When checking in at this little neat guesthouse north of Kanchanaburi, I was warmly greeted by Tok the cashier. She is a 51-year-old lady with lots of humor in her eyes and an ironic twist in her conversation.
Tok speaks good English and when she learned I was Danish, she asked whether I would mind having a talk with her Danish husband, Richard, 72 years of age.
“He is lonely, he likes to meet Danes, doesn’t speak a word of Thai, although he has been here for many years now,” she says as if to excuse him.
“He also has some problems with the Danish government; we have been treated badly by them,” she adds
Richard arrived on his motorbike half an hour later, grey haired, limping quite a lot, carrying a bag with two ring binders filled with correspondences between him and Danish authorities both in Denmark and Thailand. I promised to look through them until the next day.
Tok suggested we speak Danish and left us with two bottles of mineral water and a coffee, “on me” as she said.
Richard and I talked for a long time. We talked about Denmark, about ourselves, the past and present. He clearly needed to tell the story of his life.
Born in a low income family in the Western part of Jutland, Richard became a skilled lock-smith, then worked at various factories, before he became trucker and tourist chauffeur. He married and got three sons and two daughters, but later got divorced, much against his own will. Today he is only regularly in contact with one of his sons.
Richard met Tok on a tourist tour to Thailand 10 years ago, and – understandably – fell deeply in love with her. He wanted to bring Tok with him to live together in Denmark. That was when his fight with family and authorities started. His children and their spouses also clearly stated that they did not like the idea of having Tok as part of their family either; in fact they didn’t like foreigners at all.
“What will happen with Tok when you die?” they argued.
Then the contact with the family faded out and Richard moved more or less permanently to Thailand.
The end is near
In the evening I read the material. The content showed me a man who had fought and hated authorities, and who finally realized that he was getting nowhere. He had lost the fight, maybe out of stubbornness, or because he was so self-opinionated.
He had no address in Denmark anymore. Although this was caused by his own mistakes, he claimed that he had been deported to Thailand. The ministry in Copenhagen had in fact earlier offered his wife permanent residency; they could have both gone, but didn’t.
Richard explained, that he could not raise the deposit of 55.000 DKK demanded by Danish Immigration. Maybe so, maybe he didn’t dare to uproot Tok.
With no Danish address, he was now receiving the lowest possible pension, the equivalent of circa 24,000 THB per month. However, this amount is not nearly enough to show Thai immigration for the renewal of his one year residence visa. He also needs an operation for his hip, has much too high blood pressure, no savings and no close family ties.
Richard will not relent and seek help from authorities any more, no matter what the reason or his own mistakes. It can be foreseen that he will soon be badly off, and it is doubtful that Tok could manage to stay on with him. Will he then be living on the mercy of Thai people and authorities?
We also talked about life and death of course; we agreed that if we lose control of bladder and bowel we will find the exit door. Richard has no relation to Buddhism, but is now leaning more to the faith of his childhood. He would like a decent Christian farewell.
I mentioned the Anglican/Protestant church on Convent Road and the graveyard administered by them.
Richard’s story is typical
I have taken up Richards’s story because it is somewhat typical. Life stories differ of course, but they mostly contain the same elements.
Many of the veterans here look back in anger, blaming their home countries of inhumanity and bureaucratic arrogance; they were not able to fit in with the sometimes harsh rigidity of the bureaucracy and other norms back home. I have even spotted some in wealthy Hua Hin, frequenting our own tribal restaurants: walking slowly, often alone, large varicose veins, and falling asleep over the first beer.
They all have their story about how they woke up one morning finally realizing, to the bottom of their soul, that they were now old and no longer capable of fighting the world.
There is this true anecdote about an elderly American. He was ill and in serious trouble, so the locals called the embassy.
The embassy asked whether this American had a credit card. The answer was ‘yes’.
“Then let him use it,” was the final remark from the officer.
The Nordic people are still relatively too few and the solidarity among us, hopefully, still so strong that we will not allow a fellow countryman to be left by the roadside. But we need to mobilize ourselves and arrange among ourselves how to handle this, since the official channels seem somewhat silted up — and in the Scandinavian community golf and black ties shouldn’t be the whole focus.
There is another, very prosaic and ‘realpolitik’ reason why neglect should not be accepted. It is not, on any level, a clever signal to send; Thai people may come to conclude, that we cannot take care of our own elderly, perhaps not even our own countrymen here. In my mixed Thai-Chinese family of bankers and civil servants there are many older members, and it is, in mine as in all such families, obligation number one to take care of parents, aunts, uncles, etc.
We should remain humane
There is a growing uneasiness among Thais, especially in areas with a high concentration of foreigners, like Chiangmai, Korat, Pattaya/Jomtien, Hua Hin, Kanchanaburi, Phuket.
“Who will take care of the old and ill farangs? Why aren’t their families taking care of them, are these people cruel?”
One of the reasons why Nordic people are successful on many levels here, both in the private and business sector, is that we are regarded as humane, reliable and having achieved a high standard of justice and welfare — shouldn’t it remain that way?