The Flying Kites of Chiang Mai in The High Life
As the talcum powder slime and waterborne diseases of Songkran faded away for another year, May descended on Chiang Mai with a certain gentleness, and even grace. It was hot, sure, and yes, the rains were becoming much more frequent, but these are ideal conditions for a rose, a northern rose, to bloom.
Collins, Ming, Peter and Amrik , aka The Flying Kites of Chiang Mai, those four friends for whom idle chatter and cold beer Chang were of immeasurable importance, had convened at the home of Menzies ‘Ming’ Pugh for his annual post-Songkran knees-up.
A huge wood and concrete affair on a patch of land out by Mae Rim, the house was Ming’s pride and joy. The Kites stood on the verandah, looking out over the clumped sods of grass he affectionately called his ‘lawn’, Ming telling for the umpteenth time how he had designed the house himself, and that it was the place where he would die – or as he put it “turn into worm food.”
“And you say the house is in Noi’s name,” asked Peter. Noi was Ming’s lover, a harelipped kitchen hand from the backwoods of Lamphun.
“Oh, yes,” said Ming. “Has to be, dear boy…cough… Us farang can’t own land, you know. Oh no…wheeze… has to be in the name of a Thai. It’s my house, though, old chap…cough… in all but name.”
“So, what happens if you break up,” asked Peter. “Will she keep the house?”
“Well, there’s no point thinking in…cough…those terms,” said Ming, who was, as usual suffering from the smoke that drifting over from a nearby bonfire. “We have an understanding, me and Noi. She’s not just in it for material gain, you know…cough. She’s different.”
As the smoke thickened, the Kites moved inside where Ming treated his pals to the grand tour. They started in the lounge where, in amongst the LCD televisions, DVD players, antique teak furniture and leather furniture, Noi was eating steak and drinking
Johnny Walker with some close members of her immediate family.
“…and this is Pongpet, her brother,” said Ming, introducing his pals to the assembled throng. The farang gave deep wai, while the Thais carried on chewing, occasionally looking up. “And this is Songpol, her other brother; Supara her sister; Prapai her, er, cousin or something; Kowit her father, I think; Arglit her, I’m not sure who he is; Duy; Kanokporn; Vanniya; Ying; er, I don’t know who that is…”
With pleasantries concluded, the Kites proceeded to the kitchen where they procured more beers from the twin-door fridge and grabbed a few strips of steak that had been left stuck to the grill.
Ming called over to Noi. “We go upstairs, ok?”
Noi, curled her lip. “Alai wah?”
“We,” Ming was using gestures now and speaking very loudly and very slowly. “We. Go,” and here he pointed upstairs and put his hands to his face to mime sleep. “Upstairs, OK?”
The group burst out laughing and then carried on with their feast. Ming smiled wearily and led his pals upstairs to show them the rest of the house. Each of the four en- suite bedrooms were covered with blankets and sleeping bags, and the bathrooms looked like an explosion in a Gatsby factory
“So, are all these people staying over tonight,” asked Amrik.
“Oh, yes,” said Ming, calling out from the bathroom, where he had gone to empty his bulging catheter. “Just over Songkran. It’s so hard to get around at this time of year, we thought they might as well stick around for a bit.”
“But Songkran was last month,” barked Collins. “How long are they staying?”
“Well, it’s hard to say,” mumbled Ming. “I mean, they’ve been here since January, I can’t just kick them out.”
“January!” shrieked Collins. “They’re not just guests, you silly man, they’ve moved in!”
“Well, that’s the Thai way of doing things,” said Ming. “You know, you fall in love with a girl and you take care of her family.” “Family, eh,” said Collins. “You’ve got that right. I bet one of those cousins or brothers is really her husband!”
“Now, now,” said Ming, wheezing as he shuffled out of the bathroom. “There’s no need to be rude. We’re in love, you know. She’s the one.”
“Poppycock,” barked Collins. “I bet you don’t even know her last name. You’re just like the rest of us: so desperate to prove to yourself that you can still get it up, you’ll swallow anything! I’m surprised she still lets you sleep in the house when there’s a perfectly good dog kennel out in the garden. I mean you don’t even have a dog!”
“You have to admit,” barked Collins. “It doesn’t look good. I mean, here you are, out in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of strangers eating you out of house and home. You spend all your time wheezing because of the neighbours burning stuff, you’ve got a piss bag stuck to your ankle and the only way you can communicate with the love of your life, who may or may not be married to her brother, is by playing charades. I mean, what am I missing, what’s the attraction?”
A somber silence filled the room, as Collins, Amrik and Peter stared at Ming, waiting for an answer. Eventually, he piped up.
“Well, it is cheap,” he said. “I mean, I couldn’t live like this in England.”
The Kites looked at each other for a moment.
“He’s got a point,” said Peter. “When I think about my buddies back in California. Well, they…”
Amrik finished his sentenced for him: “…don’t know what they’re missing.”
“Exactly,” said Ming, his ankle sack slowly filling again. “They don’t know what they’re missing.”