The Brokenman is Repaired Part 16-3
My bag is packed I’m ready to go the taxi is waiting and blowing his horn. Well not quite but the taxi was on its way to take me to the airport. I am sat in the reception of the Opey hotel enjoying a relaxing cigarette when I receive an unexpected visit from Richard the Duke of Sutos as he is known. Richard is a resident of the Sutos hotel next door in which my friend Don stays. In his 80s Richard is an eccentric with a fund of conspiracy theories none of which made the slightest sense. Don had explained Richard was always looking for someone to disseminate his half baked ideas in Britain. His cut glass English accent evokes the image of the retired director of a traditional and irrelevant British institution from the 1950s like the committee for the inspection of gentlemen’s side-whiskers or the Board for the regulation of trouser turn ups.
He hands over a large envelope to me which confirmed his misconception I was an investigative journalist. He launches into some story of Prince Phillip’s visit to Pattaya in the 1960s. Fortunately my taxi arrives to rescue me. He is a harmless old duffer but you have to be in the mood (i.e. totally inebriated) to listen to his fantasies. In the taxi I peruse the contents of the envelope and conclude there is nothing of real contemporary interest.
I once again find myself at Suvarnabhumi airport for the second time in two weeks. I check in and made my way through security to domestic departures. I board the Thai Smile A320 and note all the air hostesses look 14. I am sat up front next to two saffron robed monks. Females are not allowed to touch monks and I could see the trepidation in the face of the child hostess when she came to serve the two monks. I gave her a smile and instructed her to hand the items to me and I would pass it to the monks. She seemed relieved as I probably absolved her of hours of penitence for tainting a monk with a female touch. As we disembarked the senior steward (who looked all of 16) thanked me for helping her junior colleague with the monks.
Arrived at Udon Thai which is a pleasant little airport and within 20 minutes a taxi deposited me at the Irish clock hotel on Sampantamit Rd. I am given room 104 which was the same as in the Opey, a coincidence that is of no significance whatsoever.
I receive a text message from my ex wife Nat informing me she was on her way to meet me. She lives in Nongbua Lamphu province which is about hour and a half away. We had spoken on the phone the previous week and I suggested she have dinner with me then stay the night. The next morning we could travel to her village and spend the day with her family. I thought this was a sensible suggestion. However Thai women don’t do sensible so when she finally arrived she had Christina her 6 year old daughter with her explaining she was so excited to see me again she wouldn’t wait until tomorrow.
This messed up our plan meaning she would have to go home again that evening then return the next day but mai pen rai there is very little logic in the mind of a Thai women even the intelligent ones.
Christina is a nice kid who seems genuinely pleased to see me as does her mother. We have dinner in the hotel chat for an hour or so catching up on our respective lives. Nat had undergone a hysterectomy since our last meeting but she seemed to be well recovered. They left for home around 10:00 PM.
Nat and I have been divorced since Easter 2011. Despite her many faults and the various indignities she has heaped upon me in the past, she still enchants me and I am at my happiest when I am in her company. We have met up on my last three visits and developed a new amiable and mature friendship that I value and take pleasure in.
Once Nat and Christina left I explored some of the bars on the Sampantamit Rd. In the Beach club I had a drink with a girl who spent half an hour complaining about her ex husband from Liverpool. In the Nutty bar complex there was one bar I liked but had an inebriated Belgian guy making a nuisance. He got into my face a couple of times and was about to flatten him when one of the girls told me he was an ex boxer. Discretion being the better part of valour I quietly left. I ended up in a bar opposite my hotel sitting with a lovely farm fresh girl with absolutely no English. The owner of the bar spent half an hour complaining about her husband from Manchester and another half hour that the Army were making her shut the bar at midnight.
The next morning I am having a cup of tea when Nat pulls up and parks her Toyota Fortuner at the front of hotel. She still had Christina with her so we all take breakfast in the hotel. We later make our way to Nongbua Lamphu and stop at the Tesco Lotus. While Nat does a little shopping I take Christine for an ice cream at Swenson’s. Ice cream consumed Christina took my hand and walked me around the rather impressive store. We were in the toy department when her mother caught up with us. Christina was somewhat enamoured of a child’s bicycle with the Disney’s “Frozen” brand. I am surprised at how cheap it is. I was feeling generous so buy it for her as a Christmas present. Nat sensing an opportunity immediately begins looking at the nearby gold shop. I smile and shake my head but she takes my refusal with a good natured pout.
We arrive at her Mothers house in Sri Bu Ruang to a very warm welcome from her mother. I give her my present of gift wrapped cosmetics I had bought from England. Christina was excited to show off her new bike to her cousins. I have never seen a child as happy as she dashed away.
In the afternoon Nat takes me to see her father who is a revered monk at the local temple. On the way she shows me a plot of land she owns near her sister’s house which I am told is three rai. This is about an acre and in a good location near a major road which I reckon has room for six to eight houses. We enter the temple grounds which are undergoing considerable building work in a community enterprise. I notice two wire frame models of elephants which are being daubed with cement. I was fascinated by the process and the skill involved. We climb up a number of steps to a massive Buddha that had recently been painted gold. I spot a saffron robed monk sweeping around the statue and identify him as Nat’s father. He recognised me and gave me smile of welcome and acknowledgment. I gave him a respectful wai and he signalled I should kneel whilst he gave me a blessing.
Nat then takes me to another plot of land, again about 3 rai right on edge of the Jungle not far from the temple complex. Although isolated the views were breathtaking. I even saw a couple of genuine buffalos, that creature of legend I had heard so much about in the bars of Bangkok. I could well imagine this land with its location to the temple could become desirable in the future. However this is all academic as Nat has no capital and I have no inclination to throw money away on property in the Isaan.
On the way back to the hotel we take dinner in an “all you can eat for 199 baht” Sea food buffet on the ring road in Udon. The establishment was huge with around 300 diners I was the only farang there. The selection of seafood and meats on display is awesome. There were crabs, prawns, winkles, whelks, squid and miscellaneous fish of indeterminate origin. The main attraction was the live prawns they had in a large tank. I watched how a couple of Thai men cooked at their table; they held a wriggling prawn on the brazier with chopsticks one at a time until cooked. They would then peel and eat the prawn one at a time.
I copied their technique but noticed this was not fast enough for Nat. She is a resourceful girl and positioned six prawns on the brazier then placed a tray over them to prevent their writhing from escaping their fate. By this method she could consume the delicious crustaceans on an almost industrial scale. I enjoy my food but to watch Nat eat is a lesson in serious consumption. When we first met it always amused me she would stop at a street vendor on the way to a restaurant and eat again on the way back. Although she is a little chubby now in those days she was very slender despite eating ten times a day.
Western people may often feel a little peckish but knowing we are eating within the hour will wait. Nat like many Thai girls at the first mild pangs of hunger will experience real pain and double up in agony that can only be assuaged by the immediate consumption of some spicy comestible. I find this quite endearing and I often tease her about it. I thoroughly enjoyed my seafood feast and although I had to pay extra for the brazier, tissues, water and cutlery etc the final bill of 700 baht for two, which included a few beers, was still good value.
We return to the hotel around 9.30 and Nat gets herself ready for bed. I quickly establish she is not amenable to a little carnal activity. She was the same when we met last year but I am not unduly bothered as I am happy with our relationship although her prim and proper act is a little too much at times. I leave her in the room and take a look at a few local bars just to the left of the hotel. They reminded me of the bars along the Loh Kroh Road in Chiang Mai and although a pale shadow of the bars one sees in Pattaya and Bangkok the girls made a real effort to create a lively atmosphere.
I get dragged into one bar by a cute little Isaan bunny. I buy her and the bar owner a drink and get a conversation going. The owner was a pleasant local lady in her 40s with an English husband which explained her good English skills. The little Isaan bunny is named Sum and tells me she is 35. She is only 4’11” very dark skinned with a pretty face and a cute demeanour. If she had told me she was only 16 I would have believed it. She told me she slept each night on the floor of the bar which was a little disconcerting for my western sensibilities.
The conversation from the owner revolved around the demise that day of the English owner of a nearby bar and the inconvenience of the bar closure at midnight forced by the Army. My little Isaan bunny was quite attentive and spoke reasonably good English. She told me about working in a Go-go bar in Pattaya the previous year. I enjoyed their company for a couple of hours until the bar closed and I returned to my hotel. I climbed into bed next to Nat without disturbing her but noticed during the night she had affectionately wrapped herself around me.
I wake early; Nat deflects my amorous advances but does it with an affectionate humour and a smile quite different from my English first wife who frequently rejected me with somewhat vindictive pleasure. After breakfast we drive into Udon and stop to see another parcel of land Nat owns. This was donated to her by her Aunty in lieu of the vehicle Nat “gave” her during her bankruptcy proceedings about five years ago. This plot although much smaller than the other two was in a prime location just off the Highway near the prestigious Catholic school. The plot sat amongst five impressive properties built and owned by western guys and large enough for a decent sized property.
We take the Highway 22 towards Sakon Nakhon. After half an hour we stop off at a melon farm for a drink and a pee. The melon farm was fascinating; the hydroponic techniques they employed were innovative and ingenious. The market and cafe were also very well patronised.
Our destination is the Ban Chaing national museum which is a UNESCO World heritage site. Ban Chaing is probably the most important Neolithic site in SE Asia and world famous for pre Bronze Age pottery. I had first been told about the site some 12 years ago by my old friend Dr John Pearce who was professor at Chaing Mai University for many years until his retirement last year.
Near the car park two amiable Thai policemen approached me and asked to have their photo taken with me in front of the village police station. I was the only farang on the site but such a request was certainly unusual. However I think these two upstanding public servants were proud to be associated with such a world famous symbol of Thai history and delighted to see it had attracted the interest of westerners.
In addition to an impressive museum housing the collection of excavated artefacts there is an open air museum which has retained the conditions of archaeological excavations to illustrate how earthenware pots and other items were buried along with the dead. There are also a number of well maintained village art and craft workshops. The site is on the scale of UK museums such as Coalbrookdale in Telford or the Black Country living museum in Dudley. The entrance fee was 150 baht for me (30 baht for Thais). This was no problem I would have happily paid twice that amount to see such a wonderful place.
Thousands of items have been excavated at Ban Chiang. Among them are skeletons, axe heads, clay rollers, bells and large numbers of pottery. Ban Chiang is best known for the red coloured ceramic pottery found there in large numbers. The site covers a period from1500BC to 400AD which encompasses the eras from the Stone Age through the Bronze Age to the transition to the Iron Age.
The finds in the Bronze Age graves show evidence of development in pottery production and ceramic decorative skills. It also contains metal items, demonstrating the ability of early man to work with metals and the evolution into the bronze and Iron Age. Advance in social development is demonstrated by the inclusion of burial goods in graves and the use of personal ornaments like bracelets and anklets.
My interest was the Bronze Age metallurgical findings. Bronze was not only used for basic necessities, but also for the manufacture of personal ornaments like anklets, rings and bracelets. It was also used for the production of weapons of war such as spears and axe heads a less savoury aspect of human development. There is a large section of the museum dedicated to the bronze cast findings with an impressive full scale montage/diorama showing how the melting and casting process was performed.
There is a deal of controversy around the cast bronze artefacts which are said to predate Chinese developments. The debate revolves around carbon dating of the soil. I am no archaeologist but I don’t quite believe this. The casting processes employed for the axe heads and spears involved bivalve permanent moulds carved from sandstone which is quite a sophisticated technology. There are similar findings from Celtic Britain. At Ban Chaing there is no evidence of preceding technology such as lost wax casting or clay moulding. This suggests the technology was tried and tested elsewhere (probably China or Central Asia) before being introduced to Ban Chiang in the middle to late Bronze Age. This is only a personal observation and it did not detract from my delight and fascination with the site.
I had visions of bringing a party of my foundry students from the UK here on a study tour with maybe a few days diversion in Pattaya or Suhkumvit included. I can imagine the raised eyebrows amongst their employers should I suggest such an expedition.
I took a great many photos mainly to show colleagues I did not spend all my time in Thailand on my face with young women or in seedy bars.
Nat had disappeared to the pottery workshop as she wanted to procure a burial Urn for a recently deceased monk at her temple. At one time Nat was obsessed with making money. Now she was obsessed with making merit in her community. I caught up with her in one workshop where the potter was teaching her how to paint a pot in traditional style for 20 baht.
I was as happy as a sand boy on the drive back to Udon. Nat dropped me at my hotel and left for home as she wanted to see her daughter. She promised to see me the next day. As soon as I returned to my room I noticed the hundreds of annoying Mosquito bites I had on my legs despite wearing long trousers.
The Irish Clock has an extensive western menu but that evening I enjoy a tasty Thai dinner in the hotel. I needed cash but the hotel owner warned me the local ATM was considered dodgy so I made my way to Central Plaza adjacent to the Centura. It was a fair stroll and on collecting my cash felt knackered and was not looking forward to the return walk. I could see my destination the Day and Night bar but the route was separated by the Klong (canal). I took a tuktuk for few baht which saved my legs.
Day and Night is known as the cowshed complex and has 16 bars arranged around a central walkway like Simon bar in Pattaya but on a much smaller scale. I get halfway down the central walkway when I am dragged into the bar I had popped my head in the previous evening by Sum my dark skinned diminutive Isaan bunny.
Sum is very attentive so I buy a few drinks. She tells me about her time in Pattaya and her 7 month old child who now lived with a sister in a nearby village. The thought of her sleeping on the floor of the bar still perturbed me. I paid her bar fine and took her back to my room. On seeing my mosquito bites when I took off my trousers she conjured a jar of green ointment from her bag and proceeded to rub my legs with it which eased my itching considerably.
When she stripped down she had the archetypical slender shape of a Thai female but the poor girl’s body displayed the ravages of childbirth with extensive stretch marks on her belly. Her long nipples showed evidence of being gnawed as she was probably breastfeeding her child up to a month ago. However she was an affectionate and attentive little poppet and once connected her mudgeon exhibited a grip as firm as a freemason’s handshake.
Sum left around 9 am refusing my offer of breakfast I felt sorry for her so was generous with my tip. As I took my breakfast I noted the temperature was 16 degree C in Udon Thani. I also note that the temperature in the UK was also (an unseasonably mild) 16 degrees C. This is the first time I had seen Thailand and the UK experience the same temperature. After breakfast I take a stroll down Sampantamit Rd. My foot turns into the Beach club bar and I break my resolution not to drink before 6.00pm and order a beer. I sit quietly reading a book on my kindle app and observing the comings and goings. I notice a number of middle aged western guys out and about and assume they are married to local girls. I also notice they are all wearing woollen sweaters or cardigans. Western blokes wearing winter clothing at a mere 16 degrees? What a bunch of wimps and wussies.
I return to the hotel for an afternoon power nap and find my mongers little helper (aka multispeed mini vibrator) sat upright on the dressing table. It was clear the cleaners had found it in the bed. It was quite embarrassing but explained the strange looks I got from them when I collected my laundry.
Nat phoned me at 4.00pm informing me she was on her way to see me. She finally arrived at 9.00 a little upset having come from a meeting of her temple committee. It would appear the misguided conduct of inept and self-important officials is universal throughout the world. Despite a lifetime of dealing with similarly incompetent and arrogant creatures I didn’t offer her any advice but merely listed patiently to her tales of injustice. I decided not to go trawling the local bars that evening but sit and have an adult conversation with her about her life particularly since her hysterectomy.
I woke the next morning to see Nat’s mood had lightened considerably. When I emerge from the shower she is still in bed but on seeing me pulls the bed sheet away exposing her naked body. “Kiss Dhjim” she proclaims more in instruction than request. I am surprised by the change in her behaviour but never one to turn down a request from a lady dropped my towel and joined her on the bed. I must declare it was the most satisfying sex I had experienced for quite some time and all the more pleasing as it was so unexpected.
Nat’s good mood continued all morning she was like a young girl again similar to the girl I met some 13 years ago. We checked out of the hotel at midday and Nat drove me to the airport. As we said our farewells I gave her some money to cover her fuel costs for which she was genuinely appreciative.
After a short delay I eventually board the plane that would return me to Bangkok. Once again I am sat with two saffron robed monks and once again came to the rescue of the child hostess serving them. I close my eyes and reflect on my minor detour to the Isaan. It was only four days but I enjoyed the change of tempo. I think I will probably include a trip to this area in my itinerary on future visits to Thailand. I have certainly been enamoured of the small part I have seen like Udon Thani, Nongbua lamung and Nong Khai (last year).
Could I retire there? The jury is still out on whether I would retire in Thailand anywhere and I probably wouldn’t live in Bangkok. Pattaya is certainly an option it has the attractions and infrastructure geared for westerners just as long as you don’t join a Bridge Club. I can envisage living in Udon Thani or Nong Khai the pace of life and lower cost of living are conducive to retirement. There also seems to be an ever growing community of western fellows living there which suggests the possibility of some social activity. The biggest fear is of boredom. I could continue writing although there is only so much time this can absorb and there is a limit to how much of my ramblings readers will tolerate. I could set up a small backyard foundry to produce Bronze art castings or cast parts in other materials to service the local industry. There is also charity work and community activity or even teaching to consider.
My reverie is broken as we land at Bangkok Airport. It is a Friday afternoon and the airport is understandably busy but I get through with little difficulty. However I am horrified when I see the queue for the public taxis. The queue stretches the full width of the terminal building and was steadily increasing. I estimate it would take two hours of shuffling my bags in the heat before I reached the taxi rank, a prospect that filled me with utter dread. I needed an alternative. I am not a rich man but I am not a cheap charley and know when it is the time to suspend prudence for pragmatism. I make my way to the AOT desk and pay for the limousine service back to the Nana hotel. The cost was 1200 baht which is three times the cost of the metered taxi however some perspective is required. In the UK I often pay this much on a Friday night for a battered old taxi to take my inebriated body home less than 5 miles and do so without (much) complaint.
Within 5 minutes I am in the back seat of an upmarket Mercedes and within 40 minutes have pulled up outside the Mothership. The time is just after 7.00 pm, I knew it would have been after 9.00 if I had queued for a taxi and would have arrived dishevelled and exhausted. I checked in, threw my bag on the bed and dashed across to the Hilary 4 bar to try to catch Jen my timeshare girlfriend before her shift ended. Unfortunately she had left already.
I return to the Hotel take a leisurely shower don an appropriate drinking shirt and am back out into the Suhkumvit early evening. I was definitely back home. I still had a few days holiday remaining and I can think of much worse places to spend them than Bangkok.
To be continued