There are many quirks in Thailand and some things which are more difficult to explain than others. The expression ‘This is Thailand” is a catch-all term used by some expats and long-term visitors to sum up the sometimes strange and surreal things you see in this country. If you spend any significant amount of time travelling in Thailand, at some stage you may see the image of a bearded figure on the back of a truck. Usually it’s seen on heavy goods vehicles, but you might also see this sticker on pick-up trucks and the occasional motorbike.
The man with the beard is Al Pacino. More specifically, it’s Al Pacino from the 1973 movie, Serpico. Based on true events, the film is the story of Frank Serpico, a New York policeman who went undercover to expose corruption in the New York Police Department. After the movie was released, Serpico became something of a cult figure amongst truckers in Thailand who were accustomed to being stopped by Thai traffic police ‘on the take’. Before long, Al Pacino’s face was appearing on stickers and adorning mud-flaps on trucks throughout Thailand. Thai drivers said Serpico was a lucky talisman and his presence on their vehicle meant they wouldn’t get stopped by police dishing out spurious fines.
Thailand is a country where many drivers will display Buddha images and amulets in the front of their vehicle or have garlands hanging from their rear-view mirror to help protect them on their journey. When taking delivery of a new vehicle, it’s also common for the owner to have a blessing ceremony. In that context, the addition of another good luck charm in the form of Al Pacino to ward off any unwanted attention from traffic police isn’t unusual for Thailand.
It’s open to debate how many Thai drivers on the road today know who the bearded figure on the sticker is and some may just have the image on their vehicle because it looks cool. Either way, Al Pacino’s place in Thai popular culture is assured so keep an eye out for him when you visit Thailand.