Dec 30th, 2014
I stood in the hall of Thai border checkpoint. There were tourists, many of them but I was the only one asking for a visa on arrival. The girl was a bit nervous. She called the officer in charge of it and he came — a thin guy with glasses, in a cool dark uniform.
–“Chinese citizens can get visas on arrival, right?” I had to confirm.
I was so much relieved when I heard “Yes” and gladly handed him my passport. You have no idea as a Chinese citizen how hard it is to travel. We have one of the worst passports ever!
He opened it and browsed it attentively. My passport is the worst-preserved passport many people, including myself have ever beheld. Border police and visa officers always ask me:”What happened?!” or “Did it fall into water?!” or “This is… your passport?” And this Thai officer? With confusion, he stared at the cover, where the emblem of China and the word “passport” were not visible anymore, and frowned.
“1000 butt, right?” I must confirm the price as I only had 1020 (30 USD) Thai butt with me.
He loosened his frowning and suddenly arched his brows high up, lowing his forehead, so his wicked eyes looked at me from above glasses and in a secretive tone said: “Yes! but tip?”. He immediately turned away to some other business before I even realized what had actually happened.
Although it was in a “secretive tone”, the volume was definitely audible to the other two or three stuff near us. Obviously here bribery was already an accepted practice, so he dared to ask for tips so boldly. I hate corruption and I fight it whenever I can. That’s why I decided to cross border through here to Thailand instead of going just a few kilometer from Four Thousand Islands to the Cambodian border. I looked up and this Lao-Cambodian border crossing is perhaps the most corrupt border crossing in South East Asia. If I was there, without a single doubt I would fight it and make a big scene! which could get me into serious trouble. To be safer, I made the decision of going to Thailand for a few days first and then go to Cambodia from Thailand. I had expected a certain degree of corruption here also, so knowing the visa price was 1000 butt, I exchanged just 1020 butt, leaving those scondrels no chance!
Ok, let’s be back to present! 🙂
–“What? Tip……?” I was still in doubt and shock.
–“Yes, tip!” He uttered these two words lightly to confirm my doubt while taking up a pen and started flling a form skillfully.
–“Ok.” I looked in pain and put the 20 butt (less than 1 USD) on the table.
–“No no.” He put away my money while eyes still fixed on the form, “at least 500 butt.”
–“Eh… I don’t have that much money. This is the only Thai butt I have.” I tried to look miserable. I wanted to tell him that I was a nomad, but that would confuse him even more and he might demand a cow or sheep from me. 😉 😛
While his eyes and pen still fixed on the form and some other business I had no idea of, putting my 20 butt even further, he said in the same half-serious tone:”No, that’s not enough.” He kept the half serious face all the time, not showing any discontent. That almost fooled me. I thought he was cool with that and I would get through, so I picked up the 20 butt and tucked the greasy-looking note inside my pocket. No, I was wrong.
The next half an hour was filled with stress, shouting, interrogation and impatience from his side. He asked me excessively many questions, like a wolf trying to crack down a deer by his excessive stabbing with claws, scaring with howls and biting with teeth.
–“Where will you stay in Thailand? Where? Where?” I was just about to say, he shouted: “Write it down! Write it down!” while pointing one of his fingers at the table and knocking on it making an irritating noise.
–“I will stay in Mekong Hotel. I have a friend there. A Chinese girl, she works there as a manager.” I was telling him as clearly as possible while fixing my eyes on the form he gave me and writting it down.
–“Mekong Hotel?” He doubted.
–“Yes! Mekong Hotel. It’s a pretty big hotel.” I said in a tone as plain as possible and pulled a straight face.
–“Oh, your friend. What’s her name? Write it down!” He asked it in the same impatient fashion with an expression as cold as possible.
–“Her name is Wu Mei. We are friends for a long time.” I answered and wrote in the same calm fashion.
–“What will you do with your friend? How long will you stay in Bangkok? Where will you go next?” He was bombing me.
–“I will visit Bangkok with her. She will show me around. All together I will stay there for 7 days, then I will go to Cambodia.”
–“Ah, she is your girlfriend?” He asked in a joking manner.
–“No. We are just friends. My girlfriend is in … (some country name here)”
Before I finished my sentence, he was already knocking on the form impatiently again and said pressingly:”Write it down! Write it down!” still flipping my passport at the same time.
–“Do you have visa for Cambodia?”
I flipped my passport and showed him. He proceeded with questioning me as impatiently as possible.
–“How will you go to Cambodia? By airplane?”
–“No, my friend will drive me there. She has a car.”
–“Write it down! All of it!” Then he stretched his neck towards me to check if I was writting down all the details he wanted and corrected me with his knocking finger and impatient tone.
–“Your friend, her phone number and number of the hotel!”
–“Eh…… I don’t remember.” I shrugged and smiled helplessly.
–“What? You don’t remember? How do you contact her?!” His tone turned suddenly into interrogation, although his eyes were on my passport all the time and only looked at me occasionally.
–“We keep in contact on internet and I saved her number online. I don’t know it by heart.” He might ask me to call if I gave him a number.
He lifted his head from my shabby passport, directly faced my eyes and started insisting again and again that I have to give the phone numbers. His volume went higher and higher and his voice more and more ferocious. I tried to look helpless, innocent, sincere and smiled whenever proper until he stopped pestering.
He finished his research on my passport, although still flipping and flapping it casually.
–“Which country is this? Egypt?” He opened one page and pointed to a stamp.
–“Eh… No. This was Croatia.” I tried to supress my laugh by frowning because I had no idea how the stamp of Croatia reminded him of Egypt……
–“And this? What’s this?!” He looked a bit delighted to have finally found “the treasure”. What he pointed at with his filthy finger was an “entry-denied” stamp of Macedonia. I attempted to enter this country from Albania Dec. 2013. Their regulation went that all EU residents could get visa-free stay in Macedonia for 7 days and I had a residence permit of the Netherlands. However, I was WRONG! In the regulation there was a small side line with words almost too small to read — “provided that the residence permit is for permanant residence”. I was only a long-term resident of EU, so after hours of arguing, trying to fool the borer police by stating in the Netherlands it was different and in-vain attempts to win their compassion, they officially rejected my entry and sent me back to Albania at about 3am from this freezing cold snow-covered mountainous checkpoint. That’s the price of having a shitty passport and still not being careful enough……! 😦
Back to the present again… (sorry, I got talkative too easily. 😛 )
I knew that he was obviously looking for troubles to refuse issuing visa on arrival.
–“Eh, this was from Macedonia. Their country was in an instable situation at that time, so nobody could get in, even if I did not need a visa.” I made a cutting gesture with my right hand to emphasize the “nobody”.
–“Eh?……” He sort of believed and his face looked gray and disappointed.
So far all my answers were faked, made up expediently.
–“How much money do you have with you?”
–“Eh… Not much cash, but I have a bank card and a credit card from the Netherlands. If you want, I can show you the balance in ATM.”
–“No no, cash!” He shook his head while looking at the form I just filled. His voice went milder.
–“I do not carry a lot of cash because it can be easily stolen.” I tried to look wise and reasonable.
–“Show me all the cash you have!” he lifted his head.
All the cash I had? I had 120 Euro. That was still part of the 300 Euro I cashed from an ATM machine in Turkey for my Iranian trip last year. Then 20 Swiss Frank, no idea when and where I got it. There was some Chinese RMB of course, then some Norwegian Krone, which my Couchsurfing host repaid me after I shopped some cheaper stuff for him in Uppsala on my way. He looked at my money and asked me, gave me a piece of paper and asked me to count everything in USD and “write it down”. I added everything together and it was about 400 USD. He was still not satisfied and was pushing me to show more cash.
Hey, dear friends, I had lied a lot in my life but this one, I assure you, was one of the best lies I’ve ever told! I took out the two Iranian Rial notes which I tried to exchange in Iman Khomeni Airport but since the counter did not have small euro notes so could not change for me. Each note was 50000 Rial. I smiled helplessly and told him in my most sincere voice — “This, this is really a lot of money!” then I helplessly shook my head and slightly laughed to ease the atmosphere and show him how reluctant I was to tell him the “truth”, “Normally I do not show it to people. This is only for emergency. One Rial is about 2 USD (actual rate: 27000 Rial = 1 USD), so this is about ….” I started calculating on the piece of paper. He picked up one of the Rial notes and stared at the big number and the big head of Ayatollah Khomeini. I was sure that he was fanscinated by the huge beard of Khomeini. He stared at the number again gladly and greedily and half joked:”Oh! Can you give me one?” Then he put it down and just moved away, tending other business, without looking at me. I knew he was waiting for me to give it to him. Perhaps he was afraid of the security camera there after all. “Eh… I am sorry. I only have two and I need them in case of emergency!” I said. “NO! No Iranian Rial for you!” I shouted inside my mind. He did not say anything. I could feel that the interrogation was over and I started to pack up all my money with a relaxed heart. His manner changed. I guessed that he was finally satisfied with all the stress he tried to cause and the extent of panic he set me in. I finally got the visa and 5 minutes later I entered, THAILAND.
Dec 30th, 2014