GESTAPO CAR PARK
By Andrew Biggs
The Don Mueang car park is absolutely full but there is a tiny, tiny sliver of space right at the entrance — and the security guard has agree to let me park there.
For this reason I will neither be condescending nor critical of him. Little do I know at this point, however, my father’s declaration throughout my childhood that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is about to ring true.
I admit that when it was clear there were no parks I did wind down my window (and am I the only person still “winding down” my window in this day and age?), hoping the security guard in question may remember my face.
This is a plus for any of us who have graced televisions screens, and especially those of us who, in the halls of the FCCT, have been described as “a face well-suited for radio.” They tend to remember you better.
Drastic circumstances require drastic measures. I swallow my pride, throw on my Maserati sunglasses, and ask him for help since I’m “rushing upcountry to take part in an, er, televised charity event for disabled orphans.” My karma will catch up with me one day.
It works. The security guard’s face lights up.
“Oh-ho! Ajarn Stephen from TV! Hello!”
Ajarn Stephen?! Who the hell is Ajarn Stephen? There is a quick jostle in my head between wanting to resuscitate my wounded pride and wanting to park my car — the latter wins.
Car park security guards in Thailand are men with extreme power, and they wield it in ways ranging from benevolent dictators to little Hitlers.
We falsely believe that the cruelty of the Gestapo in World War II was limited to that period of time and location.
Wrong. I have seen people who would gladly perform heinous acts just as the Gestapo did, and they tend to wear blue uniforms and blow whistles — or take up positions in the civil service, but that’s another column.
This guard is not a little Hitler. He’s got a tough job. Being a regular to this crowded car park right below the departure terminal, I see these guys running up and down tiny alleys of space between cramped parked cars, pushing, pulling and jostling them for space.
(There is, I must quickly add before someone in a high place does, another less-crowded car park at the airport. It requires a walk to the departure terminal that takes the same time as a Nok Air flight to Phitsanuloke. Honestly … who designs these places?)
“Where you go?” the guard asks me.
“Surat Thani,” I answer.
“How long will you stay in Surat, Ajarn Stephen?”
“I’m back tonight.”
His face lights up. “Okaaaaaaay!” he declares. “Park here!” and he points to the tiny space blocked off by a single traffic cone.
What a nice man! He’s just saved me 15 minutes; for that reason alone he can call me anything.
In one deft turn I maneuver my trendy black Teana into the crawlspace between a Mercedes Benz and a BMW, instantly rendering me the poor cousin.
But as I go to switch off the engine, a commotion erupts outside.
The security guard is blowing his whistle in short bolts of aural lightning. I glance out at him and he is shaking his head even more violently than when he was talking about the murdered tourists.
I wind down … er, lower the window once again.
“No!” he is crying repeatedly, causing a hunched-over PCS trash collector nearby to raise his head. “Wrong way!”
Oh dear. I have committed the cardinal sin of parking in Thailand. I have parked with my nose in.
The guard is now motioning for me to back out.
“Never mind!” I shout through the window. I am actually well parked, but the security guard is not having a bar of it.
One of the joys of this country is its wanton disregard for traffic rules. It’s why ex-POWs end up retiring here in their thousands. All rules and regulations and courtesies are thrown to the wind … with the exception of one.
In Thailand it is mandatory to reverse into a car park space. When I say “mandatory”, I don’t mean law. I mean it is a traditional Thai custom handed down through generations, a little like performing a wai or singing sepa or acting in a likae show. You can be as manic as you like on the roads, but once you come to the end of your journey, don’t for a minute think you can barge in head-first to that car park space.
Do I really have to reverse out again? Isn’t that just going to kill another minute of my valuable time?
It actually kills SEVEN minutes of my valuable time. I timed the whole procedure.
That’s how long it takes me to slowly drive out of the park, then reverse back in without brushing against that Merc or Beamer or any of the other 12 vehicles in that crowded space around me.
All the while my guard is blowing his whistle, then I have to wait as he tries to push another car, parked in neutral, out of the way, so that I can inch forward another ten centimetres.
Seven long arduous minutes, dear reader. My arms are sore from the constant back and forth of the steering wheel while my attitude morphs from empathy to revenge.
Finally my car is parked exactly the same as it had been seven minutes previous, only I have my back to the wall. In more ways than one.
Now, in front of my car, the guard is doing something weird with his arms, pushing them forward in a parallel scissor action, not unlike a chorus girl in a Busby Berkley number.
“Your wheels!” he is shouting. “Straighten your wheels!”
My wheels aren’t straight? Is that traditionally Thai as well? Am I on Candid Camera? Is it okay to get away with murdering foreign tourists, but a crime to park one’s car with the wheels slightly skew whiff?
I am tempted to squeeze out of my car, slam the door shut and shout: “To hell with my wheels! I’ll park just the way I like! And my name’s not Stephen!”
But then I am reminded of the guard’s metallic whistle, and what a lasting impression it would make dug deep into the contours of my Teana whilst I was oblivious in Surat Thani.
With a heavy heart (and steering wheel – the power steering, like the engine, was off) I pull my wheels into straight position, a defeated, broken man against a thousand-year-old culture.
Later that evening the guard is nowhere to be seen when I return from my day trip to Surat. A supervisor nearby does reveal something interesting.
“You’re lucky to get this car park,” she says. “This area is reserved for V.I.P.’s and celebrities.”
Her comment puts a smile on my face during the drive home. Not because the guard thought I was a celebrity. I was imagining the constant stream of V.I.P.’s and starlets being bossed about and cajoled by that man and his whistle.