Tag Archives: visa

Teaching English in Indonesia

My time in Malaysia had finally come to an end and it was time to get out of the country to explore a new one.  I had been wrestling with what to do and where to go for a while and all I really knew was that I wanted to continue to volunteer somewhere, but just didn’t know where.

Tirelessly I researched place after place and continuously ran into programs that allowed volunteers to work with this or that animal, but the cost of doing so was atrocious!  Finally I came across a site called helpstay.com.  After reading reviews about the site as to its validity and exploring the various opportunities they had available in surrounding countries, I decided to take the plunge and join as a member of the site so I could contact one very specific volunteer opportunity.  In all honesty, the second I found the posting to volunteer teaching English at a home site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia that also had an organic farm, I signed up to the site and kept my fingers and toes crossed that they had availability for volunteers.

Within a few hours my inquiry was replied to and a Skype date was set so we could put faces to one another and see if we really were a match for each other, volunteer-wise.  Though part of me was a bit nervous to give away information about myself and Skype a literal stranger in a foreign country, the minute we chatted I knew I’d made the right decision.

The volunteer program organizer is an 18-year-old marvel named Faisal.  He invites people from around the world to stay with him and his family in exchange for volunteers to develop lessons and teach english to local students aged 6 to 18 years.  I was so very impressed with him during our Skype session, that I immediately committed to volunteering for a month with him and couldn’t wait to get there!

Now, all of my volunteering to this point involved animals, because that’s really where my love and strength lies.  I’d never taught English before (and I’d made sure to relate that to Faisal during our chat) but being a native english speaker I thought, how hard could it be? Less than a month after connecting with Faisal I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  I stayed the first night in Makassar (as my flight landed in the late evening) and first thing the next morning made my way to the Terminal Daya bus station for the 8 hour bus ride to Belopa.

Upon arriving at Terminal Daya I noted several men standing in front of the very, VERY basic bus terminal.  I spoke zero Bahasa and no one so far spoke any English (or very limited at best!) but luckily all that was required of me to say was: Belopa?.  That did the trick as they simultaeously all practically cheered “Belopa!” together.  They whisked my bag out of the taxi and walked me over… away from the vehicles that actually looked like busses… to basically a 4 door Ford truck.  Hmmmm…. is this right???  They all had stickers on the front saying “Pelopo” so I pointed to the truck and said again “Belopa?”.  “Ya, ya” was their response as they hauled my bag into the bed of the truck, took out their cell phones and typed in 150,000… the cost of the trip!

Lord knew at that point whether I was getting majorly ripped off or not, but what choice did I have exactly?  As it turned out, that was the correct and normal price 🙂  Happy day!  Moving on, I paid the fee and squished in the back seat with two other females and after a few minutes we were on our way.  There was actually a third line of seats behind my own, so in total we were a team of 7 people trundling along on the journey to Belopa (an hour South of Pelopo as it turns out).

The journey there was visually beautiful.  The mountains and the sea, vast and open rice fields, the endless green and tropical lush surrounding us.  Absolutely stunning!  The one downfall was that the driver smoked the entire way up, which was a bummer, but at least the windows were fully open to allow quick exchanges of air.  We took one break along the way for some food and a bathroom and made it into Belopa just about 8 hours to the dot later.  After a bit of miming and a game of charades with my fellow passengers in the truck, I was able to communicate that I wanted to be dropped off at the nearest ATM as I seriously had zero rupiah on me.  Luckily enough, the ATM I was dropped off at was next to a coffee shop that offered free WiFi.  So while sipping on a cappuccino (made from an instant coffee sachet) I used the WiFi to let Faisal know I’d arrived, and my exact location.

About 5 minutes later, Faisal showed up in his brother’s vehicle and we finally met in person.  Faisal, again only being 18 years of age and having only studied English for about 2 years spoke english brilliantly!  We loaded my stuff into his vehicle and made the 15 minute drive to his town called Bajo.  The town was absolutely adorable!!  When we arrived there was a football (soccer) match at the village field so there were tons of locals gathered for the game.

Just a bit further along the road we came to his lovely and humble home where I met his mom (mama as we called her who spoke zero english) and dad (who spoke a bit of english) and his cousin Irpan (a student in one of the english classes).  His family was lovely and so immediately welcoming that it just made my heart melt.  I was shown to my room and given a tour of the house and the school-house built by Faisal and some of his schoolmates Ucok and Iswan.  We had some dinner together (Faisal whipped up a deliciously spicy nasi goreng if memory serves) and I made my way to bed.

Thus began one of my most memorable months of traveling…

Visit Faisal’s website to find out more about his amazing volunteer program!!

Review of the Our Chance school

On to Favorite Memories from Bajo

Back to Indonesia

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Don’t Mess with Thailand

I will say for the record that yes, the following scenario was pretty much 100% my fault, and no, I don’t recommend anyone else to follow in my footsteps (as the ending results may vary greatly!!).

When I first arrived in Thailand in December of 2014 I didn’t bother to look at my passport stamp before leaving the immigration desk.  Instead it was probably the next day, after I’d slept for several hours catching up on lost sleep, that I bothered to look (out of curiosity) at the stamp in my passport.

It was then that I’d noticed something interesting about my stamp… The entrance date was correct, but the “valid until” stamp said December, 2015…

A year later???  That can’t be right!?  As I started to research information on tourist visas for Thailand, I quickly realized that a mistake had been made.  Tourist visas if entering by plane are ONLY valid for 30 days.  If entering by land I believe it is only 15 days.  To get more than 30 days, extensions must be made and paid for.

Well, at first I was a bit panicked about this incorrect stamp but nothing online seemed to address my issue.  All the visa problems were related to stamps giving LESS than the proper time allotted, never once did I run into anyone saying they were given MORE.

Perhaps that was due to people not wanting the outside world to know they had been “granted” longer than legally allowed… In any event, I was still worried about what to do in the several weeks that followed and almost did a border run within the 30 days, but the more I spoke with fellow tourists (some who had been there for months on end with proper extensions) it seemed that it really wasn’t a big deal.  There was no special stamp for 30 days vs. extended stays, so I thought no biggie!

Everyone (seasoned Thailand travelers) seemed in agreement that there wasn’t even a special visa stamp for year applications.  So needless to say, I simply blew off making border runs and figured I would deal with it whenever I was ready to leave Thailand.

So the day came, about 9 months later, that I was ready to leave.  Up to the border patrol in Tammalang Pier I strolled with my ticket in hand for Langkawi, Malaysia.  I passed over my passport to the seasoned employee… All seemed well for a few seconds… Then his eyebrows furrowed.

I was asked to step out of line and into the back where I was basically scolded for my mistake.  I tried to reason with them saying it was one of their own people’s fault for giving me the wrong stamp, but really when it came down to it (and I knew this already) it was my own fault.  So I was given two choices.  A) Pay the maximum fine for over-staying my visa (20,000 baht) or B) Go to the Police station.

Needless to say I picked A!!  I wasn’t even going to test choosing option B, lol!!  But the only problem then was that I needed cash!  I only had about 70 baht on me, so I basically begged for and borrowed a motorbike, drove myself into town, got the max allowed out of an ATM (20,000 baht), drove back, paid my fine, got a lovely full-page stamp in my passport outlining the infraction (stating boldly my mistake in full detail), finally got my exit stamp, and boarded the ferry to Langkawi Malaysia.

It was kinda humorous at the end there as when I had to return to the main immigration desk hours later (after paying the fine) I ended up with the same officer who caught my mistake.  When I approached, he just gave me a jovial smile and shake of the head.  I had to chuckle at that and smiled.  No hard feelings 🙂  At least I wasn’t asked never to return to Thailand!  I paid my fees and got straight with the law.

So I’ve learned my lesson, which I’d actually seen written several times in visa blog discussions: ALWAYS CHECK YOUR STAMP BEFORE LEAVING THE IMMIGRATION DESK!!!  Avoid future hassles!!

As for the money, if you really think about it, it’s probably the same amount I would have had to spend in border runs and legal extensions of my tourist visa anyway.  C’est la vie!

That’s my story and my warnings!!

On to Malaysia

Back to Thailand

The ‘Squirrely’ Side of Thailand

I thought it only fair since I posted ‘Things to Love about Thailand’ that I should also have a little ranting page about things I find squirrely about the country as well.  Again, they are in no particular order 🙂

#1: Whitening
Ok, now I understand that this is 100% a culture thing.  Unlike many people in the Western world and many Europeans, Asians want white skin.  White skin is a sign of wealth.  For if you are wealthy, you spend most of your time indoors and don’t have to work or labor outdoors, hence you stay out of the sun, hence you have white skin.  On the flip side, having dark skin is a sign of poverty.  So ok, I get people here want white skin, but what I’m not a fan of is the whitening products and not having a real choice outside of it.  Deodorants, body washes, lotions, basically any product for your skin has chemical whitening agents in them.  As a falang who prefers a little color to my skin, and as a person who doesn’t want unnecessary chemicals put on my skin, it’s really, REALLY hard to find any skin products without whitening chemicals in them.  They are all “whitening”, “extra whitening”, “white and firm”, etc….  What’s worse to me is so-called skin care product experts like Nivea, Oil of Olay, Dove, and so on are on the whitening bandwagon.  They are just out to give what the culture wants despite what damage it may do.  All about the $$$$… Again, I get it’s a culture thing to want white skin, I just wish there were options that didn’t have the whitening chemicals in them, that’s all 🙂
#2: Electric Lines
I don’t know why it is exactly that electrical poles have what sometimes looks like hundreds of lines coming off of them stretching along every road and side road.  It’s as if they had poles with a few lines at first, then as demand for electricity increased they just added more and more and more.  It’s sometimes scary as when you walk by many of the poles you can hear them literally buzzing with electricity!  And between some of the poles the electrical lines stretch from the top of the pole to at least half-way down allowing the lines to sag almost to the ground.  Now, I’m not an expert in electricity by any means, so I may be way out of my depth here, but I would think there would be a “neater” or more organized way to get electricity where needed without just adding more and more to already congested poles… Hmmm…

#3: Sugar
I learned very quickly that sugar is super popular here in Thailand.  They put it in EVERYTHING!!  It’s even a condiment on the table for your meal!  They have the chili pepper powder, fish sauce, a vinegar sauce with sliced chili in it and sugar.  Nope, that’s NOT salt!  I’ve heard that Thailand is way up there for diabetes and obesity, though to be honest I haven’t noticed that many obese Thai’s, so while that part came as a surprise to me, after realizing and tasting that yes, everything does have a ton of sugar in it, it’s not so shocking after all.  Bread, coffee, “all natural juices”, potato chips, the list goes on!  If shopping on the street at the various vendors, if it looks like it may be tart or not have sugar in it, you really won’t know for sure until you take that first bite.  As someone who is trying to watch sugar intake for personal health benefits, I literally have to read every ingredient on what I pick up in the store to check for sugar.  I’ve done this action so often now, I even recognize the word in Thai (since the majority of ingredient lists are 100% in Thai).  Such a bummer!

#4: Visas
If you enter Thailand via air, you automatically will receive a tourist Visa for 30 days.  If you want to have a Visa for a longer period of time, you can apply before going to Thailand to the nearest Thai embassy for a 60 or even 90 day Visa.  It is possible to get a year Visa if you are doing some sort of education while in the country such as learning to speak Thai or Muay Thai training.  If you arrive in Thailand via land (bus or train) you get a 15 day Visa!!  Seriously???  What in the world would anyone actually be able to see of Thailand in 15 days!?!?!  I understand that there are many expats and travelers that get jobs while originally just visiting Thailand and aren’t being legal about it (paying the appropriate taxes and such) so the government is trying to limit the amount of time people stay in the country to make it harder for those who get jobs and aren’t legal about it.  I get that.  It’s just unfortunate from the perspective of regular travelers who just want to explore the country without having to leave every 30, 60 or 90 days (yes, even 90 days is a pain to have to do!!) especially with some borders being closed (well, you can leave, but you can’t come back).  I’m spending my saved earned money in this country… Wouldn’t they want me to be here for a longer period of time without having to leave?  Then again, maybe that’s part of it too… Paying for transport in and out of the country to be right by the Visa is also stimulating the economy… Hmmmm….  The rules do change quite often apparently and many expats who have been here legally for many years simply say that “that’s what happens when the government is ruled by the military”.  (Sigh)

#5: Thai’s Don’t Sweat!
Ok, this one is obviously just meant to be humorous… It simply astounds me how the Thai people never seem to actually sweat!!!  Seriously, if I’m sitting indoors without a fan directly on me I start to sweat profusely!  And even then, while the skin being hit by the fan is dry and cool, my backside is not!  Walking anywhere and well forget it, I’m drenched in sweat so often just walking about that my clothes change color from being sweat soaked.  I’m constantly peeling clothes off soaking wet clothes and setting them outside to dry after my walks and when they do dry they are streaked with white marks across them (from the salt in my sweat) so into the wash they have to go.  Yet watching Thai laborers in the sun constructing a new building, carrying materials and such, not a single drop of sweat anywhere!  Their skin isn’t glistening with any sign of stress!!  Ok, now of course this is a teeny bit of an exaggeration because of course they sweat, otherwise I’d think that was a major health issue, but seriously compared to how I and other falangs sweat, it’s night and day!  What is their secret???  I’m off for my third shower of the day now to rinse off the sweat from simply writing this post. 😉

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