Lost In Translation
Maître Hahn is or was a well-known notaire living in an elegant lakeside residence outside Geneva. More recently he had also become the prominent member of an influential political party. I was introduced to him by a longstanding client of my agency. After much additional information and consultation with his wife he booked a business class flight, a 3 weeks holiday package in a 5 star Phuket hotel, plus 2 nights at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok at the conclusion of the trip.
As so often on these informal evening meetings, the two pretty, smiling girls dressed in traditional Thai gear played perhaps a modest but possibly deciding role in securing one of the better bookings of that year’s promotional tour. That was confirmed when as a last request he asked to be met by one of the two charming ladies on arrival at Phuket airport several months later. This in view of discussing possible local excursions the coming days, he added.
Mostly positive feedback followed by the transfer lady after their arrival in early December. Good non-stop flight with TG from ZRH, nice hotel, comfortable room, just waiting for the sun to come out the next day.
Satisfied, I had intended to visit the Hahn’s at the hotel in a few days, looking forward to hopefully hear more positive news.
Then, 3 or 4 days into the sojourn Mme. Hahn called the office to inform that her husband was not feeling well at all and had been taken to hospital on recommendation of the hotels part-time night medic.
When I arrived the next morning at the hospital I was met by a policeman in uniform. He wanted to know who I was and said I could not see Maître Hahn before his superior’s arrival. No reason was given. Followed a long, unpleasant waiting period of concern principally of course for the wellbeing of the client. When the waiting time extended for another 2 hours a thought came to mind.
In all major towns or centers around the world there are agencies that keep dossiers of information on people that one day could become news for whatever reason, like involved in a serious accident, a plane crash, being under criminal investigation, getting married to a movie star etc.
Any such event happening, said agencies then are able to sell information to news outlets or media like TV and online information channels. While Maître Hahn was not exactly a VIP in the true sense of the word he was certainly a well-known personality in the Geneva region, even the whole country and would no doubt figure in one such compilation of agency information & photos. Should anything untoward happen to him while on holiday organized under our responsibility it would certainly not deflect favorably on the travel company.
Eventually a plain clothed policeman arrived and almost at the same time the day shift physician. Together they went to visit Maître Hahn in the room, the wife at his bedside. They did not stay long. The two policeman soon left and the Canadian educated Thai doctor explained to me.
When the patient was admitted after midnight he was in poor condition, suffering intensive stomach pains and severe diarrhea. The Thai night medic or orderly who examined him was not a physician and in his limited English had only retained the words ”being poisoned” by the partly delirious patient. As soon as the competent doctor arrived it was soon established that at his nightly admission he had rightly suggested at the time that he was probably suffering from food poisoning having consumed an inviting looking seafood plate at a beach-side road stand outlet. Obviously not fresh or clean enough for the more delicate European innards.
In the Nationwide quest (often unreasonable or exaggerated) to suppress any negative news that could possibly harm the all-important tourist industry, the night medic had apparently done what he was told to do when he had heard of someone being poisoned.
Maître Hahn recovered within a few days and was able to enjoy the balance of the holidays.
Peter and Susi (22 & 23) had enjoyed a great holiday in Thailand. On the last day they were to fly domestic to BKK and onward just before midnight intercontinental from Suvarnabhumi via Helsinki back to Zurich. The Van or Minibus that transferred them to the airport was overcrowded and the driver stopped twice on the way to let people shift places.
When finally arriving at the front after a long wait in the endless queue at the Airport check-in desk, Susi realized that the little brown folder containing all travel documents including passports was missing. They could not check in the flight. The AP transfer Van had long since departed. Upset but remaining calm at this point they telephoned us. We had organized the holidays but had no local representative in Hat-Yai and the hotel could not say what Co. had organized the transfer.
Reluctantly but on the insistence of Peter we contacted the local police. The young couple was taken to the police station. By this time Peter had lost his calm knowing they would miss the day’s intercontinental flight. He was in for a lot of explaining back home and feared the wrath of his employer when not turning up for work in time. Once at the station he was interrogated and for an unexplainable reason separated from Susi and put in another room.
At that moment he lost his temper and started to call out loud using a good many 4 letter words. Peter, though not an English speaker per se, like everybody nowadays between Ouagadougou, Anchorage or Santiago will use it and understand its meaning. Naturally the Hat-Yai police did not appreciate and let him swelter it out in a stuffy, hot cubicle for several hours.
The police officers reappeared in the early morning hours together with Susi plus the lost portfolio with all documents. It had fallen in a crack or gap between the seats in the overcrowded Van and later recovered when cleaning the vehicle at the end of the day. It was intact, containing all the dossiers, passports etc. Peter was hugely relieved to say the least.
But the police was not. Even so he was given access to a telephone and immediately placed a call to our office. His angry outburst earlier on had not been directed at the Police he said but mostly at himself for being so stupid of losing the travel documents. I believed him but not the present official I was trying to explain Peters dilemma on the phone.
I told Peter to apologize and offer a “reasonably present”. You mean a bribe? Call it what you want but do it I replied.
At the time back home there was an often seen campaign with the slogan on billboards and later on TV that said: “Die Polizei dein Freund und Helfer”. The Police is your friend and here to help. Explaining that Thai police had not exactly such an unblemished image here he finally acquiesced to part with his last few thousand baht remaining. Accompanied of course by his most profuse apologies for having spoken inappropriate words earlier and in front of them.
This last story does not technically belong to the lost in translation section but intended to lighten up the two previous narrations which could have had more severe consequences. It is also my most recent LOS episode to the site.
I’m a fairly regular client in a restaurant I recently mentioned near Ari BTS station. The main reason being it’s near my studio on Pradiphat where I stay during my BKK sojourns. My daily ritual is an early morning swim in the pool being used to getting up early hours. (I’m not a night-bird any longer). That in turn produces appetite and several days in the week I skip breakfast and have an early lunch instead at the aforementioned restaurant.
Recently back at the house in Trang I had a fall slipping on wet stairs. It produced a deep notch wound on my knee and another not less severe on one of my big toes requiring several stitches on both at the local clinic and in the wake daily cleaning and disinfection. Unfortunately also the inability to walk easily or long stretches. Nevertheless I spent ten days at the Condo in BKK. But obviously renouncing my cherished, regular morning swim.
Finally after a few weeks I was able to return to my morning ritual and in time to my preferred lunch restaurant. The service girls are all dressed in black. Over the front of their blouses are printed in pink funny or promotional scripts or slogans like; “live dangerously order our special of the month” or “If I can’t make you smile then I’ve failed”.
On that first morning I returned the manager welcomed me back standing next to the table. I asked him to take a seat opposite which he did reluctantly. (I’m old and Thais always show deference to their elders even when foreigners) He asked why I had not turned up for so long. Was I on holiday or business trip?
I told him the real cause and then ordered my lunch dish including the usual (and much overpriced) glass of Rosé wine that suits me for lunchtime. The meals served on dishes however are very fairly priced, presented in a large variety and the reason I’m a regular client.
When the girl arrived with my order it turned out to be the wrong plate. Followed a bit of discussion and explaining but ended inevitably with the expected; Oh, so sorry, she would go to change it. But it gave me enough time to read the slogan on her shirt. It said: “I may not look cute but I recommend good dishes”.
Later the manager came around to inquire about any problem. Oh, so sorry about that was the identical reply when explained the minor cause. I will offer you free espresso after meal. That’s ok I said but to be honest, thinking to myself, I would have preferred another glass of Rosé!
I did not say so, because I know that in Thailand service personnel are allowed to offer a Lemonade or similar drinks should a mistake have been made, but never alcoholic drinks. On leave-taking the manager approached me again with smiling apologies and hoping to see me back soon. I replied equally smiling; Sure, I will and since you’re not allowed to offer a glass of wine or that cute service girl serving me before, I was quite happy with the free espresso, thank you.
Perhaps, I added, you should have another set of shirts printed “I serve good dishes and look cute regardless”.
The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]