Tuesday, August 31, 2010

31 aug 2010

I guess every farang in thailand writes this story, but nobody I know has read it before, so here goes: today I got my thai driver's license. It was both simple and byzantine, in a truly thai way. First of all, to get a thai license, you have to have some proof of where you live, in the form of a "house regisration" and a national ID card. But there is one problem: as a farang you can't have either of those. Almost Catch 22, but not quite. The first step, learned by some accident or other, I found out the US Embassy can give you a sworn notarized affidavit stating your local residence. That requires, in my case, a trip into BKK after making an appointment online. The US consulate (separate from the embassy) is a zoo. At any given moment there are 150 thais trying to get some kind of visa for the US. Citizens are helped separately, which makes it marginally faster, typically with about 2 dozen Americans waiting, mostly older, fattier and uglier than me. First you get a form, then you go to pay. The fee is US$50, payable in baht. As an Aussie acquaintance in the same situation pointed out, it is against Aussie and US law to refusw to take our national currencies, since the embassies are sovereign territory, but go tell that to Obama.
So having paid your $50 in baht, you wait some more, and finally they have you swear you are telling the truth and give you your document.
You now go and make aeveral copies of your passport ID pages and visa pages, your international driver's permit, and head for the thai DMV. Fortunately you don't have to go to Bangkok, so went to the local "DMV" in Ayutthaya. it's well organized and efficiently run, but that doesn't make it easy.
At the reception of the driver's license bureau, a very attractive lady (w her 2 year old daughter sitting next to her) did "triage", inspecting my documentation and declaring it all good except for my lack of a doctor's certificate of health. She recommended a nearby clinic, and kept my passportn telling me she would be responsible for it.
So off we went to the clinic. They took my passport number (I had another copy w me), and soon took me in to see the doctor. She lightly pressed a stethoscope on my chest for one second, and told me I was done. I got my form and went back to the DMV. It was now about 11 am. They returned my passport, having done nothing with it, and gave me a 1 pm appointment for the VERY comprehensive eye exam.
We killed the tinme in a nearby Tesco Lotus and went back. About 30 of us were ushered into a large room and asked to line up at the first station. It was an eyechart consisting of red yellow and green dots of different sizes, and they would point at sifferent dots and you had to say the color. This is probably funnier if you know I'm red/green colorblind. Somehow I passed. On to station two, the station of death. It's a test of your colo peripheral vision. You put you nose on a platformand look straight ahead. The examiner flashes red green and yellow lights on either side of your head at nearly 90 degrees. You needed to be a parrot to see it. I failed! But later I retested and either guessed right, or he took pity on me.
Stations three and four are together. First there are two rods and you have to move them until they are at the same depth from you. It's not hard. And built into the same machine is the test of your reaction time. You step on a gas pedal, and when the light turns red, you jam on the breaks, and can see fromna stream of lghts how fast you are. The first time I jammed the break so hard I shot it across the room. The second time my reaction time was excellent. So I passed.
Now downstairs where a clerk had no idea what to do w me and immediately called her supervisor who wanted to see my work permit. WeLl I don't have one, because I am not authorized to work in Thailand. Eventually she accepted the fact, and then was upset that the consulate hadn't given me my document in thai. However, she made herself feel better by asking me to make several additional copies elswehere in the building. Finally, she called me over, took my picture, extracted 100 baht for the pictur and 100 baht for the license, and in less than a minute my license was dome. By this time the cranky employees were smiling and looking at pictures of my daughter and asking me how I liked thailand. It was now about 2.30, but we were done. I have a 1 year license, which will be reissued for 5 years when I go through this rigamarole next year. So simple

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