This has nothing to do with art but, as one of the aims of the blog is to inform about life in Thailand, I thought it worth posting. What follows is a four part true account of life and death in Thailand. For the writer this was one of the most interesting and invigorating experiences of his life.
“Teerak, my mom is sick and I need money”. For those who don’t know, “teerak” is the Thai equivalent of “darling”, used by “faan”, a gender neutral equivalent of boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s no big secret that there is a lot of prostitution in Thailand, though the numbers are vastly exaggerated by sensationalist media. There are many tales of cunning bar girls managing five or six boyfriends at a time and inventing increasingly innovative ways to extract money. “Teerak, my mom is sick and I need money” is a classic line used by farang residents in Thailand to describe such girls.
Perhaps less well known is the culture of family. The Thai family is the centerpiece of society in ways that many people in the West find difficult to understand. Put simply, the family looks after each other. If you marry into a Thai family you are expected to support that family. In practice, however, most Thai women will expect their Farang boyfriend to support the family as well. The “wealth” of a man is therefore a very important factor in choosing a partner. To some this seems very cynical, almost akin to prostitution. This is a vast over- simplification. Thai culture is not Western culture: neither necessarily better or worst, just different.
The Beginning: March 25 2006
My ex faan(very ex ex) calls me. As usual I don’t answer. If I answered every phone call I get I would be on the phone 30 hours a day. Then see I have an sms from her. “My mom dying.” Ok, that sounds serious. I call her and 2 hours later I am in Phatumtani hospital, about an hour out of central Bangkok.
It’s a government hospital and I heard bad things about these institutions. But it was clean, the patients were sick but not badly cared for, the staff seemed professional and the care was pretty good. In that classic Thai way that I genuinely love and admire all the families of the patients are in situ. It is all very chaotic but everything in Thailand is chaotic, and it’s nice.
Opposite us is very old and very tiny lady. She must be in her 80s and she is dying. It’s not a big deal. It’s just her time. Her whole family is there, working shifts. Her grandson, who I guess is 35+, is on his shift now. You can see immediately that caring is not his thing! Yet he is washing her, chasing around after her, resting her head on the pillow, holding her hand, sleeping on the floor underneath her bed. All in all he is showing his love and respect for his grandmother. It’s a sad occasion yet also invigorating.
I see this with almost every patient and family. A cancer sufferer, close to death, being cared for by her sister. A very, very old lady being cared for and fed by her equally old husband. Young kids wandering around. Human traffic in the best way. We farang have much to learn from the Thais.
Neung, my ex, has cried all the way in the taxi. We arrive and her mom is not good. Seems she has had an aneurism. She is unconscious and the nurses have said to get prepared. Her sister Ying has flown in from Chiang Mai and is there. So the girls do their Thai thing and I settle down for a long day. They wash their mom, talk to her, hold her hand, and cry a lot (of course!). I kid around a little, buy food, buy drink, and so on. And we wait for the doctor. He arrives on the floor and starts his rounds but soon disappears. Someone is dying on the floor below. He is back a couple of hours later. He gets very close to us this time before his phone rings and he’s off again. An hour more goes by and then he finally gets to us.
The nurses do some rather horrible things to Neung’s mom, but for the right reasons of course. The doctor takes his time. He is young but he is thorough. The prognosis is unclear. In essence he says we just have to wait a few days and see what happens.
Neung starts asking me how she can go to be with her mom while she is working, how she can pay for the taxi and so on. Gradually we are getting to the point of “teerak, my mom is sick and I need money”. Before I get the chance to make the expected “offer” her aunt arrives form Chiang Mai, stays a while, is obviously wondering who the hell this farang is, then leaves while giving Neung some cash to take care of expenses.
And gradually everyone cheers up. Neung even has the “balls” to call the insurance agent about the life policy….”teerak, I need to think about funeral expenses….”. Go figure!
Neighbors come and neighbors go. Telephones are “hot”. It’s good to see people caring. I wish that would be the case when it’s my turn to go.
Through the day I have wandered up and down the hospital. And it’s interesting. I am the only farang there. No one speaks a word of English. A little boy of perhaps 7 years looks at me and says, eyes in awe, “falang” (Thais cannot pronounce the consonant “r”, so “farang” comes out as “falang”). The girls in the 7/11 shop stare at me and giggle…then ask me if I like Pattaya and can they go with me! I am just an hour from Bangkok yet it seems as if I am in a different world.
I could have done without it all. I have had to delay a flight back to Switzerland, my home. I am tired. I have work to do. And I would obviously prefer Neung’s mother to be well. Yet I would not have missed the experience. It showed me some good things about this country. It reaffirmed the family ethic. It showed dignity. I am glad I was there. I don’t think Neung’s mom will recover but I think her daughter is beginning to adjust. We hadn’t talked for many months. Maybe this is not the best reason to talk again, but it was good to do so anyway.
Part 2 follows.