Stickman Readers' Submissions October 3rd, 2007

All These Years On And Still Going Strong Part V – Happier Times

April 2006 and my most enjoyable trip to LOS to date.

He Clinic Bangkok

This time I was going to stay over-night at the village for the first time. However, I had told M it was conditional upon having a proper (Western style) toilet and air con put in.

M made the arrangements with D via phone and financed entirely herself a 4 room extension comprising double bedroom (with air-con), 2 shower/toilet rooms (one squat, one Western) and a kitchen, to replace the lean-to affair they had on the side of the house.

As is becoming our norm we stayed in BKK for the first two days to get kitted out. We tend to travel light on the way out and stock up on clothes, mainly from Pratunam, when we get there. Then those not immediately required are left in storage at our BKK base hotel.

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We were due to fly down to Trat for the first leg of our holiday, but just before we left the hotel M remembered there was something in one of the storage bags that she wanted to take with her. The bell hop that took us up to the storage room was most surly; making it obvious from his body language he thought we were inconveniencing him unnecessarily.

He said something to M. Whilst I didn’t understand I could tell by M’s reaction that she was upset. When M gets upset she lowers her head to avoid eye contact and doesn’t speak.

Even though the bell hop was the ultimate lo-so, he had incorrectly assumed that my wife was “just another BG” and considered himself more important than her. This is an annoying stigma we have to bear from time to time.

Thammai khun poot mai dee?” I barked, pretending I knew exactly what he had said.

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His jaw dropped and he stared open mouthed at me. You could see the fear in his eyes as his lonely brain cell was working overtime thinking “Oh s**t, the Farang knows Thai!”

A mumbled apology quickly followed (no mean achievement in itself) and afterwards M told me my appraisal of the situation had been correct. When we checked out I made a point of tipping all the bell hops except him.

From Trat airport we made our way via minivan and ferry to Koh Chang and stayed at Hat Sai Khao for 4 nights.

I had booked in advance over the Internet and paid extra for a beachfront room (aka hut) that was no better than my garden shed back home (a slight exaggeration, but not much).

We complained at reception and were offered an alternative, but upon inspection it was even worse than the first and so went back to reception.

The receptionist just shrugged her shoulders and handed us the keys to 4 other so called “villas” so we could choose for ourselves which was best. None were perfect, there was at least one thing wrong with each, faulty air con, broken toilet flush, holes in the bug screens and dirty in general (perm any two from four).

Apart from the standard of the accommodation, our stay on Koh Chang was excellent. We spent the time chilling out and relaxing. The convenience of stepping out of the hut onto white sand and then into the warm sea was blissful. When hungry all we needed to do was stroll along the beach or into town until we came across a bar or restaurant we liked the look of. Another big plus was the absence of beach hawkers that pester you at busier resorts.

In contrast to previous holidays we only did the one touristy excursion, an all-day boat trip stopping at four different islands and snorkelling for up to an hour at each.

I’m not a strong swimmer, but M can barely doggy paddle. On previous such trips M had stayed in the boat. Perhaps she felt more confident this time, as the passengers were predominantly Thai, and decided to give it a go.

The crew were very attentive and checked first who could and couldn’t swim (can’t recall the same question being asked when we were in Phuket or Samui). They kitted M out with a life jacket and allocated her a minder, a young lad of about 15, who proved to be a very strong swimmer indeed. Later, when the boat was in deeper waters, he showed off his prowess at free-diving to the sea bed and bringing up large starfish, sea cucumbers and the like for us all to marvel at. The crew took great delight in comparing the sea cucumbers to a “ham” as they held them and squeezed the water out.

M absolutely loved it (snorkelling that is) and said she wished she had tried it before. Towards the end of the day she was staying in the water longer than me. Made sure I tipped M’s minder handsomely when we disembarked. It was well worth it after seeing her enjoy herself so much. I tried to say in Thai that it was for looking after my wife, but he didn’t understand and M had to translate for him.

The night before we left Koh Chang we booked, and paid for, a taxi/minivan to pick us up the next day and take us to the ferry. Come morning and “quelle surprise” the taxi failed to materialise. Eventually one of the guys from the resort ran us there in a pick up.

The original intention had been to make a series of short hops up the coast back towards BKK, staying in a different place for one night at a time. We are thinking ahead about buying a house for when I retire and want to visit as many places as possible first before deciding where to eventually put down roots.

However, upon reaching Rayong we liked the place so much that one night became four. Stayed in a condotel on the beachfront. Cracking value at only 600 baht per night. Back in the West would have been at least 3 stars.

Spent most of the time on the beach, although as usual M kept herself covered up as much as possible. Coming from Isaan she is naturally darker anyway and “mai tawng kan see dam.” Her childhood nickname had in fact been “Dam,” which her family and friends still use when we are in the village.

I find it amusing that Westerners spend a fortune trying to get brown whilst conversely Thais use powders and potions in an attempt to turn their skin white.

We would sit under the shade of trees at one of those beach bar/cafés. Hire of chairs, food and drinks all day for about 1,000 baht. I thoroughly recommend Rayong for a relaxing break away from all the hustle and bustle. On the plus side it is less Farang orientated, mainly Thais. On the downside everywhere closed early, about 10 PM.

From Rayong we then made our way to M’s village via a one night stop-over in BKK. The last leg of this particular trip is summarised in an email I sent my work colleagues, which I copy below:

“Hi Folks

Now back in civilization known as Bangkok.

Phone out of action due to Songkran. Part of the festivities involves throwing a lot of water at anyone that passes by. As a result everything got soaked, passport, drivers licence, travel cheques and of course my mobile.

Have borrowed "Nawng sao's" (sister's) in case of need ** * ******.

Four days at the home turned into seven. Was like living on a building site. Despite us telling “nawng sao” months in advance and sending money, etc extension was not complete when we arrived. Good news was the air con was in but the bad news was we couldn't use it as there were no windows! However, with a bit of Thai ingenuity with sheets of plastic and lots of cello tape managed to plug the hole and ensure a cool mozzie free night. (See part IV re my phobia of mozzies).

Most of the time in the village was pretty boring for me, just seemed to be hanging around all day waiting for something to happen. The local Wat (temple) serves about 8 or 10 neighbouring villages and there was a 5 day temple fair going on all day and night. As our house is very close to the Wat and 1,000's turned up the noise made it difficult to sleep.

Great fun riding around in the back of a pick-up soaking everyone in sight and getting soaked in return (except above-mentioned problem).

From there took nawng saos and "nawng chais" (brothers) away for their first ever holiday. Don't mind admitting brought a lump to my throat seeing them so happy and enjoying themselves when I think of the hard lives they lead

simply to survive.

Stayed at Jomtein (just south of Pattaya – and no I didn't check out the naughty night-life) for 4 days. Stayed in a 600 baht a night guesthouse. Not to my accustomed standards but to nawng sao/chai was like a palace.

Have returned to BKK 2 days earlier than originally planned now in the Big Mango for the last 4 days of the trip. Having seen how few clothes the family has we are going to take them round the markets and get them kitted out. They are staying with eldest brother who lives and works in BKK.

Meeting them later this morning at The Grand Palace to do a bit of sight seeing first, something else they have never been able to do in their own country.

Unless anything untoward happens this should be my last “keyan” (letter) and really looking forward to seeing everyone again on the 26th (“poot len” – joke)!

Chok dee

M and M”

Whilst I said at the start this was my most enjoyable visit to LOS to date, there was one major drawback during our stay at the village. This was one of M’s uncles, T2, her father’s youngest sibling who is about 55.

Forgive me for ending an otherwise positive report on a negative note, but there are a few rants I need to get off my chest concerning Uncle T2.

He is always on the cadge.

Cigarettes – started as just one, then two, one for now and one for Ron (later on), until it was two for him and two for whichever friend he had with him at the time. When I went out in the pick-up at Songkran, I left half a pack on the table outside the front door (and yes it was one of those brightly coloured circular concrete monstrosities that are so popular in Isaan). When we got back the cigs were gone. T2 saw us get back and still had the gall to come over on the cadge again. I played dumb and told him there were some on the table, to which he matter of factly said they were all gone and still held out his paw.

It was the same with beer. I would like to sit outside reading a book, drinking Singha and having a smoke. Trouble was his house was dead opposite so he would always clock me and make his way over. It got to the stage that as soon as I spotted him leaving his house I would either go out back or retreat to the bedroom. Sad but true.

I know it sounds petty of me in view of the price of beer and fags (that’s UK slang for cigarettes in case any American readers think I bat for both sides) out there, but damn it, it’s the principle. I’ve already memorised the following in readiness for our next trip, “Phom hai khun neung, khun hai phom sawng.” Which “Mia phom” assures me means, “I give you one, you give me two!” Only time will tell if I’ve actually got the bottle to use it.

T2’s house is the best in the village. He has three daughters, at least two of which (might even be all three) work as nurses and send money home to him, against the strength of which he borrowed 1 million baht to have the house done up. As the wife puts it “he put house in the bank,” which I take to mean he re-mortgaged. However, apart from driving the school bus, he has no visible means of income. He’s certainly too lazy to farm his own land and instead scrounges off his relatives.

His two eldest sisters never married and share a hut, which to describe it as a hovel would be flattering. They are probably the poorest members of the entire family, yet that doesn’t stop him taking money off them after they’ve brought in their harvest or sold some livestock. I asked M why they let him get away with it. Because he’s family or simply because he asked is usually the answer.

Yet it never works the other way round. All the time D was nursing their father (his brother), she had no income coming in and was living solely off what M sent her (which T2 did not know about otherwise he would have wanted to “borrow” that as well). When D had no money whatsoever there was no help from T2, D had to go to the nearest town to hock her gold necklace until the next transfer from M arrived.

One of T2’s daughters came around asking if she could “borrow” 5,000 baht off us on the pretext that she had given all her money to her father and had none left to get back to Chiang Mai, where she worked. The wife and I retreated to the bedroom so we could confer in private.

Our deliberations went something like this:

Me: “Did she ever repay the 1,500 baht she borrowed off D over a year ago?”

Wife: “No.”

Me: “Do you think she will repay this time?”

Wife: “No.”

Me: “Has she or her father ever helped when you or your family had no money?”

Wife: “No.”

Me: “Then why should we lend to her again?”

Wife: “Because she asked/is family!”

You see the mentality I’m up against.

Needless to say we did not accede to the cousin’s request. My wife acknowledged it was the sensible decision as it would be akin to kissing the money goodbye, but still got upset at the perceived loss of face by turning her down.

Later the same day T2 came over in person also asking to borrow money for a different reason, but spookily enough the same amount. Groundhog Day, as the above role play repeated itself.

T2 holds some sort of position with the temple, similar I guess to a Churchwarden, as during the Songkran fair he was manning a raffle or tombola type stall. When there was another festival on he helped himself to one of the family’s cows to feed the attendees. He promised to pay for it later but never did.

T2’s other misdemeanours include borrowing their motor bike without asking and burning his rubbish on their land rather than sully his own.

More worryingly he has recently been elected the village leader. No doubt this will give him greater powers to not only rob his own flesh and blood, but any other villager too.

Have I got it in for Uncle T2 or what? However, if he ever does anything for us I promise to devote an entire submission in his honour, but don’t hold your breath.

To be continued.

Stickman's thoughts:

Family members like T2 are VERY difficult to deal with…

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