The concluding part of Phil's horrific family story / part one in case you haven't read it
Have you ever sat down and really thought what ‘family’ actually means?
It seems that in the Western world, family values have all but disappeared in some cases. Marriage is no longer sacred; and whatever happened to sitting down for tea or dinner and chatting about how everyone’s day has been?
In Thailand it is different though. Here, family is supposed to be everything, and quite often that is the case. But what happens when two members of the same family have a serious falling out? What side will the family take, and does it even matter who is right and who is wrong?
In the case of the Naenudon family, I was about to find out the answer, whether I liked it or not.
A few days after relocating to Pla’s house, we paid a visit to the Kalasin police station to file charges against Yae Dee for attempted murder. Pla came with us, as she knew one of the more senior police officials; in fact, she cut his hair once a month. She was a talented hair dresser, and most of Kalasin’s high society (or Hi-So as they say in Thailand) would drop in for their regular dose of gossip and short back and sides.
Once she mentioned his name to the policeman at the front desk, we were soon ushered into an air conditioned office and offered cool water whilst we waited. Khun Paiboon soon appeared and, once the pleasantries had been exchanged, we got down to the reason why we had requested his audience.
Khun Paiboon listened intently and scribbled furiously as Jum talked him through the events leading up to and including the attack. His expression didn’t change once; it was as if Jum were describing a recipe for Tom Yum Goong, he was that animated. When she finally finished, Khun Paiboon scribbled for another minute and then looked up with a beaming smile.
He spoke rapidly and I could only pick up the odd word here and there, but basically, the gist was this:
1. He would issue a warrant for Yae Dee’s arrest
2. The local Ban Mai police would then arrest her
3. Witnesses would be called in to verify what happened
4. She would be either charged and sentenced, or fined.
Wait - fined?? As if this was a bloody parking ticket! Apparently we had the power to choose whether she went to jail or was hit with a fine. I liked the idea of both punishments being meted out, but apparently they were exclusive.
When we returned from the station we found bitch number one and two waiting for us in the salon. Instead of showing concern for their elder sister, they had faces like thunder and let rip with a stream of expletives so vile that even a passing monk was shaking his head as he scurried out of earshot. These two women were berating my wife for even thinking of going to the police. After all, this was a family matter and the family would deal with it! I had real issues with their attitude, and was about to tell them where to go, but Jum stepped up and explained, in her awesome no-nonsense tone, what was going to happen.
They listened but I could sense the hatred building in in them. Just exactly what had Jum done to her sisters to make them quite so hideous? A few weeks ago, before the fish and spider debacle, we had found out that my wife’s name had been removed from the Naenudon home. This was an act of spite from Bitch #3, and the consequences were far reaching.
Without her name on the property, Jum couldn’t have an ID card. Without an ID card, Jum couldn’t work; she couldn’t rent a house, a car or a motorbike. She couldn’t even renew her Thai passport. At the time of discovering this, we needed a bank account and in order to open one, you needed… yes, an ID card! Bitch #2’s husband, poor man, was a policeman, and because of this association we’d been able to open a basic account with Bangkok Bank. So long as he would be so kind as to act as a reference, there would be no problem. Except Bitch #2 wanted something in return. Not much, just 10,000 baht, a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label and a load of cigarettes.
When you consider that 10,000 baht is more than her husband would make in a month, you kind of get the idea of what sort of person she really was. They saw us as cash cows, nothing else. But money doesn’t buy loyalty, and we were finding this out.
They had told Jum that not a single person would bear witness to the attack. Without a witness, there would be no case and we’d be lucky to get a single baht for our troubles. I wasn’t that surprised really, but the enormity of the whole screw-up had finally dawned on me. We’d travelled halfway around the globe to stay with THESE people?
Tom was pretty upset; he wanted to know why his Mum’s family were such lowlife. For myself, I needed to get this justice sorted out before we could progress with any other plans.
The next day we travelled to the district police station and we were met with total disinterest. It transpired that several of the officers were old friends of Yai Dee’s, imagine that! They advised us that they already knew of the case and would not be pressing charges. They practically laughed us out of the station!
Pla kindly agreed to drive us back to the scene of the crime and I was rather looking forward to confronting the person who had all but destroyed our family. Jum warned me not to do anything violent; she knew I had a temper. But what was the worst that could happen? I knew that if I did harm a hair on her head, there would be a queue of ready witnesses at least a mile long. So by my thinking, I may as well be hung for a Yai Dee as for a lamb…
Before the showdown that I had been dreaming about, we stopped off at the family home. Jum was heavily strapped up and as we left the car, her mother looked over and didn’t show one ounce of concern. In fact, her face was fairly similar to Bitch Numbers 1 and 2: hatred.
Apparently the news had spread and even the two dogs looked agitated as we endured a stream of abuse that left me in no doubt as to our position in this whole terrible mess: it was all our own fault; if we’d only stayed back in the UK, this would not have happened! – typical Thai logic.
I’d heard stories about when a foreigner and a Thai experienced a road traffic accident; the foreigner would always be blamed because, if he had only stayed in his country, the accident would not have happened. So by this logic, the whole disaster would not have happened had we stayed in UK, or even India for that matter.
But we were family – at least that should count for something, surely?
Apparently not. Yai Dee was also family, and in their eyes she was more important.
I’d had just about enough of this crap, and started walking towards the side road where our house was being built; I wanted to see Yai Dee. Jum tried calling me back, but by now Tom had joined me, and as we left the main road he asked me:
‘What are you going to do, Dad?’
I had no idea, but it wasn’t going to be very nice. Then something altogether weird happened.
Have you ever noticed that when the world and his wife are against you, everyone else seems to jump on the bandwagon? We were passing a small field where about twenty children aged between 8 and 15 were having a kick about. They noticed us and stopped their game – we were far more interesting.
‘Bok See Da! Bok See Da! Bok See Da!’ they all chanted as the mini-pack approached us. They were using the Isaan dialect to call us ‘Foreigners’.
The literal translation was actually ‘Guava’. The Thai guava has a white flesh that has been compared to our pasty European skin. The term ‘Bok’ was a very derogatory particle and wasn’t exactly what Tom and I wanted to hear right now. We marched on regardless and just two side roads away from our destination I noticed a large stone whiz past my head. We stopped and another stone, this time larger and closer, smashed onto the road. We were under attack.
I turned around to see if it was the ‘would be’ footballers but they had returned to their game. As a third stone actually made contact with my leg, I noticed a very strange sight to our left.
Inside a garden, under some large trees, there was a wooden cage. Contained within this cage was a semi-naked man who looked pretty upset. I had the urge to throw the stone back in his direction but Tom stopped me. ‘Dad, he’s probably crazy, let’s go!’
I agreed and within two minutes we had reached Yai Dee’s front door.
I noticed the bloody boundary posts had been moved even further back; it seemed our decent-sized garden was now a footpath for termites that had to squeeze themselves into the five or six inches of land around our house.
As I knocked heavily on the door I also realised that all building work had stopped; our industrious workforce was nowhere to be seen. After a few minutes it was clear that nobody was going to answer our knocking, so we went round the back and I looked through the kitchen screen door. Either Yai Dee was hiding somewhere or she was simply not home.
We walked back to the family home and Jum told us she had just discovered that Yai Dee had taken off the previously day. Apparently the police had advised her to ‘do one’ and she had followed their instructions. Jum’s mother had explained to her the way that things were going to be.
‘Phil, nobody will help us!’
So the family had ruled in favour of the old cow who had now absconded and here we were again, at the bottom of the Naenudon food chain. But it wasn’t all bad news; they had agreed to pay the grand sum of 50,000 Thai baht to help with the situation. Bitch #2 also had some ‘good’ news. She could sell our partially built house. The price had yet to be agreed, but she knew someone who didn’t mind living next to a machete-wielding old banshee – and obviously we couldn’t go and live there now.
We’d spent around 200,000 Thai baht on materials, labour and land.
Jum said that we’d think about it, and Pla suggested that we make our excuses and leave.
A little while after we left Ban Mai Chai, Jum quietly sobbed and asked nobody in particular why her family hated her so much? Even Pla was reduced to tears, and I felt more anger than I had thought possible as I tried in vain to comfort my wife.
Over the next few weeks we did our best to return to normality. Tom was getting Thai lessons every evening and I started to look for work. We found a small townhouse and after about three weeks staying at Pla’s house, we finally said goodbye to her kind hospitality and moving into a two-up-two-down in a little lane called Moo Ban Mai Thai. The neighbours were a curious bunch, and within an hour of our moving in a small welcoming party appeared and invited themselves in. They were mainly interested in why a white man with a Thai wife and a ‘luk krung’ (halfblood) had decided to move into their neighbourhood.
They also asked about Jum’s injury, and after twenty minutes or so they had brought round enough food for a street party. You see, Thai people aren’t all like Jum’s family. They listened in amazement as Jum re-enacted the machete incident and I could tell that they were dumbstruck when they heard about the treatment we had to endure afterwards.
We slept well that night, and when I awoke I saw that Jum was already up. I heard the familiar voices of Bitches #1 and #2. About ten of Jum’s extended family stood outside our new home, and they looked as if they meant business. Apparently it was time for them to pay the piper, and I looked on as Jum counted the money. On top of the 50,000 Thai baht from Yai Dee, there was another 150,000 for our ‘home’. This was closure, and we would just have to deal with it. Although it was better than nothing, I knew that we had been taken for a ride once more.
Jum asked where her mother was; they explained that her Diabetes-related illness had flared up and she was currently in hospital. Jum looked concerned, and handed over 2,000 Thai baht from our little nest egg. I couldn’t believe it! Despite being treated like a piece of detritus, my wife was now showing the very compassion that had made me fall for her all those years ago. Her kindness was met with a mixture of disbelief and mild scorn. Bitch #1 must have sensed some weakness, and seized this opportunity to ask for a short term loan.
‘Ee Kwai – Bai! (Get lost, you water buffalo – only in harsher terms!)’ Jum made short work of the cheeky request and I laughed inwardly as the rest of the throng sniggered at the spurned sister.
As we turned and went back into the townhouse, I wondered how she could still be anything but cold towards her mother. I guess she had something that her sisters probably never did. Jum was kind and honest, two attributes that equated to weakness in some people’s eyes.
At that moment, I loved her more than anything else in the world.
Thanks for reading my words and if you’re interested in my book, it is now available from Asia Books in shops all over Thailand.
Phil Hall was lucky enough to teach at a government school in Isaan from 2012 to 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed this experience. He also has a book published called Bangkok to Ben Nevis Backwards.
It takes the reader on a journey from the UK to India and finally Thailand. Debts, Dementia, poorly planned emigration, self discovery, family bonding and attempted murder are all part of the highs and lows of this 18-month true tale. This is an excerpt from the same book with a few alterations.