Two of the scariest things in expat life are language barriers and the police. Each difficult in its own right, but when combined, downright dangerous. Especially when you’re living the expat life in Bangkok after the military coup.
One morning, at about 9am, a horde of smartly dressed officers stopped me, and motioned sternly for me to come with them. They were all scowling and silent – but made it clear with sharp pointing that I needed to follow.
I asked “Why? To where?” but apparently no one spoke English. Confused (what did I do?) but having no other options, I followed them up the stairs towards the SkyWalk (near Chong Nonsi BTS).
My heart was pounding in my chest and I felt faint.
Instantly, all of the images I had seen on ThaiVisa and in the paper, publicly shaming arrested Russian and German foreigners flashed through my mind. All I could think: Oh my god, I am going to be arrested. What had I been accused of?? Thailand is a military government now – no democracy. I’m not guaranteed a trial or due process or even a flawed court hearing. What will happen to me?
As we reached the top of the SkyWalk, there were the photographers and videographers I so feared.I still didn’t even know the accusation against me, I still hadn’t even confirmed my name! Was I being mistaken for someone else? A thin, well dressed man came up to me and began speaking in English. Great – is this my representation?
My beating heart and mental panic were louder than his words at first, and I stared at him blankly, watching his mouth move without hearing words. Until he repeated himself.
“We would like you to be in our commercial about Thai tourism police helping foreigners. Thank you.”
I laughed out loud at the multiple absurdities of the situation. The group of officers who scared the crap out of me and wouldn’t even answer two simple questions were supposed to be the same guys going around the city assisting foreigners? That they didn’t even ask me if I could/would/wanted to help out with their commercial?
But I did anyways.
30 minutes later, I felt much more calm, after running through a script of where I would approach and ask a smartly dressed female tourist police officer (who also didn’t speak English) where to find Chong Nonsi BTS on a map. By the end, the officers were joking with me in Thai and everyone wanted to get a photo with me.
This is Thailand.
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Have you ever had a police encounter abroad?