Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thai Immigration

With all the talk of Immigration reform in the USA, I thought I’d share my Thai Immigration experiences in this blog entry.

As an ex-pat, there are several ways to stay in Thailand. Each has their own limitations and requirements. If you are coming here on Holiday for less than 30 Days, you can obtain a free Visa On Arrival when you enter the Kingdom.

Next step up is the Tourist Visa (which I currently have) – it is issued for 60 Days and can be easily extended an additional 30 Days at any Immigration Office. You can get a single, double or triple entry Tourist Visa in your home country.

I have a triple entry visa that gives me 60 + 30 Days x 3 or a total of 9 months.

Other Visa’s include the Retirement Visa which is renewable annually and requires that you are over 50 years of age, have financial resources equivalent to 800,000 Baht (approx $23,000 USD) and do not have a criminal record or are deemed an “undesirable character”.

Ultimately, I will switch to the Retirement Visa but currently the US Dollar is very weak against the Baht and I am waiting in hopes it improves before transferring the money.

The one big No – No with these Visa’s is that you cannot work in the Kingdom. There are Work Permit Visa’s that will accommodate that if needed and many American’s come here to live and teach English.

Today I went to the Pattaya Immigration Office to apply for my first 30 day extension. Arriving at 8:30am, I take a numbered ticket (No. 6) and proceed to a table where there are blank application forms.

Basically, it’s a straight forward one – page application asking name, passport number, Visa Type, address in Thailand etc. All the forms are in Thai & English and a printed example is posted at every kiosk.

Filling out the required information took less than two minutes. I sat waiting another five minutes and my number was called. I approached the desk with the completed form, a photocopy of my passport, a color passport photo and 1900 Baht fee.

The Immigration Officer smiled, offered me a seat and proceeded to examine the documents. After a few notations, and ink stamps he takes the money and tells me to wait. Approximately five minutes later, my name is called, I’m handed a receipt and my passport with a fresh 30 Day Stamp. Total time = 20 minutes.

Thailand takes Immigration Control seriously and there are severe penalties for overstaying your Visa that that can range from stiff fines to jail time but if you play by the rules, I find that they are courteous, helpful and efficient.

I am happy to comply with the rules - if only we took it that seriously in America!

Randy Morris

In the Fall of 1972 I met someone who changed my life. His name is Randy Morris.

I was a High School student in Central Florida working for a Funeral Home as an Ambulance Attendant and Embalmer’s Apprentice – just your average teenage lifestyle.

I assumed my future lay in Mortuary Science or Emergency Medical Service. The advantage of combining the two was you could cover up your own mistakes!

But back to Randy…

I met Randy Morris at Disney World while he was playing ragtime piano at “Coke Corner” on Main Street.

Due to the popularity of the movie “The Sting”, Ragtime music had a bit of revival at the time. I had enjoyed recordings of people like Max Morath and Joanne Castle, but I had never seen it performed “up close”.

Randy’s stride piano stylings along with his corny jokes and personable nature had me hooked immediately. I waited around after each set and talked with him at length. He seemed to sense that I had a real interest in the music and remembered me every time I returned to the Theme Park.

After a few visits, while all my friends would be off on there 32nd ride on Space Mountain, I’d be contently sitting there watching Randy perform. Randy told me about a place he was performing at night in downtown Orlando Fl called “Rosie O’Grady’s”.

I went there and watched him perform not only Piano but Banjo as well with Bill Allred’s Band. If you’ve never been there, in it’s heyday (70’s & 80’s), “Rosie’s” was an unbelievable Dixieland Jazz club owned by entrepreneur Bob Snow. The band was the most high powered jazz band I’d ever heard.

I knew that I wanted to be on that stage playing this wonderful style of music. I had played a little guitar so I naturally gravitated toward stringed instruments. From the very beginning, Randy was supportive and accessible – he helped me find an out of print Harry Reser Banjo Lesson book and even gave me a few private lessons at his home.

We became friends and have remained so for over 35 years. Through his inspiration and his thoughtful guidance, I became a professional Banjo Cabaret Act and have enjoyed a career spanning 25 plus years.

There are so many worthwhile Randy Morris stories to share … and I promise to do so in future blogs. Right now, I just want to wish him the very best and say “Thanks”

Airport '07

I have recently had the opportunity to fly through three of Asia’s top airports and I’ve to say, they get it right!

If you’ve flown through Chicago O’Hare, JFK or (god forbid) Miami International lately, you’ve seen the chaotic, claustrophobic atmosphere that most American flyers face daily. Long lines and short tempers are the norm.

Flying through Narita (Tokyo), Hong Kong or Bangkok is a total pleasure. No long lines anywhere, plenty of seats in the Lounges, spacious clean terminals, courteous employees and they even smile at you in the Security Line!!!!

What a difference a hemisphere makes.

I recently returned to Thailand from Japan and from the time the plane landed to the time I was standing in the Arrivals Hall was under 30 minutes. That includes exiting the plane, walking to Immigration, being stamped into the country, picking up my luggage and clearing Customs – amazing!

Checking in at Narita was equally amazing. I arrived at 2pm for a 5pm flight. By 2:30 was checked in, cleared Japanese Immigration and was sitting in a massage chair near my gate. No long lines, just efficient, orderly, courteous service!

I had an hour layover in Hong Kong and the new airport is beautiful and very quiet despite the number of travelers passing through it. You’ll find some great restaurants and shops there too.

I only wish we’d learn how to do the same here in the West!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Film Flubs

I’ve been a fan of the movies all my life.

For better or worse, I’ve always watched films on two levels. First for the story and second for the film flubs.

I can’t help it. My eyes automatically check license plates to be sure the locations are accurate, water levels in dinner glasses remain constant and boom mikes don’t drop into the scenes.

About ten years ago, I was watching the newly released 1996 summer blockbuster “Independence Day” and spotted my all time favorite blooper.

It involves a scene where a character is holding a copy of USA Today reading the headline on July 3rd, the day before Independence Day. The back page of the A Section is a weather map color coded by temperature (known as a thermograph). Obviously, they filmed the scene in mid winter using the current issue because the USA is blue down to Florida!

Back then, I was a member of CompuServe – and so was film critic Roger Ebert. I was able to email him my “discovery” and he was kind enough to write back. In his reply, he congratulated me on my “find” and suggested I forward it to Bill Givens.

Bill Givens is the author of a series of books on film flubs including “Roman Soldiers Don’t Wear Wristwatches” and is a regular guest on Good Morning America. Bill promptly replied and asked if he could include it in a future book ( I, of course agreed).

True to his word, my contribution made it in the book “Film Flubs 1999” along with acknowledgement.

Check out Bill’s books at your local bookstore or online . They are fun, easy reads that may make you change the way you look at movies!

For a complete set of Independence Day goofs click here

Marty Brill

If you ever met Marty Brill, you’d certainly remember it.

Marty is a comedian / writer / actor / musician who I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past 15 years. A regular on the 70’s TV Show “The New Dick Van Dyke Show” as well as featured in films including “The Pope of Greenwich Village”, Marty has had quite a career.

In the 60’s & 70’s he appeared numerous times on the Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as well as written for top shows including M.A.S.H. and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

Having dinner with Marty is always an entertaining event. You can count on non stop stories and reminiscences about the industry he dearly loves.

Now, like many entertainers Marty works the cruise ships.

Marty’s live comedy shows are always an experience. You can count on it being fast, very funny and most of the material written that day. Marty loves to pull humor out of the headlines and no two shows are ever the same.

During his show, Marty “punches” hard or shouts much in the tradition of Alan King. He paces the stage like a tiger on the prowl as he leaves his audiences in stitches. The late Greg Kinison once told Marty he fashioned his stage persona on him.

Today, Marty turns 75 (May 6th). Happy Birthday, my friend.