Upstanding officials are to be found everywhere in Asia, at least I firmly believe that to be the case … definitely … or at least highly likely! They must be somewhere! Even in, let us say, “Fantasyland” which is I will describe the place where the following events took place, so as not to unfairly expose a particular country on account of its customs. I recently learned how tough and selfless the job of a corrupt public servant can be when I tried to escape a traffic jam by driving illegally in the bus lane.
I naturally, attracted the attention of a vigilant custodian of the law, who was there to catch his dinner on the road. I knew that the uniformed law enforcement officer would threaten me either with a 10 euro ticket back at the station or on-the-spot payment of a 2 Euro cash fine. Needless to say, I opted for the €2. The problem was that I only had one note with a value of approximately € 50 on me at the time and the police officer did not have any change.
After what appeared to be a profound reflection, he found a solution: he asked me to turn off the engine and leave my car (still in the bus lane!) with its hazard lights on and climb onto his 125cc office moped. The poor thing, which one could barely recognize under my considerable weight of over 100 kg carried the two of us about 2 km to a small 7-Eleven shop. There, I changed my money and was thus able to hand over my €2 to the public official. The trip back to my car was of course included in the price. Slightly embarrassed, given the long traffic jams that had developed on the blocked bus lane, I climbed into my car and said good-bye to my friendly waving policeman from Fantasyland.
At times, however, I prefer a quick and safe method when travelling. On longer journeys, I steer directly under the watchful eye of authority, roll down the side window, and offer the usual €2, unsolicited. Should he appear surprised, I point out that, as a foreigner, I am one of his favourite customers anyway and thus would rather pay in advance. Following a brief radio consultation, I usually have a reliable indication of how many miles I can drive without having to worry, until arriving at the next district boundary where a new toll awaits me.
One day, however, I managed to exasperate an entire city administration when obtaining a personal document, and I am still ashamed of it. When the required pre-certification of the German Embassy was translated, my middle name was not transliterated in the local language as “Michael”, but as its American pronunciation, “Maikel”. For €25, the Mayor’s office team smilingly offered to overlook the error and save me another visit to the German Embassy. I stood firm and announced that I would rather spend another morning at the embassy than pay the requested amount. At that point, the entire office was staring at me, awestruck. “You are from Germany?” asked the approaching senior civil servant with a doubtful shake of the head. “Yes”, I answered with pride vibrating in my voice. “In Germany … not have corruption?” he asked. “No!”, I answered shortly and without conviction. Resigned, the office manager held up the stamp, and to the dismay of his staff stamped it twice hard on my document, which he signed with an expression of obvious disgust on his face. Finally, he handed me the document without looking at me again. I felt bad of account of the suffering caused by my disregard for the national culture of Fantasyland!