The Wheels of Justice…Thai Style
The venerable Mr. Murphy may never have set foot in Thailand, but his famous Law seems to operate as well here as anywhere else in the known world.
“Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” seems to take on its own Thai twist here, especially when it comes to the so-called “justice system”. Hell, the manner in which the country’s Constitutional Court handled the recent crisis speaks volumes! But if I may, let me bring the Thai legal system down from Olympian heights down to the mundane. Yesterday morning I received yet another reminder that on deciding to live in Thailand I was stepping into the Twilight Zone.
Well, I suppose it was all really my own damned fault. Any fool knows that washing your car will inevitably invite pigeons from miles around to “decorate it”…or produce a sudden rain storm from what had been crystal blue skies. In any case, bringing my truck in to be washed and waxed set off a chain of events that I hardly could have anticipated when I got out of bed that morning.
The cool season was here to stay, which meant that it was time to head over to Big C and have our Toyota Hilux Vigo detailed. For a 250 baht they will vacuum, shampoo, polish and shine the whole thing, which I consider quite a deal. While not obsessive-compulsive about our truck, I do like to keep it reasonably spiffy. This is in marked contrast to my tee-rak, who without a second thought can turn it into something that just emerged from a long sojourn in a pig sty. So throwing caution to the wind I did what most guys do regularly, restore my vehicle to something approaching the condition it started out like when it left the showroom.
Lo and behold, two hours after dropping it off, my “ugly duckling” emerged once more as a beautiful “swan”! It looked good, and I felt great! And with a song in my heart and unaware that disaster lay waiting for me 5 minutes down the road, I set off to find some lunch. I know a gai yang vendor whose chicken is the best in Lampang…and let me tell you I am a serious aficionado of that Thai delicacy. With a little sticky rice and some som tam I would be set for a lunch that even the gods would be envious of. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make life worth living.
Alas, that heavenly lunch never materialized. In fact lunch in any form never happened. Instead I spent the entire afternoon sitting in the local police station without so much as a cup of water. Destiny, in the form of a large white Isuzu truck was barreling its way into my day. Let me say that even before moving to Thailand I was a competent, cautious and courteous driver. Since arriving on these Jasmine scented shores, my abilities have only been sharpened. I do believe in fact that I have grown several sets of eyes in the back of my head, and developed almost a sixth sense alerting me to danger. And as anyone who has spent any time on the roads here, danger is everywhere! It may be in the form of a motorcycle passing you on the wrong side. This will probably happen at night, preferably with the motorcycle’s lights off. Or perhaps your doom is in the form of a tandem truck barreling down at you in your lane, and no shoulder for you to pull off on. For years, driving from Korat to my wife’s village in Buriram on Route 24 was enough give anyone a set of permanent white knuckles. Thank God that they finally completed making that deathtrap into four lanes!
For those of you, who have never driven in Thailand, and are planning to in the future, let me emphasize that you need to forget any assumptions that you learned in Farangland. There may be actual “rules of the road”, at least in some dusty unopened book in the basement of some Thai ministry, but in practice, it’s every man for himself. If you were to foolishly assume that a red light or a stop sign means stop, then you are a dead man. Invariably some Thais will pretend that the word does not apply to them, and just whip through an intersection without a passing thought. Thais will pass you anywhere they please including around blind corners and crossing double solid lines. Before passing you they will probably tailgate so close to you that they can listen to whatever you are listening to on the radio and hum along. Preferably this will be done at highways speeds of 80-90 KPH. I have yet to meet a Thai who actually looks before pulling out in traffic. Perhaps it’s because they are Buddhists and don’t fear death. Perhaps it’s because they lack any situational awareness. Perhaps it’s just because they just don’t give a shit. In any case, driving here is always an adventure. I have said it before, and I will say it again. Please feel free to quote me on this. The Thai definition of right of way is, “I have the right to go wherever I want, whenever I want, so get the hell out of my way!” This is exactly what I found out yesterday, “up close and personal”!
Here I am driving along minding my own business, when this idiot attempts to pass me in a place where no sane person would attempt to do so. The next thing I know his truck is crashing into me and pulling off part of the front of my Toyota. As it was, I was lucky to keep control of my vehicle and go careening of the side of the road! This being Thailand, and the driver being Thai, he did what any Thai driver would do in a similar situation…step on the accelerator and attempt to flee from the scene of an accident which he had just caused. Well buddy, not today you don’t! I am not by nature an aggressive person, but I was fucking pissed that this guy would hit me and then simply drive off as if he had just bestowed some blessing on me. I put the pedal to the metal, and with my horn blaring stayed right on his ass. Unfortunately for him, there was a bit of traffic congestion and he had to stop. The next thing he knew I was pounding on his door, and putting all the juicy Thai curses I had learned to good use. It’s all very well to talk about having Jai Yen or a “cool heart”, but there are occasions when a good old fashioned ass-reaming is precisely what’s called for!
Reluctantly, oh so reluctantly, old Somsak got out of his truck and proceeded to give me a puzzled look, as if to say, what the hell is your problem white boy! Gee I guess you didn’t notice that you fucking smashed into me and ran away. Before he knew it I had my phone out and had dialed the police. My Thai is less than stellar, but I knew enough to report a hit and run, and its location. Somsak (not his real name…or at least I don’t think it is) would have been back in his truck and out of there like greased lightning, except for the fact that I was holding his door open, and of course like any accident scene in Thailand, an interested crowd of gawkers had assembled and were in fact standing in front of his Isuzu.
Eventually, and none too quickly I must say, The Boys in Brown showed up. Heaven forbid this had been a serious accident and someone was bleeding to death. Now of course two different stories of what occurred began to unfold, my story (the truth) and Somsak’s (a whopper so big that it would win first place in a Liar of the Year competition). According to him the accident did not take place where it had, but about a considerable distance before, where there were two lanes. There I had supposedly driven into him by going into his lane. Unfortunately for Somsak there had been a witness to the whole thing. As the two of us and the police were walking back from the spot where Somsak claimed the accident had occurred, this guy came walking out with a piece my front fender and pointed out where in fact it had happened. Somsak didn’t seemed to be the least bit perturbed with this contradiction as we all headed off to the police station.
Now anyone who lives in Thailand is probably asking himself the question, “Why the hell are you putting yourself through this rigmarole? You lived here long enough. Haven’t you learned the cardinal rule that The Farang is Always Wrong? If I had had a chance to calm myself down, I probably would have come to my senses and limped away to the local auto body shop. But this was the second time that I had been hit while minding my own business since moving to Lampang and my wife had been hit once as well.
My first accident happened when I was stopped at a red light. A driver behind me wasn’t paying attention and slammed into the rear end of my truck. I got out, walked over to the other driver, who had climbed out of his beater of a truck and began to speak to him in Thai. I asked him for his name and telephone number, because we needed to report the accident to the police. He slowly walked back to his truck. I thought that maybe he was getting a pen and paper or his cell phone. To my surprise, this guy climbs in, starts his truck and takes off down the road! I tried quickly to memorize his license plate number, but was unable to recall the last digit! I thought I was fortunate when I saw a policeman down the road. Unfortunately when I flagged him down and explained what had just happened, he merely shrugged his shoulders and drove off on his motorcycle. Undoubtedly more pressing business awaited him. If this was America you might guess he was headed for the nearest donut shop. Here in the Land of Smiles, perhaps it was a bowl of noodles or som tam that was calling out to him. A visit to the local police station did not yield any more concern for what had happened to me. And so the wheels of Thai justice not only do not turn for the Farang, but stubbornly refuse to budge.
As for my wife, she was also stopped at a red light. When the light turned green this guy behind her decided that he would make his own turning lane and wound up clipping my wife. I was wondering what the Thai equivalent of chutzpa is, but I found this in my online dictionary: mee-naa or “(to have ) balls to (do something); to dare to; to have the nerve to” Well this driver had plenty of mee-naa. He actually got out of his truck and demanded that my wife give him 5,000 baht to fix the scratch on his truck! I think he was surprised by my wife’s reaction. Five years in America had given her some spine, so instead of meekly giving in, she told him to f**k off! She didn’t bother to call the police. She knew it would be pointless, besides, our insurance would take care of the damage, right? Wrong! Our insurance company had gone out of business! Undoubtedly someone’s pockets were stuffed with our money, and undoubtedly no-one would be held accountable. And so as my wife and I say to each other every time something inexplicable occurs here…and that happens at least 2 – 3 times a week… Welcome to Thailand!
Well this time it would be different, right? The perpetrator had been caught in his own web of lies. There was an actual impartial witness to the accident…and to Somsak’s attempt to flee. Surely even here in Thailand there had to be some measure of justice…didn’t there? Unfortunately once entering the portal of the local police station, I had fallen down the rabbit hole into a land where facts were turned topsy-turvy to meet other agendas. I won’t bore you with a detailed account of my afternoon. Before the trivial matter of my accident could even be considered, there was a matter of the police enjoying a long and leisurely lunch. In Thailand, anything having to do with the government comes to complete halt when lunch is involved. Eventually we were called in to an office to hash things out. Somsak was accompanied by his oily boss, an obvious VIP, and his insurance agent. One look at the cop was kow-towing to this sleazebag told me all I needed to know. I was once again royally screwed. The facts were utterly irrelevant. I was a Farang. I was obviously at fault. But wait! What about the eye-witness? What about Somsak’s lies and his failure to stop after the accident? Forget it. Somsak walked out without having been charged with anything. I on the other hand had to pay 400 baht! What was I being charged with? No one would say. Just hand over the money and get the hell out of our sight! So in the end I limped away to where I should have just gone to in the first place…the auto body shop. The good news was that my insurance company was still in business…but who knows if that will be the case tomorrow. Welcome to The Land of Smiles!
This sort of thing really riles me. My personal pride would see to it that I would be at absolute boiling point but I know that exploding would just be counter-productive. It is instances like this when you remember that Thailand is not a developed country and you really do lose respect for the local people…