A story from the Bangkok Post website caught my eye this morning. The headline was ‘attack on foreigners gives tourism operators jitters'.
Yes, it was another story of foreigners being assaulted and mugged in Thailand. Tales of this nature seem to be becoming more and more commonplace these days - or they are if you spend enough time on social media.
To summarize, an Italian and a Moroccan, both in the country to study kick-boxing, took a ride out to a local beach in Prachuap Province on their rented motorcycle and ran out of gas on the way back home. It was while they were pushing their motorbike along dark and deserted roads that they were set upon by three Thai guys. The bandits made off with cash, passports and credit cards - and the motorcycle. Judging by the photo that accompanied the article, the foreigners also sustained a few cuts and bruises.
Not for a moment am I condoning the assault because it's a terrible thing to happen but I read other accounts of this story from various news sources and not once in the Bangkok Post article does it mention that the attack actually took place at two ‘o' clock in the morning. I happen to think that's an important detail to miss out. And trust me, I'm a stickler for details. It's a crucial part of the story because anywhere in the world, not just Thailand, you are far more likely to be roughed up and parted from the cash in your pocket if you are wandering around in the dead of night.
Trouble in Pattaya
Here's another very recent story - this time from Pattaya. The headline screams ‘Beach Road tourist brutally beaten by Pattaya motorbike taxi drivers'. And the story is accompanied by a photo of the unlucky and heavily bandaged Monsieur Gabrielly as he crawls along the floor in a clear state of distress. Apparently, all the 63-year old Frenchman had been doing was returning a rented motorcycle.
Now, rather than cry out ‘the bastards! Hunt them down and give them twenty years hard labour!' (as many would) I tend to analyze the story, pick it apart and focus on what's NOT being said.
This is a sentence from paragraph four - "an argument developed after he [Mr Gabrielly] was refused the return of his 1000 baht deposit". And that's really it. A crucial part of the story just glossed over in what becomes an unsupported, almost ‘throw away' line.
So what happened?
Why was he refused the deposit on the motorcycle? Was the bike returned damaged and in poor condition? Exactly how ‘heated' was the argument that ensued? What provoked a group of motorcycle taxi drivers - presumably a group of guys who work from the same pitch every day - to set about the foreigner? For me there are too many questions that go unanswered. Readers are only getting ‘half of the story'. You kind of get used to that in Thailand.
As any expat who has lived here for a while will tell you, the Thais are generally a peaceful and non-confrontational people - but they have a tipping point. And oh boy, if you push a Thai over that line then just pray you don't get caught up in the eye of the storm. Things can get very nasty and very quickly indeed.
It's possible that Monsieur Gabrielly demanded his rental deposit be returned and a gang of Thais - upon seeing him arguing with their friend the motorcycle renter - ran over and beat him up for the sheer fun of it. That would be just terrible.
However, it's also possible that the foreigner started insulting all and sundry with some universally understood colorful language and perhaps even flipped the bird in the process. In other words, he pushed the locals over that tipping point. I don't know because the article doesn't tell me. I wasn't there to witness things either so I'm not going to take sides and jump to conclusions based on half a story. In addition, eye witness accounts can often be sketchy and unreliable at best. It's surprising how versions of the same story can differ from person to person.
I was talking about this story with one of my followers on Twitter - a gentleman who seemed to know a lot more than I was reading. According to him, the Frenchman in Pattaya not only returned the motorcycle to the hire shop two days earlier than anticipated (and possibly wanted a couple of days refunded) but also cancelled a taxi to the airport that he had booked in advance with the same business. I suspect neither change of plans went down well with the business owner.
But hopefully you can see what I'm getting at. The whole tale becomes even sketchier and the details more blurry.
The devil's in the details
I experience these same situations within the Thailand TEFL industry. Every so often, a disgruntled teacher will contact me and ask for space on the ajarn website to name and shame a previous employer and list all the horrible things that led up to that teacher's dismissal. Perhaps a bonus was not paid as promised or a salary was withheld for no good reason. Maybe a visa run was not subsidized. The list goes on and on - and it's all the employer's fault and never the teacher's.
I don't entertain the naming and shaming of schools on ajarn for purely legal reasons but just as importantly, I've learned over the years that there are nearly always two sides to every story. I may well have the teacher's version of events but it's crucial to hear the school's side as well. You can only make sound judgements based on having ALL of the information.
This is not me siding unfairly with teacher employers because I do appreciate that are some shocking employers out there - those who DO withhold salaries and bonuses etc, But there are also plenty of unreliable and unprofessional teachers.
Be it a drunken tourist getting duffed up on Pattaya beach Road at midnight or a teacher who's being let go simply because he refuses to grade exams in his own time, you want the whole story.