Sunday, October 11, 2009

Safety Advice for Visitors to Thailand

Last night I happened to be eating dinner across the row from a very stern-looking Thai military man in full uniform. Of course, he was not actually stern because he is Thai, and so he began talking to me to practice his English, asking me about my skateboard and how I learned to read Thai. It was a pleasant chat with a pleasant, well-meaning man, and when his food came, we agreed that it was quite nice to talk to each other.

At the end of my meal, as I got up to pay, he had his eyes on me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wad of bills--I don't carry around a wallet here because all I ever have in my pockets is cash, coins, and my apartment key, so i saw no reason to spend valuable Baht on a wallet.

"You do not keep your money in a wallet?" the military man says to me with some suspicion.

"No, I don't have a wallet," I tell him.

"You just keep your money in your pockets?" he asks, looking at me strangely.

"Yes, in my pockets."

"And what if you need to carry around an ID card or passport?"

I happened to be carrying my Passport that day, so I took it out of my back pocket and showed it to him.

"I see," he said, nodding gravely.

"Listen," he said suddenly, "Be careful."

"Be careful? Why?" I asked.

"Do you know what Songkran is? The water festival?"

[Songkran is a three-day citywide festival where everyone throws water all over each other all day and night, from buckets and hoses and waterguns, etc.]

"Yes, I know Songkran."

"Be careful for Songkran," he continued, quite serious, "and make sure you put your money in a plastic bag. Or it will get wet."

I thought about this safety advice coming from a member of the national army--that this of all things, was what I as an American carrying lots of loose bills in my pockets should be worried about--and I wanted to thank him, not only for offering the safety advice, but for offering that specific safety advice, that this was what I had to be wary of in this city. This is a great town, Chiang Mai, with great people and, apparently, no pickpockets.

Now if you'll excuse I have to run and make it to the plastic bag store before the start of Songkran.

Which is in April, by the way.

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