With a Police Lieutenant Colonel
So, six months after handing in my application to join the Thai Tourist Police Volunteers, I finally received my invitation to a training seminar.
What should I expect? Well the initial application stage was fairly impressive. The staff checked my background with the embassy and the Immigration department. I know this because my interviewer said: "Oh you work at [name of my employer] my uncle is a director there". That seemed to go down well. Heck, I wasn't even recruited yet and already the nepotism was kicking in!
So with a 5am alarm call, I set off to Sukhumvit soi 5, wondering what I would learn from the boys in brown. The hotel venue itself was very decent, if nothing special. I was ushered into a large conference hall and presented with an information pack. Amongst leaflets and tourists guides there was a booklet that explained how to make a police report. The information itself was solid, but the translation was poor. I wondered how the Tourist Police could produce something like this, but I was about to discover things would get worse before they got better.
The event kicked off with a senior sergeant welcoming everybody and declaring the training session open. Suddenly some music began to blast and we all had to stand up and salute. The expression of the commander in front of me stopped me from smiling.
We then began a lecture on the role of tourism in Thailand. There was just one problem - it was all in Thai. There were about one hundred volunteers at the seminar. Less than ten of us were farang, the others were Burmese, Japanese or Chinese. Very few could understand what was being said.
Suddenly, a strikingly attractive young woman stood up and said something to a commander at the front. She then walked to the stage and was introduced as both "Miss Chicago" and "Miss Songkran", who would translate for us. And so she did, though I think some of the volunteers were a little distracted from the topic at hand.
After a coffee break, the next lecture was on "national security" and was presented by a lady called Porpharas. Khun Pornpharas was obviously a highly educated lady from an upper class family. Her speech was intelligent and articulate but the topics she addressed covered issues such as economics and the politics of immigration. For me it was interesting, but the body language of those around me told me they knew this was not exactly relevant for police volunteers.
After lunch we had a new officer and a new topic. We were treated to a slideshow of foreign criminals believed to be located in Thailand. It was interesting stuff and I was ready to blast Bob Marley's "Bad Boys" track on my iPod and hunt these guys down, but sadly our beauty queen had gone home and the talk was only in Thai. It was becoming clear now, the senior command in the Thai Tourist Police may be great people and great policemen, but they couldn't speak English.
Still, the overall feel of day one was good. This was largely down to a man call Senior Segeant Major Peter, who was almost a one man police force by himself. Throughout the day he had exchanged jokes, wise cracks, banter and pranks with both his fellow Thais and the volunteers. He had broken down the culture barrier and explained why Thailand needed foreign volunteers and how grateful the police were.
Luckily, the answer was yes. Our first lecture was in English and "Peter" explained to us the different codes that could be used on a police radio. He also threw in a few very helpful names and contact numbers that we could use when dealing with police in general.
The next talk was an exercise in incident reporting. This introduced me to Pierre, the TTP translator who explained how the reporting system should work.
After being given some more training booklets, it was time for the "awards" ceremony and some general mingling. I managed to talk with a few senior officers who seemed genuinely friendly, grateful and good natured. I also spoke with a long serving English volunteer who explained how I could receive further training and move "up the ladder" (yes, the volunteers also have a ranking system) starting with the Lions Club convention in Bangkok next month.
So after a few snapshots, receipt of my uniform and a few goodbyes, it was over.
But that seems to be Thailand through and through. There is far more focus on friendliness and welcomes than there is on actual skills training. That might suffice in most professions, but when you doing a job such as police support, you would want something a bit more efficient.
It also worried me that there was literally zero physical based training in the entire seminar. Other than a few questions on the application form about health, physical details and martial arts training, there was no defence involved at all.
However, it was clear that all applicants were carefully screened for their own backgrounds and paperwork. This was applied to everybody which I thought was good, though it was clear the Burmese contingent were being given the closest attention.
Still, I learned something, met some new people, made some friends and in time I will be able to do a lot to help visitors to Thailand. It was time well spent.