The Wife Goes To England – Part 1
It has been just over two years since I was last back home in Blighty and as
my 40th birthday was looming somewhere around the next corner, it only made sense to go somewhere outside of my normal daily Bangkok lifestyle and to go and celebrate it elsewhere, so where better to go than back home to be with the family as I encounter yet another minor cornerstone in my life and enter the stage where life is meant to begin (or so they say).
To further justify my thought processes, I also reasoned that to go back home was a convenient albeit reactionary excuse to try and do something about the somewhat protectionistic anti foreigner policies that have been occurring in and around Thailand these past few months and so it was that I decided for once to stick my short arms into my very long pockets and to dig out enough cash to help fund a trip back home. My objective was simple, I was to take the wife back to England to see if she could live and adapt herself to life there and to also see what the lay of the land was like as well as to establish some possible exit strategies of my own (well you know…just in case).
So the plan was set and in December I informed the wife of her impending doom (erm, um I mean trip) to meet my folks for the first time as well as promising to take her down to London to do a Dick Whittington, to which I not only received a huge smile, a huge hug, an excited jump of delight and then a quick step back with a furrowed brow of ‘Arai na! Dick Wittington?’
Now the wife has never been out of Thailand ‘ever’ and so this was her first trip anywhere and so it was that she went off with her new passport in hand to the British (stand up and salute) embassy in December… this was quickly followed 30 seconds later when we realised our mistake and went off to the new agency who now deals with British visa requests. Now, we had done our homework before hand and had pulled together the mountain of paperwork required, plus copy bank books, statements and letters from bosses, copy WP and contracts, a letter from me saying I was funding the trip plus anything else we could muster not to mention the fee, then couple this with the fact that she is my wife and shares my surname as well as having enough funds to fund several years back in England if need be, we were both very confident of a successful visa outcome.
When we arrived at the visa agency office, some irksome Thai guy managed to body check us in the lobby area before we went up the stairs and insisted on seeing our paperwork as it was his job (so he said) to screen the paperwork and offer us advice and to give us a hint as to if our application was likely to be successful or not. Of course, me being me, I was quite sceptical about his real intentions but decided to just go with the flow and to be honest, I am still not sure if this guy was employed by the British embassy or the visa agency or if he was genuine or just trying it on in some form of touting for business or not. I have no idea. Anyway, I let him take us up stairs and we all sat down inside the visa agency and I half tuned in as he and the wife had a general muttering in Thai about the visa application process as he filtered through our mountain of paperwork. In the mean time I was looking around with interest at the quality of the other applicants that were also there and I swear about 60% of them where guys (both young and old) who had girls with them who looked like they had all just come in off the night shift from Nana Plaza and I couldn’t help but feel that these folks in particular where wasting their time being there, but each to their own. The other 40% consisted of what looked like more reasonable and in most cases married couples, a few business folk with the rest being made up of student types (or wannabe terrorists) but who can tell these days.
So while I was sat there looking around with a somewhat bemused look on my face and chuckling to myself, the wife tugged me back to the present and mentioned that the irksome guy was rambling on about how I needed to write a letter inviting the wife to go to England and that the letter had to be posted from England stating my home address back there and some kind of proof of the details of the house I live in etc… At hearing this, I looked at the wife, I then looked at him, I then looked back at the wife again and told her to engage her brain for a second and think about what this guy had just said. At hearing this, the wife through experience knew that someone was about to get a lecture and then I turned to the guy and laid it out to him with some very clear logical reasoning about why what he just said was the thought process of a river kwai chewing on cud whilst taking a dump in the tall grass. After the exclamation marks had left the vicinity above his head and my wife had finished looking sternly down my left ear, I asked him at what point in the two years that I had been residing full time in Thailand with my Thai wife, was I to go back home to the UK, to then finding a house to live in, to then typing a letter, to then posting it back to Thailand, to finally getting on a plane and being back in time for tea with my wife to join her at the embassy so that I could be with her as she applied for her visa.
After a moment's silence and probably a prayer or too to whomever grants him his divine wishes, the irksome little man decided to offer in way of an explanation that our case was unusual to the ones he normally gets to deal with and promptly got up, wished us good luck with the visa process and then sauntered on off out of there as quickly as his little leggies would allow. What a complete prat! Like I said, I have no idea what purpose he was trying to serve but clearly he hasn’t got a clue and it did make me wonder what type of folks he normally does get to see on a regular basis at the visa agency.
Anyway, we continued on our way and with me keeping well in the background with the occasional nudge in the back to push my wife to the counters she needed to go to as I wanted her to take on the responsibility upon herself to learn how to go through the visa process, we found that the process was simple, that we had sufficient paperwork to do the application and in no less than 25 minutes we were out of there with 20 minutes of that sat there waiting in a queue. After, that the waiting game continued for two more days when we finally got the message for the wife to go and pick up her passport and her British visa, a 6 month multi entry no less. At this point the wife started getting excited and was leaving little puddles on the floor while I was beginning to think about how much all of this was going to cost me… it didn’t take too long to find out.
First off, we decided to book a direct flight to London rather than do a hop skip and jump via Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Dubai or wherever you can get connections to and as a consequence of taking a direct flight (with Thai Airways) we ended up paying slightly more than I had originally envisioned, but hey no problem, it was my first real holiday outside fools paradise (erhum) in two years and I had been saving hard so it was a gift to myself too.
The next bill came when the wife decided to drag me around a multitude of shops down at the Platinum centre and she had one thing in mind. She wanted warm clothing and she also needed a coat, no problem I thought, a couple of jumpers and a coat, this shouldn’t take too long. Unfortunately I had forgotten what it was like to go shopping with a woman and by the end of the day the wife had managed to amass together about 10 jumpers, a coat, 3 woolly hats, 3 pairs of gloves and 4 scarves! After packing the virtual sledge and listening to the husky hounds barking at the Bangkok sun in some sort of abject complaint, I eventually stopped the wife and asked her how long she thought she was going away for (it was only 10 days) and did she realise that England this time of year, albeit cold in terms of Thai standards would not be ‘that’ cold… to which I got the usual Thai response when faced with any kind of adverse and reasonable questioning and that was ‘you don’t understand, I am Thai’ followed by silence for the rest of the day. As I have heard that usual nugget many times before from almost every Thai I have ever met, and recognise it for the broken record that it is, I just resigned myself to the knowledge that she ‘thinks’ she knows best and left it at that. It was, after all, her money she was spending.
Over the next few weeks, I would find myself coming home from work to find that the virtual sleigh had gotten heavier and the virtual huskies were beginning to whine at me to take some of the strain and so it was that I decided to intervene before the virtual ice cracked and a catastrophe occurred with the people in the condo beneath us. So I took a good hard look at the luggage she had been slowly amassing and after I had unpacked her very large suitcase with some additional block and tackle to assist, I managed to count 30 pairs of knickers, 14 bras, 20 pairs of socks, 10 pairs of trousers / jeans, 2 skirts, 24 shirts / T-shirts, 4 pairs of shoes / trainers, two towels, a bag load of cosmetics and all of the winter clothes that she had previously bought.
In addition to that, I found 2 packets of dried noodles, 2 packets of green curry powder, several instant spicy soup packets and several other mysterious food items. I guess the luggage at this point was nearing the 40kg mark and just where she thought she was going I have no idea but she must of thought that back in England we live in igloos and chase after polar bears and eat penguins. So I had to show her the spelling of Iceland compared to England to make sure she wasn’t mistaken and sat down and had a quiet word with her. The result after she resigned with an ‘up to you’ remark was that I successfully removed 60% of the stuff out of the bag and put it back where it belonged, noticing as I did so that her luggage was now down to a more reasonable 21kg and I told her that was all she needed for the trip… period!
In the meantime, I did the usual trip planning and it was then that I realised with much shock and horror from the wife to how much more expensive England has become these past two years. I also noticed how much easier it is to plan a trip away from England than it was to plan one going back there. Anyway, I booked a car to be ready upon my arrival and I also pre-booked several hotels with only about 2 days out of the 10 where we would keep things flexible. The trip was set to take us from Heathrow up through the Midlands, then to Liverpool, up to Kendal and then back down again through Wales, Oxford and then back into London for the final 3 days. I guess I was going to be doing a lot of driving. I also managed to line up two job interviews for when I was in country and this would if successful form the basis of an exit strategy should I need one in the coming months as things become clearer (or not) in the land of silliness.
One more thing I decided to do at this juncture was to use this as an opportunity to take out some of ‘my’ money from Thailand because let’s face it, you don’t really want that much of your own money here these days, so I went with the wife and withdrew 500,000 THB from the bank and went to a great little exchange place near Chidlom that was heaving with Thais exchanging money and converted all of the money into UK pounds. The overall deal only cost me something like 23 baht in real terms and I managed to walk out with circa £7,142 pounds in my pocket. As such I was a very happy man and even happier to be getting some of my money back out of Thailand to earn some decent interest back home. I could have simply transferred it back out through my bank but I had heard that the fee was somewhat high and was fraught in some cases with the usual Thai hassles and bureaucracy so I decided to take out the money as holiday cash instead.
To be honest I hadn’t a clue if there were any currency restrictions or not on taking British pounds out into England and I guess I should have checked, but as a precaution, the wife and I divvied up the money into 1,000 pound bundles and placed envelopes into several of our bags. I even put some in my wallet, some went into her purse and some of it was scattered elsewhere just in case. Thinking back, the biggest risk we had was probably the journey back to our condo rather than going through the customs and the wife was positively sweating until we got back home and safe in the condo as you just never know who is watching you as you enter and leave the exchange booths.
So it was then that the time came around and off to the ‘new’ airport we went. Both of us had never been to the new airport before and so we didn’t know what to expect but as the flight was a midnight flight we figured it wouldn’t be too busy and we were right, in fact it was quite empty by airport standards although the check-in desks for Thai Airways were quite full at our time of arrival and had long queues going out of the door. However on this one occasion in my life, instead of doing the usual British thing and patiently waiting, I just let the wife take the lead and for some reason she decided in her Thai way to simply ignore the fact that about 70 people (mainly tourists) were waiting patiently in the queue and did a major queue jump to something like position number 20 in the queue because as the wife said, ‘there was a gap there’. Clearly she was employing some kind of Thai driving practices in her airport trolley manoeuvres but what astounded me more was that not one single person seemed to notice or if they did, they simply didn’t decide to pull us up over it and I was baffled as to how she (and I) got away with such a blatant side long shuffle into a very long line, but away with it we did, much to my disbelief and secret delight of course.
We then got checked in and went on to pay the usual exit fee of 500 baht each and then on to the immigration desks we went. The wife went through the Thai channel and I did the usual alien channel which of course had the bigger queue and when it was my turn, I got to the lady, and was then subjected to a million and one questions about my job, what I did, to mentioning the fact that I had been here two years and if I was an ajarn to which I said ‘no’ and to then asking me then what it was I actually did, and all the time she was asking me these questions in Thai and not using any English at all. I am not sure if she was just asking polite questions or checking me out to see if I was going to be allowed to leave despite my having an exit visa in my passport or indeed if she was going to mark me up for a later refusal on my return. In the meantime over her left shoulder in the background the wife was pulling faces and doing bunny ears above the immigration ladies head. Trying my best not to laugh too loud, I was finally allowed after 15 minutes to get permission to leave Thailand and with a big smile and a stamp in my passport, the immigration lady wished me a safe journey as well as a safe return in 10 days time. Was she angling for my phone number I wonder?
So off to the concourse we went. To be honest I wasn’t impressed by the new airport as we walked through and would just say that it was just about functional but nothing special. I have seen better elsewhere and of course I have seen a lot worse too (the wooden hut at Croatia comes to mind here) but after what felt like a long walk to our terminal and having gone past several King Power shops and overpriced restaurants along the way, we managed to find some seats and decided to just chill out and wait. While we were sitting there, the wife booted up the notebook and tried to log on to the internet only to find that there weren’t any wi-fi signals in the vicinity. The wife instead decided to boot up a game and for the next hour twinked and twonked her way around the computer screen with a bleep and an occasional woosh while I just watched the TV screens instead, but guess what, considering that 90% of the travellers were foreigners, all of the TV channels in the airport where tuned into the usual Thai crap soap operas consisting of the usual screeching ladies, gun toting men and whinging bints all accompanied with the usual rather loud bink bonk boing sound effects and all done in glorious Thai language as well. Pretty useless to the average traveller if you ask me and geared up to keep the cleaning ladies and airport staff entertained instead.
After a while of abject boredom, we decided to go on through a rather lax security check and after not being picked up by the smiths industries scanners nor the half asleep Thai security staff for having wads of cash scattered in various places, we then went on down to wait for the embarkation onto the plane were we sat surrounded by Geordies who were regaling their nightlife stories in rather loud voices with the wife reading a Harry Potter book and I doing my usual people watching. Again, I couldn’t help but notice that out of the hundred or so people waiting, that there were probably only 3 couples of the Thai / Farang persuasion waiting to fly out. The rest were mainly single Thai students, a few Thai businessmen and the rest holidaymakers on their way back home with more than a few with kids under the age of one bawling away to the glass ceilings who no doubt were shitting their nappies and wondering why mum and dad were keeping them awake so late for.
After about 30 minutes here, we finally got onto the plane and that was when the journey proper began. I took the window seat with the wife taking the middle seat and on the outside in the aisle seat was some rather large 110kg lump blocking our exit with at least 20% of his body mass flopping over to either side of his allocated seat as well. In front of the wife in the middle row was also another large lump of about 100kg and I was thankful that the wife was so small and slim as it didn’t seem to cause her too much discomfort as her space was slowly encroached upon. What I did find amusing though was that the plane got delayed because the weight of the lump in front of us had caused her seat to keep sliding backwards into the recline position. As a consequence, a rather disgruntled engineer had to come onto the plane to tighten up the screws to stop it from happening so that we could take off without compromising my or the wife’s safety should we have needed to exit the plane rather sharpish. I guess these overweight fellow Brits was a sign of things to come upon our visit into England but more on that in part 2.
After another 30 minutes of waiting and taxing, the jet lined itself up and the screens turned into an outside camera view of the runway ahead of us. I guess this was put in place so that the passengers could see the plane dodge the newly cracked runway as it throttled on down for take off, and as the pilot throttled back, the left wing made a horrible shudder followed by a low rumbling noise. The wife gave me a nervous look and one of the young babies at the back wailed in unison but I just take these noises with a pinch of salt and within 10 minutes of the under carriage clunking into place, the wife had managed to resign herself to a long flight and had managed to curl herself up into a tight ball underneath a blanket and was fast asleep for the remainder of the journey. In the meantime I decided to stay awake and to eat a little of the airline food, to drink a brandy or two in order to help me sleep and to watch with amusement at how the seat in front of the wife would rebound up and down like a catapult every time the lump got up out of her seat, and so it was then that the wife’s first journey out of Thailand began.
Tune in to part 2 of the journey tomorrow when the shock of being back in England kicks in and to seeing how the wife had managed to grow an extra head on the plane while experiencing the delights of being an alien in a not so foreign land…
That's a really nice start, a great scene setter. Can't wait to read part 2.
I have got to say that 7,000 pounds cash is a lot to carry and that much would make me a bit nervous!