Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Comprehensive Immigration Reform? - Part 4

It's been a while since my last blog entry.  It has not that nothing has happened to write about.  To the contrary, we have been quite busy.  So busy that I have not had time to write.

Yesterday, Tuesday, we went to Bangkok to pick up Duang's "Good Conduct Letter" at the Embassy of Brunei from the Brunei Royal Police.  This document was the last piece of paper that we needed to complete the Package #3 prior to sending it to the US Consulate in Bangkok relocated to Duang's application for an Immigration Visa to the United States.

We have been to Bangkok for overnight stays twice in the past two months, so we decided to fly down and back in a single day.  We could have gone down by overnight bus and taken a late morning or early afternoon bus back to Udonthani.  We have done that before - 8-1/2 hours down leaving Udonthani at 10:00 P.M. and arriving in Bangkok the following morning at 6:30 A.M.  Taking a 11:00 A.M. bus gets you back to Udonthani at 7:30 P.M.  This is not a trip to be enjoyed.  I am not very enthusiastic about overnight bus trips.  If the on board mosquitoes don't get you, the bus driver might.  There are quite a few serious bus accidents in Thailand attributable to driver fatigue or impaired drivers, excessive speed, improper maintenance, or weather conditions.  The night before we were to leave for Bangkok, Duang saw a large bus laying on its side on the wet road back from Tahsang Village - confirmation that our decision to fly, spend an additional $160 USD rather than take a bus was justified.

We arrived home last night at 6:30 P.M. with the Police Certificate from Brunei.  This morning I started to assemble the documentation package.  I ended up with a 3/4" stack of paper.  Some of the documents had to be originals and some could be copies.  Some documents had to have certified English translations accompanying them.  Some of the Forms required substantiating documents.

Anticipating confusion and wishing to eliminate any reason to delay the processing of this stage of the current process for obtaining an Immigration Visa to the United States, I decided to create a transmittal document for the package where I listed the documents in the order that they were assembled in the package as well as how they were listed in the instructions.

As part of completing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Act, I also needed to address the issue of my domicile.  I wrote a letter addressing the domicile issue and listed the 13 attached supporting documents in the letter.  Each document had the appropriate enclosure number written in the lower left hand corner to assist in reassembling the packet if it becomes disassembled in Bangkok.

Part of my time today was spent making copies and or scanning the submitted documents to ensure that I had a record on file of the complete package.

I used the Transmittal Document to assemble the package, check the package for accuracy and completeness, recheck the package, and check it once again for a final time.  My experience to date has been that the authorities are very particular in reviewing the documents for compliance, accuracy, and completeness.  All boxes on forms need to be answered and not left blank.  "None" or "N/A" are to be entered rather than leaving a section blank on the forms.  Blanks will be a cause for delay in processing the application for a visa.

Tomorrow morning we will go to the Post Office and send the package to the US Embassy.  After waiting 6 weeks for the necessary Police Certificates we are hopefully ready for the next step of the current process for legal immigration to the USA  - a medical examination and related vaccinations followed by a personal interview in Bangkok.  My understanding is that we will be notified  of Duang's scheduled interview at the Consulate.  According to my research her appointment will be 10 to 12 weeks from next week.  Her medical examination and vaccinations will be a few days before her appointment.  This looks like it will be at least two more trips to Bangkok.

The process has been a long and drawn out affair. We are now 3 months into the effort.  It is taking longer than I expected.

The process has been an expensive undertaking.  It has cost more than I expected and the costs have not been terminated yet.

I am not complaining about either the duration or the costs but in bringing up these issues I am suggesting that these might be specific areas for "comprehensive immigration reform".  I have yet to hear or read any politician retracting the need or their support for "comprehensive immigration reform".

I have yet to read or hear what the definition, intent or specific proposals are for "comprehensive immigration reform".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is it Safe? Should I Bring My Camera Gear?

A Hmong Grandmother

My interest in photography has lead me to participate in what I consider to be a very informative photography website,  Part of the website is a forum where people can ask questions and get information and advice from people.

Recently a question was asked regarding the risks or carrying top quality camera gear in Rio.

These types of questions are very difficult to reply to.  You can only give advice based upon your personal experience but there is never any guarantee that they will have the same experience.  You can only provide information that they can use to assess the risk and to make their own decision.  In the end they will experience the consequences of the decision and not you.  In general there are risks in carrying expensive equipment anywhere in the world.  Just as general, there are many common sense actions that a person can take to manage the risks.

Some One's Grandmother - Thailand
The most important advice is "Don't be stupid".  Travel is a great deal like the mass migrations we watch on television of the animals across the Serengeti Plains.  The predators are vastly out numbered by the herd animals.  The predators survive by identifying and then preying upon the weak members of the herd.  This is analogous to tourist travel.  Thieves are on the look out for targets of opportunity.  A serious photographer can easily be carrying 5 to 10 times the average annual income of  the inhabitants of many of the more photographically interesting destinations throughout the world.

The first step in managing security risks is to identify and quantify the specific nature of the risks for the specific location where you will be going.  Before embarking on a journey, it is a very good idea to do some research.  The Internet has revolutionized and greatly increased our ability to find information on an almost unlimited number or topics.  Electronic versions as well as paper versions of guide books are a good start to get information regarding security issues.  The United States Department of State on their website provides up to date cautions and warnings regarding threats in specific cities as well as countries.  In some cities the threat is pick pockets.  In other locations the threat is mainly being mobbed by children. Cutting of backpacks to steal its contents while a person is in a large crowd is prevalent in some cities.  In some places, tourists are robbed after being incapacitated by a drink offered by a friendly local person.  Once the security risks are identified and evaluated, the individual tourist can decide if they are willing to accept the risks for the rewards that they expect to acquire in visiting the location.

If the tourist decides to visit a particular location after assessing the risks, the next step is to develop a plan and take steps to manage and minimize the risks.  It is important to realize that the over whelming majority of the people no matter their ethnicity, economic status, social status or religion are good, kind and honest people - just like us.  It is the few bad apples that can ruin a trip or give a bad reputation to a city or country.  It is the small minority that we need to be aware of and to manage the risks of having a bad encounter with them.  There is no need for paranoia to imprison us in our own comfort sphere but we need to always be aware of our surroundings at all times and locations.

You, as a possible target, can reduce the possibility of being preyed upon by minimizing the attraction of attention to yourself.  As much as possible try to blend into the local population in your dress and mannerism.  When travelling, I never wear my best clothes.  I dress for the climate and location rather than to impress.  I consciously decide to wear sturdy boots to minimize the probability of tripping or rolling an ankle.  Sturdy  boots also send a subliminal message of power and strength.

Nothing advertises the quantity and value of your camera equipment or possessions as openly flaunting them.  High priced internationally known backpacks advertise that you are wealthy and pique the interests as to what may be contained in the backpack.  Most people in the world, especially where there is a risk of theft, does not expect to find only a sardine sandwich in a Nikon, Canon, Lowepro, Crumpler, or Tamrac back pack.

I choose to carry my camera gear in a nondescript backpack.  My current bag was made and purchased in Brasil.  My criteria in selecting the bag was appropriate size, water resistance, appropriate external pockets, and the overall quality of construction.  I brought the bag to a shoe repair shop and had the attachment of the shoulder straps to the bag reinforced with additional sewing.  My lenses are kept in individual lens cases and my cameras are encased in Sling neoprene coverings.  My bag also carries emergency toilet materials, and appropriate clothing for expected weather conditions.

I often wear a large rain jacket.  The hooded jacket provides protection from the rain.  There is another advantage to wearing the plain black over sized jacket - I can conceal a great amount of camera gear underneath it and in its large pockets.  It helps to maintain a low profile and blend into the surroundings.

Great advice whether you are travelling for photography or just traveling for tourism,  is the need for "situational awareness".  To manage risks you need to be capable of assessing the risks.  This means to avoid alcohol when you are in or going to risky areas.  It means avoiding certain times of the night for traveling.  It means walking under street lights rather than walking in the shadows.

Just as the herd provides a great deal of security to an individual, traveling in groups also helps to minimize security risks.  A group can nothing more than traveling with one other kindred soul or being part of large group of tourists.  I am fortunate now because my wife is pleased and content to go with me on my photography forays.  Since she does not take many photographs, I always have a focused pair of eyes alert to any threats or risks in our vicinity.  In the past, there have been many times that I travelled alone.  However just because you start out alone does not mean you will be alone throughout your photography shoots.  I found that because I my interest in photography I often encounter like minded travellers.  Typically I ended up accompanying them on joint forays into more risky areas to take photographs - a small herd but it has always been effective.

My photographic excursions have taken me to 23 different countries over the years.   I have been fortunate to never experienced any theft.  However I have always been careful and managed the risks.  I have been in some situations where there was a strong possibility of theft.

A Trustworthy Grandmother in Isaan

I was in Cuzco, Peru in broad daylight taking photographs of processions around Plaza D'Armas related to the Feast of Corpus Christi.  There were huge crowds and the risks of theft were readily apparent.  An old grandmother came up to me and warned me in Spanish to be careful.  I thanked her rand took appropriate steps to manage the risks.  The grandmother was part of a rather large group of elderly women selling boiled potatoes and other foods to the spectators.  In my travels throughout the world, I have yet to find a culture where grandmothers were or respected or better yet not feared.  No one messes with grandmothers!  I joined the grandmothers as they climbed the steps to the cathedral and sat on the stone steps.  Rather than take my chances wandering about at street level taking photographs, I sat amongst the cadre of Grannies taking photographs.  Some of the women had very large burlap sacks of cooked potatoes.  When they left our area to tend to personal business or to sell some of their prepared foods, I watched over their stock.  We ended up having a great time interacting as well as joking with each other.  They even ended up giving me some potatoes to eat - I guess I had become an accepted member of the herd.  I enjoyed my afternoon - relaxed and protected in the company of some remarkable women.

The next day I attended another procession in the Plaza.  To manage the risks this day, I set up on the edge of the sidewalk next to a Policeman who was preventing people from getting on to the street while the procession was on going.  Besides the obvious minimizing of risk by staying next to a Policeman, there was an unexpected benefit.  After watching me take photographs for a while, he motioned to me to go out into the middle of the street in order to get a better angle of the oncoming marchers.

That night, the procession was continuing.  It ended up lasting from 10:00 A.M. until 1:00 A.M. It very well could be a world record for longest parade - 15 hours! I was alone so when I detected or imagined a threat from some teenagers and young men I relocated to the middle of an area that was saturated with young families.  Once again the risk was managed by situational awareness and taking action to become part of a herd.  To get to me, the perceived threats would have to enter and exit through a throng of people who were a not a threat to me and capable of protecting their families.  Since thieves tend to be opportunists, I diminished the opportunity and made it more difficult for them to get to me and my equipment.  I am certain that better as well as easier opportunities existed at the fringes of the crowd.

The following night at another event, I noticed some young men who seemed to be eying me.  As I stood watching the event in front of me, I periodically made an unpredictable movement that would disrupt any attempt to pick a pocket or cut my back pack.  At one point, I looked directly at the young men with a confident look that was intended to communicate to them that I was aware of them and I had an idea of what they might be thinking about.  The young men left.  I had removed the element of surprise from the situation  I had let them know that I had situation awareness.  With less of an opportunity, they moved on.

A Lao Loum Grandmother
On my last night in Cuzco, I went out with two British young men that I met on one of the tours that I took.  We had no problems at all and thoroughly enjoyed the fireworks display.  Once again the herd had provided protection.

When planning on visiting suspect areas, besides maintaining a low profile, I minimize the amount of valuables that could be lost.  I strip my wallet of credit cards and identification papers that would be a pain to replace.  I ensure that I am carrying a photocopy of my passport identification page and of any applicable visa for that country.  I carry enough cash for my planned activities for that night and just a little extra so as to hopefully not "insult" a potential assailant.  I bring only the minimum amount of camera gear that I expect to require at that location.  I take particular caution and steps to ensure that whatever photos have been taken to date are not placed at risk.

In the end it is up to the individual to decide whether to bring their camera gear or not.  No one can guarantee that it will not be stolen.  However similar to what Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"  I believe "It is better to have brought the camera and lost it than never to have brought it at all"

What good is a camera if you are afraid to take it places?

The final decision is up to you and only you.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Comprehensive Immigration Reform? - Up To Date - Part 3

In my August 14, 2010 blog entry, "Impressions - Dealing with Governments", I wrote about receiving USCIS Department of Homeland Security approval of my request, Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, for an immigration visa for my wife as well as the process for obtaining a Thai Police Certificate and a Brunei Police Certificate.  After our visit to Bangkok to apply for the two Police Certificates, we received the Thai Police Certificate in two weeks just as they promised.  It has been a month, so we are in the promised 1 to 2 month time frame stated by the Brunei Embassy.

Although the intensity of our efforts to obtain an Immigrant Visa have diminished somewhat while we await the required Police certificate from Brunei, we have not stopped all of our work to assemble the other required Package #3 documents to submit eventually to the American Consulate in Bangkok.

Per the required procedure, we need to submit the following documents to the American Consulate:

     1.    Copy of Passport - Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     2.    Copy of Birth Certificate - Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     3.    Copy of Birth Certificate - Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
     4.    Name Change Certificate - Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     5.    Name Change Certificate - Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
     6.    Marriage Certificate - Allen/Duangchan - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)

     7.    Marriage Certificate - Allen/Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)

     8.    Marriage Registration - Allen/Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     9.    Marriage Registration - Allen/Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
    10.   Divorce Decree - Allen/First Wife - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
    11.   Divorce Decree - Allen/Second Wife - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
    12.   Divorce Decree - Duang/First Husband - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)

    13.   Divorce Decree - Duang/ First Husband - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
    14.   Application Form DS-230 "Application For Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration"
    15.   Two recent passport sized photographs
    16.   Form I-864 "Affidavit of Support"
    17.   Thai Police Certificate
    18.   Foreign Police Records
Interestingly of the 18 identified documents to be submitted to the Consular Section of the Embassy of the United States of America, 14 had been submitted to the Department of Homeland Security previously, reviewed, and approved by them.  I would have assumed that they would have made a copy of the documents for their files and sent the original package over to the Consular Section or at least notified the Consular Section that they were on file.  In this electronic age, I would have expected the DHS to electronically scan the documents and placed them in a database to be referred to by all US government agencies.  Here I go again - assuming things to be easier and more simple than they are.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform? What does it mean?   Well at least for me, when I speak or write about "Comprehensive Immigration Reform", I am in part referring to and advocating the greater sharing of information between US government agencies and a greater use of digital technology in the process.
One of the new required documents to be submitted is Form I-864 "Affidavit of Support".  "Affidavit of Support" sounds rather innocuous until you delve into the details.  Ah yes - the famous quote "The devil is in the details".  I assumed by its title "Affidavit of Support", that I would be signing a single piece of paper stating that I will support my wife and she would not have to obtain public assistance.  Hmmm - I don't remember signing anything like that for my first two wives.  OK, no matter, they were Americans and like the old saying "It's my ball, my bat, and my park.  If you want to play, you play by my rules" and  I want to play baseball.  Well once again my idealism and naivete have been demonstrated in assuming that the "Affidavit of Support" was an easy and simple document.

Instruction Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants (Packet 3) for "Evidence of Financial Support" states "Note for Petitioners who Reside Abroad:   In order to qualify as a sponsor, you must meet the domicile requirement.  This means that you must show that you have maintained a residence within the USA or taken steps to reestablish your residence in the USA. ...  "

It also requires submitting a copy of your last Federal Income Tax Return.  No problem, I can do that - all 45 pages of it.  The simple Form is rapidly becoming complicated.

Going to the Instructions for I-864, matters become more difficult and complicated.  The stated purpose of I-864, Affidavit of Support is for "... immigrants to show that they have adequate means of financial support and that they are not likely to become public charge. ... "  A sponsor of an immigrant must demonstrate that their income is at least 125% of the current Federal poverty line for their household size.  Hmm ... I have been retired for three years and do not have much "income".  However reading on further I discovered that assets can be used to qualify.  I have savings and retirement accounts accumulated from the years that I did work so it seems that we are back in business.  I will be required to submit documentation for each of the assets that I want to be considered in determining that I can support my wife in the USA.

Our yearly "income" is whatever I pull out of the bank.  Next year it will also include Social Security benefits.  I did some more research and I need 5 times the difference between my income ($0) and the 125% of the Federal poverty line for a family of two to be able to sponsor my wife.  As it turns out there is no financial problem for us.  This is great news for us, my relatives, and my friends.  I will not have to hit anyone up to help sponsor my wife to immigrate to the USA.  They would not have to agree that if she needed money to stay off of welfare that they would provide it.  Not sure that I would want to know how close my family or friends are to me regarding that type of request.  I know that I am making light of a very serious issue but I would also like to remind the readers, who have gotten this far, this financial sponsorship is required for all legal immigrants under the current process.  The uneducated legal immigrant farm worker sponsoring the legal immigration of his wife or children is subject to the same requirements and process as I am or you would be.

The instructions for Form I-864 delve deeper into the situation of an American citizen living abroad.

"15. Country of Domicile. ...If you are not currently living in the United States, you may meet the domicile requirement if you can submit evidence to establish that any of the following conditions apply:  B. You are living abroad temporarily  ...   C.  You intend in good faith to reestablish your domicile in the United States no later than the date of the intending immigrant's admission or adjustment of status. ... "  Personal circumstances should allow me to meet these additional requirements as long as I submit the required supporting additional documentation.

There are some difficulties encountered in writing a blog regarding Immigration to the United States.  The biggest difficulty is finding and understanding the truth.  Needless to say the issue of Immigration and Illegal Immigration is a complex and extremely emotional political as well as economic issue.  Both sides of the issues stake out their positions defiantly behind their mighty ramparts of alleged facts.  But as you delve into the sources and validity for these "facts" their basis is either missing or highly suspect.  I suppose there are several reasons for this.  Reasons include the desire to not let the facts or truth interfere with one's cause or argument, the illegalities involved, and the utmost need for discretion.

Why would an illegal immigrant admit that they were illegal?  Why would an illegal immigrant disclose how much they were paid for the work that they perform?  Why would an individual or company freely admit that they employ illegals?  Why would an individual or company freely or truthfully disclose how much they pay their illegal employees in wages and benefits?

Given the lack of hard and verifiable data, people fall back on antidotes, tribal knowledge and urban myths.  These are all useful in making one's point in an argument but not helpful in either identifying or quantifying the extent of a problem.

For this blog, I wanted to include some information on how much money an illegal immigrant makes in the USA today for performing farm field work. I did not find any information during my Google research that was current or that I felt was verifiable.  I have decided to use the country legal minimum wages as listed in Wikipedia.  For currency conversions I used  At least I can cite a source and the information may not necessarily reflect the truth regarding actual wages received but should provide a consistent basis for evaluating the economic motivation for immigration and more importantly illegal immigration.

Ironically, 400 Thai workers were recently discovered in the United States being victimized by a large worker recruitment company.  I have written that a farm laborer here in Isaan makes 150 baht a day ($4.87 a day). This amounts to $0.61 per hour for unskilled farm labor.  According to Wikipedia the minimum wage for Thailand is from 148 to 203 baht a day so their data is consistent with my personal knowledge.  Acordding to Wikipedia the legal minimum wage in Mexico is 57 pesos a day or an equivalent of $0.56 an hour.  According to Wikipedia the federal minimum wage in the USA is $7.25 an hour.

I read an article on the Internet, that had to do with janitors in Los Angeles. The unionized janitors were allegedly making $12 an hour with benefits and over a two year period were replaced by subcontractors paying roaming crews of Mexicans and El Salvadorian laborers making $3.35 an hour.  I don't know what years this involved.  I don't know if the Mexican and El Salvadorian laborers received benefits although I suspect that they did not.  I do not know if the subcontractors paid Social Security Old Age taxes, Social Security Medicare Taxes, with held Federal Income Taxes, State Income Taxes, and State Unemployment Insurance Taxes from the wages of the Mexican and El Salvadorian laborers but ... once again I assume that they did not.

If this occurred today, the Mexican laborers would be making 6 times the amount of money that they could earn in Mexico assuming they could find a job there.

For the Thai laborer, in the same situation, they would also be earning far more than they could back in their home country - 5.5 times more.  Benefits?  Thai minimum wage workers do not get benefits - no medical insurance, no paid holidays, no paid vacation, no retirement plan, no unemployment benefits, no profit sharing, no bonus.  I suspect the same is true for Mexican and El Salvadorian laborers. Housing?  Thai workers when they are away from home, such as a large construction site or factory site build their own housing out of packaging materials, construction debris, and low cost materials.  The same is true in Vietnam.  They need a hose with water to drink, cook, and wash and for food they need rice.  They live off the land by foraging plants, fruit and fish. Pit toilets are not a problem or an issue for them. They pool their living resources so they are able to live and to be content on a wage far below that of an American worker.  The point is that they are accustomed to a much lower standard of living.  A similar standard or living and to be able to make 6 times the amount of money that they can back home is a great motivator as well as temptation to leave their home countries.

How many of us, given the opportunity to make 6 times, and I am talking 6 times after taxes, what we make today while maintaining a very similar lifestyle would or could ignore the opportunity to work in another country?  What if you already had some family members or friends over in that country who could help you out?

How long would you have to work over there at 6 times your current wage tax free to be able to get out of debt?  Pay for your children's college education?  To be able to retire early?  Pay off your mortgage?  Buy the dream home that you always wanted but thought that you could never have?  Perhaps to be able to buy a vacation home or maybe two?  What about paying for your daughter's dream wedding? To be able to travel anywhere you like whenever you want for as long as you want without financial concerns once you stopped working?  How long would you need to work in that country to fulfill your or your family's dreams?
I don't know about your answer but I know mine.  I did.  I went and worked in other countries for 50% more rather than 600% more than I could make in the USA.  I would do it all over again too.  If I were to change one thing it would be to have started sooner in my life.

I am not, at this time, condoning or condemning anyone or their actions regarding legal or illegal immigration to the USA.  As I have stated before, I am sharing with the reader our personal experiences involving the current process for legal immigration to the USA.

In sharing our experiences I hope to educate the reader as to what the current process actually is and what is involved in that process. Given that information the reader can identify what they believe are the problems with the current system, perhaps understand why the problems exist, and hopefully be able to work with the proper authorities for solutions.  Only then will we hopefully have an understanding and definition of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform".

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Comprehensive Immigration Reform? - Part 2

Duang Wearing Traditional Lao Loum Pakama On Her Head
My first installment of this series was written on July 20th of this year.  I actually wrote this Part 2 of the series a while ago (July 23rd) but a complete night's efforts was lost due to an Internet issue.  I wrote about being frustrated and sulking over the experience.  Well I am over the sulking , much has happened since then, and nothing has happened since then.

Nothing has happened?  In my first blog I rhetorically asked several questions regarding "Comprehensive Immigration Reform".  The first question, and perhaps the most important question of the lot was "What is Comprehensive Immigration Reform?"

Politicians, perhaps due to the lazy and hazy days of summer recess, have yet to elucidate their individual definition of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  However it does appear that the nation is united and in agreement that 1.  We need "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" and 2.  I am in favor of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform".  Very difficult to disagree with either of those statements - as long as no one starts to be specific or even hint at any specifics regarding those statements.

The American media seems to have moved on to other issues but the problem along with causes as reported earlier in the year remain unchanged.  The media's as well as the public's short attention plan have moved on to other distractions for the time being.  Perhaps now that we are in the campaign period for the mid term elections this issue will be resurrected and rightfully so.

I am writing regarding our personal experience regarding legal immigration using the current process as it exists today.  Only in developing some understanding of the current process can we identify and have a reference up on which to develop viable alternatives and modifications to address weaknesses or deficiencies.

Whereas nothing seems to have happened in regards to defining what "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" means, many things have happened related to our personal quest for an Immigration Visa.

On Thursday 22 July, we commenced the formal process of applying for an Immigration Visa to allow my wife to go to the United States. As I wrote in a previous blog, my wife is qualified to receive an Immigrant Visa. The process starts with me submitting a petition, Form I-130 "Petition for Alien Relative", to the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security.

Because I live outside of the United States my petition and the processing of the visa will be handled in Thailand rather than being handled through the mail to one of the regional centers back in the USA. If I were living back in the USA with my wife over here in Thailand or if I had only been staying here in Thailand for less than a year, the process could only be handled through a USA regional center.

On July 6, I started our effort to obtain an Immigrant Visa for my wife.  I had done some research on the Internet utilizing the US Embassy Bangkok, United States Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security websites.  I became convinced that we qualified and should apply for a K-3 Visa.  A K-3 visa is a special visa that allows a qualified applicant to immigrate to the United States while their complete application for an Immigration Visa is being processed.  The stated process for obtaining a K-3 Visa is to first submit in person a petition, Form I-130 "Petition for Alien Relative", to the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security.  There is a USCIS Office in Bangkok so we would have to travel to Bangkok, one hour by air or 8.5 hours by bus, in order to personally submit the Form I-130 along with its required documentation.

After the Department of Homeland Security received the I-130 package they would send me a "Notice of Action" Form 797 indicating that USCIS had received the petition.  Once I had the "Notice of Action" I could then submit to USCIS another petition, Form I-129F "Petition for Alien Fiance(e)", along with its associated documentation to the same USCIS office in Bangkok.  Fiance(e)?  A fiance(e) petition for my legal wife?  I don't make the rules.  I just try to follow the rules in order to obtain what I want.  Both websites stated specifically that the Form I-129F Petition was required even for legal spouses.
Not wanting to have to make an additional trip to Bangkok and wishing to expedite the process, I wanted to know if  I could go to Bangkok, submit the I-130 Petition, immediately receive the required Form 797 (a receipt notice), make a copy of the Form 797 and immediately submit the subsequent completed Form I-129F package.  This would essentially kill two birds with one stone and seemed to be very practical  as well as logical - practical and logical to me.  Having dealt with many bureaucracies over the years, I knew that what appeared  to be logical and practical to me and others, may not be allowed by "the rules" or "the way we do things".  I called the USCIS Office in Bangkok to see if I could submit both petitions on the same visit.
As I wrote before in a previous blog - things are not as simple or easy as you would expect or as they should be.  My phone call to USCIS was the start of my introduction or rather reinforcement to this truth in regards to Immigration.  The phone call to USCIS was answered by a Thai employee.  After explaining to her that I wanted to obtain a K-3 Visa as identified on both the USCISLesson #1 Learned or Affirmed - Things are not always what you read or are told.
She assured, but not necessarily convinced, me that I only needed to submit the Form I-130 and asked me for my Fax number because she had some additional requirements to send to me.  Fax number?  Do people other than those in third world countries still use fax machines?  I assumed that a large and important department of the United States of America government would have retired their fax machines long ago.  I asked her if she could send the information to me as an email attachment.  She informed me that she could only send it by fax.  Lesson #2 Learned or Affirmed - Things are not as simple or easy as they could be, should be, or as you expect.
In order to receive the USCIS information by fax, I would have to go into town and find an Internet cafe or copy business that had a fax machine, call the USCIS Office on my cellphone, give the USCIS representative the fax number and await the transmission of the information.  I then realized that my computer had a modem that was capable of sending as well as receiving fax transmissions although I had never done so to date.  After configuring my computer to function as a fax machine using Microsoft Windows, and calling the rep at USCIS in Bangkok to give her my land line phone number, I received one page of additional information.  Lesson #3 Learned or Affirmed - Where there is a will there will be a way.
The fax indicated that the $355 fee could be paid credit card Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners - this was a relief since I had been told "Visa" on the phone and I only have a Mastercard.  I did not want to pay in cash by Baht since I prefer to use baht only for Thai living expenses.  When I apply for Retirement Visa each year I must provide evidence of a Thai banking account with a specified baht balance for the previous three months.  The fax also required evidence that I had lived in Thailand for the past year whereas the websites did not specify a minimum time period to be able to have the visa application handled in Bangkok rather than back in the USA.  The fax also indicated that the office was closed on Wednesday afternoons - a fact that was not indicated on the Bangkok website.  Lesson #4 Learned or Affirmed - Things are not always what you read or are told.

I then proceeded to assembling the required documents to accompany the Form I-130 Petition.  Form I-130 and the USCIS fax requires the following documents:
     1.    Original completed Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
     2.    Original completed Form G-325A "Biographic Information" - Allen
     3.    Original completed Form G-325A "Biographic Information" - Duangchan
     4.    Recent Passport sized Photograph - Allen
     5.    Recent Passport sized Photograph - Duangchan
     6.    Original and Copy of Passport - Allen
     7.    Original and Copy of Passport - Duangchan
     8.    Copy of Divorce Decree - Allen/First Wife
     9.    Copy of Divorce Decree - Allen/Second Wife
    10.   Copy of Divorce Decree - Duangchan - Certified Translation in English
    11.   Copy of Wedding Certificate - Allen/Duangchan - Certified Translation in English
    12.   Birth Certificate - Allen
    13.   Birth Certificate - Duangchan - Certified Translation in English
    14.   Marriage Registration - Allen/Duangchan - Certified Translation in English
    15.   Certificate of Name Change - Duangchan - Certified Translation in English

There were also some generic requirements to provide documentation proving that we were in deed living as husband and wife.  To address these requirements we provided the following:

     16.   Affirmation of Marriage - Witness Statement by Duang's son
     17.   Affirmation of Marriage - Witness statement by Duang's son's girlfriend
     18.   Yellow House Book - Allen - Certified Translation in English
     19.   Blue House Book - Duangchan - Certified Translation in English
     20.   Pick Up Truck Title - Certified Translation in English
We encountered another obstacle to assembling the document package - Duangchan's Birth Certificate or rather her lack of a Birth Certificate .  When Duang was born in 1963 Thailand did not issue birth certificates.  When a family had a baby, the baby was added to the village records kept by the Village Headman.  When a child attained the age of 7, they would go the Amphur (County) Office with one of their parents and the Village Headman to have their name added to the Blue House Book and be added to the Amphur records rather than the Village records. The Blue House Book is a record of the Thai residents for each house.  Foreigners, like me, are listed in a Yellow House Book.  At 17 years old the child receives a Thai National ID Card.  ID cards are reissued due to name changes related to divorce or marriage.  Lacking name changes, the ID cards are reissued every ten years.  However, we had to submit a Thai Birth Certificate and not a Thai National ID Card for Petition I-130!  Our first stop was to Amphur Kumphawapi Offices to determine how we could obtain a "Birth Certificate".  Fortunately, Duang's situation was neither unique or rare.  Many Lao Loum women in Isaan have experienced the same problem in applying for visas to immigrate to foreign countries.  We were told that we needed to return with one of Duang's parents, the current Village Headman, a passport sized photograph, and Duang's parent's house Blue Book.  We returned the same day with the required people along with the necessary documents and left after a while with a brand new birth certificate.  One more obstacle removed and confirming that where there is a will there will be a way.
In order to get married in Thailand, we had to have some documents translated from English into Thai so we knew where to obtain certified translation service here in Udonthani.  Our documents were translated in 5 days and cost about $120 USD.
Rather than take a 8-1/2 hour bus ride from Udonthani to Bangkok, we decided to fly down to Bangkok.  Flying to Bangkok allowed us to spend one less night in Bangkok to accomplish our activities and was much less wear and tear on our bodies as well as minds.
We arrived at the USCIS Office across from American Consulate in Bangkok at 7:30 A.M. for the opening of the office at 8:00 A.M.  The Department of Homeland Security office is located at the top floor of a modern building.  From the elevator lobby at the top floor we walked to entrance of the USCIS office where we were greeted by the Thai security guard.  he indicated that we would have to wait in the elevator lobby but was kind enough to bring two plastic chairs for us to sit on while we waited.  During our 30 minute wait we saw two obvious Americans arrive and seemed to skulk into the office through a side door.  These were the only two Americans that we got to see and we never spoke to an American representative that morning.
At 8:00 A.M. the guard allowed us in.  After indicating why we were there, showing our passports, and signing in we passed through a metal detector and entered into a secured area at the end of a short corridor once the guard released the door lock from his station.  We found ourselves in an antechamber facing a wall that had several stations reminiscent of bank teller stations - heavy bullet proof glass with sliding metal drawers beneath them.  A large sign instructed us to approach a window, press the button once, return to our seat and await being summoned by a representative.  In about three minutes I was summoned and spoke to a female Thai employee - I suspect the same representative that I spoke to previously.  I told her what I was there for and handed her the assembled I-130 Package through the metal pass though drawer.  She leaved through the documents and verified that the package appeared to be complete.  She instructed me to return to my seat and wait for her to complete her review of the documents.  After awhile she called me back to the window and returned some of the documents to me with some highlights that she had placed on them.  I needed to fill out some additional information.  The I-130 Form had a place to write in the "Case Number".  we did not have a case number and I left it blank based upon my assumption that the USCIS would assign a case number at some point and add it to the petition.  I needed to indicate "NONE" per the Thai USCIS representative.  OK - no problem - I complied.  According to the instructions for the Form G-325A Biographic Information, I needed to fill out only those items of information that were not previously provided on the Form I-130 Petition.  The representative wanted me to fill out my current wife's name, my Social Security number and several other items that I had provided already on Form I-130.  OK - I added the duplicate information as she requested since it is like that old saying "It is my field, my ball, and my bat.  If you want to play baseball you play by my rules."  I didn't want to play baseball but I did want a visa for my wife as quickly as possible.  The Thai employee went back to the recesses of the dimly lit space behind the thick glass to continue her review of the package.  Once again she returned with some additional requirements.  Her requirements were obvious due to English being her second language.  The form required a petitioner to list the names of their children who would be immigrating to the USA.  My children are US citizens by birth.  Duang's children are too old to be considered for immigration on her petition.  Duang and I do not have any common children so I did not list any children.  The Thai employee wanted the names of all children listed.  Once again I reminded myself of why we were there and added whatever information that she considered necessary.  After a short while, she summoned me back to the window.  She gave me an invoice for the submittal of the petition - $355 USD.  She instructed me to cross Wireless Road to the US Consulate to pay the fee and return with the receipt for payment.  I complied and returned with the receipt.  She then informed us that we would be notified by mail in three weeks of the USCIS decision regarding the petition.  She told my wife that we had submitted the most complete and accurate petition that she had seen.  After one hour and fifteen minutes our business was completed.  I had budgeted a day and one-half for our business so besides being pleased I was relieved that it was concluded so quickly.  Lesson #5 Learned or Affirmed - Things are not always what you expect - sometimes they are better!

You may have noticed that I have made a point in identifying the USCIS employee as a Thai national.  I am not prejudiced - hey I married a Thai! I live staying here in Thailand!  However I am resentful that as an American citizen, when I have to deal with the US government in Bangkok I do not get to deal directly with an American but with a Thai citizen.  Lesson #5 Learned or Affirmed - Things are not always what you expect.
We were actually fortunate in having to deal with a real person directly with the submittal of the I-130 Petition.  When we left the Bangkok Office we knew that the I-130 Petition was complete and acceptable.  The only question that we had was if the petition would be approved.  If I had not stayed in Thailand for at least a year, the petition would have to have been submitted by mail back to the USA.  I suspect that differences in interpretation for providing an "acceptable" petition might also have occurred dealing with the regional office back in the USA but would have to have been resolved through the mail - 15 days or more transit time each way!  We got to that point in 1-1/2 hours rather than weeks or perhaps months.
I have gone into a great deal of detail on purpose.  I am attempting to share with you the exact process for immigrating legally to the USA under the currrent process.  I am attempting to accurately describe as well as to share the impediments encountered in following the current process.  As I close this part of our Odessy I need to remind the reader that because I am a citizen and we are formally as well as legally married, our process is a streamlined and expedited process not available to the vast majority of would be immigrants.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Unplanned Pleasures - Ones to be shared

Fishing the Flood Plain Outside of Kumphawapi
Here in Isaan we are still in the midst of our Rainy Season.  However as we progress towards the conclusion of the Rainy Season, the weather is giving us tantalizing hints that the end is at hand.  No the end that I am referring to is not dramatic like the Discovery Channel's obsession with the imminent end of the Earth or at least the end of civilization perhaps even mankind as we know it.  I am referring to the end of this year's rainy Season.

We have rain just about everyday but it is much more localized and does not last too long.  Thunder showers are more infrequent.  Our daily high temperatures have cooled down somewhat. A typical high for a day is now around 30C (86F) rather than 36C (97F).  The lowlands are now flooded.  The rice paddies have been submerged for a couple of months and the new crops of rice are thriving.

With the rice crops planted, field activities have diminished a great deal.  There are some stalls along the road selling boiled peanuts and boiled corn on the cob.  The main harvests are a good three months away.  Farmers are still tending to their "free range" cattle and their water buffaloes.  No matter what time of the year here in Isaan you have to remain vigilant for livestock on the roads.  Cattle freely graze on fallow fields and walk along the road grazing on the lush vegetation that is thriving along the road shoulders. The cattle are typically tended by a single cattle herder.  The herds of 5 to typically no more than 15 head are escorted by a cattleherd carrying a long switch.  They leave their village around 7:00 A.M. and return back to their village around 3:30 P.M. In between they wander in search of food.  Some of the cattle have a long rope strung through their nostrils that trails behind them as they lumber along or cross a road.  I am not too worried about hitting an animal but I am concerned about causing them a sprained neck or whiplash if I were to run over their leash as they were moving out of the way.

Yesterday morning we set out early for Kumphawapi to take Peelawat home from the hospital.  There is some kind of a sickness hitting the small children in the villages.  I suspect that it is either a flu or perhaps Dengue Fever.  Peelawat the previous day had been running a fever and had a couple seizures - very frightening but typical for fevers in small children and typical for Duang's family.  He went to the clinic and they sent him to the hospital.  We visited him that evening and he was on a IV drip and anxious to leave the hospital.  He knew where the stairway was that led to the ground floor and parking lot.  He kept pointing in that direction and indicating that he wanted to go.  Duang diverted his attention somewhat by talking about monkeys and told him that when he got better we would take him to see the monkeys.

Our early morning departure was delayed for about 10 minutes due to Police activity.  From the man that we buy our floral offerings to hang from our truck's rear view mirror we learned that the King's granddaughter was traveling in our area.  When a member of the Royal Family travels by road, Police will close down the road to all traffic except for the Royal motorcade.  The Royal Motorcade is made up of several cars containing government and military officials, several vans of attendants, several Police escort vehicles, and two to three SUVs or vans of the Royal party along with an ambulance.  The motorcade speeds along a very high rate so I am not sure if the roving road closure is for their safety or the public's safety.

Peelawat Purchases Some Peanuts to Feed His Monkey Friends
Peelawat was discharged from the hospital with some medicines to take.  Duang and I kept our word and took him into the center of town to visit the monkeys.  It was a very overcast day with an imminent threat of rain after some heavy rains the night before.  This seemed to reduce the number of monkeys in the park but their were plenty enough for Peelawat to get his monkey fix.

Peelawat Tosses Some Peanuts to a Monkey Friend
After putting some distance between ourselves and a large monkey that we had been warned had bitten a small child, we spent some time observing the smaller friendlier monkeys.  Peelawat has become very adept at spotting them and pointing them out.  He later got excited about a couple of very large and colorful butterflies.  He kept pointing them out to me so I could take their picture.  As I was photographing the butterflies, we received a big surprise - a young elephant came walking by with three mahouts.  I was thrilled.  Peelawat was not very happy at all.  I bought some small pieces of sugar cane to feed the elephant but Peelawat wanted nothing to do with it.  Although it was a young elephant, it was the largest animal Peelawat had ever seen or apparently ever wanted to see.  He remained in the comfort of his grandmother's arms and did not take his eyes off of the animal until it was long out of sight.  Even then Peelawat would remind me by pointing where he last saw the elephant and it was obvious that he was not asking to go there.

Young Elephant Performs In Appreciation For Some Sugar Cane

Peelawat Keeps His Eyes On the Elephant

Chang and Mahouts Leaving - Much to Peelawat's Relief

To take Peelawat's mind off of the "chang" (elephant), we introduced him to the slide.  After overcoming some technical misunderstandings as to how to properly use a slide, Peelawat enjoyed going down the slide as long as Grandfather had his arm around him as he slid down the slide.  I suspect that the slide and monkey bars will become another reason to visit the park in Kumphawapi.

Peelawat Trying To Figure Out How to Use A Slide On His Own

I returned Peelawat to his Mother back at the hospital and returned home alone.  Duang was going to babysit Peelawat while here daughter worked at a local market.  The one hour trip back to our home took about three hours to complete.  I was carrying my backpack of camera gear and came upon some interesting sights along the way home.  You should always be prepared for the unexpected here in Isaan.  Daily activities have migrated from the fields to the flood plains of Isaan.  With the rice crops in the paddies, a man's and a woman's fancy turns to .... FISHING.  During this late stage of the rainy season the Mekong River is flowing very heavily which causes the many rivers and stream that empty into it to back up.  This in combination with the almost daily rains over the past three months has submersed the floodplains.  During the dry season, you will drive past bamboo fishing stands that are two meters above the ground.  Those same stands are now about 1/2 meter or less above the water.

Fisherwomen Of the Flood Plain Alongside the Road In Isaan
The local people set about fishing using drop nets.  I have written about these in previous blogs but I am still fascinated by the effort and techniques the people use to catch fish.  Yesterday was no exception.  I spotted a location where several "fisherwomen" had set up along side a highway bridge over the flood plain outside of Kumphawapi.  I pulled the truck over onto the side of the road and placed my backpack on my shoulder.  At first the fisherwomen were curious about a foreigner stopping along the road and walking along the bridge.  I said hello and asked if they were happy.  I asked if there were a lot of fish and proceeded to pull out my camera.  My limited Thai and Lao vocabulary broke the ice quite easily.  Their curiosity quickly turned to amusement that someone would be interested as well as would take the time to photograph them.

Yes There Also Are Some Fishermen In Isaan
Across from the fisherwomen was a fisherman and a fisherwomen, perhaps his wife, fishing a different section of the flood plain.  When I first started to take their picture I released that he was answering a call.  No it wasn't a call from his cell phone but a call from nature.  He noticed me and I yelled out in Thai that I wanted to take pictures of fish and not his @#6&.  He smiled and the fisherwomen all laughed like crazy.  Now that all the ice was broken I was set to enjoy two hours of photography and they didn't feel threatened or intimidated. They could relax, be themselves and go about their business which is exactly what I wanted to photograph.  As is often the goal here in Isaan "Good for you. Good for me"

The Best Fisherwoman And Her Catch
The people were catching tadpole sized fish in their dip nets without using any bait or lures.  I showed my wife these pictures and she knew exactly what they were catching - "Bahtou".  I asked if they were used to make Nam Pahla (fermented fish sauce - with the emphasis on FERMENTED FISH).  Duang said No that the people ate the fish.  This was an eye opener to me.  Back in the USA these fish would be considered too small to even use as bait but here they were a highly sort after source of protein.

Just as when I used to go fishing with my grandfather, one fisherwomen seemed to dominate in catching the fish.  We could switch sides of the boat.  We could swap fishing equipment.  We could swap baits or lures.  It all made no difference he always seemed to catch more and the biggest fish.  The best fisherwoman was in the middle of the row of the fisherwomen.  She dropped her net into the water just as the other women.  She used no lures or bait just like every one else.  She waited about 5 minutes like the others did prior to pulling up her net.  Whereas the others might catch 3 fish occasionally, she typically caught 4 to 6.  Her hand made nylon creel was filled with tiny fish demonstrating her prowess.

A Lao Loum Farmer Cutting Vegetation On the Flood Plain

Lao Loum Man Clearing Portion of Flood Plain
I crossed the road and watched a man up to his neck in the water.  he was using a sickle on the end of a long bamboo pole to cut the vegetation.  I had seen people in Isaan doing this alongside the road to harvest food for their cattle or pigs.  I had watched people in China do this to obtain food for their water buffalo.  I asked the man if the plants were food for his water buffalo. He indicated to me that he was clearing the vegetation in order to create channel and space for fish that he could catch with a drop net from his close by fishing stand.  He had finished his cutting for the day so he climbed out of the water up to the road level where I was at.  Prior to climbing up from the water level, he was very meticulous about washing the mud off of his clothing and bare feet.  He was wearing a typical knit pullover polo shirt and thin trousers.  When he came up to my level I noticed that he also had tight elastic bands of recycled tire inner tubes around his ankles and around his waist.  He proceeded to check around and under these straps very carefully when it occurred to me that he was looking to see if he had any leeches on him.  I asked him if and more importantly pantomimed if he was looking for leeches.  He affirmed and showed me some scars on his arms that he attributed to leeches.  I am not aware of leeches leaving a scar, so I suspect that the leech incisions had become infected or that it might have been another parasite such as flukes that he had encountered.  I checked the back of his neck and down his back underneath his shirt to ensure he was OK this time.  I left it up to him to check any other places under his clothing for unwanted critters.  It was time to check out some people fishing closer to town.  Rather than going back to the truck and driving down, I decided to walk.  Talk about being a fish out of water.  There were many people who drove by on all types of vehicles surprised to see a foreigner walking along a main road with a backpack on.  Fortunately there is no ordinance against WWW (Walking While White) so I was not stopped by the policemen that drove past me.

Old Mamma Preparing To Chew Some Betel Nut
I later returned to the fisherwomen near my truck and one of the older women was taking a break.  As she sat on her fishing stand her clothing wet from her fishing efforts, she had opened up her handbag of goodies and was preparing to chew some betel nut.  Betel nut chewing is similar to chewing tobacco and just as disgusting to me.  The process of preparing to chew betel nut is quite involved - taking a leaf, putting what appears to some dry wood chips on it, putting a clump of lime (the chemical powder not the fruit) on the leaf, cutting a piece of betel nut and pounding it to bits with a brass mortar and pestle, adding it to the leaf and wrapping it into a package before placing it in your mouth.  I yelled down to the woman in Lao if it tasted good.  I then told her that she should use the ensuing spittle as bait for the fish.  At first she misunderstood me and was preparing to share her stash with me.  I quickly corrected her and got her to understand that I thought she should use the bright red spit from chewing to attract fish to her net.  She laughed like crazy.  Soon all the fisherwomen were laughing.  The joke was so good or perhaps I was so funny that they yelled over to the fisherman to tell him.  I thought that this would be a good time to break away and finish my journey back home.

Seven Fish To Be Added to the Creel

It had been a day of unplanned activities that ended up providing some pleasant experiences.  I was fortunate to once again participate in Peelawat's personal development - even though he did not appreciate the elephant.  I was also fortunate to once again observe some of the unique aspects of life here in Isaan.  These are the pleasures that come from unplanned and unexpected activities.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Lesson Taught A Long Time Ago

First Notes of "Civics" Class - Sept 5, 6 1963

Recently on Facebook, friends of mine started to reminisce about the years that we spent together back in the early 1960s at West Side Junior High School in Groton, Connecticut.  Their posts and some of their photos caused me to review a special binder that I have kept over the past 47 years - my class notes from Mr Dander's 9th grade "Civics" class 1963 to 1964.  "Civics" as defined by Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary is "A social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens"

Strangely enough, yesterday when I reviewed the binder it was exactly 47 years to the day of our first class with Mr. Dander.

I was struck by some points from the first classes with Mr. Dander.  The first was:

"Have and keep an objective mind (see the good and bad of a person)"  As some of were to say later in that decade "Wow man that is heavy!"  How many of us fail to see both sides of a person?  Isn't it so much easier and comfortable to only see the "good" or only the "bad" of a person?  However being easier and perhaps more comfortable does not necessarily mean accurate or truthful.  However seeing the "good" as well as the "bad" in a person makes giving them a label much more difficult.  Labelling is the sanctuary and refuge of the intellectually lazy.  A label most often does not fully account for the complexities and nuances of a person's experiences, actions, personality, or beliefs.  A label confines a person to a narrow definition which makes judgement very easy.  A label encourages all the abuses that prejudice can justify in one's mind.  How many labels are being tossed around so casually today?  Racist, Terrorist, Socialist, Radical, Liberal, Conservative, Marxist, Progressive ... How are these labels making it more difficult to compromise and to have a reasonable discussion of real issues, and the finding of "common ground"?

When I am asked about who are my heroes I respond "There are people that I admire. There are people that I respect. What is a hero? To make someone a hero is to give them a free pass. People should not have free passes. Each and every day we need to prove ourselves, and to be judged on what we did or did not do that day."  I believe this and now wonder if this class planted the seed or was it a compilation of disappoints in people over the years?

The second point from the first class notes, is "Base all your statements on fact not prejudice" Prejudice, according to Random House American Dictionary, is "opinion formed without specific evidence"  So we are all guilty at some point of prejudice.  It is not solely a racial philosophy.  We can be prejudice "for" or "against" anything or anyone. It is the fact that our opinion is formed without specific evidence.  The other day I read an article on the Internet regarding the alleged enslavement of 400 Thai workers in America.  The article went on and stated that are more workers enslaved in America today than at the time of the President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. According to Wikipedia, 4,000,000 slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War.  Are there more than 4,000,000 enslaved workers in America today?  Where did the author of the get a number for "enslaved workers" in America today?  What is the definition for being a "enslaved worker" today?  These questions were not answered in the article.  They should have been.  They need to be. As citizens we should demand that authors and their related organizations be held accountable for the factual basis or lack of factual basis of their statements and opinions.  We should accept no less from ourselves or from those that we agree with.  What is the specific evidence that is the basis for your opinion?

The third point from Mr Dander's class was "We must forget our prejudices".  This goes hand in hand with keeping an objective mind.  If we remain prisoners to our prejudices we are unable to have an objective mind.  Without objective minds cooperating together to resolve common problems is extremely difficult with each person barricading themselves behind the walls of their prejudices, hearing only their own voice, spending their time as well as energy defending their unsubstantiated opinions. Much like what appears to be going on in so many circles today.

These were lessons to be learned a very long time ago.  These lessons were followed by lessons regarding the US Constitution and Connecticut Constitution.  I have long ago forgotten what Article 8 of the Connecticut Constitution (something to do with Yale University) and to be frank it has not had any impact on me in the ensuing 47 years.

 However, I have never forgotten the concepts of  "Have and keep an objective mind (see the good and bad of a person)", "Base all your statements on fact not prejudice", and "We must forget our prejudices".  These concepts have served me well and I suspect that I am not the sole beneficiary of these precepts.  These were lessons learned a long time ago but just as important to be learned today.

Mr Dander was not necessarily one of my favorite teachers but even after 47 years his impact on students, at least me, is evident and undeniable.  Teaching is much more than getting students to memorize a series of events and dates.  The true impact of teaching is instructing students on how to think rather than what to think and exposing students to different concepts so that they may formulate their own opinions based upon evidence.  Mr Dander did a fine job so many years ago.

It is astounding to contemplate how many lives a good teacher can impact.  It is frightening to contemplate how many lives a poor teacher can impact.

In those days there was a campaign for CARE - "Give a man a fish and he will eat for the day.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime".  The saying actually goes back many hundreds of years to Confucius.  So it is with teachers - They can teach us facts and dates in order that we can succeed on an exam.  They can teach us how to think for ourselves and expose us to themes as well as concepts in order that we may succeed and contribute in life.

It is to good teachers that we all owe our thanks and appreciation - for lessons taught.


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