Nai Jon Ladsa-ard
He Loved life, loved his family, and loved his outdoor career while his greatest ambition was to own his own tractor.
Something of which he liked to occasionally remind us.
A man of consummate modesty if you asked Por Jon how he would describe himself he would say he is low class and poor while I would depict him as a man of rigid principles. He never used the word 'no' but if he didn't say yes you were not going to overrule his esteemed authority. He wasn't always a family man and occasionally disagreed bluntly with his wife and she always gave in to him but having endured a conflict with her he would storm out the house and abscond on his motorcycle. But he always came back bang on time for supper without speaking. He never went far. To his farm fields where he would stare blindly into the growing rice that stretched further than the eye could see. Or to his favourite pastime of watching road workers laying pipes or doing repairs using a JCB. He loved the way a machine could make such light work of digging a trench and it fascinated him. He wanted one.
A man of few words, on the rare occassion he spoke it would invariably cause rapturous myrth. His quick sense of humour and sharp wit was never far away. He once had what would be deemed a minor surgery on his ham. That's the Thai word for penis. I don't know why it is that at my age I am still inclined to shrink at the word penis as though it is somehow dirty to use such language and whilst it is inappropriate to use such in certain circumstances it also becomes so matter-of-fact or even pragmatic when spoken in Thai. Jon still had the stitches in and thought it amusing how it was now twisted and slightly shorter than it used to be as he walked toward me, waistband held out, and looking down at it as he asked me if I would like to have a look. OK that doesn't sound so funny but try relating this tale to a Thai and watch them collapse with laughter.
Jon was born not far from where he lived, had little education, his signature was his thumb print and his word his bond, but the words studious and imaginative were invented for people like him. Even his fifteen year old motorcycle is as immaculate as the day he collected it from the Honda showroom. He once asked us for some money so he could make a tiled floor area where visitors could eat. It is now a raised plinth, perfectly level, with mosaic tiles as flat and as smooth as an undisturbed millpond. Everything he did was as plumb and true as could be done with lasers and a micrometer and he couldn't resist building a house far in excess of his needs. To go home and visit is a relaxing and welcoming time that I always appreciate. I'm always saying 'Come on Por lets go and get some beer or to a restaurant', but he never does. He likes the world to come to him, and it invariably does.
The house is immense and a traditional Thai style hardwood on concrete stilts but the years have taken their toll and much of the timber needs replacing. So rather than spend money on a job that may need doing again when he is too old to be able he decided to lay a concrete base and fill in the spacings between the pillars with concrete blocks. The result is the biggest downstairs lounge in the district of Udon Thani and is a magnet for locals who choose it as the village meeting hall. The first time I visited the girlfriend's parents I assumed the locals were curious and wanted to meet the farang. Not a bit of it, the gathering is a nightly ritual of family members, village friends, and people who have known the Ladsa-Ard family for very many years. But even with this nightly invasion along with ants, mosquitoes, and the variety of unwelcome insects, it is a place of relaxation and a knowing smirk that means I have not a care in the world.
Fresh free range eggs, home grown bananas and coconuts, fresh vegetables and home cured meat of a kind sometimes best not enquired and a range of women who bay for the priviledge of cooking something just for me. Next door is a shop that sells everything I like from blackberry sponge angel cake to Leo, Chang, and even Heineken as well as bags of ice cubes and ice creams at prices that do not make sense.
Paradise? You bet it is. Hewn from the hard Issan jungle by the old man's bare hands and though he had amassed land and wealth the washroom and kitchen has taps attached to a hosepipe connected to the garden tap because it makes the water rates cheaper and the waste is fed back into the garden to irrigate the vegetable patches in what feels like a mangrove swamp but never smells. Though my missus says it does and it makes a mess of my shoes when I am irresistibly drawn to it like an eight year old who must at all costs investigate what lurks amongst the fauna. You gunner get bit one day, she always snaps.
The girlfriend's son lives here too with his grandpa and grandma though he has taken to living in what is supposed to be the machine shed for the rice reaper and motorbikes. We used to have a dog too. He had no hair and black skin and so was called Dam. He is Por Jon's dog but Dam befriended me and everyone decided the Dam dog was now mine but one night he disappeared. He was like a 'guard goose'. He yelled and hollered at any stranger and venomously stood watch over the family home. And yet without a sound he had gone. Word round the village was that a gang of boys was going round stealing dogs for food. Yes in that neck of the woods they really do eat dogs though they tend to be Cambodian or Vietnamese. My girlfriend claims Thai's wouldn't dream of such a thing and I'm inclined to believe that. But he was never seen again and the next two visits to Mae's house almost brought a tear as I fondly remembered him - I missed him terribly.
Almost two years later he made a messianic reappearance. On a Tuesday around meal time he simply walked into the house as if nothing was amiss. The next day was just another day and Dam lounged around as usual waiting for the old man to come home, which he did, bang on six o'clock. And so into Thursday and everything was once again back to normal as the old man went off down the concrete single car width lane toward the farm and Dam stood guard over the 'not bother to lock up' household. He barked at the stray dogs that came running in vain hope that there might be something going begging and because they didn't heed his warning set about them with furious anger sending the chickens squawking in all directions and stumbling over the bin bags and into the water ditch. The scarred and war beaten Dam saw the intruders off with bleeding necks and ears. He is an old soldier who cannot suffer whippersnappers or fools and grown men think twice when he gives them the territorial warning. The family are always telling me that rolling round on the floor playfighting and teasing him with sticks and bones Dam will bite me. But he won't, we are mates, and we both know we are only playing. Sometimes he does grab my arm or try to pull me down, but never once, not even closely, has he ever broken the skin. He loves me as much as I do him. Good job too because he stinks to high heaven and one of these days I will carry out my threat of bathing the smelly old sod.
The old man came home and Dam bounced around like a lonely puppy vying for his attentions. But to Pa Jon a dog is a working animal. Sure Dam is his dog, but Dam isn't a pet. Por Jon did what he always does, ate a little supper and sat on the end of the bed to watch his favourite soap opera on TV. I can neither enjoy nor understand Thai soap's. They are rubbish on a biblical scale. Badly acted, badly scored, badly written, badly choreographed fight scenes, and pixilated alcoholic drinks, guns, knives, and body parts. They are all the same with the same story line with a completely pointless plot of a girl who can fight like Bruce Lee, but who needs rescuing from the bad guy dressed in black and wielding a gun by the gorgeous looking hero who only uses his fists and fights fair, but Por Jon loves them. Thursday night is Phuh Phi Thaak. In English, The Guardian, and it is bloody awful.
Por Jon sent Dam out to guard the outside of the house, he sleeps on the front porch anyway, but as usual lowered the roller shutters, turned out the lights, and settled down for a nights sleep. At his age he needed to get his head down early. They rise at 5.30 every morning to the sound of cocks crowing and the smoke of charcoal as the breakfast cooker is started up in this household. But, in the early hours of the morning, he needed to get up again badly in need of a wee, but no matter how he tried he couldn't go and it was beginning to hurt. He woke his wife and told her. And as she got out of bed he collapsed.
Mae rushed to the machine shed and woke the grandson. At the age of 17 he was thrown suddenly and unexpectedly into a world of responsibility as he tried valiantly to help his now agonised grandfather but there was nothing he could do to help the old man pee. The lad fetched his uncle who lives only a few doors up the lane and came back with the pick up truck to take Por Jon to the hospital. Little did anyone know that Por Jon's fate was already sealed as the nurses rushed him onto a ward. This is a village hospital, they have no emergency medical facilities, no in-house surgeons or even a doctor. Nai Jon Ladsa-Ard knew his hours were numbered and joked to his wife and daughter, "I don't want to die because I am shy of new people."
The eldest sister sent out text messages to the other sisters to tell them Por was gravely ill in hospital and they all replied except one. She tried telephoning Waan in the UK but we didn't hear her mobile ringing downstairs. We were fast asleep in bed knowing we both had a hard day ahead of us on Friday and wondering how on earth we were going to find the money to go and visit the family next month.