Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Confiscation - Bangkok, Thailand

I pay the quick lunch that I just had at a small roadside restaurant, I turn around and I spot a waitress who is handing a gas cylinder to a man in uniform. He grabs it and gives it to his colleagues, who are standing on the back of a pick-up truck. What's going on? Since when are the cops collecting cylinders to be refilled? The vehicle is advancing slowly and another agent passes a stack of Lonely planets (photocopied ones) to his mates. I take a close look at the truckload, there is a bit of everything: bags full of t-shirts and pants, swimming trunks, folding chairs, a metal table, the travel guides and the cylinder. The truck is going past a massage parlor now. A few deck chairs used for foot reflexology have been placed on the road side, across from the shop. The cops choose one of them, get rid of all the cushions and towels, fold it and put it in the truck.
The ordinary shops haven't had any of their goods confiscated, the illegal ones are the police's only targets. The shopkeepers are watching the scene with the inscrutable look that Asians like to hide behind when they are experiencing some difficulty. Some of them even come out with that typical multipurpose smile of them, and they are definitely not having fun. Nobody dares to complain, justify oneself or at least beg for mercy. They stand in total, silent, passive, self-controlled Buddhist acceptance of the mere fact. I can only imagine what would most likely be happening in some western countries. Especially the boot-shaped one I come from. 
I wouldn't bet on it but I have the strong impression that I am witnessing some sort of abuse of power. These shop owners obviously don't own a regular licence but they surely have already gone through the "informal" procedure that gives them the right to open their business, otherwise they wouldn't be able to stay where they are for more than ten minutes: the authorities in fact can be extremely zealous and effective even here, when their interests are at stake. The procedure normally consists of just one step: the payment of a simple (not necessarily cheap though) bribe to the local police station. This sudden raid, the arbitrary confiscations, carried out randomly, this item instead of that one, and then nothing else. The message seems to be: let me pocket this gift and I'll forget about the whole thing. Well,  at least until the next time my wife needs something. Only they should have forgot about the whole thing when they first got their damn bribe. If these shops are illegal you should make them close. Or have them get a regular licence. Or else, if the enforced system is the mafia-style racket one, based on protection money, then if they have paid you leave them alone. What is this disgusting cowardly thing? 
Maybe this is an independent group, passing by to collect their cut. Actually their uniforms are slightly different from the ones of the other cops. Maybe they are auxiliaries. 
A few meters away an agent takes the cylinder from the truck and places it next to a small travel agency (perhaps also illegal). Did he realize that it's a potentially hazardous item? Or did he just sell it? 
A drunkard who I've often seen sleeping with his head resting on a mangy dog (probably still cleaner than him though) as if it was a nice pillow is swarming around the agents advising them to visit a place a hundred meters away. It sounds like a tip, but in his attitude, in his zeal I seem to read an excess of enthusiasm. Is he trying to have one of his enemies busted? Street-life dynamics, here more than elsewhere, must be rather dirty. 
I haven't changed my mind, god forbid: Asia is really a nice place, where one can still lead a very good life. If would be way better, though, if I was spared some nasty revolting scenes.

Photo of a Bangkok street vendor by Collin Key (CC)


Collin Key said...

Thanks for the link, Fabio, i appreciate that. Though it's a nasty story my peacefull photo now illustrates... ;) Makes me think over my own travel experiences.

Fabio said...

You're welcome Collin.
Who knows, maybe the lady in your photo has also been harassed by some bully. I think it's always good to tell a story, even if it's a nasty one.
And your photo really caught my eye when I first saw it...thanks for sharing it.