The Interview with the Prime Minister

Context: a few weeks ago, an influencer announced that he had obtained an exclusive interview with the press-shy prime minister of Thailand and posted a selfie as proof. He boasted about his a journalistic coup and preached to other journalists to “push harder.” No interview was immediately forthcoming and the foreign press was suspicious and began to question his claims. Finally, he posted the “interview,” such as it was. The prime minister’s only contribution was the word ‘thanks.’ The foreign press began to mock the influencer, and I thought, maybe if the episode was portrayed as a bit of gonzo journalism, it would have been OK. I modestly suggested an alternative interview, which follows.

“ My editor called the night before and asked me where was the piece about the coup in Myanmar. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was still in Thailand, and hung up the phone while I was talking so it would appear that I had been cut-off. A girl whose name obviously wasn’t Barby had given me a cat the night before. I vaguely remember, before the ya ba hit, something about taking care of it, but in the morning Barby had already texted me asking where the cat was–how did she get my number?–so I called the office and asked them about the next flight to Yangon. “Do you have your visa?” they asked and of course, “no,” I said, “I thought that was your responsibility.”

Stressed and getting more stressed by the minute, I went to the buffet in the hotel where I hoped I could at least get a cup of coffee. Maybe I could stay in Bangkok and file something from here, no one would ever know. A group of tourists were using plates as shovels at the free buffet; I had never seen such hungry people, though their waistlines suggested that throughout their long lives they had missed but few meals. I asked about the cat but no one knew anything; I approached the concierge and it turned out he wasn’t officially connected with the hotel but told me nevertheless all about his cousin who had a fine handicrafts shop featuring generous discounts and why I should visit. “I’m worried about the cat,” I told him. “Don’t worry about the cat,” he said, “it doesn’t know it’s lost.” I was afraid that the editor would cut me off so what the hell, I’d go to Burma for the day, with or without the visa. Maybe I’d offer a bottle of booze as a present, or a $100 bill and if anyone accused me of bribery I’d say I thought we had flown east and I was in Cambodia where visas on arrival are bought for a hundred bucks. Honest mistake.

I gave up on the cat and went back to the buffet where a minor consideration was exchanged for a glass of whisky. Old Commander, not Johnny Black, the bottle was from India, I had never seen it before but it went down smooth. I needed to take the edge of off the ya ba but wasn’t having much luck. Both the cat and the concierge were already in the past when a driver I hadn’t yet ordered to take me to the airport drove up. I took my suitcase and the laptop and flashed a White House ID I had been given from a friend who knew a guy who had once attended a fund-raiser hosted by the Clintons, it had his picture on it but so what, it was a great-official looking ID with the White House seal on it and everything that allowed you to attend an event that had occurred ten years ago. I put it on a lanyard and I must say, even without my glasses–maybe Barby could explain where they were–I looked official, good to go. My visage in the mirror was all bokeh, but hell, it smooths out the wrinkles so maybe that was OK.

On the way to the airport I was preparing to be held hostage or taken to the concierge’s cousin’s handicrafts shop on the way but neither event occurred or stop made and the driver accepted a modest tip without complaint. He asked me which airline and I didn’t know, so I told him “Burma” and I must have looked like those guys who are forever commuting between Isaan and Krung Thep so he dropped me at the domestic terminal.

At the counter I said “Burma” and they asked if I was going to the event. Not sure what event they were referring to, I nodded yes anyway but with the Old Commander and the still-potent effects of the ya ba and trying to remember what Barby had told me about the cat, everything was a blur, I did say Burma though, I’m sure of that–but as I made my way to the gate–getting through security wasn’t easy, I hadn’t brought a gun along because the x-rays always pick them up, but I had a pocket knife which I told them was for smoking tobacco–how do you smoke with a knife? they asked and I said, “it’s for cleaning out the pipe, not smoking per se” but they understood ‘Persian,’and then I’m whisked away to secondary where I explained that I wasn’t from Iran but they had already pulled my suitcase off the airplane, the luggage tag was marked ‘BFV’ on it, B for Burma, I figured, but the security officer and I ended up making friends and when I was asked if I had had anything to drink that morning I told the truth as you must always do with the police.

Seeing the lanyard around my neck, the officer assumed that I was some kind of big shot and offered me a beverage; I was happy to oblige–“I can’t let you drink alone,” I told him–and he did have Johnny Black, which was a tad better than the Old Commander, which by the way, wasn’t really that bad. I told him that I was on my way to Burma to write a story about the revolution; he looked at me and then at my glass, thinking that I was asking for more he poured a couple of fingers, a quite generous pour given that it still wasn’t noon and after we drained our glasses he personally took me to the gate, where I was surprised to see the press corps, what they were doing I had no idea, they couldn’t all be going to Burma, but then I looked at the leader board which said, “Buriram” so I figured we were going to Buriram. I showed my boarding pass–I hadn’t bothered to look at it before–and what the hell, Buriram was as good a place as any.

The airline rep at the counter saw the lanyard and asked me about it, I flashed it quickly, just long enough for her to make out the impressive looking seal. “The US is interested in this inaugural flight?” she asked. I pretended that I knew, but then asked, “what inaugural flight?” “The 737-Max has returned,” she said. “Like the swallows of Capistrano,” I replied, but she looked at me like she had no idea so I started to explain but, the hell with that, instead I asked her something ore important, if there was a bar at the gate, she said, no, and pointed back to the terminal. I wondered if there was time to get another drink–I could always get one on the plane, but one to smooth the take-off would help. For some reason I was assigned seat 1A.

As it was, I boarded last because I made the journey down the terminal anyway and they didn’t have alcohol so they sent me to one of the airline clubs but I didn’t have a pass to get in, so I flashed the lanyard while looking longingly at the bottle of Johnny Black on the counter just a few feet away. I really think the club attendant was going to allow me in officially but while she was still deciding I was already pouring. “You can’t leave with that,” she shouted as I made my way out the door. I couldn’t decide whether she meant alcohol wasn’t allowed in the terminal corridor or I because I had stolen the drink. “Don’t worry, it’s a traveller” I shouted as the door shut behind me.

I had almost finished the drink by the time I reached the gate, the last one on the plane. Seat 1A wasn’t far, thank God, and I handed my glass to the flight attendant who plucked the boarding pass from the coupon. 1A was already occupied. By, it turns out, the prime minister. “How ya doing?” I asked. “Has the beverage cart been by yet?” He shook his head. And that’s how I interviewed the prime minister.

Buriram is another story, but when I got back to Bangkok I wrote the above and called my editor. “Good news,” I said. “Forget Burma. I’ve got an interview with the prime minister instead.”

Push harder.”

Notes: ya ba is Thai for “crazy medicine,” the slang term for meth. The country to the west of Thailand is universally known as “Myanmar,” the word “Burma” is barely heard, and a Thai would pronounce that word as “burmá” anyway (but keep in mind that there is no hard border between ‘r’ and ‘l’ in spoken Thai. There are lesser known Angkor-era temples in Buriram, a pleasant city to the east of Bangkok, known for its football team.