Officer Sonchai in Charge
Surprisingly, the lines in the departure immigration hall at Suwarnabhumi airport were quite short, so I chose one that seemed a little shorter than the others. But of course I knew that muggins’ law (better known as Murphy’s Law) was in
effect so whichever line I chose would be the slowest one. There was a young fellow in front of me. He wore a singlet and shorts, all the better to show off his bronzed tan, lean physique and obligatory tribal tats. He was quite fidgety in an
OCD kind of way. Either that or he was still high from his full moon party antics on Pangnan Beach. Anyway, I got the feeling that despite his jumpiness he seemed like an ok guy: he asked me how I was doing and used that as an opportunity to regale
me with tales of the craziness of his last 2 weeks on the beach. Just as I thought my line luck had changed and as our line suddenly started to move forward far quicker than the others, with just the full-moon guy ahead of me, my typical school-boy
jump-the-line karma caught up with me and our progress ground to a halt. The only thing changing was the immigration officer on duty.
The prior officer stepped out of the booth and the new one moved in to get set-up. With just one person in front of me I thought I’d be through immigration and on to security in a few minutes…how long can it take for the incoming officer to get set up? All he has to do is sit down, log-in to the system and he’s up to speed, right? But I forgot, TiT…This is Thailand. Sure enough, the new officer gets right down to the business of getting set up in the booth, moving things around behind the high counter, adjusting his chair first one way, then another, moving the globe camera a little to the left, shuffling some papers and generally wasting a lot of time. Meantime, the guy ahead of me is getting antsier than ever and he’s shifting his weight from one foot to the other, all the while inching slightly closer to the counter. Officer Sonchai notices the encroaching guy, glares at him and points to the yellow line on the ground, over which the young fellow has stepped by about 6 inches. Clearly too close for Officer Sonchai. The young guy mumbles something about “merde” and “cochon” and begrudgingly retreats back over the yellow line. Now I know he’s French, or perhaps like me the only schoolboy French he remembers are a few mild curse words. Evidently Officer Sonchai understood the tone, if not the meaning of the Frenchie’s remarks because he wagged his pen at him and gave him another black-eyed glare.
Now that Officer Sonchai has restored order I think this must be the cue for the process to start again, but once again I’m wrong. He’s now ready to make his final set-up adjustments, this time to the white fluorescent lamp on the counter. The head of the fixture is slack like a flaccid organ with brewer’s droop, so our Officer Sonchai tries to perk it up with some manual ministrations. He moves the head into a more erect position then tries to secure it by fiddling with the clamp on the side. As he releases his grip it flops forward. He tries this a couple more times, each time fiddling with growing frustration in futile attempts to hold the lamp in position. But each time it flops forward just like a true hetero’s member in the hands of a katoey. The good officer clearly feels that the lamp is essential to the professional conduct of his business, despite the fact that the lamps in the other booths all seem to be either off or in various unimpressive states of excitement: most are nearly as inert as his. He’s determined to get the lamp sorted out so he takes it off the counter and examines it on his work-desk. Meantime, the lines besides us have all progressed with even the later arrivals now happily on their way to the security checks. After a couple of minutes our fine representative of the Thai Immigration department decides that he can’t figure out how to fix the lamp, so there’s only one thing for it… abandon ship and take up station at the next booth, where the lamp is at least as semi-erect as a punter on the game. He doesn’t think to swap out the lamp from the next booth, which would take all of 30 seconds, but he moves to the next booth and starts his whole set-up routine again. Once again moving things around behind the high counter, adjusting his chair first one way, then another, moving the globe camera a little to the left, shuffling some papers and generally wasting a lot more time.
In anticipation of being open for business within a few minutes we all move over to line up in front of Officer Sonchai’s new booth. Our young French party dude is now almost trembling he’s so frantic and I can’t figure out if his
anxiety is due to a desperation to relieve himself, catch a plane he’s late for or maybe he’s just coming down off some recreational substances.
Meanwhile it looks like the good Officer finally has the booth organized the way he likes, and while the lamp isn’t standing at a Viagra level of readiness it’s at least not hanging like a limp member after a horizontal work-out.
Frenchie seizes the opportunity and steps right up to the counter and expectantly presents his passport and boarding pass to Officer Sonchai. I expect the typical disinterested look, abrupt gesture to hand over the documents and but instead he scowls at the fellow, blurts out some rapid fire Thai and waves the bemused Frenchman away. He looks back at me, shrugs his shoulders and extends his hands palms up in a “What does zis mean?” way and then turns back to face the officious little administrator who stands up and leans over the counter while waving his hand at the farang and shouting “You go!” and then pointing to the back of the now significantly long line. Frenchie again looks to me for some sort of confirmation, support or just to connect with a real human for a moment before being relegated to the back of the line. I know official eyes are on me and I don’t want to be dismissed too, so I avert my eyes and look down to make sure I’m not too close to the yellow line, then glance at the immigration gatekeeper for what I hope will be a signal to step forward.
Meantime, after the embarrassment of the uncooperative limp lamp, Generalissimo Sonchai has apparently established sufficient face in front of the crowd of on-looking farangs that he can finally begin to do his job. With a sharp motion he gestures me
to step forward and place my documents on the counter in front of him. Order has been restored and he’s back in charge. I do my best to keep a straight face and not allow the impish grin I’m feeling to betray my true feelings, but
after I’m through his station and walking down the slope to the security station I burst out laughing and say out loud to the cute Thai security girl in a saucily tight uniform: “Amazing Thailand!”
One of the things that was impressed on me by the Thai office manager at my first job here is the importance of being respectful to people in positions of power in Thailand i.e. government officials. So long as you are dressed respectfully and are polite with them, it's unlikely there will be any problem – but they do have discretionary powers and can make life difficult for you if they so wish.
Why some people pass through airports looking like a dog's breakfast or get lippy with officials in ANY country, I will never know. It's just plain dumb!