Today Thailand was voting. Unofficial results should be known by 10pm, about the same time as the results of the second stage of the Tour de France.
Since Bangkok besmirched its streets with myriad election posters over a month ago, I’ve kept an eye on a couple of them round the corner: their large plastic surface would be ideal to repair the balcony door which, after twenty years of rain and shine, is falling to pieces. I consulted the law: once the voting ends at 3pm, anyone could grab them, my lawyer daughter said (she even called at 2:30 to remind me).
So out I went a few minutes before three. The posters were gone!
Undeterred I went further down the street. By the police station intersection, two very large ones were still standing. I inspected them: the Phuea Thai party one was ideal, as it was fairly rigid and would be easier to handle than the flimsy Democrat one I had hoped to bring back.
Just for kicks, I decided to go inside the police station to ask for permission to take the poster away for house repairs. There was one officer in uniform and one in jeans and t-shirt talking in the dim anteroom. With a smile I explained what I was after.
Followed a hilarious bilingual dialogue: seeing farang me, the officer in uniform decided to brush up his English and, as the farang spoke fluent Thai with a grin, the Thai mouthed laborious English with a solemn face, eyes to the ceiling, as if consulting some dusty textbook in his mind.
The exchange? I’d have to wait until midnight. But by midnight the posters will be gone! I invoked the law, the fact that my neighbours hadn’t waited as I did to help themselves, I was merely reporting my intention to avoid suspicion, and then I made a play on words that carried the day: since I didn’t have the right to vote (lueaktang) I should have the right to choose (lueak) a poster to set up (tang) at home. The fellow in jeans who pretended to be reading a magazine shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
As I was unfastening the poster, a middle-aged woman, probably a shopkeeper, came along. ‘Help me get the other one, phee (big brother),’ she told me. I obliged.
The peddlers around the intersection told themselves the farang wanted a souvenir. I disabused them.
And then there I was walking back home with this huge poster under the arm, amusing the locals no end, as the least gust of wind sent me traipsing to the middle of the street.
And since I had a cutter and small nails, I immediately set about turning the poster into a panel the size of the door and affix it inside out so that only the white side is visible: it wouldn’t do for a farang to inflict on the birds and the slum people at the back the sight of a certain female face for the next twenty years.
I finished the job at 5pm, just as it started to rain.
And as I walked down the stairs, my brother called.
‘I heard on the radio there’s a woman as prime minister in your country.’
‘Yeah, right, and DSK is our next President.’
Now, for that second stage…