Farang behaving badly

Thailand gets a lot of bad publicity about the way foreigners are treated, but there are two sides to every story.

There was a news story a month ago that made a splash in the Thai press but went under the radar here in the English-language news world. It happened at the Southern Bus Terminal in Taling Chan, and it involved two Australian tourists who were robbed at gunpoint of their belongings.

The tourists, a young backpacking couple, ended up at the terminal penniless, sitting in the gutter, the girl crying her eyes out.

The most salient part of this story, however, was not the attack. It was the reaction from the Thais at the bus terminal.

First of all, the female owner of a grocery store noticed the couple on the side of the road, in particular the crying Australian girl. Despite little English ability, she established they had been robbed.

The woman gave them something to eat and drink without charging them. Meanwhile, a taxi driver pulled over and upon hearing the story, offered to take the two to the Australian Embassy on Sathon Road for free. Another man gave them 500 baht.

The Australian couple were soon on their way to the embassy. And that is where the story comes to an end. Temporarily.

What are your feelings at this point, dear reader? Probably similar to my own when I first heard this. First, there was outrage at the violence inflicted upon these two innocent Aussies, attacked and rendered helpless and penniless by the side of the road. Second, a warm sense of pride at the kindness the Thais showed towards those stricken youth. Thailand cops a lot of negative press over crimes that occur here, and sometimes we fail to see the common decency of the average Thai, especially to foreign guests who are in peril.

Alas, things are never quite as they seem. Welcome to another episode of Farang Behaving Badly, where we explore the lifestyles of the heinous.

Every sensible bone in my body —which may not comprise the entire 206 but definitely constitutes a majority — wants to call my television programme Farangs Behaving Badly, but that would contravene Bangkok Post style.

My esteemed editors say "farang" is an uncountable noun and thus cannot be pluralised. I have poured over countless reference books, such as Strunk & White, my big red Macmillan dictionary, and publications like Hello My Big Big Honey and Skytrain To Murder; there is absolutely no mention of such a rule, but if there’s one thing I have learned from living under a military junta, it is to keep my mouth shut and display deference to those in power, even when I’m right.

I am off the track; let’s return to those bruised and beaten Australians. There is a back story.

The two backpackers had been dropped off at the bus station by police officers.

For the seven days prior, they had been on a drinking binge in Kanchanaburi that would have put Lindsay Lohan to shame. They checked into a hotel, crossed the road, sat themselves down at a beer bar and drank themselves into oblivion.

This we know because when it came time to settle the bill, they didn’t have enough money and the owner called the cops. The two backpackers were too blind drunk to explain themselves; they had to be carried back to their hotel to sleep it off.

The hotel had problems with them too. Other guests complained of the loud noises and shouting coming from their room, so they were asked to leave. They refused. They claimed not to have enough money to pay the hotel bill and ended up spending a night sleeping in the foyer because they had no place to go.

All this information was relayed via a news story from a frustrated Kanchanaburi policeman trying to mediate between the hotel owner, the bar across the road and the Australians.

They managed to pay up. Because they claimed they were penniless, one cop drove them to the Southern Bus Terminal, but only on the proviso they kept their mouths shut for the duration of the trip. That part after “proviso” I made up myself, but had I been the cop, that certainly would have been my first stipulation.

And so, once at the bus station, they did what any self-respecting alcoholic but devious tourist would do; they feigned an attack. It worked, and like the Scooby Doo villains they would have gotten away with it too had it not been for those pesky Kanchanaburi cops going to the media.

It had been my intention to relate this story to you in this column a month ago, but more important events reared their ugly heads — the Angel Dolls and the Mercedes-loving monks, to name just two. In that interim period their story has been eclipsed by equally outrageous farang behaving badly.

Only last week three Russian tourists decided to act like zombies in a Pattaya restaurant, rising up and threatening other patrons in an attempt to scare them away. I know the average Russian tourist in Pattaya isn’t exactly a card-carrying member of Mensa, but that was really pushing idiocy to an unnatural limit.

It was either a prank or an attempt to scare off diners then steal their belongings … really? Thailand ranks right up there with the United States in numbers of gun-toting civilians. It’s a shame the Darwin Awards didn’t come into effect and some armed diner didn’t aim for the yellows of their eyes.

Even more bizarre was the news they were apprehended, but no charges were laid and they were released.

We like to do things in threes; here’s another Farang Behaving Badly, though this time I have no beef with my editors; she’s singular, not to mention hallucinogenic.

This was big news just over the past week or so; the case of Grace Taylor, a 21-year-old Brit on holiday here who telephoned her parents in the UK in a state saying people were trying to hurt her and follow her.

In the wake of the terrible murders of two British tourists on Koh Tao, this was big news in the UK. Had Grace fallen prey to local influential figures? Was her life in danger?

None of the above. Grace was fine, clearly enjoying the high life, and we’re not talking luxury travel. She was discovered in Krabi and had to spend some time coming down before flying back home.

These three cases have nothing really in common, other than none of the Badly Behaved Farang were arrested or charged with anything. Perhaps in the eyes of Thais what they did just wasn’t that terrible. We foreigners have to do really despicable things to get arrested and charged here, like that Spaniard who allegedly sliced up his fellow countryman or those pensioners caught playing bridge.

The three incidents do serve as a reminder that not everything that goes wrong in this country can be attributed to unbridled corruption or influential family members losing face.

It is also a reminder that we should be wary of the speed of social network news and its ability to incite before all the facts are known. You should have seen the nasty remarks about Thais when Grace vanished off the face of the earth — when really she was just off her face.

Most of all, I’m ashamed two Australians have hardened the hearts of some very well-meaning Thais out Taling Chan way, who won’t be so generous the next time a tourist really does fall on hard times.

That’s all. Thanks for tuning in to Farang Behaving Badly. There will be another episode in the near future for sure, for as long as 30 million tourists come to Thailand each year, examples of bad behaviour by farang will be as countless as the word is uncountable.

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