This entry is the third in a series of blog entries on my experiences with Thailand’s work visa process. In the first part , I discovered the architectural pleasures of Chiang Mai’s City Hall. In the second part , I found out that the immigration process can go very quickly with the some politeness and willingness to get up early. Now, I would like to discuss the first of three (!) interviews with different levels of Thailand’s police and military establishment. To be honest, this is the part of the whole work visa process I look forward to the least, for rather understandable reasons, since I’m really not all that fond of police figures or secret services people of any country.
As it happened, I had coincidentally (?) walked off to pick up something to drink to help with my frequent thirstiness (we ran out of bottled water this morning on campus, as it happened), looking at some men in the army camouflage and pondering on why that makes me feel particularly unsafe when one of our office employees called me with a rather concerned voice that the special forces office was interested in talking with me. I knew that this would happening at some point, and I was quite intrigued with how the interview would go, considering this is the level of the police and military establishment that I am most concerned by. I had hoped that the interview could be made a bit more friendly by having it in the main classroom with all of the other teachers around (it’s not like I am a particularly private person about my thoughts, after all), but the officer insisted that we sit at the small checkers table outside of the boys’ dorm with just the three of us (the officer, my coworker, and I), and I took that as a sign that he wanted me somewhat isolated. Needless to say, I kept on getting a lot of significant glances from the students, who probably share my concern with special forces officers for their own reasons.
As it happened, the Special Forces officer was a middle aged man (I’d peg him in his 50’s or 60’s) who was dressed in business casual clothing, with a fairly nice car. He did not speak English, but fortunately I had our office employee who deals with Thai laws to translate for me. As I was trying to figure out this fellow and his agenda, as was clearly a canny fellow, he had some questions, most of which were answered in exceptionally polite Thai (which I can recognize). Only a few questions were directed to me, some of which I found rather odd: for example, he asked where my apartment was (I told him I had been staying here on campus–I pointed at the teacher’s house–for the last few months). He asked me what I thought of Thailand, and I told him it was a beautiful country and very friendly and particularly enjoyed seeing Chiang Rai (which is very true ). He also asked me if I liked to travel into the city or stay around here. I said that while I had gone to Chiang Mai this past weekend I normally stay around here. These seemed to be very puzzling questions, and the Special Forces fellow seemed particularly interested in the fact that I was an American.
The interview was not well calculated to put me at ease, which may have been intentional, but as I am not someone who is easily intimidated I decided to be honest and polite, but rather serious and not particularly friendly. The special forces officer said two things in particular that rather put me on my guard, and when I asked follow up questions on both of them I did not get any satisfactory answers. The first comment was that this rather odd interview was the first part of a two-part procedure–the second part was top secret. I asked what sort of information about me they were looking for (I presume it would be by computer, since Thailand has a pretty advanced computer system when it comes to looking up potentially offensive writing), but I really didn’t get much of an answer to the question. I would expect that someone in the Fifth Regiment Special Forces will (or has already) looked up all they can about me, including (I would expect) my blog writing. I have already noticed about a handful of “unknown” views on my blog from Thailand that are protected, and therefore probably from some kind of official level.
The second comment I found rather troubling was a comment made by the officer that was translated, “Please remember to obey the law.” Being someone who is generally law-abiding, but someone who will occasionally break bad laws on principle, I asked several times if there were any laws that a foreigner like myself would need to be particularly careful about breaking. My coworker did not translate my follow-up questions, but simply said himself that they were mostly laws about traffic (which is not a problem since I haven’t yet done any driving here) or tradition (which is a bit more of a concern for me personally, if that is a code for Section 112 and related laws). Ironically enough, I may have broken a law yesterday by downloading a program that allows me to listen to Pandora by shielding my ip address (the advertisements seem to assume that I live in Tampa, which I find rather darkly humorous).
It seemed that throughout the interview my rather canny and clever interviewer was seeking to understand me as much as I was seeking to understand him. We were both polite but wary. At the end of the interview, both my coworker and I had to sign what looked like an affidavit in Thai (I could only read a few words on it, which included the date of the interview and the address of the school). What else it said, I have no clue. Since the special forces officer did not have a pen with him, we used one of my own, as I seldom go anywhere without a pen (or three). According to the officer, assuming everything is in order with me (which, to be honest, is an open question) the paperwork they collect will be forwarded to the Chaing Mai provincial police for the next two stages of this process.
After the interview I was asked by my coworker to prepare myself for future interviews with the police. I told him that I was prepared at any time to answer any question asked honestly and openly, but I found the question to be rather puzzling. I’m glad that the most polite Thai I know is the one working with me, because he is able to translate whatever is said to me into a polite manner, and translate my sometimes rather blunt English into properly polite Thai to my interlocutors. Nonetheless, unlike the previous two parts of the immigration process, this was not calculated for amusement and enjoyment. I left with the thought that the fellow knew a lot more than he was letting on. Perhaps he thought the same about me. Who can say?