Thursday, October 26, 2006

"The party’s over"

BANGKOK - Today I had lunch with Carlos (not his actual name). Carlos has a finger on the pulse of Bangkok clubs, businesses, and underworld.

Carlos was telling me about a conversation he had with a member of the foreign diplomatic corps in town. It seems that crime against Westerners is up 250 percent over last year (apparently several Western embassies jointly compile the statistics). The official told him that his country may be issuing a warning to tourists about Thailand.

Carlos had been robbed the other day not far from his Bangkok residence -- the occasion for a trip to his embassy.

“I was robbed by a person who standing on the corner opposite the police station. There is group of them over there. They pay off the cops, and they are allowed to stand there. The cops know what they were doing – they get their cut. The police get a cut of every dollar made by every shop on the street. There’s not a two foot mat by a sidewalk vendor that the police haven’t taxed.”

While waiting to see the consular affairs officer, he had a long talk with a Western heroin addict. In the case of this heroin addict, none of the Thais he was shooting up with got arrested. The story he pieced together was that Thai gangs working in cooperation with the police have been soliciting Westerns to take “drug holidays” in Thailand. Once they have been arrested in Bangkok – it’s all a set up, they are offered a chance to buy their freedom. Apparently the police are an integral part of this scam.

“If there is money to be made, the police are right there. The drug trade, the manufacture – of amphetamines… They are in the business.”

I hadn’t spoken to Carlos since shortly after the coup d’etat.

“Man, there’s massive uncertainty in the business community now. The coup has changed everything. Nobody knows anything anymore – like who is calling the shots. I don’t know where this country is headed.”

I told him that this seemed a 180 degree change from the mood when I had left town at the end of September.

“Well, yes, it’s different now. The party’s over now. It’s the morning after. And reality is staring them in the face.”

I mentioned the headline in yesterday’s Bangkok Post.

“Yeah, I knew right away that report of the army moving in had to be false -- being here in Bangkok – there was no way.” (see "Army denies troop movement report")

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