Pade’s death (January 1999)

Snapshots of Lisu culture  – chaos, recklessness, and quarrels. The case of Pade’s death (January, 1999)    by Sjon Hauser

The first decade of the new millennium (2001-2010) brought quite some changes in my happy, and relatively care-free life in Chiang Mai. In those years, I lost three of my very best friends – all men in their twenties, all born in ethnic mountain villages but who later settled in Chiang Mai City, and all killed in motor bike accidents. Although the accompanying circumstances of these accidents were different (drunkenness, addiction to drugs, unhappy love), they all had in common that the motorbike was the ‘vehicle of death’.
Beforehand, in 1999, I got a taste of this spree of fatal motorbike accidents, when Pade, a relative of my Lisu friend Khwanchai, crashed his motorbike at night, somewhere between Phrae and Lampang.
Here follows a ‘reconstruction’ of the tragedy, based on the notes I had made in my notebook and on my recollections of the events of these days.

(Story posted May 2020)
Monday 11 January 1999
had been an quiet day during which I had been reading and writing in my home in Chiang Mai. I was in a relaxed mood at my writing-desk, when suddenly my friend Khwanchai arrived at the gate. He was in the company of his uncle Ipo (the younger brother of his father). They just had come from Doi Lan, their Lisu-village in the mountains of Chiang Rai’s Mae Suai district. Khwanchai told me, that in the morning, his village had received a phone call which informed the relatives of Somphong Maeo Pa (aka Pade), the stepson of Ipo, that the latter was in the ICU of Chiang Mai’s Suan Dok Hospital. But when the two arrived at the hospital later that day, Pade could not be found and his name was not on the list of patients admitted to the hospital.
In my home, Khwanchai called the hospital in Lampang where Pade had been admitted before he was transported to Chiang Mai in a critical condition. It was a long call, and the atmosphere in my living room was rather tense and chaotic. Apparently, Khwanchai failed to get connected to the right person of the hospital staff who might give him detailed information on the whereabouts of Pade.
Following the call, Khwanchai borrowed my motorbike to see his nephew Surin, a student living in Hong Dong (some 15 kms from Chiang Mai). Apparently, it was expected that the erudite, spectacled Lisu youngster might help them to localize Pade.
Almost two hours later, Khwanchai returned in the company of his nephew.(1) The two told us that Pade had been found in one of Suan Dok Hospital’s ICUs. His condition was very serious, and the chance that he might recover was ha-sip ha-sip (fifty-fifty), as the doctors had informed them. Part of the earlier confusion and the failure to find the victim apparently resulted from Pade being admitted under a second ‘official’ name: Watthaya Maeo Pa (not Somphong Maeo Pa).
In the early evening, Khwanchai would send Surin back to Hang Dong, while he wished that I bring his uncle Ipo to the ICU of the Suan Dok Hospital. He would meet us at the hospital later…
Even with the ‘up-dated’ information, it was not easy to find Pade. I had to ask several times, was redirected from counter to ward, from administration office to emergency room. Ipo was of little help and just followed me. At last we entered an ICU where Ipo recognized his 25-years old stepson, in spite of the latter’s swollen head that was connected to an artificial respirator. Pade occasionally groaned and his body was shaking with intervals. Ipo was visibly shocked to find his stepson in this condition of ha-sip ha-sip. But, at least, the young man was found.

INTERMEZZO: What I learned later about Pade and the accident:
Pade lived with his wife and their 4 or 5 years old son in Phrae province. On the fateful night, he had a terrible quarrel with his wife. He was very upset when he left her and took their son with him, in the back seat of the motorbike. That’s how they rode through the pitch dark night, father and young son on a motor bike – like a modern version of Goethe’s Erlkönig, summarized as: Vater und Son in groBer Not/ Kind lebendig, Vater (bald) tot …. Maybe Pade had followed Highway 1023 from Phrae to the west, passing the small town of Long, and 15 kilometres further on, at the neon-illuminated intersection with Highway 11, turning right into the direction of Lampang. Probably Pade intended to head for Chiang Mai (and perhaps even further to Chiang Rai) in order to stay there with family or friends. Soon the road was pitch dark again. Amidst forested mountains it sloped up towards a control post at the provincial border of Phrae and Lampang. Subsequently, there was the long, and steep descent to Lampang. By any standard, this was a most dangerous, treacherous section of the highway, reputed to be accident prone even at daytime. Imagine you feel hopeless, agitated and in a hurry to be as far away from your wife as soon as possible, will you then care much about the risks of speeding downhill in the dark? I think, you will not, and Pade certainly would not, even with his beloved child in the backseat.
Following the accident, Pade and his son were probably transported to a private hospital in Lampang Town (2) where they where treated for one or two days and subsequently sent by ambulance to Chiang Mai.

(resuming main story) For about half an hour Ipo sat close to his unconscious stepson. My attention was attracted to a young woman in one of the other ICU-beds. She had a very dark complexion and was dressed in the same sort of white hospital pajamas as Pade, the hospital’s name printed throughout the fabrics of the pajamas. She showed a similar kind of jerking spasms as Pade did, but her eyes were opened wide and showed a lot of white, contrasting sharply with her tanned skin.
When Ipo had caressed his stepson enough, we decided to go downstairs and wait for Khwanchai at the parking lot. But Khwanchai did not show up. Ipo was getting nervous, and wanted to search for Pade’s wife, who was believed to have arrived in Chiang Mai. It was not clear where she might be, but she was not in the ICU with Pade. Then Ipo wished to see Pade’s son, who was said to be on the 8th floor. There, in one of the wards Ipo recognized his step-grandson. The little boy’s condition did not seem to be serious. That his brain was protruding from his skull (according to initial rumors) was fortunately untrue. But the boy was crying and asked many times for his mother. We did not know where his mama had gone.
In the meantime, Khwanchai had failed to show up, and I proposed to Ipo that we go back to my home. There, I showed Ipo the guest room upstairs, offered him some Thai ‘whisky’ and wished him a good night. I retreated to the living room, waiting for Khwanchai – who appeared not before 10.00 PM. He told me that he could not see me at the hospital, because he had to meet Lisu friends. I felt annoyed about that and about getting so deeply involved with the problems of his relatives.
There was another reason why I felt upset. In the kitchen I had just found a lighter which had been ‘adapted’ to make it suited for “burning ya ba”.(3) I guessed the lighter was left there by Khwanchai and angrily I let him know that I suspected that he was using the drug again. But Khwanchai simply refuted the accusation, telling me that the lighter was left there by his uncle Ipo.

The next morning, I woke up 5.00 AM due to one of those quarrels in the large neighbor house to the opposite of my home. Usually these rather noisy disputes in the house were between the about 50 years old ‘lord’ of the house and a woman who might have been his wife or his mia noi. Often expressions such as Ai hia! were exchanged with Ai kuoi!, but this morning there was only loud yelling followed by sounds of breaking glass. One ‘big bang’ ended the yelling and I guessed a television set had been smashed to the floor. (4) One of my visitors, Khwanchai’s uncle Ipo, was also awakened by the party next door, and later he was in the kitchen, boiling water for tea. Khwanchai made a good number a phone calls with Lisu friends or family. Later the two went to morning market to buy food.
It was just after 8.00 A.M. when Ipo wanted to know the telephone number of Otome.(5) I hesitated to give him the number, telling him that Otome needed her rest as the day before, with many Lisus seeing her, she had a long and tiring day, so she shouldn’t be disturbed that early. ‘Anyhow, at noon she will be in the ICU where you can talk to her,’ I added. About nine the two left on a motorbike….They would meet a good number of Lisus from the village, all gathering in Chiang Mai because of the fate of Pade.
Two hours later Khwanchai came back again. He was wondering what ’50-50′ really meant, and thereupon I showed him some pictures of swollen brains and lectured him about internal bleeding of the brain, and opined to him that Pade’s condition in fact seemed to be worse than 50-50. As there would be many people at the ICU during the visiting hours at noon, I told Khwanchai: ‘Please let Otome know that I will not come today, I want to enjoy being alone at home.’ Khwanchai left, and took Ipo’s luggage with him. This suggested that Ipo would not return to my home, and I was happy about that.

A few hours later, Khwanchai arrived to pick up his own travel bag, telling me that he would leave right for Doi Lan. Even in the present circumstances (his nephew dying from a motorbike accident), he refused to wear a helmet: ‘In the city I will drive very slowly,’ he argued.
Then he left and I wasn’t even informed about the condition of Pade.

In the evening, I met Otome at a talk at the Informal Northern Thai Group at the Alliance Française. Following the talk, we discussed the case Pade and the invasion of Lisus in town. She was thankful to me that I had not allowed Ipo to call her in the early morning. ‘It’s good that you criticize them. They are often behaving like een kip zonder kop (a chicken with its head chopped off)’ (6)

The next day, I was at noon at the ICU. Pade’s condition was still very serious. Now, there was a tube running from his nose into a plastic bag, filled with a green fluid, I guessed that juice was from his stomach. Pade still exhibited those twitches of his body, but I was informed that he did not show normal reflexes anymore. The bed next door was empty. I imagined the dark-skinned young woman ‘had gone to heaven.’ Otome was also present at the gathering, and I brought her a book for her partner Michael (7) which had arrived at my address in the morning. Pade’s wife and his mother Assama, both in a colorful Lisu dress, were also present, and they were quarreling about money. Their major worry was the bill from the Lampang Hospital for Pade’s brain surgery, and his transport by ambulance to Chiang Mai–altogether 70,000 baht. They we also arguing about Pade’s cremation costs, while the young man was still alive.

Four days later, on 16 January, Khwanchai, back in town, called me from the Suan Dok Hospital. He informed me that Pade had died the previous night. Together with a younger brother of Pade he wanted to spend a night at my home. Again my home was filled with Lisu visitors.
Pade would be cremated on the 18th January in Chiang Mai. That day only Khwanchai was at my home. He was quite upset and was angry that his relatives had not informed him about the exact time of the cremation. And no one came to pick him up from my home and bring him to the event, as they had promised to do. “So, do you now understand how nasty it’s often for me when you do not keep your promises and appointments,” I replied. I was happy that Khwanchai did not respond in fury. Apparently, he realized that there was some truth in my words.
After Pade had been cremated, the Lisu party that had invaded Chiang Mai, returned to Doi Lan and their other mountain villages, and peace returned to my home … at least for a number of weeks.

(1) The bright (Lisu) student Surin was a rather silent and shy young man, but in Lisu circles he was considered something like a success story of vertical mobility in Thai society. Later Otome informed me that his family background was quite tragic: both his parents (also from Doi Lan) had recently died from AIDS.
(2) I cannot remember any details that were later ‘released’ about the site where Pade and his son had crashed. It’s likely that ‘creative forces’ in my mind and my familiarity with the area had made me believe that the long descent from the Phrae-Lampang border on Highway 11 might be a likely place where the accident had occurred–but it is just a speculation.
(3) ya ba = met-amphetamines.
(4) One or two years later, the Lord disappeared for a while. When he reappeared, it was in a bed on wheels. A woman I had seen before–but not the Lord’s wife or mia noi–was pushing the bed around the garden and in the street just in front of my house. With intervals, she pressed a rubber balloon connected with the Lord’s throat, apparently to supply him with some fresh air. I guessed his condition resulted from a stroke (he had been a very heavy smoker) but later neighbors informed me that he had actually been shot “by his wife”. Unfortunately, I had missed that fateful event. Since about 2010, the building has been bought or rented by the NGO BEAM which uses it as a school for young students, all immigrants from Myanmar. The students are receiving education in Thai and English language and some other subjects. They seem to enjoy the classes very much, as often loud laughter sounds from the classrooms. So far, I do not miss the yelling, Ai his and Ai kuois, bangs and sounds of breaking glass of the former inhabitants.
(5) Otome (=Otome Hutheesing Klein), born in 1930, anthropologist from the Netherlands, expert on Lisu culture. In 1999 she had settled in Chiang Mai for some time already, but earlier she had lived in the mountain village Doi Lan for many years. At present (2020) she suffers from dementia, and Mimi Sae Ju, her ‘adopted daughter’ from the Lisu village of Doi Lan, is taking care of her.
(6) ‘Kip zonder kop’ – this Dutch expression refers to the behavior of a chicken that has been beheaded with an ax or knife: it will start running without any coordination and clear direction, often changing its course rapidly many times, before succumbing within a few seconds.
(7)Michael Vickery (1931-2017), partner of Otome, well-known American historian specialized in ancient and modern history of the Khmer and Thai. At the time of Pade’s death, Michael was probably teaching history in Phnom Penh.