Interim Work SpaceI’ve been getting a little ratty because I haven’t had a chance to write since preparation for the move pushed its way into the obsessive part of my brain, where my writing usually resides, around 5 weeks ago. Since arriving in Bangkok, the aforementioned part of my brain has, gradually, been vacated but the writing seems to be settling back in there about as well as I have been adjusting to the food, here.  Still, it hasn’t mattered that much because I don’t actually have my work here. My computer and my fancy split-ergo keyboard (this netbook is playing havoc with my RSI – see pic left for my current workspace, see blog banner for what Madame has become used to) and, more importantly, my files and research notes are all in the air shipment, so I’ve been jotting down notes in a notebook but mostly just counting the days till the air shipment arrives. 

Those of you who read my previous post “What would your air shipment say about you”, or  have moved abroad will know that, often, when you move, you are given an allowance for a small air shipment to transport the things you feel you can’t live without, for the 6+ weeks it takes the Sea Shipment to arrive. The air shipment to Thailand, we were told, takes up to 15 days, depending on processing. 

Today was day 15.

At this point, those of you who have done the moving to Thailand thing will know what’s coming and be laughing, I hope fondly, at my frustration, so I want to say one thing first: when we moved to Japan EVERYONE told us to expect our shipments to be late – and they weren’t. Air was estimated at 7 days and arrived on day 7. Sea was estimated at 4-6 weeks and arrived well before the 6 weeks was up. So, as per usual, Japan had set the bar high.

Back to Thailand:  Being the 15th day, I called Allied Pickfords to see if there was any date we could be expecting our computers and the rest of my project notes, so I can get back to my WIP (I did actually just say “air shipment” but that was what I was thinking.)

Answer: It hasn’t left Sydney yet.

Reaction:  —

Question: Why?

Answer: Superman doesn’t have a long term work permit yet.

Reaction: —

Question: He won’t for another 6 weeks, at least, are you saying you can’t ship them till then?

Answer:  –  Yes.

The thing is, I do actually understand – bureaucracy is bureaucracy – it’s almost always a long, annoying process, whatever country you are dealing with so I wouldn’t have been upset IF someone had mentioned AT ANY POINT BEFORE DAY 15 anything OTHER THAN: "The air shipment will take 15 days." Leaving us expecting to receive goods which will start to make this hotel room a home and not telling us that, in fact, they haven’t even left Australia – THAT is NOT okay, in fact it’s borderline cruel. What is more, that lack of communication has nothing to do with Thai bureaucracy, it’s straight customer service, from either side.

To make sure I’m being fair, considering I’ve mentioned the company’s name (which has been fantastic, so far),it was pointed out that Superman had been asked to supply his short term visa and the long term one when it came – apparently he should have realised from that what the situation was. Well. No. See, he doesn’t spend all day dealing with Thai import law. He’s been a tad busy with a major IT project for a major car company to make himself aware of the subtleties of Thai goods importation. He did make an assumption that the short term one would suffice as the goods were shipped and that the goods might sit on a wharf in Thailand for a while until his long-term visa came through but it would only be a matter of a week or so if the shipping took 6 weeks. What’s really important, though, is that he was only guessing because there was no communication about what was actually happening.

And here’s the kicker: that final “Yes” answer, above, turns out, with some probing, to actually be: “Not necessarily, but it’s for your own good.”

It seems that the hold-up is that importing goods on a long term visa attracts less tax on those goods (yes, your own, second-hand goods which you won’t be selling to anyone) than a short term visa (possibly the long term visa makes you exempt entirely, but I’m not sure – I’ll try to update.) So, Allied Pickfords are trying to do the right thing by us and save us money – and maybe it’s a lot of money, maybe too much money but, I’d have preferred that they offer us the choice.

Here’s where “it’s the little things” comes in – it’s not a reference to the goods at all, but to Choice. It’s not genius to observe that the lack of choice, and therefore control, is the source of so much expat-spouse malaise. Making decisions, however small or inevitable they might seem to others, is all we really have in this life. Our decisions about how to handle whatever comes our way – be it poverty or great fortune – make us who we are. And, yes, I know how lucky we are to live this life, and I am grateful for it everyday, especially considering where I came from, but it’s no “white whine” to observe that when you take away a person’s choices, when you make decisions for them, no matter how well intentioned or well aligned with the choices they would have made, you are taking away their humanity – or, at the very least, signalling to them that you have no respect for it.  For expat spouses, a group of people who have, for the most part, already given up what Western society uses to define a person – work – taking away even the little choices is no small thing.