While driving back from dinner with Yummy Baby, Spena, and Oja, we talked about Koh Lipe, Koh Adang, Thai radio, then suddenly I was singing the Thai National Anthem (Phleng Chart Thai).
15 years ago, every single door on my office block would have the name tags written in Thai, so much so that my Commanding Officer, Colonel Shahron Ibrahim (now Lieutenant-General Dato’ Hj Shahron Ibrahim, RMAF – Chief of Staff of the Malaysian Armed Forces HQ) would frequently have problems finding his way to my office. I mean, he didn’t know which door to enter. And my staff and I would be speaking in Thai. Every morning at 9am (8am Thai time) the radio, tuned to a Thai radio station, would pipe in the Thai National Anthem and we would be singing: Prathet Thai ruam leuad neua chart chuea thai, pen pracha rat pha-thai korng thai thook suan and so on.
Thai was very much my life, having to alternate between my base in Alor Setar and the office in Songkhla, where my staff there, Flight Sergeant Abd Karim Abd Aziz from Pengkalan Hulu in Perak (he served with me once before at the Air Training HQ where I was the Adjutant and before that as SO3 Programming), and my signalman, Corporal Ahmad bin Morad a.k.a Mat Spring from Pendang, Kedah, were based permanently. Joining me from Alor Setar would be my team members, Sergeant Uzaid Ahmad, Corporal Rozamin Daud, Leading Aircraftman Dahlan Dahaman, Corporal Ali (whom I still maintain contact until now and Yummy Baby‘s heard us conversing in Thai), Corporal Md Fodzi Taib, and Leading Aircraftman Abdull bin Me. Ali and Abdull are Thai descendants, while Mat Spring is married to a Thai citizen.
Those were the good old days – it was tensed nevertheless as Southern Thai was as volatile then as it is now and a simple bomb blast would see us being sent to the location almost immediately to verify the situation. But life was good then. After a 24-hour duty, I would drive my Proton Saga (we were not allowed to drive Malaysian military vehicles across the border) to the Samilla Beach, buy a plate of fried chilli crabs for 10 Baht, sit on a mat facing the sea, wallop the crabs and sleep before driving back to my quarters at the Tanah Merah camp near Jenan.
I missed Thailand when I was transferred back to sit in a Major’s post as the Head of the Special Investigations Branch of the RMAF Provost Marshall’s Office. Life was so hectic there with lots of investigations to conduct, and seriously understaffed; I was flying to almost all the airbases in Malaysia on a daily basis, so much so that I had to forgo my resettlement training prior t leaving the service. As a matter of fact, after leaving the Air Force, I was still attending courts-martial on cases I prosecuted because I was still subjected to the Armed Forces Act, 1972, for three months after my run-out-date.
But Thailand was always on my mind.
In 1996, after my first wife and I separated, I went back to Thailand with friends during fasting month just to be able to have that feel of brotherhood with the Thai muslims, breaking fast with them at a mosque somewhere in Amphoe Sadao.
In 1997, being single, I went completely Thai especially during the International Parachuting Competition at the Phra Ram 6 Camp in Cha-Am north of Hua Hin, when I represented Malaysia. For 12 days there I spoke Thai and virtually Thai only. That was fun.
And soon, my job took me back there, mainly in Bangkok, and I spent quite some time there. Even when I was stationed in Langkawi, I would just take the last ferry out, spend a night in Hat Yai, then take the first flight out to Bangkok and spend the weekend there before flying back to KL. Just so that I could sit by the banks of the Chao Phraya river watching boats and ships ply.
For those who do not know, the Thais have two anthems. One is the National Anthem mentioned above that they would play twice daily (8am and 6pm), then there is also the Royal Anthem (Phleng Sansasoen Phra Barami) that is played during state functions, or when a member of the royal family is present, or before a movie starts. The royal anthem is also played on TV at the beginning and ending of the daily transmission.
I remember I went to watch a movie at the Emporium on Sukhumvit soi 24 with Bee, my friend’s secretary. After the trailers and adverts, an announcement was made for all to stand in respect for the King, and the royal anthem was played. I started singing Kha wora phutta chao, ao mano lae si rakran and Bee just looked at me in disbelief. Here I am, a foreigner, singing the royal anthem that many yuppies don’t even remember the lyrics to. She never asked me anything until after the movie when we walked at the Benjasiri Park (The Queen’s Park) when all activities came to a halt at 6pm when the National Anthem was played, and I sang along.
“Are you sure you are not Thai?” she asked me in Thai, to which I just smiled.
Khidtheung meuang Thai…yark ja ronghai!