Yai Chang In Pattaya

Back in the day elephants nightly wandered the streets of Pattaya to cool off and cadge sugar cane donations to enrich their under-paid mahouts from Isaan. Yai walked down Moo 9 a few nights a week. The scrawny mahout said Yai’s age was about 40.

A little younger than me.

I always had something for Yai, sometimes a quart of Chang beer, but he only had eyes for my two mango trees, especially as they flowered and bore fruit. When the mangoes reached harvest, I pointed to the top of the tree. “Those are yours.”

The top of the trees were covered with red ants supping on the running sap and red ants are no one’s friends.

Yai regarded Nok the mahout holding the ear hook and then me. We nodded ‘go for it’.

Yai and I became closer friends year after year.

At the Buffalo Bar I bought Yai Chang.

Once a drunken Brit gave him a whiskey coke. Yai spit it out along with a snout of snort, covering the lager lout in pachyderm phlegm. Yai, the mahout and I laughed along with the girls of the Buffalo Bar.

In 2008 I moved away from Pattaya to the rice fields of Bannok, but occasionally visited the city of the Gulf of Siam to see old friends and speak my native tongues.

One night in 2011 I strolled down 2nd Road and everyone coming in the opposite direction looked over my head and I turned around to face Yai and Nok.

Elephants walk with a quiet unbeknownst to humans.

They both smiled at me and Yai slipped his trunk around my chest. I got scared, but Yai hugged me with the gentleness of a friend. We drank three beers at a near-by beer bar and he trumpeted his good-bye with an echoing bleat.

I’m 67 now. Yai is probably still around the Last Babylon. One day I’ll go back and find out. It’s what old friends do. See each other.

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