Today Tim and I took Jacob to get his passport renewed. We had to take him out of school in the morning to get it done, as the ACS (American Citizen Services) branch of the U.S. Embassy is open from 7:00 until 2:00 p.m., and minor passports require the minor and both parents.
I scheduled an appointment for 8:45 a.m., figuring that it would give us plenty of time with traffic. We ended up arriving just before our appointment. When you arrive at the ACS, you have to surrender your electronic devices and go through a metal detector. We were waiting in line behind a man (perhaps American) and a Thai woman. The man knew one of the people at the desk and was having a long conversation with him. I got the impression the guy was a jackass. Finally we managed to get around them, and then got stuck behind a Thai woman trying to go through the metal detector. She had a USB drive or something and was standing in front of the detector fishing through her purse. The guard just sits there and looks at her. Jacob walked through on his own, and he's telling us to wait. Finally Tim made a gesture to go through and we walked around her.
Everything went pretty smoothly except the photograph. I took Jacob's photo and printed it, but neglected to make sure it had a white background. It had a gray background. It would have taken me about thirty seconds in Photoshop or Lightroom to fix it, but once again I screwed it up. Its amazing; I'm actually pretty good with a camera and computers, but every time I deal with immigration, I end up having to fill in the same form at least three times, and there is always something wrong with the photos.
Fortunately, they let us go through the interview and bring photos back afterwards. There are a few places close by, so after we were finished, we went and had Jacob's photo taken. I returned it to the ACS while Tim took Jacob to Au Bon Pain.
A couple of interesting things. The woman who interviewed Jacob was from Florence Kentucky. The guy who was acting chummy with the guard at the front desk was having trouble of some sort. While many of the people at the ACS are Americans, there are also Thai people who work there. This man was talking to a Thai worker, and demanding to know the name of his boss. He had some sort of appointment, and was not pleased at how things were going. I later heard him complaining to someone else about something. I stand by my first assessment; jackass.
Of course, no trip to the ACS is complete without some weirdo fellow countryman. When I returned with Jacob's photos, I just had to go and drop them off at a window. I stood there waiting for someone to come over to make sure there end up in the right place. A man comes up next to me, looking red faced and perhaps a little like a bum. He put his paperwork through the slot, and I noticed that it had a 500 baht (about $15) bill with it. Trying to be helpful, I pointed behind him and said "you pay back there". He informed me that he had already paid.
Now, I'm not going to get into an argument with one of the less fortunate people who share my country of origin, but I'm wondering why the hell he is passing money through the window. I've read stories before that people who deal with the THAI immigration officials sometimes have to pay "tea money" to get paper work processed. Even in those cases, its a little more subtle than shoving a visible 500 baht bill in the slot with your paperwork. There is no reason that you need to slip a little extra money at the American Embassy. My guess is that even for the Thai employees, its a pretty decent job, and I'm willing to bet that if you get caught accepting extra payments you will not be working there any longer. Sure enough, the clerk came over and took everything but the money. He then took Jacob's photos and attached them to the forms, before working on the other guys issue.
Jacob's passport should be ready in two weeks. Fortunately, I can pick it up by myself.