I read your column about the illegal police stops and searches along Sukhumvit and wanted to write about my own experience with the Thai police.
Several years ago I was on an expressway on-ramp in Klong-Toei, in massive traffic where about 10 lanes of traffic squeezed into 4 – 5 toll booths and then 1 – 2 lanes on-ramp. I am only estimating lanes because as we know, Thais like to create their own traffic lanes whenever convenient. The traffic was pretty much grid-locked for miles.
I was in a Hertz rental car (which had a number of obvious stickers and markings) and had just paid the toll, as the huge mob of cars crept along on to the congested on-ramp at 1 – 2 miles an hour. I had just spent 10 – 15 minutes creeping along, wishing I was somewhere, anywhere else. Literally, nobody was moving, and there was blocked traffic as far as you could see.
All of a sudden, a motorcycle cop screeches up and stops. He looks agitated. He is waving his arms and talking loudly in an intimidating fashion. As my then-girlfriend, now wife, translated, he was saying that I had caused an accident, back past the toll plaza, as all the cars were merging from 10 lanes in to 4 or 5.
Now remember, everyone is driving at 1 – 2 miles an hour and merging slowly so we can get through the toll plaza. He said that I had “cut off” another driver and then “stopped short”, causing 2 other cars to have an accident. Yeah, right! A slow-motion accident.
It was very hot and polluted and the cop looked uncomfortable and angry. He had his hand on his (very large revolver) gun as he demanded I pay my “fine”. He handed over a grimy wooden board showing fines and demanded 1,000 baht.
I speak only enough Thai to handle a restaurant or buying a ticket on the skytrain, so my girlfriend translated. She was scared of him and told me that he seemed angry. When I asked how I could have “caused” an accident by stopping, and if one car hit another, he was too close behind, it couldn’t by my fault, he then started saying, “You pay, you pay now, you make accident, you lose license.”
I looked back and there were no cars that had had any accident, no drivers talking, nothing. It just an obvious scam. I asked my girlfriend to tell him we would follow him to the Police Station and pay the fine there, knowing there was no way he could clear a path for us in that traffic (Moses himself couldn’t have managed that).
He again said, “Pay here, pay now”. My scared girlfriend just said pay him now, he seems angry. He was holding my license (lesson to self – get one if those International Driver’s Licences from the Automobile Club in the future).
So I paid him. I got no receipt of course, no ticket. Just a grunt and he was gone.
So why do I mention this? I remember the feeling of an angry-sounding Thai cop, his hand on his gun, claiming you’ve committed a crime, and demanding money. It’s a feeling of powerlessness and lawlessness that stays with you. You’re just a farang, a source of cash whenever needed. You can be robbed by a cop, or beaten by a drunken mob, cheated in a store, a bank, or a real estate transaction, or run over by a scooter on the sidewalk, and you’re less than nothing. Just a cash piñata to be squeezed when needed.
I rarely drive in Thailand when I visit the family. And while I once thought about Thailand as part of my retirement strategy, my feeling now is no effing way! The combination of poorly educated people with no impulse control and a tendency toward group violence and xenophobia is enough for me.
My feeling is Thailand is a hugely corrupt country where rights and standards are a joke and dishonesty is endemic. Westerners have all these cultural expectations and think we have rights but that’s only true in the West, not here.