Persona Grata a Thailand

January 2008 started with my arrest for ‘copyright infringement’ by the Thai police from the cyber-crime division. The commander told me not to worry about anything, despite the national TV presenting this arrest as a major blow against intellectual piracy. 20,000 shirts and $250,000. None of it mine. I was guilty of possessing 20 shirts, but the authorities had to blame the crime on someone other than a Thai.

I went through the legal process. The arresting officer put me in an office and bought beer. My bail was lowered from $5000 to $1000. No one asked for a bribe. After my release the police invited me for dinner. I barely survived that evening and woke up with a hang-over wondering about my future in Thailand.

Most foreigner convicted of a crime are jailed or at least deported as a persona non grata. The police captain once more said, “Not worry. This cost you $100. You not kill anyone. Not sell ja-bah. Small problem.”

His thumb touched the end of his little finger to indicate the severity of my situation. A Pattaya lawyer thought differently and suggested that my troubles could vanish for $10,000. My friends told stories about deportation from the court. My wife and girlfriend said that I was okay. I didn’t know who to believe and on my appointed day of judgment I entered the Pattaya court wondering if this might be my last hours in Thailand. The police processed my papers. I was put behind bars for the first time. $20 bought a chair. The horde of evil-doers were brought into court. The woman judge heard each case and assessed fines.

No one pleaded ‘not guilty’ or poop-ri-soot.

Most paid less than 2000 baht.

Finally only three people remained on the docket. The first had been caught selling 200 tabs of ja-bah.

“Five years.”

My eyes widened as did those of the next prisoner.

“Nine years.”

And he seemed relieved that the sentence wasn’t longer.

I was up. The judge asked if I could pay 3000 baht.


“Then have a good day.”

The police captain was waiting outside. We drank a bottle of whiskey. Johnny Walker Black. He explained that I was free to do whatever I wanted in Thailand as long as it was legal. I remained concerned about my status and left the country under a cloud.

Was I persona non grata?

I went to embassy this week. I plan to visit Thailand in June. I presented my passport to the consulate visa desk. The next day I came back expecting an angry red mark across a page, however the clerk said that I was more welcome than ever.

“Khap khun kap.” I wai-ed him and emerged onto 52nd Street without a shadow.

Persona Grata.

I’m going home.

A free tourist visa with 2 entry stamps allowed.

Sa-wan or heaven.

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