A Beautiful Toy
For once in my life I have decided to be serious for more than five minutes, if not only in tribute to the wonderful girl that inspired me.
‘The one major difference between fiction and reality is fiction has to make sense.’ – Tom Clancy (novelist.)
I have to agree with him.
The following is fact…
Her name was Lalada or beautiful woman but like most Thais she answered to a nickname. Hers was Toy. It wasn’t until visiting the land of smiles on a number of occasions that I eventually had the pleasure of making her acquaintance.
Toy had just recently moved down from Isaan, from a small village in the North-East province of Chaiyaphom. She had just travelled the six hour or so journey down to the capital to spend some time with her extended family. My wife’s parents had kindly offered her a place to stay for a short time to sample life within their family home in Bangkok. After all, along with my wife and I plus nine other family members living under one roof, what was one more?
Within seconds of being introduced to her I found myself totally infected by her charm. At first she kept pretty much to herself. I guess she had a lot on her mind. In different ways I suppose we both felt like we were outsiders and although a little shy, over time our relationship grew. As it did I had a willingness at every opportunity to pursue her, stealing glimpses at her pretty brown eyes every time she raised her head. Slowly but surely I was finding it harder and harder to spend time away from her, more and more I found myself in some dream, lost in a daze at the classical symmetry of her features, her sheer beauty. Handcrafted by the master craftsman himself, God in all his wisdom had truly created the most adoring, gorgeous masterpiece of all. If only this creature of great comeliness had been born under different circumstances, if only she had greater opportunities, if only she had the chance of a more affluent lifestyle, if only I could do something, if only…
On getting to know Toy, I had become more intrigued about her origin, her homeland and inevitably her future. One day while sitting around with the in-laws busy doing nothing other than watching the cartoon network and stuffing great lumps of the glutinous ‘sticky rice’ into our mouths, I took the opportunity to ask a few things. Non significant things but nevertheless things I felt compelled to know. As Toy couldn’t speak a single word of English and I had trouble comprehending much of her Thai, communication was a little difficult to say the least, but like Robinson Crusoe and man Friday with the aid of make-shift sign language and other house members chipping in with their contribution, we managed to communicate quite satisfactorily.
As it turns out her father had left home some time ago and her mother finding herself with no income life in North-East Thailand was proving to become increasingly difficult for her. For many countries around the world living in the ‘sticks’ or away from the bright lights of the big cities can be a very difficult place to make ends meet and Thailand is no exception. Toy and her mother held no worldly possessions nor had any meaningful inheritance to speak of. As no doubt most of you reading this will be aware, ‘up-country’ the majority of Thais remain desperately poor relying on their land to grow enough rice, fruit etc for their own needs and hopefully if they can avoid the natural elements and the pests they might just have some left over to sell.
Personally speaking I have been relatively lucky in my upbringing having been raised in a well developed major city within the United Kingdom where all amenities, equal opportunities and plenty of government funds were always readily available, therefore no matter how hard I try I will never truly understand nor feel the hardship and the struggle some people have to injur just in order to survive. Sure when I was a child we suffered hardships and my parents struggled at times to make ends meet but I’m talking about here and now, the twenty-first century. For the most of us we can only relate to stories and try to learn from them, try to imagine just how difficult things were / are.
Through the aid of drawing little pictures on a pad I deduced her house stood on many supporting columns about ten feet off the ground which made an open space underneath. As well as to prevent the house from becoming flooded out during the rainy season, the space underneath doubled up as a shelter for any farm animals or mangy mutts to escape from the rain or intense sunshine. The home consisted of one big room around ten feet square where most of the living was done. Climbing half a dozen rungs or so up a ladder you would find yourself in the bedroom, however going by the description it sounded more like just a raised platform area where mosquito nets draped over old wooden planks served as beds.
With no electricity, no water and no bathroom, life sounded a little raw to say the least. A visit to the toilet wasn’t a pleasurable trip at the best of times but during the night it was most definitely not recommended as trying to find your way around the back of the house with only a candle and the night stars to guide you would prove to be very difficult, not to mention dangerous. As a child I personally can remember having to go to the outside loo or having to use a bucket in the middle of the night but it just didn’t come close to what this girl had to endure.
Admittedly for a lot of Thais things have moved along and people have adapted and overcome, for some even they live quite comfortably. For Toy and her mother, well, they still relied heavily on the land as their only source of income and there is little left over for any home comforts. Despite her unfortunate circumstances, Toy was such a kind-hearted and high spirited character. All the hardships she had endured as a child never quenched the aura, the perpetual glow that seemed to surround her, illuminating everything in her presence.
An old friend once told me something which has always stayed with me, ‘Hear one side of story, pick up stick. Hear another side, put stick down again’. In other words hear both sides of the story before jumping to conclusions. It is easy for anybody to jump to such conclusions when hearing stories regarding Thais travelling to the big cities to earn some extra cash, albeit in the ‘entertainment industry.’ What is harder to recognise is the history and hardship some Thais face when rice farming for most can be such a hard and uncertain life and thus they are forced into a life where they have little choice.
It has to be said that Northern Thais are generally very beautiful. Many Western women would and happily do pay hundreds of Pounds / Dollars / Euros just getting their own skin to remotely resemble it in some way. The very fact that they are generally physically attractive makes it an easy option for them to find work in the bars and clubs where they can make some ‘easy’ money from the hoards of tourists that flock to Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket etc. They most defiantly do not fall into that kind of work because they enjoy it. Any moral grounds, face-saving issues and health risks are laid aside, or forgotten simply to survive and help support the family as this is more immediately important to them.
It has to be said Toy never spoke of such things she didn’t even know about then. She didn’t know because she was only eight years old.
Toy is just one of many young Thais with very little optimism in their future. With little education, qualifications and not much in the chance of gaining any it’s sad to say but who knows what will become of her.
During the early part of 2006 I spent a great deal of time with my new found companion. We passed many hours away as we would play, walk and talk to each other in our own gibberish tongues, not understanding a great deal the other was saying but nevertheless listening all the same.
At times looking back it feels like one lazy hot summers day. Some mornings I would hear her singing to herself while hand-washing dirty clothes out in the front yard. Singing just what I don’t know, truth is it sounded so sweet I didn’t need to know. She was happy.
Before the sun got too warm we would spend time walking amid the bustling crowds at the local market place, wandering down narrow sois (streets) crammed with rows of tiny tightly packed stalls. She was like a kid in a candy shop prodding and poking all the various tropical fruits on display. I found it enchanting how her face shifted with the changing tones as she haggled with the vendor in search of a bargain. It was during one such occasion I remember us both trying out the pleasant taste of coconut ice cream for the very first time. Drinking coca cola was also a new experience for her. It has to be said never before has warm cola tasted so nice.
We’d go to the park at the side of the Chao Phraya River and throw bread to the monster carp-like fish that patrolled the west bank. It tickled her at the way their enormous fins would thrash around, giggling each time one in a frantic attempt to gain the doughy prize would hurl its self across the glimmering waters surface, splashing water over our legs as they dangled from the dock side.
It wasn’t until the sun faded in the west and Toy had laid down to rest that my wife would crack open a bottle of Chang Beer for me and I would update her with all the day’s events, tell her about the latest adventure Toy and I had been on. Little did that eight year old know just how much she taught me in the short time we shared together.
Having had the privilege of meeting Toy she now and always will continue to play a great part in my life, if not only for the memories she left behind and all life’s true values that came with them.
On the 13th of April 2006, the beginning of Songkran (Thai New Year), Toy left our family home in Bangkok to return back to her life in Chaiyaphom. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing, it was heart wrenching for me to see tears pooling in her eyes as she joined together her tiny little hands under her delicately chiselled chin, thanked me for my kindness and pulled me her last smile. I found it impossible to withhold my feelings and holding her in my arms I gave her the warmest of embraces. It isn’t normally the Thai way to touch or blatantly show such affection in public but nobody seemed to mind. After planting a kiss on her cheek I spoke softly in her ear ‘ Do lair ruk- sa touaw de- de na kitung mak Toy krab.’ I whispered, ‘Please take good care of yourself, I will miss you so much my Toy’.
Without tears I managed to wave goodbye as my father-in-law drove the truck down the soi and Toy disappeared out of sight. I knew it was unlikely I would see her again, well, at least not for many years, by which time she may well have long forgotten me. Long forgotten the farang who sat playing, laughing, drawing and chatting to her in a far off language.
I do hope not.
This story was dedicated to my dear friend Toy.
Seeing girls in their late teens or early 20s in Isaan without work and no real options, it is saddening to know where they may well end up. When you see a child and think of what might be in their future, well, that is just awful.