Zach Laan


Potentially contentious issues in the LOS

So a few quick clarification points from my previous blog before I dive into things: 1) I was reflecting upon my own foolishness as a young twenty something in a light-hearted manner. 2) I realize there's gravity to certain things I mentioned (ie. Wearing helmets, police corruption, skin colour etc.), which I will get into momentarily

Before I begin, a point I probably should have made in my previous article has to do with adaptation. When you get tossed into a new environment you observe and try to fit in. I was tossed into a district 1 hour outside of Udon Thani on the way to Sawang Daeng Din, which was a metropolis by comparison. Essentially, a completely different world from Bangkok, let alone Toronto, Canada, for a 22 year old boy. So there's the context.


When I showed up nobody wore helmets in my district. OK that's false, but the vast majority didn't and people didn't care. And this included the local police. Thirteen year olds were riding around popping wheelies without helmets. I saw a drunken man crash into a parked car and mangle himself during Songkran. People laughed it off and kept partying. I was driven drunk on the back of motorcycles when I was much more sober than the driver. However, I was ‘nong' and they were ‘P' and it was rural Thailand and end of discussion.

Now, is not wearing a helmet bad and wrong? Absolutely, I would never dispute that. All I'm saying is that it happens and I went with the flow. Foolishly. After a little while I corrected myself and started doing the right thing. It was so commonplace I didn't really think, just adapted. And that was the scariest part in retrospect, how easy and normal it all became to me. That's how immersed I was. And my initiation was much faster than most due to my homestay family, which made it 24/7 with the language and culture.

Maybe a more pertinent question for it all is why? Well, that P vs. Nong situation I mentioned above is all culture. I've been in scenarios where the eldest has simply vetoed everyone and it wasn't necessarily the best decision .And P vs. Nong permeates basically every decision making process in Thailand (ie. school budget allocation *cough*). That's part of the beauty and at times the maddening frustration of the country. Especially when it comes to potential life and death scenarios such as who is driving home.


Is there police corruption in Thailand? Yes. Are all Thai cops corrupt? No. Is it the majority? I don't know. Is it a select few? I don't know. Is it worse in cities or towns? I don't know. Those are the best answers I can give.

I was frisked and searched at random by officers doing their job after I got off a bus coming back from the south. I've been pulled over and let off the hook without paying anything. I've been pulled over and had to pay something. And I've heard countless stories from other Westerners covering all points on that spectrum, some more extreme than others. That's the reality I experienced.

Police corruption in Thailand to me is grey. On one hand, I don't mind it. On the other hand, I understand it's wrong. Maybe Omar Little from the Wire can help me out a bit here: "All in the game homie."

Cop salaries haven't gone up in decades and this is a big reason for that "why" question. You gotta survive. I had to pay a little extra once to a cop. He could've booked me for not having an international license. I paid for a nice meal for the guy with his family at MBK. So be it. He didn't ask for my rent. It was within reason. He took what I would have paid to get my license at the office. This is why some foreigners probably never bother going to get it done. Have you ever sat around for a day waiting on a work permit? I'd rather have a two second hand off and be on my way. So do others maybe. It's not right. OK. But it works. Kinda sorta. Kinda sorta like Thailand as a whole. Would raising salaries change it? Maybe. Maybe not.

And honestly, better the struggling cop gets it than his boss. High-ranking people in Thailand spend their time bleeding poor people dry for the most part. But that's a whole other can of worms for another time.

White Skin

If you're white in Thailand you're at an advantage. Period. Matter of fact, you're at an advantage in the world, especially if you're a man. You can disagree, but that's the way I see it. Also, so does Louis CK on YouTube:

Being a young white male in Canada has its perks. In Thailand?!?! Awesome. And you can't tell me any different because I was there in person from age 22-28 and personally reaped the benefits. I have friends of colour who asked me about Thailand and I shuddered when I thought about them coming out to a place like Nakon Somewheres to visit me.

Bangkok, the south or Chiang Mai? No sweat, they love tourists (for their money mainly). Outside of that track? Not so fun at times. A primary school next door to me ran a black South African girl out a town for her skin colour. Do you know what "buk dum" means? Have you seen a commercial for a skin product? White people win in Thailand. And if you're young? Double bonus. And if you're old? Not so lucky, but still not so bad. This is the general reality. Not all Thais view things like this, but a heck of a lot still do.

What's the point of all this? Not wearing a helmet or shaking off the cops is easier if you're white and know the culture (Read: What you can get away with!!). No ifs ands or buts about it. Not saying it's right, just the reality.

Concluding Remarks

"All in the game" is a great statement for Thailand. Omar, Avon, Stringer and the rest of the gang nailed it. Thailand is controlled by a few at the expense of the majority. The majority respond by doing what they can. It applies to all facets of daily life. For foreigners living in Thailand we're somewhere on the border of it all. Sometimes we get the good side, other times the ugly side. All in the game. Is it right or wrong? Should it be changed? Who really benefits? Does it work? I don't know. But I accepted it and adapted to my surroundings. Time to fade to grey.

Last note

Next time I'll really try to talk about teaching and education and what not, pinky swear promise.

I love Thailand. Nowhere is perfect.

Please feel free to drop me a line any time 


I have to agree with Scott on this one. The word 'privilege' really isn't accurate in this sense. A great number of European teachers here in Thailand left the West to escape the so called 'privilege' of anti-European political correctness spawned by left-wing cultural Marxism that sees us discriminated against in job hiring and other things in our own homelands. We are very often discriminated against here in Thailand too. When your tribal family have built up things (including reputations) from nothing over many, many generations it isn't privilege, it is earned and it is heritage - and we should have pride in a job well done. I enjoy that Thais don't do political correctness and have a strong sense of love and self respect for their people and culture.

By Joe, BKK (14th May 2014)

Rob, you are spot on my friend and I enjoyed your reply immensely. I am one of the very few farangs who work hand-in-hand with the local police in the LOS (my real second job here and, no, I'm not a Tourist P.D. volunteer in the tourist traps if that's what you're guessing!).

So, I admit my bias upfront as I am personal friends with many boys in brown and see them as the good guys (of course there are always bad apples but that goes without saying).

Having also worked in law enforcement in the West in my younger days, I can tell you hands down I much prefer the way Thai policing works here compared to my homeland.

As Rob said, the local cop/constable works FOR the village/community and thus you have true community policing where everyone knows the officer on a first name basis and likewise. Thai cops are not out to make as many arrests as they can (I had an unspoken quota back in farangland, e.g. I was not doing my job if I wasn't bringing people back to the P.D. in cuffs) and are truly peace officers in the way they handle the various duties they are called to respond to.

Thai cops are just as easy-going, passive, and gentle as the population they police (generalizing here, again, there are always exceptions in life). Thais give the respect the officers they deserve and things go smoothly 99.9% of the time. Most situations we encounter on calls end with everyone smiling, going on about their business and nobody going to jail, no kids getting hauled off to CPS, etc. and life goes on as it should. Sabaii sabaii and mai pen rai rule the day (and law many times) as many well know here.

Does money change hands at times? Sure! Does that make it ethically or morally incorrect? Not here. What is corrupt about a system where everyone agrees things are working as they should be? Only the Westerner and his/her foreign perspective sees the money issue as "corruption". I assure you, that same issue exists in every law enforcement agency in the world - UK/US/AU/EU right down to little ole Surin Thailand. Sam's comment about the iceberg is spot on true - you don't want to know how deep and ugly it gets back in the West with agencies like the N*A, C*A, F*I, M*5, etc. trying to spy and watch your every move and breath you breathe.

And, as Rob mentioned, better to help the local cop have a good meal with his family (which he WILL remember the next time he sees you) than have the politicians and so-called "leaders" fill their already fat wallets from proceeds of the prison-industrial complex where every cop is after you for any little thing they can arrest or fine you for so they can lock you up and give the private prisons more slave labor.

I'll take a Thai cop knocking at my door or pulling me over any day over one in the Western world, thank you very much!!

By M.Ed., Surin (22nd March 2014)

"Being white is a privilege where I live."

You should say "In some ways, being white is beneficial where I live". There's a flip-side to having someone assume you're handsome and civilized in manners. Also if you come across the foreign-hating gangs that have been reported in CM and Phuket/Patts, being white most certainly is not a privilege. I know multiple people who have been hate crimed on the basis of their (white) race, both in US and in Asia.

By Scott McKinney, (4th December 2013)

Being white is a privilege where I live. If you live near tourists, or go to where they go out at night, then you will be judged as one. If you live in a non tourist area, then you wont be.

Of course you have to be on your guard when you get asked for money, but everyone wants to be your friend or have you as a customer.

By Rob, Bkk (3rd December 2013)

Agreed Rob, actually corruption here is out in the open, but back in Farangland, it is like an iceberg, largely unseen yet massive. I usually find it hypocritical when f-rangs criticize the way they do things here...not that we shouldn't point out actual evils. Tea money doesn't seem evil or wrong to me.

Also there are plenty of sociopathic people (particularly bargirls) out to prey on gullible visitors, and being white makes one a target...not sure how that constitutes a "privilege". Also there have been a string of hate crimes against white people in Asia, South Africa, USA, and elsewhere, with no corresponding outcry. Not exactly a "privilege".

By Sam, (3rd December 2013)

With regards to police corruption, my gf thinks its a much better system than the transparency we have in the West. She explained it as follows

Police Officer lives in the community, as do his family. Everyone knows he has to police them, and also he is poorly paid. Taxes could go up to pay him, but this puts the money in the hands of politicians, who are not trusted. Therefore, the people would rather give the money direct to the policeman.

Now, if the Policeman gets too greedy, the community ostracise his family, politely informing him that he is taking liberties, and he is working for the community, not against them.

Now if all you see is the bribe at the moment of impact, you see corruption. When the system is explained it sort of makes sense. Its still corruption, but it could be a lot worse

By Rob, Bangkok (3rd December 2013)

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