It's that time of year again. Coming into Christmas week things are slowing down at work and I have time to reflect on the past year. And what a year its been. Without doubt the most influential and important of my life so far. If you'd have asked me a year ago where I thought my life would be at this point, I really don't think I could describe how things have panned out.
2011 saw another three trips to Thailand, our marriage, the successful completion of my wife's settlement visa application and her recent arrival into the UK. Its been a year of frustration and immense stress. Yet at the same time I have found true happiness and contentment.
The obvious low has been the overall amount of stress involved in the visa process. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand the UK governments need to control immigration (or at least give the impression that they are in control). But I can't help but feel that the amount of brick walls put up along the way is totally unjustified. One example of this has been the farcical handling of the English language requirement. You only have to look at the Thai forums to see just how much unnecessary confusion there is STILL out there. Its not that the information isn't there to be found. But I feel like the UKBA could present the process in a much more clear way. That goes for the entire visa process not just the English test. I can honestly say that without the help of forums such as http://thailand-uk.com/forums/forum.php I'm not 100% sure we would have been successful in my wife's application. I wont rant too much about the process because in all honesty, the moment I received the phone call from my wife telling me she had the visa, it all seemed irrelevant. But I must I admit I don't envy anyone just starting out on the process.
Time spent apart. Nothing new, as with any long distance relationship its not possible to be together as much as we would like. Holiday entitlement and funds have always dictated just how much time my wife and I could spend together before her arrival in England. The distance can often magnify issues which in any "normal" relationship would not be so much of a big deal. But overall I think its given us a stronger base on which our relationship has grown. Now that we are together, any arguments seem to be more easily resolved simply by the fact that we are actually physically together and can talk things through face to face.
A more recent low for my wife, was shortly after her arrival. After only two weeks in the UK she heard the sad news that her eldest sister had passed away back in Thailand. My wife's immediate concern was for her Mother and nieces who lived with her sister. With the help of some family friends in my wife's home town arrangements were made for her Mother and the kids. This left my wife feeling guilty for not being there, but in true Thai style she bounced back to her usual self within a few days.
From a purely selfish point of view, a big low for me is the fact that it will be a long time before we are able to visit Thailand again. The cost of the visa, travel etc have left a big hole in the finances. That plus the cost of the requirements for the next ILR and visa in two years mean that any holidays to Thailand will be a way down the list of priorities.
The day my wife's passport arrived and she called to tell me she had the visa. I can't describe how much of a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I had completed 95% of the application and supporting document folder alone and so failure would have felt like my failure alone too. We had quite a short wait for the decision (3 weeks) but it felt like the pressure for success was all on me.
Travelling back to Thailand on the last visit to pick up my wife. Just knowing that I wouldn't be leaving alone at the end of the trip gave an entirely different feeling to the holiday. Leaving my wife behind at the airport has always been one of the hardest things about previous trips. This was probably one of the only times I've actually felt good about leaving Thailand.
Being able to enjoy the things which most couples take for granted in everyday life. The simple things like watching a movie, going out for a meal, going to the supermarket for the weekly shop......just being together.
Witnessing with so much pride just how well my wife has adapted to life here. Both my sets of parents have already developed an incredible bond with her and have told me they feel as if they have known her for years. Janny has had offers to meet other Thais in our area but as yet she has shown no interest and would rather spend her time with my friends and family. Watching how all those she meets immediately warm to her fills me with pride and makes me realise just how lucky I am.
Our first Christmas together. OK this is still to come. But being together and having my wife hear with me at Christmas will be the best present I could have wished for this year. Those xmas day visits to the family will certainly be a lot more fun too.
How I've Changed
I think its impossible after such an eventful year not to have changed in some ways. My views on immigration certainly have. I will admit that before having a foreign partner and going through the visa process, I probably felt the same way much of the population does about immigrants. You could say I was ignorant to how much is really involved. I used to be one of those that presumed Britain had an "open door policy" when it comes to immigration and I'm afraid to say I believed everything I would read in the tabloids or see on the news or from the "expert" down the local pub. Now I have so much respect for any "genuine" person or family going through the process, and I mean all aspects of immigration, but especially non-EU migrants. In keeping with that, I have also noticed just how much more I take an interest in UK politics. Before I rarely voted or had any interest in doing so, but I now realise just how important it is to have a say in who is running things, even if it has little effect.
My wife's arrival has also had quite an effect on my relationship with my own family too. Something I wasn't expecting at all, was just how much closer it has brought us together. I always knew my parents would welcome my wife into the family, but there was always a fear of how she would be received by them. No matter how much people consider themselves to be liberal or multicultural, I think there tends to be a certain view of Thai ladies coming to the UK and I thought this might have an effect on how my wife was perceived by my parents and friends. Luckily we have had no such issues and like I said she has been accepted with open arms and is loved by all those she meets. As a result I now see my family more than ever.
One of the main things I've had to learn is how to compromise and not have everything my own way. I bought my house four years ago and had lived alone until my wife's arrival. After so much time on my own there have been times when it has been "difficult" to accept an others view on how things should be done but I guess its all part of the fun.
What Will Next Year Bring?
As with this year, it's hard to predict. We have an idea for my wife to start a small business working from home so that's something we'll be looking at early in the new year. I also know Janny really wants to start a family sooner rather than later so that will be a conversation we'll be having in the not too distant future I'm sure. Other than that I'm trying not to think too far ahead. It's still a long road for us and I'm sure the next visa requirement will creep up on us a lot sooner than we think, so that will always be in the back of my mind. But for now I'm going to try and relax a lot more this year and see what comes our way. One thing I've learned since having a Thai partner is to expect the unexpected............
Hope everyone has an amazing Christmas and New Year