Tuesday, March 29, 2005

You Can't Find City Hall

The story about Ko Phi Phi, Thailand needed the balance of a government voice and I, frankly, needed to get off the island for a couple debris-free days so I took the ferry over to Krabi. Jessica was with me and we met Monique and Alison at a guesthouse near Au Lang beach the day before my birthday. On my birthday the three Canadian girls and I took a longtail boat to Poda, a lovely, sandy, quiet island; then had dinner and Thai massages. The day after my birthday I went looking for the governor.

First I had to wake up and then I had to eat breakfast. This being the day after my birthday those activities took me to 1pm. Then there was the small matter of some virus coursing through Monique’s 18 year old body. Monique had basically never left her remote city of 40,000 before coming to Thailand and feeling sick. A succession of doctors had told her she had a virus and should go home so she needed to find a doctor who would tell her she could stay. This was proving challenging. We walked around town looking for a clinic but they were all closed from 9am to 5pm while the doctors were in Krabi. She decided to wait for the doctors to come to her rather than going to find them. I went to Krabi myself.

My daily budget in Thailand is 1000 baht and a taxi to Krabi costs 400 baht so I tried to find a see-la, those pick-up trucks with the two benches in back and something of a roof to hang on to. After a half hour of looking and waiting in the 2pm sun, a truck pulled up and said he was going to Krabi. The ride cost just 30 baht.

I had no idea where to get off in Krabi but the map made it look like City Hall was at the end of the road. At the see-la's last stop I decided to get out. The only other girl left in the truck tried to help decode the map and finally explained to a bike-taxi driver where I was going. Twenty baht seemed like a small price to pay to get to City Hall quickly, after all it was already 3pm and I had no arrangements to see the governor or anyone else at City Hall. I didn’t even know if anyone would be there on the Monday after Easter (though the 60% Muslim, 40% Buddist population here certainly helped my chances).

The motorbike sped away with me sitting behind the driver and my 160,000 baht worth of video equipment strapped to my back. Bike-taxi drivers are not required to pass any biology or physics classes to wield their death machines around the streets of Thailand and additionally demonstate no “common sense” knowledge concerning the fragile nature of human skin or any of Newton’s various suggestions. Five minutes on a Thai motorbike will inoculate you from a lifetime of potential fear in taxis anywhere else in the world.

After about five minutes the driver pulled up at something that didn’t look much like a City Hall. We got off and he went into the travel agency to talk to the woman there in Thai. I pulled out my map and pointed to City Hall and heads nodded and we got back on the bike. We swung around a few more corners and passed a few more cars by jumping into oncoming traffic and again stopped at something that looked little like a seat of government. A man came out of the double glass doors and I looked up at the sign above his head. “City Hotel.”

Amused, I pulled out my map and did some more pointing. I’d like to think that if someone brought me a map of Manhattan written entirely in Thai and pointed to City Hall I could at least get them to Bowling Green. So far we’d gone from Times Square to Madison Square Garden to the Dakota.

Back on the bike we cruised around familiar corners and up a hill back out of town. The bike pulled into a parking lot and stopped. This looked like City Hall. The driver insisted on 40 baht instead of the agreed upon 20 because of all the stopping and starting. Who was I to argue?

Fashion and travel aside: I’m packed for a year with five things that go on my torsoe and three that go on my legs (plus underwear and socks). These items must be appropriate for hiking glaciers, going to the beach, going to clubs, going to bed, going to ratty places where nice things make you a mark, and today, going to visit the govenor of Krabi provence, unannounced and uncredentialed to ask him if his government is “starving out” the people of Thailand to serve larger corporate interests.

So I get off the taxi and pull my one collared shirt out of my bag, throw it over my sweat-stained t-shirt, and walk into what I hope is City Hall. Inside, six guys in pressed slacks and loose, short-sleeved shirts are punching the clock at a table in the lobby. One of them approaches me. “I’m a writer from America doing a story about Krabi, is it possible to speak to the governor?”

The man and I go up some stairs and into a room with people surfing the web. At the end of the room, behind a desk, an older man in a red shirt seems to be in charge. My escort says something and he says something back and we head out of the room, down a hallway, and back down the stairs.

“They aren’t handling that anymore, we need to go to the department of helt.”

“Department of Help?”




I pull out my pad and hand him my pen. He writes, “H, e, a, l, t, h.”

“Health, they have all the data.”

“But I don’t need data, I’d just like to speak to the governor so he can explain what he’s doing for the people of Krabi.”

“The governor, he is here.”

“Can I speak to him? It will only be for five or ten minutes.”

We go back upstairs and through a swinging glass door. The hallway is filled with desks, the desks are filled with young workers in military outfits. They wear long sleeves. It’s 30 degrees cooler than it is outside. I sit on a couch and my escort speaks to a man at one of the desks and the man looks at me as they speak.

A young, tall Thai woman brings me a glass of water.

After a while the man from the governor's office comes over. “The governor is in a meeting.”

“That’s okay, I can wait.”

“Wait here then.”

After a little while the man from the governors office invites me into the next room, which is apparently adjent to the governor’s. “You are a writer from America? Can you write your name and who you work for.”

After a while the meeting ends and men in military dress leave the governor’s office. I get up and grab my bag. “Just one minute,” the man from the governor’s office says.

He looks into the tinted glass window. I pace around for a while then sit back down. “You know the governor studied at the University in Texas,” the man from his office says.

It’s a little after 4pm and I’m looking over a couple notes on my pad, worried mainly with how to pronounce the governor's name.

“Okay,” the man from the office says. “Go in.”


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