Sometimes I find living as a farang in Thailand to be quite surreal.
Yesterday I walked into my bank. It’s a small bank. Sichon’s a small place. I just needed some information to put on a direct deposit form. I walked into the middle of the open area so I could look around and figure the best person to approach. And then I realized there was a problem.
The place looked like, you know, when you’re watching a movie on a DvD and someone presses the PAUSE button. As far as I could figure, opening the glass door must have triggered a farang detector. Everyone had been pre-warned.
A couple of people who had walked in behind me looked like they’d stepped into a pool of crazy glue. They were stuck there staring at the wall.
The one teller who had been doing whatever it is tellers do; tell, I suppose, was now not telling.
The manager’s office was empty, but next to it was a lady sitting at a table, who had been helping two people, and who were now motionless – staring into space. The lady, an assistant manager or manager’s assistant, was staring at me, while keeping as still as possible.
I felt like a king cobra – with everyone thinking – if we keep really really still and really really quiet, maybe he won’t bite us. Eventually the lady made an almost imperceptible movement which seemed to say – if you promise not to bite me I might be able to help you.
So I smiled and wandered over. I explained politely what I needed, thinking this would upset the two people she had been dealing with, but they were still motionless, probably in even greater fear now that the cobra had moved closer.
I don’t think the nice lady had really heard much of what I’d said, but had latched-on to the keywords “Form” and “Information.” So while everyone else remained PAUSEd, I had clearly pressed her FAST FORWARD button. She ran around the bank like a chicken with its head cut off. Papers were flying. Phone calls were being made. She rushed into a back office, and eventually reappeared next to the teller. Phone screens were tapped in a frantic quest for this all-illusive “Information.”
Eventually I was summoned to the counter. The teller made eye contact and we smiled. Thailand is not called the Land of Smiles for nothing. But he was still not telling.
And the lady, with obvious pride accompanied by a great flourish, produced my form along with a hand-scribbled piece of paper. After all that rushing, rustling, calling and tapping, she’d managed to write down the bank’s address.
So then we had to take it one item at a time; which was going just fine, until I explained I needed the bank’s “Identification Code.” No one understood the word “identification” including Google Translate, it seemed. So I asked “If I want to transfer money here, how can I tell someone to transfer it to this bank?” Ahh, “Se Wift” she said “Se Wift.”
Luckily I’ve lived here long enough to know that in Thai, there seems to be some rule about not putting two consonants next to each other. Who knows what they might get up to. So you have to separate them with a vowel, a kind of chaperone letter. And to confuse matters further when trying to read Thai, these are often “invisible vowels.” Thai apparently has two of them, although just how you can tell which is which when you can’t actually see them, is quite beyond me.
So, “Yes” I said “Swift Code, I mean Se Wift Code.” And with said code neatly written on my form, I left.
And, in the same way that the door had activated the PAUSE button on my way, it clearly activated the PLAY button on my way out. I glanced back, and discovered everyone was back to normal; telling and banking, and probably breathing sighs of relief at having survived the giant cobra attack.