These tales are some of the problems and adventures that came to John Shaw MBE from British citizens when he was Honorary British Consul in Chiang Mai from 1990 to 1995. Some stories are sad, others hilarious; have a read. They are true.
Tom was, by profession, an electrician. Aged twenty -eight he had worked in a shoe factory in Leicester for seven years. Bored and lovelorn he gave up his job and decided to travel the world. He meandered through Indonesia and then spent a year in Australia doing odd jobs to support himself. Now on his way home he was spending the last of his money in Thailand , first on the beaches of the south and now, for his last few days, in Chiang Mai until his money ran out.
It never occurred to him that His Majesty's Government would give him free accommodation for an additional unexpected forty-two days in Chiang Mai.
Tom checked into the Rim Koo Guesthouse where he was asked to share a room with an Australian who had been there for some time. This man had not paid his rent for several weeks so finally the police were called. They burst into the room where Tom lay quietly on his bed smoking pot. The Australian was not there so the police, in frustration, arrested Tom.
After a week in custody at the central police station he was taken to court. The prosecutor asked for B80,000 for bail which, of course, he could not pay. Captain Supachai said that the pot, and he only had one joint, would have to be sent to Bangkok for analysis and that it could take three months before the result was known. Tom was sent to the main prison.
I visited regularly and he was always cheerful, saying that he was in no hurry and that he had never expected to have a paid holiday (prisoners receive an allowance of seventy baht a day which is set against their fine).
After forty-two days he was finally arraigned and taken to court shackled and dressed in orange prison garb. When I arrived, I discovered that the prosecutor's office had not sent the papers to the court. I managed to find them and the trial began. As we waited for the judge I chatted to the warder - an attractive girl from Lamphun called Mem who said that she often went to Bubbles disco, did I go too? At this point the judge entered. So small she could hardly see over the desk, in one minute flat she sentenced Tom to a fine of three hundred baht and ordered him to keep the peace for one year.
Tom was led back to the holding pen busy working out how much money was owed to him from his seventy baht daily allowance. From there he was to be taken back to the prison and then released. I waved goodbye to Mem.
I heard that he was released that very evening and went to spend the night with the missionaries before heading off to Pattaya for a well earned rest.
Tom wrote to me from England .
Thank you for your support and help with my pridiciment. Could I ask another favour of you, could you please get in touch with the girl called 'A' at the guesthouse and retrieve my money (approx B9700). If you do get it back please give her B200 as a token of my appreciation. Thank you.'
I did get the money back. I never saw Mem again, perhaps next time a Brit goes to court.
Proper Consuls work only during office hours and certainly not at weekends. Honorary Consuls, working from home, are not so lucky. So it was that the telephone rang at eight o'clock one Saturday morning.
'Please help me, I can't believe it, I am at the police station. I have been arrested for spilling a cup of tea and they are threatening to put me in prison. Please can you come and help me.'
Later Danielle wrote about her experience.
"'Madam, welcome to Chiang Mai!' cooed an attractive young woman, as I stumbled off the night bus from Kho San road in Bangkok . 'You must all be very tired,' she empathized, as we were ushered onto mini-buses and taken directly to the X Guest House. I got onto the mini-bus to the X, mainly because I was somewhere on the outskirts of town without a map.and, for all I knew, the place could have been half decent.
"The reception area was clean and cosy. The friendly lady bustled around, making sure everyone had cups of tea. This was a well practiced routine, giving us plenty of time to check out the trekking information on the walls, before gathering us around to point out our location on a city map. Unfortunately as I shuffled over to get a better look, I accidentally spilled some of my tea onto my hostess. Not a lot, I might add, nor was it particularly hot, but enough to make a brown stain on her white T-shirt and rouse me from my zombified state to make several apologies and offer to take her to the bathroom.
"'Why did you burn me?' she screamed, jumping to her feet.
"'You pay! You pay for doctor!'
"I am a qualified tour leader - I was on my way home after a six month stint in Vietnam - and I have a First Aid certificate. Once again I tried to offer apologies and assistance.
"'No! You hurt me! You will go to prison!'
"Naturally, it stood to reason that, having just arrived in a new town and without provocation of any kind, I would maliciously fling a cup of scalding hot tea over a woman who was trying to help me.
"Now that the motive was established, there was only one way to deal with someone like me. I was invited to accompany her to the police station."
When I reached the police station I found a very frightened Danielle surrounded by a group of policemen in uniform, other men who could have been police in plain clothes (it turned out that they were tourist police in cahoots with the guesthouse), and the injured lady herself.
The accusations and demands multiplied as the lady worked herself up with repeated calls for support from her witnesses. Danielle had deliberately thrown the tea at her. She was probably high on drugs. She had disfigured her for life. At this point I suggested to the officer who appeared to be in charge that we should look at the wound. Very reluctantly she allowed the policeman and myself to peer down the back of her T-shirt - there was a very slight red mark that certainly did not warrant medical attention.
'This is my skin! This is my life!' she stormed.' You must pay me 5000 baht! If not we take your passport. You go to prison for fifteen days at least.'
It became clear to me that this was not an official matter, Danielle had not been booked, but rather an effort to intimidate and extort, but it was apparent that she would be charged and would have to go to court on Monday. The X team insisted that she should be detained until then but I finally persuaded the officer to accept my personal guarantee that she would appear on Monday and that she could stay at my house over the weekend.
Danielle spent a relaxed two days by the pool while my wife worked desperately pulling strings and badgering friends because we felt that this case reflected very badly on Chiang Mai and on Thai tourism. She called the Directors of the Chiang Mai Tourist Association, TAT and the Guest House Organization. It was, however, the Governor's wife who finally persuaded the injured lady to drop all charges and to accept an apology.
On Monday morning, escorted by the Deputy Governor, we all went to the police station. Danielle gave the lady a bunch of flowers and a muttered apology, which was accepted with a bad grace. That evening Danielle thankfully waved goodbye to Chiang Mai. Later we heard that the X guest house was partly owned by members of the tourist police and that there had been several previous cases on tourists being hassled.