The trip from Koh Chang to Pattaya starts a bit late because I had misunderstood the sign with the travel times of the ferry. I wait for an hour while the temperature rapidly increases. Yesterday my attempt of securing the temperature gauge to the bike was rudely interrupted by tropical rain. Today I'm out of luck: it is hot, and the air is completely blue. (I rather like it when it rains on travel days, it helps keeping the temperature down somewhat.)
When I was just in Thailand I noticed the roads have an American look to them. You know the feeling when you travel from one country to another. The scenery is the same as in those miles you've left behind you, it is still the same river, but yet there is something different. The sign informing you of the current speed limit is slightly different. Thailand seems to copy the American style rather well. The marks on the road are done with a yellow paint which seems to come straight from a 3M factory, judging by its reflecting nature. The warning signs are yellow squares standing on a corner, just like in the US.
There are more things reminding me of America. The way the government is structured shows similarities. (They are even busy with their own 'impeachement' of some of the senators for corruption, and soon they will settle the 'censure'.) On my way to Pattaya it slowly dawns on me where these links to the Americans originate. It's those years long visits of the soldiers to Thailand. Wasn't this country one giant base during the Vietnam war ? I pass a Navy base of huge proportions. There are suburban areas filled with American families of Navy personnel. I see those familiar US cars. Their drivers wear those standard crew-cut haircuts on top of trained broad shoulders.
At night in Pattaya I see lots more soldiers. But they probably don't have a family waiting at home, they get 'entertained' by many, many skimpy dressed Thai ladies who initially only bring you your glass of beer. If you don't make it clear why you are here right away, you find them on your lap before the beer is warm. Every bar plays too-loud music - a conversation is impossible. But this is not why people come here: I'm now in the sex capital of the world. After a couple of beers I've seen enough. I start looking for the 'original' people of Pattaya, to see if I can have a meal. I find them in a market place.
You know these moments in which you wonder where you've ended up now? Part of the market place is covered with a roughly constructed roof. Underneath there are pool tables where the game is played according to American rules. Under these tables the street dogs sleep, they now and then fight over the best place to stay. There is also a kitchen, the pan for frying the rice is in the open air. A big fan is hanging off the roof beams. The air flow should keep the cooking odors (and the large flames from the huge wok) away from the space under the roof. It is doing a poor job - it smells delicious. This is where I'm going to eat.
I select a table away from the air flow from the fat spreading fan. Therefor I am sitting almost on the street, where the traffic continues. A Honda CBR 400 bike screams by, making way too much noise. Following this bike my attention is drawn to a smaqll cart with a sign "photo 2 baht". I first check out the kitchen, where two women are preparing the food. I spot a fish which seems OK, with ginger for example. I point to the ginger on the chopping block and with hands and feet we manage to understand each other.
I enjoy these kinds of establishments. Yes, I know I'm going to be ill sooner or later. They don't have fridges, the fish is simply placed on a table. But I am visiting a tropical country, where a _fresh_ chicken equals a _living_ chicken. Nobody sells prepared chickens here. They tie up crabs to prevent them from walking away. The locals eat in these places as well; I doubt they would do that if they would get sick all the time. The fish I selected is very fresh. They prepare a delicious meal out of it, which I eat with pleasure.
The sign with the price for a picture is mounted on top of one of those carts with merchandise. Further inspection reveals a large amount of insects. Big, cockroach-like things, grass-hoppers, and assorted larvas and maggots, all fried. Farangs don't shop here, but they do take pictures. Therefor the sign. It is dark, I don't think a picture will come out so well. And I certainly don't want to eat these insects.
After a good night's rest in a hotel away from all the noise I try to arrange my breakfast on the beach. Pattaya is one big beach town and is dominated by a boulevard along the beach. Everything an average Farang on vacation would like is there. Now the bars are a bit quiter, some are even closed. All the souvenir shops are open - several sun-burned tourists are shopping. I can't find any noodle soup (my usual Thai breakfast) and fall for the Colonel Sanders chicken from KFC. Then again, this one is served in a spicy variation, adapted to the Asian market.
Even in the daytime the sex industry is continuing. It seems as though all the Western males with a stain come over here to bask themselves in the company of gorgeous Asian ladies. I feel rather ashamed walking here all alone, I too am looking like one of those farangs. And there are many of them. I see many German-looking fat bellies in short pants, carried by their white, skinny legs. Balding men which seek the company of willing ladies after their divorce. 'Men' with two tattoos too many on their upper arms, and men renting a Harley to try and enhance their male-ness. When I ended up in some beach sand on one of my scouting trips yesterday one of those guys fell off his Harley, he had the bike in the wrong gear...
I adapt: like a real tourist I sit on the beach for a couple of hours. But I don't get to read my paper, the Bangkok Post. An elderly lady gives the beach goers a massage, she seems to know how to do it. And she won't find it easy to let it unearth into a practice which is done in the brothels - after all, we are amongst sun lovers here. She really is good at it - for an hour I get a lovely massage, without having to fend off avances. The woman lives six miles north of Pattaya. Ever since the economic crisis she is out of a job, and now she is doing this for a living. In fact, she rather enjoys this - I'm impressed by the mentality of the Thai people. The unemployed don't want to hang around, they actually try to do something. From massage to noodle soup car: this country is full of active, resourceful people.
In the lounge chairs next to me three men and two Thai ladies take place. The men are from Rotterdam, Holland, they are in the 'just divorced' category, and are so impressed by their female company they are working on plans to take these ladies back to Holland. "The women back home aren't nearly as nice as these ladies", one of them says, while he is lovingly massaged by the Thai lady. "These women don't ask questions, and they are better in bed as well", so they tell me. They are nice men, but I have a problem with their mentality. Maybe they were married to women which were really no good, and here they have found the happiness they couldn't find in Europe. The ladies believe they have reeled in a some extremely rich Western men. For a Thai lady a move to Europe is like winning the lottery. I hope these men live up to their promises, and don't abuse the trust the ladies have placed on them.
From Pattaya to Bangkok is only a three-hour ride, but then you haven't reached the city yet. This takes considerably longer, even when you have a GPS and you don't have to navigate using a map in your tank bag. I find my way easily, and my belief that the traffic problems in Thailand aren't that bad is strengthened. Having to wait between those two-stroke mopeds for a traffic light is indeed a hazard for my lungs. But I've experienced far worse. Furthermore, they are building roads on elevations everywhere, mostly through Thai-German joint ventures. The speed is lagging due to the economic crisis. But I see the solution to the traffic problem coming. But, not for me, most roads are toll roads, and I'm not allowed on them with my bike.
Because it is still pretty early, I first stop at a BMW distributor to pick up my new battery. I put it on my bike myself, and again I use the synchronization equipment. The tune-up now is easier, the 4000 miles on quality fuel has had its effect. We also disassemble the front suspension to see what is wrong. One of the front legs is bent, the other one is probably bent as well - I decide not to take that one apart. The bearing is damaged as well. None of these parts is in stock, and I don't have time to wait. I have to leave Thailand by February 3rd, and it is still a three day ride. We put the bike together again, and I check in my favourite hotel on Sukhumvit, this time for the last time.
I am for the third time here - they now recognize me. With every visit I want to do the things all tourists do: take a trip on the river which crosses Bangkok, visit the floating market, and other things. But this time again I don't feel like it. To compensate for this, I go to Kanchanaburi. Here is a railroad that has cost many lifes, and it became famous when a movie was made about the Birma railroad: "the bridge over the river Kwai". By now the wooden bridge has been replaced by a similar shaped one made of steel and concrete. The size is a bit disappointing: maybe because I haven't seen the movie. After a break of one hour and five times the usual conversation with the other visitors of the bridge I head south. ("From Belgium? The bike to Bangkok by boat? What? Came riding?!? How long? Many problems, no doubt?") That evening I arrive in Hua Hin, a city at the east coast. The beach near my budget hotel is disappointing. But then I'm not here for the beach - I leave here the next day.
Menno will arrive in Phuket on February 11. Then it is the Chinese New Year. Many people from this region (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia) will come here for a week's vacation. Generally they expect accomodation will be a problem - indeed Menno had to do everything to get a ticket. Although it is already February 1st, I still ride 140 miles to Phuket to check things out.
The scenery near Kanchanaburi is dominated by fields with a kind of crop which I don't recognize. They grow cabbages, which are transported in trucks to factories, where they are cooked. It smells pretty bad, and the landscape is not diverse. Along the coast is the fishery and some mixed farming. South of Hua Hin Thailand gets very small: only 6 miles wide, from the east coast to the border with Birma. The border is a natural one: I ride on a strip of land between the South China Sea and a mountain ridge on the border. South of the small part of the country I cross the mountain ridge to get to the west coast. On purpose I choose a secundary road - from Bangkok I have seen only wide two-lane roads, and sometimes even four lanes, and it is getting boring.
In the hills the landscape is not very cultivated: again I see the unpenetratable wall of the jungle. But after reaching the west coast the fun is over: here the rubber farms start. The trees are put in neat squares, the farms cover several miles each. At the base of the trees I see the typical carves with a small black cup to catch the rubber milk. Here in South Thailand I see the first signs of a Muslim population. Signs indicating the mosks to the travelers who keep themselves to the regime of five prayers a day, and small towers with large speakers. And something else catches my eye: the garbage around the houses. In the north the houses all have tidy gardens, the garbage is removed. But not here in the south. Filth, including domestic garbage, is dumped next to the houses. Decorative plants are absent - the houses are merely wooden shacks on poles. Could this be related to the Islam ?
Late in the afternoon I reach Phuket, and I start off with an inventory of the diving facilities. Menno wants to get his diving license. Phuket is quite a shock, after seeing the surrounding countryside. It is filled with farangs and the large white hotels that seem to go with them. Like in Pattaya you can rent a big bike as well. The place is crawling with Honda FireBlades, with noisy exhausts and all. Patong Beach is the place where all the party people spend the night dancing and drinking. I check out the island, and select Karon Beach as the place for Menno's holiday. Even now accomodation is a problem - after eight full hotels and guest houses I find myself a dirty bed for way too much money. But I've made arrangements for the next three weeks in a guest house that looks better than the rest. The day after tomorrow I will return, after I have received a new stamp in my passport in Malaysia.
The trip starts off very early, I want to try to reach the border, before it is February 3.The scenery south of Phuket has strange mountains. It is mostly flat, with some very large rocks which stick out almost vertically. The faces of these rocks are so steep nothing can grow on them - vegetation is limited to the flat tops, they are covered with unreachable and unpenetratable green. These pimples in the scenery don't stop where the sea starts. In the sea this is even more bizarre: here the steep rocks form unaccessible islands. Except for James Bond, of course. In one of the 007 movies the bad guy has built a huge satellite dish on top of a hollowed-out island. This island explodes at the end of the movie, the way it should in a Bond movie. The locals now call this island 'James Bond Island'.
After this the surroundings again are filled with rubber trees, apart from the crossing of the same mountain ridge, which again has the authentic vegetation. I reach the border way before the planned time: from Phattalung to the border I use brand new four lane roads, complete with shoulders which are used by all mopeds.
I expect a lengthy procedure at the border - in Bangkok I had to endure one whole unpleasant day. And it starts off great: lots of puffing and moaning when I show them my Carnet de Passage. You know what? They have abolished this procedure. They don't know this in Bangkok yet, and now these officers have to undo this mistake with lots of paperwork. But I get my stamps quickly. Then I'm off to the Malaysian side, where they seem to be used to 'turn around tourists'. They don't bother importing the bike: after five minutes I'm back at the gate of the Thai officers. The import of the bike is done with computers, the declared value has dropped from 500.000 to 300.000; I don't have to do any signing or other difficult stuff. Totally confused I get on my bike again, back north.
The trip back goes smoothly, until...
I reach the village of Thamod, about 20 miles south of Phattalung, about 4:30 PM. Just after I pass the only crossing in this small village three men and an old woman cross the road. I honk: the men quickly walk to the other side, but the woman freezes. I swerve to the right (in Thailand one drives on the left) and brake hard. Suddenly the woman decides to cross as well. I pull the bike completely on its side to try and get as far to the right as possible, out of the path of the woman. She just walks on, straight into my bike.
The left shield of my steer hits her on her head, and the indicator impacts on her ribs. With a huge thud she lands on the tarmac. I didn't even fall, I only ended up on the shoulder of the road. Quickly I park the bike and try to arrange an ambulance. The woman has a large head wound, but she is conscious. She is dressed like the people working in the rice fields: a shirt, worn to shreds atop a piece of cloth which is wrapped around her waist as a skirt. Her weatherworn face has a pair of soft eyes which look at me questioning. Nothing happens, nobody walks away to make a phone call. I search for my cell phone, I'm desparate. Nobody acts - they're only watching. I place myself in the middle of the road and wave to prevent the oncoming traffic from driving over the woman (and me). After what seems like a long time some people start directing traffic.
I try to find out what the local emergency number is, when a pickup truck stops on the other side of the road. A few people start calling the woman can be taken to an hospital with that vehicle. We lift her in the open back of the pickup - no stretcher, no blanket. The man who helps me lift the skinny woman over the edge wants to lie her on her back, but I indicate a stable side position is preferable in case she gets unconscious or has to throw up. The truck departs - I can only hope she hasn't got injuries which will worsen in the sturdy suspended truck.
I wait for the police to arrive; after these five weeks in Thailand I don't think there will be a mob trying to bash in my brains. In India I would have been quite a long way there already. I've heard two stories, one of those first-hand, about lynching practices by people at the crash scene. One involves an Austrian couple in a Mercedes van, they hit a child. A couple of people at the scene advised them to get away quickly, staying would be very dangerous. Both of them still were trying to get to grips with what they had done, some three months after the accident and back in Istanbul. And they don't know what has become of the little kid. The second case (from hear-say) involves a European doctor who tried to help in an accident in which he had no part. He had to run for his life, the spectators had decided he was the cause. I stay, it seem sthe right thing to do, being a civilized traveler in a reasonably decent country.
The three men who did reach the other side of the road spread a strong liquor odor. More and more people gather around the bike. A few moments later the police arrives, the officers start documenting and measuring right away. The crowd is quickly dispersed. I turn the hand protector in its original position, and collect the pieces of the indicator. They ask me to accompany them to the office to make a statement. A few officers check out my bike, but decide it is too big for them. I ride the bike to the police station myself. I get in contact with the hospital, and the doctor assures me it isn't too bad, but the examinations aren't completely finished yet. And the doctor notes a strong liquor scent at the woman as well.
None of the officers speak English. Using gestures and my language guide they tell me I have to wait until it is clear how the woman is doing. I had no other intentions - I think she will need some (financial) help in the next few days. My statement hasn't been taken yet - I have to wait. After a few hours someone asks me if I want something to eat. I am so shocked by what has happened that food is about the last wish I have.
Another man arrives, he speaks a littlebit English. He is a teacher, but if I had to learn English from him, nobody would understand me. He babbles something about passports, bike keys and embassy. The embassy is closed, and the English speaking 'tourist police' which I've called already can't help me. The police wants to have my passport and keys - I give them one of both. I keep my spare keys and passport in my pocket. The officers don't even manage to get my bike off its stand, and I park it under some kind of shelter myself. They still don't take my statement, but I don't mind. With the 'help' of the teacher this wouldn't work anyway. The teacher leaves. Some time later someone has found the word for 'sleeping' and I'm 'invited' to stay the night. It is only 8 PM, I don't feel like sleeping.
The police station is small. Downstairs is a small passage which leads to three rooms. There is a desk with an officer who writes everything down in some kind of log. There are a couple of chairs, I use them for the first few hours of waiting. Upstairs there are another three rooms, and the detention cells. Outside there are a few concrete benches, I use them a few hours as well. Nobody speaks English, but they all want to talk to the farang. Like cockroaches these people seem to come from everywhere. I feel like an attraction in a road show: many village peopl ecome by to 'talk to me'. There is lots of laughter, and the conversation is all about me, my bike, and the accident. I turn off the alarm on my bike, everybody wants to sit on the bike. I expect to need all the goodwill I can get, and I don't object to these things.
Some officers wear a uniform, others arrive in gym suits or in civilian clothes. The uniforms have small differences among them. The shoes, the belt and the weapon are almost always different. One of the officers has a giant Colt 45 dangling on his hip, most others have a 9mm Luger or a .345 Magnum. Guns form an extension to the male ego, like bikes. But to cover your belt with bullets is overdoing it a bit. Further inspection of the ammo shows they make their own modifications. I see dum-dum and hollow point modifications - strictly forbidden where I come from. The inside of the heels are often covered with a piece of iron. When you salute, you can slam your heels together. Since '40-'45 this is 'not done' in Europe, but here this is the fashion. One of the officers hasn't tightened the screws on his iron pieces, the plates make a rattling noise with every step.
The way people are laughing, the gloating of the police officers at the sense of power they get from catching a farang, and the 'talks' with the visitors who don't speak my language makes me feel worse by the second. Suddenly a bed doesn't seem all that bad - at least I'm not the center of attention anymore. They have a bed for me, in an air conditioned room, even. It's the room of the telegraph operator. The man, exchanging jokes with the other officers (apparently about me) walks in and out when I have have retired (I've only taken off my boots). I gather he is excited he has a farang as a guest tonight, although I can see by his body language some of the jokes have a homosexual twist to them. Sometimes he answers some radio and phone calls. After a pause which is longer than usual he returns. He has a towel wrapped around his waist - he has taken off his uniform.
I pretend to be asleep, hoping everybody leaves me in peace. This night I have a lot to think about. I'm very concerned about the woman, and I'm worried about how the police is handling this. "Tomorrow we'll see what will happen", I think, while I'm keeping an eye on the officer through my eye lids. He has just washed himself, and applies a large dosis of baby powder under his arm pits (Johnson's and Johnsos'n - I recognize the smell). Once he glances in my direction - I temporarily close my eyes. When I open them again he is powdering his genitals. Then he puts on a gym suit while massaging the powder in his pubic hair. I get prodded, and then he gets in my bed!
For a while I fear the worst, but thank God he refrains from sexual avances. The police radio is kept on - my bed mate is on duty. At about 10 PM the phone rings. The woman has died in hospital. My companion is visibly enjoying the new situation and keeps on demonstrating his skills with the English language: "Not good fol you, vely bad, vely bad"... After midnight the radio is getting quiet and I manage to get some sleep for 3 hours. To assure I will not close another eye after that, the man in my bed starts snoring awfully.
The next day an English teacher arrives, she helps me make my statements. Nipaporn speaks English very well, and has brought with her her best pupil and a stack of dictionaries. I am relieved - now I can tell them my side of the story. I hope to be on my way by afternoon. Nipaporn helps me to write a letter in Thai, in which I express my condoleances to the family of the deceased.
I seek contact with the Dutch embassy in Bangkok, they advise me to get a lawyer. Mister Puttri speaks English even better than Nipaporn, and soon after this we have settled on an approach: my story is written in Thai, and Nipaporn then will translate it back into English. I have to pressure the officers quite a bit to get some changes made, they don't very much respect my female interpretor. Then Nipaporn reads aloud the statement to the lawyer. I am so glad my cell phone is working here; were this not the case, I wouldn't have dared signing any of the statements. The phone on the desk can only be used for local calls. Long distance calls have to be made using the coin phone, even for officers.
Big problems and money business
Now it is clear what my situation is: one of the forms is the "indictment". I'm accused of death by 'negligence'. Lawyer Puttri, who only knows me as a phone voice, doesn't even try to comfort me. The punishment for this is at least one year, and at most ten years in jail. Like the US system, the Thai law protects the weaker parties in traffic: I'm guilty by definition. He speaks to the police officer and prepares me for a police investigation of several weeks, followed by a trial. On average this process will take about one and a half months. He doesn't want to speculate about the outcome, but he leaves me thinking I could go to prison...
The Thai law allows me to await my trial outside the police jail, when I pay my bail. It is set by the police to (according to Thai measures) the huge amount of 100.000 Bath (about 2.700 US Dollar). They speak lenghty about my statements and the possibilities of arranging the money. The embassy in Bangkok offers to help, but has to get the money first (in Holland). I remove the tank from the bike, and count all the dollars and traveler cheques I have. It should be just about enough. But the police only accepts Thai Bath, nothing else. And when the gentlemen are ready to take me to the bank it is 3 PM. The banks close at 3:30 PM, and the office in this village doesn't exchange currencies or accept traveler cheques.
I suspect this to be intentional. They don't want me to leave, they want to stall things. According to the law I have three days to arrange the bail. After that period I will be transferred to the court in Phattalung. Then I will be locked up for sure, settling bail will be impossible. Then I have to get help 'from the outside'. And the bail can be higher, it will be set by the prosecutor. I don't worry too much, according to one of the statements I've signed I have been arrested this morning.
Late that afternoon a new face pops up. It is mister Dhamnoon. He lives in Bangkok and is an author/translator. He translates English books to Thai. The economic crisis has devastating effects on him: his house at the border with Malaysia has been confiscated by the bank, in Bangkok there is 'something' going on, and that's why he is visiting the town where he was born. The embassy does its best for me, but they cannot continue for lack of a local bank account. They are not allowed to transfer the money directly to the police, I have to prove this money is really mine. I take a gamble. I call Van Lanschot Bankiers in Belgium, and have them transfer the money to the account of a relative of Khun (= mister) Dhamnoon. The bank confirms that a large amount of money has been sent to the Ministery of Foreign Affairs in the Hague.
It is evening again. I still haven't found my appetite yet - I live on very sweet coffee and cola. The English teacher returns, he brings me water, coffee soda and beer. By now I am officially aware of my captivity, and I suspect I will see the police cell from the inside this night. I'm allowed to drink the beer. But first they take 9 (!) sets of fingerprints, and they insist on taking me out for some food in the village. Under a police escorte I'm seated at a table, and just for the show I eat half a bowl of noodle soup. Of course half of the village stops by. Upon return I share my beer and water with the officers, they are actually quite nice.
They have learned that I haven't slept very well last night, they have been thinking about another place for me to sleep. The office of the boss has air conditioning as well, but no bed, the boss sleeps at home. The officers on duty don't go home, they are busy fattening my file until 10 PM, they will spend the night on field beds behind their desks. Three men are constantly typing away on old machines. They allow me to get my mattress and sleeping bag off my bike. I sleep from 10 PM until 4 AM. From 4 until 7 (when everybody who was sleeping here as well gets up) is the worst - every ten minutes the same dream about the accident, and then scaring yourself awake, and realise this nightmare is reality.
The embassy has transferred too much money, and there is some commotion which will take another day. It is about the ownership of the money (it is sent by the embassy), and it is transferred to the police account anyway. At 2 PM I am escorted to the bank, and I manage to get everybody to agree. The money Van Lanschot sent cannot be found, the account number was incorrect. Half of the 200.000 the embassy sent will be returned, the other half is accepted by the bureaucrats. I can leave the station this afternoon.
But the inspector springs another surprise: they cannot release the bike. I quickly find out why: the driver of the motor vehicle must, according to Thai law, independent of the guilt question, financially compensate the pedestrian. I have to negotiate with the family. I call the embassy and Holland. The amounts I hear range from 20.000 to 100.00 Bath. A cousin of the deceased woman does the negotiations, he wants 300.000. The inspector mingles into the discussion - when we still aren't finished he tries to break off the negotiations and starts on the paper work to get me arrested again and turn me over to the court. I use a Monninkhof trick: we agree to continue these talks in the morning.
I sleep with Khun Dhamnoon from Bangkok, at a place of one of his relatives. These people turn out to be related to the deceased as well. This scares the hell out of me - this man ought to be on my side. The next morning we agree on a payment of 50.000 Bath now, and 50.000 Bath when the case is dismissed. I have my lawyer promise the inspector a payment for his troubles. The inspector makes me believe the prosecutor will dismiss the case because the statements of the witnesses all say it wasn't my fault. I'm somewhat relieved. The inspector promises he won't let the statements still to be taken sound too harsh.
The ink of the agreement with the family is not yet dry when the inspector needs some last autographs: he wants me to sign a sketch of the situation which isn't accurate, and suggests I hit the lady when she nearly reached the other side of the road, and that I dragged her along for quite a distance. I sign it after making some adjustments. The other document is a statement which starts off with "today, February 2nd, 10 PM". But now it is February 5th. It is a confirmation of my arrest and I declare to have been read my rights. I refuse to sign that.
They release the bike, and with the interpretor I check out some addresses in the village. I solve a computer problem by reinstalling Windows 95. I pick up my luggage and in the dark I ride some 25 miles, very carefully and insecure, to a hotel with a reasonable bed. But despite the beer in my still sober stomach, this night's rest is way too short. I seriously doubt this case will be dismissed.
I try to keep my voice under control when I phone with my family and Carolyn, and I just tell them the bare facts. I try to mask all doubts, fears and worries. Almost nobody falls for that, but fortunately they don't try to push things. On Saturday I start documenting this story - I am surprised by the effects it has on me. By 'telling' all this I get to sort out my thoughts and feelings. I gradually loose the feeling that these new circumstances are controlling my life.
The lawyer has told me it would be a good idea to attend the ceremonies for the deceased woman. I can hardly believe that - if someone would kill my mother, he'd better not show up on her funeral. Nevertheless I decide to follow his advice, and with great reluctance I attend the first of the three dayly gatherings.
Everyone in the village knows about the accident, and they have seen me while I was in custody. Many of them came to the station just to see me, others have seen me and the police officers going out for something to eat. They immediately recognize me as the one directly responsible for this ceremony. But I get no negative looks. Not one. Many give me a thumbs up to show me they appreciate my attendance.
The ceremony is set in an open space, not far from the building where the actual cremation will take place, in two days. The coffin is placed against the rear wall, covered with plastic flowers. Some Christmas tree lights are used as decoration, they are flashing. At every corner of the coffin there is a tube light. The yellow, white, green and pink tube set the stage with the coffin in a colorful light. The coffin is fitted with cooling - this is an extensive ceremony. There is a picture of the deceased Lab Chimklai on a wooden stand, covered with plastic flowers as well. Some have bought a present. The colors are eye-shattering. My gift is a nice purple-pink blanket, decorated with (again) plastic flowers. I try to place my gift somewhat out of sight. There is a lot of table wear in shiny plastic wrappings. They are for the monks, so they tell me.
Alongside the walls there is a stage for the monks. I count six of them - they lead in the prayers which will start any minute now. There are rugs on the floor for the audience to kneel on. The women on the left side, the men on the right. I kneel down in the back of the group. There is some murmuring, and people look around. I'm ashamed beyond anything. But nobody seems to be upset: they seem to be positively surprised by my presence. I greet the family members I recognize with a 'wai'. (A wai is the equivalent of the Western handshake. You put your hands together like in a prayer, and you hold your index fingers almost against your nose. Your head makes a nod.)
The prayers start. A monk starts off a monotonous repetition of words I don't understand. There is a certain rythm, almost like a Mantra. Sometimes the tone rises slightly, and all the people present make a wai. After that the repetition continues. I try to follow their gestures as accurately as possible.
They've installed a powerful amplifier and a speaker stand outside the space where the coffin, the monks and we are. I now spot a tent next to this space. There are a lot of plastic garden chairs set up, some of them are occupied. But there is still room for some hundred people more. In the distance there is another tent, even larger, with tables and chairs. Next to that one there is a place like the ones in a market place where food is prepared. "This is probably for some other event", I think, although there is light and activity.
Meanwhile I still try to mimick the gestures around me as accurately as possible. The people now have more attention for the monks and the prayer, although some glance over their shoulder now and then. I'm being observed thoroughly. My thoughts wander off to the accident and it's consequences. I start to wonder whether it was such a good idea to travel the world on a motor bike. Here in Thailand they are not used to these large machines, which produce little sound at that. You can hear a moped coming at you far better than if it were this enormous BMW. And of course I ride faster than those 100cc mopeds. And now I witness the cremation of someone who has fallen victim to my wishes to travel the world for fun on such a big bike.
The ceremony comes to an end. The people around me pass along a dish with leaves, a bowl with some white stuff and some chopped up nuts. I ask an elderly lady how to prepare one of those leaves to eat. Surprised she takes a leaf, puts some white stuff on it, folds it and hands it to me together with a piece of a nut. My interpretor, khun (mister) Dhamnoon, looks startled at me. "You can't eat that - way too spicy!", he says. But the woman has her mouth full, and she doesn't look like having problems with that. I start to chew.
Again I cause a stir in the group. "The farang eats from the leaves!" (Western people are called farang here. Of course they pronounce it as falang.) The leaf tastes nice. It is very much like the paan I saw in India. And now I notice this gives the people their red teeth. But they don't spit like the Indians do. They don't have to, this tastes much better than the Indian paan. Some people point at their lips - apparently mine are turning red because my skin is lighter. Now I'm fully accepted.
Everybody gets up and gathers around me. The son of Lab (Chalam Chimklai) approaches me. He beams. Whether I would be so kind as to stay for some rice. It is impolite to refuse rice, and so we all go to the large tent with the tables. Some people join us at our table, the table next to ours is added. I can't believe what is happening. I have someone ask if the family members which I haven't seen before have read my appology letter in Thai. They have, and they tell me not to worry. "It was an accident", they say. These people have a larger heart than I suspect to be in my chest. I don't have much time to eat (and a good thing too, my appetite hasn't returned yet), everyone greets me with a wai or wants to shake my hand. Afterwards I ride back to my hotel in the dark, still steering uncertainly.
One of the cousins of the deceased has asked me to get there a bit early on Sunday, at about 4 PM. I first stop by the police station to show them I'm very interested in the progress of the investigation. Using the interpretor the inspector tells me a long story which boils down to the request whether the Dutch embassador would call the district office. The files will then be moved. My suspicion is arroused when he refuses to tell me the name of the officer (the police is structured like an army). I suspect he wants to ditch the case so nobody can be held to the verbal agreements we have made. I decide to ignore the suggestion, I want Amnat Mitmusik (the inspector) to finish the investigation himself.
We drink some coffee at the place of Amnat Musikasong (the cousin) in front of his house. We talk about lots of things: Thailand and its economic crisism what must be done to get out of this, which possibilities I see and if I have friends or aquantances who are willing to invest. For the cousin and the interpretor the investigation seems to be finished - after the first time this subject is ignored. They advise me to stay away from the ceremony, because on this Sunday afternoon a lot of people have arrived early. They have been eating and drinking all afternoon, they could be getting annoying.
Amnat's wife is asked to cook some food for us. We enter his house (together with some other relatives who just arrived), because we are swamped with mosquitos. The house is in traditional Thai style: one large room which combines living room and kitchen. I have a look at the preparation of the meal, and within five minutes I find myself cooking with Amnat's wife.
One of the dishes is some soft nut the size of a chestnut. I cut them in pieces, and in a bowl some peppers, garlic, shrimp paste and two fried bugs the size of huge cockroaches are meshed together. A Thai delicatesse. The bug tatses very strong - much stronger than the shrimp paste. This is indeed a special dish, I'll remember the taste for a long time. The other dishes are cooked meat and some vegetable. Suddenly I feel hungry, and my hostess is visibly pleased with the amount of food I consume.
After the departure of the two cousins and the interpretor I decide to show myself at the susaan ( the place where the cremation is taking place). Again I'm welcomed - these people are all friendliness. There are more people here, and some of them are actually sober. One drunken man tries to impress the farang by claiming the deceased is his mother. "Then your name is Chimklai", I say. The man retreats immediately, and someone else informs him about the accident. I shake some more hands and return to my hotel - I start to feel as though I'm forgiven.
On Monday the actual cremation takes place. I arrive at 12:45. Khun Dhamnoon is not present, but I don't need translation during the ceremony. My gift is decorated with my name and is now placed up front. Again I want to take a place in the rear, but the people kneeling down move aside, now I'm in the middel of the group. The leader of the monks holds a monologue of an hour! Some older people fall asleep, children are very bored. Of course I don't understand the story, but I try to stay alert.
When the leader of the monks is finished, prayer cloths are given to the monks. The important people of the village go first: I recognize the mayor and the oldest man of the village. They both paid me a visit during my stay in the police station. Suddenly I hear my name - they want me to hand the monks a cloth as well. The gestures are not that complicated, and I'm doing OK. Khun Dhamnoon has surfaced again, and he tells me his name is on my purple blanket by mistake as well. More and more I start distrusting this man. Later on people ask me whether I'm really Christian. "Why?", I want to know. "How else can you know the Buddhist ceremonies so well?".
I don't see the remainder of the cremation - everybody, except the immediate family, leaves. A daughter is crying when everybody (including me) symbolically puts some woodchips at the base of the coffin before leaving. My heart brakes, and I am just able to contain my emotions. I leave this area, still under close observation of many.
We spend the afternoon sight-seeing and talking about investments and making money. I have the cousin and the interpretor believe that if my case is dismissed I could ask Menno to talk to them about supplying computer systems. He promises to see to it that the remaining witnesses are located and their statements are recorded by Tuesday.
Bangkok, for the fourth time
The people from the embassy expect a lot from a personal talk with the lawyer. After some encouragement he agrees to meet on Friday. I leave the bike in the hotel in Hat Yai, and fly to Bangkok on Wednesday. The people in the hotel at Sukhumvit are surprised to see me again - I had told them I wouldn't return. Thursday menno will arrive in Bangkok - the flight to Phuket has been changed into a flight to Hat Yai on Sunday. Thursday morning I visit mister Koedood of the embassy, and his opinion of these cases is a lot more optimistic: a farang has to do a lot more to end up in prison. He doesn't know cases comparable to mine which ended with a jail sentence. There are six Dutch 'guests' of the Thai government, those are man slaughter and drugs cases.
Menno arrives on time, and our reunion is a happy one. This is exactly what I need after these long weeks. We talk about all kinds of things, and I enjoy his company. And I am glad I'm not alone anymore, to face these things. traveling alone has its advantages, but you are very alone when things go wrong. Menno is here to think with me, to do things, to distract me. But our friendship comes first, this is now more prominent than ever.
I've sent email to the 'list', and included the phone number of the hotel in Bangkok. The next days and nights I get even more assured of the compassion and worries of the people back home: many give me a call (sometimes waking me). Gerard and Laura (I've met them in Istanbul some 15.000 miles ago) even call me up from India. The email coming in from all over the world sure does me good. I count myself blessed to have the support from so many friends and acquaintances.
Menno and I are seasoned party animals when we are together - we've spent many nights all over Europe in a very pleasant way. Here in South East Asia we succeed just as well, and we spend hours in which I don't think about deadly accidents at all. We walk around in Bangkok and we wind up in a bar filled with ladies following the Pattaya routine. We have a great time with the ladies, knowing we will end up in our own beds on Sukhumvit without 'guests ladies'. One of the girls has brought a 'snack': fried grass-hoppers. Of course we cannot loose face in front of a small Asian girl - bravely we eat insects. And I have to admit the thought isn't appealing, but I really enjoy them! The young lady and I finish her supply of grass-hoppers.
Friday we go to the lawyer together, and we make plans in case I have to pay bail again to stay out of the courthouse jail. The first phase of the investigation ends on February 15. I have to report back to the police station in Thamod - maybe the investigation will be finished, and I can leave Thailand or prepare myself for my defense.
The lawyer needs no less than three hours to read the papers I brought with me, and to explain how the Thai procedures work. The police investigation will be extended with 12 days at a time, at the end of every period I have to report back to the station. The investigation must be concluded within 6 months (!), but it will probably take no more than one month, because it involves a foreigner. The investigation will be led by an inspector, he will be supervised by the chief of the police station, and just before the conclusion the case will be brought to the district commander. Then an advice from the prosecutor will follow: go to trial or dismiss. If the case goes to trial the prisoner will be turned over to the court. Bail will be returned (most of the times a day too late), and the court will set a new bail. This one cannot be settled by the prisoner, but has to be arranged by someone outside the cell.
After that they pick a date for the trial, usually some two weeks later. The witnesses are called to the trial, although they are not required to come. When they don't show up, the trial will be postponed, until they do turn up. The sentence can vary between one and ten years, but because I have no previous record I probably will be let off the hook with paying a fine of 10.000 Bath and the request of leaving the country and never returning again. We start with a list of documents I will need to prove I don't have a criminal record, that I own a house where I have e permanent residency, and that I have a job.
We also discuss the less legal options: the consequences of leaving Thailand illegally, the consequences of such an action in Malaysia, what amount I will loose in bail and the bike and luggage I leave behind, etcetera. When I do this my world trip will surely be over, just as I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, busy contemplating how to move on. The best time would be just after turning over to the court. I loose my bail, but if I manage to get to Malaysia through the jungle, I can keep my bike. I have to make sure they won't catch me: bail is then out of the question...
Khun Puttri, the lawyer, thinks it is impossible for the case to be closed Monday February 15 - there are just too many people involved. He calls the inspector, and his suspicions are confirmed. And he gets the impression they are moving for a dismissal. But that could be so the inspector is assured of my constant return.
Tourists Menno and Adriaan
Saturday Menno and I spend the day exploring Bangkok and taking one of those longboat trips over the river in Bangkok. Just as well I didn't fall for this the previous times, now we both see it for the first time. And it sure is a special view. The river crossing Bangkok has lots of canals forming the 'streets' for a large suburb. Poor cabins are placed on poles in the water; people wash their clothes in the canals. And yet it doesn't look desparate, probably because of all the large palm trees and other green between the houses. And it seems you cannot judge a house by its exterior: I see a couple of shacks which will crumble tomorrow, with a new split-system air conditioner on top. Menno sees lots of satellite dishes.
We get hustled out of too much money for a drink at the pool of the Sheraton hotel along the river. Then we continue on foot, looking for China Town. We encounter a roofed market place with lots of merchandise, mainly fresh goods. We visit a temple, but we have had enough of walking in this heat. Again a tuk-tuk driver lets me take the steer - this time I'm driving two passengers through the busy traffic of Bangkok. The temple has a couple of huge Buddha statues and we stop and talk to two locals.
The flight from Bangkok to Hat Yai on Sunday is swift. A Dutchman (sitting next to us - what a coincidence) talks about a colleague in Indonesia who was a witness of the 'punishment' his driver underwent after hitting a child on Java. The driver was killed on the spot by the angry crowd... The rest of the stories of this computer man were less interesting (or totally irrelevant). But that didn't bother him: he was in talk-only mode.
Monday Menno and I will go to Thamod on my bike. We have prepared ourselves, we are ready for all eventualities. the investigation is simply extended, just like Khun Puttri expected. At the last moment I decide not to bring Khun Dhamnoon - if the police wants something 'difficult' we can always collect him then. If he isn't present, the police cannot ask Menno and me any questions which we rather not answer. I have to report back to the station on Thursday February 25.
After these necessities we visit Nipaporn. She is teaching, but is very pleased with our arrival. The roster of the three classes gets all screwed up, and Menno quickly grows in his role as a teacher. We have a lot of fun with all those 16 to 18 year old girls who are visibly excited by this 6 feet tall blond farang.
Around noon we ride back to Hat Yai, and Menno acquires a ticket for the (mini)coach to Phuket. My destination is the same, but I travel on my bike. From Hat Yai I select an alternative route over smaller roads, avoiding the wide four lane roads. I see a lot more of the scenery and Menno probably travels quite a bit slower in the bus. The landscape is a bit disappointing: only the crossing of the mountain ridge is worth the effort. The rest of the trip is filled with endless rubber fields. Riding the bike is getting easier, althought the whole story almost repeated itself when an old man crossed the road just after I passed Surin. But now I knew he could be walking on, and after the emergency stop I waited until he was out of sight.
Menno is out of luck: in Trang the ride on the air conditioned van is over. He has to switch to a kind of city bus. Totally exhausted he reaches the guest house after I picked him up from the bus station.
Until now I have copied the behaviour of the locals in traffic in each country I visited. My speed matches that of the (quickest) cars, I run red lights if others do the same (in some cases this is allowed here in Thailand) and this morning I'm touring around over Phuket without a helmet. Menno is studying his PADI Open Water manual - the start of his diving course. And you know what? In Patong Beach I'm stopped and I get a ticket! Of course I have to show them the papers and I have to tell them the whole story. In all of Thailand bikers don't wear helmets, but in Patong the police decides to enforce the law. I ride to the tourist police and ask for a copy of the traffic laws in English. They don't have this. In passing they tell me the right lane on a four lane road is off limits for bikes. That's why the police in Thamod makes such a fuss about my swerve to the right! Ah - after paying the fine I am allowed to ride around all day without helmet. I can't see the logic of this.
While Menno is transformed from an ordinary person in a licensed diver in the next four days, I have to be entertained as well. I have made about 160 dives in total, and I even contemplated making this my profession. You have to become a dive-master, and you can do that by taking a series of PADI courses. That's why some people say PADI stands for 'Put Another Dollar In', this modular setup of courses sometimes reaks of money hustling. I am arrogant enough to think I am a better diver than some of the dive-masters (but sometimes I am worse). But every time I want to rent tanks I have to defend my large number of dives: this is no longer in check with my base license. Solidarity is my motto, and I enlist in one of those courses: the Advanced Open Water course.
There isn't much about the course - I have the best times with the instructor when we have finished the exercises. We have the same dive style, and the instructor is very content with his pupil. We make dives of over an hour - 45 minutes of swimming after 15 minutes of practice. I read the book cover to cover and learn about all 12 subjects, although I only need 6 of them for this course. I like the multi-level dives the best: I now have a way to check my computer.
Menno finishes the course fine - we decide to really get into diving and we book ourselves on a boat for a couple of days. The drill: get up early in the morning for the first dive. Then we eat, and another dive follows. Wait for a while, again a dive, and lunch. A fourth dive in the afternoon, and then dinner, followed by a dive in the dark. The materials are handled by the boat personnel. The food is also prepared by them. When you feel like doing something else you can take a nap in a suspended net. We book the Scuba-Cat, and we leave immediately after Menno has received his license. It sounds good, but doing this is even better.
The boat is regularly shifted, so we get to see different dive spots every time. In the morning the leader selects a place for a deep dive, and as the day progresses the dives get more shallow.
The shallow dives are usually in a bay, the coral is growing abundantly. Such a bay gives shelter and there are hardly any currents. The temperature of the water is almost 30 degrees Celsius - the same as one of my baths after soaking for 2 hours (I usually start my bath at 36 degrees). There is lots to see in the water. Just the corals alone are worth a study: brain coral looking like the outside of a man's brains, coral shaped like a deer's antlers, leaf coral placed in flat structures vertically on the sea floor, etcetera.
In between the coral the anemones live, they all have a clown fish as its guest. They sometimes are brave enough to attack my extended hand. They are too small to really bite me... On the coral we see clams, they have several ways of filtering the food from the water. Or the small 'christmas trees' that retract when you get too close. And that doesn't even cover the moving things: fish, sea hedgehogs, slugs. We see lots of flat fish, jew fish, groupers and an occasional barracuda. Tortoises, crabs and the like complete the picture. Menno cannot dive that long, but he shows talent. Of course he uses more air than others, but he doesn't suddenly sink or go up. And regulating your floating capability is the hardest part for most divers.
The dive leader doesn't take into account the ones that are new to diving, or those who like to make long, shallow dives. the deep dives are usually less fun, because there is not enough light below 60 feet to grow coral. We do see large rock formations, and we live in the hope of seeing a few sharks, they use to sleep in deeper water. On several occasions our dive leader selects a place where the tidal waves cause large currents. The drawings during his speeches are all drawn on a different scale.
At one dive Menno and I are at 60 feet depth, about 30 feet above the sea floor (so you can't see the floor - everything around us is blue, we swim using our compass and depth gauge), we pass a wide gap between two large rock formations. There is a forceful current we have to swin against. When I stop swimming, the current washes me away. Menno is right behind me, he is keeping up OK. I look back regularly, but not enough to see he is in trouble. When we reach the other side we don't have enough air to see anything else. We make our safety stop and surface. Menno tells me he was throwing up under water!
One of the dive guides is called Christin. She has the best job I can imagine (apart from the salary and carreer opportunities): she gets to point the way for mostly experienced divers. Of course she is also present to help the hotel boat guests when they get in trouble, but on this trip there are no accidents. She wound up here as part of her world trip: after her first round across the globe she returned to Thailand to work from Phuket as dive instructor. She has an apartment in Patong Beach. We use the time between dives to discuss our world trips. There seems to be no end to the similarities, although we are traveling on very dissimilar bases.
Christin used to be a very devote Christian. After the world trip and her contact with Buddhism this has diminished a lot. Especially the fact that every religion calls the people of other faith 'heathens' has left its impression. The majority of the world population is not Christian. Could all those people be wrong? We spend quite some time talking about children. Both on our way to forty, we both start to become aware of our age in connection with getting (and raising) kids. Christin has made her decision: before the mousson comes in she will return to the Sates to fulfill her child wish. I put off this problem for now, although I realise I can't keep this up forever.
More police complications
Menno has delayed his return trip to Holland so he can be by my side when I have to report back on Thursday February 25. We travel to Hat Yai: Menno flying, he doesn't want to go through another bus trip. I follow on my bike. Menno's holiday has done me good as well: riding my bike is getting easier. When I arrive in Hat Yai Menno has just taken the last free room of the hotel. Again we sleep in a two person bed...
Again we travel together to Thamod. Twelve days ago things looked fine. We are hopeful, we even made plans for the remaining cognac and cigars for tonight. But today the inspector isn't even present when we arrive. After waiting for an hour (time isn't expensive in Thailand) he shows up and starts talking about a fax from Bangkok in which the embassy asks to speak to me about the destination of the bail to be returned. The embassy says the money is mine, they cannot make a descision about it. This sounds encouraging; but: the bail will also be returned when I am turned over to the court. After some discussion I have the embassy sent a fax with instructions to give the money to me. Whether the case will be dismissed is still not clear.
The next hurdle is the insurance. In Bangkok back in December they told me an insurance for my bike was not possible, and in Chiang Mai they confirmed that. But now my name is on another charge: "riding without insurance". Fine: 10,000 bath (about 270 US Dollar). But, if I pay now this will be settled for 1,000 bath. Whatever. I just want to leave Thailand, so what's another 1,000 bath ? I pay and sign two forms. When I demand a Xerox copy, they quickly add something to the papers (after I've signed them). In Thai, of course.
And then it all becomes clear: I will be handed over to the court, unless.... the still missing witness turns up. The witness who has to testify this all was an accident, and I couldn't help it.
Meanwhile behind us they interrogate a rapist. No less than three officers crowd around him. I cannot understand the Thai conversation, but I see they are pressuring him excessively. He signs something and is taken back to his cell.
My interpretor and the family member of the insect meal have had a talk with Menno about the supply of computers. But Menno and I keep the brochures and offers in the motor case: "first this, then computers". The cousin (Anwat) decides to testify on my behalf. He seems a bit nervous - I ask him if he has seen the accident. He says he is an eye witness. After another hour of waiting the inspector wants to talk with Anwat. He knows Anwat wasn't at the scene at all, and he warns him. And, oh miracle, a 'real' eye witness is found, one that couldn't be found until now. My faith in the Thai legal system shrinks by the second.
By now the rapist is handed over to the court. Handcuffed he is placed in a car to be taken to Phattalung. A couple of officers are visibly looking forward to a similar departure of my person. Oh well, it doesn't really matter to me anymore - Menno now has an authorization for my bank account (the bank employees couldn't stop staring at the six foot blond God from Europe - I don't think he will need his passport), and I will spend at most one night in jail before Menno will be able to pay my bail. And that's only in the case when I'm being handed over to the court after the bank closes at 3:30 PM. And it is just 12 o'clock. I ask the embassy to transfer the remaining money to my account.
The eye witness confirms my story, and so the investigation is extended. Just what I _didn't_ want to happen: I want this to be closed, not stretched. But they cannot take a decision today: there are too many people involved. The public prosecutor, the head of this police station, and the inspector have to decide what to do with this case. And I will have to wait another 12 days.
But my visum ends March 3. "No problem! You can return here by then." The Inspector wants to accompany me to the immigration service to extend my visum, and also to go to the border with Malaysia to fix up the papers for the bike as well. Later on the ambassador sees a good omen in this: apparently the inspector assumes I can cross the border after March 9 (end of the 12 days waiting). I'm not that confident - until now every bad suspicion has come true about the inspector - I still suspect that putting a farang behind bars will add to his status. And this is why he is so fanatical.
Very disappointed we return, after a short visit to Nipaporn. In the basement of the hotel is a restaurant which at night transforms into a bar with girls. The ladies serve the guests and... sing! And of course they sit on your lap, if you permit them. The girls try their best, and most of them give up after I have sent away three of them. The only one with short hair takes a seat next to me (not on top of me) and we start a conversation. She used to live in the northern part of Thailand, but she chose to work here because she could make more money in this economic crisis. Hat Yai is an entertainment center for Malaysian men, there is more freedom than in this Muslim country south of us. Despite the disappointment we find reasons to use the cigars and cognac.
Menno leaves Friday night February 26th - it is one of those short goodbye's Carolyn hates so much. I'm just not that good at saying goodbye to loved ones, I prefer to keep those moments as short as possible. I know what will happen: I'll feel bad for a while - after two weeks of uninterrupted company I probably fall in a black hole.
I spend most of this Sunday visiting the Malaysian border. This mission serves two purposes. I want to check whether it is really possible to put ensurance on the bike (and so it is, it's almost for free as well). But the second purpose is more important: I check which fences there are, and how the guards are armed. I decide a 'brute force' method could succeed, and more so if I can trick the unarmed gentlemen of the immigration service by parking the bike in the wrong place, so they won't be able to see if my passport has been stamped when I leave. Should the legal system 'derail', I will cross the border illegally.
On Monday the Thai people have a holiday. I join the people in Hat Yai, who clearly are celebrating their day off. At the border I learned I could take care of the papers for the bike without the police or the original. I have to go to Sonkla - this will be my Tuesday trip. Again I'm in luck: there is a woman who lived in Brussels for 2 years, because she worked at the Thai embassy. She speaks English reasonably well, and she persuades her chef (for me), that wimp was afraid to make a decision. I return with an extended motor import document, although it is a copy.
Wednesday at 10 AM I am at the immigration services. After waiting for half an hour Hassan, some other police officer, and my interpretor, arrive. The police inspector himself is absent. "Another case", they tell me. They explain to the man of the immigration service what our intention is. The chef is called to join the meeting, and they talk for a long time. Then the boss of the chef is called. After some more talking I ask what the problem is. The immigration service here in Hat Yai can only extend the visum for 7 days, and the police officers have been ordered by the inspector to get me one full month (!). I try not to twitch, but I shiver at the thought of spending another month here.
The solution is obvious, and I can kcik myself for standing here without my bike and second passport! We have to leave Thailand, enter Malaysia, and then return to Thailand. I will get a new visum for 30 days, just as I did myself on the day of the accident. Officially I am in custody, although the bail has kept me out of prison. Of course, in Malaysia a Thai police officer has no authority, and this could be my chance of escaping this! But that would mean leaving everything behind - my bike, all the luggage, my second passport, two rolls of exposed film, and my computer. I postpone any escape attempts for now when we arrive in Sadao and I am indeed in Malaysia with two (now unarmed) police officers.
I don't expect a lot of the events that will take place on March 9, the date on which the current investigation will end. I can't see what would have changed the case in these 12 days. Especially the fact that extending my visum for just a week is insufficient doesn't do my confidence a lot of good. Good friends of my parents work for the Dutch government in functions which can influence the amount of effort the embassy makes. We are in daily contact - the people in the Hague keep a close eye on this case. I also stay in daily contact with the embassy, and I ask them to send an interpretor and an official from Bangkok to the police station in Tamod. And to start working on those statements which show I haven't been convicted earlier.
Mister van Veen of the embassy proposes to place a call to Tamod and check how the investigation is going. The Thai employees call the police inspector every day, he is impressed that the Dutch embassy calls on my behalf. He says his written summary advises a dismission of the case. But he also says that neither the police chef, nor the chef of the district are obliged to follow this advice. The embassy tracks the police file all week, until it reaches the lieutenant-general of the district police in Phattalung.
In the mean time I've discovered that 'waiting' until March 9 is a bad idea - I spend my time visiting Ko Lanta, half a day's riding and a ferry boat trip away from Hat Yai. Ko Lanta is recommended for those who seek an unspoiled tropical island: lots of beaches, protected flora and fauna, decent hotels serving quality food - a place to forget which day of the week it is. I arrive on Friday, explore the park (a nature preserve) and I settle down in a bungalow on the beach near 'Dream Team'. They even have hammocks under a straw roof on the beach... I spend a lot of time writing my journal starting at January 4 1999, But I also find the time to meet Sybille and her friend. but I like Sybille much better than her friend...
I leave the island on Monday morning. As soon as I spot a cell phone pole I call the lawyer who has been instructed to contact the police every second day. The lawyer, mister Puttri, is much less effective than the embassy, and this morning he isn't in. Around noon I manage to get a hold on mister Veen, he lets a Thai colleague call Phattalung again. At 4 PM I arrive in Lam Pam, near a huge bird preservation (Thalenoi). If I have to stay here longer, I can do a bit of birdwatching. But then the word reaches me: Phattalung gas promised a fax confirming that the police will release me, at the power of its mandate. The file of this case will have to be sent to the prosecutor, who has the authority to reverse the decision made by the police. But the police will let me go.
Meanwhile this story has had so many unexpected turns, I dare not get my hopes up. So I arrive at the police station on March 9 at 8:30 AM, the interpretor which I don't trust anymore is there. After half an hour someone decides to tell me the investigation is finished, and I can leave. They'll try to get things wrapped up by noon. The police chef has to be called in, he has to sign the check which will get me my bail back; they have to draw up a contract settling the remainder of the indemnification of the family; and they have to write a statement declaring I'm set free.. And the bureaucrats work slow - I kill the time helping an officer with the reanimation of an old stencil machine.
At 1 PM I'm a free man again, standing with my passport in the bank to get a month salary in an unmarked envelope for the inspector, and to send back the remaining money. One last time I return to take pictures of the various actors in this play, and to hand the envelope to the inspector. After this I go full throttle towards the border to leave Thailand as quick as possible. (Both the lawyer and the embassy advise me to do this, so I'm already gone in case the prosecutor has a change of heart.)
Despite all of this, Thailand has to be my favourite country yet. The people are very friendly, the country has lots to offer to satisfy all kinds of (traveler) wishes. It's nice and warm here, and the food is an experience in itself. Of course I've heard stories about corruption before the day of the accident, February 2nd, and I noticed the presence of bureaucracy, but it didn't bother me. After the accident I waited in full confidence for the arrival of the police. I'm not sure I'll do this again. In Pakistan, India, Nepal and maybe Iran I would have split right away.
The investigation in this relatively simple case has taken the Thai five weeks. And the breakthrough is made by a statement from a rice farmer who is found after three and a half weeks by influential village people. And they do this because Menno and I threaten to cancel a computer deal. By then my lawyer already has promised the inspector a certain amount of money if the case can be resolved quickly. And I myself have paid the indemnation in two parts to the family (who also helped in finding the rice farmer): the second part will only be paid if the case is wrapped up. The idea that a dismissal would help me get to terms with the emotional side, has faded. My difficult visits to the three day cremation have helped me with that aspect - most definitely not the Thai government.
I make myself scarce - I take a break to prevent some smart guy from calculating the speed at which I race to the Thai border. Again I expect difficulties at the border, because the import document of the bike has been prolongued on a copied piece of paper - the original is now expired. If they call to Tamod, I don't want someone to start wondering about my travel time.
It takes about two hours to cross the border; the fear of having to make a decision takes me higher and higher up the hierarchy of the immigration service, and every time I have to tell them the same story. Finally they let me go, after Xeroxing my statement of release. Quickly I let the Malaysians stamp my passport, and just after the border I send a short e-mail using the Thai cell phone network. (In Malaysia, I don't have access to a cell phone service.)
A traumatic experience lays behind me - now that the case is closed I hope to regain that spontaneous, that 'the world is my playground' feeling. The fences alongside the Malaysian toll roads are a comfort - no pedestrians on four lane highways here. The fact that I notice the fences is a change which I suspect won't be a bother to me. But if I'll ever be able to ride a 'whoever reaches the summit of this Alps pass wins'...
I write this story from one of those outrageously luxurious resorts on Penang. The next few days I'll ride to the south of the Malaysian peninsula, and in Singapore I'll decide what will be my next destination. I intend to apply for my Australian visum in Kuala Lumpur, because I expect to be busy there for a couple of days with other things (embassy, American Express, visiting the postal office). The advices of not giving up, don't go feeling sorry in Belgium, the fact that you have to get on after an accident, and the ' you give people more joy that sorrow' have all been etched in my mind. And rationally I have made up my mind - emotionally things take longer.
And now I am in Singapore - how I ended up there I will tell you in the next reports!