Please note, for the sake of the privacy of all people involved and my own personal safety, I have omitted names and cities and will not respond to any emails inquiring about either.
My dealings with the police in Thailand have been as varied and seemingly random as most other things here, which lends both to the country’s beauty and its instability. The Thailand I know is not as systematic as Western countries I’m familiar with and the accountability of one’s actions is often overlooked. This is dependent on, but not limited to, one’s connections, social standing (which is often dictated at birth), wealth and the Thai convention of not approaching things directly. Thailand is a place where it is imperative to learn to read between the lines. From my experiences, dealing with and being socialized into Thai society predominately by the lower classes, I would suggest it is crucial to survival.
I’ve been treated with a great deal of respect and esteem from members of Thailand’s police force and I’ve encountered situations where I have not. I will discuss some of the latter, to not only assist you, the reader to further understand the context in which my pieces are written, and as an extension, aspects of Thai culture which are often missed, but to also give light to what I think is a system that Foreigners, particularly Foreign females should be aware of.
I’ll begin at a nightclub.
I arrived at the club with a Thai friend, an ex nak muay / boxer. We met up with my muay thai trainer and three Thai females who were strangers to me. I took the chair between my trainer and one of the Thai girls who was seated at the head of the rectangular table. I was introduced, I made small conversation with the girl and we began to watch the band on stage.
Shortly after my arrival, a man seated behind the girl tapped her on the shoulder and began to ask her questions. It was too loud for me to hear but she looked uncomfortable. She answered the man and he look displeased. I don’t remember how many times he leaned over and asked her questions but I was under the impression they were about me. He kept pointing in my direction.
I felt the uneasiness amongst my peers but no one spoke.
I sensed the man becoming increasingly agitated.
I don’t know if I had been at the club fifteen minutes before he threw the whiskey filled glass he was drinking from at the Thai girl’s back.
It shattered as it hit the ground. She was fearful but showed no fight. She made an effort to ignore him. No emotion escaped from the others at my table. I followed suit. I looked to the girl who had been seated with the man. I don’t remember if she looked embarrassed or was emotionless, I only remember her complacency. She did nothing. She was barely there.
Six people at one table, two of them having been professional fighters and not one word was uttered to ease the situation. Or to question it. The aggressor had full reign.
The man tapped my shoulder. He asked what country I was from. I told him I’m Canadian. He ordered me to show him my passport. I treated him in the same manner I generally treat drunken Western men who are prone to violence and like to intimidate people. I show no fear, no anger and definitely no judgement, as any of the three may charge the situation.
I looked into his eyes and addressed him like an old friend who’s talking crazy in the moment.
I laughed and said I didn’t carry my passport.
This was a lie. It was in the purse on my lap.
He demanded it again. I fail to remember if this was the second I learned he was a police officer. I can’t concretely remember if he tried to use it as leverage. He insisted I hand over my passport. I remained relaxed and spoke to him as though he was a friend who was asking for something I didn’t have. He and I began to laugh together. I believe he asked me a few other questions. Club security came, politely escorted him away from our table, possibly outside of the club and apologized for his behaviour.
Despite the small nuances that currently evade me, I learned a life lesson in regards to navigating Thailand as a woman that night. It came, not from my direct experience with that man, but from those who were silent in his presence.
My trainer turned to me and said something to the effect of,
“It’s good you didn’t give that officer your passport. Some officers take girls’ ID cards and don’t give them back unless they have sex with them.”
He repeated it over the music to the others. They agreed.
What was the original issue that evening? The instance that called for a glass to be thrown at the girl seated to my left? It seemed she enraged the officer because whenever he asked what my nationality was, she answered with the truth – she told him she didn’t know. He accused her of lying.
I generally dislike lying under any circumstance other than instances where I’ve either promised secrecy or when I’ve decided to protect someone I care about. I’ve always viewed lying as a breach of my own honour, a lessening of my humanity. Despite this, I’ve learned via many messengers and under a great number of situations, including the one above, the truth, in general Thai society is often a liability. This is something I struggled with, at times to the point of rage, but I have learned to accept and have succumbed to its necessity.
As a result of the above situation, I now carry an expired Ontario Driver’s License and have since shown it to a number of officers. If they can read our system of date (it’s the year 2055 in Thailand at time of writing), I lie and say I didn’t realize it was expired. I act soft, cute but I don’t directly flirt. I mimic the way I’ve learned to lie and evade confrontation and accountability from the Thai women I’ve been surrounded by. I try to physically leave the situation as soon as possible.
Everything in my personal experience in Thailand has taught me that acting as customary of most Western women may in such situations, meaning not addressing the officers demurely, may be construed as a problem with authority, a breach of a woman’s place when addressing a man of power, and depending on who I run into, may cause me grief. In a small community, if not at that moment, perhaps later. I’ve found Western men are allowed to act as Western men may, meaning closing the power gap between them and the police, but not a woman. This is not based on only my own deductions, but how Thais I have been with have told me to behave and have shown great disapproval when I have not. This is not limited to police officers, but any professional who is considered ‘above’ me.
Why would I show my driver’s license to Thai officers? I’ve been stopped numerous times while on a motorbike, usually as a result of officers dutifully performing their job. Be it checking that I have a valid license or determining whether or not I’m driving under the influence of alcohol. However, there have been times when I’ve been stopped for no other reason than to find a way to chat with me. To determine if I have a boyfriend. To find out where I live. And if I live alone. This is customary of Thai flirting, this line of questioning, but it, at times such as these, evokes an uneasiness within.
One afternoon I was coming out of a residential soi (small street) on my motorbike. I was planning to cross the main street and onto another street that lied perpendicular to the first. The two combined formed a T. Upon reaching the end of the soi I noticed a police truck opposite me, two officers on foot to my right and one officer on foot on the street ahead of me, in the direction I was planning to drive. One of the officers to my right was staring at me. Upon crossing the intersection, the third officer ordered that I stop. He was polite and friendly and nothing in his demeanor indicated danger. He wasn’t leering. He didn’t appear to be drunk. Nonetheless, the conversation which began as a request of my license deteriorated into questions about my personal life – mainly my romantic life. He never once offered a legal reason for stopping me. I also realized the questions weren’t his, but the officer’s who I caught staring at me, and who watched from across the street. They were communicating about me via handheld transceiver. One was asking questions, the other relaying my answers.
Some people, both Thai and Foreigner have told me this situation is cute. While living in Canada, had a friend told me about this in Thailand, I may have laughed it off. Thought it to be fucked up, but not thought much more about it. Living here, I feel otherwise.
Monday, April 30, 2012
For Thailand solo travel and safety tips, in addition to Thailand information you won’t find in traditional tourist guides, please visit my post Tips For Women Traveling To Thailand.