The Sikh tycoon always brought a professor friend, whom he had asked to carry out a computer analysis of the plagiarism in Supachai’s thesis. Both were certain that I was being targeted not for this story, but for other, more important stories I had written. At that I realized how little they knew about anything. They were a high-maintenance pair, wanting to establish everything from the very beginning, demanding documents of all kinds from me, and I lost patience spending so much time and money copying, binding, providing them phone numbers of Supachai’s political supporters. Perhaps fortunately, they eventually got distracted with some trip, organized by the Wall Street banker, to the Redwood forests in California, and I moved on.

I was also in contact with a handful of press organizations, who encouraged me to publicize my case and to pursue a shame campaign against Supachai and Thai defamation laws. I agreed in principle, but did not want the attention for fear it would complicate my ability to leave for school. I had also been warned by lawyers that such efforts would only make things worse for me—more face lost—and that in the court of public opinion, many Thais might side with Supachai. Plagiarism is considered a minor thing, whereas causing a senior official to lose face, not so minor.

By June, I had developed chronic stomach pain and serious sleeping problems. This silly matter had become all-consuming, and I had to keep so much of it to myself. I needed to unburden myself, find the person who could just fix things. It seemed like it should be so simple to settle. I remained hopeful that Supachai would come to his senses and it would all be over.

In what I thought would be that breakthrough, Songpol, the investigations editor and my direct boss—one of the few people at the paper I still trusted—took me to court one day. He was going to attempt one last negotiation with Supachai. But Supachai didn’t show up, and sent a messenger asking to be excused for a case of diarrhea.

We left, disappointed, Songpol chuckling about Supachai’s diarrhea. Songpol asked
if he could take me to a famous temple in Nakohn Pathom. It was Monday, and I hadn’t the motivation to work. It was hot and sunny, and we padded unhurriedly around the edge of the temple grounds, reading the descriptions of the statues. In the prayer area, I followed him through the rituals, mimicking his timing and actions: the lighting of the joss sticks, the kneeling, the clasped hands and look of prayer, the gold foiling of the Buddhas. He had me shake the canister of wooden sticks for a reading of my fortune, and was tickled (as was I) when the paper said, “You may face trying times, but you will get whatever you want.”

The fortune was fleeting consolation. I had promised my parents I’d be home by the first of July, and suddenly, it seemed, July had arrived and there was no resolution in sight. Supachai was not going to settle; I was not going to confess; and no one was going to magically make this nightmare vanish. After being told by so many people that it was the best of bad options, I resigned myself to it, the last resort—I would leave.

The Endgame

I hired a lawyer the next day. She had a deep voice and a foul mouth, and her office, which she had worked out of for years, still had its wall hangings and legal certificates laying on the floor. While none of this instilled confidence, she had been recommended by a good Thai friend, and she was direct and decisive, which I appreciated. She outlined a plan: I’d sign over my power of attorney the day before I left the country so she could represent me in place of Ronnachai once I was gone. She’d file the necessary documents once I had arrived in Iowa, just to make sure suspicions were not raised before it was too late for anyone to stop me.

The drill for getting out of the country was this: Submit a request with travel dates, round-trip ticket, and explanation of purpose signed by the editor, to the judge no later than ten days before expected travel. Hope. Wait. Pick up immigration papers, submit them to the immigration officer at the airport. Fly off.

Singapore was the natural choice—close, efficient, English-speaking, and not a strong ally of Thailand. I was advised not to purchase the ticket from Singapore to the US until I got to Singapore, and to get a flight with as few connections as possible.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.