Posted by Glenda Barratt on Feb 09, 2021
It was 2001 and my brother had just married a Thai woman from the rural outback’s of Bangkok.  A bachelor for many years he had decided to cut out the dating scene and choose a ‘Mail order Bride' instead.  
This was much to the horror of the local Dairy owner who kept repeating, “buy New Zealand made” whenever he saw him.  The problem we soon found out was that Ladawan, or “Da”, as we called her had two young boys back in Thailand.  Her family had connections to the local Mafia which did not come with her profile of course, and worse still her brothers objected to the marriage.  Hence, it was not safe for my brother to accompany his wife to transport the children back to NZ.  A vote was held and yours truly won the short straw.  I was to fly to Bangkok with my sister-in-law in the next few weeks.  
I had heard Thailand was beautiful if not corrupt so mixed feelings were felt boarding the plane.  Although she was coming with me – Da had given me lots of instructions.  “Never go out without me”, and “Never eat the chicken from the markets, Sister”.  While I understood the first, I questioned the second.  It appears chicken is a delicacy if prepared the traditional way.  Hanging outside for three days while the torse infected with maggots then boil or fry quickly.  Suffice to say I ate vegetarian for the five days I was there.
Going back a step, I should say I had a very good friend in Immigration.  She was not happy when I explained the situation but allowed me to go as long as I kept in touch with New Zealand Embassy every day to report my whereabouts.  The gravity of the situation hit me, and I did as I was told.  Arriving in Bangkok it was the heat that hit me first.  Extreme blanketed heat that almost choked you with its intensity.  And people everywhere.  For someone who likes space it was almost claustrophobic to say the least.  It was a relief to be met by Da’s Mum in an air-conditioned car to be taken home.  A big square building with bars on the windows and a locked front gate I was terrified.  An hour into landing and I wanted to go home.
At 11 and 3 years of age, Da’s children were lovely and very excited to see their Mum.  I was given a small room with no air-conditioning that felt like the inside of an oven during the night.  Stuck in a country I had never been to with only one person who spoke minimal English and a letter from Immigration in my luggage.  I felt anything but safe.
My sister-in-law took me on a few excursions to ensure I was never left on my own.  A canoe ride over filthy, muddy waters to meet a relative who lived in a shanty in what appeared to be the middle of a lake.  A ride in a duk-duk- the most horrifying experience of my life.  Millions of vehicles converging at every angle at the same time.  No respect for pedestrians or traffic lights.  It was a case of first in, first to get through. 
However, I was looking forward to a walk through the temples.  Whilst I loved the architecture, the sight of poor rabid dogs with intestines hanging out their back passages left me in tears.  And then there was the public funerals.  At that time, it was still common in some areas for outside cremation to be held.  This consisted of the deceased being raised on a platform above a fire and publicly cremated.  It was also not uncommon for the wife of the recently departed to jump into the fire to be with her loved one in the afterlife.  While I witnessed the cremation, I was pleased not to have seen the latter. 
With all I had witnessed and so much more than I have room to share I was so pleased to be standing at the airport ready to go home.  Picture this…Da goes first and hands over her and the boy’s passports only to be told to sit down.  Many words in Thai were spoken with Da looking very worried.  My turn – I hand over my passport and wait for the officials who are looking at me and not speaking.  My passport is taken out the back and brought back by another man holding a rifle on his shoulder.  It is then I handed over the letter from Immigration which is duly read and handed back.  Words are spoken and my passport stamped.  Da is then given the all clear and we are pointed to a small area to await boarding.  From arriving at the counter to taking a seat was the longest 30 minutes in my entire life.  I can still remember the harsh beat of my heart and the cold fear of, "get me out of here" that I felt.  Willing myself to not look at these men, who clearly knew I was petrified, I did not relax until we were in the air and I could breathe again.
It is safe to say those who travel to Thailand and experience the tourist areas and the luxury accommodation have yet to see this country in its real state.  It’s also safe to say it’s one country I will never set foot in again.
Pungent aromas of chillies and spices,
Rice vendors with barrows in crowded spaces
Inch upon inch of human invasion
Tasting the closeness of closeted heat.
Rabid dogs in shaded corners
Insects and airspace fighting for freedom
Shanty’s and riverboats perched on the edges
Crowded together like reeds in the marsh.
Buses and cars and bikes all woven
Threaded together with no space in between
Pavements all cracked and littered with debris
No trust amongst peoples, no silence of noise.