All These Years On And Still Going Strong Part IV – Tragedy Strikes
Continued from, unsurprisingly, Parts I, II & III.
June 2003 and M had been in the UK for 1 year when the fateful call came through that her father had been diagnosed with cancer.
Unfortunately it was too far advanced and nothing could be done save for making him as comfortable as possible. He’d been examined at two different hospitals; one gave him 6 months, the other 12 months (turned out to be 11 in the end).
Daughter #2, D, gave up her job and returned home to nurse him. A duty which, had she still been there, would have fallen on my wife’s shoulders being the eldest daughter. (We were to later repay D for the sacrifices made and hardships endured with a 6 month break in the UK).
We had already started planning our next trip for Feb 2004, our first one back together since we married. In the circumstances I offered to bring the date forward, but M, forever practical, said it was better if she stayed in the UK to carry on working and earn the money the family would undoubtedly need.
Feb 2004 came and with mixed emotions we arrived in LOS for 3 weeks, during which would be the last time M saw her father alive.
The first few days M left me in BKK and went to see father who was still at home. She did want me to go with her but as it would have meant staying at the family home I just couldn’t hack it.
My apologies for sounding like a snob but the facilities were just too basic for this soft Farang. The toilet was a squat job in a shed in the backyard and the shower (ladle) in the same shed. Added to this I’m developing a bit of paranoia about mozzies. They love me. As soon as I step foot in LOS I swear I can hear them telling all their mates “It’s dinner time!”
Maybe I’ve got too much sugar in my blood and this attracts them as I’ve always had a sweet tooth. Plus my father was diagnosed with diabetes fairly late in life (60+), which is usually hereditary, so chances are I’ll end up the same way.
I can guarantee that within 24 hours of arriving I’m covered in big ugly red welts. Our wedding photos are hilarious. I had one between my eyebrows, made me look like I’d got a third eye.
I’ve tried everything, all manner of repellents, eating garlic capsules, room sprays and plug in vapour tablets. But to no avail. Consequently I only feel comfortable sleeping in a sealed room where you have a degree of control.
Any suggestions would be gratefully accepted.
Despite the sadness over M’s father we still wanted to take have some sort of holiday ourselves, so booked a flight to Chiang Mai.
Whilst waiting to board M rang T (manageress of the intro agency we met through) to arrange to meet up on our return to BKK. T had a surprise up her sleeve; she was already in Chiang Mai. She had left the agency and was working for a tour company up there.
We had already pre-booked a package of excursions for each day we were there, temple(s), waterfalls, Karen hill tribe village visit and Golden Triangle including boat ride on the Mekong. So we met up with T each evening to dine. It was good to see T again and exchange news. We cancelled the last day excursion and spent the morning with T at the elephant sanctuary. After lunch T drove us to the airport.
On our return to BKK, M rang D (“nawng sao”) to learn father had deteriorated further. They decided he would be better off back in hospital.
Next morning we met the rest of the family at the hospital. They had been there since 8 AM. The doctors were reluctant to admit father as with no chance of recovery and despite the constant pain he was in, in their eyes he would just be blocking a bed. It took until 6 PM before they relented and he was taken onto a ward. I found it really hard not to start ranting and raving at them.
As we waited (and waited, and waited) it struck me how paper orientated the process was. You had to have the right bit of paper before you could advance to the next stage. We seemed to be just queuing up in one department to get a chitty to exchange for another one at the next department and so on. There were lots of pretty nurses in pristine uniforms carrying clipboards around but not actually treating any patients.
As an aside this reminded me of someone I once worked with who, for a bet, spent an entire day wandering around the office with a clipboard in hand without doing a stroke of work all day.
The other relatives who had tagged along then had the audacity to ask for money from us in lieu of loss of earnings for the day! These people were the dying man’s own brothers and sisters and they expected to be paid!
Needless to say they got short shrift from me, face or no face.
To cap it all her aunts then started chastising M, telling her she should stay and look after her father. Yet they still expected her to provide the money for his care. How the hell was she supposed to be in two places at the same time? Stupid Thai logic or what?
After all this I thought it best if I got M away before they upset her any more (or, more accurately, before I really blew my top). We spent the next 4 days in Hua Hin and Cha Am, returning to BKK for the last night before flying home.
Three months later, May 2004, and the phone rang at 2 AM. When one gets a call at that time of night one instinctively knows it is going to be bad news.
M rushed downstairs to answer and as we feared it was D. A short conversation by their standards and even though I could only pick out the odd word it was obvious from the tone what they were discussing.
M quietly put the receiver down and turned to me, avoiding eye contact.
“Daddy dead,” is all she said.
I hugged M for all she was worth and she permitted herself 2 or 3 sobs before reverting to practical issues such as how she was going to get there in time for the funeral. Correct me if I’m wrong but my understanding is that it has to be within 48 hours?
Logged onto lastminute.com. Was unable to book online for a same day flight, had to wait until phone lines opened at 8 AM. Got M a seat on a BA flight for that evening.
There was not much else we could do for a while so went back to bed to try and regain our lost sleep. A bit of a pointless exercise really as my head was spinning, so only Buddha knows what M must have been thinking.
M wouldn’t admit it but I’m sure she was sobbing silently to herself. I shed a few tears too. Not necessarily out of grief for her father, as I hardly knew him, but because I was sad for M. She’d had a hard life before we met so I hate it when anything bad happens to her or upsets her.
After getting up again we went to the bank and raided our accounts. Managed to scrape together some spending money as, yes you’ve guessed it; she would be expected to pay for the funeral or more importantly (important to extended family and villagers) the big party afterwards. I made sure she also took our Nationwide ATM card with her.
A tip for UK residents. Open a Nationwide Flex Account and you don’t get charged for overseas ATM withdrawals. Send the card to your “tee rak” and it’s an efficient way of sending small amounts (maximum withdrawal is £300 equivalent per day).
It’s a darn sight cheaper than bank to bank transfers or Western Union. As an added bonus you can also track where she is via the withdrawal narratives on your statement. For example, if she’s supposed to be at home, then what’s she doing taking money out in Pattaya, Nana, et al?
I really felt for M making that sad journey all on her own and guilty for not being there to comfort or support her. Trouble was I had nearly exhausted my leave for the year on our February trip three months earlier.
M got to DMK Saturday evening BKK time and visited some ex-work colleagues en route to freshen up and rest for a few hours before setting off again for the village around midnight.
She just made it to the village on the Sunday morning with less than an hour to spare before the funeral procession commenced.
Apparently father was very highly regarded and they had an unexpectedly large turnout necessitating the slaughter of three pigs instead of the usual one. Shame one of them wasn’t her uncle, T2, (see part V for details).
To be continued.
This submission shows very well how tied the Thais are to their family.