Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Dip Card

Freeze! UN Spouse! Keep your hands where I can see 'em, on the beer bottle, chester. That's right, moron. My juju is stronger than your JUSMAGTHAI social club membership card. Fuzz wave me on. You win a watermelon cavity search in Bombat nick. So don't mess. I outrank you. I am top of the food chain, you scum sucking, bottom feeding, Chang drinking, kiddie fiddling, sex offender you!  

This here I.D. is my do-what-the-fuck-I-want-get-out-of-jail-free-card. Not a laminate from Khao San Road It's official. Bona fucking fide. Same same no different to the brass balls I got dangling right between my legs.  


I do miss official status. And my UN identity card. Being first amongst expatriates was a right old giggle. At the start of my posting, having an official I.D. (or passport) was a complete matter of indifference. But when Thai Cops kept stopping me on the street, for wearing shorts, long hair and loitering with intent to kicky box, I decided to get official forthwith.

By Thai Law, as a foreigner, you have to carry some form of photo I.D. at all times. Farangs forget this. And regret it when Thai Cops stop and search them. If a tourist/expat/farang/African(especially) does not have a valid photo I.D. saying who they are, where they come from, etc, they can be hauled down the station OR pay a spot fine (usually Baht 500 to 2000). The reason for shakedowns? Cops are underpaid and overworked. The pay of a Police Sgt in Bangkok is about Baht 15,000 PCM. And busting tourists and expats, at the beginning and end of every month at vehicle checkpoints, is part and parcel of policing the nation's capital.


Carrying I.D. is not a new thing for me. I have been carrying 2-3 forms of I.D. on my person since I was a teenager. This is because I grew up in England -- the land of unregulated phone taps, CCTV cameras and stop and search by Hogan-Howe.  In my neighborhood,  if you were a male, if you were a pedestrian, you were more than likely to get stopped (and chased) by Police when you were out and about.  Having some form of I.D shows that you are "respectable" and got nowt to hide.


At my first post I got stopped by Thai Cops more times in 8 years, 10 months, 3 weeks and 6 days than I EVER did as a juvenile delinquent in Liverpool and London. The final straw was getting stopped by an irate Cop on the way back from Rompo gym in 2005. My hair was long, I was wearing shorts (a no-no in the capital) and I was in an area largely unfrequented by farangs (but popular with Thai mafia and nak muay). I spoke Thai to the Cop and he answered in English. He wanted to know where my "room" was, what I was doing in Thailand, did I have a Thai wife, and so on. As soon as he figured out that I was not some low life expat, I made my goodbyes and strolled off to the local MRT station

I told the wife about getting stopped by the Cops (again). She told me to go to "the croissant" (the UN SEA office) and get a UN I.D. card. Say what? Yes, a "United Nations Spouse I.D. card," to be precise. With official I.D. came the "Staff Security" and "Security in the Field" handbooks. I took note of the "personal security guidelines" on "security while traveling." 


"Make your status as a staff member clear to Police and always carry your UN identity card to prove your status."


Insecurely secured, for half a decade as a UN Spouse, I never left home without it.


One night in Bangkok, I was returning home from a Halloween party, dressed as Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now, when my cab was stopped by the Cops. The farang lady next me, dressed as Catwoman, began to panic. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God..."


"Relax," I said, channeling Robert Duvall,  "I'll handle this."


The reason for the pull?  I put it down to the bloody cowboy hat. The UN identity card was on a neck lanyard. I tugged it out of the DPM shirt and said in Thai, "I am with the UN." The two Cops froze, laughed at one another, apologized and waved us on.


"It's a good thing you had that on you," said Catwoman.


Farangs in taxis get stopped by Thai Cops on a regular basis in the capital. One unfortunate, an endomorph Londoner, got banged up for 3 weeks for getting stroppy with Thai Cops during a stop and search on Sukhumvit.

You'll get yourself into a right Pickle at this boozer.

Some get into full blown rucks. One guy, Gert the Kraut, a fake, fat assed, wannabe biker, kicked the gun out of a Cop's hand outside Pickles on Soi 22. The Cop, and his partner, beat the crap out of him on the soi before hauling him off to the Bangkok Hilton.   


I knew two FCO staffers who got stopped and searched on the street. One, a PA to the DHM, was on her way home late at night (and largely the worse for wear). A black maria of Thai Cops called out to her.  She sensed an expat shakedown with maybe a little sexual harassment thrown in for good measure. She quickly pulled out her "dip card" and the Cops turned benign. 


"Oh," one of them said to her, "very dangerous here at night for single lady."


Another diplomat, one from the Politcal Section, could not resist taking the piss when he got pulled over by Thai Cops for a stop and search. The Cops were giving him all sorts of Hell. Then he pulled out his "dip card".


"Why didn't you show me that to begin with?" The Cop said. "You could have saved yourself a lot of bother."


"I wanted to see how far you would take it," said the diplomat.


The Cop shook his head.


"You're crazy," he said.  


What the Thai cop did not get was the Englishman's wind up. The diplomat was just looking to see how far the Thai Cop would go.  


Friction can be avoided by (a) being nice to the Cops of the country to which you are posted and/or domicile at all times and (b) always carrying 2-3 forms of official I.D. on your person. In my case, an NUJ Press card, UN identity card and Labour Party membership card. If you are not a respectable member of society, an array of identity cards like this immediately makes you seem like one.



Outside of the necessity of an identity card are the pointers of living at post. You must learn to live by the details of your posting. Always behave as though you know where you are going. Keep a low profile. Find out about the customs at post, how to behave, potential threats and areas to avoid. Learn a few phrases in the local lingo -- better still the whole damn language. Avoid the local politics and do not place yourself in situations which may be expected to attract threats, like political rallies. 


Alas, I have no official I.D. these days. Just a plain old civvy passport and no get out of jail free card. But you don't need an official or non official I.D. card to stay out of trouble at post (or at home). The best way to stay safe is to avoid trouble in the first place, rather than having to extract yourself later. Amen to that.