Extracts From The Diary of Dr JA Earnshawe (Part 12)
Thabo Village, Nong Khai Province Monday 28th March 2005
I stepped back down to my beloved Earth once again. How good it felt to be back – I had another chance to live – and I was going to make the most of it!
I had entered the world again but felt that something was distinctly different about it. The people and the houses seemed so primitive – it was as though I had indeed returned, but not to the modern Thailand as I knew it – of skyscrapers, sky trains and sky television – instead to a long forgotten ancient past. That was it! True to form, God really had moved in a mysterious way. For some reason known only to Him, I had been transplanted back into the past – it explained everything!
I was standing in the centre of a strange circus; a sawdust ring of wooden sheds on stilts, and an audience of little brown people; silent, watching and expecting.
‘Hello,’ I said to my little circle of spectators, ‘can anyone speak English?’
They stared back at me in mute incomprehension.
Of course they couldn’t understand me – not even the English could speak English – not yet. Nevertheless, more in desperation than hope, I continued:
‘I came to find a lady called Nok,’ I said.
Above my expectations, someone immediately left the group and dashed into a nearby hut. In wild anticipation of seeing my loved one again, my heart began to pound wildly in my chest. But as a small wizened old lady with tattoos and gold jewellery was brought before me, and quickly dashed any hopes I may have foolishly harboured of ever seeing Nok again.
‘This isn’t Nok.’ I pointed out.
‘No, my name Bo,’ the lady replied. ‘I speaking English – I help you.’
Although I was stunned at hearing my mother tongue spoken by so primitive a creature I remained forlorn.
‘No,’ I said sadly, ‘you can’t help me. The lady I’m looking for is yet to be born. Not even her mother is born, not her grandmother or even her great grandmother for that matter. There is no point trying to contact any of her family, they will not be born for many years.’
As the interpretations of my comments were made to the villagers, they looked at me incredulously – and no wonder – I was finding it so very hard to take in myself.
‘Which one you want?’ Bo asked, ‘Nok, or baby of Nok, Nok mother, Nok grandmother, or Nok great-grandmother? I have Nokia, you want me phone?’
‘What?’ I said, ‘you can’t have a mobile phone – they haven’t been invented yet.’
But, sure enough, Bo produced a tiny silver hand set; and flipped it open before me.
‘I’m not in the past then,’ I said, quite staggered by this new revelation, ‘- but what age is this, what year is it now?’
I looked at the date displayed clearly on the phone – I was absolutely astounded – it read; 28th March 2548! I had indeed been implanted into an entirely different age – but not back into the past as I had thought – but forwards – hundreds of years into the future! Some kind of nuclear war or disastrous climate change must have taken place to destroy the modern decadent world and delivered it back to a simple agricultural existence. This had been so often predicted back in my own age. What fools we had all been.
‘OK, I phone Nok now,’ Bo said, ‘– you want her – or relative of Nok?’
‘No,’ I said sadly, ‘Nok is dead. There is no point trying to contact any of her sons and daughters even her great grandchildren either; they will all have died many years ago.’
As the interpretations of my comments were made to the villagers, they looked at me incredulously – and no wonder – I was finding it so very hard to take in myself.
‘But Nok – she not dead!’ Bo exclaimed, ‘I saw Nok this morning feeding chicken, she come from Bangkok yesterday – bring medicine for sick buffalo.’
‘What?’ I said, ‘but how can this be? I don’t understand.’
‘Come – I show you Nok now – she in house over there.’
I was led, faithfully followed by my little entourage, to one of the many similar wooden huts that surrounded the barren piece of open space in which we had been standing. As we neared the hut, a yellow Labrador dog ran out to greet me, immediately attaching itself to my legs by wrapping its forelegs around my thighs, then going into a muscular spasm, vigorously thrusting into my knees until I wobbled fell to the floor, where it continued to simulate the same copulatory performance on my now prostrated and helpless body.
‘Nancy!’ a familiar voice called out. ‘You bad boy you stop now.’ Nancy was being beaten by a stick, though apparently oblivious to it. As we rolled around in the dust, there seemed to be was a lot of chaos and shouting and I was aware of several intervening hands as Nancy was pulled away, his hips continuing to thrusting in spasms even after his detachment. As the dust slowly cleared, I looked up to see, at last, the woman of my dreams, grinning at me, hands on her hips – as beautiful as I ever.
‘Hello, big hansom man,’ she said. ‘You come find me?’
‘I have come’ I said, determinedly, ‘to take you for my wife.’
‘Why your wife wants me?’ she said, completely misunderstanding the significance of my quest and the conclusion to my long tortuous journey.
‘No,’ I explained, ‘I have no wife – what I mean is – I want you as my wife – that is, if you want me. What I’m really trying to say is,’ I said, going down on my knees;
‘What I’m really trying to say is; will you marry me?’
As Bo translated, the villagers cheered. Nok looked at me for a moment with some astonishment before saying;
‘I cannot answer now big man. You must speak father, please come into home.’
Inside Nok’s hut were a large group of people. Nok introduced me to each in turn.
‘This my father and mother.’ She said indicating two middle-aged people almost as old as me. Mother wai-ed me with a big grin, but as Nok continued, father observed the introductions in ominous reservation.
‘This my grandmother, Oneata.’
A wrinkled old lady grinned at me through a single tooth stained red with the juice of berries. Finally, was introduced to a big lad of around 20, a girl of about 12, and another girl, not much more than a baby.
‘This my brother Tic and these my sisters Tac and Toa.’ Nok explained, ‘You know already to meet Nancy – him love you a lot.’ To my dismay, Nancy was released, and immediately welded to my leg for my remaining time in the house. With the difficulty presented by my vibrating canine tumour I turned to Nok’s father.
‘How do you do sir?’ I said, ‘The reason I have travelled to your home – in which you have so humbled me by your gracious welcome – is that I have come to ask you for your daughter’s hand in marriage.’
Father grunted something in the Thai vernacular which Bo translated.
‘Him say you welcome marry Nok if sin sot very good. First he say you shower now. You smell same same corpse.’
I was confused and not a little stunned by this reply, but before I retired to the bathroom I responded to him graciously through Nok: ‘Please thank your father for his welcome.’
I looked around the bathroom, but couldn’t find anything resembling either a shower or a bath. There was a large tub full of cloudy water in which a large ladle hung from the side. But there was no toilet as such – only a dirty hole dug in the ground – that was it really. I was just completing my ablutions when there was a knock followed by a call at the door:
‘Please come – there is phone call for you.’
Bo handed me her Nokia. Immediately I recognised the voice on the other end.
‘Cummings!’ I said ‘You would never believe what has happened to me since I last saw you.’
‘It is hard to believe,’ he replied ‘- and if I hadn’t been following it all on the BBC World News I would never have believed it – even of you! You’re quite a hero now Earnshawe, and a global celebrity.’
‘I am?’ I said, absolutely astonished.
‘Yes and the media are desperate for any information on you, and – believe me – I tried to resist, as I know how shy you are of publicity, but my palm has been crossed with silver more than once. Of course, old chap, I had to recoup my losses from Bangkwai somehow – securing your release was not easy. The top and bottom of it is; I’m being flown into Thabo with the BBC news team – all expenses paid – with celebrities and surprise guests and so on; Frosty, Parky, Paxman and the lot lined up – well you needed an agent – so I have reluctantly stepped in.’
‘But I have an agent already – Mrs Groatmiller from Supersubs.’
‘Not a teaching agency old boy – forget all that – you’re big time now.’
‘But I must get married by tomorrow at the latest. I have to get back to England soon.’
‘All the better – we’ll kick off with your bachelor night followed by the main thrash tomorrow. There are some serious drinkers coming; Foreskin, Bluey and Walker to name three of the best in Bangkok. Look, whatever you do, don’t try and negotiate the sin sot until I arrive to mediate. I’m deadly serious. If it’s not done carefully, all we have gained could be lost in one fell swoop.’
‘Sin sot?’ I said, Nok’s father mentioned this was something that had to be good as a condition of our marriage – but I don’t even know what sin sot is.’
‘You don’t know that a dowry payment is par for the course in marriage packages around these parts?’
‘Not at all,’ I answered, ‘I thought such a thing had died out – even among the aristocracy. It sounds like something straight out of a Jane Eliot novel.’
‘It’s still alive and kicking here – and if you are not careful you will be the one who is kicked – but hardly alive if I know a thing or two about Thai negotiating practices.’
After the call from Cummings I was really in quite a fluster; Frosty, Parky, – the giants of the media. I suppose I just had to get used to being famous. All I really wanted was to marry my sweetheart and settle down into obscurity. I wasn’t a celebrity person.
As for a dowry, I was extremely reluctant to accept any money at all from Nok’s parents. It seemed absurd; why should I receive payment in exchange for the hand of a young and beautiful daughter from parents who couldn’t even afford a proper lavatory?
And why couldn’t I carry out the dowry negotiations for myself? Someone like me, who has the experience of several days in Thailand, will have been more or less bound to have picked up enough Thai to hold his own among the natives. I already knew that ‘falang’ – was my own name. Walker had taught me that ‘bum-bum’ meant to meet someone. I’d also deduced from the police officer I refused to pay a bribe to that ‘ting-tong’ must mean honourable. Associated with my intended Nok, was ‘kii nok’ – so I deduced the word ‘kii’ had to mean love. In fact, I believe I could almost write a basic English-Thai phrase book. Armed with these few phrases and my basic commonsense, I decided I was more than adequately equipped to dispense with this dowry business well before Cummings and his media circus arrived.
I found Nok and told her: ‘Please inform your father I am ready to begin the sin-sot discussion whenever it is convenient to him.’
Within minutes I was alone with Nok’s father and Bo, who acted as the village interpreter in such matters. They looked a formidable pair – both extremely serious and determined. However, I am sure they would find me more than affable and flexible enough to briskly come to equitable terms.
‘Look,’ I said immediately, ‘I think I should start by pointing out I’m opposed to the idea of a sin sot payment altogether. I know it’s an important tradition in your culture – but I have had an enormous attraction for your daughter since we first made bum-bum together in my hotel car park. When you get to know me better you will realise that the man you see before you is falang ting-tong and above all falang kii nok. If it makes you feel any better we could perhaps exchange, say, one of your little green notes as a token, in order to save face with your neighbours. We can pretend to everyone it was more if you wish – say, a red one?’
I would have continued this line of negotiations but I could see that as my opening remarks were translated to my prospective father-in-law, his features became increasingly hostile towards my suggestions. His reply, obviously venting great anger towards me was given back to me in English in the harshest of terms.
‘We disgraced and dishonoured by outrage. You say sin sot 20 baht and then pretend it 100? Falang give bad respect – want you leave village now – not stay and abuse family and home.’
It seemed that my opening remarks had not gone down as well as I expected. Nok’s father was obviously a proud and stubborn man. I realised it was time to explore a different way forward in our negotiations.
‘Why don’t you name a reasonable price for me to consider?’ I suggested.
This seemed to go down much better than my previous strategy. They went into a private confabulation, before Bo turned to me again.
‘Sin sot will be 1 million baht,’ she declared.
‘What!’ I exclaimed. ‘In all honesty, I could not accept such a large amount, I am not a rich man and of course the money would be welcome, but with the greatest respect I think you will agree that compared to you I am very well off indeed. However, I realise that you must save face and therefore I am willing to accept a figure of half that price as long as you agree that from this you will allow me to install a modern bathroom into your home.’
Bo looked at me in surprise. ‘You say sin sot half one million baht and new bathroom?’
‘That is correct,’ I replied. ‘I am reluctant to agree to these terms, and although I couldn’t possibly accept more, with the ting-tong and kii nok I feel entrenched in my heart, I think it is perhaps a reasonable offer.’
After a short and frantic exchange between the two, Bo turned back to me smiling.
‘This good – Nok father, him accept – a good price yes, thank you – he thank you very much and hope you will be happy long time – have many grandchildren for him.’
As Nok’s father hurried back to his family to tell them the good news Bo pulled me to one side and said quietly:
‘You want another wife – as mia noi maybe? I have three daughter of my own – you maybe choose from them now and take one to England?’
‘No thank you,’ I said. It is very kind of you but one wife will be quite enough. However, I would be pleased to come to your home and make bum-bum with all three of your daughters at your convenience before my marriage.’
Before she could reply there was a sudden commotion from the centre of the village. Dust was thrown up as many SUVs with protruding radio antennae and satellite dishes roared in creating an air of profound excitement in the village. Emblazoned across the vehicles were familiar media names; BBC, Fox, CBN and all; so many important celebrities and so much technical equipment seemed to contrast so strikingly to the basic conditions in the village.
First to greet me were my good friends Cummings, Walker and Foreskin. I was immediately in demand by the media – the fees and order of my interviews were all meticulously orchestrated by my new agent Cummings.
Although I tried to appear dignified and modest during my TV appearances, many which were being broadcast live across the globe, they were flawed a little by Nancy – who frequently escaped from Nok’s yard. Viewers would have been unaware of my vibrating canine attachment during my performances and some of the recordings I saw later were patronizingly sympathetic: ‘in spite of clearly suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Dr Earnshawe bravely …etc.’ I wish someone would tie that damn thing up or at least let it wander over to the highway and get itself run over.
Later, I felt very remorseful at expressing such vindictive thoughts towards Nok’s pet. But after all, I’m famous now and surely entitled to be a little moody and petulant.
After my interviews, much of the media remained behind to film the wedding; indeed, they put a great deal of input into the preparations. A huge marquee was delivered which when erected covered the whole of the open area in the centre of the village, and a large central stage fitted with theatrical lights and PA system was built. The media and other visitors had swelled the wedding party to over 900 guests. Celebrations were to start early in the morning and go on for the whole of the day.
I was about to bid a temporary farewell to Nok and her family and make my way back to the Nong Khai Hotel in which all the westerners were booked, when I saw Nok running around in a state of some distress.
‘Nancy him die, Nancy him die,’ she repeated frantically. I had become so accustomed to my attachment I hadn’t noticed that he had wandered off.
I followed Nok and little Tac as they ran out of the village towards the highway where she had been told poor Nancy lay. However, when we got to the place indicated there was no sign of him. I deeply hoped the information was wrong; not least because I felt so guilty for wishing the fate upon her pet that had now apparently befallen him. But my hopes were dashed; Nancy’s end was confirmed by a shopkeeper who had witnessed it. The shopkeeper recounted, with inappropriate mirth in my view, his running into the path of a Fox News SUV and the strange removal of the body by a van which arrived shortly after the fatal accident.
As we walked back, Nok, at first choking with sobs, quickly controlled her emotions and became silent. I cast my about in my mind for some words that might console her but found only lame and useless ones.
Back at the hotel Cummings promised me that my bachelor night was going to be; ‘a night to remember.’ I was already feeling very down because of what had happened to Nancy. Also, because of my previous experience of Cummings and his practical jokes, and Foreskin and Walker’s tremendous capacity for alcohol, this evening, more than the tedious rigmarole of the wedding ceremony I had to face tomorrow, began to worry me a great deal.
In the hotel bar I was joined by my friends and we began to celebrate my ‘stag night’ in the traditional bawdy English fashion. We were joined by the waitresses at the bar who poured our drinks for us, and I must say we had a very jolly evening.
Walker and Cummings suggested going on to a night club, but Cummings and I were more up to going for a meal then an early night. Cummings in particular couldn’t seem to wait to get to bed. One of the waitresses, who had spent most of the evening on Cummings’ lap, suggested visiting a nearby restaurant which she recommended most highly, and soon we set off on the pillions of the ladies motorbikes.
As the menu was in Thai, I instructed Cummings to order me a simple steak.
‘Sunack for my friend please.’ he said to the waiter.
For the first time since I had arrived in Thailand I ate heartily, tucking into what was indeed a delicious tender steak. Well satisfied at last in the epigastric regions I thanked the waiter:
‘That was excellent,’ I said, ‘please pass my compliments to the chef.’
‘Yes sir,’ the waiter explained, ‘we just got meat this evenings, vely flesh yellow Labladol good ma sunack from highway, him make many good steak.’
A lump came in my throat as it registered immediately. I was stunned.
‘Oh my God,’ I said, ‘– I’ve eaten Nancy!’
On the way back to the hotel everyone was very drunk. The motorbikes were zigzagging across the road as a police car pulled alongside. Just when I thought I was going to spend the night before my wedding in yet another cell, the police officer who had emerged from the vehicle began to undress, stripping slowly to reveal a frilly bra, daring suspenders, fishnet stockings and other items of lady-like lingerie. It was just another of Cummings’ katoey’s!
Thabo Village, Nong Khai Province Tuesday 29th March 2005
The next day passed in a bit of a blur – not least because of my hangover. I was annoyed because, not only had I eaten Nancy the previous evening, but I had lost the speech that I had taken many hours meticulously composing.
A further surprise awaited me before the ceremony. I was actually asked to pay, and not receive, a dowry from Nok’s Father – but he struck me as being in even greater surprise (you might even have thought shock) when I explained I didn’t actually have any cash with me and had to hand it over to him in traveler’s cheques.
Cummings, my best man, and I, in our white collarless suits and following the Thai tradition, walked towards the altar from outside the village. It was remarked by more than one observer that I resembled the captain of the Starship Enterprise (Captain Slog, the bald one), while Cummings’, with his wavy greying hair dyed black for the occasion, was said to look not unlike a personality called Gary Glitter.
As our hideous look-alike duo approached the village, we were barred entry three or four times by the annoying antics of some little village rascals who, despite my protestations, had to be actually bribed each time by Cummings before they would let us pass through. I have always believed that a firm hand on the seat of the pants is the most effective way to deal with mischievous children, but Cummings remarked that we must respect all the cultural traditions. In my old-fashioned opinion, such short term indulgence only leads to future problems.
At last I sighted Nok, barely recognizable, face ghostly with make-up, and raised up to ‘normal’ height on massive boots under her long wedding dress (apparently a common requirement whenever a Thai bride marries a western husband); nevertheless, she was as beautiful as ever. They say every bride is beautiful on her wedding day and indeed Nok most surely was. Her smile alone made everything I’d been through worthwhile.
The ceremony itself consisted of monastery style chanting, as we all held on to strings attached to what appeared to be a cross between a Xmas tree and May pole. In contrast to these dignified proceedings, I observed Foreskin, Bluey and Walker on a nearby table completely inebriated. They had drunk continuously night and day, and were now sleeping like babies in a pool of whisky and vomit.
I was then summoned on stage to deliver my speech. Although I spoke without notes (having mislaid them), I think I made quite a rousing rendition, based on a remix of the delivery of Kennedy, Churchill and Luther King. However, I believe it went down rather well and if I recall accurately, went something like this:
(Long expressionless pause – forcing the audience’s attention. Only when absolute silence achieved, begin calmly in a measured tone.)
‘There are people who don’t (pause)… or say they don’t (pause)… know the difference between Thailand, and the modern world (pause)…I say to them (a long pause, before I raise my voice dramatically)
‘… LET… THEM… COME… TO… NONG… KHAI.’
‘Because, ladies and gentlemen, (pause)… when I first came to Nong Khai people said that; ‘within TWO MINUTES (pause) … Earnshawe’s neck will be wrung like a chicken’, (pause)… I say to them, (a long pause, then loudly and slowly)
‘… SOME …CHICKEN … SOME… NECK’.
‘Because, ladies and gentlemen (in a voice quivering with emotion – like a Southern American Baptist Preacher), I…have…a …dream… I have a dream, that all the little brown boys and little brown girls; will be holding hands with their white brothers and sisters, and (loudly now – voice, quivering to a crescendo in almost pathetic, overstated emotion)
Unfortunately, just as I was warming to my address I was interrupted by Cummings who beckoned me off stage.
‘That’s enough old boy – very lively, but a bit OTT,’ he said, pulling me to one side, ‘you must light the candles now.’
In what was to be the climax of the ceremony, I was handed a long burning taper and given the solemn duty to light the candles at the top of the tree on which we had performed the wedding ceremony. As I leant over from the top of the stage, under the glare of the light, flashbulbs and face of nearly a thousand people – and goodness knows how many millions more watching live on TV – somehow I overbalanced. Looking back, I blame the whisky spilled by the irresponsible antics of Foreskin, Bluey and Walker, and anyway, even if it wasn’t specifically that which had caused me to slip, it was certainly the flammability of the surroundings they had created that resulted in the fire spreading so quickly; first from the tree, then to the marquee and finally to all the huts of the village.
I most certainly was not to blame.
Everyone ran for the lives. Fortunately, there were only a few minor injuries and no one appeared to have perished in the blaze. However, by time firemen arrive from Nong Khai, the huts of the village, all the animals, the media vehicles, and all the outside broadcasting equipment was completely consumed by an inferno that could be seen for hundreds of miles around. It was as if the final solution had come to pass on the arrogance of the SUV drivers. The slayers of Nancy had met a fitting retribution.
But it was obviously not my fault. Even if I was in anyway to blame, it was an accident that could have happened to absolutely anybody.
This was the concluding extract in the series. I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to Mr Stickman for allowing me to submit my articles to his excellent site and for the many kind comments I have received from readers. I have two or three special extracts lined up for submission, which are from different periods in my diary and I will send them to stickmanbangkok for consideration within the next few weeks.
J A Earnshawe BSc PhD
A truly superb series.