21 October 2008

Letter 3.71

Still in Thailand, as you can tell, but also still only on the edge of Thailand, meaning the visa situation is not yet resolved, though I have some hope of a favorable outcome, since a number of people are helping me. It would seem that something has to work. For example, I know the 2nd-in-charge at Immigration, who has agreed to submit my application to the committee with last year's letter. (The problem is that I need a letter from a certain department before Immigration can officially give me a visa and that department has so far refused to give me one, for reasons which are too complicated to explain in a sheaf of aerogrammes, but they gave me a letter last year, and it's that letter that my friend in Immigration will use to see if it can slip past the committee which decides on all visa applications.) Also, someone who knows the boss of the man who refuses to give me the letter said he will speak to the boss (who is the Minister of Education)... But... enough of all this...

Bangkok is having its bicentennial celebrations, both of Bangkok as capital and of the Chakri dynasty as kings of Siam. This means that after a few frantic months of attempting to cover two centuries of filth with a coat of white-wash and patches of cement and plaster, there is now a hokey month of festivities, noise, crowds of tourists all trying to figure out what is happening (answer: nothing worth bothering about), and where it's happening (nowhere/everywhere), herds of hustlers all out for the main chance, and more traffic and turmoil and pollution than is normal even for a place like Bangkok, which, you may have gathered, is not my favorite place to be. Later this month the city will experience its annual floods, which submerge parts of the city in inches and sometimes feet of filthy water, so perhaps the parade will all float away like a bad dream (inspired by indigestion, no doubt).

The Thai baht, by the way, continues to plummet, and Thai upper-classes continue to seek foreign shelters for their (usually ill-gotten) gains. It may not be long before visas aren't worth very much. Meanwhile, the far-right-wing forces, under a general named Arthit, gather their strength. These are really vicious people, the sort who are quoted in interviews as saying things like 'I am bored with humanitarianism, very bored.' Not exactly the sort of people who would bridge the mammoth gap between Bangkok's very rich and the countryside's very poor (and, because of the encroaching technology of Bangkok, the countryside becomes poorer even without the rapacious rip-offs of the government forces). But then the very rich aren't interested in bridging any gaps in this country, only between themselves and the U.S. (or Australia, England, or whatever, but mostly the U.S.)

No doubt I could continue to struggle on in Thailand with short visa extensions; however, this would tie me up indefinitely in Bangkok, and I've had quite enough of that, so I'm more and more inclined to choose a country where, from all reports, these visa hassles don't exist, and that country looks more and more (for more than this reason) like my old isle of Serendip... Ceylon... Sri Lanka...

To bow out of society in style, this evening I shall be having tea with the family of a princess. English-educated, and though directly descended from King Mongkut -- the King of the ling and I -- yet very remote from the present royal family. Her husband is English. She makes a living as a batik artist. I'll tell her about a man who looked like a fisherman in a Chinese painting: my teacher in Jogjakarta. Perhaps even demonstrate his silence.

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