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The End of a Life


This is an extract from Thailand Take 2,  

He even rather arrogantly wanted some petrol money to go to the hospital.

Dta Sompet had been bitten by a neighbour’s dog and needed a rabies injection as a safeguard. Whether the dog was provoked or not was difficult to tell. Anyway, the owner paid for the hospital fees and the petrol. But he thought his demand for having his petrol costs paid was a little over the top. The families smiled when they saw one another but it was not the smile of close friends. It was the automatic Thai smile. They certainly never intended speaking again.

Farangs may not notice the coldness of the snub but then the Thai smile is never easy to understand.

Dta Sompet had been unwell for a few weeks with regular visits to the hospital. Occasionally, I would see him reading his newspaper in the shade of his garden. We’d exchange a few words but he was not his usual self. Whenever I asked his family if he was getting better, I was told he was okay. A standard response from a Thai. They didn’t want people to be sorry for them. This attitude of caring for the feelings of others, greng jai, is the Thais’ routine response to not putting you to any trouble. But I was genuinely concerned for his health.

I buttonholed his granddaughter, Renu, a week or so later, as she was riding her motorbike to university. She told me he was dying and that the surgeons could not operate on his kidney problem because of his age.

He was eighty-three years old and was being sent home to die.


Then one morning around ten o’clock there seemed to be an almost continuous stream of friends and neighbours arriving either by foot or motor cycle, and then leaving after just a few minutes. A sign that he had died. The mattress on which he had been sleeping during his last few days had been removed. The doctor and undertaker were yet to arrive. Dta Sompet was now lying, covered completely in a white cloth, on the bare floor of the shrine room.

Condolences were offered to his wife, Khun Fon, and the family, but not in the same formal way as in the West. By just being there and showing that they cared no words were needed. Just a slight smile of compassion. No crying. No tears.

As I left, I heard the puyaibaan announce our neighbour’s death on the village loudspeaker system. It was half past ten. Dta Sompet had been dead for less than one hour. Yet around thirty people had already visited his house. In small villages in Thailand, word travels fast. Communities are closely knit. In some provinces, the family starts wailing as a way of announcing the death. That did not happen here.

Dta Sompet and Khun Fon had lived in this village for most of their lives. Both their families were well known and well liked. They were part of the community. They belonged.

The family concept is strong in this country. It is very important to a Thai to keep in touch within the family. To always be there for one another. Families often live in the same compound or at least very close by, as Thais like to live close together.

Thailand Take Two can be obtained from:

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Matt Owens Rees can be reached on and his blog is at

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