Thailand 1985

The bearded stranger sat down next to me. It was a narrow alley, full of noodle stalls. He focussed hard on his chopsticks but he did once lift his head to look from me to the half-empty whisky bottle on my table. I wanted to welcome him to Ayyuthaya but my English is poor. I took him home to my older brother, who lived off a daily allowance from our mother and couldn’t afford to come out drinking with me. He’s studying law in Bangkok and his English is good: ‘you’ll take him round Old Ayyuthaya tomorrow, won’t you?’ I asked. He agreed.  I commiserated with the stranger because he didn’t have a brother who’d do what the family needed, like mine would. I settled the stranger in our spare room and I went back to finish the whisky.

My brother had a scooter and took the stranger on a tour the next day. ‘Bring the stranger to the boat restaurant for dinner tonight’, I told him.

Ayyuthaya, the Burmese pagoda

Ayyuthaya, the Burmese pagoda

When they arrived at the restaurant they had been touring for six hours. ‘Did you tell him how every soldier in the Burmese army had carried a brick from Burma when they invaded Thailand, and built the pagoda with them?’ He knew that. ‘Did you take him to the reclining Buddhas? How long are they?’ He knew they were ten metres or more. ‘What did he think of the elephant-training kraal?’  He loved it: a historical, unused, heavily-overgrown place where massive treetrunks, hanging loose, act as doors which only elephants have the strength to push open to get in and out of the training area.

We had a good dinner and then I jumped on my brother’s scooter. The stranger climbed behind me and my brother ran along until we got to the ice-cream store. I bought everyone ice-creams and then we went to the whisky bar. My brother went home.

I had to explain to the stranger about my brother. I’m the one earning a wage and therefore, although he’s five-years older than me, my word is the one which carries weight. Until he starts earning.