Oiy Redux

Aug 16, 2010

How interesting that as I turn away from Seattle women — and begin getting my Thailand Visa Application in order — I should hear from my old Thai girlfriend Oiy! (Maybe girlfriend is too strong a word — we were together a couple weeks, if that.) It had been over fifteen months since she’d last emailed me a greeting, telling me what a nice guy I was. This time the message was a bit longer, the gist of it being that she is living at home, has no boyfriend, and wants me to call her if I come to Thailand. What this really means is that whatever support she’d wrangled from the latest Westerner to fall for her has dried up.

Oiy had been my first experience with a Thai bargirl. Back in 2008, when I was a womanizing neophyte fresh off the airplane, awestruck by the tropical “scenery”, I fell for her during my second week in the country. Looking back, it was a case of encountering a lady who had an alluring body and could make me laugh. And the fact that she would happily be my lover without my having to pass any boyfriend auditions left me almost giddy with anticipation.

It didn’t last of course. Having only a tourist visa, I had to depart when my thirty days were up and once back in the U.S., the thought of supporting a Thai lady with daughter lost what little appeal it might have had. (In fact, I was never comfortable with the idea. It was too much, too soon.) I did, however, wire her the remaining money I’d promised, then a goodbye when she tried to wheedle more out of me.

But I was not forgotten. To my surprise, I got that email from her last year. As I said, it was a pleasant hello laced with a compliment or two. When I sent an equally friendly response, that opened the gates. Her next message was another plea for money, which I did not bother to respond to.

Now it’s undoubtedly the same old story: Oiy is looking for a way to remain at home without working in the bars and is once again going to try and tap me for support. She knows I’m a soft touch. In fact, if she had not been so quick off the bat asking for help last year, I most certainly would have offered it on my own.

At least I now understand what’s going on: I’m being offered a business proposition. In return for my support, I will have a girlfriend patiently awaiting whenever I visit. (And by the way, she knows nothing about my plans to relocate to her country. Please don’t tell her!)

Nice body notwithstanding, I think I’m going to wait until I get moved over there and settled in before I risk another entanglement. I’ve got too much going on right now to be dealing with her.

OiyPose

Not Yet…

Thai Visa Application Work

Aug 24, 2010

The Thais certainly love paperwork! I imagine their consulate down in L.A. must rent out a warehouse to hold all the bulky visa applications they receive each year.

For my humble solicitation, I had to make four copies of the main page of my passport, the one that contains my picture and expiration date (the passport’s, not mine). Along with this, four passport-sized photos. Then there was the police report, notarized medical form and latest checking account statement (showing a hefty deposit) that all required a spin through the Xerox machine. Those people down at the consulate are in some ways going to know me better than my mother ever did. 

But the fun did not end there. I also had to do a trip to my friendly bank to get a manager’s notarized signature on what’s called a deposit verification letter, which proves that the funds in my checking account actually do exist. Lastly, there was the matter of finding a “Contact & Guarantor”. This has to be someone who actually resides in the country. Fortunately, my friend and Thailand mentor Alex graciously agreed to volunteer. (If it were not for him showing me around, I never would have become so infatuated with the place. I owe the guy big time.)

Then it was off to Kinkos again for more copies (and I’m now on a first name basis with a couple of the employees). But that was the final expedition. Arriving back at my hotel, I managed to assemble the blizzard of forms and copies in such a way that they matched the order in the consulate’s application instructions. The intent is to make things as easy as possible for whoever ends up processing my special package. It never pays to get on the bad side of a bureaucrat.

Tomorrow I’ll make a final check of the paperwork, attach my passport, and mail the whole thing off. 

Laborious as all this was, I’m not complaining. I understand the Thais’ need to screen applicants. My country, in fact, is even more stringent with would-be residents. And in a perverse sort of way, I’ve enjoyed the challenges. Perhaps I have too much free time on my hands. 

Progress Report

Sept 12, 2010

As of this afternoon I’m ninety percent sure I’ll be departing around four weeks from today. What’s been giving me pause is an unresolved health issue (knee ligaments that I badly twisted last year, which three doctors so far have been unable to correct). But since the condition is hardly life-threatening and not causing me any pain while walking, I’ve decided not to let it hold me back. If I start having serious troubles, I can always visit a Thai physician. Hard to imagine them being any worse than the ones I’ve gone to here in the U.S.

Good news! Two days ago I received my passport back from the L.A. Consulate. Attached to one of the pages is what’s called an Entry Visa in shades of Regal Blue with “Kingdom of Siam” as the heading. This gives me permission to enter the country and receive the…drum roll please…Retirement Visa Stamp at immigration. Good for up to twelve months of fun.

The second piece of welcome news was a reply from Jii, the manager of the guest house in Pattaya (a city about two and a half hours south of Bangkok) where I stayed the last time I was there. I’d emailed her a while back saying that I was thinking of coming over again. This was well received, with her telling me that although she is no longer working at the guest house, her sister is and that I can get a room with a good monthly rate there. So the accommodations are ready and waiting.

Things are starting to fall into place.

One aspect I’m going to particularly enjoy this time around in Thailand is not having to watch the calendar. In my previous visits, there was always the pressure of trying to cram as many experiences in as possible before my thirty day Tourist Visa expired and I had to depart. Now, with my shiny new Retirement Visa, I can take things at a more leisurely pace. During the day, I’ll work on my memoir, read paperback novels and study the language. Evenings will see me eating out (real Thai cuisine!), playing pool, and meeting cute women, all of said activities to be found just down the block from where I’ll be staying.

It will be my own little comfy world.

Wiring Money Overseas

Sep 20, 2010

A month ago, I determined the best way to handle my initial expenses in Thailand was to smuggle over a hefty amount of the local currency, then promptly open an account at a Thai bank. (Wells Fargo, which has tried selling me everything from insurance to CDs to toasters, no longer offers traveler’s checks.) This still left the question of how to replenish my funds, which I recently posed to my two financial institutions.

The Wells Fargo Customer Rep I spoke with explained that yes, I could set up a wire transfer from my account here over to my Thailand bank with no problem. Just personally visit any Wells Fargo branch in the U.S. with the appropriate information. But hold on a minute!  I’m not going to know what the the destination bank is until I’ve flown over there and opened an account. Is there any way I can initiate the wire transfer from Thailand?

Apparently not.

Vanguard, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do, demonstrating once again why I’ve been a loyal customer of theirs for some fifteen years. The Vanguard representative will send me a form I can fill out and mail from over there once I choose a bank. And if I make sure the name on my Thailand bank account is the same as what is on my Vanguard assets, no signature guarantees — a messy process — would be required. An entry for my Thai bank will get created in my Vanguard profile; all I’ll need to do is log on and with just a few clicks, kick off the wire transfer. Can be done from anywhere with an internet connection.

Sweet!

Packing List

Sep 26, 2010

The next major Thailand task is to decide what I’m going to be taking with me. It helps having already been over there. In fact, when I returned from my last Asia adventure, I made a point of identifying anything that might be useful on a return trip, but was not needed for my U.S. lifestyle (e.g. extra washcloth, insect repellant, condoms). These were stashed away in a small garbage bag so I could easily retrieve them. (Part of me knew that I’d someday be going back.) There’s also a Word document on my PC containing important travel items to bring along, which will serve as a useful starting point.

For a tropical climate, the key is not so much what clothes you bring (t-shirts & shorts being sufficient), but what medicines you take along. You never have to worry about getting too cold, just getting sick, usually from the food or the flu. To that end, one should have the means to deal with cramps, diarrhea, nausea, headaches, congestion and coughing. (Really sounds like I’m going to have a fun time, doesn’t it?) To be sure, most if not all of the remedies to these can be purchased from a Thai pharmacy, but I’ve discovered, to my extreme annoyance, that foreign medicines are usually much wimpier than their U.S. counterparts. Better to bring stuff you know will work.

Trial Pack

Oct 3, 2010

In the airport these days, you see people lugging these monster suitcases behind them. Big enough to have contained the Hiroshima atomic bomb. With room for a hair dryer and cosmetics bag.

I have never believed in traveling that way and even as I prepared for a possible year abroad, I remained focused on keeping my “stuff” to a minimum. To encourage this, I would limit my luggage to a backpack and a small, Softside Samsonite suitcase (try quickly saying that four times). Initially I feared it would be like packing sardines into cans, yet it was far less a challenge than I expected.

To begin with, there was of course no need for any cold weather clothing. Just stuff seven t-shirts, six pairs of socks and some underwear into the backpack. This left the shoes, two pairs of shorts and a pair of jeans for the suitcase. (More than traveling light, I was going to be living light.) As for the toiletries, medicines and important papers, they could be crammed into the side compartments of the suitcase. No problem at all.

But a critical test remained. Since the suitcase lacked wheels, would I be able to carry it, the backpack, and an ancient (1998) Compaq PC without getting a hernia? To find out, I packed everything up, fitted myself into the straps of the now-fat backpack, slung the PC pouch over my shoulder and lifted the suitcase. Glancing in the mirror, I resembled one of those Apollo astronauts skipping about on the surface of the moon, encased in their bulky suits. But I had to deal with earth’s gravity.

My hotel (The Mediterranean Inn), has a charming sun deck on top with lovely views of the city, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. It’s a nice place to sit and let one’s thoughts wander and I decided to use this for my endurance test. After climbing two flights of stairs, I made myself march back and forth in front of the empty lawn chairs for about ten minutes. This was by no means some macho exhibition; I wanted to make sure that after I’d gotten off the plane in Bangkok I’d have the stamina to haul all my travel gear through immigration, across the cavernous Suvarnabhumi Airport, then out to a waiting taxi, at which point I could collapse in the back seat.

When the ten minutes were up and I was still standing, I returned to my room, happily shed my baggage, and collapsed on the bed.

Mission accomplished. It pays to be thorough!

Discovery Park

Oct 5, 2010

The Indian Summer that arrived yesterday continued through today. Not wanting to miss what might be my final chance at lovely weather, I took a bus out to Discovery Park for the afternoon. It was not as enjoyable as it should have been. Everyone and their dog was out and many of the owners regard the park as nothing more than a huge kennel run. The canines are unleashed to sniff around and frolic about. I picked up a long stick to use for walking and self-defense (though it did not come to that). Then there was the poor black rabbit whose tameness clearly suggested it had been abandoned. Less than twenty feet away was a sign prohibiting people from doing just that.

This is a side of do-your-own-thing Seattle that has always troubled me: the disregard for the rules if they in any way impede upon one’s chosen lifestyle. Want to keep a dog in the city? Let it run loose in the parks and ignore the lease law. Tired of caring for that rabbit? Dump it. Like to cycle? Ignore those red lights. And if one were to be so bold as to confront these people, they’d receive an indignant response.

Anyway, entering from the east side of the huge five hundred acre park, I gradually circled around to the old parade grounds. (Much of the area was once the site of Fort Lawton and some military families still reside there.) Just beyond the place where almost a century ago young cadets used to march in formation is a worn, paved road that I like to amble back and forth on. This time I spent a good forty-five minutes, savoring the mellow autumn sun while letting my thoughts meander. The tranquility made it hard to believe I was actually in a bustling metropolitan area of over three million people.

This place has had a few special moments for me such as the time I and a friend took advantage of a rare celestial event to see all five naked eye planets above the western horizon shortly after sundown. Because Discovery Park looks out over Puget Sound towards the Olympic Mountains to the west, there’s not much light pollution in that direction. We were able to locate the quintet of heavenly bodies in the clear evening sky with no trouble. On another occasion, when I was considering returning to Japan to teach English again, a contemplative amble along a deserted path choked with blackberry bushes helped me to realize I’d become ill-suited for that kind work (and that I did not much care for thorns, either). I no longer had the enthusiasm and in fact needed to let go of that rigid country.

For today’s visit, there was no grand revelation awaiting. I didn’t require one. When the time came to return to the hotel, I simply headed down to the South Gate, refreshed. Passing century-old trees, I turned and faced the parade grounds for a last look. I’ve always made a pilgrimage to this park prior to departing on one of my winter trips. I believe at some level it recharges my spirit. Who knows if this will ever happen again?

Ballard

Oct 7, 2010

This morning I made a trip up to the Ballard area of the city to drop off a batch of DVDs at Rain City Video. I’ve been a loyal customer there ever since I purchased my first VCR way back in the fall of 1996. I would stop in on Thursdays after work (half price days) to load up for the weekend. It was an inexpensive form of entertainment with a wide variety of movies to choose from. I would always take home four: a foreign flick, horror, drama and maybe a few shows from a TV series. That pleasant tradition has been revived this past summer and in the past few weeks I’ve begun splurging to use up my remaining credits. Today was the final time I would be stopping by so I decided to commemorate the occasion afterwards with a sentimental stroll through one of my old neighborhoods just a few blocks away.

The first stop was at the Nordic Heritage Museum. I’d last been inside three years ago — October 11 — which would had been my Norwegian grandmother’s 100th birthday. A kind of tribute to her. The next day I left for my Round The World expedition. I view the museum as the starting point for that ambitious, historic trip. Already, I have trouble imagining myself doing it. How did I ever muster up the energy?

I was not interested in going through the exhibits again, so I spent some time in a playground area adjacent to the parking lot, taking advantage of yet another nice day by learning to read the sundial there. 

The apartment on 24th and 67th where I resided from 2000-2002 was a two bedroom affair on the top (fourth) floor with a killer view. There I played my guitar and piano, prepared delectable meals in my crockpot, rode my bike to work, and was active in the church. I had no car. With most of my needs just down the street (a QFC grocery store, the Ballard Branch of the Seattle Public Library), I could easily get around on foot. Those were what I consider my Seattle Renaissance Years, a time when I came the closest to actually putting down roots.

Why, one might wonder, did I not stay in that pleasant habitat a year or two longer and enjoy the agreeable lifestyle I had built? Because there were other adventures I wanted to embark upon. It was not yet time to kick back and relax. Maybe it will never be that way for me.

The apartment building still looks the same, eight years after I moved out and cycled off to Iowa (see America Bike Ride). No wave of nostalgia hit me as I gazed at up at my bedroom windows. Too many years have snuck by. I caught the #18 bus back to my hotel.

An Old Comrade From Work

Oct 7, 2010

My longtime acquaintance Tom started at Airborne Express (a freight forwarding company) way back in 1983, a year before I did. Initially, we were part of the same programming group and did a few lunches together along with a couple of the other fellows. Always agreeable, and quick to see the humor in even grim situations, Tom is one of those people who never seems to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Perhaps a bit too well-adjusted for the anal retentiveness of computer programming — some six months after I arrived, he opted to leave the IT Department and pursue a new career direction one floor up in International. Airborne not being a large company, I would on occasion bump into him and we’d inevitably share a laugh. (Eventually Tom would realize the error of his ways and return to IT.)

As the years passed, and that original group of young programmers grew smaller (and grayer), Tom and I began having semi-regular lunches once again. I think it was because we both liked having a fellow old-timer to share the latest company news with rather than one of those newly hired twenty-somethings who had no recollections of the good old days. (I still remember humorously scheduling him for our meals, using Microsoft Outlook and keeping track of whose turn it was to pay. Always his, for some strange reason.)

Our favorite lunch destination became a bar called T.S. McHughs (“The Irish Pub of Lower Queen Anne”) and when I got back in touch with him recently to catch up, it was only natural we’d meet there for old time’s sake. Dinner this time around.

It was the same routine it’s always been with us: I ordered a large bowl of the clam chowder, while Tom had one of their sandwiches with fries and a pickle, which I stole. Since he did not need to return to the office, he added a beer as we settled down to compare notes on how life has been treating us. In Tom’s case, there was some bad news: Group Health, a company where he’s been doing programming/consulting work for the past two years, is laying him off at the end of the month. Given the dearth of COBOL jobs here in Seattle and on the West Coast (COBOL being a programming language, the tools of our particular trade), he’s begun considering working back east. Maybe Chicago, or even Philadelphia. It’s obviously a stressful period for him, but he’s keeping his chin up, having been through this before and under equally bad circumstances. Like me, he’s been thinking of getting out of Seattle, so this could be the “kick in the rear” (his words) to properly motivate hime. I admire his attitude.

Afterwards, I found myself feeling a bit melancholy, which I at first attributed to Tom’s situation. But when I got back to the hotel, I realized it was something more than that. Those T.S. McHughs lunches during our Airborne Express years were very enjoyable affairs, our humor being on similar wavelengths. Tonight’s dinner, given the new directions our lives appear to be heading in, probably marks the end of our Irish Pub get togethers.

The Mediterranean Inn

Oct 9, 2010

Well, it’s my last day as a monthly resident at this hotel. During the seven years since I checked in for my first long visit, it’s proven to be a fairly good place to stay. The location was perfect: two blocks to my private mailbox; a short bus ride to my storage unit; and during the end of my career at Airborne Express (when it was taken over by DHL), but a seven minute commute — on foot. The monthly rates have been reasonable, and the flexibility invaluable. When my parents began needing help, or I was ready for another overseas excursion, all I had to do check out and head to the airport. It was a perfect fit for my nomadic lifestyle.

It’s therefore fitting that the preparations for my upcoming Final Odyssey took place here. The previous six months have in fact been some of the busiest and most demanding of my stays at the Mediterranean because of some health problems I’ve tried to tackle and the details of the move to Thailand. Nevertheless, I hope I’ll someday look back at this place and time with a degree of nostalgia.

Mr. Sol has been fighting a losing battle this week. His appearances have become less frequent as the Rainy Season gathers strength. I have never been enamored with the gloomy Seattle fall afternoons, but knowing I’ll soon be making my escape gives me a perverse kind of pleasure this time around. It’s like I’m giving Mother Nature the middle finger.

“Someday you’ll find that I have gone.
But tomorrow may rain so, I’ll follow the sun.”
Lennon & McCartney

And a Happy 70th Birthday John, wherever you are!