The Great Gift Of Memory
As time passes by, I am noticing things that once seemed to not bother me so much – but the truth is, as I approach my 70th year, they are becoming very important and cause me to reflect long and hard at what has gone – and, more importantly, what is left. Thailand has given me so much over the years that I have been associated with this wonderful Kingdom and I really do wish that I could go back and do it all over again. There is not a single thing that I regret having done during the times I have shared in this Land Of Smiles – but I do have one big regret at not having discovered Thailand sooner than I did.
Music plays a very large part in my outlook on things – events, people and places – each one being associated with a particular song or set of lyrics that is capable of exposing the raw emotions at something lost but never forgotten. For some reason I am strongly focused on my former Thai wife, Natalise, even though I know full well that we could not have lasted together any longer than the time we shared – yet, I never wanted a divorce as I believed we could have worked through any problems and found amicable solutions to satisfy us both.
After we first met, we occupied an apartment in Sathorn – a period filled with wonder and expectations of happiness that would last forever. But nothing in this world lasts forever, does it? I do remember that it was a fairly torrid time back then as we got to know each other – we did tend to argue quite a lot – but it was nothing serious. When I have gone back to see the old patch, I have been disappointed to see the subtle changes that have happened since we lived there. Back then, we had a fully-functioning kitchen in our new apartment yet I cannot remember us even once preparing meals there – it was so much easier to go down in the elevator and source out whatever we fancied from the street vendors or the take-away seafood/snack bar only a couple of doors from our apartment or having the occasional restaurant meal in World Trade Centre (Central World now).
Natalise said she was interested in country music, so we headed off to World Trade Centre by tuktuk and searched for a suitable CD bar. Tower Records was the name of the shop, on one of the upper levels – and I don't think I have ever seen a better stock of CDs and DVDs available anywhere. We grabbed a CD by Ricky Skaggs (Country Gentleman) and a CD by Ed Bruce with 14 tracks of solid authentic American country songs and generous servings of pedal-steel backing. The rain had set in fairly heavily on the way back home and I started to wish we had taken a taxi instead of the tuktuk – but we didn't get too wet. Nat took an instant liking to both CDs and we set them playing before settling down for an afternoon nap as the music drifted over us and the rain beat against the window panes outside – before sleep overtook us.
Two doors down Soi St Louis 3, heading back toward Sathorn Tai, ran Soi Pichai 1 to the right – a very narrow soi lined on both sides with shophouses and barely wide enough for an SUV to squeeze through. Nat's sister and her husband lived in one of these shophouses with their daughter about halfway along on the left-hand side, heading toward Narathiwat – and many pleasant evenings were shared in that old house. Mainly we would set up on the back patio with the charcoal burner to roast goong and gai while sinking quite a few beers and whisky – all of us taking turns to cook the food. From the back patio, the scene that dominated was The Asia Building on Sathorn Tai. When I recall that, it sometimes seems as if I am still there – but Nat's sister and family are no longer there. They moved to a new apartment across the river at Thonburi – and I heard the old shophouses were earmarked for demolition on Soi Pichai 1. Progress marches on.
In 2009 I visited the family in the new home over at Thonburi and we had a really good food and drink session on the Saturday evening – lots of laughs with all the other relatives attending. It reminded me of one evening back in December 2004, when I called in to the old shophouse on Soi Pichai 1, except for one thing – Nat was not there on either occasion. Even with all the people there, it somehow felt empty for me as I remembered all the times we had done this together. Nat and I had separated in Australia, at her request, in October 2004 – but I tried everything I could do to convince her to reconcile, without success. By November, with the encouragement of several of my friends in Oz, I realised the futility of banging my head against a brick wall – so I bought a yearly ticket and a Non-Immigrant Type '0' visa and headed back to Bangkok to try to get my head back together.
It's hard to identify what it is about Thai women that makes you fall in love – something that has happened for me on three occasions – twice in Bangkok and once in Chiang Mai. Even after all these years, I still love all three of them – probably Natalise the strongest, because we were married twice on the same day. The first was in the Thai Wat Buddharam and later at a registry office. I have to smile because, even just a couple of days before we were to marry, we both declared that neither of us wanted to marry with the other – yet we did and I am glad that happened. Nat was one of the Bangkok ladies about whom I write and the other lady is still the one I have been with since 2007. Never have I met anyone so kind and peaceful as she is – just being in her company makes me feel good – and she has definitely had a lasting effect on the way I now look at things in life. She is inspirational.
The Chiang Mai lady is always in my thoughts – but what once was, has to be accepted as a time that was very special but cannot be recreated – a window in time that is now closed – just somewhere I can visit now and again through a few jpeg images and several thousand memories that will never die. She has definitely had a ground-shaking effect on my life – but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Yesterday I assembled a compilation of tracks from Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler – taken from various stages in Knopfler's career. Then I converted all the tracks from video to .wav format and burned a CD. The process threw me right back to early 2004 in Oz, when things started to go very flakey for Nat and me – especially hearing the tracks from Knopfler's concert "A Night In London". That was a DVD I played very often, along with other Dire Straits DVDs – but going back to that period is really quite painful, yet I do not wish to shut out the feelings. Doesn't make sense, does it? I guess it comes down to accepting that it is worth the pain to be in that time slot for just a while and to remember things that were so special back then. Music is like a double-edged sword – something to be handled with extreme care. I guess it's only special memories that can evoke pain – and I certainly do not wish to lose them. It must be truly horrible for someone with Alzheimers – then I guess they don't miss it, do they?
I am very tempted to take two days out of my Bangkok time and fly up to Chiang Mai. My friend Loong thinks I'm crazy – but I don't think he can understand the feelings that still lie there. Again, it comes down to wanting to visit significant places – Buak Haad Park in particular, to take some photos, just to wander around and soak up feelings of other parts of the city. I doubt I will make contact with her – better to leave things as they are – good memories are better than ones that may not be the same, created today.
I plan to visit Soi St Louis 3 this December and try to remember the things about the time together with Nat, way back at the start – take some photos, talk with a few people and take a walk down Soi Pichai 1 to see if the old shophouses have been demolished. Might call at our old soi and check out the Tangcharu Apartment building to see if Kwanta is still the manager or Peto is still the security guard. Maybe that's a bit too much to expect them to still be there. But hey – this is Thailand – anything is possible.