Carmel - Thailand - Emma 1976-80

1976 Back to Abnormal


Canberra, compared to Jakarta was shock.

I was now a small fish in a big pond.

The amalgamation between the Department of External Territories and Foreign Affairs (Aid Branch) was done ‘n dusted 18 months earlier. It was a "them and us" environment. Territories was top heavy with Second Division officers who favoured their own "troops".

Experience in administering Papua New Guinea prior to Independence was different than administering Colombo Plan aid to sovereign nations.

Prospects were dim.

I purchased a brown/Faun coloured EH Holden and moved back into a bedsitter along Northbourne Avenue across the road from the Rex hotel.

I enrolled at the Australian National University ANU and was given credits for Bahasa Indonesian I and II.
Northern Suburbs Rugby Club had built itself a club house at Belconnen - next to the bus transit terminal. No one drank at the Rex. It was a soulless place.

I was extremely lonely.

To escape the boredom, I started to run - long distances. Years later when the movie Forest Gump came out, I felt empathy with the character who just ran and ran.


Mates

Ken Hamilton lived above me on level two of the same apartment block.

Kenny was both a drunk and a pest. He had been involved in a car accident a decade before and had scars over his face from going through the wind screen. He was in a constant stupor. Yet he was my friend.

He would come home from the pub after closing hours and knock on my door - for a night cap.

Most times I would lie doggo pretending not to be there and he would stagger off upstairs.

One Friday night he came home with his mate Dave Smith.

Dave was a postman and a bar fly at the Rex hotel.

Both were roaring drunk upstairs.

Then suddenly there was this god awful thud and then silence.

"Knock Knock!" ... "Knock Knock!" ... ...

Mmtiger ...mAmbulance!"

I jumped out of bed and opened the door.

Kenny was leaning against the door frame. He could only point to the ceiling and the location of the thud saying "mAmbulance! ", mAmbulance!.

I dialled "000"; gave the address and then raced upstairs to tender to Dave.

Dave was face down lying on the concrete floor - motionless.

Concerned I knelt down next to him trying to remember CPR and the Does and Don’ts of first aid.

Then suddenly there was a snort and snore.

He was just dead drunk.

Christ! I just called the ambulance only to see two paramedics rushing up the pathway as the ambulance station was only 300 m from the flats - corner of Limestone and Northbourne Avenues.

In the meantime, Ken is still in my apartment with the phone to his ear staring at the wall.

The para medics were not amused. They warned me I would be billed for an unwanted Call Out.

Angrily I pushed Kenny out the door and went back to bed.

The next evening I went over to the Rex - around 8pm.

Kenny and Dave were there - aglow.

"Hi Tiger - like a beer?"

"No Kenny I am still cranky with you"

"What about?"

"That ambulance!"

"What ambulance?"

...

Tony Bryce and Dave Chipendale

Tony Bryce lived on the top level of the apartment block.

We had been friends for years. In 1973 we went to NZ by boat and toured North and South Islands.

He followed Norths but never played.

We were both Joggers and drove down to compete in the City to Surf Fun Run.

Dave Chipendale occupied an apartment diagonally across the lawn.

Like Brycie, Chips never played for Norths but accompanied Kenny to rugby matches and loyally carried him home. (Both Chips and Kenny went to Nudgee College).

We were desperate characters - we even shared the same girl friend for a while there.

Pickings were slim.

I met Carmel at the Lituhanian Club in Lynham in August or September 1976.

It was an after work function on a Wednesday evening to farewell Jack ?? with whom she worked in External Territories - now Foreign Affairs (AIDAB).

She wore a body tight purple/lavender woolen full length dress and looked stunning.

She had a melodious enunciated voice as well as beautiful fine facial features and rich auburn hair.

I was besotted.

I got my words mixed up. I think I said: "I am pleased for me to meet you"

Around Midnight the last three people in the club were Carmel, Peter Johnson and myself.

It was a silly invitation. Carmel invited me back to her place in the suburb of Hawker.

It was a week day - a work day. I chose not stay around too long and promised I would ring her - the next day.

Calling people on the phone is not my strong suite - never has been. I agonised. I did not know what to say to such a classy lady. The melodious tones greeted me and she helped me with the conversation.

I was into serious jogging and the local Woden to City Fun Run was on that weekend.

I was aiming for a time I wanted to get under. We made a deal if I did beat it she would make me dinner.

I made sure I got under this target - well under.

The Finish Line was ten abreast with spectators and there the normal milling crowd in the car park. Carmel just stood out. We chatted. I was chuffed.

We had Steak Dianne that night and went from there.

(Never let a good cook go!)

Carmel was boarding at John Cuthel's home in Hawker. John was a year behind me at St Pats. He was an accountant in private practice. Both John and Carmel were separated from different spouses and were in the process of sorting out their lives. It was a difficult sensitive time.

Maureen and Terry had a family function. I took Carmel along. For me it was a nervous experience. No one had met her. In fact no one in the family had ever known me to have a girlfriend and subtle questions were beginning to be asked about a 31 year old bachelor. But bringing a girl to meet the Malone clan was a general declaration - and an underlying sense of relief from some quarters.

Becalmed at Sea

Before I met Carmel I had made plans for a month's leave back in Indonesia.

I asked Carmel to join me for the later 10 days in Bali wherein I promised to take her to places beyond the tourist domain.

She agreed so we made plans to meet on a certain day at a predetermined hotel/resort in Bali.

While in Jakarta on the first part of the holiday, Ros McGovern (my former boss in Jakarta) asked me to accompany Lauchie Myers, an agronomist to an intergrated land development project in West Kalimantan.

I was to be his interpreter and AIDAB paid for the fare.

It was not part of my original itinerary.

I was always fascinated with the ancient sailing ships the Indonesians used to transport lumber from the jungles of Kalimantan back to Java.

The Bugis population dominated this trade. They were excellent seafarers, tough as nails and originated from the island of Sulawesi.

These wind powered vessels were no different from the original Arabian vessels that plied the trade routes between the Omani Empire and the Indonesian archipelago centuries and centuries ago.

Sinbad the Sailor manned these vessels and as a boy I was captivated by stories that were contained in the Encyclopedia Britannica.


I was now fluent in Indonesian. I had majored in Bahasa Indonesian (Grammar and Literature) combined with two years as a bachelor "In Country". I approached the Harbour Master in Pontianak and asked that he "introduce" me to a ship's captain in order for me to negotiate passage back to Jakarta.

Going through a government official gave me some comfort that I would have safe passage.

Two decades before the Bugis were classed as pirates.

We were becalmed for ten days in the Java sea.

There was no below deck. The boat was a floating cargo of sawn timber freshly milled in Pontianak. Our fresh water was drawn directly from the river estuary and not boiled. We had run dry. No wind meant no sail shade and I became severely heat struck and terribly thirsty.

I was a week overdue for my rendezvous with Carmel and had no way of getting a message. Even when we docked at Jakarta, telecommunication with hotels in Bali still did not work. But it was only a few hours away by plane.

I promised Carmel a memorable time - she got one.

She was beside herself for most of my absence with the worst part being the waiting.

We returned to Canberra where it took me weeks to recover from the ordeal. Click here for more Photos.

After a few months, Carmel moved into a tiny bedsitter in O'Connor - over the road from the Rex hotel.

It was here that she made a momentous decision to leave the public service thereby compromising her accumulated Long Service Leave.

She easily "landed" a job in the world outside the public service.

It was at the Canberra College of Advanced Education CCAE in the Counseling Department.

We moved out of the bedsitter at O'Connor to a one bedroom apartment top floor of the Currong Flats in Braddon.
It was a government apartment and the rent was cheap.

I was very fit - which added to personal well being. I used to run up Mount Ainslie one week and alternatively Mount Black the next week.

We snuggled up in this little unit while I saved for the deposit for my first home in 1977 - a two bedroom unit in the suburb of Page.

It cost $31,000 - I had to service a mortgage of $23,000.


Posting Dilemma

I could not stand being in the public service in Canberra.

It was soul destroying and stifling. A posting in Bangkok was on offer.

It was on the same grade (Second Secretary) that I had been on since 1973.

If I got it, this would mean another three years without promotion.

Also as I was not married, single officer terms and conditions were applicable.

A further complication was that I was now half way through my BA (Asian Studies) degree course - which would mean further deferral. I started in 1966.

“Why not apply for it and decline later”.

In about September 1977, I was formally offered the posting.

Ross McGovern was on the selection panel. There were problems at the post as the Aid Section was dysfunctional and all three staff were due to terminate their posting within two months of each other.

Someone told me latter that the panel needed to pick proven performers. Hence my selection came from Left Field as this was my fifth overseas appointment - counting Copenhagen.

What about Carmel? Neither of us wanted to get married just to go on a posting.

If I went, would she follow me? Would it be the end? Did I want it to be the end?

We did not talk about it for a couple of weeks - just too difficult.

Then we did and got into more of an emotional tangle.

The Gordian Knot was cut by Carmel's work colleague at the CCAE.

He was a psychologist. Carmel suggested we both have a session with him.

In Doc Martin (TV comedy series) style, he asked straight out "How do you feel about Carmel?"

I looked at her and started to mumble out a form of words.

He stopped me short and said "The way you just looked at Carmel, you have no problems. Go for it".

...

So that day I rang up the Terms and Conditions section of Foreign Affairs with a view to requesting Defacto Spouse status.

Snakes Goodwin was heading this Section and got straight on to it.

Defacto status was breaking the mould in these conservative days - yet we got it.

So we were set to go - Xmas 1977.

The Outward Journey

We had a quiet Xmas 1977 and spent some time down in Bateman's Bay where Alan Valtas' family had a vacationer.

We also spent a week at the lovely home of Carmel's friends Jennifer Maxwell in Aranda.

On D Day the Malone clan said farewell at Canberra airport where we flew to Sydney for an overnight stay with Marie (Carmel's sister) and her husband Barry at Normanhurst.

Still, I had not met Kath Quilty and here I was "kidnapping" her daughter for a three year stay in Thailand.

Our diplomatic passports

Hong Kong

We flew Business Class to Hong Kong. This time it was a Boeing 747. We had seats that had provision for the escape hatch - thus we had so much room.

Arriving in Hong Kong at night was awesome. Kai Tak airport was still in service hence we were coming in close to the buildings which were lit up like Xmas trees.

The hotel was great. For some reason we got an upgrade.

I clearly remember riding on a double decker in the upper front going down a very steep and curvy road from a mountain look out to the harbor in about 10 minutes.


Arrival in Bangkok

The Embassy

The Embassy was located in 4-5 levels of a small building in Silom Road - around the corner from the girly bar precinct of Pat Pong and not far from the Bangkok Nursing Home hospital.

A major construction was underway involving relocation to a massive complex 4-500 m away in Sathorn Tay Road.

It was a lovely concept of a landscaped building. It was in the form of a hollow square raised on pylons 6-7 m high. Moats surrounded most of the facades. Unlike the standard high rise in this sprawling metropolis it allowed for tropical down pours to dissipate due to the fact that very little construction was at ground level.

If all buildings were built like this, Bangkok would not have such severe flooding problems where all traffic is grid locked.

Work Colleagues

We were an Australia Based team of three:

  1. Roger Peacock - First Secretary

  2. Myself - Second Secretary

  3. Terry Commins - Third Secretary


We had arrived with two months of each other.

It was Roger's first posting. He had a lot going for him - personable, a quick thinker, articulate, smart and meticulous. His wife Voung was Laotian. Spoken Lao is common in most provinces of the eastern part of Thailand - hence she was an immediate asset.


She got a job in the Immigration Section organising the Indo China refugee intake program.

Each day Roger's grasp of the Thai language got better and better.


Terry embraced the language and culture - to the detriment of his marriage.

Technically it was his second posting. The first one, Saigon, only lasted a few months before forced evacuation due to the collapse of the US supported Thieu government and take over/re-unification by the communist north.

He was allocated responsibility for managing the scholarship and training program as well as education type projects.

Like Roger he was very thorough. He was an innately gifted report writer.

There were three Locally Engaged support Staff (LES):

Khun Supererk

The "Go To" person who had his handle on everything.

We called him Super Clerk.

Khun Pi Tah (Peta)

I do not recall what she did

Khun Vilai

Receptionist. A fun girl. Life of any party

As a group they were smart, on the ball, well educated and made us look good.

They were appreciative and often amused at our attempts at Thai.

Like Chinese the Thai language is tonal. If you get the intonation wrong you convey a nonsense meaning. For example, I injured the cruciate ligament in my knee playing rugby. This resulted in regular visits to the doctor.

Years later when the Receptionist visited Australia we had a re-union.

Vilai told everyone as to my constant gaff each time I informed her as to where I was going.

I got "pom ca pay haa doo" = correct "I am going to see the ..."

But I kept on getting the wrong tone on the next word "moo". It came out as pig not doctor.

I was mortified and asked why she did not correct me.

She said she did not want me to lose face (sia naa).

Oh well!

Trips to Chiang Mai

Pick a Doll!

Courtyard - under construction


Two staff members passing by reception area for Aid activities


Chancery - Second Floor of Three Layers

Ambassador's residence was at the back of the building


Chancery - Facing Road

Built on columns - to mitigate Bangkok's notorious flood plain & Chao Phrya River flows.

Notice Spirit House in the background

My Job

Roger and I shared the in country bilateral projects with Roger handling most of the multilateral interventions.

This involved liaison with government departments for the timely input of resources in order to achieve stated development outcomes. We also were involved in measuring and monitoring and performance reporting.

The job was much like that in Indonesia where I had the prior "hands on" experience.

The major difference was that the Thais were more advanced and smarter. Hence the level of sophistication and type of assistance required was more technical and the gap was closing faster.

Also there was less corruption and the Thai counterparts rarely let you down.
From memory the projects included:

Dryland farming technology.

Thai Australia Land Development Project. Land clearing operations using bulldozers; graders and other earth moving equipment; crop establishment; grazing trials for large tracks of land in the northern and north eastern areas. Base: Lampang (expand map - above)

Agronomy Extension

Upgrading the "in house" capacity of Khon Kaen university to conduct agronomy trials of grass seeds and legumes suitable for the region's cattle industry. Base: Khon Kaen (expand map - above)

Substitution for Opium Cultivation

Upgrading the "in house" capacity of Chiang Mai university to introduce suitable crop substitution programs for the Hill Tribes population so as to reduce the cultivation of opium. Base: Chiang Mai (expand map - above)

Road Construction

Engineering design, expertise in the form of personnel equipment and training to construct and maintain heavy traffic link roads in the country. Bases: Lampang; Tak

Integrated Rural Development

Thai Australia Integrated Rural Development Project

Base: Songkla Southern Thailand (expand map - above)

False Image Satellite Mapping

A visual tool for the Thais to plan flood mitigation measures thereby maximising agricultural development in this poor region of Thailand bordering Laos and Cambodia - countries in turmoil

Base: Khon Kaen (expand map - above)

  • There were other non project type interventions:

  • Placements of academics in Universities

Refugee Camp Support.

The latter was in the form of donations to the UNHCR program.

We did, however, use Discretionary Aid Funds to build potable water facilities and other essentials within the refugee camps to lighten the load.

This involved visiting the camps located at strategic points along the Laotian and Cambodian border

The Vietnamese refugees escaped by boat. The boats hugged the southern coastline and then "ran the gauntlet" direct to the Western side of the Isthmus of Kra where camps were located.

I witnessed an arrival at a camp while on official business there siren went.

Work stopped.

Everyone headed to the shore to help decant the exhausted "arrivals"

They were never deemed as "illegals" .

Very few boatloads evaded cases of being interception by pirates who raped and pillaged.

The "arrivals" looked so wretched.

One girl looked at me - a look which one will never forget.

I saw in her the faces of the maids, their kids, the locally engaged staff I knew during my two years in Saigon a decade earlier.

Australia was part of a humanitarian program of sponsoring refugees for settlement in Australia.

Work was done by the Immigration Section.

It was a matter of processing them at the camp; organising transfer to Bangkok and onward transport to Australia by commercial flights.

If the Australian government could do it then ... why can’t they do it now when we are a much richer a nation.

Regional Co Operation

Thailand was a geographical hub for a host of multi regional cooperation projects stretching as far as Afghanistan to the Western Samoa.

Carriage and reporting was split up between the three staff members.

The Acronyms:

AIT Asian Institute of Technology

ESCAP Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

SEATO South east Asian Treaty Organisation

SEAMEO South East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation

ASEAN Association of SouthEast Asian Nations

Mekong Committee


Memorable Moments

Meeting the Thai Royal Family

King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), his wife Queen Sirikit and two daughters paid a visit to the Thai Australia Road Project in the foothills of Northern Thailand.

The region was remote and mountainous. The visit was to celebrate the completion of the Trans Thai Highway link between Lampang and Prae where construction was difficult and involve much cut and fill technology.

Carmel inspecting a teak haulage lorry on the Tak Mae Sot road near the Burmese Border.

The road was mountainous with steep bends and hard to negotiate even for a Mercedes Benz

Queen Sirikit meeting Australia Team members and their families

The Charge D'Affaires, John Starey represented the Ambassador. I was there in my aid 'hat'. John's fiance Jane and Carmel accompanied us.

We took the plane from Bangkok to Lampang and were driven to the location by a project vehicle.

The king and his two daughters are both revered and loved by the Thais. When the local population got news of the visit it began a pilgrimage. Along the road we passed thousands and thousands of Thais dressed in their best clothes waiting to do honour and greet the royal party.

We got to the site about 40 minutes before the ceremony. It was a clearing in the jungle where flags; bunting; dais; display model etc was laid out. The plan was for the highness' to be introduced to the families of the expatriate aid workers and official party; then the king would inspect the display, ask questions and then shoof off.

About 15 minutes before, I needed to go for a pee.

It was easier for me to duck into the bushes.

As I was peeing I realised I was not alone.

I had walked into a squad of Royal Thai army troops dressed in camouflage lying prone and motionless on the ground with weapons at the ready to protect the royal party.

It was such a shock. I think my hands and trouser front had dried out by the time of the official handshake.

Thai Australia Highlands Agriculture TAHAP Project













Road Carnage

Driving on a country highway was both terrifying and dangerous.

If the was a four lane dual carriage one might see trucks or buses four abreast driving fanatically towards you. Each vehicle displaying an array of lucky charms in the cabin - which added to the danger because they obscured vision.

The news papers delighted in publishing gory photographs of accidents.

I remember one photograph of a bus. There was a teak log that acted like a missile reaming out anything and everyone inside. The log had come to rest 4-5 metres outside the back of the bus.

On my second day I was delegated to represent the Embassy at a funeral for 12 people killed in an accident between a mini van and a truck in Central Thailand.

Extract of Newspaper report

Five missionaries and seven children, all from the Overseas Missionary Fellowship's hospital at Manorom, Central Thailand, died in a car crash early this month. Among them were:

Dr Ian Gordon-Smith and his wife Stephanie, with their two children Rachel (6) and Mark (4). Dr Gordon-Smith was previously senior registrar at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington.

Dr Noel Sampson and his wife Louise and son, Ben (2) from Australia were also killed

The fifth adult killed was a doctor's wife, Twink Parry, from New Zealand, with two of her three children.

All three women were expecting babies in the next few weeks.


I was told to report to a Buddhist Temple in the old part of Bangkok for the ceremony. It was ghastly hot and I was expecting a cremation.

In deference to the missionaries, however, the Thais gave them the honour of internment in the grounds of the temple.

It was a sad sight to see 12 separate coffins aligned in one hole ready for the soil to be filled in. Such talent; such a waste.

Accident with Water Buffalo

I was in a Aid vehicle being driven in the country side around Khon Kaen in North east Thailand. We were cruising. We came around a bend and there in the middle of the road was a water buffalo.

We hit it glancing blow as the driver was trying to take evasive action. The car rolled over and over into a dry paddock. We quickly got out of the vehicle and looked back at the buffalo.

It was stationary - still in the same spot.

As if it was waiting for us to look at him, his legs collapse under him and he fell down dead.

The vehicle was a right off.

Reception at Government House

Attendance at official receptions and dinners went with the job.

One time, I got an invitation to attend a function at Government House - hosted by the Prime Minister. I rang Carmel to relay the detail - time, place reason etc.

I then liaised with the Embassy transport despatcher re chauffeur time place etc.

It was rare to get a berth at Prime ministerial level so Carmel went to more special trouble to get dolled up. She looked smashing.

The protocol for the driver was to approach the Port Cocherie where a footman would open the door for the guest(s) to alight. The guest(s) would then wait in the queue to be introduced to the host and then into the main hall. While in the line Carmel had a feeling of unease.

Why was she the only female?

I fumbled for the invitation.

Men Only!

The driver had departed. It was out of the question for Carmel to withdraw and find a taxi in her attire. Also Security might take a dim view of two farangs hiding in the grounds of government house - with one ranting, raving and flaying at the other.

So we braced ourselves and went into the main hall and mingled - in corners and out of the way as possible.

Gordon Jockel was the Australian Ambassador. Always the Lady's Man he was first over - in a flash. He knew Carmel well and seemed amused as to her situation.

His attitude seemed to be “why can’t a beautiful woman be the exception”.

Gordon stayed with us until the minimum requisite time and then we skedaddled.

Like Gordon I did not think it such a big deal!

But I admit I would not have like it to happen to me.

The incident cost me a lot of back rubbing.

Royal Bangkok Sports Club

The Royal Bangkok Sports Club RBSC was a large expansive piece of real estate located in the heart of the city.

It was incongruous that it could be so - given the surrounding neighbourhoods so densely packed with people, motor vehicle traffic, noise pollution and chaos.

Once inside it was an oasis of serenity offering a nine hole golf course; playing fields for hockey, cricket, rugby; facilities for squash, tennis, badminton; air conditioned restaurants, banquet halls, snooker rooms, library; and an olympic size swimming pool together with other smaller wading pools and ... a race track together with a members area and megalithic concrete public stands.







There is a saying: if you scatch a Thai you will find a Chinaman inside.

The Thais love to gamble. On each Saturday and public holiday the club organised a 16 race meet over a 6-7 hour period.

An Australian electronically designed Totaliser Agency Board underpinned heavy betting revenues and the club made a fortune. It poured much of the revenue back into the club. This meant that membership was cheap, service excellent and sponsorship gratuitous example team trips to Singapore.

Membership was exclusive. There was an enormous waiting list 10-15 years - which in effect kept out the white trash.

To gain vehicular entry the club initially distributed a brass insignia which one screwed onto a bumper bar.

It was a status symbol. Entrepreneurial Thais made and sold replicas. Every Mercedes in Thailand sported one.

In early years the Embassy had secured some spots and allocated them according to rank.

These lucky soles could finish work on time; get to the club which was a kilometer from the Embassy. Here one could pass away the time in whatever activity until the peak hour traffic died down and then continue on home.

The only way you could get in was applying for Accelerated Membership due to prowess in a sport.

The by laws stated that while you continued to represent the RBSC in a sport, you continued to have temporary membership.

I made an application on the basis of rugby.

There was no structured competition as such.

The club hosted regular matches against the Royal Thai Armed Forces - the Army, Navy and Air Force and the Police.

They were pretty fit but (a) smaller in frame and (b) not that skilled as the game is not taken up until you become elitist (getting into the team a "Boys Club" environment for future admirals, generals, air commodores).

I was now 33 and past my prime.

At each match representatives of club executives would be watching and assessing suitabilty of several applicants applying for limited spots.

One time, I was playing in the front row. A scrum had been called right in front of this group. It was my chance to show how I could dominate with a bit of shove and biff.

I started the aggression and knew my oponent would be enraged and come at me once the scrum broke up.

But the next thing I knew I was on my arse.

I was expecting close brawl where I could use my strength and weight advantages. But I forgot the Thai kids were brought up with Kick Boxing and was taken out with swift one blow.

Perhaps out of kindness I did, however, get temporary membership.

That Kiwi Side Step

My rugby days ended on these hallowed grounds. In the course of one game against the military, I positioned myself to receive the football from an inside pass. This wrong footed the opposition.

So now in between me and the try line was a punny Thai fullback.

I decided to run through him - somewhat like the video below.

Result. No try. Torn cruciate ligament requiring eventual surgery at the Royal Thai Nursing Home


Royal Bangkok Nursing Home RBNH

I was in a shared ward at RBNH in preparing for an operation to remove the torn cartilage that had not responded to physiotherapy.

A British colonel was sharing the twin room. He was a military attache and was admitted for some minor problem.

I do remember him having that comical moustache that you saw in Carry On movies.

Well in came two Thai nurses in their lovely starched white uniforms and lovely smiles.

Hello we are here to give you an aenenma. Roll over please ...

Now a deep breath please ...

One more ...

Just one more.

OK! that wonderful Mr Malone.

They got the wrong guy!



Judy Gutteridge


Mad Farang on Crutches

Judy Gutteridge was the wife of an Aid Expert at Khon Kaen in the North East of Thailand. She was expecting her first child. She would regularly visit Bangkok for medical check ups. Rather than a hotel she stayed Chez Malone.

During her penultimate visit her water broke. The bub was coming - six weeks early.

I was home recuperating from surgery - see above. I was on crutches.

We organised a taxi and started off in the peak hour traffic.

Bangkok traffic is horrendous. We were caught in it. At major intersections a policeman was positioned to take over from the automated traffic lights.

Judy's contractions were becoming more regular. We were about 350m from the last major intersection before the Royal Bangkok Nursing Home.

We had to sit and wait ... and panic.

I could not stand it any more. I got out of the taxi and hobbled down the bitumen panting and choking on the petrol fumes.

As I got closer to the cop, I started practising my Thai. But there was a problem. I had no prior reason to learn the vernacular for pregnant, emergency, birth in taxi so I started gesticulating.

The cop could not help seeing this mad farang (foreigner) on crutches "motoring" towards him, waving one crutch as weapon when it was not needed as support. He could not see the reason why I was performing "sharades".

As I got closer he ignored everything around him and fixated on me putting his hand on his holster. It was a clear message for me to go back to where I had come from. I did so hoping for the best.

Well anyhow it worked. The cop let our traffic line through and cut it off at the car behind us.

We got to the hospital with 20 minutes to spare.

Welcome Emma Marie Malone

Emma Marie Malone was delivered by Dr Gerta Ettinger at 1350hrs at the Royal Bangkok Nursing Home RBNH on Monday 25 June 1979.

Her birth was planned. We wanted a child. I particularly wanted a girl. Mid to late 1978, we went to Gerta and asked for advice on the best chances of conception. She instructed us - not in the act but in matters such as Carmel taking her temperature around a certain cycle in the month. A higher temperature indicates the optimum period to conceive.

Carmel would telephone me at the office to come home.

Quite frankly it took the fun out of sex. But it achieved the desired result.

Carmel was recruited as an administrative aide for a visiting AusAid team evaluating the training impact of the recently completed road link from Lampang to Prae (She had shorthand and typing skills).

The task was to take two weeks ending in December. She rang me from North Thailand with the news.


I drove up and we spent Xmas in Chiang Mai - happy but wondering what the hell we had let us in for.

It was not Second Thoughts. It was more about the responsibility of bringing a child into the world.

On our return to Bangkok we checked in with Gerta and she seemed to take special care of Carmel.

Gerta touched the hearts of all her patients. She and her husband were of German Jewish backgrounds.

They were young missionaries in China up until the invasion by the Japanese in the 30's and 40's of the last century.

In Bangkok their main practice was located in a rundown teak hovel in a slum area.

She serviced the diplomatic corps from the Royal Bangkok Nursing Home.

They experienced the horror of deprivation and atrocities against the Chinese population and in particular the christian minorities in their pastoral care. There would have been no drugs or medicine to deal with sickness and decease. But for Gerta, it seemed that the tougher the circumstances the kinder and caring was the human spirit.

Emma should feel blessed to have been brought into the world by this magnificent lady.

The birth was not all beer n skittles. Carmel was six to seven weeks premature - too weak to participate.

Delivery included a complicated epidural, an episiotomy and forceps where, in the end, Emma was reefed out unceremoniously.

Like a new motor, Emma had to somehow be "kick started".

The medical team ignored mum and dad. They were trying to clear Emma's airwaves and get life into her.

It seemed an eternity before we heard a bellow.

Ten minutes beforehand Gerta, an agile octogenarian, was all about the operating room with surgical mask gloves and gown swinging around this bub on the end of a steel rod - trying to stop Carmel from her natural inclination to touch bub and to get the dangling "package" in around the assembled waiting team and onto the work table.

Now she was serenely sitting down sewing up Carmel and offering calming re assurances.

What a contrast!

She was more direct with me. Gerta said bub had the typical problems of premature babies (risk of infection; jaundice) and had to go into intensive care with no touching.

Heartache! But all the better when we eventually held and appreciated such a gift.

I drove home to wash and change cloths to go to a wedding. A CD was on the console mounted in the dashboard.

I switched it on per chance.

Handels Messiah - the Hallelujah Chorus. It is a piece celebrating the birth of another newborn - Jesus Christ.

Hospital gown off and straight to a wedding as Best Man for Alan & Marion Valtas

We named bub Emma Marie Malone.

The honorary name "Kath" after her mother was "taken" so "Marie" was next in line - after Carmel's sister.

The Thais did have a little problem with the name. It took a lot of practice not to pronounce her as Emma Malee Maron.

They were wonderful, patient carers of infants.

In hospital, Carmel could not touch Emma for fear of infection. She expressed her milk and gave to a Thai nurse whom we saw through a looking glass window of a quarantined area sitting down and feeding Emma using an eye dropper - sip by sip.

Our two maids (Pah and Chalaw) took charge when we got home. Emma got 24/7 service. So much so that often we forgot we had another member of the household.

On one occasion, a Saturday morning, we walked out of the house hopped in the car and went shopping.

It was only when in a shopping mall that we both had that "Oh my god! moment".

It is one thing to speak Thai. But you get lots of "browny points" if you could say "Luk_saow geert ti muang Thai".

My daughter was born in Thailand.

It did not matter if the tones were ALL cocked up.

Khun Vilai - put me down again.

"I am so sorry Paul that it is not a boy - better luck next time"

In Thai society you must have a boy - first.

At aged one year Emma was centre stage at any Embassy functions where both Thai and Australia based staff mixed.

The Maids

The maids taught Emma to hold her hands together and bow.

Everybody, including their proud parents, thought it so cute.

The neighourhood kids were amusing. After school they would climb up on fences and other nearby vantage points in the hope of getting a glimpse at the young "farang" - foreigner.

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Unexpected Promotion

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Carmel's Amoebic Dysentery