A Christmas Tale
I have great respect for the guys who come to Thailand who have some form of disability or disfigurement… OK, there is an argument that they gain greater acceptance here but the reality I believe is that they are simply just another paying customer and the Thais seem to have no more respect, in my view, for the disabled than any other nation. Anyway, the story that will follow is one I’ve been meaning to write but just needed the moment I guess and given it's Christmas Day starting around the world from now, time to hit the keyboard.
Firstly, let me be careful how I state this: we all have crosses to bear but the guys who you see in wheelchairs I think have a particularly hard time in this country, which has yet to embrace open access and disabled facilities that far. You often see them being pushed up the middle of the road here in Pattaya, the pavements not enabled and unsafe for a wheelchair. Yet they brave all situations. One chap I shared a hotel with a couple of years ago has gone the whole hog, bought a place here and decamped and I guess has gone as native as the rest of us. I see him from time to time, up and down Walking Street… I recall he was in some trouble with a very young girl – if you know what I mean – when we met. Guess some of us have been there too, often unawares…
Then others come and go… I remember meeting one ‘first timer’ in Bangkok in a Hilary bar a couple of years back. I was playing pool on the next table, not watching too closely what was going on. Anyway, he suggests we should have a game and being a kindly soul, I concur. My lack of talent is legendary but it just clicked and there I was on the black, which I duly missed, straight from the break. I felt a real jerk… what a way to treat the poor guy, in a wheelchair and all. You can guess the rest… he calmly proceeds to plant all seven of his balls and my black and the girls in the bar all nearly piss themselves laughing at me.
Apparently he’d fallen one day, cracked his spine and will never walk again. We chatted for a while… he was being targeted by one of the locals and ended up with her that night. I know this for a fact… they were in the same hotel as me the next morning and I thus saw them together for a couple of days until he flew home to whatever the UK had to offer. I paid the bar fine… seemed the least I could do after the lesson he taught me on the pool table and elsewhere.
Slight aside if I may… I was with a girl that night I’d not seen for years. She had seen me staggering along Sukhumvit outside Bully’s and run after me and said hello and it went from there really. She’d done some hard time I suspect – Bangkok then Singapore and latterly Hong Kong – but still to my mind was far sweeter than the girls you meet these days in Thailand. I threw her my wallet to go to the ATM at one point and the guy in the ‘chair went crazy – he thought I was the biggest fool going and called me all the names under the sun. She reappeared good as gold five minutes later with my cash… those were the days and I doubt that would be the case now but yes, there was a girlfriend experience to be had here. But not now methinks… but once upon a time, yes.
Anyway, to the main story before Stickman cuts me short. It was Christmas Day two years ago and it was a shitter – let's skip the details but I’d been done over by a Thai bitch that same day who, shall we say, subsequently has somewhat proven to have crapped up my own life. So I’m drowning my sorrows in Soi Hok in Pattaya of course… where else does one go when one is down but the bottom, after all? A commotion starts nearby where this guy in a wheelchair – you’ll get the theme by now of course – trying to talk (!?!) to one of the girls.
Trust me, in all my years I’ve never seen someone in such a bad way. He was clearly paralysed by some kind of stroke or illness, so he had a rickety old chair and very limited hand movements and speech. He was German as far as I could make out and, although it doesn’t go much beyond “Vorsprung durch Technik” I have a tiny little bit of that language so I tried to help. But he really couldn’t speak. All he was able to do was point, and jabber. It was horrible; he couldn’t communicate, walk or make any kind of sensible contact with them or us at all.
Anyway he obviously saw something with this one girl that took his fancy. She wasn’t that pretty or anything… just for some reason he wanted to be with her. This went on for quite a while… then he starts touching her. I’ll skip the details for the sake of decorum but she just lets him touch her… for some period of time… and I mean almost everywhere. There was clearly nothing else he could do… I’d no idea even how he would have managed to dress himself or get out of bed, he seemed that disabled. But he seemed happy and with a smile of resignation this girl allowed him to experience what I guess we all take for granted often, the feeling of being a man, or at least the touch of a woman.
Eventually, he calmed down and seemed satiated, or at least as far as that was going to be in his case I guess. Sorry then, readers, but this is actually all about me… I had watched what this girl allowed him to do in a kind of half-horror, half-wonder. She just accepted him, helped him if you like, in one of the most sweet and selfless moments I think I have experienced. I don’t really know what happened next – I just recall holding her and saying thank-you and we both burst out crying. I swear, it was the most moving thing I have ever seen. We held each other for about five minutes, just sobbing in the street… I well up still thinking about it now, I guess as much with relief that, well, it wasn’t me.
She took no money from the guy, didn’t even accept it from me when I offered something. I just felt so… inadequate. He then started gesturing and pulled out a card from his pocket for a hotel about a half-kilometre along Second Road from there. I don’t know what possessed me that night but I pushed him the whole way along the road. I won’t lie. I’m not embarrassed…I cried the whole way there, thinking what the hell, literally, was life all about when you see people in that condition. You think until then that you yourself have problems.
I had to wander past my usual bar on the way. Again, I’m a bit of an arse when I’ve had a few and in all honesty, they used to tolerate me there solely for the money in my pocket I am certain. But every girl stopped what she was doing – dancing, punting, whatever – and looked at the two of us. I swear they felt genuine pity for this poor guy in the chair, although when I come to think of it, maybe it’s all of us who should feel pity, or at least some guilt, for being born ‘whole’? Or maybe it was me they pitied? I’ve never had a problem there since that night and whatever state I end up in, they all smile and make sure I’m OK.
The concierges at the reception of the hotel knew the guy well it seemed and were able to take him in and get him to his room. I guess he’d been staying there a while and they were used to seeing him and the terrible state he was in and were charitable enough and well-trained enough to deal with it. Me? I was a wreck and just sat there in reception, bawling my eyes out and thinking how lucky really I was and what on earth had this guy done to deserve what he had.
There’s no fairy tale ending or great moralistic close or punch-line here. I never saw the guy again either in Soi 6 or around Pattaya and so I guess he also went home to whatever life he had back in his own country. I still see the girl once in a while too… I wonder if she even remembers the events that much, I guess it was just one of those sorts of things that go off in Pattaya, Christmas Day or no Christmas Day. But I’ll never forget it or how it made me feel then. So maybe there is a God, maybe there isn’t… but whatever you believe, whatever faith you have, for this reason have gratitude for what you have. Because whatever knocks you down, however low you feel, there are a lot, a whole great mass of people, far, far worse off than you and I will ever be, on this planet. Merry Christmas and let’s hope we get humanity through 2013 without World War Three and start sorting our own, man-made troubles before it really is too late.
There's always someone much worse off than us. It's nice to spare a few thoughts at this time of year for those who are much less fortunate than many of us are, especially if they ended up in that situation by an accident or through no fault of their own doing.