Better things to do, as I was saying. How better bury the year than by making good on a promise to myself?
So I started to read again, sixteen years later, that rediscovered novel, Taifoon by Manat Jan-yong.
The story reads smoothly, thanks to lively dialogue, never mind the typos, tricky use of khao (he) and awkward grammar at times: a young landlubber, fleeing from a mismatch wedding, travels by train to Hua Hin to try his luck at sea. He befriends a boozy but wise boat cook. Welcomed by his uncle by marriage, a night at sea robbing fish traps and being shot at is enough for him to understand that he can’t possibly live with a bunch of sea scoundrels, never mind his uncle’s repulsively appetising young whore of a wife who will no doubt play a major role later in this epic, and as he steals away from the house in the hours before dawn, he rescues a comely damsel being bullied by a couple of his uncle’s goons and of course falls for her at first sight and…
I had read over fifty pages of this when loud farts in the sky brought me to the window: those fireworks over the Royal Esplanade that just make it behind the blind rectangle of a building two hundred yards away – same routine as earlier in the month time and again celebrating the king’s birthday at length by blowing sizzling sparks and public budget for the greater glory of the Father of the Sufficiency Economy.
From the window to the computer: there was a surprise for me there. Not the one I expected, but still.
Twenty-seven minutes to the deadline, Chart Korbjitti had made good on his two-and-a-half-month-old promise to finish a short story ‘before the end of the month’ – he had actually spent his New Year’s Eve rounding it out, as he told me earlier over the phone –: ‘Neui Khaeng’ (Cheese) had arrived! It’s Chart’s version of ‘Une histoire de fromages’ you’ve read on the French side of this blog – and of course a different story altogether, a funny yet profound one, that plays footsy with reality (a bit awkwardly towards the end, I thought). Shall I translate it? But in what language and for whom?
I printed it, read it, annotated it (and sent it back to Chart duly subbed this noon), and then went back to Taifoon until drowsiness took over, around two in the morning.
Meanwhile, daughter had called from the Royal Esplanade where she had watched the feux d’artifice in the company of her uncle and one of her brothers to wish me a happy new year, daddy! At least, she wasn’t swotting over her law books as she had planned and I had tried to dissuade her from doing in the name of youth and fun and what the hell.
The rat in the water pipes was trying yet again to emerge from the drain hole in the mid-level bathroom but couldn’t move the brush I had weighed its stopper with. Must have been scared by the midnight racket.
An ambulance was keening for right of way over there on the bridge.
And the happy populace kept firing crackers and belting out wino songs into the dead of night. One thing I was grateful for: the hellish youngish couple right at the back of here that holler amorous ai hia! to each other and bang the door of their hovel every other boozy night have blessedly gone to wherever it is they came from and there is peace of sorts in the vicinity at least for the entire long weekend.
Happy New Year to all of you, then, nephews and nieces of this blessed land, and to you, resident rat(s) and snake(s) and birds on the trawl and famished mosquitoes without which and whom life in the tropics would be so dull.
When I have downed part of that chicken stew tonight, I’ll climb back to mezzanine level and all windows and doors shut and the air-con humming, will get on with that Typhoon of Master Manat.
New Year’s Day is just another day on the calendar, except that the calendar is brand new.