Daily Archives: February 5, 2010

Thailand: Greatest Urban Myths (Part 1)

Even for those who have never stepped a foot in the Land of Noodle Soup & Nose Jobs, chances are they’ve heard some classic Thailand myth worthy of an editorial column in the most sensational European tabloid. So worthy actually, that some of these urban legends have surfaced in such papers. But if you don’t read one in The Sun (UK), you’ll soon find a couple in some redundant second-hand guidebook, on trashy Internet forums, blogs written by 16 year-old school kids or daft videos on YouTube. However, the place best of all for enjoying Thailand legends are in the company of some know-it-all-farang at an expat pub or a hippy hangout who has consumed just that one too many Singha Beer. Yes, told by one those experts who after staying in Thailand for an incredible 6 months, believes he deserves an honorary doctorate in everything Thai.

1. Go to Prison for Stepping on a Twenty Baht Note

This certainly has to go down as one the longest-standing, most circulated and absurdist urban myth east of Europe. And what is peculiar is that when it is told or written is always a twenty baht note, as if you couldn’t find a pic of the King on any other banknote. The fact of the matter is the lese-majeste law in Thailand states that the act committed has to be done with ‘malicious intent’ ie… you would have to stamp on it and shout insanities before someone would pay any attention and call in the Boys in Brown. It does not refer to any foreigner fresh off the plane who on dropping a bank note, quickly steps on it before it flies off in the breeze.

2. You Can Hire a Professional Gunman for the Likes of 5,000 Baht

What a load of nonsense! One of those totally daft rumours told by expat wanna-be gangster farangs while sat on a barstool. And like ’20 baht note’ ‘5,000’ is the commonest fee you hear and read crop up. The only ‘gunman’ you are gonna find at a stupid price like that is some drug-crazed motorbike-taxi driver or any other complete low-life amateur whose only previous experience of shooting a gun was of a water type during the Songkran Festival. Then, ‘get what you pay for’, as soon as he gets caught by the cops, he confesses immediately to having been hired by you. According to Thai language sources which include plenty of interviews with former convicted professional gunmen, the real cost goes from 200,000 to 10,000,000 baht depending of course on the potential victim, ie… from your average conservationist to a wealthy and powerful politician. That price includes: the agent fee, an accomplice, investigation into routines/itineraries, total confidentiality if all goes wrong and a few months for the gunman and accomplice to stay in the jungles of Thailand or Cambodia etc… until the case dies down.

3. Thai Women Have to ‘Sell Their Body’ to Escape Poverty

Over my dead body. Any lady-of–the-night desperate to earn money can get a job in a factory and work her bum off for 6 days a week, 9 hours a day. With paid overtime at an average factory in the Central Region an employee, with no education at all, can rake in around 10,000 month. Many such damsels instead prefer to make a much easier living in the hope that they’ll go on to meet some rich sugar-daddy, regardless to whether they are married or not, who is going to transfer a big wad of money into their bank account every month. As for that sob-story of “I need money send home to take care family” academic Thai language studies have already proven that ladies-of-the-night save and send less money back home than other migrant workers of proper professions.

4. Civil Servants like Police, Soldiers & Teachers Get Really Low Salaries

Working permanently for the state is a dream job for many Thais. Salaries are low but only at the bottom of the ladder. Work as a civil servant for ten, twenty, thirty years and your salary will be very respectable by Thai standards. On top of that you can get interest-free loans, a nice pension, free accommodation, best social healthcare, retire at 55 and get plenty of other benefits. Salaries for civil servants have rocketed over the past decade or so. 10-15 years back the basic salary for a school director was around 30,000 baht, it is now in the region of 55,000. You’re average civil servant in her fifties rakes in about 30,000 a month. For a policeman with the rank of Sargaent-Major with 10 years experience, with a little danger money payment he will pull in around 20,000 plus – compared to 10-15 years ago, no more than 10 grand – same applies to soldiers. None of these salaries include possible ‘commission’ money. Compared to the West, such salaries are pittance, but for here in Thailand they are very decent indeed.

5. Getting Caught with Some Ganja is a Very Serious Crime

Getting caught smoking a reefer is about as equivalent to getting caught stealing a packet of crisps from a mini-mart. And I’m not joking! Being caught however with a kilo of it stuffed inside your rucksack at Suvarnphumi Airport is another matter of course. This myth has got around the backpacker scene so much that once a backpacker gets arrested on an island with a big Bob Marley on him, he falls into the hands of corrupt cops who wanna sucker as much money as possible out of him ‘in lieu of not serving the next few years banged up’. And such cops are renowned for their lying negotiation jargon. Even though it is possible the judge could give a first offender a very short stint behind bars, most instead get let off with a suspended sentence and a small fine (same as very petty theft). However, judges ain’t too chuffed with those who get caught again.

Follow-up blog post can be found at Thailand: Greatest Urban Myths (Part 2)