Well, I’m closing in on that 60-day limit again which means it’s time for yet another visa run. As per the Penang Thai Consulate’s interpretation of the rules, I can receive one last tourist visa there since I haven’t done any 30-day extensions from within Thailand. As I understand it, this is the last of the three-in-a-row I’ll be able to do in Penang (and perhaps all of Asia).
My current employer won’t be able to secure a work permit and the accompanying Non-Immigrant (B) visa until I’ve worked for them for three months, thus fitting in nicely with this final 60-day cover. I might have to conclude this one with one of those 30-day extensions (which, ironically, costs 800 baht MORE than the 60-day visa itself) but hopefully the paperwork will be ready so that I’ll be able to obtain the business visa at the end of September.
This will be another bare-bones visa run as my finances are quite low — my first payday is still some three weeks away (we are paid on the 12th of every month). But I don’t really mind. I enjoy doing things the cheapest way possible. For this trip, that means the second-class bus from Phuket to Hat Yai for 267 baht (which is still air-conditioned to arctic temperatures) and then a mini-bus from one of the travel agents just outside of the Hat Yai bus station which will take me directly to Chulia Street in Penang for between 300 and 350 baht.
I try to time my arrival in Hat Yai for late at night so I don’t have as long to wait; the mini-buses crossing into Malaysia don’t run at night as the border closes in the evening. The earliest doesn’t pick you up until 7:30 in the morning but doesn’t actually leave the Hat Yai area until close to 10:00 — and then only if it’s as packed full as passengers as it possibly can be. This pretty much forces a visa runner who needs the use of the Consulate to stay overnight in Penang as they will arrive in George Town after the application-handling deadline of twelve noon. On my last two trips I stayed at the Stardust Guesthouse on Chulia Street but there are many similarly-priced options in the area — most fan rooms in these places run between 200 and 300 baht with shared bathrooms. As for the trip to the Thai Consulate, I arrange this before even booking my accomodations. The service at NJ Books has been good to me; they charge 20 ringit (200 baht) and will depart for the consulate a little after 9:30 in the morning. They will then take you back to pick up your passport (hopefully with the desired visa attached within) at 3:00 and you can even book the minibus back to Hat Yai through them (which will wait until you return from the consulate but it can be a bit stressful as you’re never really certain of this!). The current fee for the tourist visa in Penang is 1100 baht (payable in ringit or baht).
On my last visa run I stayed an extra night in Penang but didn’t do anything extra to warrant the additional time. It was just too hot and I didn’t feel much like my usual walking all over town. This trip, as it may be my last visit to George Town, I do want to make a second attempt at finding Captain Charles Light’s gravesite and I would also like to visit the Penang Museum. There’s also supposed to be a Borders Books in Queensway Mall so I’ll try to get over there as well — I have no idea if they are going out of business with the collapse of the company in America but I feel like I should make a pilgrimage as Borders was one of the first chain bookstores I ever visited (B. Dalton’s probably was the first). If I budget tightly, I may just have enough money to buy a book there without too much guilt (I’d like something on Penang’s history or cultural heritage).
My plan is to leave Phuket on Tuesday evening. I now live close enough to the bus station that I can walk there in about ten or fifteen minutes. I don’t work on Wednesdays and so I just needed to arrange for a substitute teacher for my three classes on Thursday. If everything is on schedule, I should arrive back in Phuket around midnight Thursday night. I had originally planned to work on Friday but was informed today that there aren’t any classes that day because of more practice for the school’s Sports Day (which is why the July schedule has the last class of each day ending at 2:00 in the afternoon).
On a final note, I found out something very interesting about my school today: The students are all very poor and the majority are orphans. The teacher who told me this was trying to explain why the children don’t want me to leave at the end of the lessons — they grab ahold of me and won’t let go as if they are afraid I won’t return. I thought the children at my last school — one full of very rich kids, I might add — were fond of their Teacher Mark but the my new students are much, much more possessive. I’m going to make even more of an effort to make the lessons fun and entertaining in light of the knowledge that the majority will never have a use for English outside of the classroom but those that do could really use the confidence gained from speaking it well as a springboard out of their lives of poverty. That’s how I think and I do care about the kids and their situations. As an example of how some other teachers think, when I told a friend that many of my students were orphans he responded that I should find a job someplace else then as there would be no way to make money by giving after-school extra lessons there! Teaching really isn’t about making money and yet I meet more and more teachers who just care about the baht rather than if their students learn anything at all. It’s more than a bit distressing which makes me happy that I’m the only Westerner at my new school. (And my Thai is getting better now than I’m forced to use it on a daily basis!)