There comes a time in every traveler’s life where she must cross a border or wait in a revoltingly long line for visa renewal. For me, that day was Tuesday. I got the immigration run-down from my roommate: arrive early, dress sharply, and above all else, KEEP SMILING. A smile goes a long way in Thailand, so I grinned until my face hurt (and looked about as disarming as a mad clown).
Chiang Mai’s immigration office is fairly humane, with a coffee shop, free wifi, cushioned chairs, and excellent people watching. Instead of working on my research paper, I listened to the couple next to me tell jokes in Russian (and understood them – small victories!) After an hour, my number was called by the single most intimidating staff member, an older gentleman in full military uniform. I slid my passport and appropriate scanned documentation across the desk, smiling like an idiot despite my trembling fingers. I don’t know what I was afraid of – being kicked out of the country, publicly chastised for my awkward passport photo, forced to pay a bribe – but nothing happened. I think those kind of situations breed anxiety, with so many people forced into a small room, all desperate for everything to proceed without complications. It’s impossible not to indulge in the collective panic. Well, collective except for the Russians. They were having a grand old time.
I was ready to reclaim my passport when my uniformed friend stopped smiling. His brow furrowed and he stared with excessive intensity at my passport, rotating it as if a different angle would change the date on the entry stamp that declared when I was supposed to leave the country. June 29, 2013. He looked up at me and gave an exaggerated shrug. “Need to go to Bangkok. Should have left Thailand month ago.” I swear my heart stopped.
“But my mom’s coming this weekend!” In retrospect, not the most brilliant defense. Yet something in my manner made him pause. He called a coworker over and I explained the situation: I had a 60 day visa with a 30 day extension, I wasn’t a criminal, and I had a healthy dose of respect for the law. The stamp was just wrong. I guess they decided I was trustworthy, because they changed the date without a fuss. And then —
“You overstayed visa.” In a massive miscalculation, I equated 60 days to two months and overstayed by a day. I paid the 500 baht penalty, accepted my fate as an accidental illegal alien, and went on my merry way. Now I have a Thai criminal record: