I’m sitting inside the tourist police office in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The room is small, about 20×18 in size. On the left side of the room is a long wooden desk, plus two smaller ones. All of them are pushed together. Behind the desks are a Thai police officer, an male interpreter, and a female worker (I haven’t figured out who she is yet). There are clocks behind the desks, showing the times for Los Angeles, New York, London, Bangkok, Tokyo, Moscow, and Brisbane. There is also a smokey-coloured double-sided mirror. On the right side of the room is another small desk, and there is a TV in the far right corner. I’m sitting in one of the double chairs, speaking with the young male interpreter about my landlord troubles. This is my last ditch effort to get some of my rent deposit back.
When I rented a room at Huay Kaew Residence on April 12th, I had every intention of staying for 3 months. I was looking forward to it. I bought sheets, and some western treats. I found a place that served amazing Paneang Gai. I was happy.
Then I realized that applying for the visas I need for the Mongol Rally would require several trips to Bangkok. I sat down and did the math. I would have to stay at a hostel for 3-4 days each time, plus round trip bus tickets, and food, which adds up. No, it makes more sense for me to move to Bangkok.
On Friday I sat down in front of the girl behind the window, and explained that I needed to move to Bangkok. I told her I was happy to pay a full month rent, but I would need the deposit back. She said, “No, I cannot.”. This was the beginning of a very frustrating conversation, which involved me asking to speak with the manager (who was in the room), and her refusing me by saying, “My manager only speaks Thai. I was willing to work with them. I was willing to meet half way. They refused to budge, which made me even more frustrated and angry. The girl behind the window refused to do anything, and said she would speak to the man I had rented the room from, and if he said he didn’t tell me I would lose my deposit, then maybe she could do something.
Everything she said reeked of dishonesty, but I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to believe that she may actually be an honest person. A complete bitch, but honest.
I finally agreed to return Sunday morning and speak with the man who I had rented the room from. I was tired, and angry. The entire conversation bothered me. I knew that if I stayed at the apartment, I would never sleep. I would just become more frustrated, and more angry. I packed up all of my things, went downstairs, hailed a tuk tuk, and left. I went to Gap’s House, in the old city. I rationalized that I would spend 300 to 400 THB anyway, if I stayed at the apartment, as I would need to go to cafés for wifi. If I went to Gap’s House, wifi is FREE. I could sleep somewhere relaxing, and calm down.
I returned to Huay Kaew Residence Sunday morning. When the man saw me, he didn’t look happy. I sat down.
“I need to move to Bangkok. I need to get my 8,000 THB deposit back.”
“No, we cannot.”
This is when we began to argue. I wanted my deposit. I was willing to pay the bill, plus a full month’s rent, but I just wanted the deposit back. He finally pulled out my contract, and made me a copy (after I asked about 4 times). I read it, and found a clause about the deposit, but I also noticed that he had never signed the contract. Only my signature was there. I switched tactics. I gave him the room keys back and asked for my 200 THB card deposit.
“No, we cannot.” Now he was just being an ass about things. I wasn’t going to let him win. I was fighting more about the principle of the matter, rather than the money (yes, I am aware that I am doing this in Thailand, the irony is not lost on me).
I sat in the office for over any hour. I’d wait for the room to be full of people, then firmly state “I want my key deposit back.” I did this over, and over, again. I’m a stubborn girl. If I decide to take a stand on something, I can be almost impossible to deal with. Eventually I wore him down, and he relented and gave me the 200 THB key deposit back. I felt proud as I walked out of the office, knowing I had played chicken with a Thai person, and won!
As I left the office, I told them I’d be back with either a lawyer (I was totally bluffing), or the Tourist Police. They dared me to do it.
I walked in with all the papers, receipts, and a copy of the contract from Huay Kaew Residence. I sat and slowly explained what happened to the male interpreter, and he spoke to the police officer beside him. I have not idea what they were saying to each other, but when I expected them to say, “No, we cannot help you”, and they came back with “We are going to call your landlord, please wait”, I was surprised. They were actually trying to help me.
As I sat in front of one of the small desks, I watched as they reviewed and discussed the contract I had signed. I answered questions about how much money I gave the landlord, and why. I agreed that I’d be happy with getting half the deposit back, I just wanted things to be fair.
“We call landlord. They said they would call us back. Unfortunately we need you to wait here until they do.”
“Okay, no problem.”
I realize I could be here all day, but that’s fine. I feel as though we’re getting somewhere. When I ask if there is a place close by where I can buy a top-up card for my cell phone, they send one of their workers to run out and buy if for me. They also offer me fresh bananas, and coffee (too bad I don’t drink coffee). Who said that dealing with Thai Tourist Police was painful?!
I basically waited, by everyone went into the backroom and ate lunch. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I waited, and waited. I waited for two hours.
The male interpreter followed me out of the building, and into a police car. We sat in the back. There were two cops in the front. Small frames, in their early forties (I think?). We were driving to Huay Kaew to speak with the manager, and see if I could get my deposit back. No guarantees. I had already decided that if I lost, I would let it go. I don’t have time to sit in Chiang Mai, and fight this out.
The four of us walked into a small, and almost bare, room. We sat down, and waited for the manager. Thai cop Tony (This will be his name throughout the remainder of this post) took my passport and wrote down my information. The manager came in, spoke, and left. We waited. Thai cop Tony disappeared, then showed up carrying a point and shoot digital camera. I thought they needed my photo for the file (which seemed odd), but when he gave the camera to the interpreter, and then got into the picture with me, I started to wonder what was happening.
Thai cop Tony looked at the photo, “Oh, it’s too dark. It didn’t turn out, see?”, showing me the photo. I pointed to where the sun was (I have no clue why, don’t ask). He then gave the camera back to the interpreter, made a comment about my large boobs, grabbed my hand, held it, jokingly saying “This my girlfriend”, at which point I turned purple and wondered what the frack was happening.
The meeting with the manager went as I thought. The contract that hadn’t been signed yesterday, was suddenly signed and back dated to when I moved in. I figured they would do this. I explained my frustration, accused them of ‘f-ing me around’, all with a calm voice.
“You cannot get deposit back. You must stay here.”
“I can’t stay here, I have to move to Bangkok.”
“Do you have friend who can stay here?”, on and on it went. I wasn’t going to get the money unless I find a sublet. I was done fighting. I’ve been screwed over, and for some strange reason I feel like this is my first real initiation into life in Thailand.
People come and go, and Thai cop Tony asks me to write my phone number and email by my passport info. I obey. Three minutes later he pulls out his cell phone, and dials my number. My cell is sitting on the table. He sees it ring, and then puts his cell away.
I leave the office, knowing I’ve lost. I post some messages about looking for someone to sublet my place, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ve just been cheated out of $250 (8,000 THB). As we leave Thai cop Tony approaches me, “My number is 924. Tony”, and shakes my hand. I smile politely and say, “Okay.” They ask if I need a ride to my guesthouse, but I decline and say I’ll take a Songtheow. As I walk away Thai cop Tony suggests I call him later. I flash an OMG-you-must-think-I’m-crazy-smile, and walk away.
This has been one hell of a weekend. The majority of my time and energy has been spent dealing with a crooked apartment agent, trying to find help (answers), and sitting inside a tourist police station. In the end I lost my money, and gained the phone number for a cop that I am not interested in. Part of me is relieved, and part of me is dreading a phone call from my little friend. I think I’ll make his ring tone the theme song for JAWS!