It’s early. 7am. Still, folks are already lining up. Middle aged men in comfortable, loudly-printed vacation clothing. Gritty tattooed 20-somethings in camouflage shorts and tank tops. Fit, capable-looking women with hiking shoes. An old Thai man with a ream of paper in an ancient leather briefcase.

I notice him because I’m waiting to get my copies made. Why would he come here to make a copy of an encyclopedia? I feel like an expert as I tuck the departure card into the visa page and keep my thumb in the photo page. I hand her the passport. 10 baht. Copies done.

Walk into the main building. Fans. Good. I count five, plus the air conditioner. It’s going to be hot. Already thirty people here and half the chairs are empty.

There’s no clear direction. I need to get my ticket. Maybe everyone is waiting. It’s not open yet officially. I go to the counter and try to get someone’s attention without being pushy. I am noticed. A confident woman with a ready smile and short-cropped hair takes a look at my paperwork. I brought the apartment’s business card so my local address is perfect. Pro tip. She hands me my number. 12. Not bad. Maybe I’ll be out of here in an hour.

8:00. The loudspeaker starts playing some music. Everyone stands up. It takes me a moment to realize: The King’s Anthem. We stand solemnly while the anthem plays.

8:30. The office is open and numbers are running. They call out each new number in Thai and English. One queue starts at zero, I presume that’s mine. Others are in the 300s or 500s.

9:00. Numbers aren’t moving much. I’m sitting in an outside waiting area that has reasonably priced coffee. A well groomed middle aged man is trading bites of pastry with the younger Thai boy sitting next to him. At the same table, another middle-aged man saves a seat for his wife while she parks the car. This guy looks like a football fan. They wouldn’t be sitting at the same table in Florida. Probably not even the same bar.

10:00. Nothing yet.

It’s hot. I go inside. It’s packed. I find a corner near a monk in glowing orange robes. I’m used to seeing them now, but it’s still hard not to stare. The smoothly shaved head and crisp outfit is striking.

11:00. My name is called. I hand over my paperwork. He asks me to write my phone number under my photo. I don’t know my thai number, but I do know how to get it. *833. Done. I hand over 2000 baht ($60). Sit down again.

11:15. My name is called again. Time for my formal immigration interview.

I walk to the front again. It’s not clear where to go. I stand there trying to balance a smile neither too grim nor goofy.

A woman in a sharp military uniform projects her voice from a desk behind the front line:

“What your name?”

I tell her.

She holds up a Logitech webcam from where she’s standing and I look at it.

She tells me to go sit and I do. 5 minutes later I get a receipt with a 100 baht bill stapled to it. And my passport. I’m good to stay another 30 days.

Thanks, Thailand.


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