Nine's new factual benefits from DFAT access in Bangkok and reminds us to be respectful of foreign cultures.
But the Land of Smiles can turn to a land of trouble for those who don’t stay on the right side of the law.
Nine’s new factual series The Embassy turns its cameras on the Australian Embassy in Bangkok and the staff who deal with some of the 900,000 Australians who visit every year. Gaining access to the DFAT facility is something of a coup for this series, touted as a ‘world first.’
There are five cases profiled in the first episode: a gay couple bringing home surrogate twins, some drunken tourists caught in a Phuket brawl, a young man with a passport problem, plus two separate cases of men who have overstayed their visas.
Consular staff featured include a mix of five Aussies and Thais, led by Trudy (pictured second from left) -the Ambassador doesn’t appear.
43 year old musician David has overstayed his visa and has been waiting in a detention centre in Ranong for three weeks. Embassy staff member Bee travels for 6 hours to assist him, but cameras are not allowed into the detention centre. It’s never really spelled out how long he overstayed his visa nor why, making it difficult to have much sympathy for him.
In Phuket a Retired Aussie public servant, Leo, works as a volunteer with the Royal Thai Police to assist tourists in trouble. His case involves a group of Aussies who had too much to drink and have gotten into a brawl. While alcohol drives their bravado, they fail to take heed of his advice. Yes, whether in Bali or Thailand, Aussies can be bad tourists. They even refer to the locals as ‘Taiwanese.’ Dumb.
Leo does them a favour by phoning Trudy after hours, which is pretty generous on both their parts.
“You can apologise to someone and pay some damages and the whole case will go away,” she tells us. It’s a situation of ignorant tourists she’s encountered many times before.
“When it’s time to come home they might not be allowed to leave.
“It’s embarrassing when you get that kind of ignorance from Australians.”
Alas, I’d be tipping the yobbo tourist story once a week.
In Pattaya a 22yo holidaymaker, Cameron, is refusing to come home, 12 days overstayed and “sponging off his parents’ credit card.” It’s a miracle staff even bother to help people like this.
There’s also the poor bloke who needs a new Passport after his became so damp (thanks to sweat eww) that it has lost much of his identity.
By far the most timely case is the same-sex couple, Matt and Wayne, who paid $10,000 to a 23 year old Thai woman to be surrogate to two sons. But unless she signs papers, the babies won’t be coming home to Australia. It’s a case that shows the human side to consular staff, even if the editorial favours the two men over the Thai mother.
The series, largely shot late last year, includes footage of Thai protests, but a narrator footnotes a military coup has since brought stability to the country (in May). There’s a bit of creative editing to accommodate change. News footage of a couple trying to bring home surrogate babies in August (post Baby Gammy) is presumably unrelated to the couple depicted here, given close-ups of paperwork indicate they are flying home in March.
Nevertheless this isn’t as sensationalist as What Really Happens in Bali, although the 6:30 Sunday timeslot is a little surprising (GO! also aired Big Trouble in Thailand in 2011).
There are also Australian-filmed ‘post-mortems’ of two stories, showing how two of our subjects are back, safe on Aussie soil.
The Embassy is a tough-love lesson in paradise that reminds us to be respectful of foreign cultures and it makes the most of its unrivalled access behind DFAT lines. Presumably if the experience was amicable for both sides, Nine could be looking at a second season in another territory next year.
The Embassy airs 6:30pm Sunday on Nine.