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Run for the Border

Make a ruuunnnn…for the borderrrrr…Taco Bell! Okay, sorry. The ’80s just came back to me unbidden, as they so often do. Today Apple and I made our own run for the border: The border of Malaysia, rather than Mexico. However, what was going to be a fairly routine visa run and shopping trip turned into a bit more of an adventure than we expected.

Our Thai visas allow us to stay in the country for 90 consecutive days, after which we have to leave. If we re-enter, we get another 90 days. We can do this over the course of 12 months. Most people in our situation make quarterly “visa runs,” wherein they simply cross the border by car into a neighboring country and then come right back. So because our initial 90-day allowance was due to expire on the 12th, we arranged a trip to Malaysia.

Apple’s hometown is just 50 km away from Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia. Her mom and aunt came with us, with the intention of doing some shopping over there before coming back home. Malaysia is actually a more advanced nation than Thailand, with its own auto companies and everything, although I had the opposite impression somehow before learning the truth.

We set off this morning at 9 am, which was just as well because the house was going to be in an uproar all day (wiring repair, plumbing repair and the Sunday morning housecleaning all at once). It took a bit more than an hour to get to the border at Padangbasar, during which time we passed through some rural and fairly pleasant scenery, including great plantations of rubber trees, one of Thailand’s biggest exports.

As soon as we got to the border, however, we ran into trouble. Apple and I were all set to go through — we got our departure stamps and everything — when it became known that her mom couldn’t go through because she hadn’t brought her passport, which meant none of us could go through, since she was the only licensed driver. Apparently, Thai citizens don’t normally need more than their ID card to cross this border, similar to U.S. residents visiting Canada in the old days. But just yesterday, a big-name Thai judge went through without a passport, and when he got to the Malay side, they decided they wouldn’t let him through because of it. There was a big uproar, so now passports were being checked for everybody.

This presented a distinct problem: We’ve already been stamped, so now we have to finish the trip, but how? Fortunately, there were a couple of guys on motorcycles at the border who apparently serve as a for-hire shuttle service for people doing visa runs. So while Apple’s mom and aunt waited, we each climbed onto the back of a motorcycle, strapped on helmets and rode off toward the Malay border (which wasn’t more than about a kilometer away, I’d estimate).

It was my first time on a motorcycle, much less on the back of one in Thai traffic. But the whole thing was like an amusement park ride. I was reminded of the Honda Fourtrax 70 quad that I used to have, and I found myself contemplating (if only for a moment) the idea of getting a bike as a solution to our travel dependency problem here in Thailand. After a short round-trip, during which our passports were checked and stamped innumerable times, we were back on Thai soil with a fresh 90 days of entry. Cost of the for-hire motorcycle ride: About $1.50 per person.

After that entertaining new experience, we stopped for lunch at a deserted restaurant along the rural highways of Songkhla. This brief respite turned into another story to tell, as the proprietors of the restaurant seemed woefully ill-equipped to run a business.

Upon arriving and choosing a table, we sat around for a while, the only customers in the place, before we ascertained that we would have to ask for menus. The waitress/hostess/whoever brought us one. Literally. When we asked for a couple more, she said dismissively, “One’s enough. There’s not much on it, anyway.”. Uh…okay! This prompted Apple’s mom to launch into a muttered tirade about how to run a business, one of the first rules of which is that you don’t say anything that dumb to your customers.

When we finally ordered, the same waitress girl tried to talk us out of several selections. Apple wanted some curry that was medium spicy. “Don’t order that,” said the waitress. “The curry is all really spicy. There is no medium. If we made it, it wouldn’t be any good.” Not only that, but one of Apple’s favorite dishes — yum woon sen, a Thai salad made with glass noodles — arrived without any glass noodles. “We don’t have any,” was the waitress’ explanation. This seemed pretty bizarre to me because I thought every Thai place had proper yum woon sen — Apple orders it all the time.

For all the tomfoolery, the food we did receive was pretty tasty. There was stir-fried shrimp and vegetables, black pepper fish and lemongrass soup, all of which I found appealing.

Right now we’re at a salon, waiting while Apple and her mom get their hair done. (I’m writing this on my iPhone). After this, there’s no telling what we’ll do next, but hopefully we’ll make it back home sometime today. :). I don’t really have anything pressing to do — certainly no work or anything — so it’s all good either way, I suppose. There’s no wifi out here in the country, so I’ll have to save this entry on my phone until we get back.

Today’s excursion has inspired us to consider a brief trip to Singapore, a well-known shopping and dining destination (they even speak English) that’s just on the other side of Malaysia. It’s also looking like we’ll probably come back to the U.S. sometime in the second half of April. Although our IVF efforts here haven’t been successful, it’s been a far more valuable trip than we anticipated in several other realms, including total body health, stress reduction, and finding new outlooks. This has altered our perspective on our life goals somewhat, so we’re going to try some new things back at home and try not to expect that we can wholly manipulate life and nature, which had recently been a somewhat unhealthy obsession of ours.

Update: We’re back at our home now — our nice, freshly cleaned home — and I’m finally about to post this up. After the salon, we went across the street and had some frozen desserts (shaved ice over Chinese herb gelatin) and then stopped at a fresh market to get some fruit. We picked up mangosteen, Chinese oranges and longan, as well as chrysanthemum tea and other stuff. There was a lot of exotic (to a westerner, anyway) produce on sale there, so I grabbed a picture.

Fruit Market
Fruit Market

And speaking of pictures, the last time we were in a drug store, Apple showed me something funny. In many Asian cultures, the local women have some hangup about how they want a part of their body to look more western. In Korea, the girls want western eyes. In Japan, they want pale skin. In Thailand, they want bigger noses…and, apparently, pink nipples:

Finale pinknipple cream
Finale pinknipple cream

Yeah, that really is cream that women put on their nipples to make them light pink. In this space, I’d like to point out that nobody’s going to be seeing your nipples, girls, unless you’re in a position where — I suspect — it will quite quickly become clear that their color is due to the cream you’ve slathered all over them. But what do I know? I mostly wish the “I wanna look western” girls would leave everything factory stock.

Heading out for dinner soon, so I’ll catch you all later.

2 thoughts to “Run for the Border”

  1. Your restaurant story reminded me of that Car Trek epidode where Kirk and Spock eat in some restaurant and the hostess asks “Smoking or Dirty?” Still makes me laugh 🙂

    And I cant’ help but smile at the thought of you on the back of some little Asian guy’s motorcycle!
    Quite an adventure! Sorry the visa run didn’t turn out quite as you planned, but sounds like you all made the best of it.

  2. Hee hee, yeah…the old Doggan Palace story. That was some good stuff. At least the food was all right and there weren’t any weeds growing out of the walls. Probably not a place we’ll go back to anytime soon.

    Actually, the guy driving my motorcycle was a somewhat older and fairly burly dude, so I suppose it was a good match in that regard. After the trip, Nantana and her mom were giggling over something they overheard my motorcycle driver say while we were filling out the Malay entry paperwork. When I asked her what was funny, she said that the guy was ogling my wedding ring. I told her I thought she was going to say that he was complaining that I was too heavy and the bike would hardly move. 🙂 Although with the approximate 20 pounds I’ve lost since we’ve been here, there’s been improvement in that regard.

    I wish we could have taken some pictures of the visa fest, particularly me wearing the goofy Prussian-esque motorcycle helmet, but it all went by in quite a flurry — I barely had time to figure out how to fasten the helmet chin strap, much less pull out the iPhone and take a pic.

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