musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Suvarnabhumi Airport’

Adventures in English

For those who native language is not English, learning the language can be a challenging, frustrating, and sometimes baffling process. And for anyone born in Asian countries, learning English can be even more of a challenge. In addition to trying to pronounce words correctly, most Asians face the added challenge of learning an entirely new alphabet. In Thailand for example, we don’t have ABCs, but instead write with characters such as:  ก   ข   ค


Despite such linguistic hurdles, you would expect the media, government agencies, and big businesses in Asia to be able to use English correctly, especially when they are trying to communicate with English-speaking residents or tourists. Alas, that’s rarely the case here in Thailand. Walk around Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport and have fun picking out the mistakes and/or puzzling wording on posted signs. Look at the website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, or even those of daily newspapers such as the Bangkok Post or The Nation for more odd English usage. Mistakes run rampant.


There was a short article in Thursday’s edition of the Bangkok Post about a “Children Festival” that a local chain of bookshops, Asia Books, is holding this month. Thailand-based author Pongpol Adireksarn (a former politician who writes under the name of Paul Adirex) will, according to the article, “recount interesting stories from his experience of travelling the world, seeing and living with wild animals.” Living with wild animals? And here we thought the Red Shirts were difficult neighbors to have! Ole Paul needs to write more about his experiences “living with wild animals.” Or perhaps they were just Liverpool fans.


Asia Books, who specialize in selling English language books, is calling their promotion “Uncle Paul with Adventure Story.” Huh? Wouldn’t it have been better to call their event “Adventure Stories with Uncle Paul” or “Uncle Paul Reads Adventure Stories”? But no, some sixth grade graduate working for Asia Books, who still can’t grasp the concept of plurals, has decided to call it “Uncle Paul with Adventure Story.” Pathetic.


The article goes on to note that “as part of the festival children can enjoy wild animal coloring activities with equipment provided by Stabilo in every Asia Books branch from noon to 5pm daily until the end of the month.” I have no idea who or what Stabilo is, or what sort of “equipment” they are providing, but that sentence conjures up vivid images of kids running around with paint guns, delightfully spraying colorful stripes on tigers and monkeys as they leap around the room. The potential for total chaos is ripe. I think it might be wise to stay away from those Asia Books branches until this potentially insane promotion has run its course.


Immigration Men

There has been a lot of negative press in recent months about the long delays getting through immigration at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. In some cases, passengers arriving at the airport have had to wait nearly two hours to get processed by the understaffed and overworked immigration officers. I’ve never had to endure nearly that long a wait upon arrival at the airport in the past year, but I have noticed a much longer wait to get OUT of the country; crazy, alarmingly long lines that test the patience of even the most hardened traveler.


But when I took a flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh last week, I was startled to show up at immigration and find myself stepping right up to the desk, no waiting whatsoever. And no, it wasn’t April Fool’s Day. After all the complaints they were getting recently, the authorities reportedly hired a bunch of new immigration officers, or in some cases reassigned some warm bodies, to immigration. Whether this is a temporary fix — just in time for the Thai New Year water festival the middle of this month — or a sign that they have finally decided to get matters organized properly is uncertain at this point.


After that pleasant immigration processing when exiting the kingdom, I had a totally opposite experience when returning later in the week. The lines at the immigration arrival desks were as long as usual, but they’ve initiated a new “snake line” system that supposedly makes the waiting time more equitable for everyone. They have also hired “document checkers,” young women who make sure you have completed the arrival form properly before you reach the immigration desk. The biggest problem with the new system seems to be the recently hired immigration officers. I have no idea what sort of training they received, but two officers that I observed were taking a very long time to process passports, and one of them had to call over a supervisor twice while I was waiting in line. And of course that’s the guy I got. Once I got to the desk, it took only slightly longer than normal to get my passport back, with a rare smile no less! But on a hunch, I looked at the new expiration stamp inside the passport. As I had feared, this guy had totally screwed up: he had given me a 30-day tourist visa instead of using the 1-year non-immigrant visa that was already stamped inside the passport. Instead of expiring in October, my visa was now only good until late April. I brought this matter to his attention and he apologized. But he clearly didn’t know what to do at this point, so once again a supervisor was called to the scene. Instead of giving me a new stamp, he took a pen, changed the date, and initialed it. I asked him in Thai if there would be any problem the next time I left and re-entered the country, but he assured me that everything would be kosher. Except he obviously didn’t use the word “kosher.”


Once I had finally made it through that immigration maze of hell, I rushed over to the baggage carousel, only to discover that none of the bags from my flight had started coming out yet! Upon landing, we had to wait nearly 15 minutes before disembarking because a bus had not arrived to take us to the terminal, and now there more delays! If this had been someone’s first trip to Thailand, I can only imagine they would be wondering what sort of inept place they were visiting. Not exactly a favorable first impression of a normally delightful country.  But hey, at least it’s not as awful as the United States of Agony, where redneck immigration and customs officials would detain you — deciding that you fit the profile of a sex tourist, drug dealer, and/or terrorist — take you into a room, and subject you to more interrogation and humiliation. You know, on second thought, maybe having to wait in line for an hour or two isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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