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Chiang Mia Throught The Looking Glass
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Chiang Mia Throught The Looking Glass


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  • 1. Chiang Mai Through The Looking Glass By Francis Shettlesworth Copyright 2012 Francis Shettlesworth Edition V2 11/10/2012
  • 2. Thailand Re-visited A number of years have passed since I originally wrote ‘The Q&B Guide to Thailand’. These years have been filled with events – many good, some painful, some sad - but none of them boring. The following is an account, in no particular order, which may give you an insight into my life in Chiang Mai and Thailand.
  • 3. Chapter 1 – The Migration ‘Mum’ Sometimes in life, you experience great concern over a forthcoming event, and when it comes to the day – well….. Mum had been ‘uming and ahing’ about coming out to Thailand for some time. Both my brother and I had encouraged her, knowing that we could provide loving family support rather than the isolation that would increase, if she remained. Life in England had changed dramatically and Mum had experienced a few hiccups with her health. Over the years Mum had welcomed Thais in the family with open arms, and had much experience of Thai customs, culture and food. – She loved it all. Finally she decided to join us, and it was quite a brave decision for a lady eighty years old. I had been clearing the family home, at Kew near London, for some months of many, many years of clutter and this had become tantamount to an archeological dig. One of Mum’s joys in life was visiting the car boot sale on Sunday mornings and she had become some what of a hoarder. Many times I had to suspend work after uncovering what appeared to be a treasure trove at the bottom of the dig. Deciding what to jettison, what to give to charity and what to pack-up to bring with us – this was the challenge. It reached the point when the charity shops and also the local church would place a ‘Closed for Lunch’ sign when they saw me coming, (time and time again), with arms stacked full of boxes. The boxes were full of books, trinkets, artifacts, swords, prints and, frankly a lot of rubbish. Cassie, the family dog, was one of the last things to be sorted and packed. I had dropped her off at the airport’s local kennels to be housed in her travel box, for the flight the next morning. On the morning of our departure, all of the neighbours gathered to say goodbye. Mum had lived at the family home, on and off all of her life – so knew everyone, and despite what she may have been feeling inside, she appeared cheerful. That couldn’t be said for the neighbours. One Irish lady was inconsolable. She had been to Mass the evening before and had asked for Mum to be remembered in many masses to come. She presented Mum with a religious medal which ‘would keep her safe from the natives and heathens in the jungle’. Come Fly With Me Mum was the wife of a military man, so she was no stranger to flying and travelling. Still, when we considered her problems with high blood pressure and the risk of deep vein thrombosis, we decided that the cost of traveling in business class, was a good investment. In fact, due to the good nature of my brother we managed to do a quick shuffle with the boarding passes and he sacrificed his Business Class seat for Mum. The business class cabins on the Thai Airways B-747, are on two levels. The cabin on the upper level -‘The Bubble’ seems to be more popular, so Mum and I had the entire downstairs cabin to ourselves. Wanlapa, an old friend and work mate from Thai Airways International, had walked Mum down the air bridge and escorted to her to her seat. Pom, another old friend who worked in ground operations, came up to assure Mum that Cassie was secure in the hold of the aircraft and quite happy. Mum sat there drinking a glass of champagne and was thrilled looking out of the window at all of the activity around the aircraft. Once we were airbourne, I showed Mum how to work the entertainment system and she was fascinated by the dynamic map representing the aircraft’s position. In the downstairs cabin of
  • 4. business class, the flight attendants set up an open bar and you are free to help yourself. Mum had always liked Campari Soda and she spotted a bottle at the bar. I went over to mix Mum a drink and when I returned, she had moved to the aisle seat. “Wouldn’t you like the window seat Mum?” “No, Love… its a lot easier from here to get up to stretch my legs.” I could see that there was going to be a well travelled path to and from the bar and that the Campari might well evaporate somewhat - no doubt due to the rarefied atmosphere. Many years ago, I worked for an airline and once arranged for an elderly princess of the British Royal Family to travel with us, First Class to Canada, with her Ladies in Waiting and RDPG officers (Royal Diplomatic Protection Officers). Also, travelling in the cabin was one of our own security officers. After the trip – he related to us, some of the things which had occurred. The Princess, although having her own favourite brand of whisky on board, sampled all of the aperitifs, wines and after dinner drinks. When the toiletry bags were distributed, she opened hers and inspected every item, and, as against usually handing it to the Lady in Waiting, put in into her handbag. She frequently opened the window shade to see out. In those days the sunlight used to affect the movie image being displayed on a cabin screen. And so it was with Mum. Everything was a novelty for her and she enjoyed the flight to the maximum, sampled everything and even went to the toilets several times to retrieve the complimentary lotions and potions. I usually have a wobbly pop (drink) or two, eat the first meal and then sleep the rest of the flight. Mum ate both meals and also the sandwich snacks in between. After the flight, I was shattered, but Mum was the first off from the aircraft. We had requested a wheelchair for Mum, but she was having none of it and happily walked up the air bridge and into Thailand. Welcome To Your New Home Mum took to Thailand like a fish to water, and after an initial adjustment, settled into the house that Tack, the personal assistant that I had hired, had found us out in the country in Saraphee, a village close to Chiang Mai. We both had some surprises. What we thought to be monkeys calling – turned out to be a bird. At night Mum was upset to hear an old man coughing – It turned out to be the large and ugly Tokay lizard. Blithe Spirit? – Our house was an old Thai teak wood house, in wonderful condition, with every modern convenience inside. The gardens were beautiful with two Rai of land (nearly an acre). At the front of the house Mum would keep Cassie busy and exercised with a tennis bat and ball. At the back of the house was a small canal with a shaded, concrete bench where Mum, Cassie, Tack and I used to sit and watch the fish. One day we were walking back to the house when I saw a very small wooden house on a stand. I asked Tack as to what it was. She replied – ‘A San Pra Poom Spirit House’. ‘It may be a silly question Tack, but who lives there?’ Tack, as she would many times in the future, helped us with our education of Thai culture and traditions. It turns out that most Thais believe that there are Spirits everywhere including water, land and trees – all over the place. A ‘Spirit House’ is found at nearly every house and building. The Spirits who live there are Pee Ban Spirits of the House. By paying respect and making daily small offerings – the Spirits, hopefully, will watch over things, remain appeased and not do
  • 5. anything naughty. Since then, I have seen Spirit Houses of all shapes and sizes, not only in gardens, but also outside of hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. Every morning you can see someone place a plate of offerings with lighted joss sticks, paying respect and making a Wai. The Wai can mean many things ranging from a greeting, to a show of respect and even an apology. It is made with both hands held at chest or face level – the higher the hands are held, the greater level of indication. There are also Spirit Houses close to the road at ‘Accident Black Spots’. What worries me - are the number of drivers whose hands leave the steering wheel, when passing the Spirit House, to Wai. I wonder how many of them rapidly join the other Spirits in the House! I had to return to the U.K. for a few weeks to attend to family business and Tack had an appointment with the Royal Family to receive her university graduation certificate. We made provision for Mum to be cared for but forgot the daily respect ritual at the garden Spirit House. While we were away Mum had her first accident in Thailand – chasing after Cassie’s ball. The accident resulted in a broken knee and ankle. Blithe Spirits – perhaps not! After Mum was admitted to RAM2 hospital in Chiang Mai, I really did not expect her to walk again. But twice a day, she was rolled down to ‘Exercise’ – the physiotherapy room, on a gurney, and with a combination of sheer determination and ‘True Grit’ – she managed it. My brother, Tack and I would visit each day, taking along some Thai crepes or banana fritters and the results of Mum’s shopping list. She would ‘tip’ each of the nurse’s assistants and porters with a chocolate Kit-Kat – each time that one of them helped her. You know – I don’t think that any of them actually ate the chocolate but rather saved it and later sold it to supplement their very low incomes. You might imagine that there was no shortage of volunteers to help Mum. Despite the pain barrier that she went through with the various physio exercises - Mum’s time in the ‘Exercise’ room delighted her. She was able to get out of her hospital room and although none of the girls in ‘Exercise’ spoke much English and Mum certainly no Thai – they were somehow able to communicate. They would watch Thai T.V. soap operas – some of which were pretty gruesome or simply gossip about their lives. One Therapist, in particular, Mum called Pego. A lot later, when I started to learn Thai, I found this out to mean – Pee older Gope Frog – her nickname. Pee Gope was quite an attractive lady and a very competent physiotherapist. Every day, she would complain to Mum as to how badly her ‘boyfriend’ treated her. Going out, drinking and gambling all night, taking her motorbike and pawning it and generally being a real louse. Mum would say “Don’t worry dear, remember AMAB. All Men Are Bastards and I can tell you that I have met a few in my time.” This went on for quite a few weeks, until the ‘boyfriend’ visited Pee Gope in the ‘Exercise’ room. Sorry Mum – double take, Boyfriend turns out to be Girlfriend in cross-dress. Oh Dear! Quite understandably Mum used to get bored in her room. Although we provided as many home comforts as possible, DVD and Video, kettle and tea making facility – Mum liked to be out an about. She spent much time in the nurse’s station which was next to her room, but as much as they loved chatting to her, they were really too busy. Eventually, we hired Mum’s first Carer – Joy. She stayed with Mum at the hospital and became her constant companion and person to push her wheelchair. I know that it sound a bit bizarre and macabre but Mum would always like sitting in her wheelchair at the entrance to the hospital, next to the Emergency section. From this vantage point she could watch the ambulances come and go and also the busy intersection, just outside of the hospital. Many days the police had situated themselves there to stop motorbikes of which the driver may not have helmets. Mum
  • 6. would sit mesmerized. Chapter Two ‘Its Not What You Say – It’s The Way That You Say It During the mid-seventies, I began to travel out to Thailand to visit my brother and his new family. My case was always stuffed full, like a Red Cross Parcel, with all sorts of goodies which were then unavailable in Thailand – Bounty chocolate bars, apples, Dundee Cake and toys for my nephews. The supply was always somewhat depleted by the time I arrived in Chiang Mai, as some of the items always went to ‘curious’ customs officers. For some reason, apples held an intense fascination for them. Being a retired airline employee, I traveled on airline employee standby tickets, and getting on a flight was pretty hit and miss. I spent a long time waiting at Don Muang, the old Bangkok Airport. I even had my own seat. Every few minutes there would be an announcement which always began with ‘Brostah’ Attention Please, or Please Note and made at such a loud volume. I must have heard so many thousand announcements that this word was indelibly committed to my memory and became the first Thai word that I learnt. I even used to say it in my sleep. When I migrated to Thailand, many years later, Tack, my P/A, began the thankless task of starting me down the road to learning Thai. I am not sure if that road will ever end as I am still orally mangling the language today. I have had to redesign my tongue, by attaching exercise weights to it while I sleep, to accommodate the various tones in the Thai language. Tack would pronounce a word with the correct tone – “MAiiee” I would eagerly respond: “MAIIEe” No.. “MAiiee” “Wasn’t that what I said?” No… you said “MAIIEe” Really? It sounded like “MAiiee” to me ! Taking into account the various tones and whether the vowel is extended or not, there are at least six ways that the word ‘Mai’ can sound. In fact you can make up a sentence – “Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai Mai’ New wood does not burn well – Right? That sentence became my mantra and when we used to go to the temple, when everyone else was chanting Buddhist Pali – I was chanting “Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai”. My, my !!! The Elephant I decided one day that leaning nursery rhymes in Thai might help me. Full of enthusiasm, I rushed to the office and asked the girls, who I worked with, if they could teach me some Thai nursery rhymes or songs for children. They sat there and shook their heads –“No such thing in Thailand’ A year passed and one evening, an Australian friend of ours came into the office carrying a didgeridoo. He was a nice guy but a little eccentric, intending to entertain the tourists by playing the thing at the Walking Street Market. He sat down and gave us a rendition. The girls were absolutely amazed, having never seen or
  • 7. heard a didgeridoo before. They thought it sounded like an elephant. Nick’s eyes lit up and he sang a song called – ‘Chang, Chang Chang’ Elephant, Elephant, Elephant. Chang is also the word for a brand of Thai beer, so I suppose it equally could have been – Beer, Beer, Beer. I asked the girls what the song meant. They said it was the student song. Great! Why didn’t you tell me before? Still I was delighted as the song is short and quite easy to remember. It has become my party piece. Elephant elephant elephant Have you my darling seen an elephant? The elephant, it is quite big With a long nose called trunk It has fangs underneath the trunk called tusks It has ears, eyes and a long tail. And The Frog Song Latter day my family advised me of another charming song for young people – The Frog song: “Frog – why must you sing?” “I must because I have to – because my stomach hurts!” “Why does your stomach hurt?” “Because rice is raw!” “Why do you eat raw rice?” “Because the fire it suppress.” “Why must you suppress the fire?” “Because the firewood is wet” “Why is the firewood wet?” “Because the rain must fall.” “Why must the rain fall?” “Because the frog have to sing!” Okay, perhaps it loses a lot in the translation but it is still a charming song! A Slight Set-back So far, so good. I was feeling ridiculously proud of myself. Usually in the office, I would tune out the girls chat until I heard the words ‘Khun Frank’ mentioned (Khun being a polite prefix to a name and holds much respect). Then my big ears would revolve like radar antenna to listen in to what they were saying. They soon caught onto this and would change to local dialect which was totally unintelligible to me. I had learned ‘Central’ Thai as spoken, for example, in Bangkok. Many of the words in Chiang Mai dialect are different: Nose - Bangkok Jamouk Chiang Mai Whodung Delicious - Bangkok Aroy Chiang Mai Lam Goodbye - Bangkok Sawasdee Kha Chiang Mai Sawasdee Goow The difficulty is that it doesn’t end there. Beam, and a number of my other friends come from Khon Kaen in Issan. Same situation. When talking to their families, they change to Issan dialect.
  • 8. Delicious - Issan Saap So three for the price of one. Something that I have found curious is a case of ‘Watch your R’s’. The Thai alphabet has a perfectly good letter for the R sound called ‘Ror Rua’ Boat. For some reason Thais rarely use it. So the word Aroy is spoken Áloy. The word for Westerner Farang, is frequently pronounced Falang. Now many of my family and friends will tell you with glee, that I am deaf as a post. I always, defensively, reply to them that they mumble – but, hand on heart, there is more than a grain of truth in this. For many years, before compulsorily required Health and Safety ear muffs – I worked on the airport ramp and tarmac, around noisy jet turbine engines. Too stupid or proud to stuff my fingers into my ears, I have lost some 20 per cent of my hearing over certain frequencies. In the early days of mobile telephones, I did not have a clue they were ringing. It was only when Cassie, my sheep dog, became weary of the constant irritating ring and would bark, that I was alerted to a call. Now more modern mobiles have louder ringing tones at audible frequencies – I usually have no problem. But even today Cassie goes crazy when a telephone rings. Why am I telling you this? Well, Beam has a new friend. When Beam introduced me to her I heard her name as Took Yair Large Lizard. Strange, but then most Thai nicknames are peculiar and frequently bear no resemblance to the named person. Time passed, and she never reacted for a month, until one day Beam’s friend asked me why I called her Large Lizard. ‘Errm…. Isn’t that your name? ‘No… it’s Joop Jang Great Kiss’ Whoops! Since then I attend regular courses on Sign Language in Thai. My Family and Other Animals Thai’s proper names are long and usually unpronounceable. Hence some bright spark many years ago suggested adopting nicknames by which they use day to day. Sometimes the nickname applies to the person. Other times...your guess is as good as mine. My old girlfriend’s name was Gai – chicken. Her cousin was Nok – bird, one friend was Gope – frog and another Gung - Shrimp. So there you have it all in one. Frequently you will meet a Lek – Small..... who is rather tall or fat or a Yai - Big....who is minute. Dao – Star and Meaw – Cat..... both work for me. Thai is a very polite language and the preface Khun will be used to address someone. Hence I am called Khun Frank and will answer... Khun Dao..or Khun Meaw. The address can also be age specific. As they are younger than me. I might say Nong (young) Dao or Nong Meaw. If they address someone older then the preface is Pee. So Dao, who is younger, will call Meaw....Pee Meaw. The language is gender specific. You will hear the word Khap often if a male speaker and Khah if a female is speaking. Farangs - A lot to do about Nothing Westerners, in Thailand, are called Farang by Thais and my brother detests the word and being called a Farang. He’s been in Thailand for nearly forty years and, apart from looking western, probably thinks more like a Thai than… well ... a Thai. Personally I don’t have a problem and would rather be called a Farang than a Caucasian – which somehow, to me, always sounds like a relative of a Klingon in Star Trek. I acknowledge that despite semantics, use of various words
  • 9. may cause much grief to many folk, especially regarding race, disabilities or profanities. Sensitivity Training now features highly in many Western Country’s Developmental Training Programmes. In my own case, I don’t think that I am too sensitive. I am old, and prefer that word than to be called a ‘Senior’. No disputing that I am fat, and similarly – I have no wish to be referred to as ‘Gravitationally Challenged’. Curiously in Thai Language as in English words can be selected and used, either in blunt or more ‘polite’ ways. Fat ‘Ooan’ Chubby ‘Pom Pui’ Cuddly ‘Sewee-Newee’ There is some dispute as to how and where the word Farang derived. Some will say the word originated from the Indo-Persian word Farangi meaning foreigner. Others that it refers to a French connection. Whichever, it is commonly used when applied to Westerners. In Chiang Mai, there are a group of Westerners who play softball every Saturday. They call the team – The Farangotans. The collective noun for a group of Ferang or perhaps we will always be primates at heart. Interestingly, the Thai word Kee may sometimes be used as a link to other words. This word in its base form means.. well.. Poo or Ka-Ka. Thai language uses it as a link word to produce many other interesting meanings: Kee Giat Lazy Kee Neaow Stingy Kee Ray Ugly Kee Mah Dog Shit Kee Kwai Bull Shit as in that’s a load of And finally: Farang Kee Nok Ferang Bird Shit or a Pond Life Ferang Now that is an interesting and an apt expression. Within Thailand, and of course Chiang Mai, there are many ‘Who Walk Among Us’, but in this case easily seen by their social habits. Frequently seen with a bottle of beer in their hands and mouth at ten o’clock in the morning. Leering at all and sundry who may pass and chanting lurid comments at those who may be of the opposite or in many cases the same sex. Still, at the same sentinel position 12 hours later until finally they collapse into their own resting place to re-group into the early hours. Chapter Three ‘Take Your Life In Your Hands’ Despite all counsel, I have ended up with three motorbikes. Admittedly I am now older and wiser, bear the scars and rarely ride them, as I have found out the hard way that I should have stuck to owning and driving cars. I started riding motorbikes as a young man – went the then, usual route of a provisional license and a difficult test to obtain the full license. Bought all of the clobber including a crash helmet,
  • 10. by which – had I jumped off of the Tower of London, my head would have survived, if nothing else. A full sheepskin first world war airman’s jacket, gloves and boots. Was I prepared !!!! I drove a variety of bikes over the years. In the initial days, some of the famous English ‘Classics’ – BSA – Norton – Bonneville. Then came the Honda invasion. I had no apprehension about driving a motorbike in Thailand. After all, Thais drive on the same side of the road as us. Really? Was I in for a big surprise! Thais drive in a very different way, are quite happy about it and don’t see it as a problem. They see the problem as the Farang. In many rural areas the motorbike is the family’s sole transport and the entire family will somehow seat themselves on a motorbike, including the doggy in the front basket. It follows then, that the children, from a very early age, are accustomed and ‘confident’ of being on the bike. They are quite happy from the age of eight years up to jump on the bike, start up and off they go. And that is the crunch, pun intended. Thai road statistics show that nearly thirty people die from motorbike accidents, every day. They receive no formal training either in driving discipline or regulations and pick it up as they go along. Although things are gradually changing with more police road blocks – many Thais do not hold a driving license. Driving against the flow of traffic, along the pavement, on the wrong side of the road and the wrong way up one way streets, is par for the course. So is pulling out into the traffic, from a side street, without checking for oncoming vehicles. Use of directional indicators is optional, as is stopping for a red light or performing U-Turns, where none are permitted. Use of mobile telephones while driving, both making and receiving calls and texting is common practice. Car drivers present different challenges. Most Thais would regard, braking distance, if described to them, as nuclear physics. One of their favourite tricks is to come roaring up behind you, while you are keeping the braking distance between yourself and the car in front, and flash their lights. Should you not wish to, or be unable to move over, they will get into the left hand lane and at the first opportunity, they will shoot forward and cut straight in front of you. Ironically, in world of bizarre ‘Grand Prix’, ambulances on emergency call are totally disregarded –despite sirens and flashing lights. Being a pedestrian has its own hazards. Chiang Mai has installed many pedestrian crossings, complete with timed traffic lights. Even with a red light to halt traffic and a green for the pedestrian to cross – many bikes and cars ignore these totally and continue gung-ho. Matador training in weaving and dodging is a definite benefit for survival. Not sure as to what it achieves but its all part of the game. Many Farang become quite upset about this situation, but the bottom line is we are as guests in Thailand, and although some things may gradually change, like more frequent use of helmets. Others will take far longer to change – if ever. Interesting though is the custom for many young ladies who are in the pillion seat. Frequently they ride side-saddle with grace and elegance. When I first saw this I was terrified on their behalf but it is if they are super-glued to the saddle! Police Road Blocks Now here is a strange thing. The police in Chiang Mai are rather like lions, in that if they are hungry – they will feed. If they are full, then you can usually walk or ride by them. More and more frequently we are seeing police road blocks. Some would say in support of the stricter driving regulations. The more cynical would say this usually occurs at the end of the month when they want ‘Tea Money’. The police are very clever in where they set up the road blocks.
  • 11. Sometimes around the Klong Canal of the Old City – immediately around the turn in the road, so there is no escape. All riders of motorbikes without helmets are stopped and ‘fined’. Having said that, I have seen many a pretty girl ride off after an exchange of a telephone number. Once away from the road block, I have rarely seen an individual policeman stop a motorbike. Frequently the police, themselves will drive without helmets. Even more curious is that once the sun sets, most of the police disappear and most motorbike drivers take off their helmets. The day that my luck ran outI had been living for a year or so down by the beach, some 18 kilometres past Rayong, on the Eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand. I didn’t always want to drive down from Chiang Mai, so I looked around for another motorbike to buy. At that time all of the big supermarkets were only in Rayong town – so it made sense to find one with a sidecar attached to bring back the shopping. I eventually found what I was looking for and Vince, a good mate and ex-motorbike mechanic, gave the bike the once over before I bought it to make sure that it was a good deal. It was. Vince asked me if I had ever ridden a Combo (Motorbike Combination with Sidecar) before. I told him that I hadn’t but fully understood the principle of careful cornering when turning right – to prevent a turn-over. Vince gave me the thumbs up and off I went, very carefully getting used to the handling and cornering technique. All went fine until the day I returned to the Condo car park. I couldn’t have been driving more than a few miles an hour, with an empty sidecar. But it is always the long shots that catch you out and the sidecar wheel went up the curb and up and over went the sidecar and bike with me underneath. The car park security man thought that it was a stunt in a movie, but helped get the bike off of me. I stood there dazed but, at that time, feeling no pain. Apart from bruising, the only injury that I seemed to have was gravel rash on my leg. It really didn’t look that serious and I had lost enthusiasm for driving the bike with sidecar to the clinic - so I decided to treat myself, and clean, disinfect and dress the wound. Big mistake. Several days later the wound had turned septic which involved a daily trip to the clinic, for two weeks, to have the infection scraped and cleaned. Sometimes I never learn. I removed the sidecar from the bike and have kept the bike to this day as a run around. The funny thing is that bike is an old Suzuki two-stroke, which billows blue smoke when driven and has literally been round the block many, many times. However, even if I leave it standing for a few months, on full choke it will still kick-start, first time every time. That’s more than can be said for my automatic, electric start, auto choke Yamaha Novo. After a week of non-use, it takes a team of mechanics using electric shock defibrillation to revive it back to life. Thai Tattoo – This was a shock to the system. I had often wondered as to why so many Thais had some sort of ‘scar’, usually on the calf of their leg. I had put this down to some kind of vaccination they had received when they were young. Then came the day that I too was branded. A lot of folk, including myself, ride in shorts, with bare legs. It doesn’t take a lot of common sense to be careful of not getting too close to a hot exhaust pipe. Guess I wasn’t in school the day they gave out common sense. To this day I can recall the sound of sizzling and a smell of roast meat. To receive one Thai Tattoo is unlucky and unfortunate. To receive two – is plain stupid. Guess who has two? One, on the front of my right leg and one on the back. Young Ben were some Thai words which I learnt fairly quickly after starting to drive the motorbikes, These words mean Flat Tyre. Not sure if it’s the heat, the pot holes or poor quality of inner tube manufacture but the tubes usually deteriorate at the rubber joint around the valve
  • 12. and the inner tube is shredded by the time you can stop, Flat tyres become a way of life if you ride motorbikes in Thailand. Fortunately, in the towns there is a motorbike repair shop on every corner. Out of town – it can be a hot, dusty walk down a long winding road. I was fairly lucky when it happened to me once, in the middle of nowhere. I started the long trudge to a repair shop some miles away, when a pick-up truck pulled up. The Thai guy and his girlfriend didn’t even ask. They lifted the bike into the back of the pick-up, then lifted me in after it, and drove me and the bike to the repair shop. They wouldn’t even let my buy them a cold drink. See - there is a God and a Buddha! Chapter Four - ‘If You’re Hungry – You’ll Eat It’ Part of my childhood was spent at my Dad’s home in the southern part of the United States. Although, my Dad was a military man, the family was very poor farmers who lived in the foot- hills of the Smokey Mountains. I learnt very early, in life to eat what was put in front of me – or go hungry. Possum, Okra - fried and oozing slime, Grits with breakfast and so on. So I am no stranger to eating very basic and different kinds of food. Still I had a few surprises in store for me when I came to Thailand. One day Tack, my then P/A, had taken Phil, an old English friend, and me to a lake close to Chiang Mai – Huay Tung Thao. It is a beautiful place with small wooden Salas and a restaurant literally by the beach. Lunch time came and we were all hungry. Phil and I stuck to well known paths and ordered the usual, unadventurous chicken with cashew nuts and Kow Pad – Fried Rice. Tack ordered Gung Tehn. I was curious. “Tack… what’s Gung Tehn?” “Dancing Shrimp” “Really?” The food came to the table and Tack’s order was in an earthenware pot, which she kept shaking. It sounded like Popcorn cooking. I went to take the lid off and peek inside. “No… don’t do that!” Too late, I lifted the lid. Out came some of the shrimp, whizzing past my ear. I looked at Tack. “Now you know why they call them Dancing Shrimp” The small freshwater shrimp are put into the pot with some oil, Nam Bpla – Fish Sauce and some chili and spices. When the pot is shaken – the shrimp very quickly expire. It took me a little while to get my mind around it – but eventually I asked Tack for a bite of the shrimp. They were delicious. I suppose that it is similar to going to a fresh fish restaurant and making your selection. Neither the fish nor these shrimp could come any fresher. When one of us from the office, has a birthday – we always go out in the evening to eat and celebrate. This particular evening we went to a restaurant some way out of Chiang Mai which is located by a fresh water shrimp farm and specializes in Northern Thai cuisine. The food that night was very tasty and halfway through, Khun Meaw, one of the girls from the office, passed me a bowl, of what I thought were sautéed shrimps – well, you would :wouldn’t you if you were eating next door to a shrimp farm ?
  • 13. I bit into the shrimp with great relish, I love them. Whoa… something was wrong, this tasted like no shrimp that I had ever eaten. Still the taste wasn’t bad… just different. I looked back at the bowl. They did not resemble any shrimp that I had ever seen. Khun Meaw was still chomping away on her own plate of delicacies. I asked her what type of shrimps these were. “Shrimps? – they are not shrimps, Khun Frank. They are Grasshoppers” “Grasshoppers? …Hmmmm!” I considered this for a while. I had heard of many people who thought that honeyed locusts were a delicacy – but with eating insects, where do you draw the line? Cockroaches for example? Khun Meaw explained for me. You are what you eat. Grasshoppers are vegetarian and primarily eat grass. Okay? Cockroaches, to put it bluntly, are shit eaters. Do you want to eat shit? No. Very logical. Thank you. But I still couldn’t eat the grasshoppers. One night Beam and I were driving home to our house at Darawadee. The rain had stopped but some type of winged insects kept hitting the windscreen in increasing numbers, eventually a blizzard of insects. I asked Beam what they were –Malang Mow Drunk Insects. After a long season of being hot and dry, at the first rains – these insects, which have lied dormant in the soil, emerge in vast numbers. They are mesmerized by light and fly around and around until they crash to the floor – hence the name Drunk Insects. Their life span is very, very short only a few hours. When we approached the house, my neighbours were running around with very large fish nets, waving them in the air. “Okay Beam – what’s up? Has someone escaped from the hospital?” “No – They are catching the Malang Mow, so they can eat them.” We pulled into the driveway, and Beam went to get some bowls to collect the flying insects which had crashed onto the ground. I asked her what she was going to do with them, as for sure I wasn’t going to eat them. She said she would sell them at the market, the following day. And you know – that’s just what she did. Every Thai is a natural entrepreneur. Since then I have often seen the Vendor making the round of the bars selling just about every insect under the sun, fried crisp, for consumption by many of the girls who work in the bars A few months later we were driving south down Superhighway Number One. Along this route are many roadside vendors who sell just about everything under the sun. I was intrigued by a run-up of signs which featured what appeared to be several black steer skulls. As usual, I turned to Beam – the oracle from Khon Kaen as to what they meant. She replied that it was “The Rat Vendor”.
  • 14. “The what?” “The Rat Vendor.” And sure enough after several more signs, there he was with many plastic bags of prepared rats. “Don’t tell me that Thais eat them?’ “Sure – they are rice barn rats, they only eat rice.” I was a little concerned at this and asked Beam how Thais knew they were Rice Barn Rats. Did they wear little signs that said: “Its okay to eat me… I live in a barn.” A look of scorn, but no reply. When I returned to the office I checked with the girls. Yep, for sure, when they were younger, they had all sampled rice barn rats. Looking further into this – it seems that many of these rats are farmed. Bamboo cages with lightening quick traps are made and placed either in the rice barns or at the various exits at a rice paddy. Somebody goes in and makes a noise and out come the rats straight into the traps. The rats are cleaned, skinned and prepared and cooked with: Recipe for ground rat meat and chili paste: Ingredients: 1/4 cup fish oil 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1-1/2 cups of dried red chili peppers 4 long green pepper 8 large bay leaves 1/2 cup holy basil leaf 1 tablespoon salt 4 chopped garlic cloves 4 small rats And that, along with grasshoppers, was where I drew the line. I used to keep a little room on the hill at Pattaya, close to the yacht club and the same thing applied, including a fruit and vegetable seller and, late in the evening – the barbeque man. On one trip down, after I had been trying to explain to Beam, for some time, what a ‘Donner Kebab’ was – what did we see driving around but a motorcycle vendor with attached sidecar, with a big slab of rotating chicken – selling Donner Kebabs. Very excited, I pointed out the vendor to Beam and explained how he made the kebabs. Much later, who should turn up outside our room, but the Donner Kebab vendor. Eager to try them out, I asked Beam to buy me a couple. I have to tell you – they were great, wrapped in tin foil, great chicken, salad and sauce. I pigged out, and with an attitude of ‘all is well with the world’, I went
  • 15. to bed. Three o’clock in the morning, I knew that something was wrong. My stomach had been rumbling for an hour or so and now I started to have cramps. It was touch or go, as to whether I would make the toilet in time – then all hell broke loose. Literally. And that continued all over the New Year Holiday. Upon reflection- I should have realized. Unlike, most restaurants making kebabs, in more or less, hygienic conditions, the kebab vendor’s meat is exposed to the heat and the insects for nearly 24 hours per day. It is unlikely that he covers it up when he goes into sleep. Some people learn the hard way. Chapter Five -Encounters with Monks, Spirit Houses and Hill Tribes ‘WAT’S’ The Monk Going To Say? Quite often, I teach English at the Monk’s school at the Wat Phra Sing. This is a very large and beautiful Wat Buddhist Temple in the old City of Chiang Mai with some 800 Nayn, Novice Student Monks. Monks are not ordained until they are twenty years old. Although times are changing, every male Thai Buddhist of twenty years or over is expected to become a monk for a period of time. For how long is up to them and their families. Letting their sons become Novice Student Monks is an attractive proposition for many Thai families. The level of education the students receive is normally much higher than the family would be able to afford and may not be available in their home town or village. For that reason, many of the young Monks come from different places in Thailand. Most of them are very shy of their Yak Ferang Western Giant teacher. Teachers, in Thailand are usually much respected and even awed. The young Monks standard of English is not all that good, but gradually, as they became more used to me – they begin to participate in the various learning games. The students are fascinated to learn both of my life outside the Wat in Chiang Mai and of my life before coming to Thailand. They would ask me about what I ate, if I was married and what I believed in. I, in turn, would ask them about their daily routine, what and when they could eat and where they went and what they did when they went outside of the Wat for a walk-around. The lessons frequently end up as funny chat sessions, which is ironic as they are conducted in ‘The Chat Room’ – where Monk Chat takes place. Many Wats now promote Monk Chat. Several times a week, Farangs can go along to the Wat and find out more about Thai Monks and life in a Wat. This works well as it can be very interesting for visitors to Thailand and the Monks get to practice their English. I have been lucky in my life to meet some very interesting people with special talents and skills. Although there are some charlatans – some monks have the gift of seeing and perceiving things that others can not. My first experience of this was some thirty five years ago, when I brought a friend with me, to Thailand, who was a complete skeptic. My sister-in-law encouraged her to go along and see a ‘Fortune Teller Monk who had developed this sense since early childhood. She was ashen when she emerged from the Wat. The Mordu Fortune Teller Monk had not only predicted her future (accurately as it turned out) but also related her past life to her in specific detail. My sister-in-law asked if I wished to see the Monk. I nervously declined.
  • 16. Years passed. I used to rent a house close to Wat Gew Kam, adjacent to Arcade Bus Station. I was quite interested in the life of Monks and frequently used to visit the Wat to make Tamboon Merit. Every morning at 6 o’clock I used to stand outside my house with food for the Monks making their rounds for Bintabat Alms Giving. This involves a Monk and some young helpers making the rounds of the surrounding neighbourhood of the Wat during the very early morning. They carry a special bowl with a removable lid. The faithful kneel before the Monk who lifts the lid and the food for the Wat is placed in the bowl. The Monk should not look at the food or comment on it. Finally the Monk will intone a blessing and move on to the next alms giver. This food is eaten during the morning as the Monks cannot eat after 12 noon until the following day. The Monks may have been surprised by some of the food I put into their bowls – chili con carne, spaghetti bolognaise, apples, chocolate bars… anything I could lay my hands on in the house. But they always came back the next day! I discovered that one of the Monks in the Wat was a Mordu. Over the years I had become brave and asked Khun Meaw, from my office, if she would take me to see the Monk. She agreed and on the first visit, he recorded the time, date and place of my birth – and asked us to return the next day. We returned the following day and sat before the Monk. He had a complicated diagram in front of him of various squares rectangles and symbols, which I assumed referred to my destiny. Before beginning he said something to Khun Meaw and smiled forlornly. Khun Meaw said – “The Monk wants to know if you are brave and have a strong heart?” Filled with dread I replied - “Certainly’ Khun Meaw said that the Monk wishes to sing the prediction as a poem in Northern Thai Dialect. “Fine” I said. The Monk sang. Khun Meaw wrote down the prediction. When he had finished we both asked for his blessing and left. In the car, I asked Khun Meaw as to what the Monk had said. Khun Meaw said that the next year would not be a good one for me. I would be at the mercy of a thief and spend much time in hospital and nearly die. “Oh?” The following morning in the office I wanted to show the other girls the prediction to see what they thought. Khun Meaw said “Sorry Khun Frank, I threw it away.” “What?” It turns out that it is a Thai custom when receiving bad news, as in the form of a fortune telling, perhaps with the fortune telling, shake and quake sticks in a Wat – in which you shake a container until one ‘stick’ falls out with a number. You then associate this number with a written forecast of your future. If the news is not good then you leave the written prediction there, to leave the bad luck behind. Well that wasn’t what happened in my case. My General Manager embezzled two million baht from me and I spent nearly a year in hospital with a life-threatening condition. That’s all history now and no consolation, but I later found out that the Fortune Telling Monk also nearly died in hospital. Maybe that accounted for why his smile was so forlorn. When I moved into my next house – I was surprised that there was no Spirit House in the garden. One of the first things I did was to buy one and Tack arranged for a Brahmin Priest to visit and correctly position the Spirit House and perform the initiation ceremony. Paradoxically, Spirit Houses are related to Brahmin and not Buddhism but Thais quite happily accept both concepts and pay respective homage to both.
  • 17. The initiation ceremony is very curious and intricate and amongst other things involves the Brahmin Priest ‘eating flames’ from candles. I became so involved in taking photos of this ritual that Tack had to come and rope me in to participate. Not eating candle flames anyway – I am happy to say. ‘Monks That Walk’ During the Buddist Lent, which coincides with the rice seedlings growing in the paddies, Monks are committed to stay in their assigned Wat or Temple, unless they have special dispensation to be away. Once the Lent is over, Monks can and do travel either to other Wats for pilgrimages or other reasons perhaps to visit sick and ailing parents. A few years ago, I was driving from Chiang Mai to visit my Mum, who lived some 18 Kilometres outside of town. The weather was abysmal and it was raining 'cats and dogs'. Three Monks were walking along the canal road, but, despite the volume of traffic - no one pulled over to offer them a lift. 'Okay - why not?' – I thought and I pulled up. Their feet did not touch the ground in getting into the pick-up.. The head Monk asked me where I was going. I replied I was going to visit my Mum who lived a few kilometres down the road. Silence ensued for a few minutes. I asked - 'Where are you going?' He replied “To Mae Hong Song” nearly 200 kilometres away. "Oh...." The kilometres dragged on and eventually, we reached the market town of San Patong. The monks indicated for me to pull over as they wished to go to the bus station. They blessed me and attached a holy Sai-Sin bracelet to my wrist. Then, they asked for the bus fare to Mae Hong Song. Not entirely sure of what to do, I pulled out my wallet, which only had 500 baht in, and gave it to them. Off, they went into the rain. When I returned to my office the girls I worked with were astounded and angry and said that should never have happened as Monks should never ask for money. The epilogue to this story is that a few years later, my wife Beam and I were driving south to Rayong. As we came around the bend, we encountered a monk walking a long the side of the road. Beam asked me to stop and ask the Monk where he was going. 'To Khon Kaen', he replied. She apologized profusely and advised him that we were going in another direction. She turned to me and asked for 300 Baht to give to him, and bent down so that he could bless her. Off we drove. When we drove a round the next bend, there in a single file - stretched out, were presumably, the rest of the group of Monks travelling to Khon Kaen. Beam pointed out the scenery on the other side of the road, as we drove by. The Tribe That Lives On the Hill Shortly after coming to live in Chiang Mai, I noticed some colourfully dressed women walking around in the evening – selling various artifacts. It turned out that they were from the Akha Hill Tribe. The women wear very plain shirts which are covered with what seems to be the contents of a pirates treasure chest. The women are also very visible because of a type of silver ‘helmet’, and many can be seen at the Night Bazaar selling their wares of intricate silver jewelery. Another
  • 18. vendor of the streets was the flower seller. She was always smartly dressed in a black blouse and dress, and was obviously quite fit as she must have covered many, many kilometer each day. In fact, the girls in the office used to buy the flowers from her to decorate the office Buddha Image. One day as she was leaving – she stopped to look at our postcards on display for sale. She became quite excited and pointed out on postcard which showed a group of Akha Hill Tribe women in traditional costume. It turned out that these women were her family; and she also used to wear the traditional costume they were wearing. Curious, I asked Tack to tell me more about the Hill Tribes. There seem to be seven main groups - Karen, Lahu, Hmong, Lisu, Akha and Mien, Lisu and Padaung. It then all becomes quite complicated as there are many sub-groups of the Hill Tribes, with their own languages, dialects, villages and religions, including Christianity. The Christian Missionaries have been very active over the years and many of the Hill Tribe Villages have a Christian church. Apparently it has happened that some Hill Tribe members would go for a swim and, wile swimming, were quickly baptised by the Missionary It may be that the Hill Tribes originally came from China and Burma, and then gradually migrated down to Thailand from the surrounding countries. Their home villages are high up in the mountains, as they like the height and isolation and invariably – they are involved in agriculture. In fact, fifty years ago poppies were the main crop as was the production of opium, until the Thai Government urged on by the U.S., instituted various programs to change this. One of the more interesting Hill Tribes are the Paduang. Should you visit Chiang Mai and take a tour to the Golden Triangle, you will have the opportunity to visit the village of the Long Neck. The women traditionally make themselves beautiful by adding brass rings around their necks. This doesn’t actually stretch the neck but has the affect of depressing the clavicle –the collar bone, which gives the impression of an extended neck. Thai Yai or Shan are part of the Paduang Hill Tribe. The Thai Yai crossed over into Thailand from Burma a long time ago and many now live in the Mae Hong Son area. Most are bi-lingual in the Shan language and Burmese, and The Shan language is not dissimilar to Thai, although the alphabet is more like Burmese. A couple of Mum’s carers were Thai Yai from Mae Hong Son. They could both speak Thai but could not read or write it, although they could read a little English. We had to leave notes and instructions for them in very simple English. During my time teaching English at Chiang Mai Inter Technical College, I tried to think of a subject that the students would be knowledgeable about and could write a short paragraph about for home work. Something about one of the Thai Hill Tribes seemed ideal. When I was reviewing their home work, I discovered that one of the students had written a short paragraph relating the Crucifixion at Calvary. There you go – I knew it. The Lost Tribe of the Jewish Nation is alive and well and has become a Thai Hill Tribe! ‘Consider Your Next Move… Carefully’ Through circumstance - I have moved in Thailand at least ten times, through a variety of accommodation, which suited my needs at any particular time. I thought that I had finally found somewhere which met all of my needs, when I moved onto the 11th floor corner unit of the Riverside Condo. I had a wonderful view of the River Ping, great sunsets over the mountains, hardly any mosquitoes and most importantly of all – a swimming pool. I have always enjoyed swimming as an exercise and, sometimes, being somewhat of a nosey-parker, love to ‘people watch’. Alas, it was not to be as poor old Mum suffered yet another fall which caused her to be admitted
  • 19. to hospital for nearly a year. Cassie, the family sheep-dog, had always lived with Mum and was now left unattended, so I had to do something fast. No pets were allowed at the Condo, so the girls and I again, began house-hunting. The girls, from my office, eventually found a functional house for Cassie and me in Ban Darawadee, a cross between a Thai village and housing estate. The rent was a lot cheaper than my Condo Studio, and considering what was on offer, almost too good to be true. I later found out why it was so cheap, but more about this later. The house had a walled garden, with lockable gate – great for Cassie! It was multilevel with a bedroom, food preparation room and bathroom on the ground level. Next up a larger room which became my office, and on the top floor – two further bedrooms and bathroom, and a balcony with a grand view of the Doi Suthep mountain and Temple. The cooking and washing up facilities, as in many Thai houses, were outside and covered as was the car port. In the front were a small fish pond and a lockable garage/storage room. Cassie and I took it on the spot and moved in. Cassie and I were just unpacking, when we heard a small voice from the end of the garden “Good Afternoon.” We both looked up to see a young boy standing there. “Does your dog bite?” It was so tempting to come back with the famous line from the Pink Panther movie, in which, Peter Sellars portraying Inspector Clouseau, asks a Swiss Hotel reception clerk if his dog bites as Clouseau wishes to stroke him. The reception clerk shakes his head. Clouseau bends down and the dog bites him. Clouseau says – “I thought that you said that your dog does not bite!” The clerks says “Ít is not my dog”. Instead I told him that Cassie was the friendliest dog that he would ever meet. His name was Q and he became our introduction to the village of Darawadee and the folk who lived there. I later used to ask if he had an older brother or sister called I. I don’t think that he ever made the connection. Q took Cassie and me for a walk and we discovered a man-made fish lake at the end of our road. At the side was a Buddhist convent where a Mae-Chee Thai Nun lived. Cassie was an unusual and friendly dog who attracted so much attention that at times it could be like walking around with a movie star. The Mae-Chee instantly befriended her and used to bring small gifts of food and fruit to our garden. Q also took us to show us some open ground where we could exercise Cassie. It was on the immediate threshold to the landing runway at Chiang Mai Airport and I spent many a happy hour watching the aircraft on their final approach. Other visitors to this patch of land included a group of paint-ball-gun fanatics who had built an assault course and also a group of radio controlled model aircraft and helicopter enthusiasts, who flew their various models around like bats. A little more towards the middle of the village was the small playing Area, where the lads played Dtagrah, a game of much skill which is a sort of cross between volleyball and football. To watch the payers of this game is to wonder at their agility. Also there were the noodle shop and tea drinks booth. When Beam, my wife, eventually arrived, she spent many happy hours there, as the lady owner originates from Khon Kaen which is in Issan, North-East Thailand – the same home town as Beam’s. Her husband was a very nice guy, and an efficient car and motorbike mechanic, who worked in the street outside the shop. The Khon Kaen Lady was a great cook and would happily come out on her motorbike to deliver to our door. Her specialty was Pad Gapow Moo – Pork cooked with holy basil leaves and spices and she also prepared a very ‘mean’ Son Tam – Papaya Salad which was always too spicy for me to eat. She and the tea lady who ran the tea stall next door would quite happily sit and gossip with Beam and anyone who cared to spend some time gossiping for a while, all day long.
  • 20. Our immediate neighbours were a family from Kampaeng Phet, which is south on the road to Bangkok. The father was a formidable man who terrified me. He was a debt collector and had some very menacing friends. As time passed, I guess that he mellowed and he turned out to be a very good neighbour. The family had a young son called Beer. On the other side was a young family, also from Issan, with a young son called Earth. Every day the school bus would take Beer and Earth to school and bring them home late afternoon. The first thing that they did when they arrived home was to visit Lung Uncle Frank, with Q in tow to see if I had any Kanom chocolate snacks for them. Many was the time that Q’s Mum or Grandmother would come to the house to drag him home for his supper. One morning a teenage girl turned up at the gate, sitting on the luggage rack of a bike way too small for her with a minute boy perched on the saddle. It was all that she could do to peddle with her long spindly legs. It turned out that her nickname was Dea – Darling and the little fellows name was Nua –North. Despite all of the Kanom chocolate that I fed Nua, each morning, during my two years at Darawadee – Nua did not grow one inch. When we finally moved on from Darawadee - Dea became a tremendous help in packing everything up and unpacking at out new house. We quite missed seeing her and the other children after we moved. ‘Visitors To The Garden’ It is part of the daily routine in many countries, including Thailand, to shake out your shoes before you wear them. I am not quite sure as to what make my shoes so attractive to lodgers, but on the first morning – two enormous Toads, fell onto the ground. They both gave me a disgruntled look and went hopping on their way. A few days later, I went to step into my sandals, when a short blue and black snake slithered out from them and looked up at me. As many people will tell you, I am quite a big guy but my acrobatics that morning would have qualified me for an Olympic team. A long list of other critters, including centipedes and scorpions have tried to take refuge in them – until I thought that enough was enough and I started to keep them in the house. You might well ask as to just what the ‘Wonder Dog’ was doing when all of this happened? Well ‘Wonder Dog’ was at her sentinel position at the fish pond staring down at the fish, as if she might find the secret to the universe in there. Like the crabs, in the old ‘Boot’ cartoon, the fish stared right back up at ‘The Eyes in the Sky’ possibly thinking that they were some sort of deity. The only time that they took umbrage is when she helped herself and drank the pond water. As to why she would do that – your guess is as good as mine. She had a constant supply of fresh drinking water. Somewhere along the way, Cassie became a confused dog with regard to the ‘Origin of the Species’ and did not really know if she was canine or human. She made immediate friends with all people and even if a thief would come to the garden, she would welcome him, lick his feet on the way to the house and offer to help carry the booty out to his car! With regard to other dogs, it was a different matter, Cassie was a total snob and would disdainfully ignore them. Her Don Quixote mission in life was to prevent two doves, which came to the garden for food, from jumping in her food bowl to finish off her meal. Cassie did not want the rest of meal – but she did not want the doves to have it either. The doves were none too alarmed by Cassie’s charge, just jumped away a few steps, and returned to the bowl once Cassie had sat down again. This went on and on until either the doves, or usually Cassie tired of the game and went off to sulk in the house. It’s not just Thai dogs. Cassie was ‘dog anti-social’ with all dogs, ever since she had been a puppy. But somehow Thai dogs knew that she was different and barked at her at every
  • 21. opportunity to tell her so. Naturally Cassie had her own thoughts about this and barked back. When I took her out for exercise I usually had to act as a referee, as most Thai dogs have total freedom to come and go. They learn to become ‘street-wise’ very early in life and are great ramblers. Even in the city of Chiang Mai, it is not unusual to see a dog or two, on the move, across the town, with purpose in mind. “Off to see old Fred today… Want to come along?” And off they trot – a couple of old friends on a mission. Soi Dogs can be quite a nuisance. Soi is the Thai word for small street or lane, and the dogs who reside there can be very territorial. They take no prisoners and have no fear. To walk or ride down the Soi at any time of day or night is to take your life in your hands. Like many other countries, a sad aspect of dog owning in Thailand is when the time comes that the dog is no longer wanted by the owner. The Thais will take the dog to the local Wat Temple and leave it there. This is why you may see so many dogs in the Wat grounds. In some Wats the dogs are cared for very well. In others, especially if there are many, they are neglected. ‘Things That Go Bump In The Night’ Most Thais are very superstitious and many of them believe in ghosts. There are many famous ghosts and stories, perhaps the most famous being of Nang Nak, which is a pretty blood thirsty story concerning a romance of a beautiful woman whose husband is conscripted and does not return. Nang Nak and her child die during her labour and she returns to haunt. Who’s to say? Thais are very reluctant to own a possession of a dead person. I later discovered that the mother of my landlady, and the original owner of the house that I rented, had died in a gruesome car accident in which she suffered severe head injuries during the collision. Hence the reason that I managed to get the house at a rock bottom price rental. I personally have an open mind, and the following actually did happen. On the other side of the wall at the back of the house was a family who lived with a very aggressive Dalmatian dog. In fact, when the owner took it out for a walk, she had great problems in controlling the dog, It barked, loudly and incessantly. Mum had by then gone on to new adventures in her next life, a few years ago. On the night of her farewell ceremony, Beam and Pan, the last of her Carers, returned to our house, at Darawadee. The girls slept upstairs and I in the downstairs bedroom. During the night I heard the most blood curdling cry. I looked at the clock – 1:23 a.m. I shouted upstairs to see if one of the ladies were having a nightmare. No – they were both okay – and the howl came again. It turned out to be the Dalmation next door, scared out of its wits. Me too – the Dalmation’s scream! Cassie however was full of beans, very happy, excited and exuberant and desperately wanted to go outside. She had been for exercise before we had all went to bed - so it was a mystery. I opened the door and she shot out. I went upstairs to check on the girls and they were as mystified as I was. We all went downstairs and Cassie came in as if after meeting an old friend or loved one. 1:23 a.m. – The time that Mum had died. Mum had an immense love of all animals, dogs in particular and could never help stopping to chat to one to make a new friend. Perhaps the Dalmation didn’t quite see it that way! Draw your own conclusions. Straight to your door step One of the great things about Darawadee, and most places in Thailand is the number of vendors
  • 22. or buyers who do come to your house. At Darawadee, the first thing in the morning is the mobile shop selling vegetables, meats and many types of various foods. The husband usual drives the pick-up and wify sits in the back with the scales, ice box and various goodies arranged, hanging from the interior around her. On offer is just about everything that you need to cook a delicious Thai meal/ Later in the day – the Kanom Jeep (Thai dumplings with fried garlic, soy sauce and lettuce) and rice bun and salad man, the ice cream man, the man selling brooms and finally the recycle man who will buy all of the glass and plastic bottles, old newspapers, tins and old metal a bit like the old rag and bone man back in the U.K. Even at our office there is a parade of vendors who pass the door every day, who will cut and prepare a coconut for you, have a variety of goods including bananas crisps and delicious Thai donuts with a curious but tasty herb inside. It is worthwhile noting here that most Thai food vendors usually cook fresh food, one time only and it is hot and delicious. It is rare that you will have to learn the steps to the ‘Aztec-Two-Step Dance’. Chapter Six “In a Ditch with a Bitch’ Not quite sure which is worse – the daily beating heat of the hot season and this year was very HOT and the season was long. Or the depressing day after day of torrential rain of the rainy season. Lovely cool and refreshing to begin with but it soon becomes wearing. This year we had a LOT of rain and the ground became supersaturated with water. One night I was driving back to my house and turned into the unpaved driveway leading to my compound. The earth at the side of the road gave way and the Mazda pick-up and I toppled into the drainage ditch. Beam came out with a lamp, and as is the way in the country, a small crowd of villagers soon gathered – each with their own opinion of how to get me and the Mazda out. Eventually, my brother arrived and arranged for a farmer and his tractor to tow the Mazda out. He leapt in, a lot more nimbly than I had crawled out, and with a second pick up to stabilize the rear – the Mazda and my brother came up and out of the ditch like a phoenix from the ashes. I suppose that in the old days, it would have been a team of buffalo instead of a tractor. Luckily I was not hurt and the Mazda is a tough old bird and only had a slight scratch on the side. Maybe the story of my life – ending up with some tough old bird in a ditch! Fast forward to Christmas Eve. Our family live around a large fish lake, which is full of Mekong Cat Fish. My brother and his family live at one end of the lake where there is a resort, a small pub and the accommodation and provision for the Cambridge CELTA School which trains English teachers. Beam, my wife, Cassie the family sheep dog and I live at the other end of the lake. The unpaved driveway to my house is very dark at night and the sharp turn from the driveway necessitates reversing out of the compound. That evening we had loaded up the car with a hamper of culinary delights – various cheeses, home made chicken liver pate, baguettes and a few bottles of wine to take up to the other end of the lake to celebrate with the family. Now Cassie was a home loving dog and was usually content to be left on her own guarding the house. Did I say ‘content’? Perhaps grudging acceptance would better express this as she was a great traveller and nothing delighted her more than to ride in the back of the pick up. Did I say ‘Guarding the House’? Cassie was afraid of her own shadow and should a thief come to ransack the place – Cassie would lick his hands and cheerfully help him carry the loot and bounty to his vehicle. Still, usually when you would have said “Stay” – she stayed.
  • 23. Perhaps that evening it was the irresistible smell of the goodies in the hamper but as I was reversing out Beam pointed out Cassie, lit up by the head lights, following us. I stopped and Cassie went around to the rear of the pick-up as she was prepared to jump in and then suddenly disappeared. Beam jumped out and called that Cassie had fallen into the drainage ditch. Being a true gentleman I also got out and helped Beam to do down into the ditch to get Cassie out. Now Cassie was no light-weight and I also was summoned into the ditch. Struggling – Beam and I managed to hoist Cassie up and out of the ditch. Now I had the problem. I could not get enough leverage to climb up and out as the wet soil, at the top, kept going way. I asked Beam to return to the house to fetch a step ladder and told Cassie to go with her. Beam left and instead of Cassie returning to the house – she came back to stare at me and find out what I was doing in the ditch – short term memory retention! As is the way of the world the soil gave way and I ended up with the 25 kilo Wonder Dog on top of me. Now that ditch is full of creepy-crawlies, scorpions, maybe even cobras and goodness knows what else. If you had seen us – you would have believed that a man and dog could fly – we were out of that ditch so quick. I returned to the house to lick my wounds and Beam patched me up. I had a few drink that night – for medicinal purposes, of course. ‘Merry Christmas Mister Francis’ ! ‘The House That Frank Built…’ Well…hand on heart… not quite. More like the house that Frank’s brother designed, Tum – the builder constructed, while lazy Frank, Beam and Cassie watched being built! You know one of the strange things about life, is that you never know what’s around the corner, both good and bad – or where you will end up. When I came out to live in Thailand – the plan was that Mum, Cassie and I would live out here at the fish lake at Doi Tham. As is often the way, circumstances changed and that did not happen at that time. Now, ten years later, here are Beam and I living out in the country at the fish lake. And believe me, after Darawadee – it has taken some time to get adjusted. As a by-the-way, Ban Doi Tham is Chiang Mai dialect for Village with Goat in Cave. I have found the village but am still looking for the goat and the cave. The Dawn Chorus –Being in the country, free range chickens are everywhere. To be honest, I am not sure if anyone knows anymore as to who owns what. Everyday, a cockerel with his harem of hens and baby chicks will walk though our compound, eating as they go. Cassie was totally oblivious to the chickens and slept right through the march past. The only time that Cassie was aroused and would bark is if I called out ‘Cats!’ Although she did not have a clue as to what a cat is. The chickens are a nuisance as many times when the house is unattended and left open for Cassie – they will enter in search of food, make a big mess and up-turn small rubbish bins. Wonder Dog slept all through all of this. I have often encouraged Beam to do some ‘Rustling’ for our Sunday lunch but fair play and perhaps two of the five Buddhist Precepts comes into play and she is not interested. We don’t need an alarm lock as at 0300 the silly buggers wake up and for ten minutes sound off – Cocker-Doodle-Doo in English and Yak-I-Yak-I-Yak in Thai. Then they press the equivalent of chicken snooze alarm and go back to sleep for an hour. At 0400 is the second chorus. At this stage I am up and ready ‘armed for bear’. Beam mutters ‘Jai Yen Yen’ – Take it easy and go
  • 24. back to sleep. I simmer, waiting for the next ‘Act’. Right on time at 0500 – The Cock Crows The Hour, and they are all awake and Cocker-Doodle-Doo in 50 part harmony. KFC had it right first time around. Around the paddy fields there are lots of cows and buffalo roaming around. Quite often we have to shoo them out of the garden. Interesting, the Thai words for fried rice are pronounced Cow Pat. Some other interesting words, that make you think – Poo –Crab and Prik Chili Its curious that in every 7-11 store, every Tesco Lotus, Big C, Carrefour and other supermarkets – all across Thailand, There are hundred of thousands of litres of fresh milk every day. But guess what – I’ve never seen a dairy herd or barn. They must keep them somewhere. Same with eggs. Apart from the chickens that come into the garden. Never seen any battery or free range egg farms. ‘Village and Town Loudspeakers’ Most locations in Thailand have a local ‘Loud-speaker’ system to be used as a public information service, emergency information or just local events and gossip. Different towns and villages tend to use, or not use this facility according to inclination. In the village that I currently live -it comes on ‘smart as a button’ between 0600 -0700 on a Sunday morning. Most days, I just cover my head with a pillow and go back to sleep. This particular day, the loudspeaker started to play the same ‘taped’ announcement over and over again, It ran for about two minutes and when I quizzed Beam – she told me that it had to do with ‘House Cleaning Day” to try to prevent the spread of mosquitoes. After two hours of the same repeated announcement, with buzzing mosquitoes and music – I was stir crazy. I am an easy going sort of guy – but all of my fuses blew. I called my brother, I had Beam call the Head Man of the village, I posted a topic in the Expat forum…. But still it went on. Eventually I gave in and drove into my office for a little peace, only to find the local loudspeakers blaring out the same message. Some you win… Some you lose. Late Night Parties and Festivals Thais love to party and very much enjoy karaoke – and they love to Share! They are totally impervious to loud noise and music, as you will find out if you take a stroll around the audio/visual section of one of the supermarkets. Most T.V’s. and Music Players are turned on at full volume. If there is a family event such as a wedding, or even a cremation, the garden activities can sometimes go on for several evenings and very late. The loud speakers are turned up to full volume and the sound can carry a long way. During the various Thai festivals, many garden parties occur at the same time, with the music in competition. During the earlier part of the evening, some of the music can be pleasant. Later on, as the wobblypops –drinks take their toll and the karaoke begins – it all goes downhill. The last time around, I found a CD with Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture on, including cannon shots, and played it at full volume. Deathly silence ensued! Da-da-dada-da-da-dada-da- BOOM Don’t Go Swimming
  • 25. Some times in life, someone describes something or somewhere to you – and when you eventually encounter it, you think … Big Deal! On the other hand when you do see it get to see it, it is even more than incredible. The Greek Island of Santorini is an example. Santorini is what’s left of a volcano that blew up in 1630 BC. It is visually overwhelming. So are the fish in the lake by my house. All around the area of Doi Tham are similar lakes. An ore, which is used in road construction, is excavated, leaving very large and deep holes in the ground. Gradually rain water feels the hole and a lake is born. Sometimes, as with our lake, fish were put in many years ago. The fish are called Bplahduke Mekong Catfish. Big Deal? Many of these fish weigh nearly 30 kilo and, if left, can grow to twice that size! There are hundreds of them in the lake in addition to an assortment of gold and other fish from an aquarium that my nephew had grown tired of. My brother keeps small packets of pellet feed for the students, at his school, to feed the fish with. Rather like sharks, the fish go into a feeding frenzy and thrash around in the water. If you were to fall in at that moment – I am not sure as to what condition you would be in when they finally hauled you out. Sometimes at night, there are poachers. They don’t tend to last long though as it is almost impossible to land a fish that size without making any noise. I am quite a robust guy and on a fishing expedition once, it took me and a friend nearly half and hour to land a 23 kilo fish – it was very hard work. Late in the afternoon, the fish all come to the surface to mate and have orgies. Really! My Mum used to take great delight in pointing this out to visitors. One lady called it disgusting and pornographic. My Mum said “Only to other catfish, Dear…only to another catfish” Wherever I lay my Head One of the men who lives in the village has a REAL big drink problem. Although not at all violent – he can be a nuisance at times. On one occasion, we heard Siripan, our immediate neighbour, call to Beam for help. Tony, her husband, had traveled to the schools up north for a few days, so she was by herself. The drunk was so far gone that he had became lost and had ended up in Siripan’s garden. Siripan, quite naturally, thought that it was a thief intruder and was scared out of her wits. We went running out to Siripan’s house and arrived at the same time as some other villagers. By this time the drunk had lain down on the grass and had gone to sleep. Eventually, two of the village men carried him home. Another time during a night time storm, Beam and I were driving home to the house. It was fortunate that I was driving slowly and looking out for rain filled potholes. In the dark, lying on the wet road, was the drunk. At that stage, we were not sure if he had been hit by another car or just what had happened. Beam called into one of the village houses close by. One of the villagers came out, rolled his eyes and said in Thai –“Here we go again”. The drunk had been down to one of the road side drinking bars, on the canal road and drank a real skin full . Somehow, he had navigated himself home but then had ran out of juice before reaching his house. Deciding to call it a day, he had lain down and gone to sleep. The villagers once again carried him home. They say that St. Jude is the patron saint of ‘lost causes’ and ‘cases despaired of’. Perhaps he was looking out for the drunk that evening. Our Local Monks – Ban Doi Tham is situated in what, I suppose, are the foothills of Doi Suthep mountain. As the
  • 26. road winds it way up from the canal road, it passes our fish lake and homes and rises up to local Wat Doi Tham Temple. On top of the Temple is a fairly large structure depicting a Thai Dragon, which in day time is non too impressive, but at night time, when illuminated, is quite beautiful. The Monks are a cheerful bunch and we made friends with the senior monk, by chance one day, when we stopped to offer him a lift. He declined but was astonished when Cassie poked her head out of the back of the pick-up. This was Cassie’s favourite trick, when we stopped at red traffic lights, to startle the motorcyclists into jumping off of their bikes. The Monk had no qualms and made a big fuss of Cassie. After that, we frequently used to see him out and about for his exercise and meditation. My brother and his family live at the other end of the fish lake. Within his compound is a resort, small pub and restaurant and the Cambridge CELTA school. The school is, in essence, a teachers training college. This certified, one month course is attended by folk from all over the world who wish to become English Teachers. The month is very intense and requires much concentration and input from the students. Not all of them make it through. The students usually arrive on the Sunday, to check-in and settle down. Many of them really have no idea what lies ahead and frequently the first Sunday evening is party time. As the week begins to unfold, reality begins to set in as the course cranks up and the pressure mounts. If I sound a little pompous and unsympathetic – that is not my intention. In my own life, I have completed a TEFL course, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and have both attended and conducted many courses in Instructor Development. Did you know that ‘Public Speaking’ is ranked as many people’s number one fear? I have seen a grown man, built like tank, with shaking hands, quivering knees and a faltering voice when he got up to introduce himself of the first day of the course. I knew him very well. It was yours truly! And the funny thing is that, although over the years, I have become very comfortable in helping people learn in formal classroom delivery or on-the-job training – I still shake like a leaf if I have to make a speech at a wedding. I have to accept that I will never be an orator. My brother’s complex is quite an accomplishment, He has extraordinary ‘vision’ and has turned what used to be an old farmer’s field around a lake, into a luxury resort. He has a love of old teak and hard red wood, and bought many old rice bans, to dismantle and reassemble into the various accommodation units in the gardens around the lake. It is a very different and pleasant place to stay for both guests and students. Although, naturally, all of the students are individuals, each course seems to develop its own unique profile. Some are very studious and are rarely seen at the pub, outside of course hours. Others are true party animals and seem to be both able to study and spend long happy hours at the pub. All of the students quickly become very supportive to each other and a cohesive team. They are in true distress, when the end of the course comes and they have to leave each other. Two characters in particular come to mind – a New Zealand guy who was teaching in Korea, who came from a family of wood carvers; and a very animated Irish lady. One night, well into their cups, after the pub had closed, the New Zealander had managed to get hold of a kitchen knife and they both proceeded to make a carving of the Cat Fish playing in the lake, on the teak wood of the bar. My brother woke up, heard some noise and went down to the pub. In the gloom he went ballistic, gave them a piece of his mind and they both, very contritely, scuttled off to bed. The following morning, my brother had cooled off and had another look at the carving. Actually it was quite good. Still very subdued and contrite the New Zealand guy returned to Korea, at the end of the course. My brother was amazed, one day, when opening the mail he found a carton
  • 27. and found a wood carving, with the name of the pub – ‘The Nugent Arms’ carved with loving care on a piece of teak. At the end of the week it is a case of ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ and the students relax a little during the weekend. At six o’clock in the evening on every weekday, many Thais come to the school to both act as students for the novice teachers to practice teaching English with, but also to actually learn English. Usually, included in the Thai students is the head Monk and perhaps one other. On the final evening of the course, there is a presentation ceremony when all of the Thai students are given ‘certificates’ and the student teachers given presents. It all becomes very jolly with a party atmosphere and a celebration dinner. Now in Thailand, the average person has five Buddhist precepts to observe in their daily life (apart from the precepts of the eight precepts of Buddhist Middle Path: Do not kill Do not take what is not yours Do not engage in sexual misconduct Do not lie or gossip Do not take intoxicant Now, these precepts can be amplified to cover a multitude of various, non-acceptable behaviour. A Thai Buddhist monk has 227 precepts which they must observe. The list is too long to detail here, but includes the percepts that they must not handle money or touch a woman. Obviously the reality of daily life causes some degree of latitude in the application of these precepts. During the final evening of the course, when the party commenced, many of the students become quite happy and wished for photos to be taken so they could remember the evening. On that particular course, there was much merriment and the Irish lady, hugged the monk, thrust a bundle of money into his hands and wanted her photo to be taken. The Monk, not having much choice, had to sit there and endure it. Goodness knows what penance he had to pay for breaking precepts, but do you know, he did come back as a student on the next course and for many courses after! Chapter Seven – Characters That You Meet Along The Way Something Wicked This Way Comes. Perhaps it is easy with hindsight to ask oneself – ‘How could I have been so stupid?’ Although I had read all of the warning books, heard of other’s experiences and had been a round the block a few times - I really did not see it coming. Pattaya is a seaside town on the East Coast of the Gulf of Thailand. This town represents many things for different people. For some, including the tabloid newspapers, it is ‘Sin-City; Tinsel- Town, the town of Broken Hearts and Empty Wallets’ due to the many Girly bars which fill many of the beachside sois in the town. For others, it offers a pleasant seaside holiday in easy reach from Bangkok. The ironic thing is that Paul, an old friend made the initial approach on my behalf. I was quite content sipping a glass of Thai Whiskey. Several couples, who I had been friends with for some Years, and all lived on the hill with the Big Buddha, had made the trip down from our rented rooms to Soi 6, in Pattaya Town, for a meal and a game of Pool at The Paradise Bar, which, was then part owned by a previous colleague from Air Canada. Paul pointed out an attractive lady who was winning every game of pool. Thanks Paul, but I am happy here with my drink and to just watch the world go by”. Undeterred he challenged her to a game
  • 28. of pool and afterwards brought her back to the table for a drink and an introduction. Her name was Kai and she told us that she was on holiday. Naively, I interpreted this as her being on vacation. In fact, I later found out that this was a Bar Girl expression to indicate that she could not work at that moment due to her monthly period. It transpired that she had a cousin and aunties, who lived at San Kampaeng – close to Chiang Mai. Further, that she was soon to visit them. We chatted a while longer, exchanged telephone numbers and I thought that that was that. How wrong could I be! Back home in Chiang Mai, a week later, Tack and I were having lunch at the Gymkana Club. Alan, an acquaintance of my brother, came out on to the veranda and asked if he could join us. The conversation turned to Border Runs which involved travelling to the nearest land crossing border – stepping outside of the country for a few minutes… then re-entering to get a new stamp and extra time in Thailand. At that time, I was doing a ‘Border Run’every couple of months. This involved booking a mini-bus which took a group of tourists to the market town of Mae Sai at the Myanma Border. Those of the group, like me, who had the need – quickly walked over the bridge into Myanma and then walked back to be stamped back into Thailand by Immigration for a further sixty days. It made for a long and tiring day. Alan asked as to why I hadn’t applied for a longer term visa. I pondered before replying. I think that partly this was due to the circumstances following the migration, of Mum having the accident and staying for so long in hospital. Initially I had been eager to endure all of the red- tape and pursue the Non-Immigrant ‘O’ Yearly Visa. Then I ‘lost my way’ for a while. Another aspect was, at that time, there just was not the information readily available as there is today., which is a very useful and informative website for Westerners in Thailand, had not then been launched. Alan then asked me if I had any capital as there was a way and means to obtain a Non Immigrant ‘B’ – Business Visa and a work permit. If I could demonstrate funds of two million Thai Baht, it would be possible to establish a Limited Company. The easiest way to do this is to use a Solicitor. He showed me an advertisement for Knights Consultancy Group, An office of Solicitors which he could recommend. After Alan left, Tack and I discussed the idea. I had known for some time that Tack had a dream to start a tour company and she was in her own right a Tourist Authority of Thailand, licensed tour guide. My original idea was to create a core business which would fund other enterprises. We made an appointment to meet with a Solicitor at Knights called Pairush. Pairush turned out to be a pleasant fellow, spoke excellent English and had studied law at Hull University in the U.K. He quickly reviewed for us the process to start the Company. Our first decision was if it were to be a ‘Foreign’ or Thai Company. If the former, then we would be restricted to which type business that we would be able to conduct. As there were no restrictions for the establishment of a Thai Company – this seemed the better option. Alan was quite correct and I would have to show capital in my Thai Bank Account of two million Baht. Seven Thai shareholders would be required and I would only be permitted to hold 49 per cent of the shares in my name. We would have to hire four Thai employees. Pairush asked about a business plan and as to what the core business would be. After I explained, he pointed out that perhaps it would be easier to first of all create the tour company and then expand from there. He made an estimate of his fees which seemed quite reasonable. Now the ball was in our court to make a go/no go decision and develop a business plan. That evening we beavered away at our plan. – yes, of course we would proceed. Naturally Tack would be the first employee and she had a friend called Dao who we might be able to ‘head-hunt’ from
  • 29. another travel and tour agency. Shareholders – well Tack, Dao, another Thai friend and some of my Thai family might agree, but that would leave me two short. Pairush had explained that Knight’s employees could do this by proxy, but I still elected to appoint my own. Name of the Company? Hmmm. I still had close connections with Air Canada and the ‘Star’ Alliance, of which Air Canada was, and is still, an original Member. Maybe a name which featured ‘Star’? Lucky Star… North Star… Thai Star? It later turned out that these had already been assigned. Eventually we settled on Wandering Star Tours, after I remembered a song called ‘I was born under a Wandering Star’. Due to the fact that there is no plural in the translation to Thai Language we were ultimately assigned Wandering Star Tour. We returned to Knights the following day and signed a contract. Knights would handle all of the paperwork in creating the Company, my Visa and Work Permit and tax profile. We would have to handle the bureaucracy at City Hall for the installation of new employees and the submission for the TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand) Office License. So far so good… but never look down! Who turned up on my doorstep like a bad penny, with cousin in tow, but Kai! How she got my address is a mystery. Could she stay in one of my spare bedrooms, and by-the-way, what were Tack and I discussing? It was difficult not to reveal and explain as all of the documents were on the table… and so she became aware and smelled fresh meat and blood. “Khun Frank – have I got the answer to all of your problems!. I have much experience and contacts in the travel business and my cousin Nok – is a qualified accountant!” Yep, I fell for it – hook, line and sinker! And so, I had found my other two shareholders, my General Manager and my Accountant - all in one go. Dao agreed to leave her agency and bring her experience to come and join us… and as the saying goes ‘we were off to the races’. Shortly after, we found an office, at a reasonable rent, with two floors of accommodation above the office. Mum had taken up a kind offer, from my brother to help build her own bungalow on land adjacent to his own house and it seemed a good solution for her wellbeing. I signed the rental agreement and the following week – we had an office and I had an upstairs apartment. Ultimately, my Visa and Work Permit arrived, as did our TAT License, Office furniture and equipment, Telephones, Fax and Internet connection and all of the necessary from the City Hall for four new employees of Wandering Star Tour Co. Ltd. What happened? How and why did it all go ‘Pear-Shaped?’ Primarily due to my own naivety and lack of business acumen. It later turned out that both Kai and her cousin Nok were both Kamoy – Thieves and Crooks. This only to be discovered after Kai had received signing authority and received an investment of one million Baht to start a Ladies Shirt and Clothes shop in the New Market at Pattaya. Her cousin Nok received an investment of 150,000 Baht to start a North Thai Food Delivery business. Although I monitored both investments – little good it did me. My own ill health. I developed Chronic Pancreatis and was in a Chiang Mai Hospital, on and off for nearly a year. I received major abdominal surgery and developed an infection at the site of the incision. While I was in hospital – both Kai and Nok did a runner. I became suspicious and asked Tack and Dao to have a look at the Company bank book. Two hundred and fifty thousand Baht been embezzled and both had defaulted on their loan/investments. Although it was tempting to seek retribution, I held off and am glad that I did so. Both of these characters turned out to be ‘Nasty Pieces of Work’ with access to some seriously menacing
  • 30. thugs. Although I was confident that I could look after myself – I was not so sure about Dao and Tack as they were exposed vulnerable. How did Wandering Star Tour survive? By a lot of hard work and maneuvering. It surprises me that after these last seven years in the world and Thailand that we still see as many tourists as we do: Virus; Chicken Flu; Pollution; various Airline crashes in Thailand; The Coup; The punitive exchange rate in recent years – Thai Baht against many other currencies; Closure of the Bangkok Airports by the ‘Yellow Shirts’; Political unrest by the ‘Red Shirts’; Global Financial Crisis and finally the Swine Flu. We began to advertise, initially in Chiang Mai and then further a field with free and cheap advertisements in all sorts of places, periodicals and websites. We signed a ‘Letter of Understanding’ with a Thai expert wholesaler in Budapest, whose market was Central and East Europe. I was paying tax of 4000 Baht per month on a required 40,000 Baht salary, which I never received but ‘pumped’ back into the company. Our turnover was just insufficient to justify continuing the Company. I converted my Visa Extension to that based upon Retirement and we changed the status of Wandering Star Tour to a ‘Business’. We created an improved website and acquired the domain. Very soon we started to receive many ‘hits’ from search engines like Google. I traded shamelessly on my previous reputation in Training and Development at Air Canada, to promote business. We moved the office to a new location in the ‘Old City and made more off-street sales in a day than we used to in a month at the previous location. Wandering Star Tour was a little battered and bruised – but survived. Gradually, the ‘Lifeboat’ righted itself. That year the Olympic Games were scheduled to take place In Athens. Both Tack and Dao were selected by TAT to go to Athens and promote Tourism for Northern Thailand for a month at the Games. Obviously, I needed some temporary employees. Both Tack and Dao had attended Lampang University and had kept in close contact with their classmates. They were all such good friends that I used to call them the ‘Lampang Mafia’. Ann worked at a craft shop at Chiang Mai Airport and we discovered Meaw living with her family in Saraphee. Structured interviews were conducted and Wandering Star Tour recruited two new employees. The Girls became my Support Group, both for time that I was in Hospital and afterwards. It always amazes me as to how new Ex-Pats to Chiang Mai ‘survive’ in the event that they have no Thai Language skills, or friends or family who speak English. Latter day I tried to interest the girls in offering this support as a sort of ‘Rent a P/A for a Day’ on a commercial basis: Assistance in Interpretation and translation Immigration Office accompaniment Help with rental agreements Driving License General orientation Help in dealing with the police, in the event of a traffic offence.
  • 31. Strange as it seems – they were not interested. They had been happy to help me with this support, but not as a business. What has happened latter day? Well Khun Tack married a Farang and together they started both a family and Studio 99 – some luxury furnished apartments. Khun Dao is still the manager and my business partner and with the help of ‘work experience’ university students still maintains the office. Khun Ann has gone to work at Studio 99 with Khun Tack and Khun Meaw has started a family of her own. Ivan In my early days in Chiang Mai, Mum and I rented a house in Saraphee, close to Chiang Mai. I used to use the Internet café in the town. One day I heard a loud voice shouting “Are there any pencils in here ?”. It turned out to be and old man called Ivan. I lent him my pen and we got to chatting. It turned that he also lived in Saraphee, in fact, I later found out that his house was in the same garden compound as Khun Meaw’s (one of my later employees) family. Further that he was a part-time English teacher at Chiang Mai Inter – a technical College. Now that interested me as this was before the days of my Company, Wandering Star Tour and I was looking for something to engage my mind. Ivan cheerfully said that he would take me along to introduce me to the Ajarn - Professor - Principle. This he eventually did and I also taught English at the college for a year. Ivan was a compassionate man, very eccentric and had very strong views on many topics. He had a rough childhood and joined the Royal Marines underage and became a Commando. When he left the Service he went on to managing Care Homes for those poor wretched folk who no on else would take in and ultimately became the custodian for a Buddhist Ashram in the West Country of the U.K. He developed an interest in Buddhism and ultimately migrated to Thailand and Chiang Mai to become a Buddhist Monk. Unfortunately he suffered a motorbike accident and although not seriously hurt – required extensive Thai massage following the accident. It was then that he met his future wife – Suthep, who was a teacher of traditional Thai massage. Her mother was Thai and her father had been a Japanese soldier who fell in love with Thailand during the Second World War and stayed on after he was de-mobbed. Both Suthep and Ivan deserved a little love and luck. Sutheps’s first husband dies from alcoholism; her eldest son died from Aids; her second son was an alcoholic and her granddaughter was a tear-away. Ivan had also known heart break during his Life. His son had died of Spinal-Bifida and his first wife had all but committed suicide. He was estranged from his daughter. Romance blossomed for Ivan and Suthep. Ivan moved into Suthep’s house and they married. Despite Ivan never learning more than a few Thai words and Suthep no English – the marriage worked. When I met them they were both rabid vegetarians and teetotal. I once arranged for an ambulance to bring Mum from RAM2 Hospital to my house for lunch. I had invited Ivan and Suthep and they insisted that I did not just order a vegetarian selection from the same restaurant as where the other food was cooked. Rather go to a dedicated vegetarian restaurant to order and bring their food. No big deal and I happily obliged. This regime was not to last. One afternoon Maurice, my friend from the U.K. was visiting. I took him out to Saraphee to meet Ivan and Suthep. For some reason they had broken their abstinence and after drinking two bottles of red wine – Suthep was rolling around her bed, naked
  • 32. as the day that she was born, feeling no pain. Ivan already had a guest and they were both asleep and snoring with the TV playing a DVD of Ekhart Cole, Ivan’s Guru and remote mentor, in front of them. Maurice, and I hot-footed it out of there. Shortly after, they made the short journey back from being vegetarians to omnivores again. Ivan was an avid cyclist and biked up to 50 kilometers a day. Once he even rode his bike up to Laos and back. Perhaps this contributed to his undoing as he developed prostrate problems which ultimately became testicular cancer, as he rode with a hard and narrow saddle. As the Specialist put it to him you can either die with your cajones or live without them. Ivan succumbed and bought himself several years more of life. Drastic therapy but perhaps an ultimate solution. Ivan was a handsome man – if you can picture an older Clint Eastwood with a hair style that Clint sported around the time that Clint made the movie ‘Pale Rider’ – you can conjure up an image of Ivan. In later days his eccentricity became more acute and he grew his hair and his beard to astonishing lengths. He was a dear friend, visited my Mum often and was around for me when many other folk were not. Ironically his passing was also at Mckeans, the same Hospital and hospice as Mum’s. McKeans is a Christian Missionary Hospital which used to be a Leprosy Hospital. Now that Leprosy is all but eradicated in Thailand, the Hospital has become a rehabilitation centre for folk with limb disorders, offers hospice care and a special unit geared for the elderly. It is set in several square kilometers of serene grounds by the Ping River. I was able to see Ivan a few days before he went on to his next adventures. Although he was weak we I sat by his bedside and we chatted about all kinds of things. Before I left we both chanted a Buddhist Tibetan Mantra: Om Mani Pede Hom May all beings be healed and Whole Om Mani Peme Hom May all beings be free from pain suffering and harm Om Mani Pedme Hom May all being have everything they want and need Om Mani Pedme Hom May all being be happy with peace of heart and mind Om Mani Pdme Hom May all beings find Loving Compassionate Kindness Om Mani Pedm Hom May this planet be healed and whole Om Mani Pedme Hom May all beings find enlightenment Om Mani Pedme Hom May there be peace in this world and throughout the universe Abe Charles Libby – During Mum’s last days at Mckean’s hospice, I used to roam the corridors and outer walkways meditating to try to find solace. One day I came across a ‘Rip Van Winkle’ of a man with a long beard totally absorbed reading a book. I stopped to say hello and he looked up with the words of the book still flashing across his eyes. We greeted each other and it turned out that he was originally from Newquay, Cornwall in the West Country of England. He was very
  • 33. taciturn, but this turned out to be because he had speaking difficulties due to a fall before he was admitted to the Hospital. We struck up a friendship and whenever I was at the hospital with Mum – I would spend time with Abe. Often we would sit in the Hospital library on Saturday evenings listening to an English Language programme on Chiang Mai radio. His intellect was astounding! He read copiously, anything and everything that he could get his hands on. He could finish a quick or cryptic crossword puzzle within minutes. A few times I played Trivial Pursuit with Abe and Ivan, who also used to visit him, and Abe always ‘flayed’ us. One day I was sitting on the wall opposite Abe who always used to sit in an unused wheelchair against the side of the hospital with his books, magazines and teapot beside him. I started to ‘itch’ Abe said “Whats up?” I said that I did not know but as the itching turned to pain I stripped off my shirt. I was covered in hundreds of little red ants. I made a dash for the showers but as quick as I was - I was covered in bite welts for many days after. Abe laughed so long and loud he fell out of his wheelchair! When Mum went on to her next life I posted a recommendation for Mckains on – a website in which Ex-Pats can communicate with each other. A Poster called Billy replied to me and asked me to pass on his best to Abe as he knew him when he was in Thailand. As time passed he told me something of Abe’s history. Abe had served his country in ‘The Fleet Air Arm’ for many years before moving on to work on contract aircraft maintenance, in Oman in the Middle East – He was a radio specialist. How he ended up in Chiang Mai is a mystery. Perhaps initially R&R… which led to Chiang Mai becoming his domicile. He joined a crowd of ‘Young Bloods’ and partied long and hard, lived a ‘wild’ life and became a well known and loved local figure. Somewhere along the way an accident occurred and Abe took a fall. His friends relocated him to a Lahu Hill Tribe Village to be cared for by his girlfriend. Unfortunately it all went downhill from there. With help from the Honorary British Consul and staff and others – arrangements were made for Abe to spend his remaining days at McKains Hospital. While I was on my travels one year at Christmas time – Abe took another fall while using the showers at the hospital and critically damaged his skull. The Medical staff performed a tracheotomy but to no avail. I visited often and read to Abe. Sometime he knew that I was there – other times not. Goodbye old friend ! Following the passing of both Ivan and Abe – I have developed a healthy respect for both the British Legion (Club of Old Warriors) and the office of the British Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai. Both did so much for both Ivan and Abe. Billy Billy was another of ‘The Young Bloods’ of the earlier days in Chiang Mai In the nicest possible way, was a part of the flotsam and jetsam, rather like myself and others, who are in Chiang Mai. How and why we are here is our own mystery. Billy’s face is extraordinary a classic example of just how our faces reflect the journey that we have taken through life – many times somber, sometimes humorous, but rarely happy. Rather like someone, after having too many drinks, using a police ‘Identikit’ to produce a likeness. He and Abe and a few others had a high-time in Chiang Mai and eventually settled in a Lahu Hill Tribe village where Billy was married. Billy’s wife nagged him to return to Florida as she desperately wanted to live in America. Billy finally relented and they settled in Florida. Billy found it difficult to adjust and came back to see Abe and live for a while in the Village. He
  • 34. begged his wife to come back with him but she was having none of it. She had found another life In America. Not entirely sure what happened to Billy while he was here but I received a call for help from his sister saying that he was going to commit suicide. He was eventually found in the Suangprung Phychiatric hospital and repatriated to the States. His wife would have nothing to do with him and an altercation occurred. Billy spent some time as a guest of the Florida Department of Corrections and now, although released, is marooned until he is able to get his confiscated passport returned. His hearts desire is to return to his little Lahu village and disappear into the woodwork. Funny old world – isn’t it? Mum’s Carers You know, it’s a bizarre thing and it always amazes me that in a group of one thousand people, statistically, you would encounter at least a thief, a crook, a rapist, possibly a serial killer, a truth teller, a liar, lots of weirdoes one sandwich short of a picnic. Many everyday folk who are just trying keep their head down to earn a crust and even some – the ‘salt of the earth’. So it was with Mum’s carers. I lost count towards the end but as far as my memory serves me we managed to get through some thirty or so carers. Most of them were on contract and were provided by various agencies, which took a big slice of the pie in the way of commission. Some had rudimentary training in nursing and care skills. Many made it up as they went along. This was Mum’s second long stay in hospital as she gradually recovered she became more adventurous and wanted to spend more time out of her room. It seemed that the best option was to provide her with a helper and companion – someone who could run errands for her and take her wherever she wanted to go in the wheels chair. The first of the carers who lived with Mum at the hospital was Joy. The time came for Mum to leave the hospital and of all the options she decided that she would like to live at my brother’s resort close to Chiang Mai. With the help of his two sons, my brother was able to arrange for the original house built for Mum to be adapted to take into account her disability. The day finally arrived for Mum’s discharge from hospital and Mum and Joy moved into their new home. Mum slept in one bedroom and Joy in the bedroom next to Mum’s. She fed Mum, cleaned her and administered her medicine every day. In that we had no previous carer to compare Joy to – we accepted her. As least until the day that Mum’s gold Buddha Image and chain went missing. Joy had taken the Buddha Image to a Wat to leave with the Monks and sold the chain at a gold shop in the local market. One of the sad things about ‘Hard Times’ is that it sometimes places people in a situation that they find difficult to resist. All of Thailand’s recent misfortunes had percolated down to affect many of poorer folk in Thailand. Goodbye to Joy as my brother sent her down that long hard path to the main road where she could stop a songtieow taxi to return home In retrospect Jill turned out to be the best of the carers. She was a young girl from the mountains of Mae Hong Son on the Myanmar Border. She cared deeply for Mum and looked after her every need. Every day I would sit on Mum’ veranda with Jill and Mum and teach Jill English. She was keen to learn and I filled the lesson with humorous events which had occurred in Mum’s life. When we were reviewing the vocabulary of various animals I related to Jill just how much Mum loved duck’s eggs. When Mum was taken shopping to the Thai market – she would head for the egg vendor, hold her two hands up in the air with forefinger and thumb clicking and make a “Quack-Quack” sound. The vendor was very quick to understand just what that meant and would always keep fresh duck eggs for Mum.
  • 35. One day we were sitting on the veranda and could hear the music and excitement of a festival which came from the football field of the local school. Jill told us that it was day was ‘Children’s Day’ in Thailand. I gave Jill some money and told her to go and enjoy herself. Jill toddled off for an hour or so and came back as happy as if she had been given a pot of gold. We were all sad when the time came for Jill to return to her home in the mountains. I produced a headed certificate, with the logo of my travel company, confirming her completion of an English course and presented it to her. Lyn came from Chiang Rai in the ‘Golden Triangle’. She was a sweet girl, a Christian Thai, and turned out to be a compassionate carer for Mum. One day Beam, my wife, and I took her into the gardens of the resort and made a series of photos. Lyn placed Mum’s old garden hat on her head but turned out to be extremely photogenic. Thai people are extremely family orientated and for many of the girls the parting and distance from their families became naturally unbearable. Lyn left us to return to her family. I am not quite sure as to where my brother found ‘Clueless Robert’ although it might be that the gates to the Suan Prung mental hospital had been left open that day. To say that Robert was dim is an understatement. His brain barely managed to cope with maintaining basic life function. He lasted just over one day. Beamy and I went to visit on his first day and Mum lay on the bedroom floor with Robert trying to cradle her head. He had managed to drop her and could not get her up. Mum found the whole event amusing and couldn’t stop laughing. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt. We managed to get Mum back into bed and eventually returned home. That evening my brother found Robert sitting with Mum in her wheelchair on the veranda with all of the doors and screens to the house wide open and full of mosquitoes. Robert walked the hard path home that night. Goodbye to Robert. Wan and Ice were the first double-act carers to look after Mum. Wan came from a special tribe called Thai-Yai perhaps one of the first established Hill Tribes in Thailand and which at some point in the past had supported Siam in a conflict and the tribe now held special privileges amongst the various Hill-Tribes. Wan spoke a little English and Thai but could only read English or Thai-Cha script – which is very similar to Burmese. Ice was mainly Kha Toey –Lady Boy with long dyed yellowish hair. What made him different was that he was built like a wrestler – not such a bad thing as he could easily move Mum from bed to wheelchair and back. They both proved to be good carers and would frequently take mum out to the resort restaurant or for excursions in her wheelchair. Visually it appeared like a scene from the movie ‘Passage To India’ with Ice pushing Mum and Wan holding an umbrella over Mum to shield her from the sun. All went well until one day Beamy and I went to visit and felt that the atmosphere could be cut with a knife. Wan was sitting outside with her head in her hands sobbing. Ice was locked in the bedroom. My brother came over from the office and told us that there had been a big fight between them and that the agency van was coming to collect Wan. Beamy chatted to Wan and then Ice. It seems that the cause of the dispute was a row between the two which had ended with Wan calling Ice a fat pig. Ice had lost his temper and chased Wan around the garden to slap her. The van arrived and I took Wan into Mum’s bedroom to say goodbye. She was inconsolable and hugged Mum while weeping. Mum asked whatever was the matter. I told her that I would explain it later and took Wan out to the van. Before she left I thrust a bundle of Baht notes in her had and told her to call us when she found another placement. We did hear from her but never
  • 36. saw her again. After that Ice’s days were numbered. He enjoyed taking Mum out for excursions in hr wheelchair but without Wan to hold the umbrella – Mum was exposed to the sun. My brother explained the situation to Ice, but the excursions continued and ultimately Ice went down the long hard road. Meaw and Bang were the next double act. Both were very attractive and caring ladies with complicated love-lives. When ever we took the time to take photos, Meaw would run into the bedroom to put her make-up on and change clothes. Bang would then gossip with me about all of the ‘Gics’ boyfriends that Meaw had chatted to on her mobile telephone. Bang had her own supply and in the early evening she would be sitting outside on the saddle of the motorbike of one of her many boyfriends canoodling. They were real characters and it was sad when the time came that they moved on and said goodbye. Mum’s final carers were Som and Pan. Som was provided by an agency. Her first words when she alighted from the deliver van and walked up Mum’s path were “Hello Mum – my name is Som”. That means Orange in English. Pan was an older lady and came from the mountain village close to my sister-in-law’s home in the mountains. Pan means one thousand in English. Originally we had concerns that she would not be able to cope - but her appearance lied and she was a very strong lady. Frequently, when Som was there to look after Mum, Pan would disappear for five minutes. We all were very curious and one day I followed. She went out to the sala across the road from the resort to roll a cigarette with hill tribe tobacco and smoke it. One day I asked her I I could have a ‘puff’. My eyes rolled like the display on a ‘One-Armed-Bandit’ – gambling machine with crank handle. It tasted like what I imagine smoking a manure heap would be like. Gradually Mum declined and the day finally came when she moved into McKean’s Christian Missionary Hospital for hospice care. It is set in a few square miles of beautiful gardens by the Ping River. It was there that we met a little bundle of joy called Mattaput only seven years old. Mattaput came from a mountain village just across the border in Burma. One day an accident occurred and her leg was crushed. The local Missionaries advised her father that McKeans would be able to help her. Despite being a small man – he carried her over the mountains into Thailand and onto McKeans. Corrective surgery was performed and gradually she was learning to walk again. She was one of those special people who are full of joy and bring happiness into other lives. Every day we would see her big smile at the door of Mum’s room and she would limp in to sit with Mum for a couple of hours and hold her hand. Som’s home must have been close to the Burmese border as she could speak Muttaput’s dialect and would translate for us. As Mum declined my brother and I took turns to stay at the hospital with Mum. It soon became apparent that with two carers, either Clarence or I and our wives and all of the nurses and nurses assistants that we were tripping over each other. We thanked Som and said goodbye to her and she quickly went on to another placement arranged by the agency. Pan developed a very close bond with Mum and after Mum’s passing we took Pan home to our house close to the hospital to stay for a month. The day came that her own family drove from the mountains to collect her and it was with gratitude and sorrow that we said goodbye to Pan. He is not what she seems…. It must have been an evening when my daughter Charlotte was visiting me and we were on the
  • 37. return trek from the Night Market. As is always the way, Charlotte is quite athletic and striding on several paces ahead, while this weary old camel, packed and laden with purchases is struggling on behind. From out of the dark, a beautiful little creature appeared: “Good Evening” “Hello… how are you?” “Fine thank you.. would you like me to come with you?” This was my first encounter with a Kha-Toey – Lady-boy. Something seemed not right. Not that I would in any case. “Ermm… no thank you but thanks for asking.” By this time Charlotte had turned around and came back. “Dad – what are you doing talking to a Lady-boy?” The Kha-Toey Lady Boy disappeared back into the shadows. I asked Charlotte what she meant. I am always the last kid on the block to know. Now I have a lot of compassion for Kha-Toeys – Lady Boys. The ones that I have met, both in the office and socially, are quite gentle creatures – in essence a lady locked inside a man’s body None of them have shown the slightest bitterness at what life has dealt them – and maintain an upbeat attitude to make the best of it. In Chiang Mai, we used to have Simon’s Cabaret. I never went along but I understand that it was a quite a show. Not tacky, but music, dancing and singing with the Kha Toeys dressed in beautiful costumes. In Pattaya, each year, there is an annual beauty pageant. You would be hard put to tell the difference between the contestants of this pageant and those of Miss World. Different types of people – that’s what makes the world go around. Phra Song Daeng – Red Monk Sometimes in the life you can do the correct thing for the best of reasons but later on it becomes something which is hard to contain! Beamy’s family home is in a city called Khon Kaen in a part of Thailand called Issan in the North-East. From time to time she will catch the overnight bus home and then when ready overnight back to Chiang Mai –arriving very early in the morning. One dark early morning I left the house to drive to Arcade bus station to collect her. When I reached the T-junction at the canal road I saw a Monk in red robes standing, shivering in the dark and cold waiting for a songtieow taxi which I knew would not be a long for at least an hour. I pulled up and asked him where he was going. He thought for a moment and then said in English “railway station”. I told him to jump in. The railways station was not far out of my way and I was happy to drop him there. As the ride progressed, like many Thais he was full of curiosity and asked me where I lived, what I did and how long I had been in Thailand. I was happy to chat and told him. A coincidence as he had come from the Wat on the hill, knew of my brother and the school and resort and was going to visit his family in Kanchanaburi (the provice where the river Kwai and famous second world war bridge is). I asked him as to why most Thais in Thailand wore saffron yellow robes but some wore neon orange some others red like himself and yet still more wore brown. He replied in Thai but my own Thai capability was not up to understanding and I still wonder to this day. When we arrived at the railway station I gave him some money to
  • 38. get some breakfast, wished him luck and said goodbye. Sometime afterwards there was a call from the resort at the other end of the lake – A monk wanted to see me. I drove up and of course it was Phra Song Daeng. He gave me a small Buddha Image from the Wat and a picture of the King upon which he had written his thanks in a mixture of Thai and English. I was touched and drove him back up to the Wat. The following day while I was just starting my early morning work on internet a face appeared at the window. It was the Red Monk, with bowl in hand and who had now included us on his Bintabat – Alms Giving route where the Monks walk bare-footed on a daily, early morning circuit to receive food for everyone in the Buddhist Temple. I was glad to retrieve some food from the kitchen to place in the bowl and receive the blessing. But I winced when I saw him walk out of the compound as it is filled with course gravel and must have been painful to walk on. Time passed. My father-in-law appeared at the house one day and told me the Monk was in the garden. We went out and the Monk was sitting on a chair underneath the rose apple fruit tree. My father-in-law interpreted that the Monk was asking if I could take him to the post office several kilometers away. Sure no problem and we all climbed into the pick-up truck. I started out for the post office but my father-in-law asked me to turn around as the Monk had something to collect from the Wat. We drove back up the hill and collected an assortment of packages which contained food for his family back in Kanchaburi. Off we then set to the post office. When we parked I was a little worried as I was not sure who was going to pay for the postage and I didn’t have any money with me – but no problem the Monk and Pa went in and dispatched the parcels themselves. Later on the following day the Monk appeared again. I was out but Beamy was home. He asked her if she cold translate some English to Thai for him. Hard to say no and he then produced a chapter from and English language Buddhist book. It took Beam nearly a week to complete. And so it goes on. We have been ‘adopted’ for Better or worse. Oh well Tam Dee Dai Dee – BBBBBB – Think good, do good – Think bad, do bad as the Thais would say. Afterthoughts and Reflections ‘These shoes are made for walking’ – I have big feet. I would like to tell you differently but it is difficult to conceal them. In Thailand I usually wear sports sandals, and if I hunt high and low, I can usually find my size. Formal shoes are a different matter, and I purchase these, in my size, during my trips back to the U.K. I learnt early in life that you get what you pay for, and as, at that time, I had a job which involved many hours standing – I always bought high quality shoes from a company called Clarks. They were comfortable and I used to get a lot of wear out of them. When I brought a pair out to Thailand, it never occurred to me to consider how they were constructed. I was, once again, standing by at Don Muang – Bangkok, for a trip home to see my daughter. Many airlines have ‘dress codes’ for industry travel and I always, out of respect to the airline, conform to it. I always wear the formal shoes for standby travel. To kill the time before the flight – I was walking around the terminal building. Okay – have to admit it - I am an anorak (plane lover) – a dedicated follower of aviation, and can quite cheerfully spend a day at an airport, doing just that. Suddenly one of my feet began to ‘shuffle’. I looked down, and to my horror – my shoe was disintegrating in front of my eyes and leaving a trail of debris in my wake. I managed to scoop it all up before I attracted too much attention. To my amazement, the other shoe decided to go the same way. Now a small crowd began to gather in curiosity and amusement (This was long before the days of shoes being a security issue).
  • 39. Someone gave me a plastic bag and I managed to deposit the smelly carnage inside, excused myself, and headed for the men’s toilets. I sat for a long time examining what was left of the shoes and pondering as to what had happened. It suddenly dawned on me that the shoes were not stitched but ‘welded’. In Thailand, we take our shoes off before entering the house and, in my case, leave them on a shoe rack outside. The high humidity of the rainy season had managed to permeate between the shoe and the sole, causing the damage. I dumped the tattered remains in a rubbish bin and considered my next option. I always travel light, so had no second pair of shoes with me. My daughter keeps a bag of heavy weather gear, including trainers, for my arrival. My trousers were dark, as were my socks. Maybe, just maybe – if I put a second pair of socks on over the top, I might just get away with it, and you know it worked. Not only that – but it was one of the most comfortable flights I have taken. Usually on board, I take my shoes off and then, because my feet swell up like a circus clown’s , I spend several hours trying to get the shoes back on again. Feeling superior, I walked into the baggage hall at Heathrow, looking smugly around at some of my fellow travelers, some of whom experienced swollen feet as well. That was when a fully laden baggage trolley ran over my foot. So if you have a pair of formal ‘Stitched’ shoes - one shoe size 12/46, and the other shoe size 14/48 that you don’t use – please send them to me c/o the Port Health Clinic in Terminal Three, Heathrow. It would be much appreciated. Some Like It Hot Despite Chiang Mai having an elevation of 300 metres, situated with mountains all around, and generally cooler than other parts of Thailand – that wasn’t the case during the last Hot Season. Our house is half constructed of large building bricks and the rest from the teak wood from an old rice barn. During the day, the bricks heat up, rather like the old electric storage heaters that they used to have in the U.K. Then at nighttime the bricks give off the heat. At 0800 in the morning the temperature was already 35C and by lunch time, it climbed up to 40C. Although there is a lot of foliage in our garden, okay I admit it - a lot of Jungle, the sun is on either one side or the other of the house all day long. A cunning plan was needed to help stay cool. The first thing was to change the schedule to get up and about at 0500 and finish all jobs by 1100. There is no air conditioning in the house so it’s a case grabbing as many fans as possible and placing them so as to cause converging air flow. Lots of people will tell you that fans just blow hot air about. Don’t believe it. A lot of the heat that you feel arises from your own body – the fans move it away quite efficiently. To make them even more effective, I place wet towels over my head and body. Admittedly, this attracts strange looks if I have visitors – but that’s Cool ! I even have a contingency plan in the event of a power cut. I have hung a rug from the ceiling attached to a long piece of cord. If there is a black out, I wake up Wonder Dog and attach the cord to her tail and dig out an old DVD of Sheepdog Dog trials for her to watch. Her tail doesn’t touch the ground and neither does the rug. Punka-Walla Cassie. ‘The Four Phases of Ex-Pat Adjustment’ I once read somewhere, and I have found this to be true, that there are four stages of being an
  • 40. Ex-Pat. The first Phase: You encounter the country that you are destined to live in. In my case – Thailand. Wow! What wonderful weather – hot and sunny! The people are so friendly and always smiling and everything is so cheap and different! Beaches and Islands are easily accessible. I could easily spend the rest of my life here! The second phase: The Move. Now you begin to realize what you have left behind and that which is no longer accessible. In my Mum’s case – local T.V. programs including ‘Songs of Praise’ and ‘Dad’s Army’. For me, good priced wine and cheap cider, Tesco’s Irish Sausages and Chicken Kiev, You also discover things that you did not expect to experience: The Hot and Dry Season; The Rainy Season; Thai driving habits; Visitors in the garden and mosquitoes. The Third Phase: and many Ex-Pats reside in this phase and cannot move ahead, is ‘Bitching’ and Negativity. ‘Ain’t it Awful’. Many of the Ex-Pats are well funded and I am always curious as to why they don’t just ‘Move On’. The Last and Fourth Phase : Acceptance. Thais have two expressions which encompass this : “Mai Pen Rai” – which means anything from ‘Take it easy’; ‘It doesn’t matter’; to “No problem.” And: “Jai Yen Yen’ – Have a cool heart – Take it easy. Think like ‘Water off a ducks back’…. The other analogy and not so pleasant – and I have never experienced it in Thailand, is of a ‘Peace Corp’ Charity Worker in Africa. In her first meal – She found a weevil in her bowl of noodles, She went ballistic, refused to eat them and threw the bowl on the ground. The second time that it occurred, she plucked the weevil out of the noodles, then threw it on the ground and continued eating. The third time around she ate the noodles – weevil and all. Acceptance. Red Tape To live in Thailand as an Ex-Pat, legally – requires embarking on an endless trail of complicated procedures. Thais are very nationalistic and protective and it is impossible for a Non-Thai to become a Thai. The closest that you can get is to be one of the lucky one hundred people, selected, every few years for permanent residence and the qualifications are draconian. There are various categories of the non-immigrant visa – Business, Education, Religious etc. But the visa has to be extended annually, at a cost, and all Farangs have to make a report to their local Immigration Office every 90 days. These requirements apply irrespective of how long you have lived in Thailand. Even my brother, who has lived here for nearly forty years, has to comply. The extension process involves going along to the Immigration Office at 0800 in the morning, in order to get a low number and have a decent chance of meeting with an Officer. It is normally very chaotic with many people waiting to be seen. There is always some shouting and many of the Farangs do not do themselves any favours. Many turn up as if dressed for the beach and unshaven. They do not show any respect to the Immigration employees and then wonder why they get short shrift in response. All necessary documents – passport, photographs, letter from the bank or letter of confirmation of pension from the High Commission have to be photocopied a number of times and each page signed. If your application for the extension is successful, you
  • 41. eventually pay the 2000 baht fee and you are set for another year. You cannot work in Thailand without a work permit and there are very limited categories of employment which are permitted, teaching being the usual one. If you have sufficient funds, you can start a limited company and apply for a business visa and work permit. In theory, this will afford some degree of protection – but not always. My General Manager and my Accountant, her cousin, were both crooks and managed to embezzle over two million baht from me. The company regulations may have changed by now, but I was only permitted to own 49 per cent of the shares and needed seven Thai shareholders and a minimum of four Thai employees. I had to pay tax and national insurance on a stated monthly salary of 40,000 Baht, even though it was used as operating funds for the business. Eventually, the limited revenue that the Travel Company generated could not sustain the Company – it converted to a normal business. I became an investing partner and converted my business visa to extension based upon retirement. The extension based upon Retirement requires both age and financial qualifications. The minimum age is 50 and the annual financial qualification is 800,000 Baht to be kept for 3 months in the bank before the annual renewal. After that it can be used again until the next year. There are various mix-an-match ways of demonstrating the funds by a stated income or pension. The retirement extension is just that and the holder is not permitted to work. The extension based upon Marriage to a Thai national is a little more flexible. There is no age qualification and the financial qualification is 400,000 in the bank or monthly salary or pension of 40,000 baht. The marriage extension will also allow you to apply for a work permit, if you can find an employer to sponsor you. Should you wish to travel outside of Thailand – you will need to apply for an Exit Permit. The cost 1000 Baht per trip, or 4000 Baht for a Multi Exit Permit. My brother forgot to do this one year and found upon his return to Thailand that his visa had been nullified and he had to apply all over again. If you wish to apply for a driving license or buy a motorbike or car, you have to apply for a Residents Certificate at the Immigration Office – cost 500 Baht. Farangs cannot own land in Thailand, the only exception to this is if you have a Limited Company and the land is an asset of the Company. This entitles you to 39% ownership of the land asset, as long as the Company exists. If you build a house and are married, you will own the house but will have to arrange a lease of the land from your spouse for 30 years. Farangs are permitted to buy a Condo Unit, provided that 49% of the Condo units inside the building are owned by Thais. All of this is very frustrating but inevitable if you wish to live in Thailand. “What Colour Shirt To Wear Today” I was on a visit to the U.K. and, ironically, sitting with my daughter in a Thai restaurant, when she received a text message about the coup in Thailand. I returned to Bangkok expecting to find chaos and social unrest – but only one or two tanks on the streets. There followed a succession of Prime Ministers. Fast forward a few years and things started to get serious with the closure of the Bangkok Airports by the ‘Yellow Shirts’. Up until that time – wearing a ‘Yellow Shirt’ was in honor of the King, which I believe that was the colour of jacket that he wore when once discharged from hospital. Another leap forward in time and Beam and I were driving down to my room in Pattaya. We
  • 42. found that the ‘Red Shirts’ were demonstrating big time, about the Asean South East Asia Leader’s Conference held in the Pattaya Royal Cliff Hotel – next Soi down to mine. The ‘Red Shirts’ had barricaded my Soi. Beam jumped out and explained the situation and they opened the barricade to let us through. Finally, the serious crisis with the ‘Red Shirts’ in Bangkok, and other incidents in Udon, Khon Kaen, Mukdahan and Chiang Mai What to tell you. Both my brother and I were fine out here at the resort and school. All of the troubles could have been in another country. As you may have seen, it was quite serious in Bangkok and for a day or two in Chiang Mai and other towns in North and North-East Thailand. But now, things have settled down again with only sporadic incidents. I do not think that any foreigner can fully understand the politics and probably neither can some Thais - although, obviously, many have strong political beliefs. I personally do not see any rights or wrongs on either side, just a sadness that it has come to such conflict. In some ways, the situation is the same as North Ireland, Israel and Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan - in that what has happened in the past has happened and is now virtually insoluble. A very simplistic overview – The 'Red-Shirts' are what is left of the Thai Rak Thai (Thai Love Thai) Party, (now UDD), previously headed by Thaksin Shinawat, who was deposed by an army coup a few years ago and is now in exile. Most of the 'Red-Shirts' come from the North and North-East part of Thailand, and are, in essence, very poor people. Many of them rice farmers and live hand-to-mouth. Ironically Thaksin, was a Chiang Mai local boy. Originally a policeman, got in very early to mobile telephone technology and made a vast fortune. As head of the TRK party many of their policies were 'designed to help' the poor people, which is why he is so popular in the North. For example a 'free' health and hospital programme for every Thai at 30 THB (75 pence) per month. Supposedly he started doing some dodgy and corrupt deals, siphoning money out of Thailand to bank accounts abroad held by his family members. Also some rumours of drug dealing. Possibly because of Thaksin's previous police involvement - many Police in Thailand are sympathetic towards the 'Red-Shirts'. The 'Yellow-Shirts' support the current Prime Minister Abhisit and government, or PAD (not sure, but something like People's Alliance for Democracy). After the army coup, elections were held and the PAD were elected and a number of poor quality PM's were in charge before Abhisit. Abhisit, by the way, was educated in the U.K., and on the whole, does a pretty good job in an unenviable position. Most supporters of PAD come from Bangkok and the South and are mostly better off than supporters of TRK. The army, and perhaps some members of the Thai Royal Family, support the 'Yellow Shirts'. The closure of the Bangkok airports by the "Yellow Shirts' was in demonstration against the previous Prime Ministers. Complicated eh? Seemingly, the 'Red-Shirts' main grief is that, although the current government was 'democratically elected', this only occurred after an undemocratic coup. They want immediate dissolution of the government and a new election. PM Abhisit reply was not until November, and that did not happen. Hence the stand-off and the escalation. I suppose it is somewhat of a powder keg and although quiet now, could go off again at any
  • 43. time. Despite all of that – TAT, the Tourist Authority of Thailand are showing tourist arrivals up 13 %, and the economy seems to be still thriving. Go figure. The Rise and Falls of a Farang – Better known as A Requiem for a Heavyweight During the last six years I have become intimately acquainted with the ground and various floors and steps after a series of ‘Falls’. Lots of reasons for this I suppose – born clumsy; lack of vitality after major surgery: lack of concentration on the task at hand (as my wife Beamy would say); ‘Calamity John’ as my daughter would say; much too much heavy body weight; deteriorating eyesight; age and perhaps a legacy from my dear old Mum ,who also experienced many falls during her last years on his planet. Curiously, although I enjoy a drink or two, none of the falls can be attributed to too many wobblypops (drinks). Anyway, my first major exhibition occurred at the Yacht Club in Pattaya, on the East Coast of the Gulf of Thailand. I had been recuperating, after surgery, and was dining with some friends. Excusing myself – I went to find the Gentlemen’s toilet. Now the club had recently been refurbished and I was unaware that there had been a small step built up to gain re-entry to the dining area. Down I went like a rhino in the African Wilder Land, after being shot with a tranquilizer dart. Stunned – it took me a moment or two to regain my senses. I could see blood dripping to the floor from a head wound and a lot of pain in my ribs which had taken the full force and impact of the fall. My main concern was that the stitches at the site of the surgical incision had re-opened. Luckily – this was not the case. A Farang approached from the bar - “Bloody hell mate – you better get that stitched up!” and then he disappeared. Understandable in many ways as I had had a nasal tube inserted into in my nose for liquid feeding and it is more than possible he was concerned about the risk of contracting HIV or Aids, of which I had neither. My watch had somehow managed to catch my eyebrow on the way down and that was the reason for the massive blood flow. The waitresses gathered like clucking, sympathetic hens with ice, towels and first aid kit and I was lovingly administered. Eventually the Manager of the Club drove me to the hospital where I was stitched up and in a week or so was back to… well lets not say normal .. I have never been that.. but … back to my old self! I was awarded 4 gold stars by the Pattaya Council of Entertainment for my performance! Fast forward. I was walking ‘Wonder Dog’ for exercise in the early hours of the morning at the Darwadee Estate, where I then lived. It had rained overnight and the road was still wet. I have problems from time to time getting shoes or sandals to match the vast contours of my feet and had found what I thought was the perfect place with regard to purchasing both the size and breadth of shoes for my feet. How wrong could have I been! The sandals had fit like a glove but there was no ‘tread’ on the soles and, in wet, slippery weather, were a positive hazard. Down I went. Hello ground again! Wonder Dog, at least to her credit, came back to see what was going on, and with her aid – riding piggy-back, we managed to get back to my house. No Gold stars awarded as no witnesses! Life is so unjust! Many of the girls who work for me have their family homes in Lampang, which is just over the mountain. Beamy and I were on enroute to visit them and had made a pit-stop on top of the
  • 44. mountain between Chiang Mai and Lampang. I went off, as usual, in search of the toilet facilities, toilet roll clasped in hand. Mission accomplished I was heading back the car park when I saw Beamy waving. I was curious. What could she be saying? She was waving a roll of toilet paper! I tried to gesticulate that I had already thought of that, and down I went striking a brick wall on the way down. Cracked ribs, but lucky not to have punctured my spleen! Silly old bugger ! My hospital in Chiang Mai, where I have accumulated enough credit points to attain VIP status, welcomed me back with open arms and eagerly put a new roll of printing paper in the credit card charging machine. For some reason non-slip tiles are rarely laid in many Thai homes. When I moved into my current house and saw the standard tiles in the bathroom and bedroom I did not need to consult with a fortune teller to know that the day would come and so it did. Did you know that here are 206 bones in the human body? One of them is called the coccyx, or tail bone, and is the remnant of a vestigial tail. It is located at the end of your spine just above your bum. Take it from me - you really do not want to find out how painful it is to bruise or injure this bone. I emerged from the shower, dripping wet but squeaky clean. I had forgotten my towel which lay on the bed. Out I went into the bedroom and like an Olympic ice skater taking a fall – down I went onto my bum and my coccyx. At least I achieved a maximum award in the Skater’s code of points from Beamy and the dogs! Beamy has a little business of her own buying second hand fashion clothes and ladies handbags, refurbishing them and taking them in the evening to the various markets around Chiang Mai. For some time she had wanted a little pick-up of her own to take all of her wares there and back and finally the day came. She called me from her mobile as she drove into our yard and very excited to see the new vehicle I went rushing out, skidded on the patio stones, did a virtual somersault and landed on the large ornamental stones of the Japanese style rock garden. Once again my ribs made a sound like snapping castanet’s. My final fall from grace occurred after a morning of conducting oral examinations of young learners for Cambridge University. We had all agreed to meet up for lunch at an Italian restaurant and the other teachers were waiting for me along with a crowd of other diners on the restaurants veranda. How and why I managed to slip is a one of the well kept secret of the universe. Result – some entertained diners and colleagues and bruised knees, two black eyes and a boxers nose for me. Another stitch in life’s rich tapestry! I have had the privilege in my life to visit or live in many wonderful and exotic places. But it is indeed both strange and curious as to the shores that time and tide ultimately bring us. No one, nothing and nowhere is perfect but Thailand is my home now. Has it changed me? Yes, I’d like to think so for the better. I am now what the Thais would call a Luuk Krueng – half Thai..half Western. I have learned much and still am just beginning with much, much more to learn. Although I can sit quite happily in the back of a Christian Church, Synagogue or Mosque and meditate – I do feel at home in a Wat -Buddhist Temple. Although I cannot claim to be a devout Buddhist I do try to follow Buddhist philosophy as much as possible. Many of the rituals are appealing – perhaps most of making Tamboon – Merit for oneself and others. It is a charming ceremony and although I cannot claim to understand the Monk who uses Pali language, I enjoy the chanting and to receive the blessed water from the bamboo frond at the conclusion. Thais have quite a refreshing attitude to life. Although there are some very poor people here, there is no Poverty per se and all try to make the most of the moment and that which they have. They are very enthusiastic about festivals both their own and adopting other cultures. They enjoy
  • 45. Christmas, Valentine’s Day. Halloween and of course their very own – Songkran, the Thai New Year and water throwing time. Loy Krathong, on the night of the full moon in November, when all will go to the waterside to launch Krathongs reefs of leaves and flowers, with joss sticks candles, a coin and a personal item such as a lock of hair into the water. They will say thank you for the water which means so much in Thailand for survival, irrigation, transport and fun and then a little prayer which reflects on the year past and hopes for good health and fortune in the year to come. There are fireworks and thousands of small hot-air balloons fill the sky. It is quite a spectacle! I hope that one day you will be able to visit us to experience the culture all of these wonderful events, the people and of course Thailand! Peace and safe travels until then…. Francis Shettlesworth, Chiang Mai Thailand ---0--- I hope that you have enjoyed this account of my adventures in Chiang Mai. I hope that yu will also read my otherbooks on Smashwords – ‘Chiang Mai Guide’ and’ The Q&B Guide to Thailand
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