The corrupt smile
Thailand is well-known to be the country of smile. I was enjoying it in a place called Koh Phangan, an island situated in the west of the gulf of Thailand. This place is famous for the trance parties and the great consumption of all kind of drug. Yet, I wasn’t there on the purpose to enjoy these pleasant but polluting attractions. Polluting in a way that it lures a quality of tourist for the least not respectable and leads to the sprout of morbidly business as prostitution and traffic of hard and dangerous drugs. Anyway, my chief main was to relax upon reading books, swimming, practicing yoga and now and then drinking some beers. At the resort I stayed I met an Austrian guy called M.... He was 38 years-old and he had squeezed with his work 6 months before for coming Thailand, thinking of his future and writing the first chapter of three books with the intention to find a publisher. My first look at him was a tough guy lying down in a hammock swinging smoothly with a huge spliff stuck on the corner of his lips. The day after, I struck the conversation with him by alluding to what I had noticed and couldn’t help myself but enquiring about the possibility to get some stuff in here. At this time, it looked to be perfectly suitable for my relaxation program. He told me that the bar next to our resort was a place where I just needed to ask discreetly to the owner to get a 10 grams bag of rather good marijuana.
Smoking in Thailand can reveal itself dangerous. Law is very strict and you are likely to have serious problems if you got caught. But, however, if you respect some of the underground rules of human society you’re able to greatly reduce the risks. I mean if you take care of the people from whom you supply with, if you never carry anything on you (I was twice gone through by police in the street!) and if you only smoke in your room or hut, you can enjoy without danger smoking the good thai marijuana with its faint taste of pepper I so like. In the resort I was, the owner, P..., was really cool and allowed her customers smoking even at the restaurant. M... was used to coming here for several years as well as some of his friends and God knows that they were all great smokers. They had never had problems before. M... even let me know that P... managed somehow to keep police away, certainly by paying some under table taxes. So, after more than two weeks at this place keeping smoking spliff all through the day I was feeling like at home and I wasn’t even thinking of police or law anymore.
Then how on earth did it come about that day when paradise turned suddenly into the hottest hell. It was after our daily swim. We had taken the habit to cross the few hundred meters of sea to reach the island by our beach. It was a good exercise enabling us to swim one hour and we really loved smoking a good long spliff afterwards. It made every time a strong effect. As we were quietly savouring the prohibited fruit before the M...’s bungalow a herd of fiends burst surrounding us. My brain didn’t immediately catch the reality and I was about to say the marijuana was fucking strong today for I got hallucination when I understood with horror this Sabbath was real enough. Four ugly, smugly, agitated and violent beasts were starting to put their hideous paws on us pulling the joint out from the hand of my fellow and grabbing my arm as if I was about to run. It wasn’t beasts or fiends but policemen, what in my opinion is worse. I admit that a deep feeling of impotence overwhelmed me. We were like flies in the web of spider, like gazelles under the fangs of lion, like…idiot tourists between the hands, far from being pristine, of Thailand law. We couldn’t escape anymore and could just wait for the sentence now and it will come soon enough! Perhaps we were a bit lucky for they only went through the M....’s bungalow and forgot to check mine where there was yet more than 5 grams. Though they found an already well filled bag belonging to M.... and took us at the police station with surely the satisfaction of a well done duty and the promise of a “bonus” by now.
None of them was speaking English and we were just thrown in the gear car as two suitcases. Upon driving to the police station we had time to exchange some words. I asked to him if he knew the amount of money we’ll have to give to these vampires. I couldn’t believe it. It was beyond all my fears; although providentially not beyond my possibilities. He knew it because a friend of him had been caught a few weeks before. “Yoyo, you have to expect paying 2000 dollars.” told he me. “what!? are you serious? Oh my…dear, I can’t believe it.” As a matter of fact, he was fucking right. We had time enough to discuss the problem of the hemp origin. We agreed to say the hemp has been given to him by a German guy who hadn’t finished it yet so that he flew back home. Two “details” were worrying me. First I feared they were going to check my bungalow as well, and I haven’t a clue how I was going to get all this money as quickly as they wanted to. That’s in this state of mind I arrived the police station. We were cooped up in an icy room waiting for the translator. I shall never understand why in hot country they always put the AC so low. Go rather in snow holiday! Well, they can’t. That’s true. The translator arrived after one hour. Shall I say Master Translator; oh I’ll remember him : Chipy was his name. This guy full of himself entered in the room and looked at us with a slight patronizing smile. I straight took a dislike to him. He made sure that we understood English and started to explain how things were going to be. First, he made us understand that without Him we were facing very serious problems. The process could take a very long time as three months, but He was able to make it quicker, within 4 days. He will be the only link between justice and we and we had to do whatever He said. He warned us not to try to cheat Him or to think we were clever than Him. I resented his constant smile. I knew we were in the country of smile but did he really think we wanted to see his fucking smile while he was saying us how much it will cost. We weren’t here to buy a tour operator! Moreover, he never let us talking and always cut in us. And, I don’t know why but he always gazed at me as if M... wasn’t here. Did he believe that being the youngest I should be more impressed by his authority? Or perhaps he wanted to make one of us lose his temper to get a pretext for obtaining even more money? I don’t know, but we always remain cool and polite, for we knew this fucking bastard had the power to put us in jail. I think Chipy was really enjoying this situation for that. His laughing eyes were telling us: You can be whatever strong, or rich, or European but here that’s me who get all the power. And you will just bend down your head in front of me. And, that’s what we did.
I’m going now to describe how the corruption is orchestrated by its servants. The truth is a concept you can put on the side. In an astonishing display of ease about ignorance and bypass of law, Chipy told us that 5 grams was far a too huge quantity and so that we were to be sentenced only for one splif each. Before us, he grabbed two cigarettes emptied them out of the tobacco by rolling them between his fingers and refilled them with bits of marijuana. Any smoker on earth would have known his stuff couldn’t have ever been smoked compound to its hideous appearance. But obviously the judge might not have had a hectic youth, or could he be corrupted as well?! Anyway, Chipy hadn’t given lot of interest in our explanation of a hypothetical German guy delighting M.... with his hemp left; and had assured us of the advantage of sticking to his version of one splif each. Then, we started talking business. The deal was clear. To avoid spending 48 hours in jail at the police station of Kho Phangan the cost was of 1000 euros or 80000 baths. On the first hand, I thought that I was quite able to put up 48h in jail to save 1000 euros but I discovered that it was purely a pretext. Indeed, most of people charged with possession of marijuana would be quite okay to spend 2 days in jail in order to not be ruined. But somehow, there’s always a diverted way in the expression of corruption. Its actors will never say word by word: “Give me a ‘backchich’ and you’re free.” No, that’s much more hypocrite than that. Chipy explained it approximately in that way: “Well, if you want to avoid staying here 48h, and water and food are not included in the price in Thailand, you’ve to give me 1000 euros today… I can’t work for you without money and if you want the all story to finish in 4-5 days instead of perhaps more than 3 months…You understand.” It means that the 80000 Bth “officially” are the fine to avoid going straight in jail but that is, indeed, to start watering all the black flowers of a corrupt system. So, if you say: “I don’t care spending two days in jail and keep my money for now.” You didn’t understand anything. You think saving money and you throw away several months of your life or even your all life as the Thai jail must be a traumatizing experience. To explain the all deal in a few words, we were due to ask somebody to bring our passport and 1000 euros right now on the first hand, and be able to give 750 euros more in the next 24 hours on the second hand. Needless to say that was rather a harsh blow in our faces. I wasn’t even desperate as I was like knocked senseless expectantly of what I was intended to do. How was I going to manage that? I didn’t have any idea.
M.... has known the owner of the resort we were for several years. He had now been here for several months and they trusted each other. But, I wouldn’t have ever expected a so great kindness from P.... After M.... gave her a call, she came at the police station with 160000 Bth in cash, and I can tell you that’s a huge sum of money in Thailand, and the passport of both of us. That she lent this sum to M.... was still understandable but to me, it was just incredible. She had just asked M.... if he thought I was a reliable guy before made her decision to borrow me the money as well. I was so grateful, but also slightly suspicious. I just once shared this feeling with M....., who looked so found of her, by noticing that it was rather strange she did that for us. But he just pushed aside my suspicion by explaining me that in the Thai culture, the customer is sacred. We were almost like hosts by hers, for it was a very simple and modest resort with only she, her daughter and her sister to run it. The fact that one of her customers got problems was something under her own responsibility. People smoke and drink in Thailand and that’s a Buddhism country so they are free. The only law is the one of karma. That hemp is forbidden by law is something new for them and they don’t really show respect for law and police. That’s why all is corrupt. There’s no respect about modern institutions, and I’m not the one who’d say they’re wrong!! We had been denounced. That was a certainty for police didn’t come as hunter from the back of M....’s bungalow on random. They knew what we were doing. M.... thought of both possibilities. First, he remembered having seen a few times a guy selling cards to gather funds for an orphanage. This guy had come around the bungalows to ask them to buy some cards. And the day, we were caught, our neighbour saw him little time before the makeover of our holidays into hell. Or, M.... supposed that someone bore a grudge against P...., perhaps on jealousy or something else, and tried and make her lose her face by disturbing her customers. My own theory was that she keeps police away from her resort by denouncing a customer from time to time. And if she didn’t care to borrow a so huge sum of money that’s because she knew she was going to recover it in a way or another. If I couldn’t have been afford to bring back the money what might have happened? We’ll never know for I always pay my debts. Anyway, I would never definitely make my mind up. But I prefer thinking she has always been on our side.
I had to find out how to get 1750 euro within 24 hours by now. When we came back to the resort I straight mailed my bank in France, asking them to find an option to put me out of this rather bad situation. You know how are the big institutions. You’re only a number record somewhere in a list. You’re not real. So, if you want them to be concerned by your problem, you have really to put pressure on them to make sure they’re gonna move their ass for you. Though, I wrote a mail which was a bit beyond reality. It was something like: “I was caught by police in Thailand with marijuana. I incur the risk of going in jail for several months if I don’t get 2000 euros within 24 hours. You know I have this sum so in this particular and desperate event, let’s find a way to transfer the money quickly. Thanks, bla, bla,…” Of course, at the age of 29 I had for long while over pass the time to weep for help to my parents. All the more so I have only my mother left and I had planned to tell her once all would have been over. What was my surprise the day after when I checked my mail to see a message from her entitled: “I’m so…” and the following was: “…angry about you. You fucking guy. Smoking marijuana in a country like Thailand, and you look on yourself as an adult, you are just a stupid child. I’m so ashamed, I put some money on your account and it’s not for you, it’s just to reassure me. Tell me what’s happening, bloody son.” My mother is really free with marijuana. For almost 10 years now I smoke spliff in her presence. She grows some plant of marijuana on her balcony just for fun. If she doesn’t smoke herself, several friends of her are smokers. So, she was only angry about my total disrespect of law. And, of course, she was in a terrible state of fear and panic. How on earth did she know about it? was my first feeling. I gave her a call straight away to try and calm her down and to tell her I wasn’t under the threat to go in jail. I asked her how she knew it. The bank, believing it was a joke, sent her the mail they had received for me to confirm the reality of it. I turned crazy. At 29 years-old, they had just rape my right to privacy. And I could now imagine the effect of this mail on my mother. I felt so sorry for her. Afterwards, I explained her that if admittedly I was a smoker of marijuana, I wasn’t a stupid boy. I had took all the possible precautions, the under table rules, for smoking there. She had forgiven me by now.
After confirmation of the reality of my mishap the bank allowed me to make an international transfer and I brought back all the money to P.... Once again, without her I couldn’t have handled the situation. Because my card has a limit and I can’t withdraw as many money as I want to. So I really relied on her for she just gave me all the cash I needed. And God knows, I had a big need for cash. Chipy, as well. In this connection, we met him again at the police station the day after our arrest. I remember this guy arriving in his huge brand new 4.4, and holding a leach which at the end was tied an ugly, asthmatic, tiny dog, as own all those stupid and rich famous people. And Chipy, always so full of himself, who entered the police station with his filthy dog just as a proof of his supremacy in here. We made the last formalities and he explained us that we should be able to go to the court within three days. After having given him the rest of the money to make sure he would work for us, it was his words, he asked us to give him a call every day till we went to the court. So, the third day, we gave him a call. And this guy just asked us why we were calling him. He was making fun of us. Anyway, we tried and keep our heads up for this period. We went on making our daily swim, watching match at TV as it was during the world cup and I still had my marijuana. We were like teenagers, going to smoke at the very end of the beach expecting to see policemen gushing from the sea or from behind the trees. On the first hand, I had wanted to throw it away by fear. But it would have been a too total victory of the Thai government on us and I couldn’t bear it. Then, we smoked all this bloody hemp left.
You could think my mood wasn’t at its top level and you’d be right but you could be surprised to know that it wasn’t so bad. On the first hand, I felt almost grateful to have been caught with M..... This guy was really as a lighthouse in the storm. His physical presence was cheering. He radiated a kind of quiet and resolute acceptance of our mishap which was infectious. He was a tough guy and I really think his mind was model after his body. Right, he was a bit older than me and these few years more should have been source of wisdom. Some could think that perhaps without him I would have never bought marijuana but this kind of thought is for the weak people who never take their responsibilities and want to find a guilty where there’s only their one deed at sake. I was the one who had decided to stop smoking marijuana and started it up again under the festive pressure of travelling. And I was glad from the moments we spent together smoking and talking. On the second hand, once more I have to say I was really impressed by his behaviour for he has been stolen his computer a few days before with all his work recorded on the hard disk and no other copy. And, when we were caught by the devils, he was to go back home less than 3-4 days later. Then, he was obliged to put his flies back what costs a load of money as well. Lots of people would have merely gone crazy or depressed under a so icy shower of mishaps. I remember I sometime saw in the depth of his eyes something as daunting or anger but he never let it go out. He withstood as a warrior. He wondered about sometime: Why all that shit is happening to me? Shall we ever have the answer? I don’t know. But what I can be sure of is that this story should be an example of resistance and strength of mind for everybody. Or, at least, for me it was. I couldn’t decently complain about myself with a view to the shit my fellow struggled with. I can say, acknowledging that that is a selfish feeling, that to see worse lightens your pain. Why people crave to know about sadness, problems and difficulties of the rest of the world? That’s certainly not to be aware of reality and try and do something to improve the human being condition. No, that’s only to satisfy themselves about their own little better place under sun. Indeed, I couldn’t cheer him up. I think my bosom should have to miss some bulky argument but, at least, I could be aware of his own difficulties and let my problems put away.
Five days after the event, we were at last to go to the court. The court is on the Kho Samui island and we had to take the boat early in the morning in order to be on time. Chipy had told us to be at the harbor at 6 o’clock in the morning. This fucking bastard arrived at seven though we had been trying and calling him on his switched off cell phone for one hour, fidgeting like mad back and forth on the quay. Anyway, we set off Kho Samui on time and arrived at the court at 10 in the morning. Chipy asked us to stay outside and to wait for his instructions. I would have liked nothing better than to be elsewhere at this time. We were supposed to be confronted by the judge. He was due to ask some questions and we were due to shut up and let Chipy answer on our behalf. It sounded quite an easy job. Indeed, it was even easier for we didn’t see the judge as there were too many people this very day. But, we nevertheless lived something special. During the time our case was tried, we had to wait in a jail where there were all the prisoners who had a review of their files or a request to the judge. All the prisoners were wearing an orange “uniform” but 4 of them who were in civil like us. But what shocked me was to see they had chains around their feet. It was in thick and heavy links and on both ends the last one had been curl round their ankles, thanks to a machine I was explained later. They had all fastened a length of string in the middle of the chain in order to lift it when they were walking to avoid wounding their ankles with the weight and rubbing. I shall remember the rattling sound it made when they were moving till the end of my life. Most of them didn’t care about our presence and only a “lady girl”, very attractive to be honest, and two others guy struck the discussion with us. We carefully avoided to give any account of money about our case and inquired about them. Only the lady girl was right to talk to us about her charge. She explained she was here to ask a review of her file as she had been caught with 0,5 gram of “ice”, a drug like ecstasy. She had to give something like 20000 Bth to be able to go out but she couldn’t pay and was to stay one month more. For the ones who could be surprised that there was a girl with us, they have to know that a “ladyboy” is a homosexual male very effeminate and even sometime they had had a surgery to change their sex. But for law, that’s a guy anyway. I remember to feel ashamed because we were nothing else that two rich western peoples able to flee thanks to money. If I was to do it over again, I would, of course, but I really despise inequality between human being and to be there the fat American makes me feel unease. But once more, could I decently complain about anything?
After having spent more than 2 hours, or only two hours it depends how you look at it; we were free. I don’t remember where we got the information but the official fine to possession of marijuana is 120 euro, so I let it to you to work out what is the cost of corruption. Make an effort, it’s quite easy. You found it out, corrupt system is really greedy, isn’t it? We came back at Kho phangan in the evening and the sunset during the crossing was merely wonderful. They had taken our money but not our freedom and our pleasure to be alive. Things could have been worse… (9)