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In Thailand, some things are easy and some things are fairly difficult.  Collecting one's mail here sometimes falls into both categories.  Usually, if a package arrives from overseas I'll receive an EMS notice in my mailbox and have to claim it from the Rawai Post Office.  I enter the loading dock and pick up my packages in the back room, often digging through the piles of parcels to find mine, and then signing my name in a book.  If I happen to be at home when a parcel arrives, I usually have to pay the postman a minimal fee (between 5 and 10 baht).

But the largest package to arrive so far created a lot of drama in it's delivery.  This was a box of books, accumulated mail, various odd-and-ends, and a few grocery items that my sister had been gathering to send over the past six months.  When it came time to ship the parcel, she also added our wedding present.  The postage came to just under USD $200 (it was very heavy, weighing in at 35 pounds or 16 kilos).

Last Saturday, we happened to be at home when the postman came by with the mail.  I had a couple of overseas letters and he had me sign a document without any explanation as to what it was.  I figured I was signing saying I had received the letters.  It wasn't until an hour or so later as I was throwing away a few things that I noticed that this was a notice to pick up a package.  We hopped onto the motorbike and raced over to the post office only to be told we would have to retrieve the parcel in Phuket Town when mail service resumed on Tuesday (Monday being a public holiday with Chulalongkorn Day).

However, our assumption that it would be at the main post office proved wrong and we ended up going to Phuket Customs House instead.  I handed over my notification document and soon a very battered cardboard box was hauled out of a holding pen.  A group of officials in starched white shirts and epaulets surrounded me as if I was some sort of drug dealer.  I was handed a box-cutter and told to open the parcel.  Each item inside was duly scrutinized (they even opened a packet of Kool-Aid my sister had included at my request).  Even the books were closely examined (I suppose to ascertain I wasn't importing anything deemed socially inappropriate or politically sensitive).

But the item that caused the greatest commotion was the wrapped wedding present, a considerable-sized box within the larger carton.  It was nicely wrapped in high-quality paper.  I was told to open this as well.  By this time, my patience had worn thin (my copy of Bangkok: Inside And Out and two bottles of mosquito repellant had already been confiscated) and I told the officials that this was a wedding present for my wife and myself and we planned to open it at our traditional ceremony among family and friends.  "Open it now," the head official demanded.  Again, I tried to explain that I wasn't about to open our wedding gift in such an environment without even my wife present (Tim had decided to wait outside, leaving me to the lions as it turned out).  Finally, I reached a compromise and asked if I could have my wife come inside to open it.  They agreed and then the entire Customs staff (including the security guards who had appeared after my first refusal) watched as Tim (confused as to why she had to open a present here) tore the paper off of a very nice set of Waterford Crystal champagne glasses.  A very nice gift but we didn't have time to enjoy them as first I was grilled about their value.  I had no idea and gave an amount of USD $50.  The box with the glasses in it was then taken to another desk where an official consulted a large book to determine a more realistic value.

Anyway, to make a long story a bit shorter, I was soon handed a bill for an exorbitant customs/import duty tax based soley on the wedding present (the other items in the box were deemed to have no real value).  Tim told me later she could hear some of the officials discussing how much they could get out of me without me becoming too suspicious.  I ended up paying a little over 5,000 baht (about USD $125); it was my first personal experience with the infamous Thai bureaucratic bribe.  Hopefully, it will also be my last.

Other expats I've talked to about this have told me that they usually have their friends and relatives send things over in small, light packages that escape the notice of Customs.  Oh well, live and learn...

the parcel in our sidecar once we got it released from the Phuket Customs House