El último paseo

Traducido por Lua Gatchan (from the original in English The Final Walk).

 

El camino a casa desde el muelle es uno de los pequeños placeres de la vida. Normalmente es un paseo de 20 minutos, pero a menudo puedo tardar hasta una hora o incluso dos, ya que me paro a charlar con todo el mundo en el camino, con los comerciantes, con las personas que conozco de vista o incluso con desconocidos. Esta es la costumbre en mi pueblo en el sur de Tailandia, donde encuentras sonrisas y todo el mundo te habla.

Old dog

Bombom was old and tired, ready for his final walk to the temple.

El clima es casi siempre caluroso y soleado, entre 29° y 38°, hoy hace exactamente 32° según mi equipo de buceo. Por supuesto hay lluvias durante la temporada de lluvias, pero sólo duran una hora o dos y todo se seca pronto, dejando una sensación de frescura y olor a tierra mojada en el aire. A veces llueve tanto que las calles se convierten en ríos pequeños, pero todo el mundo se lo toma con calma, con los pantalones arremangados; la vida continúa (literalmente) con una sonrisa.

Después de haber completado tres inmersiones, una de ellas con fuerte oleaje, como de costumbre me muero de hambre. En estos días, mi trabajo en Tailandia consiste en la gestión biológica del medio marino que, básicamente significa bucear, a veces con estudiantes, otras sin, hago fotos a los peces y a los corales que veo, y luego escribo un informe. Sí, ¡esto es lo que yo llamo un trabajo! Me paro en uno de esos extraordinarios vendedores ambulantes en la calle principal para comer algo. La comida en la calle es tan barata y tan buena que no vale la pena ir a casa y cocinar.

Buddhist Monk and Dog.

Buddhist Monk and Dog (image by John Lander).

Mi restaurante favorito (que se parece más a un garaje abierto) es una empresa familiar, al igual que la mayoría de los negocios en Tailandia. Los dueños viven allí. Tienen un televisor y una cama para los niños en la parte trasera, es decir, detrás de las cuatro mesas para los clientes. Todo está a la vista de todos. Claro, no quieren dejar a los niños solos en una habitación. Los niños (y los perros) son una parte inherente en la vida Tailandesa, los ves en todas partes. Se les permite hacer lo que quieran, pocas veces se les regaña o se les grita, y sorprendentemente son muy educados. Me desconcierta cómo manejan esto, sobre todo cuando pienso en algunos de nuestros mocosos en Occidente, tanto humanos como caninos. Todavía tengo que descubrir su secreto, pero supongo que tiene algo que ver con el hecho de que son parte de la vida cotidiana desde el día en que nacen; están perfectamente integrados sin ningunas construcciones ni zonas artificiales “para niños”. Lo mismo ocurre con los perros; son miembros como todos los demás, sin preocupaciones y sin ninguna atención especial, sin tratar a unos o a otros de una forma especial.

Sawasdee kha khoon, Logel”, Phee Malí me saluda con una gran sonrisa cuando me ve.

Phee significa hermana mayor y Malí significa Jasmine, que es su nombre. Soy Logel porque los tailandeses siempre te llaman por tu nombre de pila. Los apellidos son un invento relativamente nuevo que se les impone por el Gobierno en respuesta al crecimiento de la población y una sociedad más moderna. La guía telefónica está ordenada por el nombre de pila. El Rey Rama VI introdujo los apellidos en 1920 y él, personalmente, inventó apellidos para unas 500 familias. Todos los tailandeses tienen apodos. ¡Te diriges a tus amigos por sus apodos y ni siquiera conoces su nombre real! Soy Logel porque la mayoría de los tailandeses no pueden pronunciar el sonido de la letra “r”, ni siquiera en su propio idioma y sorprendentemente tienen la “r” en el idioma Tailandés.

Dog in Temple

Thais often take the dogs to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha.

“¿Estás bien? ¿Has visto algún pez hermoso hoy?” me pregunta Phee Malí en ‘Tenglish’ (inglés-tailandés, que es un lenguaje en sí mismo, encantador y adictivo). En poco tiempo y sin ni siquiera darte cuenta, empiezas a hablar Tenglish. Yo hablo una mezcla de Tailandés y Tenglish con los lugareños. A medida que mejora mi tailandés hablo menos Tenglish, pero el tailandés es difícil porque es una lengua tonal. El tono con el que se pronuncia una palabra cambia su significado, y a veces de una forma dramática. Hay palabras que siempre pronuncio mal y a los tailandeses les da un ataque de risa, ya sea porque estoy diciendo un disparate o digo algo mal. Les encanta cuando se trata de la segunda opción. Incluso me animan a decir una palabra que sé y que ellos saben que no puedo pronunciar bien sólo para divertirse. Pero esa diversión es sana y sin ningún ánimo de faltar el respeto. Por el contrario, me dan un trato preferencial porque hablo tailandés.

Transcribiré a continuación algunas de nuestras conversaciones en inglés, traducido directamente de palabras tailandesas, con el fin de dar a mis lectores una idea.

Sí”, contesto. He visto peces hermosos y corales. El Thale (mar) Andamar estaba muy bien.

“Oh!, estás tan negro!” Exclama con el ceño fruncido y una sonrisa. “Negro” en realidad significa bronceado o quemado por el sol. A las mujeres tailandesas no les gusta estar morenas. A ellos les gusta el blanco, como suelen decir, y se preocupan cuando ven a alguien con lo que en Occidente llamamos un bronceado saludable y atractivo.

“You hung’y ‘ight, gwai teeaw moo pet mak ‘ight? Phee Malí me pregunta riendo. Ella sabe exactamente lo que tengo en mente; me encanta un plato de Gwai teeaw moo, caliente y picante, especialmente después de un día duro de trabajo. Es una sopa de fideos y carne de cerdo o pollo o camarones,  con todo lo que puedas imaginar. Incluso lo sirven con un plato de vegetales frescos que cortas con los dedos y los metes en la sopa como prefieras. Lo mezclas todo tú mismo con chili seco, chili fresco, salsa de chili, salsa de pescado, soja, pimienta, sal y un poco de azúcar (sí, azúcar, pruébalo y verás por qué me encanta). Es delicioso y puedo asegurar que también es muy saludable.

Me como mi Gwai teeaw moo y disfruto de un té verde helado sin azúcar. El sol se pondrá dentro de una media hora; aquí siempre se pone a la misma hora, siete grados al norte del ecuador. No hay lluvia hoy. ¡Disfruto de la vida en el Paraíso!

“Thao THALE SA Baay dee Mai”. Los niños van corriendo a preguntarme sobre los peces y en especial sobre la tortuga marina, su favorita, y es una buena oportunidad para practicar mi tailandés. Me llaman Lung Logel (tío Roger), en deferencia por mi edad. Entonces llega el turno de decir hola a los perros, un idioma que sé, que no tiene ningún acento y se habla igual en todos los continentes.

Thai Child wai.

The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

Veo a Ae al otro lado de la calle (AE es un nombre divertido de un juego del escondite de Tailandia). La conozco a ella y a sus padres. Su padre trabaja en uno de los barcos que utilizo con regularidad en mis excursiones de buceo. A menudo le ayudo a atracar el barco cuando llegamos al muelle cuando no hace un clima perfecto y a veces tomamos una cerveza juntos después de haber asegurado el barco, descargarlo, etc. Ae está en cuclillas al lado de su perro, uno de esos perros de Tailandia que se parecen a todos los demás. Los perros de aldea en Tailandia son todos iguales, como si fueran de una raza particular, producto de una reproducción aleatoria a lo largo de los años. Yo los llamo “el perro por defecto”.

“¿Ae está triste, verdad?” Le pregunto a los niños.

“Oh, el perro de Ae está muy viejo. Mañana el padre de Ae llevará al perro al templo”, responde Chang Lek (su nombre es Pequeño Elefante).

Termino mi comida y voy a hablar con Ae, que todavía está en cuclillas junto a su perro, acariciándolo. Puedo ver que Bombom está viejo y cansado. Es un perro bueno y agradable. A menudo se le puede ver paseando por el pueblo tranquilamente por el vecindario. Él increíblemente siempre está muy polvoriento a pesar de que Ae y su madre lo bañan cuidadosamente y con frecuencia. Cuando me acerco a ellos, él a penas levanta la cabeza. Se muestra afable y resignado de sí mismo.

“Sawasdee khrap, Ae”.

“Sawasdee kha,” me responde la niña, y se apresura a mostrarme un wai para mi. El wai es el saludo tailandés, levantando ambas manos a la barbilla. Todavía me parece el saludo más hermoso que he visto nunca.

“Bombom es viejo, verdad?” le pregunto.

“Sí señor”.

“Bombom ha tenido una vida feliz. Tú eres una buena amiga de Bombom”.

“Sí señor”, dice suavemente.

“A Bombom le gustas mucho”, le digo quedándome sin palabras.

“Mamá y papá mañana llevarán a Bombom al templo”, responde ella, y veo que le cae una gran lágrima por su mejilla izquierda.

“Sí, lo sé”, le digo. Otra vez sin palabras, añado “Ae, voy a comprar un helado para que nos sentemos aquí comiendo helado y hablando con Bombom, ¿te gusta la idea?”

“Sí señor, muchísimas gracias señor”, dice ella, y se las arregla para regalarme una sonrisa encantadora.  “A Bombom le gustan mucho los helados”, me dice la niña, y ahora sus ojos están llenos de lágrimas jóvenes, tristes.

En la cultura y creencia tailandesa, todos los seres que viven bajo el mismo sol merecen el mismo respeto. Las especies no importan. Ellos aman a sus mascotas y cuando llegan a la edad de morir, algunos tailandeses los llevan al templo local para que puedan morir en paz, en compañía de los monjes y cerca de Buda. Por eso siempre hay muchos perros alrededor de los templos, y a veces es un problema real. Los templos son pobres. Un monje posee sólo siete artículos. Los vecinos cocinan para ellos y para los perros por la mañana antes de ir a trabajar.

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

La vida es maravillosa.

R—

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The Thai Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose hero from Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

We all know Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the brave mongoose from Kipling’s ‘The Jungle book.’ This is the story of Mah Noy, the brave dog from Koh Lanta Yai in Southern Thai.

Koh Lanta Yai (เกาะลันตา) remains one of  Thailand‘s well-kept secrets (I shouldn’t even reveal the name). It is relatively close to the better-known islands of Koh Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, but is practically inaccessible, requiring two flights, a long drive, and two ferry trips. Tourists are few and far between on this particular South Andaman island and it is virtually devoid of Western influence, except for a few resorts for those who want a taste of unspoiled paradise. Koh Lanta Yai is the biggest of 52 islands of which only 12 are inhabited.

Of course, it’s much easier for me to get to Koh Lanta, as I am resident on a neighboring island only 43.5 nautical miles away. The beaches of Koh Lanta are idyllic: the sand unsullied the water clear and warm (about 86-88º F) and the underwater world along the coral reef just breathtaking (although not literally, I’m happy to say). I always look forward to my diving assignments nearby, drifting above the Staghorn and the Anemone corals monitoring the various species’ fortunes. What a great job!

Thai Fisherman With Dog

Thai fisherman like to have their dogs with them for company and practical purposes.

When I’m working in Koh Lanta, I always go ashore in the evening and stay in modest accommodation right on the beach. On one of these occasions, just before sunset, I was sitting in front of my bungalow, cleaning my equipment, when two children came along to talk to me, as always, curious about foreigners.

I had seen them both before; they belong to the food booth where I often eat, just behind the bungalow. We talked about the sea and the fish and about my diving gear, which of course fascinates them.

After having washed my gear, I decided to walk the 30 yards up the cliff to grab something to eat, and the kids followed me. My Thai is not as good as I would like, but my inadequacies have their advantages. As it is so difficult to pronounce words correctly, I nearly always commit embarrassing mistakes that produce a great deal of giggling—and giggling is the best way I know to decrease distance between strangers.

Woman with her dog: Thai street food booth

Thai street food cooking and selling is a small family business and since dogs are part of the daily life in Thailand it is not unusual to see them with their owners at work.

“Khun cheu aria?” (What’s your name?), I asked the little boy who was giggling the most and who happened to have one of his front teeth missing.

He told me his name, which sounded funny to me. Thais have all sorts of interesting nicknames, and they are especially fond of animal names. Elephant, shrimp, crab, fish, bird, duck, rabbit, turtle, and even chicken are common names—but I’ve never heard a nickname like this little boy’s. It was then that his mother, Poo (Crab), the owner of the food booth, told me the story.

Five years earlier, two days after giving birth to the now gap-toothed boy, Poo was cooking dinner whilst the family dog catnapped behind the cradle where her newborn baby was happily babbling away to himself.

Thais usually cook outdoors. It’s always warm and they don’t like the smell of food indoors. The dog was typically Thai, of unknown origin, the size of a small spaniel, with an unruly black and white coat, and friendly, deep brown eyes. They had found him on the street a couple of years beforehand and had fed him. For want of a better name, they called him just (หมาน้อย), Mah Noy. He stayed around and finally moved in a couple of weeks later after conquering their hearts. The pressure of natural selection for dogs in Thailand is on kindness. The kindest dogs have a greater chance of survival and pass on their ‘kinder’ genes to their progeny.

On that particular day, Mah Noy gave Poo such a fright she almost lost hold of her hot pan, which could have resulted in serious burns. The dog had suddenly emitted a deep growl and then in two agile, determined jumps, just missing the baby’s cradle, he launched himself on top of a cobra, biting it firmly behind the head.

Thai boy and puppy

Mah Noy (หมาน้อย), the boy, got his unusual name for a good reason.

The Andaman Cobra (Naja sagittifera) is an impressive snake, measuring about three to four feet in length. The effects of its venom are devastating; it is capable of killing a human in 30 minutes.

Poo was terrified, rushed to pick up the baby, and ran out of the front gate into the street where she began shouting for her husband. Na (short for Chai Cha Na = victory) came running to the scene and charged into the backyard to grab a spade. The cobra was lying a few feet from the dog, apparently lifeless, but, just in case, Na cut it in two with a well-aimed strike with the spade. Mah Noy looked up at him, gasping for air, and barely able to wag the tip of his bushy tail. Na understood right away that the dog was dying, picked him up and, holding his dog firmly on his lap with one hand, he rode his motorbike as quickly as he could to the local vet.

On the way to the vet, Mah Noy peed and pooped on his lap. Na stopped to get a better grasp on the dog. Mah Noy looked at him, gasped for air for a last time and gave a final wag of his tail. Na understood it was too late for the vet and the strong fisherman from the South Andaman Sea began to weep like a child, right there on the side of the road to Klong Dao, in the fading light of the day on which he had come so close to losing his first-born baby boy.

When Na got home to Poo and their newborn, they buried Mah Noy in their backyard and placed a yellow marigold on top of the grave (yellow is the color of friendship for Thais). That evening, they decided to call their baby boy หมาน้อย, Mah Noy, which in Thai means ‘puppy.’

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

R—

The Final Walk

My walk home from the pier is one of life’s small pleasures. It’s normally a 20 minute stroll, but it can often take up to an hour or sometimes even two, as I have to stop and chat with everybody on the way, from merchants to people I know by sight, or even complete strangers. This is the Thai way and the way of my village in Southern Thailand where everybody smiles and talks to you.

Old dog

Bombom was old and tired, ready for his final walk to the temple.

 

The weather is nearly always hot and sunny, between 29º and 38ºC (85º and 100º F), Today it’s exactly 32º C according to my diving computer. Of course it rains during the rainy season, but only for an hour or two and everything soon dries off, leaving a sense of freshness and the smell of wet soil in the air. Sometimes it rains cats and dogs, turning the streets in the village into small rivers, but everyone takes it in their stride and, with shoes off and pants rolled up, life continues (literally) with a smile.
After having completed three dives, one of them in a strong surge, I’m starving as usual. These days, in my ageing youth, my job in Thailand is marine biology environmental management, which, basically, means I dive, sometimes with students, sometimes without, take pictures of the fish and corals I see, and then write a report—yes, I call that a job! I stop at one of those remarkable street vendors on the main street to grab something to eat. ‘Street food’ is so cheap and so good that it doesn’t make any sense to go home and cook.

Buddhist Monk and Dog.

Buddhist Monk and Dog (image by John Lander).

 

My favorite ‘restaurant’ (it looks more like an open garage) is a family business, like most small businesses in Thailand. The owners live there too. They have a TV and a bed for the kids in the back—that is, behind the four tables for the guests. It’s all on view for all to see. Of course, you don’t want to isolate the kids in a room by themselves. Children (and dogs) are an inherent part of Thai life; you see them everywhere. They are allowed to do whatever they want, are seldom scolded or yelled at and, amazingly enough, they are pretty well behaved. It puzzles me how they manage it, especially when I think of some of our little brats in the West, both human and canine. I am yet to discover their secret, but I guess it has something to do with the fact they are part of every aspect of daily life from the day they are born; they are perfectly integrated with no artificially constructed, designated kids-zones. The same goes for the dogs, they belong there like anyone else: no fuss, no extra attention, no special treatment one way or another.

“Sawasdee kha khoon Logel,” Phee Mali greets me with a big smile when she sees me.

Phee means big sister and Mali means Jasmine, which is her name. I’m Logel because Thais are always on first name terms. Last names are a relatively new invention imposed on them by the government in response to the growth of the nation and a more modern society. The telephone directory is ordered by first names. King Rama VI introduced the practice of surnames in 1920 and he personally invented names for about 500 families. All Thais have nicknames. You call your friends by their nicknames and sometimes you don’t even know their real name! I’m Logel because most Thais can’t pronounce the ‘r’ sound, not even in their own language and, surprisingly enough, they do have ‘r’ in Thai.

Dog in Temple

Thais often take the dogs to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha.

 

“You OK, you see beautiful fish today?” Phee Mali asks me in ‘Tenglish’—or Thai English, which is a language in its own right, most charming and highly addictive. Before long and without even noticing it, you begin speaking Tenglish. I speak a mixture of Thai and Tenglish with the locals. As my Thai improves, I speak more Thai and less Tenglish, but Thai is difficult as it is a tone language. The tone with which you pronounce a word changes its meaning and sometimes dramatically so. There are words I consistently mispronounce which has the Thais in fits of laughter, either because I talk utter nonsense, or I say something naughty. They love it when it’s the latter. They even encourage me to say something they know I can’t pronounce just to amuse themselves. It’s all good-hearted and good fun, with no disrespect intended. On the contrary, I get preferential treatment because I speak Thai. I’ll transcribe below some of our conversations in English, directly translated from the Thai words, in order to give my readers a feel for it.

“Yes,” I answer, “I saw beautiful fish and corals. Thale (sea) Andaman very good.”

“Oh you so black!” she exclaims with furrowed brows and a smile. ‘Black’ actually means either tanned or sun burnt, as the case may be. Thai women don’t like to be sun tanned. They like white, as they say, and they become very worried when they see someone with what in the West we call a healthy, attractive tan.

“You hung’y ‘ight, gwai teeaw moo pet mak ‘ight?” Phee Mali asks me laughing. She knows just what’s on my mind—I love a hot, spicy gwai teeaw moo, especially after a hard day’s work. It’s a soup, containing noodles and pork, chicken or shrimp, with everything else imaginable thrown in. It even comes with a side plate of fresh vegetables that you tear into pieces with your fingers and add to the soup as you please. You season it all yourself with dry chili, fresh chili, chili sauce, fish sauce, soy, pepper, salt, and a bit of sugar (yes sugar, try it and you’ll see why I love it). It’s delicious I can assure you, and healthy too.

I eat my gwai teeaw moo and sip down my iced green tea, no sugar. The sun will set in about half an hour; it always goes down at the same time here, seven degrees north of the equator. No rain today. I relish life in Paradise!

“Tao thale sa baay dee mai.” The kids come running to ask me about the fish and especially the sea turtle, their favorite—which is a good opportunity for me to practice my Thai language. They call me Lung Logel (Uncle Roger), in deference to my age. Then, it’s the dogs’ turn to say hi—in Doggish, one language I do know, no accent and spoken the same on every continent.

Thai Child wai.

The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

 

I see Ae on the other side of the street (Ae is a funny name deriving from the Thai peekaboo game). I know her and her family. Her father works on one of the boats I regularly sail with on my diving tours. I often help him dock the boat when we arrive at the pier in less than perfect weather and we sometimes have a beer together after having secured the boat, unloaded, etc. Ae is squatting beside her dog, one of those Thai dogs that looks the same as every other. Village dogs in Thailand all look alike, as if they were a particular breed, the product of random breeding throughout the years. I call them ‘default dogs.’

“Ae sad, right?’ I ask the kids.

“Oh, dog Ae old already, tomorrow father of Ae bring dog to go temple,” Chang Lek (Little Elephant is his name) replies.

I finish my meal and go over to talk to Ae, still squatting beside her dog and petting him. I can see Bombom is old and tired. He’s a good, friendly dog. He can often be seen strolling around the village, quietly surveying the neighborhood. He’s always incredibly dusty despite Ae and her mother painstakingly and frequently bathing him. When I approach them, he barely raises his head. He gives me that affable, resigned look of his.

“Sawasdee khrap, Ae.”

“Sawasdee kha,” she says to me and hastens to wai to me. The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

“Bombom is old, right?” I ask her.

“Yessir.”

“Bombom already had happy life. You are good friend of Bombom.”

“Yessir,” she says gently.

“Bombom likes you very much,” I say, lost for words.

“Tomorrow Mum and Dad bring Bombom to go to temple,” she replies and I see a big tear roll down her left cheek.

“Yes. I know,” I tell her. Again lost for words, I add “Ae, I go across the street to buy ice cream for us to sit here eating ice cream and talking to Bombom. You like that?”

“Yessir, thank you so much sir,” she says and manages to give me a lovely smile. “Bombom likes ice cream so much,” she adds and her eyes are now full of thick, sorrowful, young tears.

In Thai culture and beliefs, all living beings under the sun deserve the same respect. Species is of no relevance. They love their pets and when they are old and dying, some Thais take them to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha. That’s why there are always many dogs around the temples, which sometimes is a real problem. The temples are poor. A monk owns only seven articles. The villagers cook for them (and the dogs) in the morning before going to work.

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

R—