Doubtful delights of standing in line

Doubtful delights of standing in line

It is encouraging to learn that the Prime Minister is concerned about large queues at Suvarnabhumi airport, particularly at the arrivals area. We've all probably experienced that sinking feeling after stepping off the moving walkway and being faced by a definitely non-moving formidable queue. It is especially grim if you've just suffered an exhausting long-distance flight and are already feeling knackered.

Of course you get similar large queues in airports around the world. No one likes to stand in queues, be it at airports, banks, buffets or bathrooms. The painful truth is that, apart from being a very useful word in Scrabble, queuing is definitely not much fun.

Coming from England I have considerable experience in the doubtful joys of queuing. Queue etiquette was an essential part of our upbringing. A teacher at my school was forever shouting at our class "get in line you horrible lot!" A survey revealed an English person averages a total of four days a year standing in a queue. It's almost a national sport. When you consider the average "influential person" in Thailand might spend four seconds in a queue it suggests quite a cultural gap remains.

As George Mikes, the Hungarian-born English writer once observed: "An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one."

Following the passing of Queen Elizabeth in 2022 we had the opportunity to watch first-hand the British displaying the art of queueing. At one stage people stood in line for as much as 24 hours in the nearly 10-mile-long queue to see Elizabeth lying in state.

One twitter thread called it "a triumph of Britishness."

The som tam test

One thing I have always suffered from is poor queue assessment, especially at airports. Whatever queue I join there always seems to be someone who has problems with their documents resulting in the queue grinding to a halt. However, sometimes there is a surprise in store.

On one occasion I landed at Don Mueang after a trip to Australia. The queue had been painfully slow-moving and ominously the immigration officer appeared to be not in best of moods. When it came to my turn he perused the documents and asked how long I had been living in Thailand. I told him it had been quite a long time. He examined the documents again and kept frowning. It looked like I was in trouble.

"Can you eat sticky rice?" he asked in Thai.

"Yes" I blurted out, a bit baffled by the question.

"Can you eat som tam?" he asked.

"Why yes, my maid has a som tam cart and …"

"Welcome back to Thailand" he said grinning and I was waved through having passed the Isan food test.

Adventures of Ai Dum

The striking photograph in Wednesday's Bangkok Post of a black panther roaming freely in Phetchaburi's Kaeng Krachan National Park brought back memories of a classic Thai news story.

Long-term readers may recall the adventures of Ai Dum, a black panther which escaped from a Bangkok household in June 1981. For nearly six weeks the panther was on the run with regular sightings of the creature at the old Makkasan railway engine graveyard, although most turned out to be mangy stray dogs. The increasingly nervous public demanded action.

After 41 days it was announced that two wildlife officials had fearlessly overpowered Ai Dum with tranquiliser darts in the Makkasan railyard. The next day every Thai newspaper carried front-page photos of the panther and its captors who were dubbed the "Heroes of Makkasan". Shortly afterwards Ai Dum was released into the jungle by officials at a wildlife sanctuary in Uthai Thani.

End of story. Well, not quite…


A couple of days later an irate owner of a zoo in Bang Pa-in showed up in Bangkok demanding to know what had happened to the black panther two men had rented from him the previous week. The men had told him they needed the panther for "a show" in Bangkok, which actually wasn't far off the mark.

Of course the men in question were the two "heroes" who later admitted they had planned to return the panther after a few days but hadn't bargained on the authorities quickly releasing Ai Dum into the jungle. The heroes quickly became villains and ended up spending the next few years paying back the zoo owner in instalments.

In subsequent years whenever I passed the Makkasan railyard I couldn't resist looking out just on the off chance of spotting Ai Dum running around, because the original escaped panther was never actually caught.

The lost bass

One of the more cheerful stories in recent weeks was Sir Paul McCartney getting back his legendary bass guitar which had been stolen more than 50 years ago. Musicians can become quite attached to their instruments and McCartney was "delighted" at being reunited with his old guitar which he bought in Hamburg in 1961 for just 30 pounds in his early Beatles days. It is now worth millions.

Apparently the violin-shaped Hofner bass was stolen from the back of a van in London in 1972. Last year fans organised a "Lost Bass Project" in a bid to recover the instrument. It was eventually discovered in the attic of a house in Sussex. I fear the only thing I would find in my attic would be dead squirrels.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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