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A Helluva Long Way to Do Nothing

A Thai Trip Journal, 1989
Part V: The Least-Laid Plans

On Monday, the 28th, I once again called the JVA to find out about my pass to visit the border camps. I
was trying to reach John Crowley. From the the notes in my small gray memo pad, scribbled as I waited on the phone:

Call JVA at 12:30. J. Crowley is out, please call back in an hour. More nervous waiting. Call back at 1:20. "He is not here. Call back in one hour."

"An hour?"

"He just went outside. Can you call back?"

"OK, how soon can I call back?"

"Maybe half and hour, forty-five minutes."

More waiting. I am nervous as hell. This is why I came here... to go to the camps. I still don't know if I can go. So I wait. I get butterfiles. My legs get weak. And I wait. It is 1:34.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, Monday, August 28, I got my answer. A Thai woman's gentle voice comes to me across the wire: "Mr. Bruce Sharp? I am sorry to inform you that your request has been denied."

* * * * * *

I was silent for a moment. I had prepared myself for a negative answer as best as I could, but I had been told that my chances were good. I felt numb; finally, I asked if there would be a chance of going on another day. "I am sorry," the woman said, "But since the time that you requested your visit, the Thai Supreme Command has said that only immediate family may visit." And Phanat Nikhom? "That pass has also been denied. I am sorry."

"Thank you," I say quietly, and I hang up the phone.

I try to understand why it would matter to the Thai Army whether or not anyone visits the people trapped in Khao-I-Dang. Or why no one could visit the people in Phanat Nikhom, who would soon be leaving anyway. It is hard to fathom. Many of the people in Khao-I-Dang do not have any family left. So they wait, alone, while someone else decides their fate.

Having come halfway around the world, I'm not quite ready to give up on the idea of going to the camps. I decide to go to Aranyaprathet to try to find another way in. I'm not optimistic, but still, I've nothing to lose by making the effort.

So, late Monday afternoon, I decide that the best course of action is to make my way to the border and hope for the best. But how to get there? At this point, my trip is blown, so I figure, "Screw it. Taxi." Sure, a bus would be far, far cheaper... but a taxi will be faster, and what the hell is the point of trying to save money now? I ask one of the Tungmahamek regulars, a taxi driver, how much to take me there. He told me 1100 baht. Fine, I said, let's go.

We piled into the car and took off. The drive was mostly slow and tedious, with a few memorable scenes here and there: water buffaoloes crossing the road, people fishing with nets in the rice fields, a motorcyclist carrying five-meter lengths of pipe, a farmer working in the fields with a machine that resembled a rototiller with huge paddlewheels. Four hours later, we were in the small town of Aranyaprathet. It was getting late; the drive was longer than we originally thought, so I bought the driver dinner and gave him an extra 200 baht. I offered to get him a room at the hotel, but he elected to drive back to Bangkok. Strange... I didn't write his name down, and I can no longer remember it. That's a shame. I liked him, and if you like somebody, you ought to at least be able to remember his name.

It's Tuesday morning, August 29, and I'm in the Aran Garden 2 Hotel. I went out walking and found the office of the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees (COERR), and the office of a Japanese voluntary agency. I'll try to plead my case at COERR later today.


This article contains eight parts:
Part One: Get Your Wings
Part Two: Orient Orientation
Part Three: The Colonials
Part Four: The Singapore Guys
Part Five: The Least-Laid Plans
Part Six: Doing Nothing at the Border
Part Seven: Back to Bangkok
Part Eight: Ayutthaya, Bang Pa-in, and Home