Delving through me archives last night I came across the following article which I had previously written up for publication here in Thailand, only to hear the likes of ‘Its pretty interesting Mr Stephen but it is just too darned long, well have to cut it by three-quarters!” the original version was a whopping 6000+ words that I do have to admit, on hearing the measily fee they were willing to pay I decided instead to ‘just keep it for myself’.
Its still a block-buster of a long blog but I think you’ll find it well… ‘different’. It is a true story and for once in my life I haven’t exaggerated too much!
I Was an Undercover Cop
Living over there on the western banks of Bangkok for a couple of years or so with not much in the way of many Farang buddies meant that I hung around a lot, at mostly Thai places and so therefore getting the chance to meet up with only Thais. Now, near the school I was working at was a groovy little cheapo kiosk within the local cop shop compounds where I would often go after a hard days work to sink a few bevvies if I had no private evening classes on. Very soon I had a stack of miscellaneous friends working all sorts.
One day I got chatting away to a certain Mr Lee a chubby round-looking Chinese sorta guy who pointed out to me that he was working in the film business. It was another can or two or was it three that ‘yes’ he was in the film business but that he was working in a certain part of the company that was solely responsible for busting dealers selling copied material, mostly DVDs ie. Infringement of copyright.
Well anyway, that was the reason that Mr Lee and his team were at the cop shop again that evening after they had busted another dealer in that area. I soon asked Mr Lee about what exactly happens to the guy or girl who gets caught selling such stuff to which he replied “Nothing, the owner of the stall who is never there comes along after to the cop shop, pays the fine, the stock minus the company’s movies are handed back, the stall is back in business again, the vendor goes back to his sales stuff, the owner goes back to counting her millions and that’s the end of the story”.
Very soon I see something going on between Mr Lee eyebrows and the next thing he is propositioning me to get involved in his busts. He went on to explain “Hey, how about you coming to work with us, I mean we need a Farang to work as a ‘nok tor’ (undercover buyer) as some of the biggest and meanest over there dealing to the tourists etc.. just wont sell any of their gear to Thais” ie stevesuphan here was pretty ideal, could pass as a gullible tourist but communicate perfectly well with the team in their own lingo as none of them could speak English.
Still completely undecided, Mr Lee is on the phone calling his big boss a certain Mr Toom who in turn is waffling down the phone the commission to be got on each ‘jao’ (stall) that was busted. We exchanged phone numbers but for the next couple of days I just kept ignoring all of Mr Lee’s calls until one evening shortly after he comes to see me personally at the cop shop kiosk. Giving a wally of excuses to why I hadnt been answering his calls informs me to ‘get ready’ there’s a couple of stalls down there near Silom that need busted tonight! The rest of the folks at the cop shop said as most Thais would “Well, just go, if it doesn’t work out just don’t go again”.
Let it be known first that a company of the likes of Mr Toom’s on buying the copyright to a movie have the right to bust anyone selling a copy, the contract on being arrested reads something like “Cough up a couple of tens of thousands of baht or face a lenghy time banged up behind bars” of course the likes of Mr Toom and his Austin Power’s team don’t need the stall’s owner/vendor to be locked up, instead they want to see him/her open the wallet, which did happen on every occasion I went. Most Farang folks out there don’t realize that the scruff vendors you’ve bought your DVDs from are NOT the owners but only employed on a casual basis, the owners I would later find out were pretty stinkingly well-off, well connected and well rough on the scene.
There was no egging out now and there I was being heaved off to the likes of Silom with the Austin Powers team and a couple of cops thrown in (hired to make an arrest). On passing me a thousand baht and following one of the girls I was winked at to buy at ‘this’ stall. Not understanding her action and walking passed the stall a few times I was soon getting a bawling from the team that this kind of action from some willy-wally farang walking past the stall three times in the spate of three minutes was pretty suspicious behaviour.
Anyhow I figured out what they were on at and finds the stall. Pretty nervous as I was, I was soon flipping through their book of titles and came up with a couple of ‘our’ titles and of course had to buy a couple of ‘duds’ too. Ordering four of them the seller says “That’s 200 baht each” (What a whacko profit, I was to learn later that they were bought at only 60 baht from the factory!). Besides just handing over the cash I had to watch for where the note (already xeroxed) was to be stashed and if possible where the wad of fake DVDs where actually stored (not so easy). No chance that time, the vendors informs one of his team to run over the skytrain bridge and fetch me order from over there.
On handing me me goods I was sit there right outside the stall haplessly for the next ten minutes choking on the air pollution waiting for the team and cops to ‘do the bust’, I was wrong they were waiting for me to bust another darned stall across the road so as the team with a bunch of cops waiting in one of the sois could bust two ‘jaos’ simultaneously. Met there in the skytrain station I was notified very discreetly by one of the undercover cops ‘that one over there, the girl with the hat and curly hair’. Just wanting to get the heck out of there I passed him the DVDs from the last stall and was soon purchasing a few more from Miss Curly hair with the hat.
A few minutes more after relaying the info to one of the team I was soon heaved down Silom by the team and they made there bust, with me pointing out who had the money while a whole bunch of spectators have arrived to see the scenario in shape and me hoping to get out of the area as soon as possible, not needing my identity to be ditched.
As for the other stall on the other side I soon notice the free-for-all going on over there too. The efficiency of the team was pretty spot on as they tradged the complete contents of their stalls into a variety of cars and even a couple of taxis. Down at the local cop shop in that area Mr Lee soon passes me a hundred baht note and says “There’s a kiosk in the cop parking lot round the back, go down as many cans of Chang as you can and just keep your face out of site from the stall owner” An hour later Mr Toom is running over with me not too handsome reward plus travel expenses etc.
Those stalls wouldn’t be busted again but part of the agreement was that from now on they had to ‘grass on’ any new stalls that were out there knocking off the company’s movies. I went home that night by taxi pretty paranoid and that I was being followed, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t get up to any such capers again.
The next day Mr Lee was on the phone again with a new job this time in the Sukhumvit area to which I said “Im busy teaching”, “Where?” he asked and after I told him foolishly “Chitlom” he shouts back enthusiastically “Excellently close, which building, I’ll come and pick you up!” Very reluctantly I was off again, but to the heck with it I thought the money was pretty decent. That night went well and so this continued for a month or so.
Things started to cool down after a while as there just wasn’t anywhere to bust anymore. I mean since the Austin Powers had busted every tourist area there was, word had got around to which movies Mr Toom did and didn’t have authority to, on top of this for sure “Watch out for the Farang Nok Tor”. It got to the stage where unless the company had just bought the rights to a brand new movie or there was a naïve new vendor in the area all I got was a ‘mot layo’ or a ‘mai mee’ (not have!) or even worse I straight hitting ‘No’ as if they knew exactly who I was!
For any of you readers out there thinking I was doing a dodgy dirty job, ill just take a second to tell you that some of the those stalls make in the region of 10,000-20,000 baht a night, then the owners has some 3 or 4 going on at the same time. Just think how much illegal cash they are raking in a month at the expense of the film industry. So for them to get busted once or twice a month is routine for them its all part of tit-for-tat nonsense. As a couple of the stalls were actually run by a cop-wife it was harder for the team to sucker the usual rated fined quoted and finally had to settle for just half. What a paradox, literally the police doing over the police.
Let me go further and tell you about a few of the scenarios. There was one evening on Silom at a brand new stall we had busted and when the girl vendor sees the team coming she decided to leg it around the block. Next, one of the team is chasing her up and down Silom and before you know it im getting in the action to wrestling her to the ground and telling her to calm down you arent gonna get nicked. You could imagine the look on a few of the old Farang couples and the tourist police laughing at all this.
Then one time outside of a well-known shopping mall, just as the team were stashing all the goods of one stall into the back of a taxi a Farang waiting for his DVDs is running up throwing a frenzy as he had already paid for a couple. To this one of the cops takes out from the bag a whole stash of DVDs with a few dirty ones thrown in and hands them to him, you could of seen the delight of this guys after the cop says “Gift for you, Royal Thai Police”.
Then one night around another area of Thaniya I was in desperate need of a pee and makes my way into a darkish alley and relieves myself, only for this scraggy Thai guy to scream away at me, I had just leaked all over his bag of fake dirty DVDs. I actually had to make a dash as he was calling his friends over too obviously to give me a right smack in the face. All I could here was foulmouth as I dashed away. Revenge was sought and the next night the poor fellow lost the whole lot to the Bang Rak cop shop.
Then once right outside of Nana I busted a stall and stood right there waiting for the team to make their bust to which they didn’t, completely puzzled I just stayed put only for a tuk-tuk to come up and say “Where you go?” obviously not wanting to grab any unwanted attention I said “Khao Sarn”, to which he replied to the likes of “200 baht”. Who’s he trying to fool and I informed him that a taxi cost no more than a hundred. Next, he also starts foul-mouthing me off to his tuk-tuk buddies in Thai, I mean real bad lingo! Rather infuriated I said a few sarcastic things back in English and he ‘s calling his tough buddies over to threaten this farang of me.
Needing to get out of here straight away I ran into Nana only to bang into one of the team, they had arrived. You could have seen the look on the tuk-tuk’s face when he realizes who I am and not just some dumb farang. Losing my rag a bit I cursed him and his buddies in some of his own lingo but this time in Thai, what was he gonna do? Im sure he’s never and never will lose serious face like that again. Serves him right I say.
The job certainly wasn’t as risky as it may sound. Even about six months or so after I finished busting there was one night on Silom went I was off to a bash on Soi 4 with a couple of Farang when I gets this tap on the shoulder from a couple of guys, on closer examination “Heck it was two of the vendors I had once bought from”, imagining they’d want to punch my teeth did instead actually invite to sit on the street with them and help them finish a bottle of Beer Singh, which I did. We chatted a bit and they admitted its all a game of ‘cat and mouse’
Even Mr Toom was best of buddies with a few of the owners and on paying the fine would joke “See you again soon!”
I havent seen Mr Toom for a while but the last time I heard he was still busting, fake sunglasses and watches was his new infactuation.
VOCAB FOR TODAY:
Whopping = super big
To sink = to drink
Bevvy = beer
A stack of = a lot of
Cop shop = police station
To proposition = to ask someone to..
Gullible = easily fooled
To egg on = to persuade
To bawl at = to shout at
To choke = unable to breathe
Discreetly = without notice
To get nicked = to be arrested
To foul-mouth = to swear at
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