Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shakedown Street

While staggering back to my new digs like a herniated pack mule with my backpack full of groceries, a couple of Thai cops with their motorcycles parked in front of a gated residence were eying me. I'd seen them before irregularly and assumed they were basically neighborhood beat cops and had done my best to ignore them. My history with authority in any form is, er, well, checkered to say the least, and with police? Well, let's just say I don't wanna talk about it.

Longtime farang residents here had also told me tales of being shaken down by cops for infractions they otherwise didn't know existed - like failure to be in physical possession of a passport - so I smiled tightly at them, nodded and kept trudging.

"Hello! Hello! Where you go?"

Oh shit, I thought. My passport is in my bedroom...

"Hello, officer! Sawadee krup! (Elaborate wai on my part, the backpack's weight forcing me to an even lower level of obsequious, lick spittledom than usual when confronted with armed authorities). I go Soi 51."

"Soi 51? Why you go Soi 51?"

"I live there. My home."

"You live Soi 51?"

"Yes. No holiday. I work Hua Hin. I work Soi 39." I reached slowly for my wallet to show my Official Thai Foreign Correspondent Card, but held it back for a moment waiting for the next question.

"Where you come before?"

"USA, America." No response. Blank stares. Unlike China, I've found the United States' rep in Hua Hin mostly varies from neutral to virtual ignorance. (I've seen several maps in Hua Hin where Thailand is depicted at the largest country in the world, with China, Africa, Europe and North and South America reduced in scale to the equivalent of Texas at best. Geo-nationalism at its finest!) So I went to the Place of Origin Plan B answer, one all Hua Hin Thais seem to know.

"Hong Kong. China." Ohhh, Hong Kong! China! Yes, yes! Very good!

"My mother China," said one cop, beaming. "You have Thai lady?"

"No, I live myself. No lady. No Thai lady. Have lady in China."

Good Cop with Chinese Mother beamed.

"Good, good! China lady good, very beautiful! Thai lady too much yak-yak-yak! Too much, 'Where money? Give money yak-yak-yak-yak, money, money. No money, no honey!' You know?"

I laughed, and thought: Paging Dr Freud, but said, "Yeah, sure. I know. I know, no money, no honey yak-yak. Yes, China lady number one!"

Then Bad Cop with No Chinese Mother asked, "You have passport?" I paused for a beat. Or beating.

"Uh, yes. Yes. But in apartment, Soi 51. Not here. But, but.. I have this with me." I paused and pulled out my Super Dooper Magic Secret Decoder Thai Press Credential. I'd heard these things were gold when it came to dealing with Thai authorities, but wasn't banking on it. They both scrutinized it carefully, passing it back and forth and exchanging comments in Thai.

"You write stories? Make news?"

I didn't bother to say, No, I actually copy edit mostly tedious, poorly written reports and academic tomes by people whose native language isn't English for a website whose readers seem to be largely hysterical Indians, Pakistanis, foreign policy wonks of all nationalities, and extreme left-wing Americans who are still mourning Ralph Nader's failed presidential bids ... and just said, "Yes."

For the first time they looked at me with some modicum of almost-respect. Shit, I thought, this card really WORKS. Maybe there is a Santa Claus, too.

"You write good stories, okay? No bad Thailand stories?"

"Oh, no, no! Only good Thailand story! Good Thailand POLICE stories!" They both laughed and Good Cop with a Chinese Mother Oedipus Complex and Lousy Marriage to a Thai Wife handed me my ID back.

"Bye, bye," he said. "Remember, 'no money, no honey yak-yak'!" He laughed again.

I chuckled, shook their hands, waied goodbye for good measure and kept walking, just grateful that they hadn't asked for any money or honey


Peter said...

A classic Justin entry. Made me smile like an imbecile and made me think that my colleagues believe I'm a lunatic.

Justin said...

Mucho gracias, Pedro, always good to hear from you. And I apologize for the slightly snarky comments regarding "Scandahoovians" in the previous entry. I haven't met any Norwegians yet, so I'm sure they are the exception.
...Some nice Swedes, though. Just a bit unruly when intoxicated.

Peter said...

Nah... No need to apologize. Won’t keep me from reading your stuff :-)

Norwegians may be the hillbillies of Scandinavia... No need to put them on a pedestal. Nice people and extremely beautiful country though. Going there next summer and looking forward to it already.

Here in Denmark we are a bit judgemental about the Swedes and drinking. They have a pretty tight legislation about buying and drinking beverage/liquor, so when they finally get down to it while abroad they tend to do it “right”. I’m pretty sure Danes aren’t much better, but at least we can practice when we want to without getting ripped off in the attempt.

Marianne said...

Hi Justin,
Another great read! Glad you made it without having a hand over a large bundle of cash!

Hope that you and C. are doing all right?

Would like to meet up, had such a great time in the country bar. Will push D. to visit Thailand again soon.

Take care,
Marianne from Quanzhou

Matthew said...

Amusing stuff. Glad you didn't get harassed too much. I know I've certainly been fortunate with cops here in China (for some reason I've found them much nicer than the ones in my hometown in NJ).

Peter said...

Ohh btw Justin: Asked my C if she heard the "nipple-theory". She hasn't.

Peter said...

Ohh btw Justin: Asked my C if she heard the "nipple-theory". She hasn't.

Patrick said...

Great post! You've humanized foreign cops, and that's difficult to do for at least two reasons. This is one of yr best.

Peter's 2nd post made me laugh and think about Scandinavians. Peter's 3rd and 4th posts made me laugh and think about nipples.