We’ve had some interesting Christmases over the past few years. There was the year of the “naked” Christmas tree when we bought and put up a tree in our living room but were just too busy to decorate so it went au naturel. Then there was the year we moved to Thailand. Since we were flying out on December 28th, by Christmas our house looked like a tornado had torn through all the rooms! Not even a tree that year. But this year may take the cake when it comes to rather memorable Christmases.
First, Cissy went in to the hospital on December 23rd for surgery to repair her torn ACL and have a partial knee reconstruction done. This was a 4+ hour operation with a 3-night stay in the hospital. So the three of us spent a good part of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Rajavej Hospital which overlooks the “beautiful” Ping River and which Elli and I are pretty sure was formerly a hotel that was at one point converted into a hospital. (One thing neat about the hospitals here are that the nurses all wear those old-fashioned nurse hats that you see in old TV shows and movies.)
The second thing that made our Christmas out of the ordinary was our trip to the Chiang Mai Police Station. When we first arrived in Thailand, we were advised to make sure we always wore our seat belts and followed all the traffic laws around the major holidays. It seems that the traffic police set up “intersection swarms” during the holidays. You’ll see 15 or 20 police officers standing in major intersections with lanes coned off right before the holidays. It seems they wave over as many cars and motorbikes as possible – and then look for something for which to write you a ticket! It’s funny (not really “ha ha” funny if you know what I mean) because last year I got a ticket right around this time and had to go to the Police Station on my birthday (December 28). This year, I had to go on Christmas Day.
Elli and I were driving home from the hospital during the afternoon on Christmas Eve and we came across a “swarm.” As “luck” would have it, we were waved over. The officer came over and looked the car over a bit and then informed me that he couldn’t see my front license plate. At first, I had no idea what he was talking about so he motioned me out of the car and brought me to the front. Of course the license plate was a plain as the nose on my face. So then he started walking away from the front of my car and motioned me to follow him. He stopped about 50 feet in front of my car and then said (and I’m translating from Thai-glish here): “See! You can’t read where it says ‘Chiang Mai’ under the numbers.” This would be akin to the “Hawaii” or the “Florida” or “Pennsylvania” that runs along the bottom of license plates in many American states. Well, I must admit, I couldn’t read it, but then again, it was in Thai! And as my Dad told me when I was growing up: Never argue with a police officer; it’s just “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.”
There an interesting twist to how they handle traffic tickets here. First of all, you can pay cash right on the spot and drive away. Then everyone is happy. You’re not further inconvenienced and the police officer has a little something extra for the holidays. Or, if you like to do things by the book, you can opt to receive a ticket and then have to go down to the police station to pay your fine. So I opted for the ticket which, in retrospect, I’m not sure was the best choice. You see, once they write you a ticket, they confiscate your driver’s license on the spot. You get it back when you go down to the station to pay your fine!
So on a beautiful Thai Christmas Day, after spending the morning visiting Cissy in the hospital, Elli and I found our way to the Chiang Mai Police Station, took a number, and waited for our turn to pay a ฿200 ($6.53) fine. Once we had the receipt, we went to the next counter and the officer dug through a stack of ticket copies with licenses attached and – voilà! – I was on my way, Thai driver’s license in hand, humming that oldie but goodie Christmas song: Police Navidad!
Merry Christmas! Mele Kalikimaka! and Suk San Krit Mat!