Thursday, August 11

bangkok'd

(props to my father who came up with that title)

So as it always is, traveling is an adventure (to say the least). Before I discuss the amazing culinary, cultural and shopping experiences in Bangkok, I want to fast forward just a tad to the present, the departure and return to India, since it's fresh on my mind and at this point, becoming kind of amusing (only kind of).

Like I mentioned, the trip to Bangkok was fantastic. If you haven't been, I highly suggest it. The city is easy to navigate with the SkyTrain and the river taxis (although actual taxis and tuk tuks aren't always worth it because of the insane traffic) and the Thai people are maybe the nicest I have ever ever met (hospitable, helpful, grateful and just incredibly kind).

Anyways, Saturday was the day of departure. My parents had to leave the hotel at 2 a.m. to catch a flight while I would leave around 6 a.m. The ride to the airport went smoothly and the Jet Airways' check-in counter didn't even have a line when I arrived. Unfortunately, this just meant the bad news was going to hit me sooner than I would have liked. As I presented my passport and flight itinerary to the agent, he shook his head and said that he wasn't authorized to issue my ticket. "Huh?" "Wah." and "Are you kidding me?" were the first things to come out of my mouth. He made some calls and then confirmed that I would definitely not be getting on this flight. He explained that the type of visa I had (although it says MULTIPLE ENTRIES on the visa) allowed only one entry to India, and that it required a two month "wait" period before re-entering India (it was written on my passport, to be fair, but it was smeared and not legible). Immediately, I panicked since my parents were already en route to Tokyo and wouldn't be accessible by phone for hours. I sat down to rationalize (which if you know me doesn't usually work) and then decided to call the master travel planner, Barbara. We decided the only thing I could do was wait in Bangkok until Monday, when the Indian embassy opened, and beg them for a re-entry visa.

Now I love Bangkok. It's up there on my favorite cities list. But I was a mess and nothing Bangkok or anyone could do would make me feel better. I hadn't slept the night before, sad to say goodbye to my parents and nervous about flying. So I made my way to the new hotel by 8 a.m. and was informed I couldn't check in to my room until noon. Of course this prompted more tears and in addition, I was a sweaty mess and just wanted a shower and bed. Luckily, the hotel was located just blocks from an INSANE mall. I waited until 10 a.m. when the mall opened and explored the high end designer stores that I'd never be able to afford and ultimately found a Starbucks (venti BTL, no sweetner, check!) and plopped there to chill out. There was a movie theater in the mall as well, so I decided to treat myself to a movie (Larry Crowne... wasn't the best) later. I stopped in a very overpriced bookstore and splurged on both Something Borrowed and Something Blue by Emily Giffin. I read these years ago but didn't quite remember them. It's really amazing how books, even more so than movies, can whisk you away into a completely different world where it seems like nothing can touch you. Just reading these books helped take my mind off of the fact that I just might not be returning to India.

Of course, being the super researcher/googler that I am, I found an internet cafe and began frantically googling "re entry to India." I read others' stories, similar to mine, and the conclusion I came to was that there really was no rhyme or reason to the re-entry visa. The embassy would just have to be in a good enough mood to let you back in. So my chances were looking pretty 50/50. A million things ran through my head: "My little nuggets! They're going to think I abandoned them! How will they understand that it wasn't my fault but the visa?" to "Oh my god I'm going back to the USA? I don't have a job! What will I do?" to "Why am I alone? Why does this HAVE to happen when I'm alone?! I can't do it, I'm going home, I cannot do this!" (Yes, overreacting, one of my specialties).

After a good night's sleep, I woke up semi more in control of my emotions and explored more of Bangkok (I consider myself a professional when it comes to this city if ANYONE ever needs any tips). I got some gifts for my parents who dished out a pretty good amount of money to fund my 4 extra nights in Bangkok, stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe for some nachos and made more than one trip to 7-11 for beer (Chang beer... a life saver). Monday morning when the embassy opened, I mapped out how I'd get there via SkyTrain and set out at 8 a.m. since it opened at 8:30 a.m. Of course it looked easy to get to on the map, but it wasn't. I tried asking for directions at the Starbucks I came across (correct, another venti BTL, no sweetener) and some American hotels and no one could tell me when the Indian Embassy was or if I was close. I stopped a few cab drivers, who also didn't know, and then realized I really was just walking around aimlessly and wasting time. After a couple more rejections from cab drivers, one finally knew what I was talking about and took me to the Indian Visa Services center, not exactly the embassy but I was getting warmer.

I darted to the elevator and barged into the office, frantically explaining my situation. The woman opened my passport, turned to my Indian visa, pointed and said,"You can't re-enter for two months." Okay... DUH. I'm sorry, but I already knew that lady, 'tis why I'm here in a frenzy. I explained that I HAD to re-enter. "Where was the embassy, who could I talk to?" She again, told me, I had to go back to my home country. No no no NO! I countered, asking how I could apply for re-entry, what could I do to get back in? She handed me a paper and sent me on my way. Not convinced, I tried to find the embassy, again. By this time, it was about 11 a.m. (remember I started out at 8 a.m. and this place was just BLOCKS from my hotel). I found the embassy 30 minutes later, where I had to sign in, surrender my phone and wait in a queue of a million people (apparently I'm not the only one trying to get into India). I decided this just was not going to work, so I went straight to the counter and explained my situation. Luckily, the receptionist had pity on me, probably because I was profusely sweating, crying, grumpy (probably a little rude) and looked like a complete train wreck, and she sent down a man to hear my situation. I explained it to him and he said no problem, fill out the form, turn it into the visa services place and I should hear by the end of the day.

I thought, okay, now we'ere getting somewhere. I stopped at another hotel, begged to use their copy machine to make copies of my passport and visa, filled out the form and headed back to the visa services center, where they told me it would take three days to process my request. THREE DAYS. I don't have money or mental capacity to stay in Bangkok for three more days, plus the guy at the Embassy told me I'd know by the end of the day. I fought a little with her and she said to call at 4 p.m. I was then, again, put into another line (and forced to surrender my extra large Coke Zero from Subway that I was sipping on to keep me from blowing a gasket) and waited there for about 15 minutes. When it was finally my turn, I was informed I had to pay 800 Baht ($25ish). Furious, I stormed out and to the ATM, went back up and paid. He told me to call at 4 p.m. for the results.

By 1 p.m., I was out of there and drinking a Chang by the pool. When 4 p.m. rolled around, I called and was hung up on... twice. I called again and they said it wasn't ready, that it'd be ready at 4:30 p.m. I asked when they closed, they laughed and said 4:30 p.m. Okay, not helpful. They tell me to check online and when I check it says record not found. Fine.

I ordered room service and fell asleep. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I began calling again. "It's not ready." "Okay, when will it be ready?" "A few days." "NO NO NO NO! It was supposed to be ready yesterday at 4 p.m. Now it is today, at 12 p.m., I'm coming to pick up my passport at 4 p.m., regardless, please have it ready." At this point, my dad and I decided there was nothing else I could do. I couldn't continue to sit in Bangkok, hoping for re-entry and spending money on hotels and food. So at 3, I went to the lobby of the hotel to withdraw cash and head to the visa center. This is when I realized, my ATM card was gone. In the midst of my tizzy, it disappeared, or rather I probably lost it. Ready to give up, I made the phone call to my dad, who was less than thrilled to be woken up with more bad news, but understood because of the stress I'd been under. It just seemed to be one thing after another. Thankfully, the hotel allowed me to take money from my credit card and I then went back down to the visa center, waited for two hours and was finally given my passport with re-entry permission.

The next morning, I headed to the airport for round two and was able to board the flight to Mumabi. After a very nauseating flight, I reached Mumbai and went through immigration, where I was questioned to the bone (couldn't they just see the stamp I spent four days getting)? And was finally allowed through. I got to Chennai, the hotel picked me up with no problem and I had a very relaxing night, watching movies and taking a bath. I was unfortunately woken up at 7 a.m. by my driver who was supposed to take me four hours to the orphanage, telling me he had to cancel.

At this point, I felt like someone, up there, or somewhere, was trying to tell me something. Nothing seemed to be going right and my nerves were shot. I tried to book a train, but they wouldn't accept my American credit card. I went to the hotel concierge for help and together we spent two more hours trying to book the train, until finally my only train option was to go to the station four hours in advance and try to figure it out (I didn't exactly understand why). I made the executive decision to look into a hotel driver, which strangely did not cost much more than the train + driver to the orphanage option, so I said to hell with it and booked a driver from the hotel.

Currently, I'm attempting to calm down, pack up my things and get ready to leave for the orphanage. I know I can't give up, but a part of me just wanted to get on the next flight to the USA, anywhere, in the USA, but I can't bail on the kids or the nuns that have become a kind of family to me. My journey is nearly half way complete; I will be leaving the orphanage November 1 to travel to northern India and then to Madrid and then, finally, home to the USA. Although my emotions change on an hourly basis, I'm telling myself that I can do this, and that I will do this, despite the barriers that have been thrown in my direction.

Finally, I'm starting to really believe what everyone has been telling me all along: this experience will change you and if you can do this, you can do anything.

059

'Til next time...

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