Authors: Chai Pinit
The Story of a Stolen Childhood
My utmost appreciation goes to Soshan Itsarachon for without you this book would never have come into being. You spent months patiently interviewing me, seeking me out during some of the lowest points of my life as a true friend, forcing me to face the truth about myself. Also thanks to all at Maverick House.
I awake slowly and painfully. Where am I?
A hospital ward it seems.
Bedridden, and in extreme agony, I lie motionless. Two things are certain: my skull is throbbing with pain, and my heart is caught in a vice-like grip of terror. As I examine my bloodied hand assessing the damage, I struggle to recall where it all went so terribly wrong.
The last thing I remember is drinking with friends—for the past 25 years this is almost the only thing I have done, so it’s not a helpful memory. I vaguely remember a fight breaking out, although fighting has also been a customary pasttime, so again it doesn’t explain much.
Here I am in hospital again, and in hell once again. I cannot believe it. I learn that I’ve been in a coma and am lucky to be alive. I don’t feel lucky, although I realise that I probably don’t deserve to be alive. I am like a cat with nine lives, but I’d say I’m on my eighth life already.
The few memories I have are sketchy at best, but they are enough to make me realise that I have to change my life if I want to live. And being so close to death has made me realise that I
want to live. It’s like a lightbulb being switched on for me.
Despite my injuries, my mind is active—in fact, it’s a whirlpool of distressed commotion. How did I lose myself, who have I become, and how can I find my way back? I rack my brain for clues as to where my life began to go wrong. How could I have changed so drastically from being a promising, carefree country boy into this man with no future at all?
These questions play over and over in my head. I’m tormented by them. I feel like I’m drowning. Distraught, I’m entrapped in a waking nightmare.
One thing is certain: no matter how many painkillers I’m given, they will never assuage the anguish caused by the knowledge that I have been living a complete lie. I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths to hide the damage, the pain and emptiness, of a life lived in the shadow of abuse—abuse suffered at the hands of others and myself.
We Thais believe that a newborn child is a white piece of cloth that will be sullied over time by life’s misdeeds. My white-cloth days were so few I can scarcely remember them. How could something so pure and innocent to begin with become so repulsive?
I was an ordinary boy who liked nothing more than to make his parents proud. That innocent child is now a complete stranger.
If I’m honest, I know my decline began long ago. I was a teenager when I was first sexually abused by a teacher. Later, my spirituality was violated at the hands of a ‘holy’ man—my abbot. I was cleverly coerced into giving up my body for the perverse pleasure of others; yet I willingly traded my innocence in return for treats and money—pittances that in my naiveté I considered treasured goods. These experiences then spawned a series of sordid life choices that warped my reality.
I developed despicable personality traits that were nonetheless necessary if I was to survive in this fallen world. These very traits came close to extinguishing the life I sought to preserve.
I worked as a male sex worker, which satiated my selfish desires and temporarily masked the pain that naturally results from such employment. In an attempt to regain some control over my life, I became a slave to addictions such as drinking, gambling, and a constant desire for other prostitutes.
I’ve demeaned myself by performing in the worst kinds of pornography imaginable. I’ve watched many friends die, some as victims of AIDS; and I have even secured young boys to gratify the same type of monstrous men who once led me astray.
Foolishly, I passed up opportunities that could have granted me a better life. Instead I plunged into the lowest depths to which anyone can possibly descend.
I fear my death is near, but I don’t want to end my life like this. I wish to tell my story. I NEED to tell my story. I sense that if I don’t, I’ll fall through the cracks and all memory of me will be lost forever. My story is not an easy one to share, nor is it a pleasant one to read. I don’t ask for pity from those who are privy to the dark secrets that have entrapped me for so long. By immersing myself in the putrid cesspool of my past, I hope to find my way out and gain a semblance of freedom. Perhaps you, my companions, can learn from my mistakes, and then my life will not have been lived in vain.
My father Liang was a minor celebrity in Sisaket Province in the northeast region of Thailand called Isan. He earned a reputation as a tough guy both by his association with notorious mafia-type characters and through his years of involvement in professional Muay Thai kickboxing. During his twenties, he won various prize fights and supplemented his income by working as a brothel bouncer. My father was generous to a fault when it came to his friends for he regularly plied them with money and booze. Given that he worked in a field dominated by macho men, it’s not surprising that he fell in with criminals and other dubious characters. He believed their company earned him ‘face’, protection, and respect from the community, and he was later to instil this harmful mentality in me.
During his stint in the construction industry, Pa worked in a Buddhist temple in a remote village in Sisaket. He promptly became enchanted by a local beauty named Phikun, who would later bear him five children. I was the auspicious firstborn male and they named me Chai, which means ‘victory’ in Thai. Pa often proudly recounted how he and my mother first met. Apparently their union had been the talk of the village. In those days, a good-looking worldly boxer falling in love with a peasant woman was a fairytale romance. The female villagers evaluated prospective husbands by their ability to provide financial security, and were green-eyed with jealousy over my mother landing on her feet in such a manner.
The fact that my Pa was of Chinese descent, and that he already had a Chinese wife, made his interracial relationship with my mother all the more romantic. However, Pa’s family discouraged him from taking a Thai woman as a minor wife because they believed that a Chinese woman should fill the role. Despite their protests, he moved from town to my mother’s village, sat an exam to become a primary-school teacher and set up a home with her, leaving his wild past behind.
Before Pa moved in with Mae he spent most of his time with his posse of thugs, all of whom had eagerly done his bidding. Over the years, most of them were shot dead by the police following a series of vigilante crackdowns. Although Pa was tough he was never convicted of any crimes. I guess he managed to keep a low profile and avoid the authorities’ attention. In hindsight, the relocation to Mae’s village probably saved him. He found a new way of life and an escape route from inevitable doom.
Pa relished in regaling us about his wilder days, telling us stories of his near-fatal left hook having knocked out opponents both inside and outside of the boxing ring. Even after settling into a quieter life, Pa still enjoyed hanging out with his thug friends. In his spare time, he taught me Muay Thai and instructed me to punch anyone who dared tease me about my small stature. He didn’t see anything wrong with men settling a disagreement by force.
Pa might have been small in stature like me but was a larger-than-life character. When I was a boy, he imparted many tips on what it meant to be a
or ‘real man’. He told me that the best way to keep one’s cronies under control was to provide them with free liquor, cigarettes, money and food. He believed respect was a commodity that could be bought for a price. He certainly possessed a lot of face amongst the simple-thinking folk of our area. In my village, people often took the law into their own hands and some would behave as if they were above it. Fights frequently erupted amongst the young testosterone-crazed gangs. Men would be quick to aim a gun at the competition if a girl’s heart was at stake. In fact, it didn’t take much to provoke someone into using a weapon. People were often well lubricated by copious amounts of
, a strong, locally produced rice wine, so emotions ran high. Most villagers didn’t possess many valuables; however, ‘face’ was the one virtue everyone strove to acquire and maintain. Men seemed to be particularly guarded when it came to this. Pa’s rule was simple: he would be civil to anyone so long as they respected him in return.
My father’s macho persona aside, I looked up to him, and worshipped the ground he walked upon. In 1967, before I was born, my parents set up a successful grocery store in our house. Being a natural leader and showman, Pa devoted himself to endeavours benefiting the community. In the provinces, teachers are greatly respected and admired and are viewed as second parents to the children. Such civil service jobs offer not only stability but also a pension, and even access to welfare-programme loans that are exclusively designed for government officials.
Pa unofficially claimed the leadership of his community and was generous and respectful to everyone who sought his help. He gained the support of a healthcare programme by using his position as a teacher to encourage villagers to have their blood tested to prevent malarial epidemics. Whenever someone knocked at our shop door seeking to purchase alcohol in the early hours of the morning, he gladly got up and served them. It never occurred to him that these off-hours dealings might invite a burglar into our home. He sold goods on credit to some of the more destitute neighbours and acted as a moneylender to others. Pa’s good deeds earned him a huge amount of face. To this day, I’m intrigued by the combination of tough and gentle qualities that made Pa the man he was.
My father’s major weakness was a terrible dependence on alcohol. This problem came to a head after he was badly injured in a motorcycle accident whilst driving under the influence. It was the last straw for Mae and she gave him an ultimatum. She demanded he sober up by undergoing an ordination ritual with a local spiritual medium. Either that or he would never see her again.
As a prerequisite for laymen wishing to become a
khon song chao
, or ‘medium’, he or she must abide by Buddha’s five precepts. The fifth precept forbids the ingestion of any substance that could cause a loss of consciousness. Consequently, my father was required to stop drinking for a period of time before presenting himself to the
, or ‘master’, to begin his training. Having accomplished this feat, he sought a renowned medium who would agree to take him on as an apprentice. He presented his chosen master with candles, incense, flowers, a small amount of money, and a piece of white cloth as a gesture of respect.
Having undergone the ordination ritual, it was believed that my father returned home with a higher spirit accompanying him. Pa invited the spirit to reside in a holy room (
) in our house where we kept Buddhist and Hindu statues such as those of Brahma and Indra. He’d visit this room daily and make small offerings while chanting various mantras in an effort to retain the favour of these higher spirits. In his spare time he took to predicting the fortunes of villagers who sought to safeguard themselves from possible tragedy, adding yet another title to his diverse portfolio. Sadly, my father only stayed sober long enough to see the birth of his fifth and final child; after that he promptly returned to the bottle and my mother gave up all hope of ever seeing him sober again.
After witnessing the influence that spiritualism had on my father, my mother’s faith began to blossom and she resolved to become a serious medium herself. She not only made a name for herself in the village but even surpassed my father’s capabilities. Seekers came to our house from near and far in search of cures for ailments that doctors had failed to diagnose. Some brought loved ones who suffered from serious inertia and depression, believing them to be caused by a curse or a bad spirit. One woman in particular had been rendered catatonic by a mysterious force. My mother divined that a guardian tree spirit had laid claim to her soul. She had apparently offended it while picking mushrooms in the forest, during which time she stopped to answer the call of nature by an old tree. But this was the tree in which a supposed spirit dwelt, and it was provoked by this act to take revenge. Through my mother’s gift of healing the woman was delivered from the clutches of the tree spirit, and restored to a normal, emotionally healthy state. While channelling higher spirits, Mae played the part of spiritual medium fully by draping a white cloth over her shoulders. Her power to remove such curses was said to be granted by way of chanting mantras in the ancient Khmer language.
Besides this, Mae handled countless other cases such as those involving people who were convinced their enemies had enlisted the services of a sorcerer to cast black-magic spells on them. The sorcerer used tools that included a hay voodoo doll representing the unwitting target. He would command tormented spirits who’d died in unfortunate accidents to plague the target with all sorts of indefinable and incurable ailments. With the use of a consecrated knife, he could even bind, for better or for worse, two souls together forever.
Mae was very successful and her acclaim occasionally took her to other provinces to perform exorcisms. She earned good money from this work and developed a devout following. Unfortunately, most of her money was eaten up by her gambling and by the five hungry mouths of her children. Like my father, she was very indulgent and couldn’t bear to refuse her offspring anything.
Mae never hinted that her reputed powers were a sham. Up to her dying day she remained genuinely convinced of her channelling abilities. Regardless of what secrets she might or might not have been harbouring, I greatly admired her for the fact that she managed to make such a reputation for herself despite her lack of education. People used to call to our house/grocery store/medium centre around the clock. It was a one-stop shop for nearly every physical and spiritual need imaginable.
By Western standards my family would have been considered poor; but according to the standards of rural Thailand we were quite well off. We never had to beg for food or buy goods on credit like many of our neighbours; and aside from the grocery store, we also had a storage house, an orchard, and rice paddies that were dotted across the land we owned. Whatever I wanted, I could usually find in our grocery store or get it from my parents who would give me money. I knew the various hiding places they used to stash away their money, such as in pillows or jars, or buried beneath our storage house. Mae believed that it was safer to divide our savings in case thieves broke in, chances being they’d discover only one stash and we wouldn’t be left baht-less. My father’s approach on the other hand was to gruffly challenge imaginary bandits to raid us if they dared, because he’d be lying in wait with a gun at the ready to blow their heads off. The nearest bank was several kilometres from our village, so it could take half a day just to complete a simple deposit. Doing so also involved the risk of being ambushed by robbers along the way. So hiding the money and relying on Pa’s hubris was definitely the best alternative.
My parents were generally conceited about their status and they enjoyed showing off whenever possible. Given that I studied at the school in which my father taught, I could easily have accompanied him there on his motorcycle. Instead, he insisted on buying me a quad bike to ride—I was just eight years old at the time. I haughtily sped by my poor schoolmates as they walked or peddled their rundown bicycles, hoping to make it in time for the morning National Anthem. My parents always made sure I had large notes in my wallet when realistically all I really needed was a few baht to pay for my lunch and the odd snack. Such displays of extravagance were just a few of the ways in which my parents earned face.
As the eldest son, I had the responsibility of excelling at everything I did, both for my own sake and for that of my parents. If I did well, it would reflect positively on them, boosting their reputations. My father instilled in my young mind that a good education was my main priority in life. Given my enterprising background, it wasn’t surprising that I excelled in mathematics and often got straight A’s on my report cards. I also developed my business skills by bringing sweets to school from our grocery store and selling them to my schoolmates for personal profit. Also, I was often elected class head and the teachers frequently entrusted me with extra responsibilities. Although I was a high achiever, I was by no means the teacher’s pet, and although I generally got along well with the boys, I was less successful with the girls. I thought they were peculiar creatures and I rarely interacted with them.
After school, my father regularly assigned extra homework and I wasn’t allowed to go out to play until I’d completed it. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel any pressure to be a good boy; rather, I was naturally inclined to want to make my parents proud.
Our one-storey house was large and I often helped Mae with the chores, after which I was rewarded with coins and notes. From a young age, I was used to seeing and handling large sums of money. In the absence of meaningful conversations and guidance, I began to believe that the ability to provide for others was an important expression of love. To be fair, my parents were affectionate, but had they known the problematic relationship I would later develop with money, they would have undoubtedly been more austere and less indulgent. They meant no harm, but the fact is that they spoilt me terribly. I never had to work in the rice fields after school like other less fortunate children. Instead, my parents employed farmers to carry out this labour while I read books, played with friends, and fished in the various ponds around my village. I’d cast my fishing net and lazily recline in the hammock I’d strung up between two trees; I would then while away the time reading books or watching ants busily going about their business, while the birds sang cheerfully overhead. When the sound of fish fighting to wriggle free from the net awoke me from my blissful reverie, I’d gleefully pull in the catch of snakeheads, catfish, anabases or barbs.
While my early life was idyllic in many ways, it was not as sheltered as one might think. I craved adventure and derived great pleasure from participating in daring games. From a young age, I revelled in the sense of belonging. My group consisted solely of boys, and our games were very true to our gender. Brandishing slingshots and stones, we hunted poor unsuspecting birds and then proudly brought them home to be cooked and eaten. We made ‘bullets’ out of small balls of clay that we would lay out to dry in the sun until they were sufficiently hardened. Armed and ready for war, we divided into two teams, firing our ‘bullets’ in an effort to defeat the opposition. While we had a lot of fun, many injuries were also incurred. Sometimes, we would get carried away and substitute clay bullets with actual stones to maximise the damage. ‘War’ was an aggressive and adrenaline-charged game but thankfully, no eyes were ever lost.