Sunday 16 September 2012

A celebration of the life of Thai political prisoner Ah Kong Pt. 1

Political prisoner Amphon Tangnoppakul (aka Ah Kong), died in a Bangkok prison hospital May 8th 2012. He had been sentenced to a 20year prison term after a Bangkok court decided he couldn’t “prove his innocence” in a case relating to four SMS messages sent to an aide of the then Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjijva, that were deemed to defame the monarchy.

But Ah Kong was, of course much more than a political prisoner. This former truck driver from the working class Bangkok suburb of Samut Prakan was a dearly loved husband, father and grandfather.

Despite this affection Ah Kong died in terrible circumstances – left alone in pain in a prison hospital, his family and loved ones denied a chance to say their final goodbyes.

On 26th August 2012 Ah Kong’s funeral rites were concluded and he was cremated.
To mark the final stage of his passing, Ah Kong’s wife, Rosmalin (aka Pa Ou) put together a traditional Thai “funeral book” entitled "O Love" to celebrate this kind and gentle man’s life.

I’ve been lucky enough to receive permission from Pa Ou to translate and serialise Ah Kong’s funeral book here on this blog.  I didn’t complete the translation myself and wanted to gratefully thank the person who worked very hard to get this English version to me but whom wishes to remain anonymous.

Once the serialisation is complete I will be working with others to place the entire book onto its own website.

As a mark of respect to Pa Ou and the family I would ask anyone who wants to reproduce this text to please ask me first via email ( however, everyone is more than welcome to link to the serialisation.

Amphon Tangnoppakul

Born 1 January 1950
Died 8 May 2012

O Love

Rosmalin Tangnoppakul


O Love
Is it really sweet
Or does it torment the heart
Love has a hundred wiles
O Love, how it beguiles
Lures us under its spell
[video link to song here]

“Ah Po” asked me to sing the song “O Love” on the day of our wedding, Coronation Day 1968. That day I sang it without microphone; as for Ah Po, he practiced and practiced singing “Lesson Before Matrimony”, but when the time came he still couldn’t sing it.

When we were married I was 17. Ah Po wasn’t even 20 yet. At the time there was a phrase people said that has stayed in my mind ever since: “Their two ages combined isn’t even 40.” When you hear it you immediately know--I’ve never forgotten when we were married just how young we were.

Ever since we had grandchildren, most people called my husband “Ah Kong”{1}, but our children’s friends called him “Tia”{2}. As for me, sometimes I called him Ah Kong like the grandkids, but if it was the two of us I still called him “Po” or “Ah Po”, which was his Chinese nickname. He called me “Ou”.

Ah Po was born 1 January 1950 at Khlong Suan subdistrict, Bang Bo district, Samut Prakan province. Just across the bridge on the other side of a canal was Chachoengsao province.

Ah Po’s ancestors came over from China during his grandfather’s time. That is, his was the generation that came over first. Later on Ah Po’s father came over, and then his mother followed later. Their family had a lot of children, eight in all. Ah Po was the third child. The oldest son but the third child.

As far as I know, when Ah Po’s ancestors first came over they worked at a rice mill. They weren’t the owners, they were just employees. Later, his father opened a coffee shop near the market people call “Khlong Suan 100-Year Market”, and it remained primarily a coffee shop ever since.

As they started to grow up, many of the children moved away to find work, and sent money back home to support their parents. To this day the family coffee shop is still in business--Ah Po’s younger sister took it over. His mother and father are both deceased. His father passed away more than ten years ago, and his mother just passed away while Ah Po was in prison, not long before my own mother passed.

Ah Po completed grade 7 at a Thai school, but he also studied at a Chinese school, as most children of Chinese immigrants in the area did. The Chinese school rotated between houses; you had to bring your own desk. The desks were made of old-style milk crates, pine wood hammered together into a desk you could sit at and carry with you.

Ah Po could speak Chinese because his family mainly used Teochew. His mother and father only spoke Chinese. When he went to Chinese school it was to study reading and writing. Though he spoke Thai since he was small, he didn’t speak it very clearly.

When he first began courting me, he still pronounced “Pepsi” as “Peksi”!

After we got together, Ah Po only spoke Thai. Towards the end he could even speak some Isan{3}. As he spoke less Chinese he may have forgotten some of it, but if he met other Chinese he would have a chance to speak it. He tried to teach the kids and grandkids, but no one was interested.

When Ah Po began working he started in a lumber mill in Chonburi province. Ah Po was 16 or 17. At first he was a hired hand, doing whatever work he was told, like an apprenticeship. Later he practiced driving at the factory until he knew how, and became a driver, delivering the lumber. He was still being paid on a monthly basis, but not much. The pay in those days wasn’t much, but goods were cheap then, too.

When we were first courting Ah Po would buy gold for me; a saleung{4} cost only 100 baht{5}.

Translator’s notes
{1} “Ah Kong” is a Teochew Chinese term for “granddad”. The term “Ah” is a prefix used with Chinese names and kinship terms.
{2} “Tia” is a Teochew Chinese term for “dad”.
{3} Isan is the northeastern region of Thailand, where dialects closely related to Lao are spoken.
{4} A saleung is a traditional Thai weight measure for gold and other precious metals, equal to 3.75 grams, or ¼ of a traditional 15-gram baht. Not to be confused with the Thai currency that uses the same unit names. (In colloquial Thai saleung is also used to refer to the 25 satang coin, or ¼ of one-baht coin.)
{5} 100 baht would have been worth around US$5 in the 1960s, or US$35 today after adjusting for inflation.

1 comment:

  1. And yet the rich and connected who steal, murder, lie, embezzle and defraud all walk free or suffer the burden of short term community service. For those that ever pondered how life was under feudalism a static time warp plays daily for edification.


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