marcel barang

Posts Tagged ‘Air France’


In Uncategorized on 28/09/2012 at 4:47 pm


Yes, I’ve been away. For the first time in more than ten years, I took a real holiday – three weeks in France. The pretext was ushering my daughter into a year of study at Université de Toulouse for a second Master’s, in international business law.

As luck had it, this coincided with the last few days of summer and I didn’t suffer from the cold. But it was raining on departure day, as a portent of things to come there. That and an unusual, unexplained, huge traffic jam: I almost missed the flight.

When I say a ‘real’ holiday, I’m exaggerating a bit: true to form, I had taken that translation of Saneh Sangsuk’s Under a demented sky with me to finish while my daughter was still around to enlighten her dumb father about the more intricate subtleties of the Thai language. I hoped to finish that translation before I went to Paris for a few days in mid-trip, hoping to give it to Saneh’s editor at Le Seuil en mains propres, so to speak, but that wasn’t to be. I finished it nonetheless – and 1) rereading the whole text, I’m astonished as ever by the beauty of Saneh’s prose; and 2) there are still things that need ironing out with the author himself.

Trouble is I can’t seem to be able to get in touch with the damn recluse. His phone number has changed, his editor Wiang told me last night, but the new one is off the hook, and his niece’s rings perpetually busy.

Going back to that trip to France, I had an excellent return flight for once, thanks to that magic sleeping pill that had me forget for most of the journey the craving for a fag. Besides, as my daughter insisted on my ‘repatriating’ one of her suitcases for her and as I’m fed up being routinely robbed of sundry items by airport security, I travelled with no cabin luggage at all – and encumbered myself with only a book bought at Roissy. With everyone else huffing and puffing with bulky cabin bags and packs, what a feeling of freedom this gave me! You should try it sometime.

The book was Grisham’s latest. I read some fifty pages of it before the meal and the pill.

Bangkok at 7 in the morning was an ideal 25oC. No queue to speak of at Immigration. Rather than run the gauntlet of multifarious scams at Arrivals, I went to Departure and caught a cab on the fly. He had his radio on, with some Isan muzak as background to our chat.

At the 8 o’clock news, I was in for a shock, though, when I caught three words: Khon Khrae … Seerai.

From which I deducted that the SEA Write Award had been awarded the day before to Khon Khrae (The Dwarf) by Wiphat Seethong (or Vipas Srithong, as he apparently writes his name). How could that be? I’ve reported here (‘Reading the fine print’) what this book is about and what I think of it. If I had to classify the seven novels of the short list, that one would rank sixth (Saneh’s first and Pichetsak’s last).

Yesterday’s Bangkok Post: ‘…the jury … cited the book’s ability to “present the problem of human relationships and reveal the desolation of a group of people who represent the modern society”. Kon Krae also reflects “the absence of the awareness of humanity, the self-obsession over one’s own problems, and the yearning for human relationship while defining the limitations of that relationship”.

What a load of bull!

I’m glad for the author and for his printer/publisher for the money they’ll make in reprints, since the SEA Write Award label always sells. (Please, Khun Jok, make that paperback a trade book of legible size: it’s bad enough to peddle ersatz stuff without inflicting eye strain on readers.)

But I’ve decided that, if the Bangkok Post asks me, as they have in the past few years, to translate an excerpt of it, I’ll turn them down: I will not dignify with a translation this piece of literary trash.

(Since the author has published poetry of his in English, he can do that himself, no?)


An innocent abroad – 1

In English on 24/01/2012 at 11:32 pm


At 3am on Thursday 4 January, my brother called from Toulouse to say our 94-year-old father had just died. Burial would take place as soon as I arrived. I immediately went on the net to try to book a seat on the Air France flight in the evening of the same day. No such thing. The first flight was on the next evening, which meant arriving in Toulouse Saturday morning.
(By the way, a single fare with an open return for Bangkok–Paris–Toulouse isn’t an option either; a single fare comes to over 1600 euros, whereas a two-week return fare is as low as a little over 1000 euros – go figure.)
By 10am, my resourceful daughter had booked me on an Air Asia round trip leaving Bangkok at 4pm for Kuala Lumpur and arriving at Paris Orly on Friday morning (local time) – for less than a thousand euros, including one dinner on the return trip (on ‘cheap’ Air Asia, one pays extra for meals, baggage, onboard entertainment, blanket and what-have-you, even water).

It turned out to be the most expensive, longest and lousiest return trip to France I’ve ever experienced.
One piece of advice: do not take Air Asia on long flights. (Actually, Air Asia flights to Europe and even to India from here are due to be phased out next month.)

All my life, a third of it as a reporter, I’ve prided myself on travelling the world with only one piece of hand luggage, which had me shun at some cost those functions where a three-piece suit was de rigueur. So, I packed a bag in a hurry, turned down the fellow who was arriving to install a toilet forthwith, locked the house and ran to the airport, to soon find out that, in this insane time and age, cabin luggage only is no longer an option: panicky post-7/11 regulations applied stupidly, whimsically and/or dishonestly make sure of that.

In the course of a 24-hour trip, I was treated to no fewer than four luggage checks and two body searches. (Only three luggage checks and no body search on the 48-hour return trip.) My bag was full of potentially murderous weapons, I discovered as I went along.
The fun started at the Bangkok checkpoint, by far the most stupidly thorough of them all (it’s the only one that had us take off our shoes, slippers included, for x-ray inspection – Malaysians didn’t bother; the French, reasonably enough given the weather, checked only high-heeled shoes).
Right away, three used items were ‘confiscated’, in the name of ‘international rules’: a bottle of doctor-prescribed shampoo, expensive and hard to replace; a flask of (cheap) after-shave lotion; and, believe it or not, a tube of Parodontax® toothpaste. No teeth-brushing for the next 24 hours.
(On the return trip, I made a point of introducing a new tube of toothpaste in my bag: it went totally unnoticed and surprisingly no plane exploded in mid-air.)
Somehow, there and elsewhere, I was allowed to keep a razor and its blades, my toothbrush and my faithful biro, with any of which I could definitely kill if I had a mind to.
If the next terrorist attack uses loaded underwear, will we be asked to strip or have ours ‘confiscated’?

In KL, entering the transit area straight after disembarking astonishingly required a new hand luggage search on top of the passport examination – and of course the same rigmarole before making it into the plane to Paris.

At Orly, I coughed up an extra 136 euros for ‘la navette’ to Toulouse – and was informed that there was no seat available in the early morning of the day I was due to return: I’d have to catch a flight the night before and book a room for the night in a hotel or spend the night in the TGV (actually, no such option). I can’t remember what it is they ‘confiscated’ for that flight – ah, yes, not quite: a bottle of water I was asked to drink up.

When I arrived in Toulouse, it was to learn that the burial would take place … on Monday.

And realise that, in my haste to leave, I’d forgotten the list of phone numbers of my friends in the EU. I definitely felt clandestine and castoff.
To top it all, warning me that some imposter was trying to use my messagerie from France, gmail locked me out! It took five days to convince them that the imposter was me.

For two weeks, hard labour offset the freezing cold: the burial in the village of my birth amid desiccated ghosts (‘Don’t you remember me? The last time I saw you you were nine, reading a book under the marronnier.’); the emptying of the dead man’s house, throwing away, giving away, stocking away; the scrubbing and reshaping of my brother’s much neglected house; and the kneading of my brother’s morale: he’d been on the receiving end of his insufferably ailing hence bellicose, incontinent father day and night for months and months and was suddenly back into his own skin and finding it empty.

Credit where credit is due

In English on 01/03/2011 at 6:40 pm


I can’t quite believe it: this morning, Immigration was a model of efficiency and speed.
The inch-thick pile of documents compiled over the past two months by Personnel was approved and a one-month provisional extension of my yearly visa duly signed, all within one hour, waiting time included! Was that, I wondered, because the phoo kong (department head, a woman) had seen me on television last month? I think not. At least, it made for civil conversation while she glanced at the documents once again.
I even had time to barge into the cubicle of my processing officer of the past three years (Khun Art) to wish him a happy new year. This time, it was a woman who did the processing.
Police-wise, there has been an embellishment over the previous year: my mug shot was taken (never mind the photo already in the file) as well as my right and then my left index finger prints – the computer age is dawning there too. Next year the toes?
I left feeling mighty relieved and impressed – as well as mighty sleepy as it had been yet another night of sleeplessness, the fourth in one month. Call it nerves if you will.
The question of ‘notification of residence’ every three months wasn’t raised. Maybe it will be when, four weeks from now, I go there again to fang phon (literally ‘listen to the result’, meaning being granted the extension for the rest of the year) and apply for a new re-entry visa.
There is no end to angst. Most of it self-made?
I bought cookies to the three ladies of Personnel thanks to whom the event went without a hitch and treated myself to a coffee and an ‘upside down’ (a slice of pineapple cake) – an annual sin, dating back to the times when I worked for FAO, at the turn of the century.

Meanwhile, Air France has taken no account of the double booking of flights for my daughter. I have a new password to my credit cards (no, I didn’t destroy them after all, as they are still useful anyway anywhere else than on the net) but won’t chance it again … and go to Air France and pay cash.
The latest trap I found on the Kasikornbank website when applying for a new password is worth explaining to farang readers: the relevant page has three items, in small-type Thai and bold English. The first one asks you to enter your passport or ID number; the second asks in English for Expiry Date: if you type your passport expiry date, like I did, you are done for – it is your card expiry date they want, as the Thai line specifies! I’ve suggested to them to change the English line to Card Expiry Date to remove any risk of confusion, but will they listen?

It happened last night

In English on 13/02/2011 at 8:45 pm


Sometime in April, my daughter will go to Paris for a few days with a bunch of friends, travelling with a cheap airline and an overnight stopover somewhere in the Middle East. While her friends fly back, she’ll be one of the half-dozen staying on for a few days: she’ll catch a flight to Toulouse to see her uncle, 64, and grandfather, 94. Her last visit was three years ago.
So last night, with her return flight finally confirmed, she came over so that we could book her Air France flights between Paris and Toulouse. The Air France website is well designed. We chose those flights that would give her maximum time in Toulouse yet enable her to catch her return flight at Roissy.

We booked the flights using my Visa card. Everything went well. Air France asked for my daughter’s cell phone number and instantly wired a set of figures to complete the transaction. She punched it in.
Then we were transferred to the Kasikornbank website to confirm the legitimate use of the Visa card.
That same Visa card that was blocked when, a few months ago, I tried to purchase one of my own books to check on the PaySbuy payment system of my website (see ‘A sad electronic tale’, 26.09.10).
That same Visa card for which I was issued a new password.
I keyed that password in and guess what? No can do.
Undeterred, we renewed the entire operation using my MasterCard card this time. And guess what? Same difference.
My daughter called the Kasikornbank 24/7 call centre. Yes, a man said, we have records of your booking twice the same flight as you explain. There’s nothing we can do, except wait ten working days to see if Air France has also registered the booking and asks for payment during that period of time.
Are we going to be charged twice? Answer: could be.
Can’t you automatically prevent double payment? No, but after the expiry of the twelve working days, we can cancel the payment. What you should do is contact Air France yourself.
How can we do that since we have no evidence to show for a transaction that may or may not have taken place? Well, too bad. Thank you for using our services.

In early 1978, while in Nepal just before I came to settle down in Thailand, I chanced to befriend a hippie with an attitude. He was the heir of a canned food tycoon in the States. One day, he took out of his pocket the tiniest pair of foldable scissors I’d ever seen, the size of half my index finger sheathed in black leather. As I marvelled about it, he told me he’d bought ‘a few pairs’ in France – ‘see, it says “Inox France” here’. Tickled that a Frenchman would be ignorant of his French find, he gave me one. I’ve been clipping my nails with it ever since.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll go to my Kasikornbank branch and, in front of the relevant officer, will use that pair of scissors on my MasterCard and Visa cards, which he issued to me for no purpose but trouble.
I lived sixty years without a credit card. I figure I can survive without one.

Une histoire de fromages

In French on 22/10/2009 at 8:58 pm


La scène se passe à Roissy, le 20 octobre 2009 vers 19h heure locale. Chart Korbjitti et moi arrivions de Toulouse, après le colloque sur « le roman asiatique et ses traductions » à Aix-en-Provence. Nous avions l’un et l’autre envie de fumer : nous sommes sortis de la zone de transit pour en griller une.

De retour, même comédie de déshabillage qu’à Toulouse-Blagnac (et qu’à Bangkok et Paris six jours plus tôt). Double bac sur tapis roulant pour sac, blouson, manteau, et tous les objets de métal, y compris la ceinture et… le paquet de cigarettes, je vous demande un peu ! Pas plus qu’à Toulouse, on ne nous a enjoints de nous déchausser, erreur insigne.

Il y a deux tapis roulants. Je prends l’un, Chart l’autre. Je passe sans problème, me rhabille et quand je me retourne vers Chart, zut, il discute des mains avec un crâne rasé.

C’est quoi le problème ? Figurez-vous que dans son sac de cabine, comme dans le mien, il y a une boîte en plastique hermétique transparente contenant trois fromages. Les siens sont inoffensifs, genre brie ; les miens puent : dame, c’est qu’en Thaïlande il est quasiment impossible de trouver maroilles, munster ou autres bombes olfactives : même mes ex-beau-fils pilotes de Thai Inter qui m’approvisionnent en fromage (et confiture) ne vont pas au-delà du camembert lyophilisé que je me force à ingurgiter faute de mieux.

Au cerbère de service, qui ne condescend pas à parler l’anglais, que Chart comprend et parle, je demande ce qui se passe. Dialogue (authentique, au mot près).

Lui : Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans cette boîte ?

Moi : Ça ne se voit pas ?

Lui : Ouvrez-la, monsieur. Mais c’est des fromages ! Durs ou mous ? (Il en tâte un. L’air pénétré :) Des fromages mous.

Moi : Ben, oui, on vient de Toulouse, ça fait deux heures qu’ils sont dans le sac.

Lui (se tournant vers son collègue, planté à deux mètres de là) : Dis donc, c’est mou, ça pourrait être du plastic ; c’est interdit ça, depuis trois ans, non ? (Se tournant vers moi) Dites à monsieur qu’il va devoir les abandonner, ou alors les enregistrer comme bagage en soute.

Je traduis pour Chart qui, à l’idée des complications qu’un tel enregistrement implique, me dit qu’il s’en passera, des fromages. Je ne suis pas d’accord et essaie de lui dire qu’on a encore le temps de faire le nécessaire.

Le cerbère s’impatiente et, soudain pris de zèle, me dit : « Mais vous, là, vous êtes ensemble, vous en avez des fromages ?

Moi : Bien sûr, quatre, mais je suis déjà passé à la fouille. »

Vous devinez la suite. Ultimatum du cerbère, désormais assuré de sept fromages pour pas un rond. C’est alors que je dis : « Bon, d’accord, on les abandonne, mais je vais m’assurer qu’ils sont effectivement détruits. »

C’était ce qu’il fallait dire.

Voyant les fromages lui échapper, le corbac interpelle une dame, la cinquantaine bien mise, qui, à peine informée, me dit qu’elle va m’aider à résoudre l’affaire : il suffit que l’un de nous ressorte, loue une boîte en carton et l’enregistre en bagage de soute, ce qui prendra seulement quelques minutes avec son aide. Alléluia.

Et effectivement, tandis que Chart gagne la porte 51, elle m’accompagne dans un gymkhana sur deux étages et trois ou quatre guichets et, après avoir déboursé 10 euros (500 bahts) pour la fameuse boîte dûment scotchée, je retrouverai Chart sans autre embûche. J’aurai eu tout le temps d’apprendre que c’est un racket commun – non, le mot n’est pas d’elle.

Chart, cette affaire de fromages l’a manifestement turlupiné. Une fois installés à bord, il m’oblige à accepter 5 euros : sa part de la boîte. « En fait, je devrais tout payer : c’est de ma faute si tu t’es fait coincer aussi. Tu étais passé : tu as eu de la chance ; moi pas. » Je lui explique qu’il n’en est rien : avec sa tête de tibétain (ou d’indien d’Amérique latine, comme le disait tantôt une dame à Aix qui soutenait mordicus que Chart était un exemple vivant de la dérive des continents, je n’invente rien !), il était le pigeon idéal.

Deux ou trois heures plus tard, vers la fin du repas bien arrosé, ayant ruminé plus avant, il me dit qu’il s’était trompé en croyant que c’était une histoire de chance et qu’il devait remercier l’abruti barboteur de fromages : il tenait enfin une idée de nouvelle du tonnerre qu’il allait intituler « Fromage » !

Je me suis endormi en le regardant griffonner sur un bout de papier et quand je me suis réveillé six ou sept mille kilomètres plus loin je l’ai trouvé en train de le relire et de l’annoter…


Entre l’affaire des fromages et l’embarquement, j’ai eu droit à une autre aventure pour moi tout seul, qui m’a fait chaud au cœur : tous les Français ne sont pas forcément tarés.

L’histoire est simple : quelques temps avant notre visite en France, un copain des années soixante a retrouvé ma trace par Internet. Nous étions coopérants ensemble au Cambodge, et très liés, mais nous étions totalement perdus de vue. Nous avions convenu que Jean-Louis viendrait du Nord où il vit sa retraite pour me rencontrer à Roissy au cours de notre escale. En sortant pour aller fumer une cigarette, j’ai eu beau fouiller du regard les environs, pas trace de Jean-Louis. Il avait dû avoir un empêchement : j’ai fait une croix dessus.

Alors que Chart et moi attendons d’embarquer porte 51, un bel homme noir de suie d’une trentaine d’années m’aborde et me demande si je viens de Toulouse. Oui. « Vous êtes Marcel Barang ? Deux amis vous attendent dehors. Ils disent que ça fait quarante ans que vous ne vous êtes pas vus. »

Ce monsieur, dont j’ignore judicieusement le nom, s’est plié en quatre pour s’assurer que je pouvais rejoindre Jean-Louis (et Jean-Yves, un autre comparse cambodgien) et même revenir dans les temps. Je dis « judicieusement » car, quand mes copains lui ont demandé (ayant fait chou blanc à la sortie du vol de Toulouse) si Marcel Barang était à bord du vol de Bangkok, il lui était interdit de répondre par oui ou par non mais il a pris sur lui de me contacter et faciliter ces retrouvailles, alors même que rien ne l’y obligeait.

Chapeau bas, monsieur noir de suie : le vrai Français, c’est vous.


Pour en finir avec ce voyage extraordinaire, il est une dernière scène : arrivé chez moi raccompagné par Chart et sa femme Soï avant qu’ils ne filent sur Pak Chong où leurs trois chiens les attendent, déjà tout moite et puant, je me déshabille en vitesse pour prendre une douche. Ces sept derniers jours, j’ai porté un jeans noir. Une fois encore, je vide mes poches. Dans la poche avant droite, il y a une petite poche supplémentaire ; j’en extirpe un mouchoir en papier. Puis je m’enlève le jeans comme on dépiaute un lapin.

Cinq pièces de monnaie s’en échappent et roulent sur le plancher. Du métal fiduciaire thaï, que j’avais mis dans la petite poche et totalement oublié. Du métal que je n’ai jamais extrait de cette poche au cours des sept « déshabillages » auxquels j’ai été soumis. Du métal qui n’a jamais fait couiner le moindre portique. Alors, à quoi on joue dans les aéroports, imbéciles ?