AT REJSE ER AT LEVE -
TO TRAVEL IS TO LIVE
- 25 years traveling to Thailand
These are the words of Hans Christian Andersen, written in "The Fairytale of My Life" in 1844 and still true for me today. For the first 30 years of my life I could not hope and dream about being able to travel to totally different cultures, and live in a completely different way.
An English version with the kind help from the American artist Janet Van Fleet, thank you Janet!
In my generation a day trip, or at most a week-end trip to Sweden or Germany, was virtually the only foreign travel ordinary people could experience until charter traveling began in the '60s.
I had even less opportunity than others to explore the big wide world because I had a handicap, so to put the experiences I've had in Thailand in perspective, I will first tell you a little about my background before describing my travels outside the major tourist destinations in Thailand.
I was born in 1946 with a hemophiliac bleeding disorder, or "hemophilia" as it is called. It is an inherited disease, but because of the vagaries of nature many of us are the first identified cases of the disease in our family. Then, it may take a few generations before it appears, as it's only boys who become hemophiliacs and it requires a mother who is a carrier. Then it is only approximately every second of a carrier's sons who will be a hemophiliac, and every second of the daughters who will be carriers themselves. I myself have a healthy elder brother.
Throughout the '50s, I was repeatedly hospitalized for bleeding, usually in my ankle, and sometimes more serious places. I guess I was about 3 years old when I almost got a broken fingernail and a broken end of my finger. At the same time I got whooping cough, so I was admitted to a quarantine hospital in Copenhagen. The doctors here were not used to even minor surgery, not even the blood transfusion I needed, so the staff could not get a needle into my veins. That was the first time I was about to go into my next reincarnation. I have since been told they summoned doctors from outside. I have no other injuries from the accident than a deformed nail and large scar across my instep where the doctors were trying to infuse blood, during a whole night. My ankles have since been my weakest point. As a rule, I received blood transfusions for a few days, and then came home after one or two weeks. I still remember how the black ambulance was surrounded by curious kids when it came: "Oh, it's just Bent again!" I remember other details like beds in the hospital with flaking beige paint, the hospital smell and how I could not get them to turn the light off at night, even though I told them that I slept better in the dark, and there was no urgent need for them to monitor me at night.
Others have had even more severe experiences of hospitalization as children, but for me it caused almost a hospital phobia. I can accept a required hospitalization intellectually, but it shrinks my stomach when it happens, and I always ask to be discharged right on the edge of what doctors find justifiable. But fortunately, patients have much more say in decisions concerning their treatment today, and that is one of the reasons that I can accept it when I can see the necessity of it.
Many believe being a hemophiliac means that you can bleed to death by being poked by a needle. However, open bleeding is not so dangerous; if the wound is not large, the bleeding can be stopped efficiently. The main problem is internal bleeding, especially around the joints. First, it is easy to damage blood vessels through sprain, distortion, or simply overloading the part. In addition, internal bleeding heads towards where the pressure under the skin is less, which is the joints. The coagulate (the blood that has flowed out from a damaged blood vessel) will damage the joints by first etching the joints and damaging the bone, which leads to osteoarthritis there, which eventually can completely destroy the joints. Acute internal bleeding is quite painful, and as bleeding increases the pressure increases, and you develop a dark red, almost black spot in the middle of the injured site, until the bleeding subsides and the swelling slowly disappears.
In order not to make the patient into a drug addict at a young age, the pain pills were only medium strong, and I had to wait four hours between every dose. I remember many nights when my mother was reading stories to me while we waited for four hours to go by, so I could get the next pill, and hopefully get some sleep.
I was home schooled for the first 2 years, and then I went to school without participating in gymnastics, and I was inside the classroom during recess for a few years. Thus I stood a little apart from the others, but was accepted as an "outsider" who is not frowned on, partly because I was good at asking the teachers questions about things that distracted them from their lessons, so that they used time on that instead of their planned subject, for which many students might not have done the homework. But I never really made close relationships with any of the others.
But to get to the Thailand stories, I'd better go back to about 1960, when I got a plasma transfusion, which was slightly more effective than the pure blood. But the doctor moved, so it never came to fruition and I didn't continue to get plasma. The hospital at the time was wards with 2x15 beds separated by a private room and an office in each of the 2 floors. I happened to be there at a time that was scheduled for examination of former concentration camp prisoners, and 90% of patients in the ward were former freedom fighters. We had a weekly bathing day where all men were sent to the bathroom, and there he who conquered the bathtub wanted to share it with me, but the others told me not to do it. Back then children were ignorant (erroneously called innocent). I did not understand why he wanted me up in the tub, or why the others where against it, but I followed the majority. I think kids today are more enlightened.
The plasma therapy was not continued, and I was coping with painkillers for a few years, since I did not want to see more hospitals. I became a clerk through rehabilitation, but afterwards I "cheated" into a college for educators where various complications meant that the medical certificate didn't come until after I had started, and then it was just filed. Then I got married, became an educator and a father of 2 boys, but with severe pain, and frequently ill. The doctors I contacted gave me only Ibuprofen which can cause stomach bleeding and opiates when it was really bad. We have now come up to the late 1970s, but no practitioner studied the relevant literature, just because a patient had hemophilia, so I got no new treatments.
In 1977 (the year I will never forget) a colleague told me that she had seen on TV hemophiliac boys receiving a medication which they injected themselves. I rejected it, assuming that if it was relevant my doctor would have advised me. But I grabbed the phone anyway and went to visit. where the first thing I was asked was whether I wanted an injection! It was the first time I became acquainted with a factor preparation. There are approximately 12 different factors that cause the blood to coagulate, and most hemophiliacs lack factor VIII, but approximately 25% of us lack factor IX, which is also known as Hemophilia B, the kind Queen Victoria passed on to her descendants.
Factor preparation is simply a concentrate of the factor we are missing in our blood, made by filtering it out from human plasma. Unfortunately, it degrades rapidly, and it will be halved in less than one day. So in my case, I am recommended to inject 4000 i.e. of factor IX every 3. day.
There are certain drawbacks with injecting the clotting factor -- you don't just inject into your skin, but into a vein, and the infusion takes 5-10 minutes to inject into the bloodstream. After a few years, it becomes continually more difficult to find suitable veins, but that is a small inconvenience compared to the troubles the disease created in the old days.
In the 1990s many hemophiliacs became HIV infected through this medicine, nearly 100 of the approx. 400 who took these injections. In the early years no one knew what it was, but in the last year, the FDA allowed blood to be used that had not been screened for HIV and hepatitis for economic reasons, even though by that time they knew of the risk, a dirty trick some of us will never forget. I was fortunately not infected with HIV, but received a latent hepatitis (i.e. measurable but no outbreak) from a U.S. preparation I got around 1980. Medical science became so skilled that they could determine the type of the various forms of hepatitis, and also offer a cure for it. In the 90s I first received a treatment that did not last, and later a different and more effective treatment, so I now have avoided liver inflammation before it could erupt. In Denmark hospitals are free, but most medicine you have to pay for. But the treatment for my hepatitis C that I had to take for several months, and my ongoing factor injections, which cost more than $1,000 per week, are free as a lifesaving medicine. If I was born in the USA I would now be a dead American!
My bleeding was now treated, though I still had to deal with osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis), caused by the numerous hemorrhages over the years in my ankles and right elbow, but that only deteriorated slowly, and I saw endless possibilities on the horizon.
In 1989, I traveled for the first time to Thailand. We could not afford for both of us to go, and it was more my dream, so my wife stayed home and took care of the children.
PART 2: FIRST JOURNEY TO THAILAND 1989
As I saw it later, the biggest obstacle was customs officials at the airport in Kastrup (CPH). Even though I had a certificate from the hospital in Danish and English, they did not believe that officials in Thailand could understand what it was about, so they assured me that I would both be drowned, shot and hanged for possession of narcotics. But there was no objection to my boxes of medicine in Thailand on that trip. However on a subsequent trip by bus, probably south of Chiang Mai, we were stopped by a police barrier. Back then, they still shipped opium from northern Thailand, mostly grown in Myanmar, then re-exported from Bangkok, this barrier sought to halt these shipments.
When I saw a cop take a box of factor from my bag under the bus, and show it to the leader of the police, I started putting on my shoes to go out and explain what it was. However, the officer only looked briefly at the box, and then sent the young policeman back with it. It is only now after 9/11 that they have stepped up security so that both the airport in Bangkok and Copenhagen are studying medicines and certificates carefully.
I did well in Bangkok, where I lived for two days before I flew to Chiang Mai. I have always taken good care of my money, out of necessity (more then than now), so instead of seeking out the famous / infamous nightlife, I just went for a walk, and studied exotic ornate trucks and strange houses. I ended up in a slum settlement. It quickly becomes dark, depending on the season, between the hours of 6 and 7 pm, and in the course of 5-10 minutes. I have many times later told the Thais who have asked me that the only thing I miss in Thailand, is the light summer nights with the long red sunset in May and June!
But I never felt afraid in Thailand, people smiled at me and I smiled back. Many tried to say something to me, but I could not say a word in Thai, so we had to communicate through facial expressions and gestures. Some laughed at me because of the mare tail in front of my left ear, and my relatively long beard. I laughed again, and showed that both hair and beard had been longer, and then there was some kind of contact. I believe that you will get very far with a little self-irony, kindness and respect towards foreign customs, not just in Thailand, but I'm certainly always received in a friendly way there. But if I had thought that my long red-blonde beard would impress them, I was wrong. Europeans' heavy body hair is for them just a physical sign of the assumption that farangs (the Caucasian race) is a link between apes and Asians: large, coarse, clumsy, boorish and without self-discipline, but rather like a bull in a china shop. However, they are too polite / civilized to say so directly. Of course I can be annoyed by the Asian self-control, where it is more important not to lose face, than to tell the truth, but I can't interpret the nuances of facial expressions and language that any Asian would pick up. But I have to agree with them, I have seen tourists here who behaved so I had to cringe. However, I sometimes have also seen Thais argue and shout, but they generally keep a much more civilized tone publicly. So without any mishap, I came back to the hotel, took a quick tour of Bangkok the next day and left the smoky, polluted, but also exotic city, and flew to Chiang Mai, where I settled into a guest house. Chiang Mai is a provincial capital in northern Thailand, with a population of approx. 1 million. It is surrounded by mountains, and from the temple Doi Suthep on one of these mountains there is a very nice view over the city and the surrounding forest and mountain landscapes.
When I first ate dinner in the guest house (which I have since returned to many times), I felt pity for the poor country boy who served, as he had given me a spoon and a fork instead of a knife and fork! It was only later I found out that this is the norm in Thailand, so it was I who was the ignorant one. Thai food is eaten with a spoon and fork, or sometimes with chopsticks, so you do not need a knife to cut it.
I walked around the old town, which is surrounded by a moat and battlements. Later I tried the " tuk-tuk " a 3-wheeled taxi scooter, and I also rented a bike. I did not dare try motorcycles since the traffic was too overwhelming and exciting, I was afraid I would forget that you drive here on the left hand, if I was in a panic situation like a busy intersection. I saw real tourist attractions, silk production, woodcutters and silver production, manufacture of paper parasols and fans, and above all, I got a closer acquaintance with the elephants. These large and seemingly clumsy animals can beat any all-terrain vehicle. It's great to sit on the back of one, and see how it will go up and down a slippery narrow path; it knows exactly where to step. I was glad I learned that, because I once was sitting on the ground videotaping the elephants as they stacked teak logs when suddenly I heard a noise from behind. It was an elephant who stood a few inches from where I was sitting, but I was in no danger. I'm completely crazy about elephants, and I have repeatedly said that I want one, though any real opportunity to have one are probably quite small.
|1: Hollow bricks 2: Female worker hired in Myanmar recognizable by the big hat 3: Mortar being thrown in buckets from the ground to 1st and 2nd floor|
One day I had run around with the same scooter taxi looking at temples and then I agreed with the driver that the next day we would go to an "elephant camp ". When I went to pay, he could not give me back change, but since he needed money to buy gas, we decided that I would give him my big note and we could settle the next day when we were going out to see the elephants. The next day I was waiting for him at the agreed place, for a long time, so I was thinking that I had been too gullible. But when I had almost given up on him, he came and apologized many times because he had not been able to start the taxi. It was one of the first times, but not the last, that I have believed in Thais, though others have warned me not to, and where I have not been disappointed.
|1: The driver looks for the propeller that had fallen off 2: Cooling water spitting back in the river from the top of the engine|
I had an adventurous 2 day trek to the Golden Triangle in a minibus 7-8 of us, all tourists, first drove over Chiang Rai to a river where we switched to a "longneck -boat", a canoe -like riverboat that takes its name from the high bow. In the rear it has a propeller that has a long shaft with a screw from the engine that goes into the water. Cold water is sucked up from the river to cool the engine and then, after the trip through the cooling system it is sprayed back into the river. When you have to stop, you tilt the engine forward so that the long shaft of the screw is lifted out of the water. The first part of the trip was marked by the distinctive Thai mountains, known locally as the "doi", not mountain ranges, but isolated limestone mountains unlike anything I've seen in Europe, it looks like camel humps. Later on, there were forests along the sides of the river, and occasionally we saw bathing children and elephants; we were now in the Karen tribe's territory. The minorities living in the northern mountainous regions have previously been looked down upon by the Thais, even if they have lived there for hundreds of years, but they have their own language and different customs and costumes, so they were not really counted as Thais. But when the Thais found out that these minorities were a source of revenue through tourism, they changed their minds and became more tolerant of their different characteristics, which is a prerequisite for tourists' interest.
|I have always admired elephants, but now I was very impressed seeing how easily they climbed narrow mountain paths that twisted up and down!|
A little wet, we were unloaded at a village from where the trip went on by elephant into the country in a few hours. The elephant driver "mahout" sits on the elephant's neck, while the elephant carries a chair with room for 2 tourists strapped on its back. The mahouts have a tool with which they control the elephant, that looks like a big hook with a shank with a ball instead of a tip at the end. Our mahout was clearly influenced by something, possibly opium, and he hammered this tool into the elephant's forehead, over and over, but without the elephant reacted, it just stayed in his place in the queue. When we reached the village where we were to spend the night, they took the elephants back home, and we tourists were to proceed by car the next day. It was primitive conditions, bamboo huts all over, and a grocery store where we had to sleep on a mat on the ground. There was electric light at night, the only kind of modern amenity. There was another hut with latrines. As I recall, it was not just holes in the ground, but the low Asian basins designed to squat over. In honor of the tourists there was also toilet paper, which I was happy about. That was before I learned to use water as the Thais do. I later switched to using water, even in Denmark. In the most modern toilets, there is a tube with a " telephone shower " to open up at the touch of a lever, the same system as a bidet. In the more primitive versions there is simply a bucket of water with a dish to scoop up the water with your right hand after the crime, and you use your left hand to wash with. Many consider it disgusting and unhygienic, but I think that is wrong. One should in principle always wash ones hands after using the toilet, as thoroughly as if you had touched the stool, since bacteria can easily spread through the paper, or from areas around, and if you really had a bowel movement on your fingers, it is my experience that you definitely remember to wash your hands very thoroughly. So I actually think that the Thai system is more hygienic than if you dry with paper. The fact that many find it disgusting, is part of the alienation we have from our body and its secretions, which started in the late Middle Ages. But it's the main reason that in Asia and the Arab countries they consider the left hand unclean, and when you eat with your fingers you must always use your right hand.
Back then (and up to 2005) I smoked marijuana daily. The only exception are the times I have since been to Thailand, but the first time I was not aware that they consider marijuana a drug like opium and heroin, and smuggling 4 grams of it means a death sentence! There were posters about drugs at the airport and other places, but it was only after I was in Thailand that I found out that marijuana fell within the article! So after dinner I went outside to smoke my evening pipe tobacco mixed with home-made "nol" (cannabinol ) extracted with ether, that does not smell of marijuana. However, the guide came up to me and asked what it was.
He was called "Mr. Rambo" and was dressed in khaki and armed with a large machete, and not at all upset by his nickname. He was very charismatic and charming and popular especially among women, and not just tourists, as he had at the time at least two wives, one of whom came from the village we slept in. It's not so unusual in Thailand that a man has two wives, as usually there are some miles in between them. Often a man marries a wife, but leaves her after a few years in favor of a younger model with whom he stays with no papers, but once in a while he goes home to the first wife to help to support the children they have together. It is rare that he actually has two wives at the same time and place, and Rambo was pretty young for that, but he was of course quite charming. I told him what I was smoking, but he advised me that it would not be popular at the grocery store where we lived, but later I was able to go with him over to his wife's family's cabin and smoke. We went back in and had a good time with the other tourists, the merchant and some other Thais. The merchant entertained us with a version of a 40-50 cm "witch key" (an old Danish name for a Metal loop puzzle), 2 or more objects of especially bent metal, put together so you have to try to separate them that he deftly assembled and took apart again.
My contribution to the multicultural entertainment was to teach them to "klunse", a game played by children and beer drinking men in Denmark for over 100 years. Each participant holds 3 matches or other objects behind his back for a start, then holds out a hand with 0-3 pieces, and asks people guess the total. I have later done this several other places, especially with children, and they learn both English and mathematics that way. So if you come to Thailand and find some children playing "one-two-three" I've probably been there.
While I still have moved away from the chronology, I will tell you about children's play. I have seen children playing "terre", which is called "jacks" in English. A number of dices or stones are spread in front of one, then you must take a number when you throw them into the air more every time you try, until you finally gather them all together. I remember I saw it in the schoolyard in the 50', and my father knew it, but I've never seen my own kids play it. Maybe it's extinct after the introduction of the beep-beep games and later computers and other technical wonders. I have also seen the girls play a clapping game still played in Denmark. Two girls facing each other clap their hands in a certain order, while they chant or recite a silly song. In Denmark, it was as I recall, inter alia, something with Micky Mouse and Minnie Mouse going for a walk, and they were also in the version I heard in Thailand, which also had Popeye in it, and a girl from Bangkok had a version where I had translated that she would marry Thaksin, the erstwhile Thai prime minister. The girls start their song, and clap their hands following the rhythm of the rhyme. As the song goes on, the tempo increases, and often it goes wrong in the end, and it ends in laughter and a girlish giggles.
In a school I've seen a game played with rubber bands. Some boys are sitting at a table, each boy has some rubber bands on the table in front of him. They each take turns, try to blow their rubber band over their opponent's rubber band. When one succeeds, he wins both rubber bands.
At last the old game in Danish called "klink". You throw coins to a line on the ground or a wall. The one who is nearest, collects all the coins. A variation calls for the coin to touch the line or wall you play on, with all the coins on the ground, until a winner's coin touches the line or wall, and wins all the money.
After a few hours of entertainment Rambo and I went for a walk. We crossed a narrow bridge over a small stream that ran straight through the village and over to one of the huts that were built on stilts. The huts were of bamboo, and where the gap in the floor was widest, the family threw waste to the pigs below. I do not remember anymore how many people were present, probably a 4-5 adults and a few children. There was also a young retarded girl the others made ??fun of, but in a loving way I can't describe. It was obvious that she belonged to the family, and she felt accepted in spite of the teasing.
We lay around a low table and the family's father began to cook some opium. It was heated and rolled into small balls of appropriate size. That were put in the pipe, a large hookah with a small head. He smoked himself first, either because he was the oldest, or perhaps as an object lesson in honor of me while an adult son held a flame over the pipe bowl. Then as a guest I was allowed to smoke next, and it was a great experience. It was not strong in your throat like a pipe of clean marijuana but the euphoric effects was10 times stronger. I could recall some of the effects from morphine pills, but this was a pure delight. I was conscious and can still remember what we did, I promised not to say anything to the other tourists, and not mention it when we got back to our guesthouse. I remember I paid approx. 30 DKK (at that time $4-5) for the pleasure. I smoked 2 times, which they thought was an appropriate dose for a beginner. Some of the time I lay flattened out, but aware of what was going on around me. I promised myself that I would buy a small lump of opium for a Christmas pipe when I got home, but not for regular use as my marijuana, because it would be too tempting.
When I got home, I didn't do it, and I am happy today. Even a small lump could lead to more, so I have never done it again! If others want to try however, I can't promise that it can be done, because with U.S. satellite surveillance, the control of opium cultivation has become much more efficient and it is unlikely that the farmers who might still grow it would run the risk of being discovered by selling a few pipes to a tourist.
The next day was an excursion to hot springs, which can be found several places in Thailand. Here it was in the form of hot water from a waterfall where the water first raced in a few centimeters depth over some hot rocks, so you could swim in the heated water under the waterfall. Elsewhere, there are hot springs coming up from the ground enriched with all sorts of healthy minerals and salts.
|1-2: Different kinds of hot water 3-4: I caught a constrictor with my bare hands! Or maybe it was rented out for photography with a tourist - I don't really remember.!|
Then a car came and drove us back to Chiang Mai, and soon my holiday was over.
The cheapest journey was by Aeroflot, and in 1989 you could still find pictures of Lenin in USSR, here in the airport of Tashkent.
It was a trip of 21 days, most of which was pure tourism, but I was so fascinated by the country, that I decided to do it again. Regrettably, it was a couple of years before I was able to go back again.
About a year after I got back from Thailand I was divorced, and I was very upset at the time. We had been married for 23 years, and I was unaware of the signs that something was going on the last few years. We had a good time for many years, but we had grown apart, I later realized. But there are no harsh words between us, and we still see each other once in a while.
PART 3: OUTSIDE THE TOURIST PATHS FOR THE FIRST TIME
KLONG NAM LAI
After the divorce, I considered finding a Thai bride. I found an ad in the local magazine where a Thai lady in Næstved sought a Danish man. I responded. She lived with a Thai/Danish couple, and she was very sweet, but there was no spark, so I promised to tell others about her. If she did not find a Danish man quite soon, she would be forced to travel back home. I mentioned this randomly on the phone to my brother, he could basically be a possible candidate because he had just been divorced, but he had never been able to understand my fascination with Thailand, so I did not expect it. But he immediately drove 50 kilometers from Stevns to Næstved, and it was love at first sight. I have since kept in touch with various Danish/Thai couples, but in most cases these marriages don't last, as there are profound cultural differences that appear when you come close together in a marriage, but my brother and his wife have been married for almost 20 years, although they often threaten to come apart!
I think it was in '93 I went on a 6 week trip to Thailand, with about 14 days spent with my brother and his wife. When I left, my medication and packing slip were scrutinized, but there were no objections.
I was able to go for 6 weeks as I had been obliged to retire because my ankles could not handle a full day's work. But since my mother was very worried about what might happen in the big dangerous world with their small bleeder-boy (correctly hemophilia, but in everyday speech we say "bleeder" in Denmark) it was not of longer duration. We went to Chiang Mai, where people could still remember me in the guesthouse! It feels good to be able to return to places you've been before, and be well received! We rode elephants, visited some temples, of which Chiang Mai has more than Bangkok. Then we went to the house of my brother's wife's sister and her husband, and here I tried for the first time to be accommodated private. Later I went alone on to Pattaya, where I stayed at the cheapest hotel I could find. I would go and see sex shows that were pretty wild at that time. I was now single, but was not tempted to try real sex, since HIV infection could occur now, and since I had gotten lucky when I took the factor medication during the critical year when the government allowed the preparation from un-screened blood, it would be foolish to tempt fate again. But also I have never been able to get satisfaction from casual sex; the only satisfying relationship I've had, has been with a few partners I have known for years. But I did want to see what was going on!
|1: Srisupan Guesthouse in Chiang Mai 2: Wild bees on a temple where no Buddhist would dare to remove them: All life is sacred!|
To get the most for my money I first went out to see what was offered and what it cost. However, the city was quite big, and after a few hours I started to get sore ankles. But instead of paying a little for riding a motorcycle, I limped back, with the result that even if I took the factor right away, I could not even go down one floor the next day to eat, but stayed in the room. The next day I could come down and eat, and through the open facade look at street life. In the evening, some Germans kept me company over a few beers, and later a Thai who spoke a little English. He first asked if I was interested in "boy-boy" which I denied. Did I like ladies? I did, but it had to be someone I could marry. Then he said I could go with him to his village, as he had an aunt with a little boy and she wanted to marry a farang. I would not promise anything in advance, but said I would like to meet the lady. He said where it was, but I did not know the geography at that time. But my ankles were not quite good yet, so we postponed it until the following day. However, it was a day's journey; the village called Klong Nam Lai is outside Kham Pang Pet, between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, probably a 5-600 km. from Pattaya. My traveling companion was called Sanghar, and he had a house in the village where there lived a young couple with a small daughter. They embraced us, a little surprised, but no problems. The aunt, however, had gone to Bangkok, but there were many young ladies who wanted to marry me, and I could just stay in the house. Sanghar however, was to go back again the next day. I needed to also, because I still had luggage including some factor in my hotel room, but then I said that I would come back alone. We both went back the next day and I packed my luggage, paid my bill and went to the bus station. Now, Bangkok is a big city with more inhabitants than in Denmark, and as a result, also with multiple bus stations. So the bus I took, drove to another bus station in Bangkok, where there were no busses to Kham Pang Pet. There I was with my suitcase and bag at night in the middle of a big city without knowing the language, so what should I do now? The best I could come up with, was to hire a taxi to take me the last 400-500 km. to the village. We agreed on a price, probably too high, but with the promise that the driver could get money the next day, when the post office opened. I had a check account at the time, with international coupons that could be cashed at the post office. I remember when we eventually had a break for the driver to sleep, I wondered what it was I had set myself into, but now there was no turning back. Next day I got money exchanged at a post office and it was surprisingly easy. We also found the village, albeit after some inquiries, and I was again well received, although they were visibly surprised, since apparently they did not expect to see me again even though I had said that I would return.
The house was a traditional farmhouse, built of teak, and on poles. The posts were of cement, but the ornaments on the windows, doors, soffits and above the railing, were traditional. I saw houses in the village where the teak pillars were wider than my waist, and it's something! There are termites in Thailand that eat wood, and once they have started, you can't do anything, they are impossible to eradicate. But teak is one of the woods they can't consume, whether it is the oil or wood hardness, I do not know, but you can see centuries-old teak buildings that only have just a few scratches, and then the termites abandoned the effort and moved on.
I got Sanghar's room, the only one with a bed, and stayed there the rest of the time, between 3 and 4 weeks. Furthermore, I can still remember some dreams or nightmares from that time. After you have smoked marijuana for a long time, you do not dream. But since I was abstinent for several weeks, I began to dream again. I remember the first dream where I had to pee, but I was trapped behind a wooden hand rail, so I could not go to the bathroom, but ended up peeing on the floor. The next morning I dared hardly go out of the room, so lifelike was the dream, but fortunately there were no traces of pee anywhere, it was only a dream! In the second dream, I was back at my school years, where I and a friend were driving in a car similar to the one I later learned to drive in. We were stopped by the police, but what else happened I don't remember. But now, over 10 years later, I still remember those dreams (written around 2005).
|1: Sanghar's wooden house 2-3: A village girl married a Swiss medical administrator and went back and built a big stone house for her parents.|
I was not engaged, but I was presented with an extensive family and circle of friends, and was welcomed in all the houses. In addition, I rented a motorbike to drive around in the village, and the nearest surroundings including a national park. It is still a widely used means of transportation in Thailand, usually at about 100 cc, and the locals races around on them from when they are large enough to reach the throttle and foot - shifting. It is also a family vehicle that can seat a couple and 3-4 children at one. A Thai airline magazine ironically suggested that it could be a sport for strangers to find the motorcycle carrying the most Thais! In Bangkok I once saw a family that had placed a plank across the saddle to extend it so that the whole family could sit there!
The woman in the house was called Ahm ( Aom ), the man Nit and the daughter Nung. Nit was not working while I was there, but Ahm occasionally had a day laborer job, and then Nit worked in the house and garden, doing household chores including taking care of the child. We probably consider this commonplace, but it is quite uncommon in Thailand. Usually the baby would be handed over to a grandmother or aunt while her mother worked, and the man would be doing something manly, like repairing the house or drinking brandy. He could drink, (especially beer that I bought), but mostly in the evening. He was usually always busy with something sensible about during the day, even when Ahm was at home. For example, I saw for the first time how he felled a tree, sawed it into suitable pieces, set fire to the pile of wood, and then he covered it with earth to a kind of oven, in Danish named a "mile" (not to confuse with an English mile). The covering of the wood with earth makes a poor combustion because the lack of oxygen, and while you regulate the cover of earth for some days, so you gives the combustion just enough oxygen to scorch the wood, but to little to burn it, you have after 2-3 days burned charcoal. I have always been told that I am descended through my grandmother from a charcoal-burner family, but that was many generations ago, and I have never seen it in real life.
|A cousin to Noi and her dad came with a coconut. In Thailand I have seen even toddlers play with fire and big machetes without any interference!|
Sanghar came back later, I do not remember when. He started sleeping on the floor in the living room, but was evidently uncomfortable, so after a few days, he said that we had to share the bed. At first I was a little apprehensive; I have never suffered from homophobia, but sharing a bed with a gay man, even of the professional kind (he was a rent boy in Pattaya, or at least used to be, he was now getting to old) was not on! However, I was convinced that when I had more money in my wallet than him, he knew who was boss, which proved correct. We slept in the same bed for several nights, without any problems. There sometimes were problems when we were out, because when we came together people figured that we were on the same team.
Once Nit and Sanghar and I went out to a party on a motorcycle. There was a truck where a band played traditional Thai music, probably folk music from the province of Isan. I liked the rhythm, there was something about the beat that reminded me of folk music from the Balkans. People were dancing on the lawn by the truck, and from a house someone was selling drinks. There was a speaker who presented songs and whatever, but I still could not even count to 10 in Thai. In one room some young people sat in a circle and drank, and they invited me in and we sat together for a while, then one of the youngsters began to move closer and closer until he really started coming on to me. I was a little more aggressive than it's nice to be in Thailand, and explained to him that I was not "boy-boy"! OK, that he accepted right away, kept his distance, and we could all be together in the circle and keep on drinking, no hard feelings anywhere. Ahm who knew what happens when men are at a party, came after a few hours with someone else, and drove us home, I don't think any of us were sober enough even to do that.
I had my camcorder and took film of the life of the house and the village, and I was asked to record a video from a party in a neighboring house. A lady with some adult children lived there, and she could speak some German. She told me that she had been a nurse in Germany. She could not speak enough German to make me understand the details about it, and although I had a leaflet in my factor also in German that explained what it was, she didn't understood. So I think probably she talked about natural remedies, but later it turned out she was a midwife. This confusion was due, however, not to her alone, I've never been very good at German!
I didn't realize what the party was about; at one point I thought that some monks were there to consecrate the house, but that was not it. That morning, where the festivities were to begin, all the village's wives came and began to cook in large pots over an open fire in the garden, while the men put up scaffolding, gathered chairs together, and drank some alcohol. A music system was set up, and a man told me in poor English that he was a school teacher. We did not talk much together, but he drank heavily, and quickly became drunk. As the music began at a high volume, the women began to dance. Some drank as much as the men, although most of them followed the internationally recognized pattern where men drink the most.
I came early to be able to record it all, and the whole village came, including Sanghar. There were several young women present, but no one came near me, so I felt a bit isolated; however, I blamed it on the language barrier. Later, Sanghar showed up in a colorful Hawaiian shirt and danced among the women, and I came to think that there could also have been another reason. So I explained to the nearest person that I lived in Sanghar's house, but I was not "boy-boy". Then within a short time I was surrounded by female company who offered me food, cakes, drinks and wanted me out dancing.
I do not remember now whether it went on in the same fashion the rest of the day, but I think it was not until the next morning that something new happened. All the guests had given money that was put on a money tree, a Thai custom in which a tree was decorated with banknotes, and in a book, each guest's contribution was written up. The tree was planted at a table, and stood there all day. The next day they put a chair in the middle of the event where a young man sat down. He had only a cloth around his waist, and sat with his hands folded on a lotus flower.
Then came first his very closest relatives, who in turn cut a lock of his hair, Then the more distant relatives, and then neighbors, friends and acquaintances. Then a professional barber removed the rest. First he went over the entire scalp with clippers, then soaped his crown and shaved the young man completely bald with a razor. After that was done, the family came again, and in the same order as before, they began to wash him, and finally again in turn, poured water over his head. When, many buckets of water later, he could not take anymore, he got up and ran into the house with a bunch of kids behind him. He managed, however, to get rid of them and dry off, and came back out in a white robe, after which he sat up on the table besides the money tree and a crown made of cardboard. Soon a man began to chant, And after some time, another man joined him. Finally I figured out, that the young man was going to be a monk! The next part of the ritual involved tying white cotton string around his wrists: First his mother tied cotton string around one of the wrists, and then the rest of the family, and us other guests at the end, including me, although knots and loops have never really been my strong suit.
|1: The candidate now in white robes 2: The convoy to the temple 3: Dancing around the temple|
The young man went down on his knees in front of the rest of the crowd and in front of the monks who took turns speaking. When it was over, he followed a monk behind a screen, and when he came back, he was wearing the orange novice robe, a little lighter that the ordinary monks, but the same cut. He was now beginning his 3 -month service as a monk. In principle, all Thai young men do, even the king has in his time completed this "monk service" but probably more in name than in reality. However, it is expensive, as both the garment and the time in the temple must be paid for by the family. So the poorest refrain from it, or possibly as a compromise, they become monks for 3 days.
It was a great experience to be part of something so exotic, but the biggest impression on me was an everyday experience. "Klong Nam Lai" refers to a waterfall in the mountains and we were surrounded by mountains with waterfalls. One day some young men asked if I did not want to come up and see some of the streams that ran in the mountains. I said I would, but unfortunately my legs were in bad shape. But it turns out that if I bought some brandy, they could probably get me up the mountain! The next day they showed up in an agricultural vehicle, a kind of truck with a single-cylinder diesel engine that sounded like a fishing boat in the old days, a bench for the driver and the passengers, and a completely flat bed. I don't know if it was going 20 or 30 kilometers an hour, but it was fast enough, as the suspension was quite deficient. First we went to a bamboo hut where they bought some cheap brandy, not many degrees away from being wood alcohol (drinking alcohol should preferably distilled at 72 degrees Celsius, the higher the temperature, the greater the chance that you're producing ethanol). Usually they paid a few baht and then got the quantity they paid for poured into a plastic bag, but in honor of the occasion (and my money), they bought a whole bottle. They also asked me to buy a bottle of something that looked like ink to mix with the alcohol in order to make it drinkable. I could afford the luxury of buying a few bottles of beer for myself. Thus equipped, the expedition proceeded until the vehicle couldn't go further up. Then two of the guys took me under each arm, and dragged me to a good place, where we had a view of streams, waterfalls and more mountains in the distance. They knew only a few words in English, but a dictionary, gestures and paper and pen for drawings, contributed to an understanding between us. It was the unsentimental but practical realization of my situation that made this a memory for life. I was not here as a "haemophiliac" but just a guy with a bad leg.
Then there was another incident in which an ox or buffalo was slaughtered in the village. I remember it as a buffalo, but Buddhist believers do not eat buffaloes. Buddha has said that it is immoral first to make a buffalo do hard work all his life, and afterwards to eat it as a thank you. So if you eat a buffalo, you eat some of the Buddha; therefore it was probably an ox . It was slaughtered in the middle of the village, and split into different shares. Some meat was scraped off and eaten raw like tartar immediately, while drinking brandy. I was invited to participate, but was a little unsure, as raw meat in the tropics is not entirely safe. On the other hand I would not offend my hosts, and washed down with brandy, it was probably fairly safe, so I did it. I spoke with my uniformed neighbor who knew a little English, so it was quite cozy. I asked him if he was a soldier, as he was wearing a uniform with distinctions and awards at the chest, but it turned out that he was a school teacher! I knew the kids wore school uniforms, but I didn't know that the teachers did too. But not only do they, they also wear insignias showing their seniority and other qualifications that I don't know much about, nor do I know what justifies the accolades some of them carry over their breast pocket. Thais like wearing uniforms, and all state employees, municipal employees, and many others wear uniforms, even ordinary clerks, but perhaps it is a compensation for poor pay!
This is all I have written about this trip, and I have only some tape left from the inauguration from this visit to copy pictures from!
Brief updates from 1994 to about 2000
My brother and his wife moved to Thailand for a few years, but there was a depression and their money from Denmark was no longer enough to live on in Thailand. However, I visited them a few times while they lived there.
I went to the same guesthouse in Chiang Mai as before, where the hostess had asked me the previous time I visited, if I would buy the guesthouse for 3 million BAHT, at that time approx. 600,000 DKK, but I unfortunately had to decline. Now, when I arrived in Chiang Mai about 3 years later, I was as usual well received. The hostess smiled a little when I said I could see she had not sold the guesthouse yet. It turned out that she had, but it was her sister who had bought it and they were so similar that I thought it was the same hostess. She was to play a major role in my story later, but more about that then.
I also revisited Klong Nam Lai two times. The first time there was no major change, just that Sanghar, was there more than before, as he was getting too old to be a rentboy in Pattaya. Once he had a job at a dam that the King subsidized, to provide reservoirs for the years when there was drought. I'm not a royalist and find it difficult to deal with the almost divine status the royal family has in Thailand. But I must admit that the King is one of the better royal rulers. He has done much to improve the living conditions of Thailand's people, more than most elected officials, who mostly are scrambling to fill their own pockets, so that might also help to influence the great respect Thais have for their royal family. Some members of the royal family have undertaken various progressive initiatives such as building universities in backward areas and even, in the 70's, working to halt incipient civil war.
But otherwise Sanghar and Nit hung out without really having anything to do. In the village, on the other hand, there was now more and more money, as most of the adult daughters had either married foreigners, and were able to send money home, or were prostitutes "south" or abroad. While I was there, two daughters came home from Cyprus: where soldiers are stationed, there is usually also money to be made. In this family the father shone like the gold he had around his neck, and called for a picnic trip in the new pickup which other villagers humbly cleaned and polished, and here there was a lot of beer and food loaded. As a farang, I had a certain status, and was of course invited. We drove to Klong Lan nature park with lakes, mountains and waterfalls, where monkeys begged or stole food from the tourists. The Thai women have a habit of looking for gray hairs between all the blacks and pulling them out. I got by chance a scene with my video in which a woman with a comb was looking for hair to pull out of another. However, a few meters from them, two monkeys were finding lice on each other too, and it looked exactly the same!
If all goes well, there's no shame in prostitution in Thailand. On the contrary, there's prestige in a woman makes lots of money and then comes home and builds a big house. But if she comes home with aids, the whole family feels great shame. Since they don't look down on prostitution, we probably think it is weird that so many look down on someone who has been unlucky. However, it is connected with the way Thai people perceive Buddhism. When a person is infected with HIV, it is not just because he or she has been unlucky, but because they have done something wrong, either in this or in a previous life, and therefore are being punished.
Most silk production takes place in the north around Chiang Mai but also around here. Kam Pang Pet produces silk. Together with some locals I visited a village where it was the main occupation. It was fun to see it more natural, how both women and men were involved, and sat under the traditional teak houses and worked in the shade. It was a little different than what they showed to the tourists in Chiang Mai. Here I also tasted silkworms (or pupae), that were cooked and tasted really good, much like shrimp! I was also tricked to taste some small oval eggs in a market, that turned out to be ants' eggs, and it tasted horrible!
The second time I visited Klong Nam Lai, the situation had changed for the worse. Sanghar and Nit had run a motorcycle into a car driving drunk. Sanghar had some scratches, while Nit had ended up in the hospital, and was then sent home in poor condition. He lay in his parents' house and slept all day, and it was unclear when he was awake. The others in the village were amused that he could not complete sexual intercourse with his wife, which is not private, but is actually a common conversation topic, and people were also amused to note that he did not know Nung, his little daughter. While I was there, they took her to Nit and asked him who it was, which I thought was almost abusive to the child, but that was the Thai mentality. Nit's father owed ??the hospital a lot of money so I could not help but to give a donation.
On a later occasion, I came on a short visit in transit, and Nit was dead, Ahm and Nung had moved away and Sanghar lay drunk on the floor of the hut in a lake of urine. So unfortunately this story did not end happily.
When I got home I ran into a sour passport officer in the airport. He thought it was a long time I had been away, so I told him that I had visited my brother, to which he snapped: "They all say that!" So I didn't try to explain more, but made some smart remark. Afterwards I was stopped at customs where they were waiting for me. He had called them. Then everything was turned upside down, even my shoes were analyzed, but the young student who did it, had to admit to a senior colleague that she could not find anything, "except this one medicine" to which he kindly replied that then there was probably nothing, and I was released after some delay.
PART 4: GIRLFRIENDS AND DIFFERENT LOCATIONS
It was also around then that I met John. There are some stores in Copenhagen where you can buy Thai specialties. Here I heard a Dane easily speak Thai, and it made me curious. It was the beginning of many years of acquaintance.
John was regularly in Asia, where he studied cultures and languages of minorities in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. He said Burmese was one of the most difficult languages he had encountered. John could relate many interesting but also boring things he had suffered. Once he and a female researcher and students from a Thai university visited a hill tribe in northern Thailand. As a gift they had brought a pig that was slaughtered in the traditional way, i.e. it was beaten to death. It pained John that the observers could not interfere, which he shared with the researcher. She responded with surprise that of course they could not interfere, but then added: "But that pig must have been very bad in a previous life, since it deserves to be so tormented!"
I myself have gone from being an atheist with a Christian background to being a Buddhist, but there is one thing I miss in Buddhism, which is "love thy neighbor". If Christianity was only Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, I might become a member of a Christian church, but no more religion now.
Another time John watched how a drunken father was about to kick his 4 year old daughter to death. He tried to talk some sense into the father, but it was impossible. The daughter already had a twisted back from helping her mother with lugging laundry to and from the river, where her mother washed for people and it was because she was not of more help that the father was cruel to her. He treated her so badly that it later turned out that the daughter had a brain injury from the abuse. Then John went to the village chief and complained, but he could see that didn't do any good because it was a family affair and he wasn't supposed to interfere. But when the chief got a bottle of whiskey he might interfere anyway and urged the father that he no longer abused the girl. The situation was untenable, and John could not bring himself to leave the site knowing that it would be the child's death, so he arranged for the girl to be with her grandmother, a few kilometers away. The father went there too, and took what he could from the cabin, believing he was justified because the farang had removed his daughter, and the same farang could just replace what he, the father, took, and so he continued to mistreat the girl.
It ended up that John paid for a house in another village in Myanmar, near the Thai border. In addition to the girl and the grandmother, an aunt also moved in, who had worked as a prostitute in Thailand, some uncles (one of whom was retarded), and some children of mixed ages and genders. Then it was John's job to pay for the house, and food and clothing for its residents. Although a Danish scholar makes more money than an Asian farm worker, it was a great strain on his finances. But as he said, "What can I do, they take advantage of me financially all they can, but I keep up. What would happen with the family, and especially the girl who, with her disability, has little opportunity?" The children called John their Danish father and his wife, who also came to visit occasionally, their Danish mother, so I understand his dilemma.
When the house was built, it was inaugurated by a number of monks who performed a ceremony that was supposed to bring luck to the residents, and a large fireworks display designed to scare away evil spirits. When he got the bill, he complained about the size, and asked if a smaller fireworks could have worked as well, to which the aunt indignantly had asked him if he really wanted to let the children live in a house with evil spirits?
The first time John had his wife visit the house, they had all been given new clothes. But as you can probably figure out, he was also given the bill. When he made a fuss, the aunt was again indignant about his meanness because the first time the children were going to meet their Danish mother, they should look good, and then it wouldn't look good if the adults were dressed in rags!
|1: The retarded girls and two cousins with John in the middle 2: The little house tyrant had started a farting competition. The retarded girl is in the back.|
John and I agreed on a trip where we met in Chiang Mai, and then went by bus to the border with Myanmar. However, there had been some borderline disorder, so we could only get a visa for a day, and in the evening we had to go back to Thailand. But I got to see the house and meet the residents, and especially one little girl who made an impression on me. She was about four years old, a small plug, certainly not pretty, but charming as hell. She completely ran all the others, a very small domestic tyrant. When I was there, she started up a fart competition, and all the other children laughed and joined in. The girl John had saved from her father was lying on a couch and "reading" a book, which she knew by heart. She was now 12 years old and clearly retarded, and still had a crooked back. I do not understand how some people, and especially a father, can treat a child that way, but that's maybe because I have not been far enough out in the abuse and hopelessness myself.
A school had recently been built in the area where a boy in the family had begun to attend, along with a cousin who was about 8 years old, and lived in a different house. The retarded girl was jealous of the others because they were allowed to go to school, but she was too old to start school, and it is also questionable what she could get out of it, since the school was not prepared to deliver special education services.
Later we went over to the place where the cousin lived with her family. The others walked, but since I had a bad ankle, I was taken on the back of a motorcycle. The house, which John aptly called "bike shed", was a series of rooms in concrete, with a water pump at one end, and latrines in the other. The rooms were probably around 3 meters wide and 6 meters long. In the facade was an open hole for a door and a window. I guess there were some kind of shutters to put on the door and window at night, but I didn't see any. In the middle of the room the floor in the back was raised approximately 20 cm, dividing the space into two "apartments", and rented out as such.
The cousin's family lived in the back part of such a space. There was a father, mother and a baby. The mother and the baby were sick with malaria and almost ashen. There was a doctor from time to time paid by the Government, who gave them some medicine, but it didn't seem to have been effective. The father was healthy, but had another sad story to tell. He and some other men were hired by a Thai contractor for some building work in Thailand, but they would not get the money before until it was finished. They worked for some months, but when it was finished, the contractor would not pay. So they beat him up (which I could completely understand) so now they were wanted by the Thai police and had to stay in Myanmar. I thought it was too rough. Despite almost hopeless conditions, with no prospect of improved living conditions, there were still some who are actively trying to make some money, though it was not enough to improve living conditions, and then they were cheated out of it, after months of work. I gave the man $100, which was probably about an annual income for him, and a lot of money even for me. But when he actively tried to provide for his family, it should not be in vain, and I only visited the family this one time. I just hope that he didn't drink it all up, but I do not know.
In the evening John and I returned to Thailand, and the next morning the children came over to us and ate breakfast at a restaurant. The boy, who sat across from me, gave me goodies from his own food with his spoon. John explained that it showed that I was accepted as a part of the family. The girls sitting opposite John also gave him a spoonful once in a while, as they were obviously used to doing, but when they saw the boy give me a spoonful, they decided that I was not supposed to be cheated, so although it was difficult, because of a large table and small arms, there was an incessant series back and forth by spoonfuls with treats.
But I had to leave, so I said goodbye to John, the children and the aunt who had come later, and with the help of a cane, I got into a primitive bus which drove to a small town with a flight to Chiang Mai. John went the day after for a conference in Laos. It was very dusty and the bus was leaking, so there was red dust everywhere, and later in Denmark, I had to send the camcorder for cleaning out the red dust inside. During the bus trip, some police came onboard to look at travelers' papers. I found my passport, but they were interested only in the locals. At the back sat 3-4 boys in monk's robes, and it was fun to see that even though they were only 12-14 years old, they were treated with respect. The officers did "wai", the Thai greeting, and spoke to the boys with the polite way of address, "khrap". They were only questioned, and were not required to show papers.
I did not meet the family from Myanmar again, but they had often asked about me, as they were worried about my bad leg. After a few years, John built a new "bike shed" on land that belonged to the house and it was then supposed that the family in the house would rent it out, and then John would not have to send money anymore. However, they continued to ask for money, and they let other members of their family stay in the bike shed, but they could not pay, and since it was family they could not throw them out. Finally John stopped then sending money. However, the big girl, despite her handicap, married and John sent a dowry, and it turned out that the husband was a good man, and he tried to do what he could for the new family. The aunt died of AIDS a few years later.
From the mid-90s and at the beginning of the new millennium, I was almost engaged three times. The relationships usually only lasted until the next time I came, when I saw that she (or her family) only were after money, so none of it went further. It was probably to be expected when a young girl declares her love for an old, handicapped farang, since it's hardly his bad leg they admire. However, it was not fair maidens of 17 years I became acquainted with; they were in their late 20's, and all had a baby or two in their luggage. Thus, they were limited in how interested the young Thai men are, and several Thai women also said to me that they would not marry a Thai man because they did not respect women, and if they had a child, it should be stored away with grandparents, while I was willing to adopt a baby. But it's over with now.
But just to avoid being taken for a ride, I even got John involved in helping me with a courtship where he caused a stir. He spoke very fine Thai and demonstrated that he understood the Thai culture, so the family was totally confused about having him on the visit. The father had been an independent hauler with many taxis, but after the crisis which also almost ruined my brother, he now only had a job as a driver. He had been a monk for 2 years, and knew a lot about Thai art and culture. The girl was called Joy, but her real name was Jindamanee, that can mean precious stone or crystal ball, but is also the name of a princess in an old book that a monk had written for the king several hundred years ago. John knew this, and started talking about this book, and then the family was even more astonished by this fine guest who sat in their house. John approved of the girl, and I also felt there was a basis for something, and she was the only one who got so far as to come with me to Denmark. But here she changed, she didn't like my house, it was old, dirty and messy, I had to buy another. I told her that together we could both clean and tidy, but I would not give up my thatched idyll. All she did was sit in front of the PC and downloaded music from the Internet, until she got in touch with some Thais and left to move in with them, until they also got tired of her and sent her home when her visa expired.
Another possible betrothed was family of my sister in law's first Thai husband, named Lek. I think she was quite intelligent, and had begun a bookkeeping course, and dreamed of managing a 7-11 store. She knew a special Thai combination of astrology and palm reading. Moreover, she was spiritualist medium. She could get into a trance, and then the spirit of a man who had lived several hundred years before spoke through her. When that happened, she smoked cigarettes as the spirit had done, which she herself didn't, and her voice sounded like an old man. The language was old-fashioned, so her father had to help the crowd understand it. Initially it was her deceased mother who had these skills and earned small amounts through letting the spirits guide and predict things for people. After her death Lek started doing the same thing, and there were often people in their slum apartment who paid a few pennies for a seance.
Half the room was occupied by a house altar, where images of various characters were placed, partly spirits, partly deceased family members. On the opposite wall was rolled a large mattress, where we all slept together at night. The baby didn't use diapers, but was just wrapped in some old rags, so it smelled strongly of urine. On a balcony the food was cooked and there was access to a bathroom. Lek's father earned a little money as a rag picker, but he was mostly concerned with figuring out number combinations that could win the lottery. I think it was Lek's sessions that made the greatest contribution to the family's livelihood. This same father hobnobed all the time, he was immensely flattering, and acted as my valet all he could, so I did not get much opportunity to know Lek better. So I suggested that we go on a trip to Chiang Mai, and ride the elephants, but Lek said she was afraid of elephants. So I suggested that we take a trip to Koh Samui, a famous tourist island in Southern Thailand. She would go, but only if the daddy came with us! I reluctantly accepted this, and we ended up somewhere with small bungalows where Lek, the baby and I slept in one, and the daddy in another, the latter after strong pressure from him, as Lek didn't want to sleep with me. There was only a double-bed, but Lek rushed to place the baby in the middle. It was not really necessary because as long as she was not more accommodating I was not interested in sex. But when the father left us to go to bed, he winked at me, and pushed with his elbow, a sign between consenting male beings which means "now you just go for it"!
I was hoping that Lek, after some time, would prove more interested, but one night when I swam in the pool, and she sat and watched as she spoke with some of the local Thais, I found out otherwise. The next day one of them told me that Lek had said that she did not like me, but her father wanted her to marry me. Normally, Thais show much solidarity with each other, but this woman was married and therefore could not have any self-interest in sowing discord between us. When we got back to Bangkok I said goodbye to the family and later got several letters from Lek, writing how much she missed me and that she would travel with me to where I wanted, without the dad. I wrote back a few times where I said that there is no basis for a marriage, and that it only was her father's wish. But he was neither old nor disabled, so she ought to live her own life. After writing a few times, I stopped, even though she wrote a few more letters.
In 2003 my parents died, and I now felt free to go to Thailand for longer periods, and I decided to try a different girl. She was a friend of Duk Dik, my sister in law's daughter, and was very sweet, but spoke very little English. She had a 4 year old daughter who was looked after by her grandmother, but the grandmother had kept the child dependent and immature as I found out she had done with her own daughters, so that even after they became grownups they were attached to the mother and very dependent. At four years old the girl was still not potty trained, and had bad teeth because she still got a baby bottle with milk sugar. It was in a village near Udon Thani in the province of Isan, where Duk Dik, her friend and I visited them, because I wanted to see how the mother, daughter and I fit together, and therefore brought the baby back with us to Bangkok. Here I could see from the different reactions to some things I exposed her to, that she was not stupid, and I decided to embark on a major educational rescue.
We also visited Chiang Mai, where the landlady Mrs. Moon and I accidentally started talking about brewing wine commercially, and I tasted some she had made. We agreed that the next time I came, we would try to make some lemon wine as I had an idea that the Thai green lemon fruit (called lemon but properly what we call lime) would make a good wine. When the month was over, I went back home and agreed with the girl that she had to learn English and the next time i came to Thailand I would definitively say yes or no to marriage.
In March 2004 I went to Bangkok to find out how it went with my fiancée, but I was told that she no longer lived in the apartment I had paid for, but her sister with a boyfriend lived there instead, and on top of all that, they were all addicts! As it happens with Thais that are friends, everything is fine, but if you fall out, everything is bad. So maybe things were not quite as bad, as my fiancée and Duk Dik now weren't friends anymore, so Duk Dik maybe exaggerated about the addiction. But I had heard enough and went straight to Chiang Mai, where I asked Mrs. Moon whether we should go ahead with making wine. OK, but it was not the season for ripe lemons! So there I was in Thailand, the lady was gone, and the wine making was not in season!
However, after this trip I then went for 3 months at a time, twice a year for many years. I was as usual welcome, but Mrs. Moon said that a few days later, everything was booked up for one day, but she would make sure that I and another guest could spend the night in another guesthouse nearby. This other guesthouse was once bought by a Dutchman and his Thai wife named Nit, but he bought everything he could on credit that he couldn't pay for and then he ran away, so now the wife had a huge debt. She had tried to sell the place for a long time without success. Nit ran the guest house with her daughter Pom and Pom's husband Laos. They had a little 7-month old daughter, and a Swedish/Danish friend to Nit named Steen, a very appealing guy my age, who lived there along with a "Skåning" (from Skåne in Sweden) named Alf, as the only guests. Over a beer I complained to Steen about my bad luck with the ladies, but together we agreed that since I had now lived alone for over 10 years it would probably be difficult to live with someone else again. The atmosphere lightened a bit when Nit asked if I would give the baby a name. In addition to the names they are given at birth, all Thais get a nickname. I replied that I would like to assist, but it was not something I took lightly, so I would also expect to be involved in her upbringing. They said, "Well you will be counted as grandfather and when we sell our guesthouse you can stay with us in Udon Thani, where both we and Nit own a house."
I accepted my new family, and named the girl Freja, probably the only girl throughout Thailand with that name, as a counterweight to all the gods of war: Freja is the name of the Viking fertility goddess like the Roman Venus and the Greek Aphrodite. However, I was a little apprehensive that Thais would pronounce it as "fire", but I was not allowed to change it. So now I was a grandfather! There was, however, the disadvantage that Udon is located in the northeastern part of Thailand, 700 kilometers from Chiang Mai. So if I was both going to make wine with Moon, and live with my new family in Udon, I would have to travel a lot.
The next day I went with Alf and his Thai girlfriend out to see some excavations of an ancient city. It had been the capital of Lana Kingdom, which at that time included Northern Thailand. But when it was repeatedly buried in mud from a river that burst its banks, it was abandoned and they built Chiang Mai a little distance away. After a few hundred years it was forgotten except as a name in history. In the 1930's it was rediscovered by chance, and archaeologists have since dug there. But the most exciting thing was a visit to a temple. Since the city had been forgotten, people had for many centuries built on top of it, including temples. As elsewhere, one could try to get some predictions. You shake a cup with numbered sticks, look at the first pin shaken out on the floor, read the number on it, and then take the top note in the drawer with the corresponding number. In this temple there is the advantage that the notes also have an English translation:
Need not worry, no one going to harm you
A lawsuit will likely be won.
Be careful and selective in associating with people.
Prospective mate still not in sight. Loan made to others hardly refundable.
A baby girl forthcoming. (girl - not daughter)
A lawsuit will likely be won.
Be careful and selective in associating with people.
Prospective mate still not in sight. Loan made to others hardly refundable.
A baby girl forthcoming. (girl - not daughter)
These predictions are the reason I became a Buddhist. Generalities can easily be made to fit. But the last phrase was not generalities. The notes were printed before I came to Thailand, no one knew I would go to the temple, and there was nobody else in the temple except the 3 of us that went together. It was only a day ago that I gave up the idea of getting married again and now I was "Grandpa" to a baby girl. What chance would there be that this could fit anyone other than me? Moreover, almost all the predictions came to fit me. The trial only came later, but besides some costs, I didn't get any unpleasantness. I found out only later who were the parties I should be careful about being with. But although I have to jump a little in the chronology, I went to the temple again six months later, and got almost the same predictions:
Where I was in doubt the first time, I was now completely convinced that there was some higher power behind it, and since it was a Buddhist temple, it would probably be the Buddha. To respond to any skeptics, I will just point out that all the predictions are far from good, and many Thais shake over and over again, trying to get a positive message. But I think conditions may well be that it is the first number that applies even if it is uncomfortable.
In most temples there are a variety of 8 different Buddha figures, and Alf's Thai friend asked me which day I was born. It was a Saturday and for that day of the week my guardian Buddha was "Pah Bang Nak Plok" a Buddha sitting on a coiled snake and meditating while the serpent's (or dragon's) 7 heads are raised behind him, and protect him. It is from a period when the Buddha goes into the forest to meditate for a month without interruption, and this behemoth protects him. There may be some similarity with Jesus' wilderness, where his firm faith protects him against temptations and dangers, but this is a very strong Buddha who protects me, and also indicates that I am inclined to be stubborn, and it is probably not entirely wrong. A psychologist I once consulted told me that no matter what problems I have, the biggest was that I was always testing the limits. If it is determined, morally or legally, that there is a limit, I can't see why we should stop before reaching that limit. If we do, it is either self-censorship or restricting the individual's freedom of action. As long as you do not go over the line, there is nothing wrong with going all the way to the edge and one is also obliged to consider the reasonableness of the boundary.
Since Laos heard Saturday was my day of birth, he gave me an old medallion with the "Pah Bang Nak Plok" design that I now wear around my neck, and I feel really protected, not against theft, but against attacks on me. There are 8 characters, because Tuesday has 2 characters, depending on whether one is born early or late. Pom was born on a Wednesday, and her Buddha is an upright Buddha with a begging bowl, indicating that she has to work all her life, bad for her, as she always tries not to work!
At a later stage, I do not remember when, I "rented" a nice copy of "Pah Bang Nak Plok" that I have in my house in Denmark. If you are a believer, a Buddha purchased is not holy, therefore, in some temples you can pay to "rent" it indefinitely!
Moon had a farm in Ma Sai north of Chiang Mai where she grew citrus. We went up and looked at it once and we agreed to start a winery. By law, you can make wine from fruit from the company's own land, so we founded the "Ma Sai Wine Yard", I deposited some money and she contributed the farm land, and we agreed to start around September when the lime ripens, and I would come again if I was able to, as I had to go to the hospital for surgery on my left ankle, the one most adversely affected by osteoarthritis.
I had the surgery in May and was very impatient to get going again. The wheelchair was replaced by crutches, the plaster was removed, but I thought it went too slow. I could hobble fairly well using the crutches, and hurried as soon as I could, to get to an orthopedic shoemaker who could make soles in sandals. I was expecting mostly to walk in Thailand, and I thought sandals were most important. They kept e-mailing me from Udon, where my new family lived, even they havn't sold the guesthouse yet, and calling from Chiang Mai to hear whether or not I would soon be well enough to come. During August, I thought it went so well that I bought a ticket for September. I was still using the crutches, but not all the time. The hospital was pleased with the progress, and said: "We promised you that you would be able to walk without pain, not that you were going to walk better!" So I had to resign myself to walking worse than before, but since I didn't have the incessant pain in my ankle, I didn't regret the surgery.
At Copenhagen airport I used the crutches, but in Bangkok I accepted the offer of a wheelchair which I didn't regret. In the wheelchair a young man drove me straight through passport control. My "truck driver" got my passport, and got the formalities sorted quickly in the office, and then we went on to the baggage area, where he retrieved my suitcases, and pushed the wheelchair in front of him, pulling the cart with my luggage behind. It was quite a distance from the international to the domestic airport (at that time Don Muang airport), but he did it with ease. He brought my suitcases to be X-rayed, got my ticket to Udon stamped, and drove me back through a control, and out to the lounge where I had to wait. A few hours later he came back and drove me all the way to the plane. In Udon there would have been little trouble if I had not been able to walk, I managed to go down the stairs to the ground, but here I was again brought into the air terminal and the baggage reclaim area in a wheel chair and then the last few meters to the arrivals hall, where a large array of my new family was waiting for me, and immediately took care of the luggage and showed me out to the pick-up that would bring us about 15 km out to the village of Ban Kao.
PART 5: UDON AND MORE 2004
Most of the road was a 4 lane highway from Udon Thani to Nong Kai near the border with Laos. About 10 kilometers from Udon, We take a side road a few miles, and finally travel approximately 1 km on gravel road, this was the village named Ban Khao. Here lay a row of houses on the right side: Nit's house was a low brick house, then a house of teakwood on poles where a sister of Nit lived, then a brick house a little higher than most Thai houses, called Mickie's house, that was not completely finished and a double garage with a garden wall on the boundary with neighboring plot with a house similar to, where Pom and Laos lived, but finished outside. Then a modern Thai house slightly recessed where a lady lived who grew vegetables, I nicknamed her "The dogbeater" because she bought a dog which she gave the name "Lucky" and then beat up every morning. On the other side of the road there were rice fields, and the road continued a few miles to a new village.
In Pom and Laos' house, half the ceiling was missing and you could look up at the roof. They showed me a room that I could use as I liked. There was a bed, a large closet they used, a closet and a bedside table for me, in addition to a small TV. On the picture you see Laos, me, and Pom with Freja in her arms. While Nit was in Sweden Pom's older brother Tom (pronounced Dom) lived in Nits house and behind him on the picture: Mickie, who was 10 years old. Mickie was a result of the marriage with the Dutchman, and was in appearance more Dutch than Thai. He hated when someone called him farang, and was initially quite negative towards me.
Tom was shaggy, long haired but well-groomed, probably after the fashion of a popular Thai rock star, Carabao (water buffalo). Tom was married and lived normally in Udon along with his wife and Mickie, who went to a Catholic fee-paying school in Udon. They had only bad things to say about the local school. Tom did not work but was a merchant without money and without something to trade, fortunately for him, his wife earned money by serving at a bar in the evening.
1: Entrance to my room. 2: Roof, but no ceiling. 3: A roommate in Thai called "Dugae" because of its call, which is pretty loud, especially if it wakes you up! It's a large gecko about 30-35 cm long, and grandmothers use it to scare little children with, "If you don't behave, the Dugae will bite you"! 4-5: Pom and Laos.
Laos worked in a department store, where he sold mattresses for slave wages and in slave-like conditions. The personnel policy was to hire young people and make their lives miserable so they were driven to resign before they had been there for 3 months, after which they would have received some minimal rights. It kept labor costs down, but I doubt it was good business policy. Laos made about 500 kr ($90) a month, and even had to pay for his white shirt, tie, long black pants and black shoes. His old motorcycle used almost more oil than gasoline, and since he had to drive around 30 km a day, there was not much left to live on. His weekly working hours were 6x10, and sometimes unpaid overtime. He received a commission on the mattresses he sold for the company that manufactured them, but they had them on commission at the department store, so the boss often had Laos do some other work, even if he had customers. He sometimes came home sore everywhere, from moving big things in the store, and while I was there he did not come home for more than 24 hours because the staff had to take stock at night, which they did not get any money for.
Laos was one of the best fathers I have experienced in Thailand. Both last time in Chiang Mai and this time in Udon, he was the one who got up at night and warmed the bottle for Freja, he changed her and bathed her, rubbed ointment on insect bites, and was obviously very fond of his little girl. Pom also cared for her, but not nearly so lovingly; it seemed more like Freja was a burden for her. For the slightest excuse Freja was "exported" to an aunt or other family members, while Pom did something else. For example she could not clean the house while Freja was there, so every morning after breakfast, Freja went to some other family member, usually the aunt who lived in the teakwood house after Mickie's house, while Pom swept the house, and then bathed and changed clothes. Then she went and fetched Freja, or usually lay down to nap with her at whatever place she was staying. Pom was very tired, possibly because Freja's birth was by Caesarean section at a free hospital where she had been given the wrong anesthetic, and was almost unconscious for a few days and then had not been able to get out of bed for a month. However this is Pom's version of the story, and I eventually got a suspicion that she was both partly lazy and partly not interested in Freja, but I certainly cannot deny Pom's version of events. In the past few years, health care for the indigent has been much better; now all hospitals and health clinics have the obligation to treat people for 35 thb.
Freja was now 13 months and the parents were concerned that she had not yet started to walk. It was actually already in Chiang Mai when she was 7 months old, where all the young mothers talked about how quickly their babies had begun. Here I saw something that surprised me. Not just young mothers, but also grandmothers had a custom of shaking the little babies like a cocktail shaker. I can't understand why the babies did not get a brain injury, as the brain must slosh around in the skull, but it is very common and appeared to have been done for generations. I did however advise Pom and Laos to avoid this, at least while I was there.
I do not know if it's something genetic or cultural, but overall Thai babies start standing up faster than in Europe. In Chiang Mai I reassured Pom and Laos that there was still time for Freja. She also had no language yet, but this is not so unusual. I could see she reacted to speech and singing, so I wasn't afraid, but people in the village had already begun to say that she was retarded. But I am sure, she is not. I once met a family with a young daughter about two years old whose father was Danish, and spoke Danish to his daughter, her mother was Polish and spoke Polish to her, and the parents talked to each other in English. The result was that the kid spoke all three languages! So when I spoke English to Thais, Danish to Freja, and they spoke Thai to everyone else, I forecast that Freja would also talk 3 languages. But there was one more hurdle: In Udon they talk "Isan", a dialect that is partly different from main Thai, so could she learn 4 languages?
Especially pronouncing "r" is difficult for most Thais, and even back in Chiang Mai I had started singing the Danish children's song "Rapanden Rasmus" (Rapand is baby talking for duck, Rasmus is a Danish boysname) for her while she lay in my arms, and tugged on my beard (I get quite nostalgic). It's hard to say how much a baby of 13 months can recognize, but she was not afraid of me, even though she had only seen me for one month five months before, and I felt certain she seemed to recognize "Rapanden Rasmus". After a few days she had accepted me, and several times when an aunt came after her, Freja would rather stay with me.
But now it seemed to the parents that it was critical to have her examined at a hospital, but they waited until I came. We were first seated and waited in a large hall at the pediatric ward where they found paperwork from previous studies and weighed the children, and then we waited to be called in to the doctor. I reminded the parents that they should also mention her strabismus, though it is only later I discovered that you should wait a few years before doing anything about that. Then came the time for us, an old doctor saw volatile in the journal, Freja was set up on a table, where he held her legs, and diagnosed her in under 5 minutes. When I later asked about the outcome, I was told that the doctor had said that her brain was too small, which also caused her strabismus! But we were happily passed on to something called neuro therapy where a doctor looked at her, but could not find anything that justified the initial diagnosis, and sent us on to something that must have been physiotherapy. Here a physiotherapist said that there was nothing wrong with Freja's brain, she just needed some exercises, and then she would get started with walking. However, it would facilitate the process if she got some boots that supported her ankles. Then she showed us how Pom and Laos should do some exercises with Freja's legs for 5 minutes every morning. They did the exercises for a few days, but then I took over. The boots we never found. She started to get out of bed, and eventually to walk with support and she directed us to go where she wanted. In addition, people in the village started to talk about that we resembled each other so much that we must have known each other in a past life, especially because of the bad walking, but also our eyes, I squinted in a certain way, and Freja squinted, and also that Freja accepted me despite my beard.
When it looked like I could spend half my future here, I started investing. I bought a telephone with ADSL and a good PC, a small fridge for my factor, and a mountain bike. As I have said, the gravel roads are not good, but it was the best exercise I could think of. It also made me known both in the village and a neighboring village where I often drove and had a beer at the grocery store. I stopped using crutches and cane, but was still walking badly, so the bike was good to get around. I also bought a secondhand car, a Honda, for shopping in Udon and going to Chiang Mai.
Laos tried a few times to find another job, but could not. Then one day on the way to work he got hit by a motorcycle with a sidecar. His motorcycle was damaged but could be repaired, but though he was badly bruised, he dared not seek medical attention, as he was afraid of being fired if he did not show up at work. So I thought it was too much. He had, among other things, talked about making a business of buying and selling rice. The large wholesalers who gave the best price did not buy small batches, so he was planning to buy rice from small farmers, and store it up until there was enough for a big truck, and also to save it for the season when the price was higher. I thought it sounded like a viable idea, though I found it hard to get concrete numbers out of him to make an estimate of revenue and expenditure. But I lent him 100,000 thb (about $3,000) with the arrangement that he only had to pay 2% interest in December 2005 and the first installment on the principal in December 2006. The loan would then be repaid at 2000 thb per month. I was also persuaded to loan Pom 45,000 thb to go to a hairdressing school, and her installment was to be 1500 thb. I was immediately aware that it was far from certain that I would get all the money back, but I figured that I was living there, and if I lent them money that would help them make a living, there was a chance that I would not have to pay anything when I was there.
The gravel road was so dusty, that one morning when I had to inject my factor I sat at a table next to the house. When I cleaned my skin with alcohol, The swab was completely rust red half an hour after my morning shower and at least 10 meters from the road! I was wondering when my skin looked like this, how did Freja's lungs look! Then I persuaded Laos that if I bought some trees that we could plant facing the road, it would probably help a little; but after we had them standing a week, he planted them against the gap to the empty house. When I made a fuss, he told me that he had read in a magazine that it would bring luck! It is not always easy to be a cultural imperialist.
So I went to Chiang Mai to make wine with Moon. The question was how and with whom would I get there. Laos had to work a month yet before he could get some money from the company detainees, and the family would not let me drive alone. Tom was going to Chiang Mai because the buyer wouldn't pay the price for their guesthouse. The bank wanted money, and it was a rather complicated story, but the result was that Tom repeatedly had to go to Chiang Mai, partly to the courts, partly to talk to the bank and the buyer. I thought we both would pay for the gas, but he did not have any money. In Chiang Mai I left the car with him because he had to live with an uncle, while I lived in Moon's guesthouse. But when I visited Alf and his girlfriend the next day, Tom called me, and said he had been sitting in Moon's guesthouse and waited for me all day even though I had said that I would not use the car that day, but he had no money for gas!
One evening Tom really made problems. He came to Moon's guesthouse along with a friend, we drank a little, but then I went to bed. Moon was not there for a few days, but when she got home, she told me that the staff had complained that Tom and his friend got more whiskey from town, and expanded the company with several others, including a woman that Tom had gone home with. He came back after a few hours, and their party ended after 1:00. Normally the staff closes things down at 10pm, so that night a single staff person had to stay and serve the guests sitting in the common room. I regretted that I went to bed at 22 o'clock, but made it clear that another time they could throw out Tom and his cronies!
Moon and I drove far, looking at her farm, and visiting places where they cultivated wine or fruit that might be used for wine. There were some workers from the farm with us, and one night we ate at an outdoor restaurant with live music. I saw a father walking around with his little daughter in his arms, eagerly shaking her body when the music was playing, it made me think of Freja, when she was "butt-dancing" in a chair watching music from a DVD at my PC in the morning, shaking her fist and jumping around on the chair. We agreed about some things having to do with the wine, and then I found an excuse to return home. Tom would like to stay longer, as he had some more meetings, but I stood firm. Partly I missed Freja, and wanted her to really get to know me, so we should be together as much as possible during the 3 months at a time I was there, and partly I was tired of Tom's company. Since it was my car, he had to give in, and we drove back to Ban Kao.
Despite my earlier decision, I was again interested in a young girl, a friend of Tom's wife. She was incredibly sweet and accommodating, we talked a lot together because she was trying to learn German, and we took a Sunday off to her parents' farm, where they were harvesting rice. I pulled myself together while we were there as directly as possible, and declared to the lady that surely there was something in the air beyond the German words, but I was denied so politely that I almost wondered if it was a rejection. But it was, and I got over it , but she was VERY cute!
There was an American named John, who had been a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, and had learned Thai. After the war he stayed in Thailand, partly as a private helicopter pilot and also teaching English. He had a Thai wife, but often came to the farm we were visiting. I told Pom about the American and happened to mention that he was black. That she refused: Negroes came from Africa, Americans were farangs! Again I was amazed at how ignorant many Thais are; what did they learn in school? In the middle of the 20th century Pom knew nothing about the slave trade, the Civil War, and recent cases of racial problems in the United States. She had as a little girl seen black soldiers, but thought they came from Africa!
Later I went with Pom, Laos and Freja to Chiang Mai, but only for a few days. Laos had received a message that some suspicious people were sneaking around, and he was afraid of losing his rice. There was not much love between Moon and Pom, and there was probably an old grudge between Moon and Nit's family. Also there may have been a little competition about who "owns" the farang (or the possibility of using his money), so maybe any of those things were reasons they wanted to go home. But while we were there Freja was thrilled! She loves farangs, and when she was down in the common room, she rushed over to the representatives of the breed who sat there, regardless of age and gender, but it was still happening with an adult finger in each hand. No one could resist her charm, even an old sour "redneck" from the States spoke kindly to her!
Before we drove back to Ban Kao we went around to the temple where I had gotten my predictions, and it was now that I got the repetitions, as I have described. Laos and Pom "shook on" again and again until they got the result they liked. I remember the first one Pom received, warned her not to build her life on castles in the air (illusions). I thought it suited her very well, because she wants everything, as long as it does not require her to make any effort, she could speak very long about her plans for one project or another!
Back home we celebrated Pom's birthday. As usual, we shopped big in Udon, which of course I paid for, and we ate at a restaurant on the way home. It was a series of palm huts or bamboo stands with canopy, surrounding a lake. I had eaten there a few times before, and the food was good, but it was difficult for me to sit on the bamboo floor and eat, so I prefer table and chairs. As usual, Freja was impossible to control, everything that came within her reach ended up in the lake, and if we had not been vigilant, she would even have gotten there. However, she has a weakness for ice cubes, so she got the ice bucket, and alternately put ice in her mouth and threw the dice around her.
In the evening Pom cooked for the guests, but I could not get it down. the main ingredient was bulls balls, so just the sight was enough. Luckily we had taken some leftovers with us from the restaurant as is customary in Thailand, so I didn't go hungry.
The next night there was an outdoor concert with Carabao. I was a little apprehensive as there was no seating, but I took an injection before we left, and then brought my crutches with me. It was difficult to find a parking space, so we had to walk far, but the concert was an experience. Just the sight of my crutches made Thais helpful, and I was helped up every time I had sat down on the ground, and wanted to get up to see what was happening on stage. There was a large police presence, including one armored car and both uniformed and civilian police with clubs and shields in formations who ran back and forth in the square. It was like Roman legionaries from Asterix, or maybe the Keystone cops -- they looked as if they were just ordered around without any purpose.
As Carabao came on the stage, he began by warning against fighting: if just the slightest disturbance occurred, he would pack up immediately. There was then no unpleasantness, and it was fascinating to see how he kept the motley crew in the palm of his hand. After the unrest that nearly turned into a civil war in the late 70's, he fled into the mountains along with the poor peasants who kept carabao (buffalo), which gave him his name, and his songs are socially critical. I've heard a VCD from a European tour where Carabao sings a few songs in English, but it sounds wrong. He has a Thai uniqueness that can't be translated.
Unexpectedly, I came across an American at the local grocer, who had lived in the village for a while with his Thai wife, but none of the Thais had made us aware of the other's presence; they prefer we only associate with them. As a living he was programming games for the companies who invented them, he did it over the net, so he could stay in Thailand. I saw some amazing intricate calculations, he knew clearly what he was doing. Although I did not understand it, it's fascinating to see when a real specialist does his magic. He also had an idea for a strategy game that would consist in avoiding war, an appealing idea, but he kept the cards close to his chest, as he did not want competition for the game which was far from being fully developed. He also showed me where an Austrian lawyer lived, but he was not home.
Then Nit came home after six months with Steen in Denmark and Sweden, she was very friendly and a little too ingratiating. She told everyone that she had no money, so I came up with ideas for what she could do. Behind the house her Dutch husband had partly furnished a small pool, and partly built a pavilion with some rooms. If she was able to finish it (even if she borrowed the money), she could, with just half occupancy, pay back the loan in 2 years. An apartment with a swimming pool in a peaceful little village, rooms without stairs, and various attractions within easy reach of a one-day road trip, could appeal to young families with small children, and to old and disabled pensioners. She found it to be a good idea, but wanted me to invest the money!
Before I left for Denmark, I met the Austrian named Andreas, who had lived in the village for over 10 years with his Thai wife. He was very good and friendly to me, but he could be a real nasty bastard. I think often it's a drag that I don't have a little more money, but he had the opposite problem. He had money (I would think millions, even if you counted in dollars or euro), but he had committed many dirty tricks to earn it, and now he spent his whole life preventing anyone from coming to take it. After WW 2 as a 12 year old boy he and his family had been deported to a prison camp in Russia. He claimed that it was a grandfather, who was not a Nazi, but a big troublemaker, who was to blame. Andreas told gruesome stories of Russian atrocities, which I, as a formerly communist sympathizer, would rather not believe, but unfortunately the stories fit all too well with what I had heard before. He told about a girl who had received advice from her mother that if Russian soldiers came near, she should scream loudly and continuously until they disappeared again. She had done so, and survived the Russian occupation of Austria without physical abuse. The grandfather had made a fuss over something, and had been given a rifle butt in the face which broke his jaw, and the whole family was deported. After some years they were sent back, but by mistake they were sent to East Germany, where they stayed in a prison camp for some years. Through the Red Cross, the authorities were made aware of the mistake, for which STAPO (State Police) wanted to punish them for unfairly having benefited from the DDR hospitality. Why did they not draw attention of the mistake sooner? To which his grandfather had pointed to his broken jaw, and said that was his experience in drawing attention to mistakes. Unfortunately the story fit too well with what Gusti (a "Wiener Child" my grandparents took care of for a while after World War I) described after my grandparents and Gusti were reunited in the 60s. Gusti told about severe abuse from the Russian soldiers during the occupation of Austria.
Andreas wanted then to be a doctor, and he had some medical handbooks he sometimes studied, but as a young man he found out that the law school would sooner give him money, and he therefore became an advocate. He was obviously good at the law, and he worked with both the Austrian Chancellor, and for several multinational companies. He had now a Thai wife, but was stingy with both her and her family. She had a daughter by a previous marriage, but Andreas did not give a dime to her; it was a relationship that didn't concern him! The wife's family also came and asked for one thing and another, but each time they were told that they could find work if they wanted money. He claimed that the family had repeatedly tried to kill him and his wife to inherit money and showed me some different tools which he used for protection. His house, which I called "Kleine Schönbrunn" because it looked like a smaller version of this imperial palace, had a large garden wall with a wrought-iron gate with a bell. This bell had once sounded without Andreas seeing anyone. He then gently slipped out the door, where a man had jumped on him. But despite his advanced age, Andreas had knocked him down, probably with a totenschlager, but instead of calling the police, he had admitted the man to a hospital, where he paid a doctor to give the man electroshock daily for 14 days. He was now a shaking nervous wreck that went around the village as a warning to others who might have similar ideas! This Andreas said proudly with a big grin!
Sometimes he advised people not to go to court, as it was too slow and costly. Instead he made sure that shady characters visited the counterparty, and gave them a physical reminder of what they should or should not do. He also once had the same idea as Laos about buying rice, but there had been rats in the rice, so even if Andreas had been prepared with a gun, and shot the largest and most cunning of the rats, it was not a good business. I warned Laos of this danger, and pointed out various places where rats could come in, but he thought it wasn't a problem because he kept his stock of rice for a shorter time. Later I have also been told that some of the rats in Andrea's rice walked on two legs, and was a relative of his wife!
Shortly after this visit, I had to say goodbye, and revisit the Danish December cold.At home I figured on seeing a conservatory finished on my old house. It had been underway for almost 2 years, but whether it's in Thailand or in Denmark, craftsmen only work if you are breathing down their necks, so there were still missing parts. I endured, however, 3 months of winter conditions and prepared for the next trip. From the web I copied 2 nudist movies, for Thais nudity is hard imagine, and both my reports and Nits experiences from Scandinavia about semi- and all naked people on public beaches, gave Pom and others a tingling feeling and joyous indignation so much that she asked if I would shoot some video of it, which I however declined, but instead I picked up some examples on the web.
When I was in Thailand the first time in '89, I talked a lot with a prostitute who had a regular customer in the guesthouse in Chiang Mai. When she was without her customer in the common room, we spoke often together, as, like many Thais, she tried to practice her English when the opportunity arose, and she was a sweet girl. She told me indignantly about the farang ladies not using a bra and when they bent forward, one could often see their breasts! But morality is relative, I could not see anything wrong in it, but asked in return what her mother thought about her daughter's livelihood, to which she replied: "When no money, everything OK," but then spoke no more with me; I guess I came too close.
I bought a ticket to return to Thailand for March '05 , but in late February it began to snow, even so much that for a few days I could not get the car out, and they canceled the air traffic at Copenhagen! I captured some snow from the house on film, and luckily the weather improved again about a week before I was to leave. I recorded a little more of my house, a snowplow on the road, the local supermarket with petrol vending machine, as this was unknown in Thailand at that time, and finally my house while Rhampoi, my sister in law, commented on it in Thai.
Pictures: Whenever I come back from a disappointing trip to Thailand, I delete many photos and videos. But some I have saved, though not always on purpose. So these pictures from Ban Khao are not the best to describe my trip, but they are what I've got!
PART 6: UDON FOR THE LAST TIME 2005
I was picked up in Udon, but this time in my own car. I could see that it had been used a lot, even though they had promised to use it less. I had written the mileage down, but had forgotten the slip in Denmark, so I could not specifically say how much they had driven it. Pom had started hairdressing school, but was on vacation at the moment during the school holiday, and worked then in a coffee shop afternoon and evening. Steen was visiting Nit, and now it was in her house that all the activity went on. In the evening when the dew dampened the dust, we sat in front of the house and drank beer while we ordered the world's situation. We talked well Steen and I.
During the day the activity center was behind the house. Nit had paid to fill the swimming pool with earth, and built a bamboo hut on top. I was annoyed about the missed economic opportunities, but done was done. The garden wall that divided Pom's and Mickie's house was torn down because it went up against the garage where Laos had his rice stock, and a monk had said that it would make the money disappear. The trees that were planted here were also gone.
Freja was a little weedy because Pom had started to work. Laos was against it, but it was not him who decided. Pom had said that when the school holidays began, an aunt would come from Bangkok, to take care of Freja, and then Pom could work even more. When, during the first few days I was there, I saw how Freja wept when she was exported over to Nit, and hung on Pom when she came home in the evening, it ended up that I paid Pom to not work.
Their TV was broken, so they had taken the little TV that stood in "my room" and considered it a foregone conclusion that I paid for the repair of the large TV. In addition, they asked me to buy a new mattress, because the one they had given me to use belonged to Nit who used it herself now she was at home. When I complained that they had said that it was my room with everything that was in it, they believed there was nothing wrong with that. So more or less it was now about to disintegrate. However, I could not stand the thought of not seeing Freja grow up, so I decided to wait and see. I complained to Nit, but she just replied that she could not live with Pom either!
In late March, the school summer holidays began, and Nit's sister Joh and her granddaughter Jessie came to visit from Bangkok. Jessie was 9 years and a very nice girl. She lived with "grandma" because her mother had died when Jessie was 4 years old. Her father had remarried, but he and his new wife had children together, and then Jessie became an unwanted stepchild. "Cinderella" is a German fairy tale, but it is common in Thailand that stepchildren are treated badly by their stepparent: They are not "family", but are treated like second-class citizens and used for whatever they are able to do, depending on age. I still do not understand that you can treat children like that, but family ties (and here we are talking about family in the genetic sense) are so strong that they overshadow everything else.
It was Steen who the year before had given the girl the name Jessie, and as long as the grandmother (Joh) was alive, she would be treated well, although she did not have too much money. Joh was married to a drunken painter who eventually made the day go by drinking cheap brandy in the morning, and sleeping it off in the afternoon. They had two adult sons with their own families, and Joh was afraid of what would happen to Jessie if she died before Jessie came of age. She feared that at puberty the girl would be sold into prostitution by her uncles if Joh died too early, because they had enough expenses in their own families and would not be interested in paying for accommodation, food and schooling for their niece. Both Steen and I gave Joh a grant to Jessie's maintenance. As long as she lived with Joh there was no problem. There was not much stepchild-like about her. She was brash and lively, and knew just what buttons she needed to press, teasing cousin Mickie, so he was furious with her. She was also pretty, which I said to Steen, he agreed with me, but then added that he had not dared to say so himself! Fucking hell, is the neo- Victorian era and political correctness already so far advanced that an ordinary man, with marriages, adult children and several lady acquaintances behind him, dare not say that a child is pretty, for fear of being misunderstood? If you suspect any misuse and abuse of children act immediately, regardless of time and place and persons, but let it be possible to notice that a kid is pretty, and moreover give children a hug without having it perceived as an evil act. Otherwise it will be a cold world we bring up our children in! It must surely be obvious to all reasonable people, and not just something I find as a result of being a boundary pusher?
It was Sonkran, the Buddhist New Year that occurs in March or April, when everyone (especially children) sprays water at everybody, a very old custom for bringing luck, sometimes with colored water. We got a large tub of water and some kids from the road up on Nit's pickup and drove to Udon, where we slowly queued our way forward with hundreds of other pickups carrying the same load, and all in good fun splashed each other. There were also some young people who had some beer onboard, and they jumped on and off the cars that were going at a snail's pace to get as close to the victims as possible. In some parks fire hoses had been set up, for filling water in the tubs and barrels at the cars, it was all celebration and pleasure. There was also no risk of pneumonia, as it is the warmest time of the year.
I still continued to bring up the issue of the dusty road in front of the houses with the family, but they didn't take it seriously. I had even noticed that half of the village's children coughed in the midst of the summer heat. Steen with his medical background agreed with me, that the dust sat in the bronchi and alveoli, but the Thais did not take it seriously. Farangs had so many new ideas, and the coughing had been going on for years. So I bought a load of gravel to spread in front of Mickie's and our house, but in a thick layer it was too loose for bicycles and mopeds to climb the loose stones, so we had to make the layer so thin that it was all to no avail.
Then Steen had to go home and earn some money, and it all became a bit more boring without our beer talk in the evening. However, Joh and Jessie provided an enlivening change of pace during this period when I became more and more tired of Pom but also Laos who took it for granted that I would pay for a new water pump for the house that cost about 8000 THB. I felt better and better about Joh, who was more sympathetic the more I learned to know her, and it seemed like she was doing a reasonable job of rearing Jessie. As Mickie's 11th birthday approached, both Pom and Nit took it for granted that I would pay the bill. But since it was a child's birthday party, it was OK, and I bought even a gift for him. But when at the same time I bought a school uniform for Jessie, Joh did not really know whether she would accept it, but she did, since it was a necessary expense and she only had little money.
I baked pancakes for the boys I already knew, they played football together, and I had recorded a game that I gave them the CD for, and printed an image from the video for each. They were very glad, as they were not accustomed to adults being interested in what they were doing. Then several kids in the village greeted me with "hello Bent" when I cycled around, including children I did not know. One of the boys brought a bottle of champagne which Nit allowed them to drink. I was a little apprehensive, but it was only 5-6 % alcohol and they were 6-8 boys, so they didn't get dunk, although a few of them wanted it to look like, and clearly knew how to do to act like they did. Jessie controlled the whole bunch; it was not just Mickie she could wiggle around her finger. By the way, several of the boys were really nice to Freja. I can't remember seeing in Denmark boys taking care of a baby when it wasn't a sibling.
Shortly after Steen left us, I remembered the nudist video, and we agreed to see it at night. Mickie talked all day about how he was going to see naked tits, but even though beforehand it seems great for people who are not accustomed to nudity, afterward (both in reality and movies) it's not exciting for very long when it is not in a sexual relationship. Jessie lost interest after a few minutes and drove around in the living room on Freja's small tricycle, Mickie held out a quarter of an hour, then he also lost interest, while the adults, and especially Pom and Joh, wanted to see all of the first film, but we waited to watch the next one at another time.
Then we went south when the school holidays were almost over. Pom had never been to the beach so we decided to make a family outing out of it. On 2 pickups (in Thailand it is legal to drive with people in the bed of the truck) we went first to the suburb south of Bangkok where Joh lived, and the next day we went with the family of one of her sons, and a boy from the other, to a beach at Chon Buri where all the kids bathed with great pleasure, including Freja, who constantly held onto a finger to toddle down to the water. A fat boy who had joined us was deliriously happy. The other family said it was only because his mother wasn't present that he was allowed to go into the water. She did not dare let him try anything. another small boy of 4-5 years got his way all the time; he only had to cry, and then his mother came and straightened out whatever was the trouble. Both here and on other occasions the fat boy stayed glued to my side, while the small boy was intolerable. How I would like to give many parents some advice on parenting, but they would probably not listen anyway.
In the evening one car drove back to Bangkok, while Nit, Joh and another sister, Pom, Laos, Mickie, Jessie, Freja and I, drove further south to Patthaya. It was before the tsunami, but after September 11 and the Java assassination, so it was possible to find a discount. Next morning we bathed, and in the afternoon we sought out a "Seaworld" where you walk around between large aquariums and look at big and small fish and other marine life. It was exciting and beautiful, but we had great difficulty finding it, because Laos would not hear my directions, and when we finally found it, it was so expensive that half of the family had to wait outside. Moreover, it was forbidden to photograph in there since I was there a few years before, but it was nice.
The next day we went back to Joh's house, where I saw that Jessie had a rabbit even though she was allergic to their fur. "But she is so fond of it, and as long as she takes her pills, it does not matter"!
The aunt who had accompanied us on the tour, went with us to Udon, where she lived with Nit. It was intended that she should look out for Mickie as Nit was on her way to Sweden again. Nit complained about how much she missed her children when she was away, yet she spent most of the time, first in Holland for some years, and now at Steen's in Denmark and Sweden. She showed me a field which she owned along with some siblings, and told me that she was once offered 30 million THB for it, but it rose all the time in value, so it should be saved for a time of need. There was also a brother who would not sell. While I was there however, someone did want to buy the field, and he had spoken to her siblings who were all willing to sell, but Nit said no. There was no need for cash in her reserves as long as Steen paid for Mickie's schooling and Nit's traveling to Sweden. Steen sent her some unfinished paperwork for visas that I helped her to finish, and I discovered that there were other issues than are asked for in a Danish visa, including all her siblings and their spouses' birth data, including those who had died!
Then I drove alone to Chiang Mai. I can't remember how I avoided Tom's company, but I managed. All had serious doubts that I could manage to make the trip alone, but I had roadmaps with numbers on the main roads, and I could remember a little from the other tours, and in major cities the road signs were also in English. But it was 700 km, and the Thais have a hard time deciphering maps, so they were very skeptical. I succeeded however. I even managed the winding mountain roads without being the slowest, although I did not take any chances. At one intersection I drove the wrong way, but I could see I wasn't going the right way, and at a gas station I was directed to the right road by only a small detour. But this I didn't tell at home! the problem occurred at Thong Saen Khan, where the road was supposed to split into 1214 and 1241, but there was the same number in both directions and what on the map looked like a "T -junction" was practically a road that went straight with a side road on the left. So I thought that was a legitimate excuse for getting a little lost. In Chiang Mai, which is as big as Copenhagen, I had problems. I came to the airport which was one of the places I was familiar with but from there I ran wild. I wondered what to do, for all the street names were in Thai, both signs and buildings, and the road signs in English showing the way to other cities could not help me find my way to the guesthouse inside, and not knowing where in the city I was, I could not call the guesthouse for directions. However, I entered the old town, and then I knew where I was, and after a slight detour, I found the guesthouse.
I had been concerned about wine brewing, there were cheap fruit wines, but for the most part not very good, but cheaper than we could produce wine. Then there was the fine grape wine, more expensive, but could we sell good fruit wine, at a price in between? So before we invested too much, we agreed to stop. However, Moon was now starting to invest in land in southern Thailand, where she wanted to build a guest house. I saw photographs of the area, and drawings with a pool and fine houses. She had examples of people who made millions in a few years by buying land there, and it was now known to be limited in how much land was left. If I was interested we did not need to dissolve the wine company, we could use it for buying land. I was tempted, but also apprehensive, I knew that con men were skilled, and they lived well from it. But I had known Moon for so many years, she had always been real, and seemed very sincere. I drove back to Ban Thai without being resolved, with promise to come again before I went back to Denmark.
I brought a kind of rocking-horse home for Freya. The sides were some animal shapes with a small seat between. I saw this one and a few others in the house on Moon's farm earlier, and she said that she had made it, along with some other woodcarvings and ceramics. Some of it was absolutely fantastic, especially a table where the table top was held up by a column of something that looked like a pile of books, very lifelike. You almost have to try to browse the books before realizing it was all cut out of wood. She claimed that she had stopped making this art because she had no "name". However I have seen the same design of some of the characters several times since, so maybe she had cut and carved them, but the design was certainly not her own. Though it must be said that I later met a young niece to Moon who was making some amazing drawings for an art course, so an artistic streak was running in the family.
Pom was not thrilled about the chair, probably because it came from Moon, but since it was me who brought it, it was not rejected and Freja immediately began to climb around on it. She could sometimes forget herself, and walk or jog a few meters without support, but definitely not when she was invited to do it. I was now convinced, that it was only her stubbornness that prevented her from running around without support.
I consulted Andreas about the guesthouse project that Moon wanted me to participate in and we made some notes about the cost / benefit amount of such a project, and then I took off to Chiang Mai again, this time without getting at all lost. However, in a forest outside Lam Pang, approximately 2/3 of the way, I ran into a tropical rainstorm. The rain was so heavy that I could hardly see anything in front of me, and the storm was so powerful that it tore trees to the ground, so they were criss-crossing the road. It was difficult to drive because you could not see anything, but dangerous to stop because of trees toppling. Fortunately there was a truck in front of me driving very slowly, and although he drove on both sides of the road depending how the trees were, I could just follow him, knowing that oncoming traffic would be stopped by the truck. So after 15-20 minutes we came out of the forest, the sun was shining and the road was completely dry!
In Chiang Mai I shared my concerns about the project with Moon. There were no concrete plans to build a guest house; we just bought the land, and if we built the house, we could sell the land again with great profit. Although I could raise a maximum of 700,000 THB, my share would be greater, and when she came with a draft from a lawyer, I finally agreed. Then off again, this time with a heavy rainstorm around Loei, about 2/3 of the way toward Ban Kao, but no fallen trees, just severely reduced visibility. Back home Andreas rejected the draft from the lawyer, saying it was not legally tenable, and in general a mess. In addition he showed me a German handbook on what foreigners can and can't do when buying land in Thailand, and it looked like the project was a little too risky. Then I called Moon a little apprehensive, but she accepted right away that I didn't want to invest in the guesthouse, and asked how I wanted the money from the winery back, but I let her keep it until the next time we met.
Andreas introduced me to a friend named Freddy, who was a German by birth, but had lived over 20 years in Denmark, who ran a health clinic called "Behandlungscenter" where he claimed to be able to cure most cancers and some rare diseases I can't remember the name of. He had practiced as a "healer" in German called "Heilpraktiker" a recognized alternative treatment in Germany. When his late wife died of cancer, he sought to go abroad to find a cure, and in Thailand a monk showed him a root with healing properties. He set up a clinic just outside Udon, found a Thai lady whom he married, and together they adopted a little girl. He was very personable, and when I visited him there was a young Dane in treatment with him for a rare disease. Freddy had sent samples of the root to a laboratory in England where they examined it, and they were able to demonstrate that it had an effect on some cancer. You can read more on www.behandlungscenter.com in English, German, Danish and Thai. I would like to emphasize that I do not in any way guarantee the effects of this regimen, but from what I can read, it seemed like the cure would be worth a try if I ever was to suffer from any illness like that.
The five year old girl Freddy and his wife had adopted had attended a Catholic fee-paying school in Udon, but had been very sad to go there. Then they very quickly found a Buddhist fee-paying school where she was very happy to go. Every morning she was waiting impatiently for the school bus. They had individual curricula, and the girl was enrolled in an English line, and when I was visiting, she came home and threw herself immediately into her homework, the little 5 year old practicing to read and write the word "man". I immediately told about this school when I got back to Ban Kao, but the message was very coolly received. Freja had to go to a Catholic school like first Tom and now Mickie. Mickie was bullied there, and Tom's schooling had not led to a sensible job, but that did not alter the case.
During this period we talked several times about extending the house out towards the back garden, to avoid dust from the road and eventually because I wanted my own apartment, at a little distance from Pom. But the parcel of land was too small, and I could not build there without including the ground that Nit had behind it. But then I would have to buy the site, as it was meant for Tom to build a house there later on. I suggested instead that Tom could finish Mickie's house, it was cheaper and faster for him than building a new house. If I built on Nit's land, Mickie could take over my house in about 12-15 years. Mickie was now 11 years old, so it could all work out. But Nit wanted money for the land. So I spoke to Andrew about renting a house in the village where there was a tarmac road. There were several options, but I had not decided anything before I had to go home again. But before I left, Freja began to walk, I did record a piece of video where she is about to fall over my legs, but then was able to regain her balance.
In Denmark I pondered the possibilities in Thailand. I found out that if I rented or bought a house in Bangsan where my brother and his wife had a house, I might persuade Joh to stay there with Jessie and Freja. Both kids would benefit from the sea air, and it is only approx. 100 km south of Bangkok where Joh now lives. I got one of my Thai friends to write a letter to Joh, urging that we talk about it when I came next time.
I arrived back in Thailand on the 24th of September, but instead of flying to Udon, I met my brother, his wife Rhampoi and her daughter TukTic in Bangkok. If you have forgotten: TukTic was the daughter of Rhampoi, she went with me some years before, when I was supposed to marry a friend of her. Now we went to see Joh, after some difficulty, as I found all the streets were similar and addresses are not as specific as in Denmark. I had meanwhile got an email from Pom who told me that Freja had been hospitalized two times with cough, and asked for money for it. I sent money, but was now convinced that she needed to go away from the dusty gravel roads, and the cars and smoke in Bangkok would be a bad alternative.
Joh would not move, and Jessie with whom I had been such good friends the last time, was less accommodating than I expected. Joh said that Pom would only let Freja be cared for by family, so it was obvious there had been a family council, and Pom would not let the golden bird fly. For me it would be to do Freja a disservice to help her in Udon, so even though it hurt, I now realized that I would have no more to do in the family.
In Bangsan we talked about how I could find a house, where also TukTic could stay so we could take some orphans in (Rhampoi already had some under consideration), TukTic could get a little money to care for them when I was in Denmark and otherwise stay freely. I would pay for the food, and in that way although Freja would not benefit from my efforts, I could at least help some other kids who probably had a desperate need for a helping hand. We looked at some houses, including one that was being built, and I began to count the money. So I called Moon, who had the money left over from the winery about this money, but she suggested that I come to Chiang Mai and we could go to Ban Kao together where she would help me get my car, PC and other belongings, and then we could look at alternatives to Bangsan; she had several ideas.
So began a long odyssey, I went to Chiang Mai, and then flew Moon and myself to Udon via Bangkok, as there isn't a direct air route between the two towns. I had deliberately not told Pom and Laos that Moon was coming, so Pom and Laos were surprised when they saw us together in the airport. Pom wanted Moon to check into a hotel so they might better persuade me to do something, but she said that she could sleep on the floor, she was used to primitive conditions! So eventually they could not do otherwise than letting Moon stay. I was glad, as it became a difficult negotiation.
As Joh said, Pom and Laos would only let Freja stay with family. That I had to accept, even though the dusty road made her cough. Then we had to see how much of my stuff, I could bring with me in the car. Moon had made sure that we got some paperwork that Pom had to fill out, so the car was transferred to Moon, I had bought it in Pom's name to save some money. They were not happy, and if Moon hadn't been there, I would never have gotten the car. They said they would buy it for 180,000 THB. But I refused, since I had paid 270,000 THB just one year before. Then they went up to 190,000 THB if they could pay later, but I refused. They had told me that they had no money, and therefore could not pay the first installment on the loan, so I did not think they were going to deal fairly. I could not trust them, they had no money they said, OK but Pom had a new gas stove, but they had won money in the lottery! So she had both bangles, and several rings of gold, but I did not comment on that. Laos proudly showed some cows and some land to Moon, which he had bought with money for the rice. Apparently they thought that I wouldn't find out about that. The next morning we made an accounting, and I paid for a part Laos had bought for the car without receipt, and some subscriptions to telephone and Internet, though I thought it must have been stopped earlier. But I did not want them complain afterwards that I didn't pay what I owed. They tried again persuade me to let them have the car, but I refused, and so we packed what was possible to bring with us. They talked a lot with Moon in Thai, and afterwards I was told that Pom had complained about how stingy I had been all this time: Pom had been oh so good to me, and I had only paid for a little rice for Freja! Other family members who showed up told Moon the same story about me. As we drove, it turned out that they had almost gutted the car, maybe at night when we were sleeping. Liners were torn, the lock to a front door was destroyed, so you could only open it from the outside, and various other things that I can't remember. However I found it very paradoxical that the blessings a monk had drawn with chalk inside the car had been wiped out! If you believe in such things, it would surely be the one who removed the blessings who would be cursed! But worst of all, Moon told me that they had asked her how much she thought I would pay for Freja! Moon had said that they would have to talk to me about it, as she would not get mixed up in that. But they didn't -- they were probably afraid of my reactions!
Moon stopped a few times at some garages to hear what they would pay for the car, but it was so damaged that 180,000 THB was now the price. Back in Chiang Mai, we found out that they had written some incorrect data on the papers. But Moon had an appointment in Southern Thailand, where she suggested that I should buy property, and she had a construction project in progress. So we drove south for a day, along with a nephew of Moon, until we arrived. Here we looked at a large piece of land in a forest.
Moon's friend and partner named Jeam looked like a pirate from a pirate movie, long black hair gathered in a ponytail and beard like Captain Hook. When I later got to know him, he turned out to be appealing and charming. The land was close to the water (Gulf of Thailand) so I was interested, but would count my money and think about it back in Chiang Mai. We drove north again, and this time we stopped in a town on the road and took a sister (cousin?) with us in the car and then drove to Udon where we surprised Pom at work and got the right data on the papers. We spent the night at a hotel where Moon was called by a furious Laos who forbade her ever to come back to Udon!
The next day Moon registered the car in her name, and we went back to Chiang Mai. I wanted to stay south, it was tempting with the sea so close, and I sent for all the money I could gather together. However, it turned out that the land in the forest had dubious papers, one could get a lease, but not ownership of the land. But Moon immediately had another parcel ready to propose. It was much less land for the same price, but had both water and electricity ready for connection. Then it would be too much to write about in details, we drove several times between Chiang Mai, Bangsan, and Khanom in the south. For about 6-7 weeks I lived between these side trips in Chiang Mai. I talked about possibly repairing the car, and either keeping it or selling it, but Moon advised me that it would be too expensive. She gave me 190,000 THB for it, and then she got it fixed and sold it cheaply to one of her nephews. I told her that even though she was acting for me, and did it well, I was quite sure that she also profited, since she was / is a business person right into her soul, and I was sure that if she did a good deal on my behalf and just gave me all the profit, it would break her heart. How much she got out of it, I was only aware of later.
She showed me a Volvo which an acquaintance would sell, but that was not what I needed, and it was too expensive to run. I think that's when I first started to be a bit apprehensive about Moon. We had talked about buying a van of some sort, so there was room for both a woman and some children. It was only later I had to abandon the plan when I ran out of money.
We reached a price where I bought the property for 400,000 THB (66,666 DKK or $12,350) and made a draft for a house that Moon would bring the company down south to build for me. I set a limit of max. 500,000 THB and she came several times with suggestions ranging from 550,000 to "slightly more expensive" but I held on to 500,000 THB as the maximum limit, so she "persuaded" the company to build the house for this price.
While I was still in Chiang Mai, I bought some small Buddha statues that looked to be very old. they may be forgeries, but as they were cheap, I think they were probably pieces from excavations, as it would have been more expensive to make them look antique. I bought 4, one of which of course was Pah Bang Nak Plok. To clean them from worldliness, I paid a nearby temple for letting them spend the night there with the temple's own tall Buddha statues, so all agreed that they were holy again.
Then came an unpleasant episode. When we started talking about our winery, Moon said that we were like brother and sister, and she would not charge money for family to stay in her guest house. But when Moon at one point was not present, a young Spanish woman who was a bosom friend of Moon began blaming me about the fact that I had lived there for over 6 weeks without paying, saying Moon had complained about it to her. I was very angry, and we were arguing loudly, and I called Moon to find out if she complained about me to other guests about things that she had not mentioned to me. But she said she would talk about it the next day, when she got home. The next day, when Moon came, she pulled me into the office and told me that it was a mistake, That the girl was just concerned on Moon's behalf, and had misunderstood her. When the conversation took place in the office, and the Spanish girl was outside, I was not convinced, but I said nothing because I did not want to risk losing my land in Khanom.
A total of 900,000 THB was a little more than I could get immediately, so I borrowed 400,000 THB from Moon at what she called 7% interest rate, but at a cost that she claimed the bank took it was about 8%. When everything was ready, I took a plane down south and stayed with Jeam while I supposed he was building my house. Moon made sure that a ticket was purchased for me, but that morning when I had to leave, Moon was not present. So the day after in Khanom I was called by Moon, where she demanded 10,500 THB for my stay in Chiang Mai. As was the case in Udon I would not hear reproaches that I did not pay what I owed, so even though I thought it was unfair, I paid the money. Jeam was laughing loudly about it, and said with a broad smile that this was Moon, and several times we made fun of it. Later, he asked what I had paid for the land, and when he heard it was 400,000, he and his wife laughed loudly. Moon had bought the land from him, for my money, and she had given 190.000THB for it!
So I finally understood the prediction from the temple, the people I had to be careful about was not either Pom and Laos or Moon, but both parties!
PART 7: HOUSEOWNER IN KHANOM 2006
Unfortunately it was still raining heavily, although the rainy season should have ended, so Jeam didn't get started on building my house, but promised that everything would be finished in March when I came back. The waiting time went well, Jeam lived in a large house with a gasoline station approx. 3 km from Ban Nai Plao with his first wife Sau and a daughter aged 9 named Daow (meaning star), except almost every night he spent the night at his second wife Yar, who lived at another gas station in Khanom, along with their 3 years old son August about 10 km away. Khanom is a town you can find on a map, Ban Nai Plao is just a village. Two of Sau's brothers lived in the house where I was installed, her parents lived in a hut on the property, and in some barracks lived workers who were building the 90 millionaire villas at the beach. I got on well with all of them in the 3-4 weeks I was there, and the day before I went home to Denmark, we had a party where for the first time I tasted ray grilled over charcoal. They look like plaice and tasted similar, but it was fun to try something new. In Thailand you eat a lot of fish and "seafood" especially squid and prawns, but I also tasted oysters. They tasted OK, but I do not understand why they are so expensive -- they did not taste that good!
Back in Denmark I refinanced a mortgage on my house, and sent money to a bank account I had created in Khanom, in order to pay out Moon, and hopefully buy both car and furniture when I came back.
Then it was finally time for the next trip to Thailand, from March to May 2006. I started to call and arrange to be picked up in Surat Thani airport, about 80 km from Khanom. At the same time I asked Jeam if the money I had sent had come into my account. I had not managed to get my credit card issued before I left, Jeam would do it and check whether the money was transferred. The funds were there, he said, but he had borrowed money. I took it as a joke because he is a millionaire in some degree, but when I called Moon to say I now would pay the loan back she warned me that Jeam lacked cash, so I was still a little apprehensive.
I came to Bangkok early Saturday, but the airport was being remodeled, and it was all a little incomprehensible, and the usual way to the domestic flights was blocked off, so you were supposed to take a bus to get there. It was a bit difficult with a shoulder bag with medication and 2 suitcases on wheels though, and a walking stick, and in the crowd entering the bus a young man passed out in front of me. However I got my paraphernalia and myself up the steps, and got to domestic flights. I got a little help -- it is my experience that both Thais and tourists are helpful when they can see you need help.
I was picked up by Sau, Jeam's first wife and some family, and arrived safely at Khanom, where Jeam told me he had needed some cash because it had rained a lot for a long time so that the construction of the millionaire villas had been delayed and Moon would not give him money before the next phase of construction was completed. For the same reason, my house was not finished, though they were almost finished, and it would be ready for occupancy in 3 weeks. But Jeam recommended that I wait until the first Saturday in May, as it was the first lucky day for it, the monks in the temple had told Sau's father. However, I could just move into his house again, and he would also provide food for me. I told him that I had agreed with Moon that she would come on Monday to get money, but it was all right because he had not taken it all! But I could just tell him if I needed money then I would get what it. I got money to pay Moon, she did not collect interest, but I had to pay 70.000THB of duty to the country office for 2 trades. I did not understand, but that's how it was, and when she got the money, I got the paper.
Then I bought a car, a small Suzuki jeep which Jeam had sourced, 2 years old and in good condition. I paid 225.000THB (37.500DKK), (new cost of 413,000). I paid something from my bank account but Jeam paid most of the money he had borrowed.
In Denmark, I have the automatic transmission in my handicap vehicle, not so much because of my stiff ankle (I can operate the pedals), but my right elbow has problems. But with left-hand traffic in Thailand, you switch gears with your left hand, so it was no problem here, even though four-wheel drive vehicle has two gear levers.
In Udon Laos was mostly driving, and in Chiang Mai Moon and her nephews, but I was soon able to drive by myself. I had the most difficulty remembering which was the turn signal and which was the switch for the wipers, as this was reversed, but I avoided accidents, OK and when entering the car I often forgot the steering wheel is on the right side.
I then drove every day the 4 km down to my house, which was still under construction. There were some things I had to straighten out, and some misconceptions I also got fixed, so in a way it was fortunate that it was not finished so these things could be corrected before it was too late. Jeam was in charge of it, but practically the work was led by his brother Sunti, though they are very unlike each other. But in Thailand "brother" can be brother, half-brother, cousin or other relative. Sunti was an electrician and we became very good friends, he lived in the barracks at Jeams house that had been built for the workers, and he had a house in Krabi where his wife and children were still working and going to school while he earned money in Khanom. My house was built in Ban Nai Plao, and colloqually it's just called Nai Plao. The nearest city was Khanom, and the whole area also was named Khanom. Krabi is located a few hundred kilometers from there, on the west coast south of Phuket. Sunti was born with a cleft palate, but even if he had been operated on, it could sometimes be a little hard to understand him. In the beginning I was called Mr. Bent but I did not like that, but in Thailand you can't just say Bent. Then Jeam called me lung (uncle) Bent, which was quickly taken over by others. But for some reason, it came always sounded like Sunti said "woman" instead of Lung, but I got used to it.
March and April are the school summer holidays, and Sunti's children came and stayed with him. He had a son of 6 called Meter, quite burly like the father, and a daughter of 8 named Fang, who was so thin that I could close my fingers on her upper arm. We became of course good friends and Meter followed me closely for days and asked what the one and the other was called in English, and wanted it written down.
I also went with them to Krabi where Sun's wife, called Aom, worked for the district at some hot springs. She was very sweet, and practicing all the time in English. She was perhaps a little bit officious, and wanted to have me married to a young girl in the family. I said that I have had enough of young girls, but she was very persistent so I promised to write a letter when I came back to Denmark, where I would write my budget down in English and then I would get a friend to write a letter to the girl in Thai, explaining that I am not rich, and because of illness and old age I will have to share my time between Thailand and Denmark, and that she did not have a prayer in hell to come to Denmark. If that didn't discourage her, I don't know what would happen.
After I got the car, I also drove to the beach every morning and swam between a half and one hour. It was not Olympic swimming, because with the rather salty water you can take it easy without drowning. But I enjoy this swim. The water is warm, but I swim about 7-8 o'clock when the sun does not bake, and it's good for both body and soul. I make plans, thinking of the next section of this series, watching the fishing boats and fishermen throwing nets in the water from the beach, watching how differently water and beach looks depending on time, weather and current, and sometimes fantasize that captain Nemo of the Nautilus suddenly appears out of the sea (which is probably about 2-3 meters deep where I swim). Or maybe a mermaid, not Walt Disney's teen with seashells covering the tits still not developed, and with the lack of anatomy that characterizes all the Disney characters. No, a real mermaid like those sailors on the great sailing ships have been observed for centuries, but why should such a creature not just miss an old disabled pensioner like me?
But one of the first times I swam it became really exiting: While I was "lazy-swimming", I suddenly saw a large black fin not more than three meters from me, it was not towards me, but swam parallel!
Just before I left Denmark, I saw an American movie on TV that was filmed exactly where I was, I recognized Koh Samui (an island in the horizon), where many people in the movie were attacked by sharks. So as quickly I could, I swam toward the beach, a shark would be able to reach me in seconds, but there was a sandbar 5-6 meter towards land that might confuse it, quite apart from the fact that I was hoping it was a dolphin, but I did not want to investigate further. I came ashore unscathed, except I was everybody's fool when I told about the incident. The Thais claimed that there were no sharks in the waters around Thailand and I would later hear of this mistake countless times. So much for the credibility of American movies! It was a dolphin, this one was black, but there are many pink dolphins here. They usually travel in groups but it was probably a bachelor out lady hunting! When I was sure it was a dolphin I repeatedly looked for dolphins, but I met no more.
Then came the windows and lock on the doors, and I bought furniture that Jeam paid for with the last money he had borrowed. Then it was my turn to borrow from him, and this time he had to build a garden wall, as the place is quite deserted, and everyone was afraid of thieves and robbers. However, I have not met anyone except those I come along with.
As the school holidays were over, a school teacher named Preechar, who is an old friend of Jeam's family, called me to help with English at the local school. He came every night on his moped and drank 5-6 beers, after which he took Daow and possibly other children who were there for a ride. I gradually found out that he drove to a beach shop, where he drank several more beers and bought cigarettes of a brand which Sau didn't sell at the gas station. I blamed him for taking the children on the moped when he drank, but he could not see it was a problem. I said the same to Sau, but she could not see it was a problem either: "The kids wanted it so badly, and he loved the kids"!
The school was a small village school with approx. 100 children. I have previously seen schools with more than 40 pupils in each class, and because of that a strict discipline was enforced, but not here. First grade had 4 kids, and I think the highest number in any class was between 15 and 20. I found there was a good relationship between teachers and the children. The English teacher was a Muslim and her scarf bothered me, even though I basically believe that everyone must have the right to choose their own religion, and also dress, and I will always defend her right to the scarf, but I can't help it, it bothers me!
In Khanom I think 20-25% were Muslims, and in the southern provinces, which Thailand once took over from Malaysia, there are about 90%. Here there is a lot of tension, which many blame the religion for, but I would argue that the Thai administration and government for many years has neglected this part of the country and that is the main cause of tension.
When I was in Denmark I had seen on TV that there were demonstrations in Bangkok because of the Muhammad cartoons in a Danish newspaper, where the protesters burned the Danish flag. I purchased a DK sticker with a little flag on it, and put it on my car in Thailand. Despite the right wing government and the Danish People's Party, I am still proud to be a Dane, and I kept the flag flying! Despite this I found no hostility against me or my country, not even in "Muslim country" in the south.
Like the Muslims I've known in Denmark, the English teacher was a sweet and nice person, and I could even tell her about my aversion to her scarf without her misunderstanding me. The Whole school was very kind to me, and the kids were also happy I was there. I retold and "played" Snow White in a class, with the result that the other classes also wanted me to, and although my main purpose was to teach them English, I also brought some of my knowledge and attitudes into the classroom. But how could I teach English, when my only English education was a few hours every week 50 years ago? It's not because I'm good at it (this text has made a trip over the Atlantic to be corrected by my rediscovered friend Janet before you read it), the answer is that Thailand and especially the provinces, need English teachers so bad, that even I am able to help!
As a rule, Sunti provided food for me, or sometimes I bought food at the market, but once he was in Krabi for a week, I went out to have lunch at a cheap diner in Nai Plao. It usually costs 20 THB but I had to pay 30. But the next day I told them that I was the farang who helped the children with English in school. Then there were smiles on all faces, and I only had to pay the price of the 20 THB like the Thais themselves, and I became known throughout the area as Lung Bent.
However, I had a frightening episode. Sunti lived for free in my house in exchange for looking after it when I was in Denmark. But that week he was in Krabi, the bathroom I usually used, had problems with the drain. I tried the other one, but there were problems with the door that I had not taken very seriously. But when I tried to leave the bathroom, I could not get the door open, it was totally jammed! There was no one around and I did not have my mobile with me, all I had on me was my trunks. I cried out several times for help, but no one heard it. So I tried to smash a window sitting rather high on the wall, trying to get out that way. But the only result was that I cut myself even though I was careful. A finger was bleeding, I had nothing to stop it, but just had to keep it up and hope it stopped. It did so after some time but the bathroom looked like Stockholm after the bloodbath (in 1520 the Danish King Christian II executed 82 Swedish nobles in Stockholm, called "the carnage in Stockholm"). Then I tried to climb on the toilet, and lifting one leg out of the window, but it was too high and the effort got the blood to flow again. I then sat down on the floor, not to fall further if I fainted from loss of blood, and wondered if I really was going to end my days in a bathroom in Thailand.
I sat there for 4 hours, and then one of the workers came whom Sunti had called when he could not get through to my mobile. He summoned help, got the door open, but they were very frightened by all the blood, and wanted me to go to the hospital. I explained to them however, that I could handle it, only they had to fix the door! So it went well, but it was a very uncomfortable situation as long as it lasted!
I wrote this report as a contribution to The Hemophilia Association's magazine, and I found it was a suitably dramatic conclusion that I nearly was bleeding to death in a bathroom with a door I could not open! However, the editor rejected it, because she found it too long (which I could understand), but also because there were too many controversial considerations. The other objections made me stubborn, and I decided instead to extend the first part about growing up with hemophilia so outsiders could understand my assumptions, then continue to describe the trips here to Khanom.
Overall, I am repeatedly misunderstood when I have dealt with controversial issues without first coming up with a long range of incantations about how unfortunate, dangerous and otherwise adverse the topic in question is. I always try first to describe the topic in a realistic/objective way, then come up with a reasoned opinion about it. I'm always careful with the concept of morality, It makes me think of Queen Victoria, and the double standards that characterized that era of an official high morals, and an unofficial behavior in secret that was correspondingly low -- what we today call Victorian!
I have smoked marijuana for over 30 years and in some years even grown it. But as I wrote before I have never smoked in Thailand except on the first trip in 1989 when I did not know how strictly it was condemned there. At home I smoked it daily until September 2005, when I stopped smoking completely.I also mentioned that in 1989 I once smoked opium in Thailand. I liked it, but did never do it again, and came with a justified warning against it. So I can't see what is controversial
I went to Pattaya in the mid-90s to watch sex shows. At that time you could see almost everything on the stage, the young ladies gave performances of all kinds of nude acrobatics, and used their genitals very inventive, they put up a pen and wrote signatures on paper without using their hands, they smoked cigarettes without using their mouth, shooting down balloons and even inserted razorblades without being cut.I saw it on TV in Denmark at the time, but missed it in Thailand which I wrote, and also mentioned that these times are gone many years ago, so if that is controversial, it must be the Danish TV you must blame.
As for my lady hunting, I have pointed out that it was not about sex, and it wasn't young innocent maidens it concerned. I tried to find a nice girl to be my wife, and had close contact with 3 or 4 over the first 12-15 years I went to Thailand. There was only one that came with me to Denmark, and it was a slip. The others I found for various reasons untrustworthy, before we could be intimate, and I gave no promises.
About describing Steen in Udon not even dared to say that Jessie was a beautiful girl, I think that I expressed myself very clearly: If you see abuse against children it is your duty to take action regardless of who, where and when. But as long as there is no assault it is legitimate to say a child is pretty, lovely, sweet or what superlatives you want to use. It is also perfectly legal to touch children near to you appropriately or take them on your lap, give them a hug, and reciprocate any caress the kid gives you. You should also show interest in what the children around you are involved with, and if you can teach them something, so much the better. But have your antennae up, none of this is in order if the kid does not likes it; who does not remember kisses and caresses from well-meaning old aunts, which you as a child did not like!
For reasons of space I abridged the first episode from Ban Kao. I described that a sister to Nit lived in a traditional house of teak on posts. This sister was married to a man who was working in Dubai and only came home one month each year when he was virtually drunk all the time and acted like drunk people do. However, he was allowed to do as he pleased, because when you live 11 months of the year in a Muslim country, with restrictions that are strange for a Thai Buddhist, it is understandable to let off steam.
One night, Jessie and Mickie were playing a game of pennies that are allowed in a week's time around Sonkran where there is a tradition for it, in front Nits house while Jessie, Joh, Nit and I sat around. Here I witnessed that this man came and loudly caressed Mickie, and among others names called him farang, and told how much he loved farangs. It became more and more violent, Mickie resisted, and was visibly angry with both being touched and being called farang. Despite the fact that he had a Dutch father, he felt like a Thai, and didn't like farangs, and it was only slowly that he finally accepted me. After a while, it ended up that his uncle pulled his private parts out of his pants and pawed him in front of the rest of us, while Mickie became more and more furious. I could not understand that Nit did not interven, and wondered what I could do. But it had to be someone from the family who stopped it, because if I intervened, the whole family would see me as an enemy who attacked them from the outside. In addition to that I would probably be punched out, which I, with my bleeding disorder, couldn't tolerate.
But Mickie got away from the uncle, shut his pants, and then Jessie, Mickie and the uncle all played the money game behaving as if nothing had happened. Afterwards I blamed Nit for not doing anything, but she did not know what she should have done, and there was of course no harm done! The next morning I told Pom about the incident, she dismissed it at first, I described then clearly that he had not only said something, but also physically had sexually abused Mickie. That upset her and finally she found it just as serious as I did. So Pom said that she would talk to grandma (Nit's mother) an old worn peasant woman. In addition to having given birth to 11 children, and worked hard all her life, she was the only one that the uncle did respect. If Pom did it, I do not know, the incident did not occur again, and about a week later the uncle went back to Dubai.
There was no physical harm done to Mickie, and maybe he was more upset about being called farang than the sexual abuse, and I was in a foreign country, where it was restricted what I could do. But I saw it as an assault on a child and could not in good conscience just pretend nothing was wrong and therefore did what was possible for me, at least to prevent it from recurring.
After these clarifications, I will continue to describe the trips here to Nai Plao.
PART 8: 3 TIMES NAI PLAO 2006-2007
My house was cared for by Sunti and sometimes we drove to Krabi and visited his family. It was almost a fixed ritual that his wife Aom asked me whether Sunti had other ladies. I reassured her that I had not seen any, and he spent all his spare time and all his money drinking beer with mates. He was always short of money, though from what I could find out he earned reasonable money for Thai conditions, but he drank beer daily, and borrowed money all the time from everybody he was around. I also lent him a little sometimes.
Aom also came a few times with the children and her mother, and one time also with Nung Mai, the young girl she wanted me to marry. On that occasion, Nung Mai opened up a bit, and I got a positive impression of her. Aom's mother, on the other hand, I was not thrilled by, and eventually I got the impression that it was she who decided everything in the family. It might seem as if it was Aom, but now I think she just followed orders from her mother. That she was very kind to me did not change anything. I saw her as a fake. Now they could come to visit in my house they did, but it was only Sunti and the children who went to visit Jeam 3 kilometers away, a very strange behavior in Thailand. Family is more important than everything else, and if you come to visit near any members of your family, you will always seek them out. Jeam complained about it to me several times, saying that he had helped Sunti, and given him work, and yet his wife would not talk to him. I think that according to Thai customs, it was a direct insult to Jeam.
Nung Mai had got my "avert letter" but I had not gotten any response to it. John, who had helped me with the letter in Denmark, came to visit Khanom with the family he lived with when he was in Northern Thailand, who also had some relatives in Surat Thani. We talked about Thai language, and a 12-13 year-old girl from the family who came with him to Khanom spoke the dialect of northern Thailand, and she was immediately charmed by Jeam's little 4-year old son August who daily spoke southern Thai, but John said that in honor of the occasion August spoke "national Thai" to the girl. But I've also always had the feeling that he was a quick learner. The girl was amused about the fact that our city is called Khanom, because it's a name of a Thai biscuit too
But John and I went with Sunti to Krabi, to get some clarification on what Nung Mai wanted. There was as usual misunderstandings in it, she was not at home at Sunti's house as agreed, so he went out and picked her up. Then she sat just silently and responded very little, while John and especially Aom's mother discussed. The result was that she probably wanted to marry me, but she had to learn more English first, and was a little concerned about moving to Khanom, a few hundred kilometers away from the family. She was in training to be a hairdresser and worked as such, but I told her that we could establish a salon in my house if she came and Sunti also lived there.
There were more complications later when Sunti and I again went to Krabi and gave her a "walkman" with an English course, and a little money for a bus to Khanom, so she could visit us before I left. She did not however. First Sunti said that she had been sick, then it was her father who had been sick, and when I called and talked with Aom, she did not know anything about someone being sick. I then wrote off Nung Mai. I was a little disappointed, but mostly relieved when it became increasingly clear that it was really Aom's mother who wanted this marriage arranged, and Nung Mai would rather be with her friends than to get married and move away with an old farang who evidently did not have as much money as they had believed.
I have before told about the winery plans with Moon in Chiang Mai, and although it did not come off, I always had the potential to do some winemaking in mind. You can buy some Thai wine, maybe not exactly bad, but at least near the bottom, for 200-300 THB(6-8US$) the bottle and compared with prices on beer and Thai whisky is expensive. So I wanted to experiment with different fruits, and if something was good, maybe start a real commercial wine production. I experimented with pineapples and found that it could be done, though the treatment of the fruit was a little cumbersome and time consuming. The warm climate makes the wine's fermentation finished in a few weeks, but without the addition of enzymes it clears slowly; the top half can be drunk after approximately 5 months.
Jeam persuaded me to put my savings in the purchase of the land that he said we could sell after a year with great profit. I invested 555,000 THB, approx. 90,000 US$, which was 5% of the total. It was the savings I was going to live on when my disability pension became the smaller old age pension, but I did it, despite warnings from everybody. However, he found out that we could earn more in the long term by building resort cottages instead. I was a little unsure, but went in with the idea and began preparing various proposals for a website for it. We called it Sunrise Beach Resort, as the sun rises over the sea, later changed to Khanom Sunrise Beach Resort.
Then it was November and I had to go home for the winter cold for three months and the commercial Christmas offers. But I prefer this instead of 3 months in autumn or spring where it isn't real winter or summer.
20 February to 18 May 2007
In 2007 I didn't do a lot of writing about my Thai experiences, but I did note down a few keywords so that I (despite my very bumpy memory) could reconstruct the more important events.
Jeam had promised me a garden wall, but it was continually delayed, as the rainy season did not stop, and so he had to spend money and workers in the great project of constructing wealthy villas, which Moon also was involved in. But during this period, he made it clear to the Dutch company that funded it, that having another construction company in between caused problems. This intermediate was removed and now all looked forward to finishing the big building activities that had been quite delayed.
When I was finally having my garden wall built, it was not as agreed. It was lower, which I complained about, but Jeam said otherwise I could not see from the house out over the wall. It was reasonable enough, but I also saw that the pattern of pierced stone that was shown in the drawing did not cover the entire wall, but only the side next to the road. I could not get him to change, so that was the way it was going to be! During the construction, I experienced again the lack of planning of details that seemed general here in Thailand, since the wall came up to my 2 large water tanks, which had a connecting pipe in the way of the wall. They pulled the pipe out, put plugs in the holes and put the pump in place on top of the tanks, with the result that there was air in the system so that the pump had to be primed regularly, and it had great difficulty changing between the tanks. So, several times I had to order water, though only one tank was empty. It annoyed me, as I had to pay the same price for the tank wagon whether it delivered 1 or 2 tons of water. It wasn't so much money involved, but I hated spending money unnecessarily.
|A gardenwall might also be a playground|
Another negative experience was that Sunti had lived in the house and looked after it, but he was now self building a new house in Krabi, and had not been in my house for a month, though Jeam had cleaned and inspected it just before I came. Sunti had just come back to his chums who lived in Jeam's backyard when I was there. I told him that since he didn't look after my house as agreed, he should get his paraphernalia, and give me the key, as I didn't want him there anymore. He did as I asked, but he was only in Khanom for a few days. He went back to Krabi and we have not seen him since.
Then I started making a wine with 10 kg of oranges and 1 kg of lemons. I would have liked a little more lemons, but they cost more than double the price of oranges, and were also slightly more difficult to press. The Pineapple wine I had made before was fair, but not quite ready yet. I eventually started drinking wine instead of beer, so I drank most of it. About 30 liters is not quite enough for 90 days. Maybe I consume almost half a liter every night, but since it's the only vice I have, I think not even that is so bad.
At one point, the papers in our company were considered finished by the authorities, so I went with Jeam, his wife, and the local chief of police (who also contributed a sum) to Nakon Si Tammerat and signed the papers with the authority of the local district office and I could personally see how much we each interjected, and my part of 550,000 THB was 5% as Jeam had said. It's quite different from a Danish city office -- the staff were wearing uniforms, and the separate offices of the higher officials are empty most of the time during the day, but towards evening they come sweeping in royally and with a superior attitude look through the papers that the office slaves prepared and then stamp and signed them. In our case we came into the office, my companions a little nervously polite and of course smiling, willingly answered all doubts and the boss let his subordinates pick up papers and explain the context. After which, first the boss and then a deputy, stamped and signed several copies, we got our copies and a clerk was called in to archive the folder properly.
It is also common that you leave a gratuity, first for the staff, for the proceedings to be processed further, and finally to the boss to make sure that all things are in order. This clear hierarchy with reverence for the higher-ups and more or less complete corruption is one of the few things in Thailand I do not like.
I had of course my PC from Udon, and Jeam promised all the time to create an internet connection, but there were several different options for service, each with its own disadvantages. A wired connection would be the most effective, but too expensive, so Jeam created a wireless connection via a modem using USB. First there was great difficulty in getting it to work, and when it finally was working, it was just as slow as an old dialup connection. I finally got connected via a satellite antenna. It was more costly, but worked almost as well as my connection in Denmark. However there are often outages, partly because of atmospheric disturbances, partly due to power failures, especially with heavy rain and storm, but mostly usable.
I have always had a video camera, but I haven't used it much since I filmed the first years of my tourism experiences. I filmed a little of the times when I was with a lady, but when acquaintance failed, I just put aside the footage and it no longer exists. In Udon I had a camera with a small re-writable CD disk and in addition to the things around me and tourist attractions, I took movies of Freja, and figured to follow her in the years to come. But when that failed, I over-wrote them. I do not keep bad memories.
Here in Khanom it was Sunti's wife and children who first used it, then gradually it was the children from Jeam's house that filmed freely when they visited me, and I also filmed some of the activities they were doing here. A friend back home in Denmark had given me a digital camera for pictures, so I got tons of videos and pictures on my PC, though, it repeatedly crashed, so much of it has been lost.
Just by chance I discovered a German living in Khanom who repairs computers. he is expensive by Thai standards, but he was talented and I was happy to provide the same amount of THB for his service that I had to pay in DKK at home. He was a bit special, and felt like an unrecognized genius, but if people are good at what I want from them, I have nothing against possibly slightly odd characters, and then it may well give some color to everyday life.
Children visited me week-ends and during school holidays with the idea that they need to learn English. I printed out papers, with pictures from my house, animals and fish, etc., and then wrote the words in English. I put a tick next to the correct answer, and so everyone was happy. This recognition is important for them, and I will be corrected if I'm sloppy performance. I also tried to practice oral English, partly because the pronunciation of the local teachers is far worse than my English and to direct their pidgin English into a little more correct language. However, they were not very interested in it, they'd rather have something tangible to show for it.
Maybe it's because they were mostly girls (with one exception), but they were very interested in my kitchen. I bought a stove with an oven (very unusual in Thailand), and I found both wheat flour and yeast in the mall in Surat, so we baked bread and pastries, and once made ice cream of whipped cream, eggs, etc. using my freezer. However, it was not very good. Some components in the recipe we had to settle for surrogates, as not all ingredients were available. So it went a little better with pancakes. Dao was especially good at it, helped by a flat coated pan that didn't need oil. After she showed them how to do it, she allowed both Paeng and Pui to whip the dough with the electric beater.
When they shoot images of each other with my digital camera, I copy the pictures into my PC, where I delete half when they're gone. It's the act itself that is exciting, so they have not yet asked for any of the pictures I've deleted. There are a few pictures I think are very good, but it would probably also be strange if they weren't, since they're snapping away all the time. The best images, including some I took, I printed out for them. Unfortunately, the images fade pretty quickly. I don't know if it's the strong sun here in Thailand, poorer quality ink here, poorer quality photo paper or a combination. I don't know, but it annoys me. During this time I took one of the last videos I've made so far, partly of their kitchen activities and also some examples where they joke and play together, but not least where they are running around on my garden wall.
I had to work a lot with myself for not banning running on the wall. But healthy children who do not suffer from a bleeding disorder must, like Astrid Lindgren's Ronia, from time to time be allowed to jump over the devils gap and as the wall is between 1.20 and 2 meters high, a fall would not be fatal. But especially to begin with, I sat with life in my hands, It terrified me to watch them.
Before I left for Denmark, I had made an hour-long video of the children's activities that was one of the last recordings with the camcorder. During this period, they came to my house so much that I now have an idea of their nature, and each of them as individuals. I have not been around children for many years, so I think it's funny when, while I'm watching some activities or interactions, my impression of them is confirmed.
Daow is the queen she is number one, whom all the others follow. If I have found a game for someone else, and Daow wants to play it, it does not take many minutes before she is sitting in front of the computer. I have sometimes tried to interfere, but the victim just disappears; she will not lose Dao's favor. Dao is there all the time, but I am only a guest appearance!
However, she exercises her power with moderation, as long as the hierarchy is in place, the others will be allowed to try things and like her father, she is "a working leader". She decides, but also lets the others join the activities. After she had tried the electric mixer first, and any of the other new things in the kitchen, the court were allowed to test afterwards.
She is very much her father's girl, and it's almost the same reactions I see from her and Jeam. They will both be in charge, they both have a hard time taking criticism, but are they stroking with the hairs, they purrs like a cat, and display many qualities. The clearest example I have seen of the similarity between them was a time when Dao suggested cleaning my house for 20 THB. It turned out that all three girls should have 20 THB each, but the point was that Daow made a drawing of the house, and wrote their names in the space each had to clean. Perhaps she arranged to have the least or best work, but it certainly was not so obvious that I could put a finger on it. But drawing plans is an uncommon strategy even for an adult Thai. She has seen her father sit with the plans of the houses he was building, and used them as the basis for working with them, and she was able to transfer it to housework. Remarkable for a Thai child, in a country where most adults can't even understand a plain card. I have in Ban Kao and other places seen people start working with outbuildings, sheds and garden walls, without having a plan for it, and just buy materials in an amount they thinks will fit, no counting, no measuring.
So Jeam approached his work in European fashion, and Daow has been able to transfer - not only copied, but transferred - the method to a different kind of work. In my opinion, quite remarkable.
Next in line is Paeng, a cousin on her mother's side, at this point probably 7 years old. She always reminds me of the Danish children's song "I'm the sweet and well-behaved girl." She's really sweet and good, also helpful, not only to the adults, she also helps other children if she can help in any way. I remember once, when August came to visit me one of the first times, 3 or 4 years old, and went at the toilet, but was not accustomed to a high toilet that I have in my house, he sat down with feet up on board and flushed again and again, not understanding how it all worked. When we heard all that flushing the girls rushed into the bathroom, and laughed at him. But Paeng chased the others out, shut the door, and helped August to cope.
|Paeng in the mood of killing cows!|
As they began to walk around on my garden wall, it was hard for Dao to keep up, as she was not used to the balancing act. But when Paeng saw that, she went back to her 2-years-older cousin, took her by the hand and led her on. So there is no "pretended pleasure" in Paeng, she is really helpful by nature.
However, there is a fun twist on the story. Once when the German had repaired my PC, he put in a game called "Monster Truck". It's big pickups with huge wheels that the player drives in races. But Paeng found a farm with some cows on grass and with a devilish smile that does not look like cute little neat Paeng, she raced out on the farm and ran into both cows, fence and barn, and the cows lay dead on the field afterwards!
|Pang playing in my bathroom|
Next is Pui, maybe a year younger than Paeng. She is a cute little working class girl, and this is not meant negatively, she is the daughter of Jeam's foreman, and has dragged beer, spirits and buckets of ice cubes home from the shop for Dad. I saw her, when she was probably about 5 years old. She had black bits for front teeth, which I thought then was because of the sugar milk for too long. However, her new teeth have been completely flawless, so perhaps I was wrong. I thought she seemed neglected, but the distance from the shop to the hut is maybe 20 meters, so physically it was not too much. She's got a cheeky glint in her eye like a nature child or proletarian, who has had to cope in the pack, but even though she said that her mother gives her spankings sometimes, I have never seen the marks of abuse ever.
The first time the kids came here after my wall was built, Pui jumped like a cat, or rather like a monkey, up on it and without being the least bit unsure about her body and its center of gravity, she jumped, ran and climbed, as if she was born on a hillside, and for once left Dao in the dust.
I remember that while I was living in Jeam's house and waiting for my house to be finished, I saw her one morning with a towel around her, as Thais do when they have been in the shower. She had her clothes in a bundle, and then without dropping the towel she climbed a wheel that was almost the size of her own height, got up on the back of a pickup, and changed her clothes there. She was at most 5 years old at the time, but already had such highly developed motor skills that she could handle the climb without losing the towel.
The image I had formed of her changed, however, when we started teaching English. I took her for, if not under stimulated intellectually, at least not too far ahead, but I was wrong. Although she is approximately one year younger than Paeng, it was Pui sitting and writing English words into a booklet while Paeng spent time on ornamenting the questions with delicate flowers. As Dao is about 3 years older, it can be difficult to compare them directly, but I think that Pui is extremely intelligent, and if the parents can cope financially, she should have a college degree. Now a year later when I have taught her in school, I have been confirmed in the opinion and the teacher also told me that Pui was one of the smartest in her class. I have also seen how she twists and turns and can't sit still on her chair, because the education she gets in the local school does not give her enough challenges.
I am sorry that she can never admit when she has smashed something, thrown something away, tossed plastic in my garden or done something else wrong, even when I can see or the other girls tell me Pui did it. But I think it's because she's used to being punished for it at home.
|This is in my opion the best picture from Thailand, but it is Daow who took it|
These 3 girls, are the ones who have visited me most, and I could not care more for them if they were my own grandchildren. Maybe because I don't have any grandchildren at home in Denmark, but also because they accept me in spite of language difficulties, my outlandish appearance with excessive stomach, thin legs, and some beard on my face. When Dao makes an effort to ask me something in English, when Paeng comes and holds my hand to support me on uneven ground or when Pui with big eyes and an ironic smile claims that it's really not her who has thrown it there, then I'm completely lost.
August is the last one. He is Dao's little half-brother. He lives in Khanom with his mother Yar, Jeam's second wife, so he's the the one I see the least. I usually eat breakfast at Jeam's office in Khanom where I see him, but everyday he goes to school and most weekends he's in Khanom. It happens however, that Jeam takes him to Nai Plao where he plays with the girls, and he is accepted on an equal footing with Dao. Sau and her family accept him without prejudice. However, I've never seen Sau and Yar together, but otherwise it looks like the arrangement with Jeam's 2 wives is working.
August is the last one. He is Dao's little half-brother. He lives in Khanom with his mother Yar, Jeam's second wife, so he's the the one I see the least. I usually eat breakfast at Jeam's office in Khanom where I see him, but everyday he goes to school and most weekends he's in Khanom. It happens however, that Jeam takes him to Nai Plao where he plays with the girls, and he is accepted on an equal footing with Dao. Sau and her family accept him without prejudice. However, I've never seen Sau and Yar together, but otherwise it looks like the arrangement with Jeam's 2 wives is working.
August is a little naughty charming rogue. He is undoubtedly smart and like Jeam and Dao, he does not doubt his own worth. I told Jeam that if they can find a good school for him without too much discipline, he could go far, but if he has to fight against excessive bans and regulations, he will use all his "gunpowder" for it, but in a supportive environment, I think he could go far.
He plays very well with the girls, but is somewhat limited by being the youngest, but when he and Pui are together, they are both looking for challenges and together they are quite a handful!
Although you are watching TV, there's no reason to just sit still, so August plays with the loose cushions also.
August with a slightly tipsy dad in the background at a beach party in 2006
When I finally managed to get internet via satellite in August-November 2007, I installed Skype, and then I talked daily with a friend in Denmark. It is much more direct than when you just email. Unfortunately, it had the side effect that I don't have my long mails to support me when I need to remember what happened. I now also have TV and can watch American movies via satellite. Most are unfortunately censored in Thailand as I have mentioned, and it can seem a little disturbing.
Jeam wanted me to brew a red wine and told me that some relatives in Nakhon were brewing red wine using mangosteen fruit. I got a few boxes of them, but was very unsure about how I would use them. It's sweet fresh white fruit with a hard red shell and stains from the red shells look like stains from elderberries. Normally, one does not use the shell from the fruit to make wine, only the fruit, but then it would not be red wine! In the end, I made a container of wine from the fruits. I cooked the shells next to it, and used the red water to make a rosé, and a second container where I used both shells and fruits to make a red wine, and was excited about the result.
Both Moon and her husband were here trying to save some of their millions from the construction of wealthy villas Jeam was building. I think I have not explained it before, but Moon is only a minor shareholder, as it's a big Dutch company that is behind the construction. This company has established business connections with a Thai company that lets Jeam build houses. I think they were first convinced that it was his fault construction went so slowly, but found out that it was partly the Dutch manager who put too little money too late into it, so they couldn't buy materials. Also, he would often demand changes in something that was built, so Jeam had to remove it, and then make something new, which was pretty time consuming. Before I went back, it became too much for Jeam. He quit, even though he had some money at stake, as the Dutchman had not paid him.
Then I started to get neighbors who built an entrance from the road, down to a "crossroads" in an open field, where you turn right down towards my house. Within this junction one large villa was constructed, and now a few houses shot up further. I'm not fond of it, because now I live in the heart of a residential neighborhood, and not out in the open, with the sea in the foreground and mountains in the back. These are some of the reasons I began to make plans to sell my house, and instead have a much smaller one built in our resort. It would also have the advantage that I, as a co-owner of the resort, would have title to the property, instead of now, where Jeam holds the title to in my house because foreigners can't own property here. Jeam wanted to be involved in constructing it and we began to make plans.
Once Jeam went to Bangkok, and I didn't go down to his house for dinner that evening, and had told the family I wasn't going to, but anyway they were worried about how I would get something to eat. A brother of Sau, who incidentally does not speak English, drove the 3 kilometers over to my house, and I waved him away so he could see I was alive. Jeam called me from Bangkok, and at last Sau's brother came again, this time with Dao, who crashed into my house with a packed lunch. She was a little disappointed I had made both fried chicken and rice, so she hadn't saved me from starvation, so I almost felt pity for her. But I was happy that I could show them that even though you are too stupid to speak Thai, you can still get by, but I was also touched by the care they showed, with the whole family was activated for my sake!
The last experience I will mention of this visit is one more dolphin. It was much further out than the first time I met one, and because I knew this is not a shark, I was a little disappointed that it was not a little nearer. But now I have twice been swimming with dolphins here.
P.S.: This was written 2-3 years after it happened. Now 7-8 Years later, I must add that when Pang was painting flowers and not writing, she was immature, not stupid! She has done well in the school.
Pui is NOT being spanked by her mother, I think she just told that to avoid being blamed for her actions. In a way it's how she do: Better be smart than honest!
PART 9: FEBRUARY 12 - MAY 10, 2008
I bought a new car. The old one was good for shorter trips, but was not comfortable for driving far. I had spoken with Jeam the last time I was in Thailand, and he made several proposals for large 4WD vehicles. However, I preferred to have a smaller car and also wanted to wait until I had saved a little more money. But now he suggested a Ford Escape with a 6 cylinder engine of 3 liters, with gas (liquefied petroleum gas = LPG), automatic transmission, 4 wheel drive, cruise control, and many electrical gizmos like electric windows, including the sunroof, electric mirrors, and especially security in the form of APS brakes and four airbags. I should have a safe car he said. The car was 2 years old, and I got it for half the original price and yet with four months' warranty. Despite the fact that it was a much larger car and a much larger engine, it used only a little more fuel than the old, and with gas for only one third of the price of petrol and less pollution. What I could not pay I could borrow from him, and he bought my old car. So now I drove far more luxuriously than I ever have before, and no problems, even though I owed Jeam half the price.
The two kinds Mangosteen wine I had brewed last time I had made a little differently, and they did not taste good, and both were murky. I decided to store them for the next time.
I began a pomelo wine. Pomelo is a fruit similar to grapefruit. I had just bought some wine accessories in DK and gave the most turbid mangosteen wine some enzymes. Since I still was in the process of food additives, I also added wine enzymes to the pomelo from the beginning, so I expected it to clear quickly when it finished fermenting.
In DK, I was tempted to buy a laptop in Aldi. They were pre-installed with Vista, which I think is worse than XP, because it takes up more space and requires more power to work. Therefore, I bought one of the last copies of XP, and tried to install it but could not. Vista stopped it, and I could not install anything else. However, I took the laptop to a German here in Khanom, who helps me with my PC (I've mentioned him before). He uninstalled Vista, but could not install XP. So I had to take it home to DK again, and I now have a laptop I'm not satisfied with. I have previously purchased cheap deals, that I afterwards am not happy with, and now I've done it again. I will probably never learn.
When I started to help with English before, I planned to extend it to two lessons a week. But when I went to the school, there was always something wrong. It seemed as if the English teacher would make excuses for me not to come, but when she constantly was very cordial, I could not figure out whether it was excuses or real.
One day when I arrived there was an English teacher from a small school in Nai Plao visiting. I did not know it existed as it was located on a side road, where there was only a Thai sign that showed what it was. The teacher spoke very little / bad English, but we agreed that I should come and help, and then something happened. Vanida, the teacher from the bigger school (Ban Pret) where I used to come, was suddenly much more interested in my coming now there was some competition. When the summer holiday began Ban Pret gave me batik fabric, It really pleased me, both because I liked the material, but also because they now appreciated that I came to help at the school.
I found a tailor in Khanom, who for less than 50 DKK (10US $) made a shirt to my measure with a Chinese collar that I drew for them. When I found out how cheap it was, I then made some pants and some shirts with a monogram that I designed.
The big picture might well have been just a little more flattering, but Pui who took it, is not very tall, so the angle featured my stomach more than I like!
The monogram says Lung Bent in Thai and English, the Thai and Danish flags, and the Buddhist symbol of "the noble 8 folded way" both because I was a Buddhist and I didn't want the cross in the Danish flag to be confused with Christian sentiments. NB: I know now the Thai writing only says "Lung Ben" without the "t" at the end, I don't know why!
It rained from the time I arrived and well into March, which prevented me from swimming, as the rain creates strong currents and big waves. When I walk into the water, I get knocked down and have to wait for better weather. It finally came on 17 March, and I began to swim again.
There was a couple in Jeam's family who was getting married, and as one of the well-off, Jeam hosted it. They put up canopies, tables and chairs galore, and a platform for speeches and music. There were over 100 people, both family, friends and neighbors. I didn't know most of them, but it was fun to experience. As often happens at parties here, Jui, Jeam's foreman, took me home. Although he drank, he always does this kind of favor, and he never has accidents.
When the summer holidays began, an older boy, who with his brother had gotten some English lessons last time, asked me to teach again, which I did. I think it started with five students, but it grew from time to time. I taught 2 hours 3 times a week, and after a few weeks, there were 20 young people between 12 and 18 years. We sat on the porch in front of my house, where we had to lug everything I had of tables and chairs out, and some of them even had to sit on a bench without a table!
When one of them brought a little sister with her, I suggested that we make a class for the little ones once a week. There were 11 different children from 5 to 10 years, not all at the same time, usually 6-10 students at a time. There was a mother with one of them, who was a great help, as she knew a little English herself, and helped me with the children.
While the older group was mixed, the younger group were all girls. There was one boy, but he only came once. Maybe he was scared off by all the girls, or else he would rather play football!
While all these new kids came, I saw nothing of Daow, Pui and Pang. As usual Daow wanted no competition, and as their "queen", she kept the others away too.
Since by now there was only about a month left of summer vacation, I told my students that I was taking a break of a week or two, where I would visit my brother in Bangsan. My sister-in-law Rhampoi had grown tired of the weather in Denmark, and moved back to Thailand last year, after about 10 years in Denmark. My brother wanted to come and live with her, as he had gotten an old age pension. But the joy was short lived. As we in Denmark are constantly tightening the conditions for foreigners to settle in Denmark, they do the same in Thailand. Although he was married to a Thai, and they had 2 houses and money in the bank, it was not enough. Cash in the bank should now be approximately 100.000 DKK (U.S. $ 20,000), and the income from Denmark should be about 10.000 DKK per month. This amount should be transferred from Denmark, and you must present official documents confirming the existence of a pension. If you as a Dane move abroad, or just live there for extended periods of time, you lose various allowances, so the pension is far below the 10,000 DKK a month. I once talked with some Italians about this, who could not understand this system; in Italy pensioners who moved abroad would keep their entire pension, since they saved the state money for Health and other benefits when residing abroad. To view things differently!
As my brother now had to go back to Denmark, I decided to visit them, and try out my new car. Jeam and his family were concerned, as it was a trip of more than 1000 km, and it is not easy to navigate through Bangkok. I insisted however, and the journey to Bangkok went well enough. Jeam rang every two hours to hear how far I was, and if everything was in order. In Bangkok however I could not find the way, and had to find a hotel where I could stay overnight. Jeam called my brother's wife (Rhampoi), to get them to help me, but they could not find their way around in Bangkok either. So he called a sister of Yar (his second wife) and she and her husband came to the hotel the next morning and showed me the way to Bangsan. I managed, however, to go wrong again, and had to call my brother when I ended up in Pattaya, about 40 kilometers further south. He told me how to go and met me near their house.
As virtually all Thais are, Rhampoi was superstitious. There may be heralds of everything, and there are many rituals to be observed. When they lived in Denmark, they visited the "The rag oak". It is an old oak tree with a hole in the trunk. There are very old superstitions associated with this tree: you hang rags on the branches, probably for good health, and girls / women who climb through the hole are guaranteed fertility. The three Danish princesses did it in the 50s, and they have all three had children since, so you can see it's true!
Here Rhampoi met the spirit of the white lady. She dreams of her at night and she gets much advice from her, even now in Thailand. She has, for example, been told that she must always wear white clothes to avoid accidents, and she has done so since. She wanted to visit a fortune teller while I was with them, and I decided to go along too. He lay tarot cards in combination with palm reading. I was skeptical, but he told me that I would move, and was building a house. I should do it, but it should be this year, and it was fortunate that I would at all be lucky this year. He also told me that I had a good heart, I helped people, but I should be careful, because they would take advantage of me. If I wanted to work it should be at a place where I decided myself as boss. Jeam was a good friend who helped me a lot and took care of me, but I had to take care of my money, Jeam had "hole in his pockets"! He also told me that I would go to the hospital within the next year, but I would come home again, and it would go well. Finally he said that I probably would get a younger wife, maybe here or somewhere else. She would help me when I was old, but I had to take care of my money! I do not know how much I believe in it, especially not the last part, but it was amazing how many things he said were correct without my first telling him anything, or giving him clues.
I met Rhampois' three sons in Bang San, who I knew from their time in DK, and the oldest one bought GPS for me. My brother went back to DK, and using the GPS I was guided completely flawlessly through Bangkok, when going back to Khanom.
The school children did not come again (I think because of misunderstandings), but now I enjoyed the last days of peace and quiet. I packed up, since I had to move, because Jeam was going to take over the house, but before I left for Denmark, I invited the Thais to eat a pork steak I prepared in a Danish way, quite successfully. Even Thais ate it!
AUGUST 4 - OCTOBER 31, 2008
I went to Thailand again. I knew that my new house in the new resort was not finished yet and that the old house was sold. But when we had emptied it, I had to stay in one of the apartments which Jeam had built for the workers at the house where Sau and Daow live. When I saw this opportunity, I was immediately pleased with it. There were some shortcomings that Jeam promised to repair like lack of mosquito nets on the windows. The apartment itself was about 6x6 meters, divided by a partition wall in the first 4 meters. At the front a door and two windows, on the back 3 doors, in the corners 1 bathroom and 1 toilet, in the middle a door to a small terrace where my gas stove stood.
But if the shortcomings could be fixed, I'd prefer to be there, instead of moving to the resort. Jeam thought it was a good idea, so the whole family could help me, he said. I got a little tired of all the "nursing", but the idea is good enough, and sometimes it's also nice having help nearby. I was accustomed to eating dinner with Jeam's family, in such an arrangement of bamboo you may have seen in Thailand, a kind of arbor with benches on the long sides, a table in between, and a bamboo roof. It was only 10-15 meters from the apartment, I just had to cross a courtyard. There was a roof in front of the apartment for my car, foreman Jui, his wife Lek and daughter Pui were neighbors, both parents helped me with their specialties, and Pui came and made sure that my PC or TV was turned on when she was at home.
Since Jeam said I did not have to pay rent, water and electricity were free, and Sau cooked for me and washed my clothes, I could not see any reason to move. I swam in the morning where the resort was being built only 300 meters away, so I bought a bike to both save fuel and get a little more exercise. It was a mountain bike with 21 speeds, but I used only the small gear, and I could feel that it was a long time since I rode several miles each day. But though I biked and swam every day, I did not lose weight, I don't understand why. The weather was good and even after the rainy season began in late September, there were only two days in early October where the waves were too high; otherwise I could swim every morning.
Explanation to the picture:
Top left: the houses seen from the road. The large white house with red roof in the foreground, is where Sau, Daow and occasionally Jeam live.
Top right where the wing front brown part is mine. One can make out the flags, Thailand, Buddha and "Dannebrog" (The Danish flag).
Second top inside view: Bed, computer table, desk and a little wardrobe.
On the other hand, the TV, door to the bathroom in the background.
In the center a plan of the apartment.
To the leftL I bought a new bike to get some exercise, but everything rusts here at top speed.
Lower left corner is the building of our resort.
The two images at the end are my outdoor kitchen, now a little longer, and with woodwork around. When Daow helps, it is because of the photographer; she is always willing in front of the camera!
Daow, who lives in the large villa next door, came almost every day, and so did Paeng after school. Then I saw all the usual kids a little more often than before, and without having to pick them up first. I also saw August more, as he came here on a regular basis. But in the morning I no longer drove to Khanom where he lived, I made my own breakfast now.
The only irritating issue was that Jeam was constantly short of money, he borrowed from me, and he put construction on half power, because he couldn't pay wages and materials. Now here at the end of the stay, I still owed him 100.000 THB for the car so that the accounts are still in my favor, except the house had not yet sold. I had hoped to get my house sold, but there were riots in Bangkok, and with the financial crisis that broke out internationally, the tourists stayed home. There was no market for properties and tourist centers reported declining visitor numbers.
However, Jeam changed banks in late October, and expected to get a loan of some millions paid soon, and to sell some land. So now he promised me definitely that our resort would be ready the next time I come. We'll see. We a little loosely talked about transferring my house to our company (Thaibay Estate Agency) where I would get shares in the company equal to the cost, and the last week I was there, it seemed ready to become a reality. Jeam said he would ask the country offices how much it is rated, and then round up a bit. I was a little excited. Though the price might not be the 3 million we had talked about, at least I would get the paper on the amount. My new home here at Jeam's still suited me, but some of the improvements we talked about had not happened yet.
My wine production went down. The mangosteen wine from the last time, did not clear, and didn't taste good either. The pomelo wine was ready and could be drunk, but it was a little bitter. Not fresh / sour as with lemon, and not really good in taste. I drank it however. I only bought 2X2 liters of red wine in these 3 months. However, there is also another reason. 3 days before I was to travel to Thailand, I had blood in the stool. I got it stopped in a day, and did not contact a doctor because I would not risk being told that I should stay home. Everything was fine until sometime in September, when an acquaintance from DK came to visit and together with Jeam we drank two bottles of whisky. 24 hours afterwards I again had blood in the stool, and it now took 2 ½ days to rectify. So now I drank one drink a day, and then I had no problems.
One day Jeam's father conducted a ceremony to ask the spirits to help with our resort, and afterward Jeam and Jui and I drove Jeam's father home. It turned out that it was Jui's birthday, and Jeam met an old friend, so we ended up at a restaurant where we had beer. I tried to hold back, but the others continued to drink, and I had to wait for them to get home, so I also drank a little beer. Not so much, but two days later there was again blood in the toilet. However, not so much, and only once, but now it was all quite clear: 1-2 drinks and no more! But I will obviously need to contact the hospital about it when I get home.
|Jeam, Sau, Jeams father and Daow is praying to the spirits of the place for good luck for the resort|
My PC and TV was an attraction for the kids. But when the Olympics were happening, Jeam and Jui came to watch a boxer from Thailand named Somjit Jongjohor who won a gold medal. After the Olympics some of the ladies kept on coming watching TV. There is a range of Thai TV between the hours 18.30 and 19.30, and Lek (Jui's wife, Pui's mother) followed Pui inside my room to watch a TV program, a couple of times along with some ladies from Jeam's family, with a large crowd of workers respectfully sitting and standing outside my open door and following the action. It was a completely unrealistic series about a young girl who has been raised by orangutans, and is found by her mother. Although orangutans do not live in the wild in Thailand, it is set here, and "the monkey girl" also speaks Thai. The characters are similar to characters from a Laurel and Hardy film, but it is all very popular. When the kids were here, they begged all the time to play games from the internet, and I allowed them a few hours, but when the monkey soap opera was on, I always demanded my PC back, then they could watch TV, because I can't stand to watch this series.
I contacted the two schools I had helped with English before. The "big" school Banpret with 100 children where my three girls go, gave me a weekly schedule and the English teacher wrote the subjects they would cover on the two days I would be there. I was glad I could prepare myself a little. There were three teachers who taught the various classes in English, but only one could speak enough English so that we could talk together. For the 2nd and 3rd grades I taught the alphabet, which I printed a page out for, where the vowels are red. Since it's a whole new system for them, I thought it might help to give a little better understanding of the alphabet. I also produced a sheet with double lines, to mark the letters proportions, with a guide as to how to write the "English" letters. Basically, I tried to improve the English teaching, both in the lower and upper grades. I really felt it was necessary.
In the small school "Nai Plao" with 50 students, I did a bit of the same, but there 3rd to 6th grades were together and the teacher spoke very little English. There were actually two of the older girls who talked as much, maybe even more English than he. I knew one of the girls a little from when I lived in Nai Plao -- her parents had a shop in the village and spoke English at a basic level.
I do not have a high opinion of the Thai school system; children learn Thai and mathematics, and something about Buddhism and Thai history, but not much more, and not with reference to historical or current events in the outside world. I have appointed myself geography teacher, not so much about where DK is, but broadly about the cold areas, the hot equator, the gradual temperature difference, the sun's impact on summer and winter, and how the length of day and night becomes more and more alike, the closer we get to the equator.
I also tried to get students to answer the questions that I provide the information for, but it's almost impossible. They're used to choose between some answers, and when I explain something and then ask the class to tell me what they heard and learned, I get almost no response. I taught only 2 hours once a week in Nai Plao, but one day I thought some of the older students understood an assignment I gave them. I asked them to write an essay to me at least 19 lines about themselves. I would not give them questions to answer, but they had to decide what they would write. I talked to the teacher afterward, and even he had not understood it. He asked me to post topics and examples, but I asked him not to talk with students about what I wanted so that I could see how many of them had understood me. Next Wednesday most of them handed in a piece of paper with the same content -- name, age, residence and the like - that the teacher had told them to write.
To get out of this controlled situation, I asked if six students who were the most skilled could come to school the following Saturday, but the school was closed. I suggested that we could sit outside, but it could not be done. Then the headmaster heard what we talked about. She knows a little English, and she thought it was okay, and asked if I wanted to borrow a classroom. I would like to because of the board. The English teacher complained that he was busy on Saturday, but I said it did not matter, that I had previously taught up to 20 young people in my house without a Thai teacher. So, I asked them and they agreed to come, and on Saturday a few more came too. The teacher did too but was not in the class to begin with. However, I was disappointed, when even the able students I had chosen would not answer the very most easy questions. So Saturday classes were not repeated. But it was a small victory that we managed to open school on a Saturday for some voluntary teaching, something new in the rigid system.
There were exams in early October, and I was to leave in November, so for a time I was not in school. Like last year Ban Pret gave me a batik printed fabric that I got made into a shirt at a local tailor for 50 DKK. I was glad both for the fabric printed in a nice pattern (this time in an orange suit), but also that it showed their appreciation of my efforts. The last day I was at school in Nai Plao they promised me a shirt too, even though I had deliberately not mentioned the gift from the other school, but maybe they had heard of it.
Since I no longer lived in my house in Nai Plao, there were no kids this time for home-based English lessons, but Pui has an older sister who spent holidays here for a few weeks, and I taught her one hour a day for a few weeks until she had to go home to Nakhon again. She was a sensible young girl and as her little sister probably smart, but still she hung on to the Thai pattern of needing specific questions they can answer, or at least try, but if there are no set "road signs" up, they can't find their way.
In Nai Plao I had Internet from a satellite, but it was not stable in bad weather, so when Jeam told me that I would have cable in the new apartment I figured it would be better. Unfortunately, it was very slowly, almost like a telephone modem, or at least not much faster, but it was cheap, so Jeam would not immediately replace it. However, I hope to have persuaded him by the next time I come.
I wondered still about what the soothsayer had said -- that I should sell house this year, and it would be the most fortunate for me. However, the trade came to a halt after both the financial crisis and riots in Bangkok. So I talked with Jeam about the price, if our holiday resort were to buy the house. The result was 1.5 million THB, or about half the price we had tried to sell it for. But I wanted to get it over with, mostly because of the fact that I had no paper in the house, which nagged me a bit since I bought it. It ended up with a profit to me, even the price for the house was smaller than I had hoped for. I owed Jeam some money for the car, but he had borrowed money from me over the last years, so he now owed me 313.000 THB which he promised to put into my bank account. I now had a part of 2,050,000 THB in the resort including 550,000 THB which was officially registered by the district. The 1,500,000 THB for the house Jeam promised to register now.
But unfortunately that did not happen, he did not register my new part in the resort, and he did not put the money he owed me into my account.
In 2008, one Danish krone (DKK) was worth between 5 and 6 THB, and $1 about 5 DKK.
PART 10: MARCH 30 - JUNE 27, 2009
Although my disability pension is supplemented by my civil service pension, I am not a millionaire, and usually travel on the "monkey class". However, I have now traveled so many times where every time I have been wanting to try a little more luxury. I had taken a loan on my house to pay for a renovation of my kitchen, but since it would take some months before it would be finished, I decided to use this interim profit to upgrade my flight to the "premium class". It's a little more comfortable, better legroom, the seats are wider, so you can sit and eat without rubbing elbows with the neighbor, you can choose between several dishes of food, and there is video in front of each seat, with several films to choose from, instead of the big screens with a common film for all. Everything you get for only (!) almost double fare and "free" champagne on departure. I enjoyed it all, but Thai Air should not expect me to pay 80% extra for this. But as a one-off, it was fun to try.
Of course Jeam was not finished building, and of course he lacked money again when I came. I lent him what I could, but as usual he did not pay it back at the time he had promised. However, there were bills for mosquito nets for the windows, repairing bicycle and car, TV and the Internet, which he had paid, that devoured the most part; the rest I got back in smaller portions along the way.
I have described that I have had some problems with my stomach, but the hospital could not find the time to give me an appointment. When I had waited for 5 months, I lost patience and bought my ticket. A few days later the call came from the hospital, but since the ticket was bought and paid for, I postponed it, much to the dismay of the doctor I spoke with.
If you scroll back to the time where I lived in Ban Khao outside Udon Thani, I wrote about Freddy who had opened a treatment center, especially for cancer patients who were treated with a root. I mailed him, but some different circumstances meant that I had just a few days after I came to Thailand to visit him. So the Monday after I had arrived on Saturday, I was driving in my car, now equipped with GPS from Khanom to Ban Khao, about 1300 km. I think I have also described that I do not drive when it's dark, so I spent the night at a motel near Bangkok. Next day I came to Ban Khao, Steen, the Dane/Swede boyfriend to Nit stayed a few days in her house. They had been granted residence permits for both Nit and Mickey, so the two would later travel to Sweden, where Mickey could start going to school.
Steen and Nit went with me to Freddy, who believed that the root could probably benefit my stomach, although it was not cancer I suffered from. Moreover, it turned out that Freddy was not just a naturopath, but also trained as a traditional doctor in Denmark, and he and Steen (a doctor and biochemist), had some mutual acquaintances in the area. Steen had read about preliminary studies of the root, but Freddy talked about how hard it was to get on when you did not have a financially strong pharmaceutical company behind you. He would have to put about a million dollars into getting it approved, and as he lived off his old-age pension, he had abandoned it. Steen read some reports Freddy showed him, and encouraged him to publish it in another medical specialist journal. Because of lack of money, Freddy would not do more, but thought that there would soon be a scientific recognition of root effects in Thailand as the royal family had become interested. Getting this recognition would open the way internationally.
The root was a troublesome plant, it didn't flourish, but propagated through tubers, and was very difficult to cultivate. Freddy had tried for some years without success, but now someone in his wife's family had succeeded with it. It was then sold to an acquaintance who fabricated capsules of it. However, I bought a kilo of granules from Freddy, who directed me to take three small spoonfuls in water for 3 months. Then he recommended that I continue with a spoonful every morning to strengthen my immune system, as both he and his wife did. Despite his 70 years, Freddy was still hale and hearty, and among other things, was an active biker.
I tried the root. It did not dissolve in water but swam around like small pieces of wood. Immediately, my pain in the stomach got smaller but did not disappear. When after three months I went down to only taking it once a day, after only one day I got stronger abdominal pain again, so I found out that there had been an effect, although it had not removed the pain completely. However, the severe pain disappeared again, so how much the root has worked, I do not know.
I was also welcomed by Laos, Pom and Freja, who however had been given a new name after I left. Both Steen and the family told me she was remembering me. There was no great reunion, but it was clear she recognized me, and she brought a picture from inside the house, where we had been photographed together and showed me.
Laos did not really work anymore, only some small jobs, while Pom had a job, I do not remember which, but it was not a hairdresser. In addition, she had a Japanese friend who sent her money. He was naturally not aware she was married and had a family.
After 2 days, I went back again, and despite the GPS, I drove a little wrong in Bangkok, but after a few detours, did I come out again. I found a little expensive hotel in a tourist area where I spent the night and came back to Khanom the next day.
They had worked on the swimming pool, and established grass and some plants, but because of lack of money, they were only working on half power. But again Jeam promised me that it would be open when I came back from Denmark next time, but only with about half the houses open.
Now I was also tired of my old PC that had to be repaired all the time, so I bought a new one and established a password for it, so it was my private computer. I paid for the repair of the old one, to use for the children.
Back in Denmark, a doctor from the hospital could not understand why I had not replied to a letter of admission, even though I had informed her before I left. But finally I was hospitalized after a month of waiting time.
As there wasn't an available bed in the ward to examine my stomach, I got a bed in a ward that had nothing to do with either hemophilia laboratory or "belly department" with some misunderstandings as a result of it. A blood sample was taken too late and not sent as urgent to the laboratory because the ward was not used to the procedure, so I waited a whole afternoon in the hallway outside the room where they could examine my stomach, until the staff went home. So I had to stay in the hospital one more day, to let them stick a telescope up in my colon. There were no polyps to see and down at the ward the doctors said that since there was no sign of anything that could be causing the bleeding, they could not do more!
It was just the message I was afraid to get, I had drawn attention to the fact that I had not had intestinal bleeding in a season, but had a little stomach ache almost every day, and that was what I wanted investigated. But for other problems than bleeding, I had to go to my local doctor, the hospital could not do more!
But the pain disappeared gradually, so I ordered a ticket for a new trip to Thailand. When it was purchased, I got a sudden bleeding from the gut after a night where I had a few beers. However, only a few, but I treated the bleeding myself with tablets against mucosal bleeding and appropriate injections of Factor IX. Since the hospital had such a hard time understanding my messages, I might as well take matters into my own hands, and I got it stopped in a few days.
I bought a ticket to Thailand now a little later than usual, and spent my first Christmas there. As Jeam now promised to open some houses, restaurant and swimming pool in November, I wanted to prepare a Danish Christmas. I have an old house full of all possible stuff which you might need some time, so I went in search of Christmas decorations that we had used when the children were small, and more that were inherited from my parents. I found some of it, but since I had to cut down the space in my luggage because of all the bleeding medication I had to bring for three months, I sent some of it by mail, and hoped it would arrive.
OCTOBER 1 to DECEMBER 28, 2009
I was picked up by Jeam and his second wife Yar, now heavily pregnant. Jeam said that now there was the chance I could get a work permit if I shot some more money into our resort. If you had a share of 25% in a company, you could get one, so I could stay more than three months every time. However, it was a lot of money, but he said that if I paid only 300.000 THB he would make papers that gave me a share of 25%. I later heard from someone else that the requirement of 25% is not right, but I do not know who is correct. I gave Jeam 105.000THB without promising him more right away. The German Mike contradicted Jeam, and also said you have to pay 30,000 Baht for a work permit. I decided not to apply because of the rules about pension in DK, I still could not be outside the EU more than 6 months a year, so the 2x3 months I traveled suited me perfectly.
A few days later he borrowed 15.000 THB for just a few days, but after 3 weeks, he still had not paid me back. Instead, he talked about selling our resort, but the buyer would not pay any profit, so when we want some of our investments, pulling acquisition delayed. The last thing he said is that if we sell, he would not spend money to confirm my loans, but would pay me my share of an unspecified profit. Otherwise he would continue to build, and he thought he could borrow 5 million THB from a friend, then he could sell it later at a higher price.I hoped he would conclude the on sale immediately, so I could get my money and a small surplus paid now, and be relieved of all the uncertainty about the money I have given him, also because there were so many people who were convinced he is just tricking me. Unfortunately, sales did not happen because when Jeam declared himself willing to sell at a price where we would only get the money we had put into it back, the buyer would not stand by the offer, and since we would not sell at a loss, we didn't sell. Then Jeam continued construction on a reduced basis, while all the time hoping for some more millions from the bank. I had already prepared for celebrating Christmas in our new resort, but since it did not come off, I used the packed Christmas finery to celebrate Christmas where I lived. The kids talked a lot about a Christmas tree, and although I almost hate artificial flowers and the like, I bought a small Christmas tree made of plastic. From December we decorated up in my 1½ rooms with crawling gnomes (a Danish Christmas custom started in the late 40's) and other ornaments, and we also started to braid Christmas hearts on weekends. An advent candle counting the days from 24 to 1, flared in the draft from the doors, so it was almost like I remembered the Christmas preparations when my own children were small.
As Jeams daughter Daow turned 13 on December 12, we agreed to spend Christmas there. I baked a cutting cake because I was missing ingredients for traditional Christmas cookies, and with difficulty got hold of a pork roast with rinds. In Thailand you can get almost any kind of pork, but they don't know how to cut out a roast, and pork rind is something you buy finished in bags. My gas oven is the only one for miles around.
I had bought whipping cream and produced a kind of rice pudding with almonds and whipped cream ("ris a la mande") also a Danish tradition and besides birthday presents for Daow, I also had small gifts for the family and the other children. The Christmas tree with lights was put out in the yard where we would have the party, but all the food I had all spent all day to make was only eaten by myself. Jeam cut some pork rinds, which a few others tried, the kids ate cake. But besides that the others only ate different Thai food, and not together, not from the same table, and not at the same time. But as the kids, including some schoolmates of Daow, did not have any basis for comparison, they praised the Christmas party, and Daow thought it was a good birthday.
I also spoke with the school to offer to come in and tell about Christmas. The English teacher agreed, and the Friday before Christmas we gathered the kids in a larger classroom where I had brought the Christmas tree and some ornaments, and I told a little about Jesus's birthday, the origin of Santa, and some Christmas traditions but not as long as I would like, as the teacher said at one point that now the children could not accommodate more. Then, we made a few competitions, and finally, I got the obligatory piece of fabric for a shirt. The next day I packed the finery together and went to Bangsan where I spent Christmas with my brother and his wife, and a few days later my brother and I returned to DK. However, this winter was both cold and full of snow, not exactly what we had been accustomed to in Thailand!
MARCH 6 to JUNE 5, 2010
Before I left, I had some bills to take care of, and when they finally were out of the way, the Thai Bath had been revalued, so instead of getting 6.50 THB for 1 DKK, it was now down to about 5.50 THB. So I didn't transfer any Danish money, but wanted to see how far I could live for the THB I had in the bank in Khanom.
Jeam had promised that our resort would be opened now, but as usual, it was wishful thinking. Again the cost of construction exceeded the finances, so he still had to work on a reduced basis, and seek new bank loans. But he now promised to open the 1st of April on Sonkran, the Buddhist New Year just after Easter at home, he managed to open the restaurant and the first houses. So now we finally started.
However, he borrowed the little money I had in the bank, and later he borrowed 100.000 THB I transferred at a poor exchange rate, but he promised to compensate for that by paying back 108.000 THB so that it corresponded to 6 THB for 1DKK.
The kitchen of the restaurant makes good food for 100 to 300 THB dishes that can compare with the best restaurants. The houses are also finely decorated, with marble and stuff, so that is also first class. The swimming pool is standard size, crescent-shaped with shallow and deep, and a wading pool. I tried it once when I felt the waves of the sea were a little too heavy, but I wasn't crazy about the pool water; even though it had very little chlorine, I could still taste it.
Then I was also annoyed that Jeam had my car all the time. But because there was no money in the till, they had to sell August's mother Yar's car, and Sau's petrol pumps were closed, maybe because Sau now sits behind the counter of the restaurant and most of the furniture from the store is here in the restaurant now. However, it has gone downhill with trading in the whole area for a long time. Since it looks like this, you can think it's stupid of me to loan Jeam more money, and maybe it is. I might have thrown good money after bad, but I did it in the hope to get some of my investment back.
School holiday started when I came, but I was told that the English teacher Vanida would be leaving, as, she had found work closer to her home. She lives near Nakhon, at least 50 km away, so I understand her decision, but I will miss her, as she was the only one who spoke enough English to hold a conversation. So I "borrowed" my car and bought a bouquet of flowers and drove to the school and said goodbye to her. She looked very happy for the flowers, and even though we were very different - she a young / younger woman, a Muslim and Thai and I an old Danish man Christian influenced by the Danish culture, who in my time learned hymns and prayed Lord's Prayer in the school, etc., atheist throughout my red youth, and later Buddhist here in Thailand - we talked well together, and understood each other despite all these differences.
Incidentally, I really noticed this time that the kids had grown. I had only been in Denmark for the usual 3 months, but I thought they made real changes. Daow had reached puberty, and maybe because I did not have daughters, it was fun to see this facade of attempted "lady" who cracked one time after another, and must make room for the child inside. I let myself not show it obviously, but enjoyed my role as an observer. She was by the way one of the first in a test in Nakhon, and is to attend a boarding school there after the holidays. I would think it will be a little hard for her there, as she has always been the "queen" where the other children were her court, but in a boarding school with several thousand students, it will probably be difficult to maintain that role.
Cousin Pang had also grown, she would be 11 in June, so there is some way to puberty yet. But in centimeters, she soared, and most of the baby fat that hung on her until now had disappeared. She has a round face yet that characterizes most of the family, a legacy from the grandmother, Sau's mother, not least Pang and grandmother, has facial features that are very similar.
My neighbor Pui had grown too, but was probably the most similar to herself both in appearance and behavior. Especially the last one, I'm not sorry to say. My door couldn't close without being locked, it has a bolt on each side, so when I turned on the evening light, I turned up the bar so the door wouldn't open, and let the mosquitoes in. One night I was on the toilet when I heard Pui call, but I thought she just had to wait a few minutes until I could get out and open. But when I opened the door from the toilet, I heard a "bang" as the screen door out to my outdoor kitchen was slammed, and Pui rushed through the living room to the front door showing something she had taken to her mother, probably a plastic bag from the mall of Surat, which was one of the things Pui always checked. She was now 9 years old, and had to run around the wing, to the back where my terrace with kitchen is situated, and in the dark climbed over the railing, took a bag from the hook on the wall, slammed the door open to the livingroom, triumphantly showed me that she had done what she came for, and plunged further into her home.
August came here today, and he had also grown a few inches, and was a little less "monkeyboy" than before, but he still makes accidents. One day when a group was watching TV, I saw a lot of paper on the floor. I told them to pick it up, but no one would take responsibility for it. When I was mad enough that it made an impression, August, pressured by the others, had to confess it was he who had thrown it. He was allowed to pick it up while I was explaining to him that I was mad when they would not admit they had done something wrong. He walked away, but came back later and we were doing something together (I do not remember what), but it was clear that he found out that I was not mad anymore, and we could enjoy ourselves together. I became more and more convinced that all his "monkey-behavior" was due to lack of upbringing. He has been spoiled by all the young girls who poured gasoline from the tank in Khanom where he lives, and has just had his way, with no interference from his mother.
But again: it's always easier to educate other people's children!
The sea gave me mixed experiences this time. There were a few days of rain, wind and high waves, but pretty quickly I was able to swim in the ocean again. But then I was burned by a "fireman", as we call these nasty jellyfish in Denmark. I had been stung once before, and it was uncomfortable, but it went away after a few days. But this time was bad, probably a combination of several things. Last time my neighbor told me that I should rub the spot with sand when I came up on the beach. I did that now, and then cycled the 300 meters home and washed thoroughly in the shower. However, I don't think the sand-rubbing was a good idea because the sand induced inflammation in it, and combined with the fact that it was where I already have scars after surgery in my ankle, I had a wound for several weeks. Since after several weeks the wounds were increasingly tender I went with Jeam to a doctor who gave me some capsules I recognized as penicillin, some other small tablets I didn't know what they were, and some ointment, which I suspect was cortisone. I am not in favor of this heady stuff, I always tried to control infections with garlic and ginger, but it was not enough this time. Had it developed into blood poisoning it could have been very serious, so I took it, and recovered.
But then I saw dolphins! Since the first time I swam, and did not know if the black tail fin that swam with me was a shark, I have kept watching for them for a few years now, and finally succeeded. It was even the famous "pink" dolphins which are found here. I swam unfortunately not with them, but saw them from the restaurant, which is open to the sea. Three days in a row we saw them in the afternoon, one day at least 4, the next day 10, the third day, I do not know how many. But the first day on which there were four, they swam back and forth a few hundred meters from the beach, playing and made you clearly see how they jumped completely out of the water as you see it on film.
After Sonkran the bank was supposed to pay Jeam 25 million THB, but it was postponed for two weeks, so now 1 week after Sonkran I was sitting and missing money. Today, it is May the 5th, and the Internet was cut off last night. I had "borrowed" my car for some errands, and when Jeam came later, I asked him to pay for internet. But he could not, because it was a public holiday in Thailand! So now I have to do without the Internet and television for at least a day, so there is not much to do. No money, no car, no internet or TV and he has also borrowed my DVD player, and forgotten to give it back to me for 2 months!
Part 11: KHANOM 2010 - 2014
I have not written anything in Thailand since the construction of the resort still wasn't completed, and though Jeam constantly promised to pay his debt to me and compensate me for my part of the resort, he did not do any of that, and I got bad vibes, and could not bring myself to write something down. Everyone I talked to about it, thought Jeam would not pay me the money ever, but the difficulties he was talking about, I think were true. He has promised me money because he wants to pay his debts, but because of various difficulties, he has not been able to do it.
OCTOBER 25, 2010 to JANUARY 22, 2011
I was picked up at the airport in Surat Thani as usual. In Khanom I found out that Daow had started at the boarding school in Nakhon, and when she was home on vacation she said she liked the school.
I still swim every morning, and one morning I met a European man with a half-Thai daughter. It turned out that they not only were Danes, but lived in Vordingborg, less than 20 km from my house in Denmark. In the restaurant, I also met the girl's Thai mother. I socialized a little with the family for a few days, I tried to help the daughter with some homework and one day we sailed out in one of the small longneck boats and helped to throw food to the pink dolphins. I got to see them up close, but unfortunately they were too quick to take film of it.
In Denmark I once went to dinner with the family, but only once, my status and financial capacity was apparently not satisfactory enough for the Thai lady.
OCTOBER 8, 2011 to DECEMBER 30, 2011
Now I was back in Thailand for Christmas, but we didn't celebrate it, nor Daow's birthday when she was at school. The chef in the restaurant and I experimented a little with Danish Christmas food, but it was only the two of us who ate any of it.
I had heard last time that Daow's cousin Pang also was supposed to attend a boarding school, and she did, so now there were only Pui and in between August still here. Pang had a little brother, but he was still too small to come and visit me.
Khanom Sunrise Beach Resort had now been finished, with many Thai guests in the restaurant, and several groups during the week, some spending the night and others attending day courses held in the main hall closest to the road that was built for that purpose. But I saw only a few foreign guests.
I had a laptop from DK with HDMI cable I used to watch movies from CD / DVDs and TV programs from Denmark on the big flat screen TV, so I terminated my dish subscription.
OCTOBER 1, 2012 to NOVEMBER 30, 2012
This time I was not picked up at the airport. On the phone Jeam had said that he had made a deal with a taxi for me, but none of the taxis knew anything about the deal, so I had to pay 5.000 THB for the trip.
I made a trip to Chiangmai to visit Moon and see if we could find both a nursery with cherry trees, and a place where I could plant them and see if it could be done. There it is somewhat cooler than the south, as it is about 1000 kilometers further north, and it is also a higher location, so melting water from the mountains in the spring sometimes engulf Bangkok before the rivers end up in the bay.
It's a long trip no matter how you travel. I flew to Bangkok, waited a few hours and then flew to Chiang Mai, where Moon picked me up in the airport. This time we went to her private house as she had sold her guest house, probably because the project with the expensive millionaire villas in Ban Nai Plao had not been finished. I have described how Jeam got tired of working on it because he constantly was missing promised money to carry on, but after he pulled out, the new contractors did not work very long before they also withdrew.
Next day one of Moon's brothers drove me to a new coffee shop which Moon and her daughter were about to establish. I drove around with her brother and found nurseries; several had something they called cherry, but not the right ones. So we found a single place where they had cherry trees, and they said they would contact me by mail when the fruit was ripe, but I never heard from them. I enjoyed myself a few days with Moon and her family, and flew back to Khanom.
When I left Khanom for Surat, Jeam made a deal with the driver that I only had to pay 3.000 THB for the trip to the airport. However in the airport in Surat the driver wanted 5.000, but when I made a fuss and threatened to call Jeam, he backed off.
MARCH 4, 2013 - MAY 31, 2013
In Denmark, I rented a car over the net, which stood ready at the airport in Surat Thani when I arrived. It was a small car, but like most cars in Thailand had 4 doors, air conditioning and automatic transmission. With my Thai GPS in my bag, I drove to Khanom easily. Jeam had now built a great milestone as the mark of the resort, I told him he could call it a "milestone" and explained the meaning of the word in English, as a key brand in one's life.
The car ran out of power after standing idle for a few days, But I got it started with help from my neighbor Jui who, as a handyman, of course could handle it. Then I drove to Surat Thani and swapped the car without any problems and did not have car trouble the rest of the time.
One morning I saw on the beach a strange fish washed up. It was shaped like a football, all white with a yellow beak and spines like a hedgehog over the body. It's called a puffer. I hung it to dry in the sun, but it still smelled a little when I went home. I hung it out in my outhouse here in Denmark, but after a year it is only about a third of its former size and completely gray.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2013 to OCTOBER 19, 2013
Again I booked the car over the net from Denmark, again a small car similar to the first, I can no longer remember the car brands, but this time it was at least a Japanese car. There were no problems with it and it cost just under 1000 THB per day. I did not use it that much, but it was all I could find so I would not be dependent on others. In the restaurant I ate mostly salad for lunch with a boiled egg that I even delivered. Sau's mother whom I usually refer to as grandmother, had free range of chickens around where I live, and one of them used to fly into my terrace and lay eggs on top of a kitchen cupboard, so I had one or two fresh eggs every day.
The staff in the restaurant is partly young people who are different every time I come here, but both in the restaurant and in the kitchen there are some who have been here at least a year. The kitchen staff understands virtually no English, but we manage to understand each other. I know how to say salad, chicken, eggs, pork and fish, and in the bar and reception a sweet young lady named Mee started last year who speaks fairly good English, so using my drinking buddy, the retired schoolteacher Precha, and Mee, we get through language difficulties.
On the ground outside my house, I found a large beetle I assumed to be a Lucanus cervus. The one I found was about to be eaten by ants, so it was obvious it was dead. I put it in alcohol in an empty plastic box, and put it in my freezer here in Denmark, while I decided how to preserve it without having it deteriorate like the puffer. When I now (December 2014) wanted to take a picture of it, I discovered it was a rhinoceros beetle, as it had a horn instead of antlers. It is about 6 cm. long. Due to a misunderstanding Jui has hung a large plastic net around my patio, so there will be no more fresh eggs, but it is also nice to avoid the mess from the chickens. Since I do not cook here anymore, I have given away my stove with gas bottle to Lek and Jui, who, along with their daughter Pui, help me all the time. I want to show I appreciate our neighborhood.
AUGUST 20 to SEPTEMBER 20, 2014
25th ANNIVEERSARY FOR MY FIRST TRIP TO THAILAND!
25th ANNIVEERSARY FOR MY FIRST TRIP TO THAILAND!
At home I wanted to check my bank account in Thailand, but I could not get in, or change my password, so I assumed they had closed my online banking connection because I had not used it for a year. Since I still could transfer money to my account in Khanom, I didn't restore it.
I used points to upgrade my ticket to premium, primarily because of the new seats where you can lie down and sleep. However, it was almost a disaster, because when I woke up I was missing my passport, my phone and my glasses that I had had in my shirt pocket. I called one of the flight attendants, and after a while he found my passport. Since the cabin was dark, we stopped searching, but later after breakfast, he came back and almost split the seat to pieces. Eventually we managed to find it all. They are good for many things the new seats, but a word of advice: Beware of loose items!
In Surat Thani airport the car I had rented from home was ready, and despite the fatigue from the long flight, I drove to Khanom with ease using the GPS I had with me. The house seemed more neglected than last time, the last of the 2 fans were gone, and my bike was now completely rusted away.
I slept a few hours and then took my car up to the restaurant where I came in merry company including Mee and Precha, the last of whom paid for my beer, as so often before. A few years ago I would only drink beer when it was Saturday, but like most people I can withstand much, just not temptations, so now we make a joke of it, telling each other that it is Saturday regardless of the day the calendar shows.
I slept well that night, except I suddenly woke up and noticed I had insect bites all over. I got up and changed the bedding and slept again. I heard a heavy rain at one time and was anxious to see if I could swim the next morning. No problems, the weather was fine, and the waves were not very big. I was also excited to see if my right arm could handle swimming movements better than before the surgery. In March I had an operation on my right elbow because the joint had been seriously damaged by arthritis. The surgery gave me much more mobility than before even though the problems weren't quite gone, but swimming was going to be the ultimate test!
Normally I have a small piece of styrofoam or something similar with me and let it float to view current direction, but I had forgotten, and guessed my way, but evidently wrong. When after about fifteen minutes I turned around, it took me three times longer to swim back, so I did swim an hour! I went home and ate breakfast and got money from the ATM in the bank, and then drove to Big C mall in Surat and bought lots of stuff, both for now and to bring back goods that are cheaper here. In the evening, the weather was still good, so I swam again, but got sore shoulders; an hour swimming in the morning after not having swum in almost a year, was too much, so I swam only 15 minutes, but my elbow didn't bother me.
I let Precha persuade me into a single beer for dinner, but I ate salad, and with all the swimming and the trip through the grocery store, I had a clear conscience, healthy food and almost too much exercise!
I was told by Jeam that in a few days he was having a meeting with the bank for a larger loan, and when it went through I could get my money. They had once promised him the loan, but after the military took power again, all the top people in both the administration and larger businesses like banks changed and all agreements and deals had to be gone through again. The meeting was on August 30, and he said it had gone well, and was waiting for a call to from the local department's bank manager. The loan was partly to pay some debt, partly to build a new hotel for foreign guests, the Thai guests in the resort love karaoke, but this Thai music scares away any foreigners.
I swim almost every morning, now almost over half an hour each time, and evenings between 15 and 30 minutes, but I also drink more beer than I should, so I do not think I will lose weight this time.
I have not swum with white sharks, but I saw a black dolphin from a distance, but unfortunately only one time. The weather is good, it is mostly overcast during the day, alternating with some showers and sunshine. I have encountered a jellyfish, probably 2 times. One evening I felt something when I swam, it was a rough surface of something that was alive, but I didn't study it in details, but swam away as fast as I could. I waited for it to start to burn, but it didn't happen. The next morning I saw a very large white jellyfish slosh around one meter from the water's edge. As far as I know, the white is harmless, but you never know whether it also applies here in Thailand, so I waded further out and swam. When I went back, it was then washed up at the waters edge. Now I was not able to control my curiosity, but gently touched the surface. To my great surprise it was rough, almost like the underside of a plaice. I thought I could remember from the last time I touched a jellyfish when I was as a boy almost 100 years ago, it was just jelly blobs; fish skin was the last thing I expected! Maybe there is a difference between large and small, or jellyfish in Danish waters and in the Gulf of Thailand. When going back for lunch lunch a few hours later, I took my camera, and the jellyfish was still there, but was now stranded, so it was no longer quite as big as it was in the water. But you can still get an impression of it.
I have also found a large snail on the lawn next to the restaurant in the resort. I tried to lift it, but it was not empty, so I let it be. But when it did not move for 3 days, I examined it more closely, and found out there was an indefinable black mass inside the shell that was rotting. I took it and tried to clean it, but it was difficult, and as it continues to smell a bit, I think I'll leave it here and see if not the shell is empty when I come next time, and if so I will take it home to Denmark.
Occasionally I got beer in a glass instead of just drinking from the bottle, served in a relatively tall glass with a slightly wide heavy foot. It looks great, and is handy with the foot, because it doesn't tip over as easily. I asked Mee about where I could buy this kind of glass, but I could not buy it, it was some they had received as advertising from Beer Chang, but she called the distributor, he found some glasses in the warehouse, and then I got 6 glasses in a box, thanks to Mee and Beer Chang.
Paeng's little brother is now 4 years old, and visits me occasionally, and I am now painting him on the wall. On the big painting of a temple behind a wall where the kids paint pictures and with a monkey on the top, I place him behind the monkey, looking over the top of the wall.
In the last week here, I saw in the morning, just off shore, something that was either a snake or an eel. It was brownish in slightly different shades, probably 30-40 cm long, and I saw no gills or fins. Since it could be a snake, I didn't examine it more closely. But when I told the Thais about it later, they reassured me that it probably was only a snake, implying that an eel could be dangerous!
Next trip I have planned for February 2014, but in some exciting news, I might try a gene therapy in Denmark in the spring, as one of the first people in the world. If I am given permission to participate in the experiment, and if it is successful, my coagulation factor IX will increase from under 2 to 10-15%! That is not quite a normal level, but I will only need to inject in case of an accident, not preventively (or, technically "prophylacticly") as now, opening up entirely new perspectives for me. So I will just make sure that the treatment will not be in February or March before I buy the ticket. These prospects have first priority.
PART 12: SO FAR MY LAST TRIP February 13 to March 13, 2015
I ended the last part telling about the gene therapy I might be offered, but the hospital told me that nothing was decided yet, so I went to Thailand for a month in February. It was a sad experience in more than one way. As the Bath is linked to the US$ all prices were high, which meant fewer tourists and higher living costs for the Thais. There were fewer customers in the resort and restaurant, a smaller staff, and my neighbor family were moving to Nakhon Sri Thammarat, 80-90 km South, where they originally came from. Jui had been foreman for Jeam for more than 10 years, and his wife Lek and their daughter Pui came here about 5 years ago. They have all helped me, so I was sorry to say goodbye. The only advantage was that Pui might have better educational opportunities in the bigger town.
In light of the bad economic situation in Thailand, Jeam could not of course pay me my money back, now or in the near future. The military Junta was told by both the EU and the USA that they expected a quick return to democracy, but this offended them -- this was an internal affair and they would not tolerate any interference from any foreign power. They turned instead towards neighboring dictatorships such as Cambodia, Myanmar, China and even invited the leader of North Korea to come visit, not a step that would encourage tourists from the west.
The waves were a little too heavy, so first I dislocated an ankle, then I got a bad shoulder, and had to take injections and even painkillers. I contacted the hospital in Copenhagen, but was told that I should just continue what I was doing, and get in touch with the hospital again when I came home. Everything got better, but later on, at the hospital in Copenhagen, x-rays showed that I had an old injury to the clavicle from my fall in Crimea, and within a few years I might need a minor surgery.
At last the hospital told me that I was accepted for the gene therapy, and I began the feasibility studies in August, which went well. In September I went to Frankfurt in Germany to get it done, and now have to wait some months to see how it works. Will I produce a higher level of Fct. IX, and if I do, is my liver going to accept it without problems?
Anyway I have to go to the hospital for tests every week for many months, so it may be a year before I'm able to go to Thailand again.
Some pictures from the archive:
When moving in, I painted this as an inspiration for the kids to decorate the walls, and soon I had fine pictures all over my rooms.
Some of the paintings the kids made in my house. At first you see a temple wall with Pui in front and a temple behind, this is my doing. But the children painted picures on the wall, both the regular and visiting children. The blue vase on the yellow background were painted by Pui. Upper right is Daow's work, and beneath that are Pui's paintings.
Some pictures from the archive:
When moving in, I painted this as an inspiration for the kids to decorate the walls, and soon I had fine pictures all over my rooms.
|My brother Per and his Thai wife Rhampoi in Bangsan when they still lived together|