Today i complete my first month as Bangkok resident. It’s been a busy time, full of demands and problems, but rewards and compensations, too.
More or less settled in my new place. Arranging 400 kilos of belongings in the confines of a studio hasn’t been easy but i’ve found a place for everything without making the room look like a warehouse. The studio’s big enough to divide into a sleeping and living area; in addition, there’s a balcony which i’ve converted to kitchen and dining, and since i’m on the sixth floor the place is insect-free, the little buggers don’t crawl or fly up this high, and there are good views of the city.
My current morning ritual is to sit on the balcony taking toast and coffee while reading the Bangkok Post or watching the busy world down below. The mornings are bright and sunny (the rain has the good manners to wait till the afternoon) and so pleasant and cool i can leave the windows open. I use air-con only at night; without it it would be too humid for comfortable sleep. I’ve bought a large desk and it’s placed strategically under the open window so i can see across the rooftops of this vast city – a far more stimulating view than the one from my bedroom window in Fintas.
Don’t miss Kuwait at all. If missing is going to hit then it hasn’t hit me yet. I do of course miss certain individuals but not the place or the regime. Patrick telephones regularly and keeps me informed about the dusty, hot weather he’s not enjoying. He’s arriving here at the end of the month for a visit. Flagg, who’s in New Zealand at present, is also on his way and should get here within the week. I’ll have fun showing both of them the sights. As he’s a librarian, Flagg can have a job at International School right away if he so wishes, the school’s in need of a qualified librarian and is prepared to pay well. I might be able to persuade him to try it for a year and see how he likes it.
To the story of the shipment. Air France did the carrying, Kuwait-Paris-Bangkok, and all arrived intact within two weeks which, needless to say, pleased me immensely. I was summoned to the airport, Cargo Terminal Two, and there met one Mr Upon who completed all paperwork for 20 baht, less than a dollar. That should have been the only levy but here no one gets off lightly. Mr Upon proceeded to look at the inventory and made noises about taxes and duties and voiced cautions, warnings and threats. Why the hell did i bother with a crate at all? Why didn’t i just flog everything in Kuwait before i left? But i wanted to hold on to my carpets and a lot of my books and the stereo and the cd player and… ah, we foolish mortals.
‘If they open the container, Mr John,’ Mr Upon said with great seriousness, ‘they could tax everything, especially the stereo, the video and the cd player, and taxes in Thailand are high, 100% for electronic goods.’
I knew this to be so but pointed out that these were used personal effects. That cut no ice, it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Neither did the fact i was carrying a letter from International School stating i was a recent hire and asking the Customs authorities’ co-operation in allowing my shipment through free of tax melt a single cube. Mr Upon and his henchmen, six on his team, simply smiled and ignored the letter. He then stated he knew a senior Customs inspector ‘inside’ and were he to give him the nod, my crate would be cleared within the hour and handed over without the contents being subjected to inspection or tax. As the crate was insured for $6,000, i could see Upon’s beady eyes grow beadier, he was calculating how much he could hit me for. I suggested that he, Mr Upon, knew best how to deal with these matters and if he gave the appropriate nod to the right man inside, i, in turn, would nod to him. This oriental nodding has got nothing to do with tradition or good manners, it’s the South-East Asian version of palm greasing. No money had been mentioned up to then but the score was known by all. I decided the best tactic was to speak only English and to act the innocent throughout.
‘I know nothing of these matters,’ i declared, ‘and you, Mr Upon, are a professional and know what to do, i leave it all in your good hands.’
He was most pleased, a little flattered even, to hear that. I was where he wanted me to be, against the wall.
Two hours passed and no crate. Then Upon sent his deputy inside as Upon’s contact had just come on duty. Each agent has his own man inside and each man inside has his team of agents outside, all well worked out, Thai style. The two-hour delay was the wait for the shift to change. I’d been told to show up at one; three would’ve been better for me but not for Mr Upon as the psychological effect of having to wait was bound to make me nervous and thus more vulnerable to his vulpine designs. As soon as his deputy went inside – with my passport, i might add – Mr Upon pounced and told me it would cost 15,000 baht to make the inspector happy. Considering an inspector makes about 5,000 baht a month it was an outrageous demand but i stayed calm and played my card. I wasn’t a wealthy businessman, i told him, but a poor teacher, and the amount he’d just asked for was precisely what i earned in a month. That was a lie, i’m lucky to earn much more, but at Cargo Terminal Two the truth isn’t high on anyone’s list of priorities. I offered 5,000 baht and Mr Upon was much put out. That was a meagre $200 and his smile and charm evaporated instantly. I told him it was all i could afford, all i had in fact, and if it wasn’t good enough i was sorry but there was nothing i could do. He walked off and ignored me for half an hour. Then he came back and said the inspector would settle for 6,000. ‘Done!’ i said, and so it was. The large crate was wheeled out, Mr Upon organized a pick-up truck and a few strongbacks, and all was transported to the Rose.