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A Thailand Experience
by René Hasekamp


Several years ago I was in Bangkok with my wife on our annual visit and while my wife had some business to do, I went shopping. We had made an appointment in Silom Road, before Central Department Store.

Well before the appointed time -I knew already about Bangkok traffic- I took a taxi and asked him to drive me to Silom. When I had entered the taxi, he said pointing at the taxi meter "Meter sia", which means "The meter is broken" and he said that the drive to Silom would cost me 200 Baht. I agreed, but now I know that I should have got out and got into a different taxi, because these taxi meters hardly ever break down. They are really very solid indeed, probably the most solid piece of high tech apparatus ever made! Anyway, I had agreed on the 200 Baht and we started.

When we approached the Victory Monument (not too far from Silom under "normal" Bangkok traffic circumstances) the traffic appeared to be completely stuck. Not just the normal traffic jam with slow driving and stopping occasionally, but waiting and waiting and waiting! Who sketches my surprise when the driver pushed a small button and, O Miracle, the taxi meter started to run as normal. He pointed at it with a big Thai smile, but I repeated "Song roy Baht", which means 200 Baht. He answered something I did not understand. I gave him a big (Dutch) smile back.

The traffic jam lasted very long, and when we arrived (two hours later!!) in Silom, the taxi meter showed 300 Baht! This was interesting: We had agreed upon 200 Baht, because the taxi meter was broken, but after it had come to life so miraculously again, it now pointed at a considerably higher amount! I gave the driver a big smile and handed him two notes of 100 Baht, while my wife ran to the taxi, anxious as she was. (I was one hour late). The driver, however pointed at his meter and smiled in turn. I smiled back and said "Khun phut waa song roy Baht" ("You told me 200 Baht"). My Thai seems not so bad after all, when I really need it! He looked very disappointed and said something I could not follow. My wife had approached the taxi in the meantime.

So how to solve this? I gave him another note of 50 Baht and another big smile. He accepted it without further discussion. Thais know when they are wrong and will not argue about that if you show it to them peacefully. (My smile was essential at that moment. And maybe the presence of my (Thai) wife too). Did I do right? Yes, I think so. He had to "pay" for his dishonesty. And he accepted that. On the other hand I don't think we foreigners should try to get everything as cheap as possible in Thailand. For us 50 Baht is not much, well to be honest it is nothing to us. I just did not give him the whole 300 Baht, because I hope to have made him reconsider his practice of telling his customers that the meter was not working which, as I wrote above, is very seldom the case!

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