can sa-peek a litten,” she'd
say “I - want - to - go - Bang -
Bua ' Thong,” I'd reply, or to the airport or Bang
Na or wherever I happened to be going that day. "OK.
Please wait a momen’ please." She'd step back
into the gang to discuss which bus I should take, and then
emerge again a minute or two later with pen and paper and
the bus numbers I needed.
read it out to me in English just in case I couldn't read
English numbers, and then smile and step back into the
warm protection of her friends.
this happened a few times, I approached a single young woman
hoping she would “sa-peek English”. It worked like magic!
That's how I met Khun Nalinee, for example, a young dancer
and dance teacher. I'd been to see the zoo on the top floor
of the Pata Pinklao Department Store, and discovered when
I emerged that it was already dark. Then my bus to the other
end of town - Samut Prakan - didn't stop despite my frantic
dashes into the road to intercept it. After my third such
adventure, it dawned on me that perhaps I was at fault.
I turned to Nalinee. She smiled and said, “So-lee. The bus
does not stop here. You have to go to another bus stop for
my sheepish look, she quickly added, “Please wait a moment.”
She turned away to speak into her tiny mobile phone and then
was back with me in a couple of minutes. “I go with you to
the bus stop. Please come.” And she stepped onto a bus that
had just pulled up. She bought my ticket and we went on for
about 10 minutes before disembarking.
we waited at this next bus stop, I asked her where she was
my house. It is near Samut Prakan.” We exchanged phone numbers
and compliments. “You are so sliml” You have beautiful eyes!”And
then we climbed onto the right bus. She started teaching
me the Thai alphabet and asked me why English was so complicated.
do you mean?” I asked. “'Lie means this lie,” she said, pointing
to a glowing electric bulb. “And it means ‘lie’ , to eat;
‘lie’ , in weight; I ‘1ie’ you; and so many other things.”
Ah! Now this was a problem I could resolve, and I set about
doing so with relish. “May I meet you sometime to practise
my English with you?” she asked afterwards, in flawless English.
“Of course,” I replied instantly.
came over the next weekend and I accepted an invitation to
her hometown for Songkran.
then, we’ve been to Sukhothai, Krabi and Koh Samet together.
Next month, we plan to go to Koh Samui on a holiday. Oh yes!
I've also been a guest of honour at her dance performance
and have visited her classes.
next guardian angel was Khun Neng. Neng was a human resource
assistant at her office and, on my lucky day, she'd been
to meet her friend at Don Muang Airport. She took me to Bang
Bua Tong (a 90-minute bus ride) before getting on another
bus to go home. I discovered this only later when I knew
her better. Since then, she has travelled with me, translated
for me and even signed as my guarantor for a hire-purchase.
In return, I've helped her draft official letters and listened
as she held forth incessantly on her boyfriends.She took
my advice and quickly dropped an Aussie lad who was out for
a good time of another sort from what she had in mind.
a month after I met Neng, I was strolling near the Grand
Palace when I met Khun Maem, a singer at a karaoke bar. She
stepped in just as a tout was about to take me for a long,
long ride. In England, she would have been a little old lady
brandishing her umbrella at the bad men. But this was Thailand,
and a few tough words together with a measured smile got
the message across. The tout dematerialized before my amazed
eyes - and I hadn’t been able to shake him off for an hour
enough to see through my well-rehearsed “Help me, I'm lost”
act, Maem put me on the right bus, told the lady conductor
where to drop me off, and told me which bus to take from
there.To top off her good samaritan act, she also gave me
her mobile number so I could call if I got lost again, or
just to tell her when I reached home safely.
when I was house-hunting, Maem not only did the rounds with
me, she also negotiated vociferously on my behalf, reducing
the monthly rent by 2,000 baht. I was so thrilled that I
hugged her. Pleasantly surprised and gratified that her help
meant so much to me, she brushed off my thanks brusquely
and said I was like her family, and I had to meet her more
often. And now I dol Partly for the delectable som tam,
or spicy green papaya salad, that she unfailingly conjures
for the pleasure of her and her grandmother' s guests. She
has also introduced me to the little song taews, or private
buses, that provide seamless transport all around Bangkok.
meeting Maem one day, I took the wrong bus. Instead of the
yellow board, I took the red board. How on earth should I
know that? I should, Khun Poo told me later, in rather strict
tones. Poo was a primary school teacher. And she has taught
me the colour coding of the Bangkok buses as well as provided
further lessons in the Thai alphabet. My contribution to
her life, in return, has been negligible. She suffers
me in much the same way that she suffers her students.
Salita and Khun Nut, though, are very different. Salita works
in a posh hotel and Nut is a student from Chiang Mai who
hopes to work in the tourism industry. Both of them regularly
come to me to learn English and, in exchange, sometimes teach
me Thai.There are many others whom I have, regrettably, lost
sight of. Some have been too busy to return my calls or perhaps
hey do not like to be constantly reminded of their “little
nameless acts of compassion and of love”.
someone who doesn't know the language or the turf, I now
get around quite a bit in Thailand.The more so since I realized
that the city is full of angels and, if I’m lost, all I have
to do is look around helplessly and I’ll hear the rustle
of wings. Soon after, a competent pair of hands will descend
to lead me safely home.