April 24, 2015: My arrival in Thailand

While I don’t have as many pretty pictures or anything to document my arrival in Thailand, I can at least talk about what I remember.

My first impression of Thai bureaucracy at the airport wasn’t stellar. I deplaned and was going through the line. On the plane they give you a small form to fill out with all of your information. “What is this,” I was thinking. “If I already have a visa, why do I need to fill out a deplaning form?” Turns out, it’s important. I get in line at the airport having filled out the form to the best of my knowledge. I finally hand the form to the immigration officer, who looks at it, starts filling stuff out, looks at my passport, looks at my form, and then turns to me. “If u haff wisa alleddy why u no write wisa namburrr?” He then animatedly points to what he was referring. I just said, “I didn’t know,” and he began muttering something pleasant, I’m sure, in his native Thai. He stamps the passport correctly and staples the de-embarkation form to the back page of my passport (that is vital if you want to leave the country again). I was then on my way to get my heavy bags.

I only really knew one person in Chiang Mai at the time. Sure, I knew of others, but this man was the closest I had to an acquaintance at the time. He was the one that picked me up at the airport and help me to throw my luggage into the back of a songthaew. He and I chatted for a bit as the songthaew took us to his apartment near Payap University. We dropped off my bags near his house and since it was lunch time, he decided to take me to one of the nearby restaurants for lunch.

The restaurant he took me to is affectionately known as “Under The Tree” by the students in the Linguistics Department at Payap University. It got its name due to the fact that half of the structure of the cart and awning is supported by a thick tree growing out of the concrete. The owners are ethnic Shan, born in Thailand, and their menu is rice and noodle-based and very affordable. As we walked up to the restaurant, my guide hesitates, as he’s not on entirely good terms with all of the people there. Luckily, I recognized a few of the people from a Linguistics conference I attended in Yangon the previous year. I also recognized one man, Jacob Watson, who was asked by the then-head of the department, Art Cooper, to tell me his impressions of the program via email and Facebook. Jacob offered to pay “for my first Thai meal” (I want to say it was pad thai, but I hate that stuff, so I think it was actually fried rice.) Jacob and I remain good friends to this day.

After lunch, my guide and I broke off from the group strolled into the department, where I finally met Art Cooper, the director and Pam Cooper, the administrative assistant, in person. We chatted for a bit and I was shown around the office. My guide then took me to the library and left me to my own doings, as he had studying to do. He then gave me some Thai baht, since I hadn’t yet changed money.

The next day, I figured I would go back to campus and explore to get more acclimated, but I was interrupted by my guide, who eerily stated to me:

Look… It was fine letting you stay here last night. But, I’m old and I’m a very private person. So, I’m hoping that you make it your top priority to find another place to stay. I introduced you to my landlady and she’s very nice. Maybe you could find a room there or find another place. I just hope you make it your top priority to find your own place.

As soon as he left, I immediately went down to the landlady and asked if she had a room. Something about his demeanor told me that I needed to disassociate myself. And fast. She did have a room available and it would be ready for me in a few hours after cleaning. I took a walk and did a few other things during that time. I believe I figured out how to get my ATM card working and I withdrew a substantial amount of money, to ensure that I could pay the safety deposit. I had brought money in USD with me, but I didn’t know where to exchange it at the time. When the room was finished, I didn’t wait a second longer. I, by myself, hauled all of my heavy luggage down three flights of stairs on his side of the complex and up five flights of stairs on mine, until everything was in my own room (luckily, I paid for an air-conditioned room). After everything was moved, I set my copy of his room key on his counter, slapped down the amount of money that he lent me the previous day, walked out, locked the door behind me and never went to his room again in the remainder of time that he lived there.

Someone helped me get out of the airport, someone helped me order and pay for lunch, someone showed me around the campus, but paying for that apartment and hauling my luggage up there was my first independent action in Thailand.


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