Khun Ot, The Prettiest Nurse in Town
It was late afternoon when I arrived in the tiny town of Huay Groan. Huay Groan sits in a compact, bowl-shaped valley at the very northern tip of Nan Province. Twenty five years ago it was the scene of a fierce battle the Thai Army had with communists along the Lao border. A friend in the embassy had given me the name of her cousin who worked there as a sort of local sheriff and governor rolled into one busy job. I had arranged to meet him the following day, so I had my first evening in town free and decided take a look around.
I checked in to the only accommodation available, a thatched roof bungalow sitting on a ridge overlooking the town. The proprietress was working her loom in the shade beneath her small stilted hut and immediately returned to her loom after handing me the key. The local people were not ethnically Thai, but were from one of the smaller hill tribe groups in the region. The town is known for its silk weaving, and most houses I passed had a loom going with bolts of multicolored silk on display.
The roads were surprisingly good in this area, but I decided to walk down into town as I had been driving for two days since leaving Bangkok. The double takes of the villagers I passed on the way were all followed by smiles, and I stopped at a few houses where women were selling silk, engaging them in small talk. Apparently I was only the second foreigner they had seen that year, the other being a missionary that lived further south in Nan Province. Continuing into town I spotted among the open-front shops and clapboard houses a small shack with a few villagers lined up outside. It served as a sort of health station where a nurse in white uniform was dispensing medicine and medical advice.
She called me over and we chatted for a while about her job and why I was there. She was young, pleasant looking and very friendly, inviting me to dinner when she finished her shift. She still had a few hours of work remaining so we agreed to meet later and I continued my stroll through town. The road soon began to go uphill again, as I had very quickly reached the other side of the bowl in which Huay Groan sits. The town was almost silent save for the sounds of kids playing at the local school, so I decided to pay a visit there.
As I entered the schoolyard a teacher spotted me right away and invited me in for a cup of tea. It was a good day to arrive because tomorrow they were going to have the annual anti-drug parade and I was invited to march with them. The only requirement was to wear a white shirt as a symbol of your stance against illegal drugs. Luckily I had packed one and said I would be honored to attend.
The teachers were not of the local hill tribe, but were Thais from other provinces working in a sort of government run domestic aid agency, doing a few years rough duty teaching in remote villages prior to returning home to regular teaching jobs. I sensed that this was the central government’s way of not only helping the poor, but also a method of ensuring that the Thai culture and language remained dominant in these previously restive borderlands.
After an hour of conversation the teachers invited me to dine with them, but I had to decline citing my previous engagement with the nurse. This sparked their interest. “Oh, a nurse? Which one? What is her name?”
Embarrassed I replied, “Actually, I think she told me, but I’ve forgotten already. I don’t know her name.”
“You must meet Khun Ot, she is the prettiest nurse in town.” The others eagerly agreed.
Now my interest was sparked. “OK, thanks for the advice, I’ll keep an eye out for Khun Ot.” The nurse that I had been chatting with was cute, but certainly no raving beauty.
We bade farewell and I promised to be at the parade the next day. The sun was already below the ridgeline as I walked back into the valley to find my dinner date. I began thinking that in a tiny town like this the nurse who I had already met was probably Khun Ot after all.
She was busy closing up shop when I arrived, so I sat outside wondering what her name was while she put away her medicines and padlocked her little medical shed. The town was almost silent and growing dark fast. It was actually cold enough that she put on a sweater as she came outside.
“OK, Khun Paul, we will go to the market first to get some ingredients, then we will go meet my friend Khun Ot. She will be having dinner with us.”
I masked my delight. Things were definitely looking up. Not only was I enjoying the best of Thai hospitality, I was on my way to have dinner with the prettiest nurse in town. We walked a short distance in the dark to a tiny market selling fresh produce. My companion purchased a few vegetables and I bought some drinks to go with dinner. As we were turning to leave a high pitched, feminine voice called out from behind us. “Khun Noi! Wait for me!”
I turned to look. Sashaying towards us out of the darkness was a katoey in a nurse uniform. She had purple highlights in her hair and a dusting of sparkles on her cheeks. My companion turned to me and said, “Khun Paul, I’d like you to meet my friend, Khun Ot.”