Is THAT How it Feels?

March 1, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I was racially profiled today.

Looking for a job here in Chiang Mai is interesting. It’s not like I can look at the want ads for teaching positions that are open. Rather, I have to find out where the schools stand, and then go there in person and apply. And wherever I go, I have to fill out the dreaded application. It’s not that filling one out is difficult, it just seems redundant. Even back in the States, the questions are repetitive and don’t really tell much useful information. Anything that is asked in an application can quickly be covered in a brief interview or by reading the resume that most people would bring with them. Okay, so maybe if you are trying to get a job at McDonald’s, you won’t be bringing a CV or a resume, but you know what I mean. Anything else on the application that isn’t covered will be filled out in the eventuality of you getting hired. Such as emergency contact. Why on earth would someone who hasn’t hired me to do anything need an emergency contact? In case I stroke out during the interview or filling out the application?

There are some pretty striking differences between job applications in the US and the ones that I have been filling out here, though.  In the US, I have NEVER been asked my height and weight. Nobody wants to know my parents’ names and ages. US employers don’t give a shit my kids’ names and ages, not until I get put on a family health plan, anyway. In the US, employers are forbidden to ask certain questions. Like the one I had to answer today: “race.” My marital status. How old I am (in addition to my DOB.) I’m a single, 48-year-old white male. The ACLU would have a field day with an application like this in the States. But this is Thailand. And so those questions are just fine to ask. Interestingly, I wasn’t asked if I was a smoker or if I drank.

Being that I’m still looking for a job, I have not yet received a work permit or a non-immigrant work visa. So I had to go apply for a 30-day extension to my tourist visa. This meant a 30-minute ride to the other side of town where the immigration office sits at the bottom of a pretty big and very sad shopping mall. Yes, I rented that motorbike that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. And I must say, I really like riding it. Okay, to be completely upfront and straight with you, it’s not a REAL motorcycle in the sense that it has a manual transmission. It’s what we would call a scooter. But, it’s a pretty powerful one. It has two wheels, which make it a cycle. It has a 125cc motor, which, TECHNICALLY makes it a (follow me closely here…) a MOTOR-CYCLE. And it goes pretty fast, I guess. I’ve had it up to 80.  Okay, 80 kph, but that’s pretty much as fast as people drive over here anyway. And 80 kph seems pretty damned fast in traffic. Especially when drivers will pull over and park in front of a roadside stand, and you have to edge over into the other lane in front of the car behind you to get past.

Riding a motorbike over here is a trip. Many of the locals don’t wear helmets, even though they are required by law. When traffic ahead comes to a stop at a red light, the riders don’t sit idly behind in the queue. Instead, they pass the line of parked cars on the left and get up as close as they can to the light. Or, they will snake their way between the lanes of cars, dodging the mirrors on either side as they try to make it to the front of the pack. Because when the light finally turns green, the motorcycles take off like a shot, quickly outpacing the cars through the intersection. Usually, they will then merge over to the far left, many times riding in the shoulder lane so that the ultimately more powerful autos can pass on the right after they catch up to cruising speed. I personally thought this was a bit crazy at first, but now I’m getting pretty good at navigating between parked cars on my way to the front. And I DO wear my helmet. Not simply because it’s the safe thing to do (as if anything about riding a motorcycle in traffic is safe..), but because I want to avoid being pulled over for not wearing one. One of the things I neglected to do before I left Chicago was to apply for an International Drivers License. So technically, I’m riding illegally.

So, on my way to the faraway immigration office to get my visa extension, I ran right up on one of the dreaded police checkpoints. I had my helmet on, of course, so there was no reason for the officer to step out and wave me over while other traffic passed by. Except for one. I’m farang. That’s the Thai word for “foreigner.” It’s not a pejorative word, so I’m not offended by it. In the north of Thailand, where they have a big difficulty with the pronunciation of “r”, they call us “falang.” Anyway, I got nicked for not having the proper license. He pulled my white ass over, not because he knew I was breaking the law, but just because he suspected that I might be because of the color of my skin. He told me that the fine was 1000 baht, payable at the police station. I am pretty sure that he said that I could come back after paying the ticket to get my bike. There was no way in hell that I was going to walk or get a taxi to the station and then come back. I acted dumb and told him I didn’t know where the station was and that I needed to get to immigration and I didn’t know what an international driver’s license was. I looked at him and asked if I couldn’t just pay it on the spot. His eyes clicked, and he said, “I make you discount, you pay me 500 baht.” So, I paid the police his bribe, and rode on. He probably had a nice dinner with his wife and family or mistress or whatever. It cost me $14 US to get out of a traffic ticket.

So, yes, I was racially profiled. Now, I realize that it’s different than when it happens to others. There is no comparison to what others have gone through. At no time was I in fear for my life or think that I may be roughed up or put in handcuffs.  I pretty much knew that it was a shake-down for money. I simply rode away a little poorer.

I felt badly about it all the same. 500 baht is still more than I wanted to lose. I’m used to things not costing much over here, and without an income, I’m trying to watch my spending. I could eat for three days on 500 baht. I felt better later, though. I was telling May, the coffee girl with the lovely smile about my experience. And we had a nice chat. And then I accompanied her on her break to go look for something in the mall. And then she asked me out. I’m wrapping up this post so that I can go pick her up and go to dinner with her.  🙂

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