This is in essence a true story. I became acquainted with Xaver a few years ago here in Thailand and eventually got to know him quite well. Of his life prior to his arrival in LOS I only know from what he told me. The accident at the center of this narrative happened in April 2015, well over a year ago.
Xaver owned and ran a modest men’s barber shop in a mid-sized village in Switzerland. He’d done it all his life. He had a wife, two grown-up daughters, was financially secure and his retirement was getting closer. So far he’d had what people sometimes call a simple but good life! And he said as much in the short dinner speech he gave on the occasion of his 60th birthday while surrounded by family and friends. Later that day lying in bed his mind wandered and his thoughts took a new direction; yes, a good life but all so boring.
That same year Xaver started to have more frequent episodes of coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Medical tests eventually reveled that he suffered from acute asthma. The diagnosis would change his life. He became a different man. At 60 it was too late to suffer a mid-life crisis, or so he said. So when people noticed his strange behavior or asked what was happening to him he simply said his was a case of “last chance Xaver” and privately to friends he added “it’s now or never”. Within weeks he sold his barbershop, separated but did not divorce his wife, cashed in a chunk of his savings and purchased an airline ticket to Thailand with the return flight open.
Xaver had never travelled further than the French Cote d’Azur or the Adriatic coast in Italy to the south and Hamburg in Germany to the north but that journey was close to 40 years ago when he was just an overgrown boy and experienced his very first sexual encounter there.
Together with a friend they travelled to Bangkok and then on to Phuket. It was the new El Dorado he was told. And indeed the beaches and shoreline looked golden along the coast when they landed at the airport, the sun just about setting over the bay before touchdown. They settled into a hotel at Patong Beach. Over a tasty seafood dinner washed down with a few bottles of Singha beer, Xaver was able to forget his medical condition and other troubles at least temporarily.
Over the years I’ve lived here and was active in tourism I sometimes heard of people telling that they had met the “right woman”, miraculously on the first night in town! It’s an illusion, of course, fueled by the exhilaration of the day, numerous discoveries, new sights and impressions. Often also simply a good dose of ignorance. But it so happens that ignorance sometimes can be a bliss.
It’s what apparently happened to Xaver. He met the love of his life. I do not know the exact details of their meeting as I became to know Xaver much better only later. In hindsight I believe that he probably embellished or romanticized the encounter somewhat. It does not diminish the sincere feelings they obviously had for each other. Later I was shown many photos of the weeks of courtship they spent together in and around Phuket. From trips to Phee-Phee Island, Big Buddha hill, the local snake farm, Phuket FantaSea and more.
Followed their Buddha style wedding in a local wat (temple). More pictures were taken at their ceremony. Jeap in beautiful Thai style attire, Xaver for once not in casual shorts and T-shirt but a specially made to measure suit. He was in his early 60s, his bride 20 years his junior. But they suited each other well and made for a happy couple. Xaver later told me he had not wanted a bimbo as he called it but a mature woman who knew what she wanted and was able to get joy and happiness living with an older man.
Obviously Jiap had had a life before Xaver and she made no secret of it. Early on he was told that she owned some bungalows. Once married she suggested they would settle there. When Xaver became curious of the origins of this windfall Jeap was not shy telling him. A former boyfriend built the bungalows on a small piece of land owned by her family, his fiancée explained. Adjacent was a small restaurant oftentimes frequented by young English school teachers at that time employed in local schools. It featured a jukebox of a particular kind. A playing device that in addition to playing songs also showed the artist performing on a small TV screen above. It still stands there today.
When Xaver first saw the bungalows they were in an advanced state of decay and empty. The restaurant in no shape to accommodate customers. He was not really too surprised. He had been living here several months by then and learned a few lessons about Thailand, Thai people and adapting to the Thai ways.
He was a kindred spirit and realized immediately that it would be up to him to provide planning, supplies, manpower, in short the required funds to give the place a more appealing touch. But to build up a new business was not what he came to Thailand for. He did not have the desire, energy or the will to start over again. But he loved Jeap and desperately wanted to be with her. So he took the easy way out. Every month when his disability check arrived he simply handed the bulk of it over to Jeap telling her to do whatever she had to do and let’s just have a nice time together.
A year went by and nothing really changed. The bungalows were sometimes occupied by family or friends who stayed there for free. The restaurant wasn’t really that anymore but became a meeting place for young Thai males where they played pool and drank beer or spirits.
Jeap had a songtaew like vehicle she used to do errands or shopping trips. I encouraged Xaver to use the van to get out and around a bit, enjoy sightseeing in the region. But he refused to drive himself, saying that Thai roads were far too dangerous for an old guy like him to drive. So he walked, and he walked a lot. Early mornings or late afternoon. He participated on our weekly Stamm meetings near the night market and always arrived on foot even though it was a 1½ km walk.
Then, a few months into his stay he met Karl, a German guy in his 50s. Karl lived in a village nearby with his Thai wife. But it was a rocky marriage. At various times she sent him off, other times Karl left of his own choice and invariably ended up in one of Jeap’s bungalows.
Xaver who was used to a more active lifestyle had started to become bored again doing nothing and with Karl he had a welcome and willing distraction. Occasionally when I passed unexpectedly there in the afternoon I would find the two of them drinking beer, Karl smoking heavily on his home rolled-up cigarettes.
April came and the time for visa formalities. It was a long drive all the way to Satun. Cross the border to Malaysia, immigration, filling out forms, stamps and all, back to Thailand and another long drive home. They had departed early morning before daybreak. Jeap was driving the van. Xaver and Karl sat facing each other on those long benches. Rather than take the bus they chose this mode of transport so they could indulge in smoking and have a drink during the long journey in the open air.
The van was not in pristine condition and Xaver knew that new tires on all 4 wheels should have been fitted long ago. It was late afternoon, the trio well on their way back when at high speed on a sharp curve one tire, or but possibly two, burst. The van overturned and came to halt in a dirt pit almost 20 meters from the site of the accident. Jeap was lucky. She left the wrecked car with only superficial injuries. Not so the two farang. They had been in the midst of celebrating their newly obtained 3-month visa. Xaver’s worsening asthmatic condition allowed him to mutter a few words to his beloved Jeap before he expired right there on the very spot. Karl was severely injured and was transported to Satun hospital but only survived a few hours. Jeap’s songthaew was a write off.
Somehow Jeap got back home. I was contacted by a friend who had heard of the accident. Immediately her family and friends gathered at the resort. The following days they made funeral arrangements at a nearby temple and dealt with local authorities, the hospital and police in Satun province where the accident had occurred. I took it on myself to contact our embassy and remained to inform and deal with Xaver’s family back home. Jeap and family members would speak only simple, easy English but obviously none had mastered the German language. I was asked & voluntarily accepted to act as liaison to the family back in Switzerland.
To say it was a shock to them would be an euphemism. They were aware that Xaver had not come to Thailand for a temple tour. But wait a minute! Xaver married to a Thai woman when he had a wife back home? That simply could not be. Xaver had always been an honest, straightforward person. He would not do that. And now he was supposedly dead, having been involved in a car accident through the fault of his “wife”. How on earth could that be?
At this point it is fair to say that Xaver was not a bigamist. Yes, he had gone through a Thai temple wedding ceremony with Jiap. But he had not at any time signed documents at an Ampoer in Thailand to obtain a marriage certificate. He was still legally married to his Swiss wife. How important that fact was soon became apparent when I was shown Xaver’s private dossier that no one here was able to interpret.
A careful, even frugal man in his previous life he had amassed respectable savings, deposited in Swiss banks. Money that now would obviously go to the legally married spouse. Jeap never knew the extent of it, I did not tell her and if she had known, I believe she would not have cared. She loved Xaver for the unassuming, simple and gentle man he was.
Xaver had always been a cautious man. He was fully aware of the dangers on Thai roads, to the point he never even sat on a motorbike as a passenger, let alone drive one or a car. That he should die so tragically in a traffic accident was a sad irony not lost on any of us farang friends.
Family and friends of Jeap attended the week long funeral wake. Inexplicably or perhaps understandably from their viewpoint, none of his Swiss family attended. A letter drafted in English by one of Xaver’s daughters was read to the congregation during the ritual. The Swiss family however requested to be given Xaver’s remains, the ashes. The embassy previously had informed us they would assume the transport cost. Then the time came for the two bodies to be cremated and to say goodbye to a dear friend.
The day after the cremation I returned to the temple with Jeap. She collected the ashes given to her in a plastic bag. Back home she extracted a small amount using Xaver’s tea cup & his spoon and buried it along with his remaining medication
on the land beneath his favorite tree which he liked to sit under in the shade. To make sure his spirit would rest in peace firecrackers were lit to chase away lurking ghosts. Finally, what was left of the ashes she packed in an old wine box.
The following morning she took the bus to Bangkok and the Embassy for delivery.
Over a year has passed since the tragic event. After she had cleared up all outstanding tasks concerning Xaver’s demise, Jeap entered the temple to observe her own mourning period. She stayed 4 weeks asking not to be disturbed.
But Jeap did not despair. When the grieving time was over she returned to Phuket’s Bangla road. “Life goes on” is a phrase we often use in the west when facing tragedy. Thai Buddhists don’t use the phrase but they live by the very principle. After all a death is not necessarily a sad event, it indicates the transition to the next and perhaps better life and most of all another step closer to Nirvana. Or so the teaching goes.
A week ago Jiap sent me a photo of herself to my LINE account. Standing in front of the bar in a bright flowery dress. She’s looking good and it seems to me younger than ever.
It’s that picture that incited me to put this to paper.