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I've come to accept the system of two-tiered pricing in Thailand — that farangs are expected to pay slightly higher prices than Thai people for admission to national parks, the zoo, etc.  When bargaining at open air markets, I know that as a Westerner I'll never be able to get the same price that my wife will pay.  What I take exception to is that occasionally greed takes over in certain situations; fortunately, before this week, I'd only heard stories from other foreigners rather than experiencing any obvious price-gouging for myself.

In the past few days I've been the victim of two incidents of attempted highway robbery of the greed-induced variety.  In one I was able to come away relatively unscathed.  I'm just now dealing with the second.

With our current (lack of) water situation it's needless to say that tempers are beginning to flare.  We still are unable to receive any kind of answer as to when running water will be restored and my landlord became irate with me the other day when I asked (it was the first time I'd seen him or asked the question; he's from Grenada by the way).  We'd been buying large jugs of drinking water every day until that supply diminished and a community well was soon emptied as well.  Finally, the village council ordered a daily delivery from a water truck.  Water was to be provided to each house in our soi; the council paid for the water each day and they were to fill up as many containers of water as we had at no extra cost.

Apparently, the guys on the water truck decided they would try to make some extra cash on the side.  I was working in my office two nights ago when my wife burst inside yelling that I needed to tell the water man to give us water.  Tim rarely becomes angry with anything so I asked her what had happened.

"I don't know why water man speak not nice to me."

She went on to say that she'd gone out front and showed the men on the water truck where our buckets were (we have two round plastic garbage cans, a medium-sized ice chest, and two small pails for bailing water out of the big buckets when they're full).  He told her 100 baht.  Tim, remembering I'd told her the water was free, asked him again and he'd yelled at her that he'd said 100 baht — not 100 dollars (knowing I was a farang).  That's when she came to get me.

I walked outside and asked which of the three men told my wife that the water was 100 baht.  One of the men said that she misunderstood and that it was 100 baht for each container so I needed to pay 500 baht!  Just then, our landlord walked into view so I called out to him that they were trying to rip us off.  Normally, Jon is a very soft-spoken gentleman but he became very irate and began yelling that they'd already paid for the entire water delivery and that the men needed to fill up our buckets and I wasn't to pay them anything.  (In Thailand, you simply do not show anger towards a Thai as it never has a positive affect.  Jon's lived here for nine years and he knows how the system works but you can tell that the constant complaints about the lack of water, etc. is really taking it's toll on him.)  Our buckets did get filled but there was a lot of tension left hanging in the air.  I kept waiing and apologizing to diffuse the situation and was very happy when the truck moved to the next house.

Afterwards, Nadier told me that he'd paid the man 1000 baht two days before and Franz said he'd paid 100 baht.  Neither knew that the council had already paid for our water until they'd heard Jon yelling at the men on the truck.  Pen also told me that the girls living in the house next to her had been complaining the men had been trying to charge them every day and they had refused knowing it was supposed to me free.  Thus, they had been borrowing water from other neighbors.  I think that a representative of the council should meet the truck from now on and accompany it to each house to make sure this doesn't happen again.

If it was only a couple of days that we'd have to rely on this water truck then I probably would have just paid the 100 baht (or even the 500 baht) and accepted it as part of the system (although I'm still not happy about a Thai man being rude to my wife — perhaps he's actually Burmese or something...).  But we have no idea how long this will continue (11 days without running water and counting...).  Someone from our soi did call the main office of the Water Authority in Bangkok a couple of days ago and a couple of other people are writing letters to the Phuket Gazette so we'll see what happens...

The second attempt (successful) at "robbery" was not so easily diverted, if much less dramatic.  In Thailand, if you are farang and involved in an accident you are always at fault no matter how many witnesses you might have that state otherwise.  (I'm not sure what happens if two farangs are in an accident together; they're probably still in the wrong and the settlement goes to the street vendor at the corner.)  My wife is a very cautious driver but driving is chaotic here at best so it's just a matter of time before any one person is involved in some sort of accident.  We had a near miss on New Year's Eve but that was just a slight scrape.

A couple of nights ago (yes, the same evening of the "water incident") Tim was leaving work when she ran into a car on her motorbike.  Now, I'm not sure of the amount of damage to the car   Tim told me "car broken" and showed me some nasty-looking scrapes on her knee.  She waited until tonight before telling me as she was worried that I'd be angry about paying money since we'd just paid Alexander's tuition on Monday.  Ordinarily, since it was a Thai-on-Thai accident the money paid would be minimal (although most drivers have some form of insurance usually one just pays cash on the spot).

But Tim managed to run into the brand-new car of her boss as driven by his wife.  They know that she is married to an American (which most Thai people automatically think means "big money").  She says that she had no choice but to give them what they asked for — she hasn't told me how much but I'd just transferred some cash over from the States and gave her a nice amount to deposit into her account.  That's gone now, plus more (she had my debit card as I'd asked her to pick up something at Jungceylon on her break; I haven't checked how much yet...).

I could tell she was very upset when she told me as she was more worried about the money than the accident itself.  I told her that the money wasn't the important thing — I made sure she was okay (and was happy Alexander wasn't with her at the time).  Accidents do happen — you can't really plan for them — we'll be okay regardless of how much she had to pay her boss's wife.  I do know that if it had been somebody who doesn't know she's married to a farang that Tim probably would have gotten off by paying one or two thousand baht at the most.

I had wondered why she hadn't gone to work last night (she said she wanted to take us to the Wat Chalong Fair instead and asked Jum to tell the boss she wasn't going to work).  Tonight, Tim told me that she didn't have to work but needed to go talk to the "big boss" about something and would be home within an hour or so.  She left around 5:30 and didn't come home until almost 1:00 (I'd called her twice and both times she'd said the boss was too busy to talk to her but she would wait because it was important).

At least when I get my Thai driver's license, I can pay the Thai prices at the zoo, aquarium, etc.  Too bad that won't work at the market, with the water guy, or when we have fender-benders.

Maybe I need to have a t-shirt made up that says, "I'm American but I'm not 'big money'..."

2 ความคิดเห็น:

ไม่ระบุชื่อ กล่าวว่า...

Hey mark, I ran my motorbike into the back corner (and side) of a car that stopped quickly in front of me. It was a brand new car. Total asked for was 2000b, which covered fixing the hole in the bumper where my handlebar poked through, as well as deep scratches on the side that ripped paint off and gouged the metal... how much was your damage? Did you see the car? Just curious...

mjochim กล่าวว่า...

I thought we'd gotten off easy at 35,000 baht! Haven't seen the car (yet) but the rear left corner of my wife's sidecar is heavily dented and the brake lights are just hanging by the wires (need to replace ASAP although they surprisingly still work!). After further questioning, Tim told me she'd parked the motorbike on a hill and it rolled down, smashing into the other car as she forgot to set the brake. There were a lot of people who saw it happen. Several months ago, she did the same thing -- jumping off the motorbike with me sitting on the sidecar and running into a pharmacy. The bike began rolling backwards down the hill -- towards a black BMW -- and I had to jump off, run behind, and stop it. I got a bit bruised but at least it didn't hit that car...