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A Thai Relic

  • Written by Union Hill
  • January 5th, 2006
  • 5 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

‘Mother-in-law’ stories are of course, universal. Stand-up comedians have built whole careers on ‘mother-in-law’ jokes.

There must be a reason for this. Are mothers-in-law put on this earth only to irritate the piss out of their daughters' husbands? Do they have any other purpose in life? Are they any use at all?

However bad you think your mother-in-law is, I bet she isn’t Thai. Mine is….. sort of. She’s got all her marbles but I am convinced that she is only half civilized.

Before I go on, I’m sure there are readers out there who would say, “but I get on fine with my mother-in-law”. Well, good for you, I say. Apart from getting along with the mother-in-law, you are probably the type who keeps his desk tidy at the office and remembers his wedding anniversary. All these things are signs of a disturbed mind in my book.

I’m more mainstream. My mother-in-law brings out the worst in me. She has recently come to stay with us. This arrangement has got a permanent kind of look about it that I don’t much care for but hey, I’m only the husband! My wife seems to think it is her turn to take care of her mother. Very commendable but I preferred it when the old bat lived in Ubon with the wife’s elder sister.

I am not a naturally suspicious person but there is something wrong with the age gap between my mother-in-law and her daughters. Not to put too fine a point on it but the old girl is just too, well…OLD. I am convinced that there is a missing link here but my wife and her two sisters will not even have this conversation with me. I think it much more likely that the old girl my wife calls ‘Jai’ is actually her grandmother and not her mother. I am told that she is more than eighty years old but no-one knows when her birthday is or exactly how old she is. They have chosen to celebrate her birthday on the day known as Mother’s Day in Thailand. She does not speak Thai, she speaks some obscure Isaan / Laos dialect that it seems only her immediate family can understand. She does not have a tooth in her head and when she speaks, the sounds resonate from her skull in a series of hoots, pitched at various levels. Further proof to me that her head is probably empty. When she talks, it sounds a bit like a six year old learning to play the recorder.

As she no longer possesses a single tooth, she survives on a diet of steamed fish. She can grind steamed fish between her gums. It is not a sight for anyone with a weak stomach. A direct consequence of her living on a diet of steamed fish is that she constantly smells like a tin of cat food.

She has no interests or opinions that I can detect. Her only concern is when she will be getting her next fix of steamed fish. In between meals, she will grind up beetle nuts with a small pestle and mortar and chew them, spasmodically spitting out the red slime into a cup. She will do this with no regard for present company or location. It’s a disgusting habit.

Yesterday I caught her drinking water from the outside tap. I think it will only be a question of time before I catch her drinking water from the toilet.

Yesterday we had an interesting event. At my wife’s behest we took “Jai” to a Thai restaurant for dinner. She did not like the fact that she had to sit at a table at this restaurant, normally at home she eats on the floor. This is her preference, not because I force her to. I watched with open-mouthed amazement as the wife and her sister tried to coax her to sit at the table. It was no good, she refused to eat but she did sit at the table long enough for me to bolt down a plate of rice before ordering her scrawny arse back to the car.

The sun sets in Thailand at this time of year at around 6.00pm. “Jai’ takes a shower and goes to bed at sunset. She cannot understand why anyone would want to stay up later than this. I am sure that she believes electric lights are some form of wizardry. Similarly, she gets up at sunrise and demands that the rest of the household does the same. I have declared myself exempt from this rule.

When I do come down the stairs in the morning I am greeted by the sight of “Jai” sitting on her rattan mat, on the floor in the corner of the living room. If I had a spaniel, the dog might at least be pleased to see me in the morning. I’d probably have to train a spaniel not to sit on the settee, too. No such problem with “Jai”. I get no acknowledgement from “Jai” as I descend the stairs.

Last week I was horrified to find a selection of weeds packed in plastic bags, deposited in my wine cave. I held one of the bags up and demanded to know what the Sam Hill this crap was and what was it doing in my wine cave? My wife informed me that the bags contained Isaan vegetables that were important ingredients for “Jai’s” fish soup. That must be the stuff that smells like my uncle Ken’s socks when they boil it up, I supposed. The reason these weeds were in my wine cave was because the fridge in the kitchen was full of fish!! Ughh!!

We live in a pleasant house. It’s not ostentatious but I am very happy with it. My mother-in-law believes firmly that this house is a gift from Buddha to her daughter. She also believes that I am just the vehicle by which Buddha chose to deliver this gift. It would be hell of thing if she turned out to be right!!

We’ve probably all heard it said that one day your wife will be just like her mother. In my case, that’s a real worry.

Union Hill


Stickman's thoughts:

The old duck sounds harmless! If the "j" in your "Jai" is pronounced with a "y sound", such as 'Yai', then that indeed does mean grandmother…