I was in the land registry office at Nakhorn Phanom a few days ago, and saw a disturbing sight. In Thailand when you buy a piece of land you receive a Chanot, a document that is the title to the land with a detailed description of where it is and the dimensions. I was transferring land and this is done at the Land Registry Office for the district. It takes a lot of paperwork and there's a long queue, so it took all day.
It began early in the morning, I was waiting for a pre-queue number, and an old frail lady was clutching a Chanot in the carpark, with two younger women grabbing her arms. She was screaming something about it being her Chanot, and her land. Was she being mugged? Should I call the police? I hesitated, they weren't grabbing the Chanot from her hand, and they could easily do that.
As the day unfolded, so did her story. Firstly they weren't grabbing her arms to restrain her, as she walked around sometimes she was grabbing there's for support. She was weak on her legs - the hands were to stop her falling. It was my turn for the first queue, so I went inside. This queue is to check you have all the documents, but the other party hadn't arrived, and I didn't have the copy of their identity document. I would have to wait, but I did get talking and was told about the old lady's story.
The two women were her daughters, they had taken her there with them when they transferred some land. When she went into the first queue, she noticed the Chanot they had with them was her land, and her Chanot. They were selling her land without telling her! She grabbed the document and stormed out.
Back outside she was screaming that if the land had to be sold then the money should be handed to her. Only when she gets the money will she hand over the Chanot. There was lots of heated discussions as she argued with them, and they tried to steer her back into the building. She wandered to the rear of the office flanked by her two daughters.
Once I had my documents correct, I now had an afternoon number and so I ate at the food stalls outside to pass the time. This is where a further part of her tragic story unfolded. She was talking in a telephone call with a third daughter, I overheard that the land was worth 2.6 million Baht, that's about $90000, a huge sum for Thailand. The Chanot had been taken and already sold. The new owners wanted it in there name, so they needed the old woman's signature, and the daughter on the end of the phone had already taken the money. She insisted it was their problem to pay that money back, the land was hers. She screamed "what the *** do you need 2.6 million Baht for!"
I didn't quite hear the rest of the conversation, only the old woman's side of it. I guess the money had already been spent, or part of it. If the old lady didn't sign it over her daughters would be in serious trouble. She is old and frail and clearly can't even walk properly without her daughters, so ultimately she would have no choice but to agree.
But it was awful.
The land registry office staff clearly heard what was going on too, when she entered the office, she had to discuss it with the most senior officer. I think they wanted to check if she was under duress, well at least the kind anyone could do anything about.
So my initial instincts were correct, it was a mugging. A mugging by three very greedy, very selfish daughters.