Life and Death

“Your friend go Mama?’
This from Joy as I arrive for a facial; she is determined to turn back time and has insisted I have one a week.

‘Yes, she’s gone to Bhutan and then Myanmar, we catch up in Siem Reap in December.’

“You alone then Mama?”

‘For a bit, but that’s fine.’

“You come to BBQ tomorrow. Pi Pon’s birthday. We go to Bantai, you come!”

An order rather than a request.

“You come here 7…we go in Pi Pon’s car…no motorbike.” She knows of my fondness for those two wheeled death traps.

‘Pi’ is used as a preface for an older person in Thailand. Joy being younger than Pon and his wife, Now, refers to them as Pi Pon and Pi Now….it gets a bit confusing and I’m sure they must call me Pi Pi Pi Pi Kim.

“ Seven you come here. seven..no late! Look…” she holds up the hand mirror so I can better inspect the road map that is my face…”Souwie” (beautiful).

Well they say it is in the eye of the beholder.

Chai assures me the next (very wet) morning that I must only have small breakfast as BBQ ‘dee mach mah’ (very very good) and there will be….’fish and pa -ork…and sa- quid…and beef and chick-en..and salad and fruit and ice cream and many many food.’

I settle for just mango but by three give in to my rumbling stomach and devour a toasted tuna sandwich and chips.

The rain stops in time for a magnificent sunset of the kind that only those who have been here can appreciate and with torch, birthday card and hastily wrapped Kraama (Cambodian scarf) in bag, I head down the beach.

They are all waiting. Pon (I’m older than him so I don’t use the ‘pi’), his wife, Now, their daughters Noi and NamPet, Joy and her ‘sister’ (some kind of relative), Nor, complete the group.

We head to the car.

Pon and Now have a shop in the next village which sells clothes and jewellery, much of the latter hand made by Now. She also takes her wares to the beach, while Pon looks after the shop, and on Sundays they have a stall in the Sunday market. They work hard. They live behind the shop with their three daughters in two rooms. Their kitchen is in the open as is the dining area, a large piece of wood where they squat (oh that I could squat like that) to eat. Everyone has a mobile phone, there is an old TV in one of the rooms and, they are doing well, they have a car.

The car is quite magnificent, air con, a front seat, a back seat and behind that an open boot area (like a half back lorry) where they can transport everything. It is spotless, I sense Pon takes great pride his car.

“You sit in front with Pon, Kim”

I protest ‘That’s not fair. You sit in the front with NamPet, Now’.

I confess I have rather a soft spot for NamPet, her of the gappy smile and huge black eyes; all of six and trouble in the making.

“No, you sit in front Kim, I am not so big”

‘Cheers Now! OK I will sit in the front!’

Much laughter.

The five girls pile into the back and I wallow in the space and air con in the front, chatting with Pon as best we can with our challenged alter vocabularies.

The bbq is in a restaurant (I call it that very loosely) some 30 minutes drive away. Two stories, open to the elements, neither with windows, and the upstairs looks like it could have been a Mui Tai (Thai boxing) centre at some point in its history.

It’s crowded. Tables against the wall and down the centre of the lower floor, heave with food, all uncooked. Chai was right there is fish and pa -ork, and sa- quid, and beef and chick-en, and prawns vegetables of every description and stuff I wouldn’t hazard a guess to identify.

There are also long wooden tables with round holes cut out at two foot intervals. Each hole is a bbq. Some kind of non flammable cage inside the hole contains the charcoal and on top of this is what looks like a large round metal jelly mould with a perforated dome in the middle. The tables are crowded, nearly everyone in the restaurant is Thai. I count four farangs (foreigners) who look at me curiously, as do many of the Thais – a farang with a Thai family, obviously not the norm.

Joy encourages me to pile raw food onto my plate while Now organises our seating arrangements.

We are to be upstairs, which is tantamount to being in a private room at Claridges, a huge honour albeit without the sumptuous décor.

They teach me how to use chopsticks to pick up slivers of meat and fish and to place them on the dome. It sizzles. Pa-ork alongside sa-quid and chick -en; the aroma is unique.
A kettle of water is used to fill the jelly mould and anything green is thrown into it, along with noodles, rice and every variety of egg you can imagine, cracked or otherwise.

We all have a bowl with a spoon to scoop portions of what can only be described as the dubious soup into.

It was interesting, the soup, in an acquired taste kind of way, and the obvious delight at having me there to share it with them made every mouthful taste more palatable.

Joy brings me a red wine cooler (they only serve whisky and beer in the alcohol department), I give Pon his present, much thanks are given, and the older girls (Noi and Nor) hit their phones. Just like a family visit to Pizza Express really.

NamPet drags me downstairs to the buffet so we can collect plates of fruit and cones of ice cream for desert.

We chat, the easy chat, were it not language challenged, of friends catching up.

You may be wondering why this is called Life and Death…be patient it’s coming.

“Mama Kim” says Joy “I have bad news”

Oh no, the last time she gave me bad news her favourite dog had died.

Before she has time to expand one of the girls gives a shriek. She has a photo on her phone that we all have to see.

The phone is passed around, I am the last to see the photo. There is a bit of tutting, a shrugging of shoulders, nothing that dramatic. I think at worst it may be a rolled motor bike.

OH MY GOD! IT’S A YOUNG GIRL…. HANGING…. FROM A FIRST FLOOR BALCONY…DEAD!…A NOOSE ROUND HER NECK ….. AND THIS MERITS A ‘TUT’ AND A SHOULDER SHRUG?!

It seems it happened this morning, Noi saw the girl hanging as she drove through Thongsala. Terrified, she sped off and called the police. Her friend (who sent the photo) decided that such a good photo opportunity could not be missed.

I have no idea what nationality the poor young girl was, so far it hasn’t made the BBC and my Thai is not good enough for the local news but to my Thai family this was just an incident. Noi may have trouble sleeping…but asides from that life goes on.

And it did. Everyone carried on chatting and Joy picked up where she left off.

“Bad thing happen Mama, I very silly.”

Still shell shocked by the dangling corpse of round one , I can barely whisper…”What’s happened Joy?”

“I have baby in my stomach.”

ROUND TWO!

‘You can’t have baby in stomach!'(how easily the pidgin English comes back). ‘You split up with Hlod because you couldn’t have babies and he wanted them…you told me, last year.’

Shrug of shoulders. “I know it’s bad mistake.”

‘Well I bet it was bloody good fun at the time!’

Laughter all round.

‘So who’s the father?’ No wonder she’s had three ice cream cones.

Little grin.

‘Is it a Farang?’

Shake of head.

‘Thai?’

Little grin and shake of head.

‘Myanmar?!’

Sheepish grin and nod. “I know very silly.”

Very silly? Just a bit of an understatement. Thai’s are not known to be the best husbands, Farangs may offer a slightly better future, but the workers from Myanmar are bottom of the ‘providers’ pile. Most are illegal, have poorly paid jobs and no rights at all.

Chai is from Myanmar and a lovelier man would be hard to find. His ‘wife’ Toy, is from Laos, they both work on the resort and have a baby, Villa, who will never know the privileges of her Thai peers. It doesn’t work that way. Very silly? A financial catastrophe!

‘What are you going to do?’

“I clear it with father?”

‘What do you mean you clear it with father? Doesn’t he know?’

“He know but I no want him. I clear it with him, I keep baby. I look after baby.”

Dear god this goes from bad to worse.

“Last baby I give up, this baby I keep.”

OK…ROUND THREE!

‘You have a child?! You never said! You said you couldn’t have any children!’

” I have boy, ten years ago when I 26. I have to give up to French family, no money, live in northern Thailand. I sign papers, no see any more… this baby I keep.”

She means it. A thousand thoughts race through my head as the bill arrives. Pon refuses to let me help with it…”Happy birthday, Mama Kim…Now we go to Festival”

Of course we do, there’s a corpse hanging from a balcony somewhere, Joy who can’t have children has a ten year old son and is pregnant again, so let’s all go to the funfair!

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