About strangers crossing borders

Swedish Axel reacts astonishingly calm when the screen of the machine that is supposed to help us get across the border says “ERROR” and just now swallowed his credit card. It all started about five minutes ago when I was waiting in line to get the immigration officer to stamp my passport and welcome me with open arms…

I’m feeling relaxed as I know I have all my stuff in order.
This should be smooth sailing. The officer looks at my passport and fumbles around with it a bit not seeming to really do anything. Then he looks up at me semi bored. “ Show me the money” he says. Show you the money? What money? “Uhm, excuse me?” I reply politely yet confused. “ Show me the money” the lovely man repeats. This feels like a scene out of Jerry Maguire, except in my movie the guy is less good looking than Tom Cruise and a lot less friendly. Plus, I understood which money Jerry was talking about. This guy is not making any sense to me. Is he referring to my income? “I’m a traveller” I tell him. Yeay a smile…but a condescending one. “Yes, I know” he says and starts to scribble something down on a piece of paper. I look at it upside down and it says “Show 20.000 Baht” accompanied by the word “Notice” right below. He points at it as if this is supposed to clarify which money he’s referring to.

“I don’t have 20.000 Baht” I tell him astonished. “ Well, then you go back to Malaysia!” he replies with a satisfied evil grin, while shoving my passport back to me. He waves me away matter of factly and his face is stoic again. “ No, no wait! What are you talking about I have a visa.” He seems bored now and calls over a guy. I’m guessing this guy is going to explain to me in plain English what the officer wants from me, but he just walks away. I follow the guy and there he points at a sign which claims (in very poor English I must add) that all foreigners have to enter the country with at least ten thousand Baht.

The driver comes up to both me and Axel (The officer did the same to him) and tells us to just put 200 Baht in our passports and go back again. Hell no, am I doing that! Prior to getting to this particular line the driver had also asked us for Malaysian Ringgits “For the stamp” he claimed. I already took a stand with that one saying it’s bullshit- we don’t have to pay for that. A few moments later we saw him pass that same money to another officer in a booth. Still have no clue what that was for- gotta love corruption. “Where’s an ATM?” I ask the driver. “I’ll just get the money.” The driver does not look happy, but screw him! Well not totally, I still want him to take me across the border and to Koh Lanta : )

On our way to the ATM, we bump into the Polish couple from our van and ask them if they had to show the money as well. “Money? Which money?” Yes, exactly! Moving on… The kind Ukelele playing Brazilian is counting a stack of bills at the ATM. He was able to withdraw 10.000 Baht right before Axel’s card got swallowed. While the Japanese guy (who is also surprisingly….in our van) and Axel try to get that sorted, the Brazilian and I move to the next ATM. This one just loves to keep telling me that my transaction has been cancelled. No matter what amount I try to withdraw or which card I use. Fortunately, the kind Brazilian passes me his money so I can ‘show’ it to the officer.

Enter round two! Different guy, looks just as grumpy. When it’s my turn, he puts the “Closed’ sign in front of my nose. No way buddy! I push my passport inside before he can tell me to leave and cross my fingers behind my back. “ Show me the 20.000 Baht”. He says. Crap! I take out the Brazilian’s cash and show him the big stack of five hundreds. “Count them” Oh man!!! I just flip through them trying to make it look like a lot of money. Then he goes “ It needs to be 20.000” and gets ready to give my passport back to me. “Wait, wait!” Frantically, I reach in both pockets where I had my own cash stashed. He still doesn’t seem convinced. So I show him the dollars I have left in my pouch, including the Vietnamese Dongs (worth shit) and the Cambodian bills. He sighs and seems to give up. Do it! Come on! Finally, as in a Hallelujah moment the guy slowly puts the stamps where they’re supposed to go.

One down…Next up is the Brazilian guy, and Axel still needs to go too. Behind the line where the officers can’t see us we all pull together and give him the cash we have. It’s still not enough but we’re hoping for the best. “ We’re not leaving anyone behind!” The German Markus proudly states. We all nod in agreement. It takes forever but eventually both the Brazilian guy and Axel got their stamps and we’re ready to go.

This morning Markus was trying to get us all drunk with some sort of really strong Thai spirits. No one was interested, but now we’re all happy to share that bottle as a sign of luck and us all pulling together to get each and everyone of us across the border. “Here’s to Thailand.” Cheers!  

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