Being Stopped / Security In Bangkok
Just read this week’s column. It’s good to know how others see Bangkok and wider Thailand and the issues they experience. For some reason, it sparked me to respond, which is rare as I’ve very little spare time on my hands as you well know. Feel free to use for content or debate but please don’t use my name / contact details as that may cause me a headache as I’m sure you appreciate.
Specifically regarding the stop and search, ID demands and various security issues you’ve written about, I thought I’d share my tuppence-worth having lived here now for some 7 years.
In that time I’ve been stopped in a cab, ordered out, searched and questioned and sent on my merry way a grand total of 2 times. Once when I’d foolishly journeyed halfway home, half-cut after 3 AM with the bar keys still dangling from my trouser belt, and having ordered my taxi to do a U-turn before my security disappeared in to the crack of dawn. The second time was on my way home after work one morning when my taxi took a short cut to avoid middle of the night roadworks only to run in to Thong Lo’s finest. Neither was particularly an issue for me.
Step out of the taxi, offer a polite wai, hand over my Thai driving licence – which authorities accept as ID from long-stayers such as myself, answer a few questions and I’m on my way. Granted I don’t look (at least I hope I don’t) washed up or particularly dodgy save for the notoriety that goes with managing a bar in Bangkok, I can speak limited Thai but enough to seemingly be understood by the authorities to have been here a while and dressed to look like I’m reasonably smart and professional. The perceived invasion of privacy is annoying but if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, in my case back to the bar before it’s closed until the following morning, it’s far better to comply than cause a scene that only serves to delay proceedings. On both occasions the police have been polite, understanding, willing to crack a joke and then allow me to continue. It’s obvious what they’re after (criminals, drug users, overstayers) and I have no real issue with being stopped and searched as I am none of these. In fact due to the notoriety Thailand has in the eyes of the international community, shouldn’t we be glad our host nation is taking these things seriously? Of course it’s annoying but isn’t stop and search a feature of most western countries <It most certainly is not here in New Zealand – Stick> and isn’t it the case that you’re far more likely to be stopped in the west if you’re black, Asian and especially Middle-Eastern? We often turn a blind-eye in our own countries at obvious racial profiling, yet cry foul when it occurs to us white guys in Asia. Is that us acting horrified that we can’t exercise our white privilege in foreign lands when we’re not permitting others similar liberties on home soil? As impersonal and annoying as it can be, shouldn’t we be looking to get our own house in order before we expect others to treat us with more respect than we treat others?
Regarding security checks at the BTS / MRT, department stores, shopping malls, etc. shouldn’t we welcome that Thailand is taking others’ safety seriously? It’s not so long ago that a bomb was detonated at the Erawan shrine with awful consequences and significant loss of life. It’s been rumoured that Thailand has housed those planning terrorist activities due to its lax security. Isn’t it therefore wise to reassure the public whilst also sending out a message to tourists that such things are being taken seriously? The example of a security check at Nana Plaza being a case in point. Some tourists, particularly our American visitors, are quite jumpy when they see an Asian with a backpack and, all racial profiling aside – to which Americans appear to be more comfortable with, or paranoid than their European cousins – it serves to offer some sense of calm in what is a fairly crazy city for visitors.
It wasn’t long ago that expats were joking about the lack of security in Bangkok. The red-faced security guard stood by an electronic security screen staring at his / her shoes while the security device beeped at almost every individual passing through, flashing a torch in the general area of the bag or backpack being wielded by the public and watching the clock hoping and praying his / her working day wouldn’t involve even the slightest confrontation with the public. I’m not suggesting that this low wage economy is encouraging anyone to take their jobs even slightly seriously but to read that certain security measures are being held up has to be a good thing.
That’s not to say all is perfect. Examples of being required to show ID to purchase a stamp, post a letter, top up a travel card, even pay money into your own bank account is as laughable as it is annoying. As already mentioned and fortunately for many expats it’s not required to physically carry a passport. A Thai driving licence or hospital card, or social security card serves that purpose. It can also serve a purpose, when done right, in getting around the dual-pricing – a lamentable feature at many attractions such as temples, national parks, museums and even some restaurants (but sadly not chipped taxi meters!), which is much more of a headache and affront to common decency than having to abide with a few security measures that we take for granted in our home counties.
I get the points you’re making but – and to me it’s a big but – in many cases these searches are a joke with those carrying them out merely going through the motions. So you suffer the inconvenience of being searched without gaining the benefit of increased safety. People frequently walk around metal detectors without being challenged, bags are glanced in to without a proper search etc. Often it feels like security is all for show. As for the illegal police searches, my thoughts on that are very well-known