Farang in the free food queue


Not far from the Land Office in South Pattaya, a straggly line of perhaps 400 Thais wait patiently in line for the food handouts scheduled for four o’clock. That’s because the sun is sinking. Amongst them is a down-at-heel Englishman in very late middle age, his eyes fixed firmly ahead as he shuffles along whilst keeping social distance from his neighbours. Two Thai volunteer policemen keeping order totally ignore him.

His name is John and he comes from Yorkshire. He was made redundant from a factory last year and decided to blow his lump sum on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday in Thailand. He started off last December in Pattaya’s four star hotels but rapidly dropped down the Trip Advisor star ratings as his cash shrank before disappearing altogether. He currently lives in a single room with a group of out-of-work bar workers who, he says, took pity on him.

John seems to have made every mistake in the book. Certainly most of them. He wasted his resources on booze and one night stands and failed to renew his visa before March 26, thus falling outside of the immigration bureau’s free amnesty programme. In any case, he sold his passport for 200 baht some weeks ago to a Thai stranger who said he had a very fine collection of them.

Helplines aren’t of any use to John. He did phone the British embassy but did not get any further than a series of recorded voices telling him how busy everyone was. In any case, all embassies can do in such cases is to offer to contact friends or relatives for supportive cash and John, a divorcee, hasn’t got either. He also claims to have contacted the Samaritans. A volunteer did listen sympathetically but then advised him to contact the British embassy.

Sooner or later, of course, John is going to be arrested for immigration offences. The procedure then is well-attested: a court appearance, a short local prison sentence and a much longer sojourn in the Bangkok immigration detention center awaiting deportation and blacklisting. Since the Thais don’t pay for the airfares of criminals, John could be in for a long wait. Embassies these days don’t pay air fares directly but usually have access to charities. The process can take months for obvious reasons – “pour encourager les autres”.

John says he is in no hurry to return to UK where he has nothing positive to look forward to. “Thais are very friendly and the only people who reject me are other farang,” he says. “I intend to give myself up eventually, but I’m actually happier now than when I had a full wallet.” He adds that the current lockdown in Pattaya isn’t too bad as there aren’t any tour buses clogging the roads and “there’s nothing to waste your money on anyway.”

It’s John’s turn now. He examines with obvious relish his small plastic bag containing fried chicken, tinned fish, a packet of biscuits and two mini bananas, commenting, “You won’t believe this, but I used to be a strict vegetarian.” As he departs, he pulls his face mask firmly down over his chin. “I feel quite safe with this on. Nobody can recognize me, you see.”