The Rambuttri Village Inn, Bangkok. October 2011.
And in yet another absurd turn of events, my agony endures.
This time it’s a high stakes waiting game as to whether I can get my flight before the floodwaters from a dozen provinces converge on Bangkok and flood it. And here I sit, willing the waters to wait because I was too hung-over to check out of my hotel this morning.
What a silly Canute.
The amount of things to write about is almost embarrassing, but not much of it is great.
I got to hold a leopard. I got to stroke some tigers. I got to making one or two friends. I got to Ko Chang. And I got my passport stolen.
Or at least I realised it was stolen when I went to check in at Lonely Beach (now at last living up to its name- for while there were people about, no-one was terribly friendly).
So I had to return to Bangkok and go through the dreadful rigmarole of getting new documents, thus ruining what I had hoped would be a relaxing beach break.
Fat chance of relaxing. And even if I made it to the beach, pretty much the whole of Thailand is a washout.
Today is the 12th. The flood waters further up the swollen river are due here from the 14th (maybe- I have read conflicting reports- they’re busy digging seven emergency canals as we speak). My flight is on the 15th. I absolutely have to get on it- that’s what is stamped inside my emergency passport
ISSUED FOR A SINGLE JOURNEY TO VIETNAM
ARRIVING ON 15-10-2011
So I’m kind of trapped here until then. And when I get there I guess Vietnam will be flooded too.
This year’s rains are a bitch.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in Thailand so far- victims of mudslides and drowning and whatnot. And I am about £300 down after forking out on a new passport (to arrive at the British Consulate in HCMC) and an ETD, which stands for Emergency Travel Document according to the consulate here, though when it arrived it just said ‘Emergency Passport’ on the front.
There’s the usual blather about
Her Britannic Majesty’s
Secretary of State
Requests and requires in the
Name of Her Majesty
and there’s a one-month business visa for Vietnam- perhaps not long enough for my full passport to arrive before I have to take a bus on a Cambodian visa run. We shall see.
After slating the Ko Sahn area generally over the years, I have ended up stuck here- seemingly now one of the regular faces. In a population this transient, that happens quickly. And those of us who are resident more than one or two days here have their reasons- something’s gone wrong somewhere along the line.
For me it was the passport, but it may have been a visa transferral or broken leg; one guy’s house on Ko Tao burnt down while he was diving, taking all his belongings and six months of takings as a diving instructor.
As well as those of us in some kind of limbo, there’s also a colourful collection of Ko Sahn’s legendary fuck ups- hilarious characters who arrive in a hail of vainful boasting, whilst sloshing around the Bahts like there’s no tomorrow. Until the money runs out and it turns out that that’s actually the case. Let that not be me.
So when I found out my passport and credit card were missing, I was on the point of checking in to Siam Hut, Lonely Beach. I’d kept all my documents in a plastic folder (as I write, I get up to check it is still in my suitcase- paranoia having set in somewhat). When I got the folder out of my rucksack so I could show my documents to the receptionist, somehow the passport wasn’t there. Not to worry, maybe I’d put it somewhere else in the bag, though that would be strange.
I dumped my broken suitcase (its locks no longer locked for any amount of time) on the bed of a wooden hut, noted the ant trail by the electrics and gecko in the corner, opening it up to try to sort its contents out and make a quick check for the passport.
A slightly more frantic and thorough search through all my shit convinced me it was gone. A low moaning sound started up and it was me, moaning. With my throat.
Panicking, I went to the receptionist for help, but he only wanted to charge me 20 Baht per minute for the use of his mobile (local calls only). When I got a little spiky, he looked like he was about to hit me.
“Why you talk like that to me for? When I try to help you?” he demanded.
I stumbled up the road, searching for somewhere to make an international call. At least get my card stopped, sort of thing.
And when I got back to the hut, my luggage was full of ants after I had carelessly left half a potato crisp.
Next morning, I was heading back, knowing I needed to get a new suitcase, find a hotel, make a police report and make some investigations of my own. I didn’t know exactly how it would play out.
As soon as the bus arrived in Bangkok. the suitcase decided things, throwing itself open by the side of the road like a giant ‘fuck you’ from the universe.
I started kicking it in impotent rage, a disgracefully unseemly loss of face that the assembled taxi drivers knew they could monetise.
“And I’ve had my passport stolen!” I declared, the punchline to some annoying and sour joke.
“Oh, police! I take you!” said one. “200 Baht.”
“No, no that’s too expensive. I’ve already been robbed once today.”
Wearily I agreed, knowing in my heart I was being taken for a ride in more ways than one.
He drove around the block and deposited me by the steps of the Ko Sahn road station, where I’d always innocently believed the tourist police to reside, what with it being slap bang in the middle of a tourist district and everything, just across from a life-size model of Super Police:
I dragged what was left of my suitcase up the steps and in, wheeled it to a corner of the room, where once again it burst open, spilling phone chargers and socks all over the station floor.
A policeman was looking over me with a quizzical look on his face, somewhere between boredom and bemusement.
“I’m a victim of crime,” I blurted out, “I’ve had my passport stolen!”
He listened intently.
“Yes, that’s right. I think I know who did it but I can’t be sure. He’s actually someone at the hotel. I mean, I can’t be sure. But I think it’s him.”
He thought hard about this before calling over to one of the female officers. It was clear from what I could follow of their conversation that the only word he had understood of my story was, in fact, passport.
“Okay, okay” he said, getting up and motioning with his hand that I should remain seated.
He came back with perhaps the worst map I have ever seen, an abstract impression of what the Bangkok intersection I needed to go to might look like if such notions as distance and space were abolished. It had been photocopied so many times that most of the street names were illegible.
So I got myself lost, stumbled into the Royal Hotel where a rather snooty doorman with a monocle on a chain (I mean, come on!) studied the map in a Holmesian manner before declaring he would deliver me to safety.
Instead, he flagged down the nearest tuk-tuk, whose driver tried to rip me off by pretending the two 1 Baht coins he gave me as change were actually 5 apiece.
“Oh for fuck’s sake just take it,” I snapped as he laboriously fished around for the extra coins he owed me.
The station was staffed by a Thai woman, who ran short on English-speaking and sympathy. I guess she sees it all the time. To underscore this point, as I was finishing giving my statement, two girls from Lancashire came in, one in floods of tears after having had her handbag pinched.
Sympathy is in short supply round here.
After having my statement taken, I was free to go out into the rain that had just started falling.
Item two was the hotel and I checked into the first one I came to, where I still am despite its lack of wifi, meaning going down to the Royal India restaurant on the ground floor (not such a chore, though their American Breakfast sucks- their thali I can recommend however) which isn’t always convenient; or there’s seeing if their signal will stretch to the hotel lobby, where one stands nonchalantly, waving a smart phone around and pretending to be checking something.
And what do I download? The Guardian, mainly. That and emails from home that are tinged with mild worry and ones from Vietnam that tell me I’ll be mainly teaching Elementary level. Arse.
Item three was the Big Confrontation back at my old hotel- I had narrowed down my list of suspects to the receptionist who had helped me with my bags when I needed to change rooms.
I spoke to his manager. I have a big problem. And you have a big problem. And so on.
He called the guy out. I told him I knew it was him. That it had to be him. That I had told the police I thought it was him. I told him I had a job to go to, which he had now fucked up. I told him thank you very much (I was being sarcastic at this point).
Rain is falling again. Have read a blog that an ‘uneasy silence falls over Bangkok’. Have read some shops are running out of food as people anticipate the worst. Perhaps I better go get some stuff myself. Hangover’s gone now, but the rain is still persistent.
Outside, I get called over by one of the tailors who line the small precinct in front of the hotel.
“Ha ha, Mr Busy!” he says. “Always busy, man! Where you go?”
“No, not busy now,” I said. “I’m going to the ATM.”
We share a few words of mutual concern re the weather situation. He tells me the whole of Thailand is flooded. Only Bangkok remains (hyperbole, I’m sure- I mean, much of Thailand is pretty mountainous). And now we wait. And see. And wonder…
“You want nice shirt?” he asks, kind of breaking the spell. “Vey nice shirt make for you.”
Rain still falling and a certain surreality on Ko Sahn proper. Still the tuk-tuks and the taxis, the T-shirt sellers and tailors; still the fake degree vendors . There’s a certain listlessness about the place. A certain dejection.
We are stepping over sandbags as we queue for the ATM. Next door in McDonalds farangs in the window chow down chicken nuggets like any other day in wonderland.
Before I know it, I’m heading in- for their free wifi, I’m telling myself but I know what it really is. Highly ritualistic. Showing I too am subservient to dark and corporate forces, despite my will to resist.
I select all and copy the text.
I hit send.