Bangkok, Thailand (July, 2010)
This time things went so much smoother at the Burmese Embassy. First, let me step back about two years earlier.
In May of 2008 cyclone Nargis slammed into the country of Burma killing tens of thousands of people and affecting at least a hundred thousand more (in early reports). As the weeks rolled by, these numbers increased exponentially.
With some idle time on my hands and having been promised a Burmese Visa within three days upon my arrival in Thailand, I was off to bustling Bangkok. My DEET, Malarone, Power Bars and water purification tablets were crammed into my carry-on alongside my reliable Leica M8 Digital Rangefinder camera and Summilux lenses.
Still a bit jet lagged from my late night arrival at my hotel the day before, my fruitless attempts at slumber were interrupted by the incessant ringing of my room phone. It was the concierge announcing that I had a visitor at the front desk. The red LED of the alarm clock burned 9:00 am into my retinas. Throwing on a ” Club Femme Nu” t-shirt (don’t ask) and Adidas track pants, I hustled into the elevator and descended to the Lobby twenty-five floors below.
At the front desk I was greeted by a Thai teenage messenger who with the help of the concierge acting as a translator, asked for my passport, two passport sized head-shots and asked me to fill out two Visa applications. I did and handed everything over to him. His white uniform with gold epaulettes reminded me of Captain Stubing from the “Love Boat”. We bowed to each other clasping our hands in front of our faces and then I escorted him out of the air-conditioned Lobby and into the sweaty, high-pitched squeal of the Bangkok streets. “Jesus, it’s Africa hot!”, I remember thinking to myself. He sped off on a motor-bike that sounded like a mosquito.
I re-entered my room at the Sheraton Royal Orchid Hotel and stared out the window at what seemed to be an old-style junk with triangular sail running from an ocean freighter floating down the brown murky discharge of the Chao Phraya River. “Only in Thailand”, I murmured to myself.
The room phone rang again, this time releasing me from a an intense hypnotic state that comes with my first deep sleep after a long transcontinental flight. “Where am I?”, were my first thoughts. “12:15 pm” was beaming from the alarm clock beside my bed. It was the concierge informing me that I had a guest. I couldn’t imagine who it would be as almost no one knew I was in Thailand and those that did lived in the US.
After rolling out of bed out and grabbing my plastic laminated key card, I paced down the hallway towards the elevator and passed a mirror. “Shit, I look like Marty Sheen in his opening scene from Apocalypse Now”, I thought, making my way to the elevator. In the lobby I was surprised to find the same messenger greeting me in the formal and civilized Thai way by clasping his hands to his nose and bowing, then passing my passport back to me (which I had just entrusted to him a few hours before). That was quick!
The concierge informed me that he (the messenger) regretted to inform me that my Visa application had been denied by the Burmese consulate. “And the reason why?”, I groggily replied. A long conversation ensued between the two in Thai. The concierge turned to me, “He suspects that they (the Burmese militia) feel that you applied to stay in Rangoon a little longer than they found satisfactory”.
“But it’s the only city that they are allowing foreigners to travel right now!”
Turning towards the messenger, the concierge reiterated my statement in Thai. They both turned towards me and shrugged apologetically. I thanked them both for their time and gave them each a few baht before retiring back to my room on the twenty-fifth floor.
Time for Plan B!
(to be continued…….)