Residents of Chiang Mai will remember the robocop that stood facing Nawarat Bridge. A fine figure, his uniform immaculately pressed, his gloves brilliant Omo white, his mechanical arm continuously rising in salute to the passing motorists. Private Tye has been seeking an interview with a police automaton for months, but most have disappeared. All we could find was this fibreglass dummy on the highway near Tak, and he was totally unresponsive.
Yes, the Nawarat automaton has gone along with most of the robocops that protected the cities and streets of the North. Its a sad end to a once proud force. The robocops were founded as an elite group of “untouchables”, impossible to bribe or corrupt in any way. In addition, they were happy to work 24 hours a day for a very small salary.
Many a time Private Tye's editor was crossing Narawat bridge on the way to Tescos when the automaton reminded him he was breaking the law. When the robocop came into view, our editor would exclaim “Oh, I do not have my passport with me at all times” and his SUV would be swung into a screeching U-turn. As a result he never ran the risk of being caught during a police raid on the Tesco breakfast cereal aisle.
The robocops, undoubtedly, did more deter crime than their human counter parts, but they have fallen victim to modern police management practices. Police academies throughout the world used to teach their students that their job would be to prevent crime. Now its a numbers game, how many arrests? how many convictions? So now the policy is: wait till the crime is committed and then catch the criminal. And this is where the robocops came up badly – they never arrested anybody. So, now they are being replaced by cheap fibreglass dummies.
Another problem was that the robocops wore real uniforms with real pockets. So, there was nothing to stop a rich, totally plastered, drunk driver (who had just run over some students) from stuffing 500 baht notes in a robocop's shirt pocket to make him look the other way. The new dummies do not have pockets and are, therefore, less corruptible. That is, if you discount any possible bid tampering for the supply of fibreglass dummies.
The relationship between dummy Police and “inactive posts” is intriguing. We all know that when a policeman is caught doing something naughty he is transfered to an inactive post. Foreign journalists have long speculated about where these inactive posts are located. One journalist even suggested there was a Ministry of Inactive Posts hidden somewhere in the jungle. Actually, the inactive posts are hidden in plain sight, they are at every police road block. The dummies are there to make sure that the police manning the blocks are truly inactive.
While police road blocks are manned with dummies, it is a different story with army road blocks. A female reporter with Private Tye was stopped near the Thai Burma border recently. The soldier asked to see her car book (nang suer rot) so she handed over her Mitsubishi car service book (koo mer rot) and explained to the soldier that he really did not need to look at it because she had had the oil changed only last week. He was a bit peeved, he wanted the car registration book (tapien rot).
Back in the day, before Chiang Mai was overrun by white petty-bourgeois pensioners who cannot afford to retire in Benidorm or Florida, the police were quite different. One Private Tye reader got so drunk that he crashed his motorcycle into a police box in the small hours of the morning. There were two police inside. They came out of their box, they picked up the motorcycle, they picked up the drunken reader, they put the drunken reader on the bike, they sent him on his way. You wouldn't get dummies doing that, would you?
Looks like something you would expect to see in a 19th century Chinese landscape painting. Or possibly one of those garish, tourist trade, acrylics depicting Thai country life. We passed this place on a little used road, from Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son, which runs along the border with Burma. We thought that we should be able to get some pretty photos in there, but there was something very wrong about this place.
The houses are made of bamboo and leaves. Bamboo for the frame and woven split bamboo for floors and walls. Roofing is made of the large leaves of the tong tok tree held together with bamboo pins. Amazingly, these roofs are quite water-proof. However, the leaves only last for one season and the building has to be re-thatched every year. Also, the whole structure gets eaten by insects and has to be replaced every three years. The Thais have not built building anything like this for decades, now they use bank loans, concrete blocks and fiber-cement sheets for roofs. Even a pig pen will be roofed with fiber cement and mortgages. It was obvious that whoever lived in this place must have very poor lines of credit.
Also, there were no road signs. Almost all Thai villages are marked with signs, usually in Roman as well as Thai symbols. In fact there is no indication, in any language, about what the place is. The next thing we noticed was that there was no roads going into the “village”. Instead the whole area was surrounded by barbed wire, and the gates into the place were guarded by Boarder Patrol Police. So, we asked one of them “what's all this then?”
We were told that it is a refugee camp housing 50,000 Shan, Muslim, Karen and other Burmese who have fled Burma. Most have been living here for more than twenty years. They can come out, it was explained, but nobody can go in. So, we could not get the pretty pictures we wanted.
There was no sign of the UN and NGO workers that have made a career out of helping refugees with other people's money. They are in Mae Sot, a border boom town with luxury shopping malls and first class restaurants, driving about in their Range Rovers.
With Burma now a Democracy and the party of the angelic Aung San Suu Kyi having a large majority, the question arises “why don't these people go home?” Perhaps the fate of the Rohingya might have something to do with it.