Samui Wining & Dining
On The Spot
Samui’s honorary consuls are here to help you – but only as a last resort.

 

On The SpotThe whole thing is a bit like backing-up your computer. Most folks know what this means. But few understand the process, or how to get it right. More to the point, it’s only once or twice in a lifetime that you ever really need it. And when that happens you’ll rapidly find out whether you did it right – or not.

 

Fortunately, it’s not quite the same trial-and-error experience when it comes to you being backed up by your embassy. Firstly, they’ll get it right, from long experience. And, secondly, their network of consular services has seen it all. They’ve been ‘backing people up’, time and again, for decades.

 

However, in the same way that you’re never too sure about using your computer backup (because you’ve never needed to) you won’t be sure about contacting your embassy. If a sudden emergency happens to you whilst on Samui, your knee-jerk reaction will have you on the phone to your embassy. Or your local honorary consul. There’s a huge range of mishaps than could occour, from unwittingly falling foul of the local immigration regulations or being ripped-off by your motorbike renter – never mind about natural disasters, heart attacks, the legal aspects of land purchase or the various technicalities of marrying a Thai national!

 

The way it works is that here, in Thailand, most foreign nations maintain a ‘diplomatic mission’. This is essentially a political representation, as in, ‘… hey guys, we’re here in your country because we do each other political and economic favours, just like you have an embassy in our country on the same basis.’ This is the politics of it. But the day-to-day reality is something more down to earth. An Australian citizen needs help. Or a Brit or a German. The problem for most foreigners in Thailand is not knowing whether to turn to a local consul or to their embassy in Bangkok. When disaster strikes, nobody is going to spend a day on the internet checking-out the correct thing to do. They’ll want to talk to the nearest authority … and that’s not always the best thing.

 

Putting it simply, matters concerning passports, visas, or overstay issues are not normally the concern of your consul. These things come more under the heading of administration than assistance or advice, although your embassy will certainly help you by steering you in the right direction. The role of a Consular Representative is something of a go-between, although matters here become clouded somewhat, as each nation’s representatives have different protocols and a slightly varied outlook on it all.

 

Take Dave Covey, for example, the British Honorary Consul for the Surat Thani area, which includes Samui, Koh Pha-Ngan and also Koh Tao. Although it’s almost impossible to find accurate statistics about how many Brits are on the island at any one time, it’s universally agreed that Great Britain has more residents/visitors here than any other, with the Australians and Germans following close behind.

 

When I caught up with him he was in the process of two ongoing prison-liaison visits and in the middle of the harrowing international complexities of a death. Contrary to popular belief, embassies (and their on-the-spot Consular Representatives) have no powers of investigation in cases such as this. Their role is somewhere between an advisor to the family and friends and a communicator between the British Embassy and the relevant Thai authorities. Plus, of course, being something of a social engineer, too, quietly and effectively arranging for lawyers to receive translated documents and even having the authority of a Notary Public to certify and authenticate legal documents in connection with pensions, marriages and a myriad of other unavoidable legal aspects.

 

He’s a busy man, effective, purposeful and organised. And he most definitely does not see himself as some sort of walking Citizen’s Advice Bureau. In fact, the only way you can get in touch with him directly is by contacting the British Embassy in Bangkok with your query. They’ll either advise you directly or, if it’s appropriate, give you his number.

 

To some folks this might sound a bit precious. But consider this. The phone rings and it’s an upper class English woman with the imperious voice of a television announcer. She informs you that an ATM has eaten her cash card and demands that you immediately contact the issuing bank in England. She urgently needs to make a cash withdrawal right now. She calls three more times that day. The date? It’s December 25th. Dave has a sense of humour and will chuckle as he recounts dozens of other stories like this. But none of them are particularly funny. They’re the sort of thing you sadly shake your head about in disbelief whilst you’re smiling.

 

Or, sliding sideways from the sublimely silly – and switching nationalities whilst we’re at it – to the ridiculously robust, there was the occasion when an Australian gentleman had seemingly over-enjoyed himself whilst partaking of the pleasures of night-time Chaweng. Words led to more words, which led to one or two beer glasses being slung about for emphasis, and then the police arrived. Glancing round appreciatively, the perpetrator uttered the immortal words, “Ah, ta mate!” jumped onto the police motorbike parked outside with the engine running and vanished off down Chaweng Beach Road at a rapid rate of knots.

 

The very experienced and laid-back Australian Honorary Consul, Ken Chung, amidst all the protocol, red tape and rule books, maintains one rule of thumb: “I can and will do nothing unless I am called upon. I’ve been living here for 20 years and have been the Honorary Consul since 2002. And my job is to assist Australian citizens in any way that I can.” And he was most certainly called upon for ‘assistance’ at 3:00 am one morning to go to Nathon police station where, after an around-the-island motorbike chase involving the entire Samui Police force (‘… it was like Moto Grand Prix but at night and on 100 cc scooters …’) the now-subdued offender was temporarily incarcerated. “I’ve been called out to help with disasters,” Ken told me, “plane crashes, deaths, drugs, heart transplants, repatriations and all sorts. But when I walked in he looked up and said, “You the Consul? Thank God. You just gotta help me. Nobody else will. Jeez, I’m in here for two hours now. Can you go across the road to the 7/11 for me? I’m just gagging for a beer.”

 

It’s a light-hearted story but the message is serious. But local consuls should be your last port of call. There are a dozen things that might go wrong whilst you’re here, thankfully the majority of them minor, even though they might not feel like it to the needy. But when it comes to having your back covered – being backed up – one way or another, you’ve got it!

 

Rob De Wet

 


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