The Scamanboommi Airport Money Changer
Given all the press that Suwarnabhumi Airport is receiving concerning alleged shoplifting frauds, I wanted to write a piece on an airport experience in Thailand.
My most recent exit from the Suwarnabhumi airport had me going through one of the Immigration halls. If you ask which one, I could not tell you as I can see no visible designators that suggest I was in, for example, Immigration hall B.
While waiting in the queue for the exit stamp I was reviewing the clocks on the upper wall above the official’s stalls. I then noticed a smell and in my peripheral vision a small pot-bellied Pakistani gentleman was standing beside me. Of all the travels I have done, one ethnic group that does poor Public Relations for their country is this group when they are up to no good. If you think that being up to no good is never good for your country’s PR then these people do no good in such remarkable fashion when they are up for it.
The man was not backing off from standing beside me, as if we both owned the 3rd position in the queue. I stared at the clocks a bit more noticing I had not put on my new watch my wife bought me. Then I got the feeling that the man was probably going to ask me the time very shortly then start into some sort of discussion of something I would not be interested in as I only cared about getting stamped out and into a ‘quiet’ place in the waiting lounge where I could read in peace. Stepping forward in the queue to the #2 position I then could not see the clocks so I focused ahead. The man stepped forward and I was just going to Jai Yen Yen the spot to him if he wanted it so badly.
The pot bellied Pakistani man then asked to the waiting passenger ahead of me for the time! I suppressed a chuckle. The man then started to discuss a matter of currency with the waiting man in front of me who appeared to be an English speaking Hong Kong fellow using my best ability to guess. I saw a note produced from the Pakistani man and it appeared to be a green note with a smiling picture of King Fahd of an amount that I could not determine. It appeared to be an odd bank note giving the man in no way represented any Saudi ethnic group. The passenger in front of me opened his wallet and I figure they were going to do an on the spot currency exchange. In my mind I was thinking to step in and inform that there are currency transaction booths positioned just before the entrance to the Immigration Halls. No, I then thought, this is Thailand and I should just let it play out.
The passenger came to his senses, closed his wallet and made the choice not to proceed. The Pakistani gentleman pleaded, “But it is only worth mere coins in your currency!” The passenger waved the man away.
I figured the Pakistani man would fall back into queue at the end of the queue and wait for his turn to stamp out. He then walked away from our queue and to the adjacent queue where he asked a passenger, “Excuse me, do you have the time?”
Thinking no good can come of this and some people were becoming annoyed, I thought I would mention to the immigration official. I asked, “Ma’am?” with no response. Later after she returned me my passport I asked, “Ma’am, there is this gentleman who looks like he is performing foreign currency transactions to the waiting people.” The immigration lady then said something in Thai that sounded like, see the person over there. This was the first time I encountered a non English speaking immigration official. I walked over to the official that was, I presume, the English speaking officer that would entertain concerns about the stamp affixed to the passport. She was with a passenger and I realized there would not be much the immigration official could do anyhow and I would be disrupting the flow of their process, which does not endear you to Thai officials.
I walked into the concourse after the Immigration halls but before the security to the departure lounges. I thought I would find a security official and talk to them about what I have seen. I did find one man monitoring the exit to a shop and decided to ask him about the man I had seen in the Immigration Hall. I tried to explain the problem then realized I could not even characterize the Immigration Hall where the event was taking place as there was no signpost stating the hall that I was in. After some attempts to communicate I realized he cannot understand English enough to understand what I am saying. I was received with, “Immigration on level 2”. I said, “Mai bpen rai krap” and dropped the issue.
This concerned me as I felt I had no way to voice potential security concerns or grievances. In the back of my mind I have the “This Is Thailand” mantra running and running and that I should forget about it. I figured I would be doing them a favour by pointing out possible problems that could cause people to become angry, upset or frustrated with their experience in Thailand. It appears there is a new name on the lists “Scam-an-boom-mi Airport”
I have many Thai friends and Thai family through marriage to a Thai national. My Thai friends are of the mindset if things are to improve in Thailand then we have to do our little share. I ask my Thai wife when she wants to bring an error to some officer’s attention, “What about FACE?” She replies, “I don’t care about my face.” As she politely bulldogs the officer to have a mistake corrected.
I would like to add another airport story:
On a journey off of an International flight and transferring to a Thai Airways flight registered on my same ticket (so my bags will go to final destination) to Chiang Mai, my bags did not arrive. I made the inquiry to the baggage officer in the Chiang Mai arrivals baggage hall. I gave the man the description and my wife’s mobile number. Later we get the call and hop on her motorcycle to pick up the bags. She came back to me and said that the officer had my bags and that “I forgot to pick them up”. She said it in her half cocked “I know this is BS but I’m just being the messenger here” grin. I had to laugh as I pointed out that there was rush information printed onto the baggage with the Thai flight number that just arrived with them! She knows it, but was saving their face as we were still in front of the officers who did not care as they wanted to close up the baggage shop for the night.
I am always HIGHLY suspicious of any foreigner who approaches me in a public place in Thailand. In a bar environment, fine, but in a public place and when asking for a favour I am VERY suspicious!