A quick trip to madness
If I'd known what lay ahead, I might've thrown a rock at the head of the teenager who ran off with the bag containing my passport, driver's licence, credit card and cash. But I wasn't to know then that losing your identity in Thailand starts a downward spiral that could end in temporary insanity, if you let it.
When your passport and valuables are stolen in Thailand - including all your cash - the first thing the victim must do is pay money. That's right, you've been robbed of everything you own, now it's the policeman's turn.
Police reports (for insurance) don't come for free, I discover halfway through reporting the crime to an awfully young trainee policeman. No money; no report. So I borrow 240 baht ($7.50) off the nearest backpacker (a feat in itself) and finish the process.
The policeman tells me to go to Bangkok immediately and get a new passport. I take the boat to Koh Samui from Koh Phangan (of course I'm robbed on Koh Phangan, I am the cliched Australian at a full moon party who was lucky to even notice I'd been robbed at all) to board a plane to Bangkok
I explain to the woman at check-in at Koh Samui airport that I'm flying to Bangkok to replace the passport I had stolen. I even show her my 240-baht police report.
"No photo identification, you can't board the flight," she says. I reason with her. Then I beg. She calls for the airport manager.
"Sorry sir, without photo ID, you can't get on this flight."
I rip my flight itinerary into a thousand angry little pieces and make my way to the harbour, where I begin a journey involving ferries, trains and buses that will take more than 12 hours (the flight time was 65 minutes).
Before my trip, I call my embassy where I'm told it will take a minimum of five working days to replace my passport. I cancel the flights and group tour to Cambodia I had set for three days' time.
I arrive the next day in Bangkok to find my new passport ready - the nice smiling man behind the counter tells me it never takes five days - but I can't change my flights back and I've lost my spot on my Cambodia tour.
Electing to flee altogether, I head to the airport and beg my airline to secure a seat on the next available flight home, but there's none till morning. With little cash, I sleep at the airport.
The next morning at customs there's a problem; they need to see a Thailand entry stamp on my passport. I show them my 240-baht police report. I cry a little, I tell them I just want to go home. It's no good.
Instead I'm frog-marched to a stark room where six customs officers watch a World Cup qualifying soccer game on TV. The game's obviously an important one because no one wants to leave it despite my teary protests that my flight's about to board.
I watch the big hand of the clock on the wall tick-tock right past departure. Someone eventually listens to me; he's actually quite sympathetic. But my next flight is now not till tomorrow morning.
I go and find my old bed on the carpet by the bookstore and settle in for the evening.
In high school I read Joseph Heller's Catch-22, which parodies a world where bureaucracy has made life truly insane.
In Thailand, I discover Heller's imaginery world becomes real, if only for a select few. All you need do is lose your passport; go on, I dare you to.
Sydney Morning Herald