BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
I wouldn’t change one thing, not one damn thing. In April 2016, Udomchai (Big) and I met in Bangkok, Thailand, while I was traveling in Southeast Asia with my mom and brother. Working at Flight Centre afforded me the travel bug (I was always flying by the seat of my pants), but the gig certainly encouraged me to fly even more. The trip’s purpose was to show my mom and brother how I liked to travel (5-star resorts anybody?) and visit our family in Vietnam.
Depending on who you ask, we met on Saturday/Sunday, April 23/24, 2016. My brother was supposed to join me, alas I ventured out solo. Naturally, I got drunk, and the next thing I know, I deadlocked eyes with Udomchai and b-lined straight to him.
The first thing I did was stick my tongue down his throat because what else does one do when they’re living their best travel life?
Afterward, I found out that he didn’t speak English, except being able to say “hi” and “bye.”
He also introduced himself as Big.
A lot of international people create nicknames for the comfort of Westernized people to pronounce. We both thought this was a one-night stand.
We left abruptly but kept in touch through Whatsapp, a free app that would soon become our best friend. A couple of weeks after traveling around Thailand with my family, Udomchai flew to Saigon, Vietnam, to stay with me for one night. We had a fantastic time together. The trip of a lifetime ended, and I returned to Canada with severe jet lag.
In June 2016, with the help of a visa adviser in Bangkok, Big applied for a Canadian Tourist Visa and was denied. He cried, I cried, and we ugly-cried together. It felt unfair, but that didn’t stop us. In July 2016, he applied again for a Canadian Tourist Visa. Again he was denied. I was pissed at my country. If Canada wasn’t going to let him enter as a tourist, we had to meet somewhere else, America.
He applied for a US Tourist Visa, and surprise, surprise, he was denied. It felt like all the uphill battles were met with mudslides. I blamed the adviser in Thailand. She was a money-grubbing individual with no vested interest in Udomchai. The hardest thing for me to do was blame myself for not hiring an immigration lawyer from Canada to apply for his Tourist Visa. However, what was done was done.
From May to November of 2016, not a day went by without communicating via FaceTime, Skype, and Whatsapp. I flew to Bangkok in November 2016, and we spent three weeks together. I was nervous but more excited as this would be the most extended duration of time spent together. I knew in the first 24 hours that it was divine time. Our plentiful conversations online helped as we forged a new-age relationship.
Being face to face strengthened our bond. He introduced me to staple night markets and go-to restaurants, including After You and Bon Chon for the best Korean fried chicken.
In early 2017, I was looking for an immigration lawyer because Udomchai not being able to come to Canada was a challenge we accepted. I contacted a few law offices, most were dismissive, and then there was the last one; a fierce, well-to-dress lady. We started brainstorming how we would approach this application. Udomchai’s twice-denied Tourist Visas would appear upon further inspection of our case. There was a new way with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to apply for sponsoring Udomchai called the conjugal application. The only other time I’ve heard the word “conjugal” was prison terminology.
There have been friends along the way, from both sides, who met Udomchai and me. At the end of the day, it was us against the Canadian government. With humor, we had some serious work to do for Big to become a Canadian Permanent Resident. Everything had to be documented. Udomchai would be in Bangkok, and I was in Canada, chained to my desk working to pay for the lawyer fees. Our lawyer would contact me after the IRCC reached her requesting documents from Udomchai. Whether it be health biometrics from specific hospitals or criminal record checks, they all came with time-sensitive deadlines. Udomchai would venture off and collect desired forms. Both of us put in a surplus of overtime to get to our end game.
One of my favorite things about Udomchai is his efforts to come to Canada and his beautiful, pure heart. We had to hire a translator to get Thai documents translated to English, and there was only one trip to Thailand, in between work, where we could coordinate this. We got a notification that the High Commission of Canada (their Asia office based in Singapore), at any time, could request an interview. If requested, I would need to book flights from Canada and Udomchai from Thailand. We feared the thought of meeting an officer who’d ask us questions about our relationship. What if the officer was homophobic? You never know. I get that we had to prove we were in a legitimate union, but where was the silver lining?
So many thoughts crossed my mind, and I let anxiety get the best of me. From February 2017 to November 2018, we sat on the edge, running around, similar to a video game, collecting items and bringing them back to the castle. Hiring an immigration lawyer was not a guarantee that we would beat the boss in the final round. Udomchai would ask me, “Do you think we will get it?” We resorted back to memories of being denied Udomchai’s Tourist Visa by the same agency in our heads. To comfort Big, I reassured him that we have to manifest good thoughts. He would ask me at least once a month, and even in my reassurance, I had no idea. So I remained glued to the IRCC website, checking for updates. Somebody else had the power and control over our case. I told Udomchai to pray to Buddha.
On Friday, September 7, 2018, I received a letter of pre-arrival services to Canada for Big, which I celebrated, but it also confused me. We couldn’t celebrate yet because nothing had been updated on the IRCC website regarding our sponsorship application, and our lawyer didn’t know. She advised me that it was a good sign and told me to look on the IRCC website. Trust me when I say that I checked that site every single day, refreshed at least ten times throughout each day.
On Friday, November 16, 2018, Big went to the Visa Application Center office to pick up his passport. If there was good news, a Canadian visa counterfoil would be affixed to his passport. Udomchai was not in Bangkok. He was visiting his family and flew back to Bangkok during rush hour traffic. The visa office closed at five p.m. If he didn’t make it in time, we would have to wait until Monday to find out the results (the offices were closed on the weekends). It was nearly two a.m. Canadian time when Udomchai FaceTimed me. He opened it as I watched with bated breath. Once I saw that shiny red sticker in his passport, we gasped, and both started crying. Tears of joy streamed down our faces.
From our first initial introduction, I flew to Southeast Asia eight times to see Udomchai. Every time I would get butterflies. It was the ninth time I would fly to Thailand and help him pack his life up in Bangkok and move to Canada. On Thursday, April 18, 2019, Big entered Vancouver as a Canadian Permanent Resident. The immigration officers were friendly and welcoming- what a great introduction to this lovely country. Udomchai arrival in Canada was one of our proudest milestones. It indeed felt like winning, but this was just the beginning. We were starting from scratch and starting a new life together. It was my turn now to show him my favorite spots to eat.
Living in Canada feels like a fantasy, but we know it was our dedication to one another that got us here. Shortly after Udomchai arrived, I segued from a travel agent to a real estate agent, a career accomplishment that Udomchai is proud of. Some days are pure bliss, and some days are more challenging, but we are happy. Our future includes continually growing together, marriage, kids, pets, travel, and eating a whole lot of food.
Without the compassion and empathy of other Canadians, Udomchai would not be afforded his independence and join the Canadian workforce. Love is watching in admiration his growth and being supportive of his adaptive skills. His English has improved tremendously. Even with Covid, it made us stronger. Many relationships have a beautiful story, ours is one of many, and we are grateful.