Readers' Submissions

At A Crossroads




My first trip to Thailand took place in 1990. Short and pleasant. What I remember most was the way I was made to feel by the country folk. Those rural denizens that so many seem to look down upon. When an expat opportunity arose in 1997, I didn’t hesitate. I had been wanting to go back for some time. A two year assignment at a, perhaps, inopportune time. Those two years were not very kind to Thailand but they were kind to me. And the rural people, once again, provided me with an indelible image of a welcoming culture. When I was in the city, it seemed that most people who tried to get close to me were doing so just for what they thought they could get out of me. In contrast, I felt almost invisible while in the countryside. They seemed to pay no notice to the fact that I was farang, except for the kids who all wanted to play or have their photo taken. The children. They always made my trips enjoyable. Riding up and down the Chao Phraya river, it was fun to see the children posing on the piers and gesturing for you to photograph them. Or diving off the piers as the boats would leave and then look to see if you had been watching them. Simple things like this made me overlook whatever other things might be bothering me. By the time my assignment finished, I had the definite impression that this was some place I would one day like to live.

Fast forward to 2005 and another 2 year expat assignment. Could you ask for anything better than to be showered with money in a location you would have gladly paid to be in? Well, it didn’t take long for that attitude to change. Even though my previous times in Thailand had been quite enjoyable, I could never have been accused of looking at things through rose colored glasses. But something was just different this time. I couldn’t pinpoint the pivotal moment when my attitude started changing. All I know is that one day everything about Thailand just started getting under my skin. The people. The traffic. The rain. The bureaucracy. The stupidity. I went from loving the people to wondering how any country could function with a system and a populace that was so blatantly ignorant. In short, I came to hate everything about the country and the people. This was made all the more unsettling by the fact that I was married to a Thai and our son was born during my stay there. I know it was difficult for my wife. Imagine having to listen to my continual rants about everything that was bothering me. And, bless her, she did so without once getting angry or defensive. She was definitely a comfort but she couldn’t really help me because I couldn’t identify why these feelings had developed.

Once, while preparing for a trip home, another farang was commiserating with me. He told me the trip home would be good because it would cause me to see just how good I had it in Thailand. Truth be told, I thought he was off the mark. And he was. God how I loved returning to the US. One thing that has never changed is how I feel about home. No matter where I travel, or how long am I gone, the US is home and I love her. Sure she has her problems but I’ve never come to hate her over any of them. When the trip was over, my feelings for Thailand hadn’t changed for the better. If anything, they were worse. The frustration with the idiocy of how things were done, especially after just having returned from the West, was quicker to surface. I think I was a powder keg just waiting to explode.

One thing that was really irritating concerned my son. Everybody just had to hold my little farang noi. This, in itself, didn’t bother me. I was happy to let people hold him. The problem came about when I couldn’t get him back. Some people just didn’t want to give him back until they were good and ready. Then, when we went to stay in Isaan, it got worse. I was always having to ask Mrs D who had the baby and where he was. There was, of course, a big extended family as well as a few very good friends and I couldn’t keep up with where my kid was. Frankly, it was just about the last straw. The powder keg was on the verge of blowing.

January 30, 2007. That’s the day it happened. In the mooban. Out in the street, in front of the house. The baby was sleeping in his stroller. The stroller was not normally used but sometimes Mrs D just couldn’t carry him any more. Fact is, he was lovingly referred to as หมู อ้วน (fat pig). Mrs D and a few friends were standing around the stroller talking. Across the road, there was a yard full of people playing bocce. She was thirsty so I went back to the house to get her a bottle of water. There wasn’t any in the refrigerator inside the house so I had to go out back, to the kitchen, to check the other refrigerator. Bottle in hand, I start to head back. I could hear some fool coming up the road, driving way too fast. As I reach the back of the house, I hear screaming and then the crash. Running through the house, I’m frozen when I reach the front porch. The baby’s stroller is mangled and lying in a field. Bodies are scattered around the truck, which has crashed into a tree. I can’t breath and I can’t move. I know it was just seconds but it seemed like forever. I can’t take my eyes off the stroller, hoping against hope that my son is still alive.

Two roads converge in front of the house. They come to within about 20 meters and then they diverge again. At the point where they are closest, there is a small connecting road between them where stands a large tree. This is not the first time the tree has been hit. As it turned out, the guy driving had been drinking and lost control of his truck. Neither he nor his female passenger were badly injured.

Heading toward the truck, examining the scene before me, all I could think about was my son. The ladies that were with Mrs D are moving, getting up. People from the bocce court are rushing toward the wreck. Then I see Mrs D. She had been on the far side of the truck and blocked from view. She is going in the opposite direction now, toward the bocce court. Looking in the direction she is heading, I see my son. In the arms of one of many aunties (ป้า). My heart drops out of my throat and my breath comes back. As it turns out, when I went into the house, the auntie had come and picked up Baby D and went back to the bocce court. Mrs D and her friends were all able to get out of the way of the truck. So, in the end, no one was really hurt. Had the truck been just a little earlier, the odds are that I would have lost both the Mrs and Baby D. I know if he had been in that stroller that she would have died trying to get him out from in front of that truck. And then I would have come out of the house to see her mangled body along with the stroller and the baby.

In that instant, all the hatred that I had been harboring toward Thailand vanished. I now knew the cause of my discontent and it was something closer to home. Something happening in my personal life. Something that I won’t go into. Too personal. Too honest. I will never again complain about someone holding my child, even if I have a hard time getting him back. I thank God… ok, not really… that the Thais are obsessed with luuk-krueng (ลูก ครึ่ง) children. If not for this fact, he surely would have been in that stroller when the truck hit it. The one thing about this day that still bothers me is why, as my thoughts so quickly went to my son, I had not given equal consideration to my wife. Make no mistake, I love my wife. Apparently, I love my son more. And I don’t know why but that bothers me.

Now, I still dislike Bangkok traffic but all of the other things about Thailand that bother me are well in perspective. I still go back to visit and I would gladly go back on another expat package. But I no longer want to live there. And it has nothing to do with changes that are taking place in Thailand now. No, America is my home. And the last thing I want to do is go die in a far off land, especially one that has so little concern for me.

Two roads converged in an Isaan wood, and I – I thank the stars that my son is a luuk krueng and was on the one less traveled by.

Stickman's thoughts:

You've got me totally confused with this one. Had I been you in this situation I think my hatred would have got a hundred times worse – drunk driving, the baby left in an unsafe place, the accident, the possibility of being maimed or death…. I don't see how you reached the conclusion you did – but hey, that's your choice. If anything, I would have thought a situation like this would have just exacerbated the already negative feelings.