Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Ancient Guardian Monk – Luang Pu Thuat Pt. III

Luang Pu Thuat
The Ancient Guardian Monk

This is the third in a series of posts. In the first post, I retold some of the stories from the life of Luang Pu Thuat. In the second post, I told a story of how Luang Pu Thuat kept me safe in a dangerous situation. In this post, I tell another story of how the revered master kept me safe.

          A little over a year after the last time Luang Pu Thuat kept me safe, I needed to get a new visa. This was a couple months after I had mylittle encounter with an immigration officer concerning the Thai Licensing Facilitation Act of2015 (LFA). The LFA put an even stronger law on my side this time. To give me some added strength, I no longer cared what corrupt officers try to do. I cannot just ignore the corruption, and my heart will not invest any more energy into coping with this system's massive schemes.  I now have freedom.

          This visa run was noticeably different. There has been a little (very little) progress made towards rooting out corruption under the junta. The LFA has helped with that a little bit. On the other hand, there is still a problem with incompetence and officers just making up the rules that they want. There is also a push to get the “good guys in, bad guys out.”

          Getting stamped out made me a little nervous too. I thought I had another 30 day extension left on my visa1, but realized too late that I read the wrong law section. (That was totally my fault. I wasn’t paying attention to my visa as I had another writing project that I wanted to complete.) I had now overstayed my visa by a day. I’d have to pay a 500 baht fine, but there were no other penalties, as long as I didn’t make an officer angry . . .

          To assist in getting the “bad guys out,” there is a brand new building at the Sadao border for people to get stamped out of the country. The exit stamp line wound back and forth 4 times in the building. By the time I got halfway through, it wound out the door and along the entire outside of the building. Of course, only having 4 processing desks out of 16 didn’t help the line to move any faster2. I was lucky that the officer only demanded the legitimate overstay fine and only took 5 minutes. After nearly an hour, I had my exit stamp. So far, so good.

          The way back from Penang was good. Several other passengers were English speaking foreigners. We all shared stories from our travels. The topic of immigration at the border came up, and I told my stories about going through the border a year earlier and about using the LFAto deal with an “unhelpful” immigration office. Everyone was surprised that I had the guts to argue the law with Thai Immigration, and amazed that I dared them to arrest me if they doubted me on the law.

          When we got close to Sadao, people started getting their wallets out to find the 200 baht “tea money”. This was new: the driver didn’t even have to tell the other passengers about the bribe! (Apparently, the 200 baht extortion bribe has been in place for years and is common knowledge for many foreigners. I guess that I haven’t been around long enough.) It quickly became clear that I would, yet again, be the only one in the van who chose to not give into the border extortion racket. Everyone seemed to agree that I should be near the first in line. They didn’t want to have to wait too long if I got taken to the back office. Another passenger promised to bring my laptop to the office if I got taken in – I already had the relevant sections of Thai immigration law downloaded onto it.

          We got in line and waited. One of my fellow passengers was in front of me, with his extortion “tea money” tucked neatly into his passport. It still took the officer a couple minutes3 to go through his passport. They are serious about enforcing the overstay rules and are now looking for people who have too many short stay tourist visas back to back. Now, it was my turn.

          Before I could even step forward to give my passport to the immigration officer, he said –

          Luang Pu Thuat!”

          Yes, yes!” I replied. The officer and I had a similar conversation to the one I had after Luang Pu Thuat intervened to protect me the year before: “Yes, I know he is a great monk – I ordained shortly as a monk at a local monastery – I am married to a Thai lady, and we have two adorable baby girls whom I love very much,” etc. He looked through my passport and only told me that I was nearly out of pages. I told him “Yes, I will go to Bangkok for a new passport soon. Thank you.” He stamped me through and that was that.

          Once again, I was the only person in the van who did not give in to the extortion. Once again, something happened with Luang Pu Thuat to protect me from danger. I know several people who fly to different places, even though it is significantly more expensive, just so that they can avoid the Sadao border checkpoint. It seems that all we ever needed to protect us from the harassment and extortion was the grace of Thailand’s most revered monk.

1There is a lot of confusing information out there from Thailand, and very little information that comes officially from the government. I’ve read stories of many people getting similarly confused. I admit, however, that this was my mistake. I was just too hasty in the way I read the rules that time.
2What did I say about incompetence?

3When you’re waiting and not knowing if the officer will make a problem, then you notice every second.

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