Friday, June 5, 2009

Oh Ko Samet (and oh life): FIN

So I've been sitting here in my school's little internet room trying to muster up the energy to write a new blog post. And I'm not sure at this point I really have but I thought I'd at least give it a go, because right now school is the only place I have internet (my computer power adaptor died, which considering my luck lately, of course).

Last we left off I had just recieved a mysterious phone call from a man who claimed he had my passport. Now at the time I wrote my last blog I still believed that this little tale had a happy ending, namely me getting my passport back and avoiding the huge, logistical, financial, and just plain old mental head ache that would come from trying to replace my passport. But little did I know, my soap operiffic drama would get even more convuluted before the end.

So we were riding on the bus back to Ko Samet when mystery man calls my friend Choua's phone and says he has my passport. After some intial confusion I found out he got Choua's number from the police report we filed (see not a waste of time after all). At this point I could have kissed this man's feet (which were probably all sandy and gross too, we were on an island). He had apparently gone out of his way to find me. He said he called my banks and the American embassy. He was a regular Dave in shining armor (Dave was his name). I told him I had left the island already. He told me he was going to Bangkok the next day. Problem solved, right? Right? But I get ahead of myself. I said I could be in Bangkok the next day and that way I could go to a Western Union, sort myself out a little. So great. We would meet up at one of the giant, massive malls and if he didnt get there in time I asked if he would mind terribly dropping it off at the embassy at some point during his stay.

Fast forward one day. I go to Bangkok and head straight for the Western Union I had looked up online. Now at this point I had never used a Western Union before. I thought you had to go to the specific branch, even though really that doesnt make that much sense considering everything there is electronic and money isn't physically wired to a branch like in a giant tube, but wired electronically and thus available at all Western Union branches. But I was sunburnt and exhausted and a tad unhinged at this point so my mind wasnt working at full capacity. So I took a bus into Bangkok (at this point I hadn't figured out precisely what buses to take to get into the city and so of course I ended up having to hop off at a random place and get a taxi the rest of the way), and found the Western Union. I had just enough money to get into the city (given to me, no questions asked, from my school) and was expecting to recieve a nice little security chunk of cash from my kind and understanding parents. And then I'd be set until my payday. Now I read on the Western Union website that you need a passport to get money, but surely I thought, surely, they must have some kind of loophole to that. Half the people who go to Western Union are probably backpackers or tourists who have lost everything, including passports, so it wouldnt really make that much sense to have a passport be a requirement. And I had copies, COPIES, lots of them, copies of my passport, copies of my French visa, my Indian visa, my Thai visas (man I have a lot of visas), copies of my social security card, copies of every official looking document you could probably imagine. So I'd be fine. No problem.

"M'am we're going to need your orignal passport." The very nice (even though at the time I wanted to punch her in the eye) Thai woman behind the desk kept repeating this sentence, yet I could not process those eight simple words. You don't understand, I kept saying. My passport was stolen, along with all of my credit cards and all of my money. That's why I'm at freaking Western Union in the first place. And so it went like that for several minutes, the nice lady repeating what was clearly a company policy and something she could not violate or else would probably be fired for, and me, blankly, telling her that I needed my money, that I didnt have my passport, but that I needed my money. I had to have that money. I didnt have a cell phone or a camera or a passport, but as long as I had some money I had something, something to make me feel at least somewhat not in this void of helplessness. Maybe if I had told her specifically about the void of helplessness it would have helped. But as it was, she was unmoved. And then it happened, that embarassing thing that happens sometimes when you've simply had it and can't take anymore and haven't slept that much and can barely move any part of your body without extreme pain because of the suburn from hell and sort of smell bad to top it all off (dont judge, you try walking around in Thailand and see how much you sweat). I started crying, right there at the counter of Western Union in the brightly lit entry way of a Big C Super Center.

And this poor woman just shrugged and repeated the lines she had to repeat, that she was paid to repeat. At the time I thought she was the enemy, but looking back I wonder how many crazed, cash-less, passport-less Westerners she's had to deal with in her day, how many times she's had to patiently wait for said Westerners to finish their little meltdowns and move on and let her continue her probably underpaid job. Somewhere amidst my barely contained blubbering I heard her say that I could try a bank, that all Thai banks work with Western Union and that maybe a bank wouldnt require an original passport. Well luckily enough there was a tiny little bank in the same area of the Big C. After going to the lady's room to compose myself (ie sniff loudly into a tissue while trying to regain some tiny shred of my dignity), I went to the bank, sure that the same thing would happen, willing myself not to cry publicy at a second Thai financial institution that day. And as luck would have it, they could have cared less that I had copies. Five minutes later I had cash, glorious cash, my own little lifeboat.

So after feeling deeply silly about the whole, completley uneseccary Western Union meltdown (and seriously considering going back to apoligize) I headed off to Siam Center (aka land of the ginormous malls) to wait around for British Dave and see if we could meet up. He only had email so I brought my laptop into the city with me and camped out at Starbucks. (Side note. I LOVE the Starbucks here. Now mock me if you most. Oh Liz, can't even go a month without getting your grande latte fix, but I don't care. Five days out of the week I dont have hot water or television (Thai soap operas do not count) or even internet at home. So when I get the chance to indulge in a little Western fix, I'm going to darn well indulge. And the baristas at the Starbucks here (across the board at the ones I've been to) are like the most cheerful people on earth. I don't know what they're putting in their morning coffee, but they all have these massive smiles plastered on their faces, and they act like your drink order is the most important, momentous thing that has ever happend to them, and that getting it right is not just a job description but a calling from God. Why yes, I would love to sample that delicious treat (they all have sample platters and they offer seconds!). Why yes, I would love my muffin warmed to perfection (and for some reason the muffins here are so much better, just little, fluffy, pieces of heaven) and served on a real plate and brought to me on a tray with a knife and fork. Half the time in the States the Starbucks baristas act like they're doing me a favor making the drink I (over) paid for. Here they act the complete opposite way. Seriously the most chipper people I have come across in a nation of insanely chipper people. End of side note.)

So I camped out in Starbucks and waited for word from Dave. By 6pm no word and so I figured he wouldnt get there in time. I didnt want to head home too late (it takes half an hour to two hours depending on traffic) so I sent Dave an email (he doesnt have a cell so it's the only way to get in touch) and asked if it would be okay if at some point in the next week he dropped it off at the embassy, because it was difficult for me to get into Bangkok during the work week and I couldn't take another day off. So I figured problem solved. I thanked him profusely, told him how much I appreciated all of his efforts.

Throughout the next week I kept checking my emails, waiting for Dave to say that he'd dropped off at the passport, but no word. But a bunch of CIEE people were going into Bangkok for the weekend so on Friday I emailed Dave again, told him I'd be in Bangkok, and that if he hadn't already dropped the passport off, we could meet up, preferably Saturday during the day. I got to the hotel in Bangkok around 8 and saw that I had a text (apparently Dave can send texts through email but I cannot send anything back through my phone), saying that he would be at a bar near Khao San Rd (an infamous backpacker haven in Bangkok) and if I wanted my passport I should meet him there as he was leaving the next day. Now, this is where I started to think, hmm. A little bit weird right? He's had all week to drop the passport off, because he had no idea I would be in Bangkok in person again before he left. But he's held onto it, and now that he knows I'm there he wants to meet at a bar at night in a kind of sketchy area. There was no way in hell I was going alone (especially because it was dark and Bangkok is huge and confusing and my knowledge of its geography is very limited). And by the time I met up with my friends it would already be 9 or 10 and I wasn't going to ask them to go all the way there (we were all staying in an area in Siam Square which is not close to Khao San Road). But I couldnt text any of this back to him, so I had to wait until I had internet access.

I got another text from him not long after, saying "dont you want your passport back, you should meet up with me tonight" which again, hmm. Finally I got access to a computer and I emailed him this.

"Hi Dave, sorry I have not had internet access for the last several hours and could not respond to you until now. Sorry we could not meet up tonight. Can you drop it off at the nearest police station to you or to the American Embassy (whichever is more convenient). Please let me know where you drop it off (it's a police station then the address would be helpful). Thank you so much! Please let me know that you received this."

Reasonable right? There are police stations all over Thailand. I figured it would be a lot easier for him to drop it off there than to try to meet somewhere both of us would know without being able to communicate through cell phones. But the next morning I recieve this.

"Liz, Your disregard towards your stuff shocks me, especially when I run around for you breaking my laptop in the process. Yet again am paying 40 B for 10 mins to write this message, why I don't know. I suggest you meet me at 3pm or just after on platform 4 first class section, I am wearing blue shorts with a white pattern. Dave"

Say it with me people, hmmmmm. First of all, why is he talking to me like a stern parental figure when we've never met. Second of all, I need a little clarification. I might just be slow but come again, how exactly am I responsible for him breaking his laptop? (he also texted me about this, saying that he "sat" on his laptop in his "rush" and that he "was not happy.") What rush was he in? We hadn't arranged a meeting place. As far as dropping it off somewhere like a police station I assumed he could do that on his way to leave, and even if he was in a rush, that could have been solved by him DROPPING OFF MY PASSPORT AT THE VERY CENTRALLY LOCATED AND EASILY ACCESSIBLE US EMBASSY ANYTIME IN THE PREVIOUS WEEK. Plus he said in the same email he wasn't leaving Bankok until 3-4ish, so why was in such a fluster in the morning to meet me, such a fluster in fact, such a panic, that he had no choice but to sit on his laptop and break it. I know when I'm in a rush to go somewhere the first thing I do is sit on my laptop. Sitting on a laptop and hurrying to go somewhere are pretty much one and the same. And okay maybe this is mean but at this point this guy is a butt face and/or a serial killer so I dont really care, but how much do you have to weigh to break a laptop the second you put weight on it? If it was closed it really should have been okay with the momentary weight from an adult male. But this is all besides the point, because REALLY? Really you sat on your own laptop in your imaginary hurry to get to our imaginary rendez vous and you're mad at me for it?

And it was at this moment that I realized British Dave was a total psychopath. There was no way I was meeting him at this vaguely referenced station of some kind. First of all. He did at no point name the station, or say where it was in Bangkok, or even what kind of station it was, bus, train, who knows? Bangkok is kind of a large city, large enough to have more than one station surprisingly enough. So in theory I could have gone to a "station" of some kind at "3pm or just after", just hoping that by some psychic intuition I happend to get the right one. But even if I had gotten the right one, no. At this point I would not have been surprised if "Dangerous Dave" (as he was henceforth dubbed) would try to make me pay him in full for his supposedly crushed laptop (which I pretty much sat on myself, that's how directly responsible I was for its demise) and/or lecture me and/or push me onto the tracks in front of a moving train/bus/whatever type of vehicles operates from this mystery shrouded station. It was painfuly obvious at this point that he wanted a reward for the passport, that that was why he didn't drop it off at the embassy even though he had a full week to do so. It also became a possibility that Dangerous Dave was the one who stole my stuff in the first place, kept everything valuable, and then thought he'd make some more money off the passport reward. Whether or not that's true is probably never going to be known, but I do know that this guy seems seriously unhinged and that it's probably a good thing I never met him in person.

But after all that, I was faced with the reality that I would not be getting my passport back. I emailed him once more and asked if he had left it at the "station" and if so which one, but it's been a week and no word and I'd be highly surprised if I ever hear from him. So yesterday I had to trudge into Bangkok, take another day off work (which I legitimately feel bad about), and go to the US Embassy. Now in my mind I was picturing the embassy all sparkly with gleaming marble floors and large, sunlit atriums, lots of flags, maybe some official looking uniforms, oh and badges, definitely official visitor badges with pictures on them and everything. I'd walk in and immediately be taken under some kindly American expat's wing, ushered into a crisply air conditioned office, given a coke and told that everything would be okay, that I needn't worry, everything would be taken care of and I'd have a brand spanking new passport in no time. And it's possible parts of the embassy are like that (minus the cokes probably), but the part I was directed to was the Citizen Services wing, which, picture the DMV. Okay got that mental image. Shrink it a little. Replace the American employees with Thai employees. And bingo. Sort of depressing after all of my grand mental images of American diplomacy at its most elegant and shiny.

So turns out it costs 100 bucks to replace a passport. But here's the kicker. In order for them to even start processing my new passport I need to bring them the police report (which of course I misplaced, thinking I didnt need it after talking to Dave). I pointed out, politely of course, that people must need new passports all the time who don't have police reports. What if you just lose it, or it catches on fire, or it's swallowed by an elephant. Surely things like that must happen all the time. What did those people do? Very similarly to Western Union, the probably very nice Thai lady who had probably had a long day dealing with people like me, just repeated the same line again and again. We need the police report. And then she informed me that I would be stuck in Thailand forever and/or arrested if I didn't do this promptly.

Which brings me full circle to where this whole crazy thing started-Ko Samet. Out of all the places I could be forced to return to, Ko Samet isn't too horrible. I mean I guess I could handle some more clear, green waters and a few more hours spent on blindingly white sand beaches. So a week from today that's where I will be headed, to get the police report primarily (I'd really like to avoid getting arrested) and to have a weekend in paradise without any major calamaties. So that's the end of this very long story. I appreciate it if you've stuck with me through the whole thing. I know it was a whopper.

So for now.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

stumbled across your blog reading about ko samet where I'll be going this weekend. you sucked me in and I read about your woes. sorry to hear about some of that stuff but it is definitely a great cautionary tale so thanks for sharing.

And there is an embassy with "all sparkly with gleaming marble floors." It's on the other side of Wireless... you were in the older consular section, or the EOB (Existing Office Building) as we call it.


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