Friday, 15 June 2012

Day 82 – Police checks. (Laos)

 Driving around in South East Asia in our foreign registered vehicle, we have become somewhat accustomed to being targeted for random police checks. We’ve managed to avoid any unwarranted “fines” or “fees” as of yet, but just yesterday we had another near miss when we were pulled over for fictitiously running a red light. Having stopped at the red turning light, two policemen on a scooter pulled in front of us, gesturing for us to do a u-turn, as the light turned green and we started moving. Unable to get around for the u-turn we continued in the direction we were intending, and pulled over at the side to see what they wanted. Ben (the driver at the time) was asked for his driver’s licence, which because we’re actually staying in a proper hotel is inside our room along with our passports. Fortunately our International Driver’s Permits (on which is printed THIS IS NOT A LICENCE, and is only valid in conjunction with the licence of the driver’s respective country, but nobody ever seems to notice/understand/care about this) is kept in our paperwork file in the boot, so we were able to pull that out. They had a look at it for a few seconds and then started driving off with it. They had absolutely no English, but they seemed to be asking us to follow them to who knows where. We were pretty sure we heard them say “bank”, but weren’t sure if we were being paranoid. Of course they couldn’t/wouldn’t give us any indication of what we were supposedly being pulled over for – just a random “check” we assumed. So with Ben’s Driving Permit in the hands of the policeman on the scooter, we really had no choice but to follow. They took us around the block to a police checkpoint at the lights we’d been pulled over at, conveniently located in the forecourt of a bank, 10meters from the ATM. We all got out to see what was going on, to discover the red light story. The ridiculous thing is that it wasn’t even an amber light, or that we’d entered the intersection early or anything – we were about the fifth car to go through the green light, with at least half a dozen cars and who knows how many scooters following us while it was still green. It was just so blatant, but that doesn’t matter here – it’s their word against ours. At first he wanted to keep the licence and have us collect it in a week from the police station, paying a fine while we were there. Then he said we could do it the following day. Now Ben has a tendency to get a bit aggressive in these types of situations (which usually pays off brilliantly), but he read this one differently and realised that card wouldn’t work. So instead he spent the next thirty minutes or so appealing to these men’s sense of good will, saying things like “you know this isn’t right, I know you’re good men, come on, you know this”, and explaining our travel plans and our tight schedule, drawing a map for them and naming countries. There were two that we were mainly talking to (not the two that originally pulled us over), and we could see one of them softening, but the other one was dead set on us paying up. So they came up with the option that we could pay the fine there and then – we’re supposing that the point of going to the police station is so that they can get a big fine from us, but I guess any fine’s better than no fine. Ben continued in the same manner, and pointed out the website printed on the car. This seemed to flick some switch - maybe they were worried we were something official, who knows – and a few minutes later, Ben was handed back his licence and we were allowed to go.

On the other hand though, sometimes being foreign can deter them from bothering with us. Today we went through a police check very close to the Thai border, where everybody was being pulled over and checked for licence, insurance etc. We pulled over along with the rest of traffic, and about 10 seconds later the policeman looked in the window, spotted we weren’t local, and waved us on. I guess there where they’re pulling everyone over, it’s a waste of their time to check us seeing they don’t actually know what they’re checking.

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