Deportee

sayarsan's picture

The stays in the various lock-ups and the old prison at Mae Hong Son are full of interest and wonder too much to go into here suffice to say I enjoyed my time, despite the stress and privation, and finally began to speak some Thai and understand some, it was the common language in my dreams for a month or more after my return. It was of no help when I was being driven out of Mae Hong Son while all my possessions remained in the guest house. I had been fined B5,000 and had to pay B5,000 to pay for an immigration official to escort me by plane to Bangkok where I was held in the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC). What in fact occurred was quite different but I still foot the bill. The average yearly wage at that time was B250/yr.

After I had accepted that my possessions were lost when I declined help from the Embassy we had a limited conversation when the Immigration Officials told me of their distaste for the police adding that they liked me. “Police are not good” I was told; “You can come back, no problem, change name and get new passport you can come back”. The handcuffs could stay off but remained in clear sight on the dash of the twin cab ute we rode in, the back packed with rainforest plants to decorate the sprawling suburbs of Chieng Mai, either a gift for a friend or a convenient earner – perhaps a bit of both. It takes a few hours to drive to Chieng Mai via Pai and Chiang Rai through some truly beautiful country although when it is too wet the road is in a state of permanent repair from washouts and when it was hot and dry the many fires burning off brush and undergrowth made the road hot enough to blow the tyre on a motorcycle. We stopped for lunch at a small roadside café outside Pai which was run by what looked to be Lhisor folk which I thought unusual since hill-tribe people rarely involved themselves in such commercial ventures in those days. The Lhisor were an enterprising lot, at least a couple of groups of girls with a couple of women would daily set up a sale of handcrafts and souvenirs for sale to the tourists and in my time I became aware that they grew opium predominantly for sale while the Lahu tended to be primarily concerned with supplying themselves.

We arrived in Chieng Mai where I went to the jail for the night where they took five men out of a cell leaving one man and enough room for me. My companion, a cop from Bangkok, spoke passable English. He had come up to Chieng Mai and apparently went a bit wild and abducted a woman using his service pistol and handcuffs but as to the fate of the woman I am unsure. Across the wide corridor were cells all crowded so that inmates had to sleep in turns like the one that was emptied for my benefit. Refugees from the civil war in Myanmar; Karen, Karenni, Shan, Burman and smaller ethnic groups, one woman so beautiful I stared at her most of the night without embarrassment and since they returned the attention I assumed it wasn’t considered rude. In the morning her husband brought their infant son to his beautiful mother so I got the opportunity to give him two packs of Winston which could be used as currency for food etc. The fellow I shared with for the night gave me a gift of a varnished sea-horse shell and I reciprocated with a pack of Winston cigarettes then my friends from Immigration came to continue the drive to Bangkok.

The back of the ute was empty now and I made the journey between Chieng Mai and Bangkok by day for the first time. Soon we were down on the plain which makes up the most populated and cultivated part of Siam with an occasional imposing hill until we reached Ayutthaya, the former capital until it was sacked by the Mon/Burmans about 250 years ago. Because I was primarily interested in the Tai Yai I had neglected visiting this place previously and although there was no time for sight seeing I was treated to a top meal of huge fresh-water crayfish. When I say huge these were a farmed and fairly uniform 20cm in length all up and the tails were delicious and wonderfully delicate to eat. We had picked up one of the officials from the Ayutthaya office and had entrees while we awaited the boss from the Ayutthaya office to arrive and we had a full meal and a bottle of Sang Thaep whisky. We were five by now and spirits were high as the sun set and we went to sort out accommodation.

I wasn’t taken to the local lock-up on my last night vaguely free in Thailand and we drove around a few hotels until we found one that could accommodate the three of us in one room; the officials got the two beds and I got the couch but the night was still young and we were to go out for dinner. As my companions got changed after having a wash they asked me if I had any good clothes. I don’t where they supposed these clothes were secreted since I had one shoulder bag carrying all my possessions including another set of clothes just the same as those I stood in through all my time incarcerated up in the hills. I was dressed the same as a Tai Yai peasant and longed to have the beautiful traditional linen Tai Yai suit and scarf that remained with all my other goodies in Mae Hong Son. I made myself as presentable as circumstances allowed and we three met our two friends from lunch at a restaurant that clearly wasn’t used to accommodating people of my appearance. The restaurant was hosting a few tables with large gatherings of what looked like Japanese businessmen and smaller groups and couples and the tourist industry must be a lucrative prospect for such a business. The raison d’etre one could say so it was of some value that of the government officials who command the highest income from kickbacks and bribes are the Immigration Department. A tactful explanation of the circumstances from the local head of Immigration got us in and we dined and enjoyed a show by an entertainer who played guitar, piano and a few traditional instruments and sang songs western and Thai as well as taking requests from the audience. It was a high end restaurant indeed and it was a wonderful night.

The next day we took off for the Immigration Detention Centre(IDC) in Bangkok and I noticed the aura of Bangkok clearly for hours before we got there. It was the first time I had driven into Bangkok in the day time and I was impressed by the change in the scenery changing in front of my eyes from a rural landscape to an urban sprawl that became more intense until it was the mass of urban high-rise and freeways of nineteen-ninetie’s Bangkok. Somewhere in the central business district was the Department of Immigration and somewhere in there was the IDC. We drove in and pulled up behind the gates and got out of the car, my escort handed me over and we bid each other cheerful adieus “sawadii khap” and wei. I have often wondered what was in the minds of my escorts who made such a deviation from the prescribed routine for my deportation even though I was paying for it I consider it money well spent until the IDC although these officials had colluded in stripping me of all my possessions which I had stored in the guest house. Par for the course for deportees I found out when I got the chance to talk with other deportees.

There are no Thais in the IDC so conditions are much worse than the prisons that accommodate the Thai population. I was in a large dorm sleeping a hundred and some scores of men from all over the world. Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia, and all other countries in Asia, Europe and one other person on an Australian passport but of European extraction. One nationality conspicuous by its absence was the U.S.A. Here I felt as if I was part of that seething mass of humanity that populates the planet more than any place I have been. One man was conspicuous because he spoke a language unknown by anyone in there. He had been picked up in the far south of the country on the Malay border and had no papers. He had a home, a house but no address, no street name and no birth records. He was the only person who was waiting to get out, maybe once the necessary funds are raised to bribe a petty official. Unable to have a conversation so unique was his language he spent a lot of the time singing and dancing, like the young man from India who was given to despair and climbed into the bathing water a serious breach of hygiene which demands the tank be emptied of water, cleansed, and refilled. There were deportees living there because to go home is a worse fate or simply because there were no funds to take them anywhere. At reception there were inmates working permanently taking care of the small chores dealing with the belongings. Some belongings would be kept in storage at reception but I had none except the basic necessities which you are allowed to keep on you. The workers in reception ran a service for other inmates whereby the money would be payed for foodstuffs, toiletries, and similar sorts of provisions to the working inmates and presumably there is a Thai working in the IDC who does the trip to the shops and as close an approximation to the requests are bought and sorted. There was a significant mark-up in price as you would assume, enough to put it outside my reach. All the currency I had was my carton of Winston which was still only half gone after all this time and I still had plenty of the locally grown tobacco from Mae Hong Son which is what I preferred to smoke.

                                                                                                                             

                                                                        The door leading into the one of the dormitories where all transactions and visits took place.

Once inside the dormitory which is always full I gravitated, if that’s the word, to a small space between an Englishman and a German. I squeezed in and over a couple of days my space had become bigger but I never really noticed when, full to capacity but short of bursting. Tension existed at prayer time for the two strains of Islam which led to praying competitions which upset the rest of the inmates, never did it erupt into violence during my short stay of about ten days while an officer from the Australian Embassy organised the purchase of the ticket but not the cost so long days were spent waiting for the officer to reappear at the gate to the dorm where there was usually somebody and often a crowd of people waiting for the same thing. The gate was also the site where supplies came in so the trade added to the crowd and it transpired that those with the most ability to spend had their spot nearby this gate but not so close as to be imposed upon by the crowd. A collection of amiable Africans occupied the prime spot and an Austrian who had been released after doing over ten years in prison, a German in a similar position was next to him. Unable to get any privacy there was a degree of bravado involved in this ‘conspicuous’ consumption and Prince, a Nigerian whose father was a Minister in the Nigerian Government and I was told he was indeed a prince. He had plenty of gold from his teeth to his neck and fingers, his smile was so dazzling it was truly deadly, his companions were similar. Passing through Bangkok I had seen fellows just like them dealing drugs or hanging around Ban Lamphu where I used to stay for a few nights at most, passing through. Their spending at the gate was truly prodigious and they had fun boasting to this destitute Australian and everyone else in earshot including the Austrian and German about their activities outside. The position Prince’s father had back home was crucial and it enabled them to import virtually any quantity into Nigeria, the problem still existed of how to negotiate Thai Police and Customs which brought them unstuck eventually but they had avoided the ten year sentences of their European competitors. They became evasive when talking about their long wait to return home and I wonder if perhaps they faced some time back home, who knows? Most of us were unsure of our futures and my immediate neighbours weren’t looking forward to returning any more than I was; “Thailand dii!” we all agreed. “The last time I was in England was more than five years ago and my Mother charged me rent to sleep on the couch..."

Between the sleeping space and the bathing area was a small room with about eight ten at most men with a permanence about them quite different from the main population. An enormous Algerian and a more diminutive Tai Yai with Sak Yant similar to mine, from Myanmar seemed to fill some function maintaining order, exactly what I am unsure but they recorded all my particulars in a large ledger but remained impervious to any questions from me ”Myanmar” was all I got from the Tai Yai when I asked where he came from. They handled the drug distribution in the dorm too, hashish, heroin, speed, spirits were all available for a price way above my head. It took no time for someone to ask how much for my cigarettes, a wiry East African with a relaxed demeanour and dreadlocks walked past while my details were being recorded in the ledger; I pointed to the sky “Rastafari! Selassie I serve continually I!” burst from my lips with a patois tone and I was greeted by a very friendly smile “Welcome!” came the reply. When he asked me how much I wanted for my cigarettes I thought of their price outside and asked him for that, ridiculously cheap under the circumstances. Every now and then, every couple of days he would invite me into the room next door for a smoke of hash or he would come outside and sit with me and the Englishman to smoke. I was, and still am intrigued by the occupants of the small room with it’s own separate bathroom where the Algerian would shoot up with those who wanted to and could afford it. The Tai Yai possibly, probably faced death on return to Myanmar, his Sak Yant was consistant with the soldiers up north on the border and a Shan soldier would expect death in Yangon. His position as an insurgent might have given him the contacts to see him stay comfortably alive in Bangkok but it certainly wouldn’t guarantee it. It is with mixed feelings that I think here in the IDC the drug trade was controlled by a Shan. It isn’t of course, it is only a small room, I never found out anything about my Rasta friend or the other occupants of the room and what were the qualifications for admission to this distinct elite. Neither Prince nor the other Africans nor the Austrian nor other Europeans had anything to do with them unless it was to buy drugs. In retrospect I suppose it could be that the occupants got their spot in the room through some contact or influence and they weren’t going anywhere, they were insulated from the fluctuations in population pressure that the transients and unconnected were subject to. The Algerian was truly enormous but spoke excellent English and was literate in Thai from his work with the ledger, all excellent qualifications for the role of Room Leader that I had seen in prison. The circumstances in Algeria at that time were not something one would look forward to living in especially with an outstanding criminal or political background that conflicted with the regime, something like the Shan in Myanmar. Maybe the eight men amongst them could handle almost any language in the world, except for Pattani for our stateless member from the Malaysian border.

The time came for me to go to the airport and I collected my things and left the IDC for the airport in a car with two officials. At the airport I was taken to the departure lounge where the cuffs were removed and I waited for the flight. Upon arrival I didn’t even stop at the customs check and I left the airport for West End, a very dead end compared with the idyllic impression of Mae Hong Son and the horrendous conditions 50kms away in the Shan States across the border where the longest running civil war in our region is still unresolved after more than 50 years.