Friday, August 19, 2011

My Evening In The Amphawa Police Station

On the second night of my short stay in Amphawa it was balmy and clear, and the gentle breeze provided just enough natural air conditioning to keep us cooled off as we walked farther and farther from the floating night market area and towards the shore of the Mae Khlong river.

Reaching the promenade alongside the wide, brown water I could see the crescent of lights curving off around the bend in the river and hear the conversations, laughter and song from people sitting in the restaurants around us. Those sounds were mixed into a chorus of insects on both sides of the river; from those directly below us and on the far side, where greenery reigned supreme. The sound from the opposite shore was louder overall, but muted slightly by the distance. It made me wish I had a recorder to capture it.

We walked for at least a half hour along the promenade. I stopped to take night shots and we simply sat and soaked in the surroundings, but my friend was getting tired; he was rubbing his eyes and I noticed he seemed a little sleepy. When I asked him if he wanted to get back to our cabins and turn in for the night he admitted he hadn't slept well the night before and was ready to turn in. His cabin was next door to one of several in a row filled with students in the 18 to 20 year old range, and with four to a room they were up late watching TV and horsing around, as kids that age will do.

I looked longingly down the promenade and I guess he heard me wish I could still walk along for a while because he said "I'll cut across here and get the car and come back for you. Would that be enough time for you?" I agreed that it would be, so off we went in two different directions. To make a long story short, he forgot precisely he'd left his car, so was looking for it for a while. I went down as far along the river as I cared to, and then came back up to a point near where we'd begun to listen to the karaoke that was now in full swing at one riverside restaurant.

Across the road within sight was a single-story building that had only two light on the outside but was absolutely ablaze with fluorescent lights inside. I walked over closer and began taking pictures of the place - without a flash, naturally, as it was the light spilling out of the place that made it interesting. One of those is below. I've darkened the interior of the place a little to get some detail to it because it was bright, even with the tinting on it.

I was just across the street by this point and wondering who on earth would be working at 10pm/22:00 in an otherwise dark area when I noticed people sitting at their desks, and it looked like one was looking back at me. Just then one of them stood up and I could see a familiar brown uniform. He walked towards the entrance, through the front doors and called out to me, just as I was in the middle of a long exposure (the result was interesting, but not worth posting here). He walked towards me, faster than I was comfortable with, frankly - and I just stood still and waited while looking around, hoping to see my friend returning.

"No photo. No photo." he said, somewhat emphatically, but not sounding upset, either. "Sorry," I replied, "No problem." By this time a few others were looking at us from inside the building, and one officer was halfway out the front doors, talking back and forth with the officer next to me. "No photo," he said again, and held out his hand for me to hand my camera to him. "Oh well," I thought "there it goes." In the distance, about a block away, I could see my friend's car approaching. He pulled up to the curb close to where we were standing and I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when I felt the officer's hand clamp down firmly on what passes for my left bicep.

My friend was already out of his car and talking to the officer in Thai. He looked a little concerned when he looked back at me and said "They think you're spying on them." The officer made it clear he wanted me to come with him into the police station, and - having already seen the insides of a Thai holding cell - I started to wonder if I would end up peeing my shorts before the night was over.

I was led inside the building, searched and patted down by one officer while another watched and a third took my passport off to copy, I supposed. My friend was kept away from me at first, but when there wasn't someone there who knew enough English to be able to question me they patted him down and checked his ID, too, and then allowed him to stand near enough to translate for me. No, I wasn't spying. Yes, I was a tourist. No I wasn't taking photos for anyone but myself.

It went on for what seemed like an hour, but wasn't that long. The officer with my camera handed it to me and said "open" so I powered it up and turned on the viewing screen, pointing to the button that would allow him to go back through my recent pictures. This he did, one after another after another; dozens of blurry attempts to take available light pictures without a tripod. I'd put in a new chip before leaving the resort, so there weren't all that many to go through, but there were well over a hundred from the river walk and the night market before it. I waited and worried. And waited and worried.

"AHH!" he suddenly exclaimed, holding the camera out to show another officer. "Oh shit," I thought, my mind racing immediately to an image of me sitting on a small cell's cement floor with 20 other hapless inhabitants. I looked over at my friend, and he seemed puzzled, thinking there couldn't possibly be anything of any legal interest in any of my pictures.

The officer said "AHHH!" again... and laughed. LAUGHED? Now I was ready to wet my pants, but then he said something to the officer he was holding the view screen out to and said something in Thai. My friend burst out laughing, too, but frankly I didn't see what was so funny. My friend translated for me: "He said 'That's my wife!'". While we were at the night market I'd asked a woman holding a small girl to stop and pose for me.

His wife and daughter.

To make a long story short (if that's still possible) the officer's entire tone changed, and since there were so many other night shots of random buildings and since they were more willing to accept that I was just another Big Pink Guy stumbling through their town it diffused the situation. They didn't offer me tea and something to eat, but I understood that I wouldn't be spending the night in a jail cell, and for that I was most grateful.

One of the officers gave me an email address to send a copy of the mother and child photo (I was told he did not want it on the internet, so I can't share it with you today) and the six of them there actually lined up and posed for me to take a picture that they also wanted sent to them. As I hope to return to Amphawa some time I won't post that one here, either.

By this time it was the witching hour, and adrenaline coupled with the resulting crash from it had left me wilted and sweaty, and I was ready for sleep. The same officer who'd pulled me by my arm into the station held the door open for us, and I could hear my pillow calling me as I walked, still shaky, back to my friend's car.

I slept like a rock that night.

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