Last week I found myself stuck in Bangkok, alone, with no wallet or bankcards, recovering from a mysterious all-over body rash and unable to get a business visa back into Myanmar where all of my possessions were. Quite the predicament.
How this came about needs to start with a recount of my most recent trips to Yangon.
The first trip, which I have already mentioned on here, ended in getting caught in a rainstorm, missing my minibus home and tearing a massive hole in my favourite pants.
The second trip resulted in a lost or stolen wallet, and massive blisters on the bottom of my feet after walking the streets looking for it. The wallet held all of my cash (not too much), my bankcards, my teacher’s registration card and the keys to the apartment I was staying in. This meant I couldn’t get back into the apartment as Leila was at a party, nor could I pay to get a taxi anywhere, so I was left wandering the streets for a couple of hours seeing Yangon by night, and trying to find my wallet. (I eventually managed to meet up with someone who also had spare keys for the apartment, Leila leant me some cash, and ANZ wrote a new procedure for what to do if someone loses their bankcards in Myanmar, so things worked out).
The third trip was the one I had to make to renew my business visa. The information I had managed to glean so far was minimal – a couple of off-hand comments about going down to immigration with a letter from your organisation and asking them to extend it. My numerous attempts to contact the four telephone numbers at Immigration had all resulted in unanswered calls so I had no further advice to follow and just had to figure it out on the day. I also had a couple of scheduled meetings with some international schools in Yangon to help me decide what to do post-volunteering.
On day one of my third trip to Yangon I awoke covered in a rash and sweating profusely despite the air conditioning. I was a little concerned as I had been quite sick in the two days beforehand with a massive headache and cold symptoms but decided to plod on and just monitor it through the day. My first appointment at the school was a bit of a disaster as a result. I couldn’t find the school initially (numbering systems on streets have no logic here) so had to walk around in the heat for a while. This set off both my rash and my sweating so arrived at the school in quite a state. They sent me to the school nurse who made an appointment with a doctor for me. After cooling down I met with the principal and had the meeting anyway, then headed off to the hospital for the rest of the day. It turns out my rash was something called “Boston rash” – common in teachers and caused by a virus in the same family as foot and mouth. The fact that I can’t find any reference to this on google makes me suspicious of a “fobbing-off” but ah well. Anyway, the US$100 hospital visit meant my visa investigations were put off until the next day.
My visit to the second school the next day went better, rash and all, and I’ve accepted a job there (middle school science teacher, with a bit of food and nutrition thrown in) starting in August. My first stop on the visa debacle was the only immigration office marked on google maps, which turned out to be a very “local” office and I was quickly sent away. The rest of the day progressed in much the same way, getting sent backwards and forwards across Yangon to different offices and organisations, until I reached a tally of seven different places, one of them twice. At the last place I was told I was in the right place but didn’t have the right documents to extend my visa. I meekly enquired as to how long these documents might take to obtain … about a month was the reply. Broken. Yangon is not kind to me (and yet I’m choosing to make it my home for a year).
So the next plan was a quick daytrip to Bangkok to buy another business visa “on arrival” back in Yangon. This is what other people do so I thought I’d give it a go. After purchasing flights, I made my way to Bangkok two days later, but (wisely) spoke to immigration at the airport before leaving to double-check I could get back again. Once again, these missing documents were to prove a problem. I wouldn’t be allowed to do this. Looks like I’d be staying in Bangkok for a while. Luckily I had packed a toothbrush and some spare undies just in case. And even luckier was the insistence of a friend that I take all of her spare US dollars “just in case” – I still had no bankcards.
I was no longer feeling quite so resilient nor quite so flexible when I got to Bangkok so had some stern words with the guy from my organisation who arranged it all. I use the words “arranged” and “all” very loosely. The end result of these chats was a decision for me to apply for a 28-day tourist visa to get back into the country and to sort it from there.
So six days later and I’m back in Yangon with a tourist visa, and reunited with some ANZ bankcards – the Mastercard works, the eftpos card doesn’t. Sigh.
My idyllic life from a few weeks ago now feels like it’s covered in patches – a temporary visa, bankcards but not working ones, and no immediate future plan.
I feel like I’ve done absolutely everything I can to sort out the situation and I’m now leaving it in other people’s hands. The document I need is a letter of invitation from the Ministry of Education that the organisation needs to apply for. The trouble is I’ve now discovered that the organisation never bothered to register with the government so they can’t apply for it. There’s talk of getting a school or a company to apply for it on my behalf but this is a bit naughty and they’re a bit reluctant to do so. Conversation at lunch yesterday apparently revolved around who I could marry to allow me to stay. I hope they don’t try to progress this solution.
This means I may have six weeks from the start of July to fill in. Or I may not. I think I need to put a deadline on the receipt of this document so I can make plans and book flights if I need to leave. I’d like to know more than a few days in advance if I have to pack up and leave. I’m pretty flexible, but not THAT flexible.
My self-directed mantras for the last week or two have been “it’s only money” and “you knew it was going to be messy and disorganised – suck it up”. They’re kind of working.
Rash photos if anyone’s interested (legs and wrist) …