Sometimes when you have done something unforgivable, you just have to forgive yourself! Words spoken by actress Jamie Lee Curtis at the end of a kind of rogue-thief movie probably 30 years old or more. I can’t remember many details or the exact context of the scene, not even the name of the movie. But the words stuck. Recent events have made me think of it again.
In December last year I took a drive to Krabi. Histoire de changer les idées. Sorry, I mean to say to relax. Hey, English is such an easy language! And relax I did. Nice dinner along Ao-Nang beach. A night spent solo in the comfortable Krabi Resort. Enjoying the lavish breakfast buffet. Sitting under the large Casuarina trees next to the beach I ordered an extra coffee and reminisced about my first Krabi trip over 30 years ago. Sleeping in a simple beach hut, on a thin floor mattress drinking Southern Thai style Coppi for breakfast and feeding on Kaw Niaw Lam from a motorbike vendor (a kind of sticky rice in a longish bamboo casing). What a great time it was.
Nowadays I do need air-conditioning and comfort to sleep. Hey, I’m getting old! But not sedentary. Although living in a comfortable but now solitary house I had no particular envie to return rapidly. Besides I was on a sort of mission. Shortly after 9 AM saw me on the road again to Ao-Luk. A village or small town between Krabi and Ta-Put on the way to Pang-Nga and on to Phuket. More precisely I was to meet Helmut at the entrance to Khorani National Park. A lovely park with ponds, gentle Thai style waterfalls and caves. The kind of park we used to walk in free any time day or night in my time but now imposes the government-blessed double tier entrance fee for Thais & farang.
Thankfully Helmut recognized me immediately on arrival as I would not easily have identified him. After all it was close to 15 years when I last saw him and he had physically changed a great deal. We sat down at one of the food-stalls, bought some BBQ chicken wings and shared a beer. We had no intention of entering the park. Why then, I asked, did he want to meet here? With a hearty laugh Helmut replied because you could never have found me at the place where I live. It’s quite a way and a long and winding road that leads to my door, citing the old Beatles song.
It was the first year of the new millennium when I first met Helmut in Phuket. He seemed an affluent man then and behaved as such. He had booked a three-week holiday in one of the better hotels on Phuket together with his wife and a teenage son. I remember him bossing around the two; what to do, where to go, how to behave etc. All in all he did not leave a favorable impression with the lady guide who was assigned to look after his wellbeing. However, he was a paying customer and accordingly treated with deference by my staff.
It was my policy to meet personally all my co. customers booking 2 or more weeks with us in Phuket. Having several other clients staying at the same hotel I actually met Helmut a few more times. He also booked various tours during their stay and Ao-Luk National Park combined with Krabi & Phee-Phee islands was one of them. They obviously enjoyed it. On leave-taking Helmut expressed his satisfaction with the 3-week holiday and mentioned a possible return some other year.
Several years passed before I heard of Helmut again. This time he booked for 2 only and the accompanying person, a lady, of another name. Despite his apparent abrasiveness with my staff I developed an easygoing almost friendly relationship with him. I remember an evening spent at Dinopark, Karon with him. After much beer had been consumed he told me about his troubles back home. Ongoing divorce proceedings from his wife, one son grown up and left home but still burdensome on his budget, his new girlfriend a former secretary. Finally, responsible for 6 people in the accounting department of a large industrial plant his position was being challenged by one of the younger co-workers. Heavy alimony payments to the soon to be ex-wife, a demanding girlfriend, rental payments for a relatively modest apartment he now lived in, his ex-having been attributed the house, payments for one of his son’s education and board at university. This and more all weighed heavily on his shoulders.
For many years I never heard from Helmut again. Then one day a friend of his, in fact the guy who initially introduced him to my co. called me asking if I knww Helmut was in Thailand again. No, I had no idea. Would I care to call him he continued as Helmut had some issues and would like to discuss them with me. I was retired by then and settled in my house in Trang. Sure, I said, always pleased to meet with former clients. I took his number and for many weeks tried to call. But the number never connected. After a while I started to think it all was a hoax and forgot about it. Then, weeks ago cleaning up cupboards and desks I came across the slip of paper with Helmut’s tel # and the notes I had made weeks or month ago. I called and this time got an answer. After identifying myself, Helmut let out what I took as a relieved sigh. And then almost immediately came the urgent question, can we meet please. I already knew that he lived in the Krabi region which is not too far from where I live. Sure, Helmut, propose a date and place.
Thus we met in Ao-Luk. I only come here once a week to buy food, necessities and top up my phone he said. It’s an old-fashioned handphone and only works here but not at my bungalow explaining the reason why I could not connect for so long. Right, Helmut, I said; time to talk. What’s your problem? Not here, he said, I want to take you to my beach bungalow. But you have to come with me it’s a difficult dirt road your car won’t make it. It was an old Suzuki Caribbean equipped with 4 wheel drive. We started off to what I assumed was the way to the beach. After a long and arduous drive the last part on a narrow dirt road we reached a disintegrating kind of bungalow structure. One or two of the 6 or 8 huts actually seemed to be occupied and I got just a glimpse of the sea in the distance. I live here on my own, he said. By now I realized that Helmut had more than some issues but probably was in some kind of trouble. I was getting impatient and felt uneasy. Shoot, Helmut, I said. Tell me your problem and please be candid about it, no bullshit.
Life had been good when midlife crises struck, he said. Family problems, pending divorce proceedings, heavy mortgage payments, expensive alimony, a new car, and lavish presents to the girlfriend. Problems at work. The position he held in the company made it too easy for Helmut to succumb to temptation, get sticky fingers. In short, he embezzled money. Small sums at first, then bigger and bigger. When the auditors were called in and discovered his accounting shenanigans he was sacked and eventually faced and tried in a court case. Thanks to his prior unblemished resume and a sympathetic judge he was given a suspended sentence of 10 months.
Helmut brooded for days then felt he needed to take action. Taking a flight to Thailand only weeks after sentencing was of course a totally irrational act that may work in the kind of movies I alluded to above but not in real life. Especially that he was now illegally in the country, his 3 month visa on arrival long expired. Further questions revealed that back home he had already missed several probation hearings. Not made any restitution payments to his former employer nor updated the mortgage payments or sent the monthly check to AHV (compulsory social security contribution).
On the positive side and despite appearances, Helmut was not penniless. His two sons had terminated their respective studies and were in gainful employment. They would stand by him and were willing to help were they could. His ex-wife had remarried, the house was sold at a fair price, and mortgage payments became redundant. As for the serious overstay case in LOS I would try and help having a few contacts at immigration albeit from my long past agency days. As for me, while I was willing to help solving his problem I had no wish to get personally involved.
We made a plan. Helmut would compose a letter to the judge, copies to the probation officer, his two sons and his former employer. He would express his deep and sincere regrets of past events and his transgressions. He would from now on observe laws to the letter, and most importantly abide to the penalties imposed on him. Finally he expressed the wish to return home as soon as he could, hopefully facing no further penalties. It was sent by registered mail to all parties.
It took many weeks to get a response. Predictably it was non committal. Helmut’s offences were serious and only his personal appearance in the judge’s chambers could adjudicate a binding solution to the predicament he was facing. Helmut was disappointed when he got the letter. He had hoped for a green light to return home, make his amends, perhaps paying a fine and continue his life in peace. Apparently he already had a provisional job offer.
I disagreed and told him so. The long awaited response was what was to be expected. It’s simply judicial or lawyer language, I told him, saying do as you are told, abide by the rules and behave. Then your chances to be one day reintegrated into society are fair, perhaps good. But Helmut’s doubts were profound. Why don’t I just take the chance and stay here. I’m not totally unhappy living the simple life and I have the means to do so.
I admit it took a lot of explaining and persuasion to make him see the reality of the situation. What about the family, your two sons, the friends you have back home. The real friends I mean, they will stick with you and help you along the way to rebuild a life and situation. If you stay here, you will always be a fugitive. You’re only a few years away from being due social security benefits. If you live like an unwanted roughian in Thailand there will be none of that. That finally persuaded him.
A week ago I met again with Helmut. At Krabi Airport. It’s only a 90-minute drive from my home and about the distance limit I allow myself to drive these days, especially at night or dusk or when rainy, being myself still in a fragile frame of mind (for different reasons). I came here to send him off to an admittedly uncertain future.
Helmut had liberated the derelict bungalow, and disposed of his ancient Suzuki Caribbean. With him was a suitcase with his few remaining belongings. The hefty overstay fee and the ugly stamp on the last page on his passport could not be avoided. Before he boarded the Thai Airways shuttle to Suvarnabumi and then the intercontinental flight to ZRH he thanked me for the help. Before passing through security check and scanner he had a last question. Will I be met by police on arrival? I honestly said I don’t know but believe not. Authorities will wait for you to contact them. We hugged and said goodbye.
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