The Accidental Expat
Nakhon Pathom situated 50 km west of Bangkok is a small town likely ignored or simply unknown to the casual visitor of Bangkok or Thailand. Expats or long-time residents may have heard, seen or visited (as I did) the Phra Pathommachedi, said to be the largest stupa in the land.
Patrick did not come to live here by choice or careful design. Why then did he end up living here for close to 20 years? One could call it destiny, karma or simply by Patrick’s own reckoning; “les choses de la vie” (the choices life makes for you). An accurate description as he is a proud Frenchman to the core of his heart. Perhaps the main reason his local language skills have never surpassed the very limited bargirl Thai and his English was at best jolty. Our conversations therefore are always conducted to this day in the more melodious language of Molière, Rousseau and Voltaire.
Patrick was a regular of my tour-operating company in Phuket. Over several years of his usually 3-week holidays we got to know each other better, became friendly and then more so; friends. It was inevitable as it wasn’t just a language we had in common but we had each lived in a town on the shores of Lake Geneva prior to my departure to Thailand. Although we hadn’t known each other then. On one of his low season visits to Phuket the two of us went for a journey to the north of Vietnam described in one of my earlier submissions “Reunion”, published 6 April, 2017.
Not a lone wolf per se, he never made much effort to socialize or go out of his way to meet people. He was one of those lucky people (in my view) to be content and in peace being just by himself. Thus he developed the habit to rent one of our Suzuki Caribbean Jeeps and take off for two- or three-day journeys outside the island. On his return over a beer at the hotel I went to meet him he related enthusiastically of his various adventures in Pang-Nga, Krabi, Ranong, Nakhon Si-Thammarat and even Chumpon on one occasion.
Enough he declared on his Phuket holiday this year early in the new millennium. I want to go and explore the Kanchanaburi region, the bridge on the Kwaï River, the nearby war cemetery and museum, see the salt mines by the sea, a snake farm he had been told about by a friend back home. Patrick had obviously done his homework and knew exactly what he wanted to see and where to go. No problem, I told him, we can arrange the flight to Bangkok, one or two overnight hotel stays and the limousine with guide to show you all that. No, no, was his answer, I will drive myself and don’t need a guide. Patrick had one of the first generation GPSs that he would stick on the windshield. Before his departure he had it programmed for Thailand and in the French language. What’s more, he said, I have my handphone and will keep in touch. Good enough, I replied, and take care. He was sent to the airport on his journey to what was an unknown region for him.
For several days we had no news then his name popped up on my mobile phone. Anticipating a flood of exciting news of Patrick’s travels, I answered eagerly but what I heard was a woman’s voice blabbering away in super-fast and barely intelligible Thai. I handed the phone over to one of the office girls. Looking at her and the changing demeanour and facial expression I knew the news where not good. The call lasted for a good 10 minutes. It originated from the Nakhon Pathom Government Hospital and I logically assumed that I would be given news of what happened after the call ended. Not so, it seems to have been just a lot of inconsequential blabber between the two girls as Thais do in any given situation. I made her call back. Could I speak to Patrick on the phone, please? No, I could not, him being currently sedated, but he had specifically asked to see me. That at least was good news. If he could ask to see me he was alive and coherent. I had naturally assumed that he had been in a traffic accident. No, he had not been in a road accident, said my office girl, but she was unable to give any further information. There was only one way to find out. I had to go see him.
A domestic flight to Don Meuang, taxi to Victory monument and on to one of the minivans that depart several times a day to various destinations around the capital. After arriving in Nakhon Pathom, I went straight to the local government hospital. Though well past visiting hours, I was allowed to see him as he had especially asked for my presence. Patrick was unable to speak but the gentle and faint smile he gave me was encouraging. And that was that for the day. I was politely asked to leave and please come back at 10:00 AM the next day.
I was received on arrival by nurse Dao. A person I was to get to know much better in the weeks and months ahead. She led me to Patrick’s room. Apparently he had spent several days in ICU but was transferred at his request into a private room that very morning as his condition had stabilized. He was now able to speak slowly and haltingly and with long pauses between words or short phrases. Together with nurse Dao’s help and over a long hour or more I finally was able to piece together what happened. For easier comprehension and clarification I will relate the following section in a reconstructive narrative or as if told in Patrick’s own words;
I had a great time doing all the things I had intended to do or visits including a spectacular show on the snake and crocodile farm with thrills and shivers when the animal trainer or dompteur put his head in the crocs open gueule or a giant cobra enveloped him entirely including around the neck ready to get strangled or so it seemed. The highlight on the last day visiting the Kwaï River bridge was impressive and the solitary evening on the houseboat charming. I think I drank a bottle of wine all by myself with a tasty meal. For my last leg back to Bangkok the GPS proposed and guided me through a new itinerary passing this town. On approaching I pondered if I should include another stopover here before returning to Bangkok. That’s when I started to feel dizzy. My head began to spin. I knew I could not go on driving, had difficulties grabbing and holding on to the steering wheel. My last memory is stopping the vehicle at the wayside of the road.
Dao continued the narration. Two Thai men on their way home from work had followed Patrick’s vehicle for a while. When the driving style became erratic, zig-zagging left and right and finally ended up in a road ditch they stopped their car and went to inquire. They found an unconscious man slumped over the steering wheel. With no apparent or visible injuries, they simply grabbed him to transfer the inert body and lying him gently down on the flatbed of their pick-up truck. Off to the nearest hospital where the medical team took over. The rapid intervention may have saved Patrick’s life. We never knew them and were unable to identify or contact them.
Later during the day the treating medic gave a more detailed diagnosis to Patrick’s condition that I will not go in to. In layman’s terms, Patrick had suffered a heart attack apparently brought on by underlying ischemic heart disease. It would require a long period of rest followed by a change of diet and lifestyle. Possibly also at a later date by a stent imserted in to the coronary artery. Patrick was not overly surprised when told. He knew and had been treated for the condition over several years. I stayed another two days and was pleased to learn that his condition had now stabilized and I could talk with him for short periods at the time. Patrick asked for reading material. But finding French books in a rural town was not easy. I promised to send some when back in Bangkok on my way home. In the end I found a booklet in a little shop near the Chedi. A collection of Buddhist inspired short stories by a venerable Monk titled: Un arbre dans la forêt. Then it was time for me to return to the office. Taking leave from Patrick and the omnipresent nurse Dao never far from his bedside, I took off on my way back to Phuket.
We kept in touch by telephone over the weeks and I was pleased and relieved by the steady improvement of his health. About 3 month on I returned to see him in NakhonPathom and was surprised to see him settled in a pleasant apartment. Together with nurse Dao. After caring for him and foster him back to health they had become a couple. That was a bit of a surprise as Dao, pretty but short and robust, did not exactly fit the image of Patrick’s ideal female; tall, slim, small breasted. But she obviously had other qualities and Patrick having survived a brush with death was well aware of it. Another surprise came when Patrick announced his imminent return to Europe albeit only to settle outstanding affaires. Then he would return here and settle down with Dao in the small town. Content at the positive outcome I returned to Phuket and the office. Apart from an occasional email I lost touch with Patrick for several years.
On our impromptu meeting in Central’s Food Loft in Bangkok years later in 2017, he filled me in on the following years. He was granted early retirement at his workplace and after returning to Nakhon Pathom Dao was a big help to get the yearly visa stuff settled as he had just reached the necessary age bracket.
….and they lived happily ever after could have been the fairytale ending at this point but it was not to be. After a time Dao became adamant to return to her village close to Nong Bua Lam Phu. She had conceived a child as a teenager there to an unknown father that was looked after currently by her own parents. Patrick went to see the village and was well received by all including the child but he knew there and then that he could never live in a place so far away from worldly events. What’s more, he had made friends in Nakhon Pathom, and had improved his language skills. He had even made some English friends but continued referring to them in a friendly banter as “roast beefs”. As payoff he was soon named “the frog”, alluding to his taste for greasy and garlicky cuisses de grenouilles. Once again he was content to live alone. Patrick and Dao separated.
As for myself and for those who have followed my ramblings over the years, I have also gone through some upheavals the past year. During the last days of December, 2019, my house in Trang was sold and I moved permanently to Bangkok. Reactions of friends and acquaintances soon came in many shades and colors, ranging from; how can you move to this over-polluted, corrupt and crime-infested town, to some more friendly definitions; you lucky guy living in a world-class metropolis offering great shopping and many well-kept parks. Excellent Thai and international cuisine / restaurants at still affordable prices and best of all, the most beautiful women the world over. Well, it’s all relative. My answer to some of them as Einstein discovered 100 or more years ago!
Naturally I’ve met with Patrick again living much closer to each other now. He had no objection my telling his story here. Last time Dao came along with him. Her son grown up now has left the nest. It’s a sort of periodical on and off relationship we now live. It’s what works best for both of us, Dao added. Patrick opened his bag taking out the little French Buddhist booklet I brought him all those years ago in the little shop near the Chedi. It was well worn now as he had read it several times he said. I had a closer look at it myself this time and discovered he had highlighted a passage on one page that read, translated into English; Be mindful, don’t hang on to things but let go and surrender to the way things are. A wise man’s words!
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