I had been in Thailand for a few months and thought that perhaps I might want to start looking for some work. I had money but it wasn’t going to last forever.
Sitting in some little pub in Silom Road one afternoon, I’d been eating onion soup and reading the Bangkok Post when an advertisement caught my eye for some outfit wanting language instructors.
I gave them a call, they gave me an address and told me to drop in.
I found the place easily enough, it was located in the old Hollywood Centre in Phayatai, wandered in and said ‘Hello’.
There were two Thai guys there who it appeared were brothers and the secretary / receptionist.
We had a talk then discovered something of mutual interest.
One of these brothers was married to a lady who worked with a government dept., in the supply field and as my history was aviation could I locate spare parts for aircraft?
“No problem”, I’d replied and a business was born!
The other brother was a guy called Supoj, he ran the language school and an import export business.
As time passed we became good friends – and still are 12 years along the road, with a mutual liking of playing pool and sinking beers.
We would talk about his hopes for Thailand and his dedication towards education for all Thai people irregardless of social status or riches and how in his opinion this could only improve the country.
Supoj’s family had been lucky ; He had managed to obtain a scholarship to Chula Uni then had partly financed his studies there by playing snooker. Ace snooker player is Supoj!
It also appeared that we were born in the same year and only one day apart which seemed of some significance to the Thais I knew.
We got the business running and began to win bids with various agencies which was always fun as I got to travel free to all sorts of interesting places and meets lots of different people.
Now, Supoj is a tremendously charitable sort of a person, (He later became a NGO in Isaan with an international charity), and one evening over some beer he asked if I would like to visit a hospice for people with HIV / AIDS which relied on donations from individuals.
Perhaps, he suggested that maybe I could try to cheer up some of the kids there as farangs never visited?
This seemed a worthwhile idea to me so the next evening we jumped a taxi and set off to a point in Bangkok unknown to me at that time. It took an age, but we duly pulled up outside what could only be described as a fairly grotty looking two story concrete structure with about twenty windows arrayed down the side facing the street.
As all the script was in Thai there was no way then that I would have any clue as to what it was.
We entered, and Supoj made the introductions to the nursing staff who then indicated that I should follow him along the corridor.
The place was quiet, ever so quiet and the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise.
It didn’t even smell like a hospital ; It was musty, semi dark and muted.
He pushed open a couple of swing doors to reveal about twenty beds on which kids who appeared to be between two and ten years old lay silently – some on drips, others not. Some wore nappies, some did not. Some were really thin, others were not.
All looked towards us.
In my life I have seen some things, but this – I felt like turning and running.
Luckily there was a tray of books and toys at the end of the dorm, one of them being a story in English for five year old’s. Supoj suggested that I read it to them and even act it for them.
We did a double act – I did the reading, Supoj played the clown, the kids laughed a lot.
Not because they understood English but more because of Supoj’s translation and actions.
And of course, the novelty of a farang visiting.
Later that evening, I suggested that why did we not go around the vendors in Pratunam, Thonburi, Thonglaw, Sukhumvit and Khlong Toei to extort cuddly toys for the kids?
This idea was deemed bloody good so we got everyone involved. I took on a class two evenings a week in an Interior Design company on the premise that the fees went to the Hospice.
The folks in that company were brilliant – they all paid then paid more.
They even helped in our extortion attempts which to be said, were very successful.
We turned up one evening in a taxi totally stuffed with cuddly toys and believe it or not, the driver refused payment and asked what time we wanted returned over the river. Thais are actually nice people when it comes to helping Thais.
He helped us in with the load and the expressions on the faces of the nursing staff were a sight to behold. Magic!
As we walked into the dorm I noticed a new face to my right ; A really cute wee girl about five or six years old. She bore a remarkable resemblance to Nong Poi who lived in the compound in Soi Zero with her parents and who was a cheeky little girl and so enjoyed life.
Here was a girl who was so similar, but on a death sentence. My heart twisted and I wanted to run again.
Well, we went around and dished out the cuddlies, tried to make the kids smile by acting like idiots, then I got to the little girl’s bed. Her name was Namfon.
She was shy, ever so shy. She’d never met a farang before.
What I had though, was a big pink elephant, damn thing was near as big as her.
She liked it ever so much and gave it a big hug with a smile that would melt ice.
Poor wee thing, she was dying and there was no way to explain how – how could she understand?
Over the next few months I managed to get a few people to visit, Supoj did the same, and we managed to raise some funds.
Namfon became my favourite ; She was just the sweetest daughter that any person could possibly want. But she looked serious all the time. I found this difficult.
Then one day, I found a find a copy of ‘The Jungle Book’ cartoon on video in Thai, so on our next visit we asked if we could have a VCR and TV.. The hospice actually had the equipment in the adult ward but duly got it down to us.
We set it up, and such hilarity with a bunch of sick kids, you would never believe. Namfon lay in my arms and giggled and said that I was , ‘Baloo’. I smiled back and said that she was ‘Maugli’.
Supoj explained to me over a beer one night what Namfon means in colloquial Thai. I thought it was a most lovely and thoughtful expression.
One evening we went along – Aussie Pete was with us, entered the dorm and no Namfon.
I asked a nurse where she was?
Supoj arrived at my elbow, took my arm then said, “She die”.
I looked at the bed, now with another patient, and wondered where the elephant had gone.
The elephant had gone with Namfon.
Oh goodness me, just a kick to the heart.
Later that night Supoj and I sat in some dive, drinking fast whilst the tears rolled down our cheeks.
You cannot escape the inescapable, but sometimes it can bloody hurt.
There was nothing to say, nothing to be said, it just was so sad. What a waste.
Five years later : I meet Pla, (The Good One), we talked about kids. We talked about a daughter.
I told her the story about Namfon.
She agrees that Namfon is a good name for a daughter and my reasons for this are honourable.
Ah well, more time has passed, no wife, no Namfon, but still that memory of the wide eyed child with a big pink elephant giggling in my arms while watching the Jungle Book.
Goodness, doesn’t the clock turn?
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