“Teaching Abroad,” Chapter 11

I’m Turkish”

 

Within a few days of completing my M.A., Nim and I drove down to a language center that promised education visas.  This alone already made the operation sound shady, but I was quite surprised to see what looked like a rather large school with many teachers and quite a lot of students.  It was far bigger than iStudy, and it also had English lessons for Thai.  I couldn’t help but be impressed, because this looked more like what an actual language center should be.

And you’re damn right I asked if they were hiring.

Nim talked the representative down quite a bit for a year’s worth of lessons, so the next step was to do the border run to Laos and get the proper stamps on my passport.  This process was slightly different from the runs to Cambodia as it was a longer trip with a few extra steps, but a visa run to end all visa runs sounded just fine to me.

The day of the visa run came, and much to my surprise there was my old friend John and, to a lesser extent, Cliff.  They were getting tired of tired of the monthly runs as well, and I considered myself quite lucky to have two familiar faces traveling with me.  I had never once gone on a run without these guys, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was best to have a small group just in case.  Just in case what, you ask?  Well…

I took a look around the gathering group.  There were far more people gathering than we would see on our runs to Cambodia.  I met a few friendly people, like a really short guy from Australia and a Russian hippie.  I was actually quite relaxed when I looked around.  It had always been my experience that the tone of the visa run was completely dependent upon the group.  If there were assholes in the group, the run tended to be rotten.  If everybody got along, the run would be no problem and you would often have a memorable time.  Since the run to Laos was a two day affair and not a mere 12 hours, I felt that it was tantamount to make friends quickly and try to keep this run friendly.

And that’s when I saw him.  In the corner of my eye I noticed a guy who had brought with him three rather large bottles of beer.  He was pounding his beers quickly, and I was hoping that one of the tour directors would send him on his way.  As you might imagine, intoxication is against the rules on a visa run.  Of course, I’d seen plenty of people come on a run to Cambodia fresh off of a night of partying, so the odds were not good that anybody would say anything to this guy.

Surprisingly enough, one of the drivers did confront him.  The guy was super dismissive, though.  He kept waving the driver off, repeating mai bpen rai (no problem) and turning his head as if to make the driver disappear from his sight.  The driver was losing this battle, even though he held all the cards.  It was both infuriating and disheartening.  But I knew the score.  At the end of the day, it’s all about money.

However, the thing that pissed me off the most of about that scene was the fact that the guy drinking the beers knew he could get away with it.  He knew that Thai people don’t even like to disagree in the first place, and he also knew that everything is negotiable.  This is the kind of expat that screws everything up for everyone else.  This is the kind of expat who bullies the Thai and acts like a little baby when they don’t get their way, just like our dear friend Tommy.

As luck would have it, I was stuck in the van with this guy.  He was every bit as belligerent as I thought he would be.  For starters, he interrupted conversations to interject his own opinion.  The rest of us knew he was drunk, so we did our best to play it off.  However, the dude just wouldn’t quit.  A few people tried to tell him to shut up and it would work for a while, but in ten or fifteen minutes he would be right back at it.

The last straw for me was when he started picking on a young and tragically unattractive Canadian girl.  She was so sweet to the guy in spite of his belligerence, and he just kept going making ugly remarks about her.  Finally, when he was satisfied, he told everyone to shut up so he could sleep.  I began talking to the person in front of me, so he decided to turn on music on his phone and play it at an obnoxious volume.  I finally had enough.

HEY MAN.  YOU WANNA CALM THE FUCK DOWN, OR AM I GONNA HAVE TO BREAK YOUR FUCKING NECK?”

He didn’t even turn around.  He just said “Break my neck, huh?” and then passed out.

I was a little shocked at my audacity.  I honestly didn’t mean to threaten the guy.  That’s just not my style.  The Russian hippie even turned around and shook his head with disapproval.  Why are you shaking your head at me, man?  You’re sitting right next to that piece of crap.  Still, I had achieved silence.  There was still a chance that the dude would be a little more agreeable once he slept it off.

Which was good, because I got a look at him when we made a pit stop, and he was a lot bigger and meaner-looking than I remembered.  He was disoriented when I passed by him, so there was no recognition, be he looked tough as nails and I was a little worried.

But we arrived in Laos with no further incident.  It was an overnight trip, around 10 or 12 hours, so the sun was just coming up when we arrived at the border.  The border was just opening, so we had to wait in line to submit our passports and wait to be picked up and transported to our hotel.  I saw the drunk dude looking rested and a little more jovial, so I took a chance to go and talk with him.  I apologized for shouting, and he looked me up and down and walked away.  I had a feeling that this was not good.

After checking in at the border, we were taken to a hotel.  We were free to relax for the rest of the day, so I hung out in the lobby with John, Cliff, and a few more people that I had met while we were checking in.  During our evening meal I casually mentioned that I had not been able find any weed since arriving in Thailand, to which a young African American woman replied by wordlessly reaching into a pack of cigarettes and producing a perfectly-rolled joint.  Cliff immediately signed himself up for smoking it with me, but I honestly didn’t mind.  We waited for the sun to go down, and then we headed out.

Cliff prattled endlessly while we walked down the ill-lit streets of Vientiane.  I couldn’t make out a word because I was too busy wondering if I was going to get my ass kicked the next day.  It was hard to concentrate and it was hard to enjoy my buzz.  Between Cliff running his mouth and the threat of imminent danger, the weed only seemed to complicate things in my mind.  I needed a distraction.

When we returned to the hotel, I watched Battlestar Galactica  with Cliff for as long as I could stand, then I copped out and told him I was sleepy.  I wasn’t going to waste this marijuana buzz.  I still had a few good hours left in me, so I gave Nim a quick call before watching Spongebob for a few hours before passing out.

*****

All that was left the next day was to go through one more processing step at the border.  Just like the runs to Cambodia, an agent took care off the bulk of the work for us, and we did not have to wait at the immigration office for our paperwork to be processed.  I awoke with a dirty buzz from a fitful, stoned sleep, so I copped a menthol cigarette from one of my fellow travellers and sat down to breakfast.  It seemed like all was right with the world; all we had to do was collect our passports, get them stamped one more time, and head out.

That’s when a rather large figure stood over me.

The guy was so stocky that he actually blocked out the sun.  I’m not even kidding.  Maybe it was just my imagination, but the world became significantly darker the moment he walked up behind me.

Then, he spoke.  

You have two choices:  public humiliation or physical pain.”  Him saying this would have been humorous if I did not suspect that he would follow through.

Still, my impulse to be a smart ass kicked in:  “Are those really my only choices?”

He was not impressed.  “Apologize to me!  NOW!”  I tried to stand up and he put a single hand on my shoulder and forced me back into my seat.  I was surrounded by my fellow travelers, but it was clear there would be no help from any of them.  

Resigned to my fate, I spoke.  “Look, man.  You were being a dick, but I’m sorry for yelling at you.”

He then motioned for me to stand.  Reluctantly, I arose from my seat.  He extended his hand, so I accepted.  He shook vigorously for a few seconds, then he pulled me in and hugged me.  Then, hand still on my shoulder, he said:  “I’m Turkish.  I forgive you.”

He said some other nonsense about not being such a tough guy, then he walked off.  After a few strained moments, one of the other people at the table finally spoke:  

I could’ve taken him.”

I just shook my head and walked away.

*****

Drunk dude was, dare I say, helpful and polite on the ride back to Thailand.  There were some passengers who had a few concerns about when we were getting back and what to do with their visas, and he listened attentively and sometimes offered helpful input.  It was a strange contrast to how he had been acting since the beginning.  He held doors, he helped moved the seats in the van forward so other people could get out, and he even purchased a few extra snacks and offered them to the passengers.  Most of them weren’t having it, of course, but I think we all knew to take it for what it was worth.

But it wasn’t long before his evil side popped up again.  Apparently he hung out with the Russian hippie that night after we arrived in Laos, and he was showing drunk dude the photos he had taken of their night out.  I didn’t hear the exact words that were said, but I clearly could see drunk dude demand that the Russian hippie erase all of the photos of him.  I couldn’t help but wonder why he was so adamant about this.  The Russian hippie looked scared and upset all at the same time, too, as if he could not comprehend this sudden change.  Maybe the dude was wanted somewhere, maybe in Turkey.  I wish I knew his name.  I’d be more than happy to help Turkey locate their lost son.

Like all things, the rotten visa run to Laos came to an end.  However, this time I couldn’t shake off the things that happened.  Living in Thailand was beginning to seem more and more unsafe.  If the Thai weren’t willing to shoo off potential troublemakers, then what recourse would I have?  Nobody would fire Tommy, and now this situation with the drunk guy made me think that this all was a little more dangerous than I had previously suspected.  I told Nim about the incident, and she didn’t have much to say, either.

Still, I smoked a joint in Laos with a man named Cliff Pitchfork, then we watched Battlestar Galactica.  That story alone makes it all worth it, right?

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