Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The poppy is also a flower

The scenic, perpetual serenity of the Northern Thailand lures tourists of the world to flock here over and over again.

Bobby was on his way to Chiengmai from Bangkok when he chanced upon Junko unexpectedly in an incident that led to a strong bond between two of them. He was way past the ancient city of Ayuthia, riding a 10 year old Honda motorcycle with 250 c.c. power when he heard a faint voice crying for help in English. ‘Help! Help!’ It was getting dark at around 7 pm. He managed to stop the motorcycle on time, turned his head and looked back to see a woman crawling out of the bush from the road side.  


Bobby walked towards this desolate lady with caution, suspecting there could be a nasty trap. He stumbled backwards as the woman stood up; he was shocked to see her condition. She was covered with mud all over her body, there were conspicuous cuts on her face and limbs; looked like she had rolled down the slope by the road side into the river below. Bobby realized that she was a young Asian woman of age about twenty from her almost childish facial movement and hand language. Apart from being dirty and unkempt, she seemed alright with minor injuries, though obviously she had been attacked or even raped, Bobby gathered.

Bobby began to talk to her in all languages he knew but all he got was a blank look from the wretched young woman. He tried Thai, English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, and even Malay to communicate with her but failed to shed some light regarding her encounter. Poor girl, Bobby thought, she knew so little. After sometime Bobby realized that she was Japanese when she pulled out her soiled and soaked passport from her waist. I should have known earlier, Bobby cursed himself. Bobby knew Chinese Mandarin well and with Kanji of Chinese characters, he began to realize what an ordeal the poor lady had gone through. She had been robbed and hit with fists, fortunately not with a stick. Being raped? She did not want to reveal. The pain she endured was obvious on her facial expression. Bobby needed to send her to a clinic nearby.

                                                     Thai hilly country road scene

Earlier in the afternoon she paid with American dollars for her meal in a restaurant in downtown Ayuthia. She inadvertently and carelessly exposed her wallet with her stash of US currency and that invited greedy glances and eventual trouble. She nonchalantly accepted invitation to visit a holy shrine nearby though it was beginning to get dark. Before long she was pushed down the slope with overgrown grass into the river below. Fortunately it was a small and shallow mountain stream. Her paled white cheeks were bruised at few places when she climbed up the slope with her remaining strength to escape from being drown. Soon Bobby got her some medication from the local drugstore as all clinics there were closed for the day.

Outstanding array of rolling hills, grassy valleys, and elegant peaks - as described by photographer NB Ching when he took the stunning pictures.

Ridding pillion, she held Bobby tightly with her tiny body frame and arms; Bobby thought: She really had a bad day. They ended up in a cheap little hotel room further down the road into a village. She had pleaded emotionally with Bobby to share the room with her as she had nothing apart from her passport, after being robbed. After a simple Thai styled dinner of vegetables and fish, and a bath, she slept right away. Bobby was bemused, looking at her curled up sleeping posture in a fetal position. Her short hair partially covered her pale face; Bobby could see her budding breasts beneath her thin satin blouse, she was bra-less  Her thighs and legs were exposed with her wearing a pair of hot pants he had bought her earlier. Bobby did not take advantage of her, as a matter of fact those insidious thought never crossed his mind. He covered her with a blanket and with the cool mountain air around, he too entered dreamland.

                                          Bountiful Harvest at the poppy field
Bobby had earlier begun his journey northwards from Malaysia. His weight was a hefty 80 kg since his hey days as a body builder; but now his sturdy body and muscle were nothing like what he had 10 years ago. After all he was already 48 years old and a stinking middle aged man; that was what he called himself. His marriage of 15 years was on the rock and his estranged wife had agreed to a mutual separation and thence to be followed by a divorce. They had no children after many years of marriage. There seemed to be no end to his scourges as he was involved with a fight during a shouting match at his work place where he was a media account manager. He was promptly suspended from his job as the person he punched was his immediate boss, the general manager. Soon after he buried his beloved pet dog, he got wind of the demise of his former band member. Suresh had been his room-mate before he married, was his best friend and travelling partner, and a faithful companion to whom he could confide in. Bobby was heart broken when he attended his pal’s funeral; there and then he decided to leave the country for a break. He was laughing at himself for riding the rented Honda 250 as he began his journey northwards. It was such a far cry from his Norton 750 he owned 10 years ago. Hopefully he could reach the northern most part of Thailand in 5 days, more than 1,000 km away; deep inside his heart he silently wished.

The next day they began to communicate to understand each other, using sign language and lots of scribbling of Kanji over small note pads. To console and comfort Junko, and to break the ice between them, Bobby began to hum a well-known Japanese song ‘Subaru – Star’, make famous by late songstress Theresa Teng. She sang along and soon after they were behaving like buddies.

Northern Thailand, the hilly dwellings and fine weather make this place a tourism hot spot  particularly to the Westerners.                 
                                               The Poppy Field

‘Why are you going to Chiengmai?’ She asked.
‘To see the poppy plant’ He answered coolly.
‘What’s to see of the plant?’
‘The poppy plant’s flower is very pretty.’
‘The poppy is also a flower?’ She asked naively.
‘Yes, it is. Then the fruit will yield the deadly heroin!’ Bobby was thinking about where he could drop her to bid her farewell.
‘I want to come!’ She demanded.
‘Heck no, better not!’
‘I want to come!’ She insisted like a pampered little girl.

                                Pretty poppy flower                       

Junko reminded Bobby of his first love in his teenage years. She was sweet and rather cute, and without inhibition, touching and hitting Bobby whenever she liked; She was the happy-go-lucky type, naïve and unpretentious, like a wild orchid plant in a tropical rain forest valley. She was in her twenties. He accepted her companionship and they merrily continued their journey with her riding pillion.

                     The poppy plant that yields the deadly heroin

 ‘You want to know about my father? The stars reminded me of my father.’ Junko said, while gazing at the sky filled with twinkling stars. ‘What about your father?’ Bobby responded. With tears rolling down her still pale cheeks she told Bobby that her mother had just died. She was in pain for quite some time as she refused medical treatment for blood cancer. It might be better for her as the old lady had been constantly beaten by her quiet yet ruthless father.  Her parents married in their early thirties and they had only Junko as their child. Though her ‘Oto-San’ father seldom beat her but she hated her father all the same. She loathed him for treating her beloved mother so badly, even at a time when she was dying. In her eyes her father was a quiet and stern man, but turned moron after a few rounds of sake (Japanese rice wine).  He would became violent and unreasonable and spoke some lingo even Junko could not make up if it was Japanese. When the ordeal was over her father came back to his senses, he became withdrawn and would not utter a word, and would never apologize to his wife and child for causing such dreadful misery. 

‘Father was an electrician all his life.’ Junko continued.
‘Oh, your father was so cruel, was he in the war, the Pacific War, 2nd world war?’
‘No, you silly, he was a kid then. But grandfather was fighting in North Eastern China.’
‘Grandmother told me.’ She continued. ‘During the cold winter days, grandfather even ate human flesh.’, ‘what? Murderous beast he was! Such inhuman rogue!’. Bobby stood up and shouted.
‘Your grandfather lived to tell you all these?’ Bobby held his breath and anger and asked.
‘No’ she paused. ‘One day we saw on television, grandfather was interviewed by a foreign news reporter. He confessed about his killing of helpless Chinese farmers, eating their flesh to remain ferocious so to commit more atrocities during the war.’ ‘My mother hugged me and cried together with my grandmother as we listened to the translation.’ Junko kept on talking. “Grand father was such a kind old man to us; it was hard to accept that he was such a heartless killer in the war.’ ‘Are you trying to say that your father inherited the tendency to be cruel and violent from your grandfather?’, ‘Maybe…’ Junko replied softly. ‘During mother’s funeral, father broke down as he threw a handful of soil into the grave.’ She continued ‘I couldn’t believe that it was the same hand that beat mother senseless. I would never forgive my father.’ For the next half a day, they did not speak to each other.

                                    A Japanese soldier in WWII

Bobby enlisted the help of a local tour guide to fulfill their mission. At the Thai tribal village about 800 meters above sea level, they visited the poppy field which was set up for the purpose of tourism. While the poppy flower was red, the fruit was purple and green in color when ripped; a swipe with a blade on it would cause it to bleed a liquid that could be processed into the deadly drug of heroin. Bobby wanted to express the beauty and poison elements of the poppy to Junko but he ran out of note pads. Whilst she lay on the slope of the field in deep thought, watching the sunset. That was a pretty sight; Bobby quietly snapped a picture of her with his SLR camera mounted with long zoom lens.

Half way through a sumptuous dinner, Junko’s pale face became slightly red as she coughed violently. She rushed to the toilet where she vomited few times. When she came back she seemed to be short of breath; Bobby saw some traces of blood at the corner of her mouth. He was unduly worried. Was it the sea food that give her problems, or had she taken too much food since she was very hungry? Did she need to see a doctor? Bobby asked himself in quick succession. Junko wrote on the table cloth that all she wanted was to sleep and rest. Bobby kept her company since she was not well. He was thinking of getting a Thai traditional massage in a Chiengmai spa, perhaps with a mug of beer or two the evening would be perfect before he slept. He sighed, all these ideas would have to be cancelled or postponed until he say goodbye to Junko. In the middle of night he heard the poor lady murmured loudly in incomprehensive Japanese; she was having nightmares. Shortly Bobby felt her body came close to him under the blanket, hugging him, like a little girl looking for sense of security from the father. He could not move much and soon he fell into slumber land too.The next morning she lowered her head when greeting Bobby, like some one who had done something wrong. “Bob-san, Sori, tsumimasen!” Bobby stepped forward and smiled broadly, giving her a gentle hug.

                                                          Sad Parting

At Chiengmai’s international airport, Bobby bought her a one-way ticket with his credit card to Narita Airport, Japan. He emptied a handful of US currency to her small new handbag as she muttered a long stretch of Japanese words to his ears knowing well Bobby would not understand a bit, in between sobs. It was a very touching, lingering and sad parting. They exchanged addresses and kisses before she boarded the plane for her home.

Back home to Malaysia, Bobby was duly informed of his demotion since the investigation for his misbehavior in the company was completed. ‘Ha! Demoted at the age of 48! I might as well resign.’ He grumbled. Soon Bobby found himself a job with a production crew of a television channel as director. He liked the new job, though it was equally hectic and he was paid less than his previous employment. Just about the same time, his lawyer informed him that papers were ready for him to sign for an official divorce. He promptly and gladly did.

There was no news of Junko until two months later. He received the precious mail through the post; the melancholic theme of the content was apparent. A hand drawn poppy flower was scribbled on top left corner of the envelope and one withered poppy flower at the back. Bobby felt something was not right as he hurried to look for a friend for the translation of the letter. Amidst the lines of Japanese alphabets of Hiragana and Katakana, Kanji and even Romanized Japanese words, with the translation right below them, Bobby read the script in English eagerly yet slowly:

Dear Bob,

I wrote this letter from the hospital bedside. I am a terminally ill cancer patient just like my mother was, except I am much younger to suffer the sickness. I banished myself to travel alone to other parts of the world to seek solace and the source of my misery. I have come to terms with my father who had accepted Christ, now he goes to a church at our local prefecture. By believing in Lord Jesus Christ, he had come clear of his conscience and shadow of guilt for ill treating mother; he also sought the pardon for grandfather’s war crimes from the Lord. I have forgiven my father since.

I felt better after I bumped into you. You are such a wonderful man. Thank you for being so nice to me. But at the end I was still weak and could not recover even with your care and concern. By the time you received this letter, I am already far gone with death to another world. You should look after yourself and cherish our good time we had together; and live on to be happy always. I miss you. Sayonara!

Your good friend,
Junko Takeuchi

Holding the letter Bobby could not help but broke down instantly. The translator friend was shocked to see a chunky man like Bobby would sob like a kid. He left Bobby alone for a couple of minutes for his emotional release.

Bobby was sad for the demise of his young friend he met during his travel; a twist of fate that brought them together. He was awed by his own outburst of feeling for this unfortunate Japanese lady. ‘If I had known her condition earlier, I would not have left her go.’ He murmured quietly,’ On the other hand, I could not help her much too.’  He continued with his deep thought ‘Perhaps that was what she wanted, hiding her sickness from me; poor Junko, you had suffered so much.’

                                     Candle burns to mark a passing life


Friends and buddies,

I translated this short story from an outline of an article Ding Yun wrote; the original text was published by Sin Chew Jit Poh press on Sept. 9th 2008. I should thank Mr. Ding (Not his actual name) for bringing us this touching romantic story. I had amended the sequences here and there and added more story content to my whims, particularly at the second half of the story. The general story lines are still intact. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy reading it. Your comments are always welcome.

As Always,
Yours truly,

Alan CY Kok

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alan,

    Lovely, lovely love story! So touching!

    Are there still men like Bobby? More men like him in the world would be safer to live than the present one. Lucky Junko to meet him. Must be a God-sent. I'm glad she had enjoyed her life with him, even though it's such a short one!

    I have seen many terminally-ill cancer patients. They normally die soon after being detected. So sad!

    Thanks, Alan.