Mango Season for Yai

Throughout the first decade of this century I lived in Pattaya in a lovely house off Soi Bong Koch. The neighborhood had once been a mango farm. The last tree stood in my front yard. Nothing grew underneath the tree. The sap killed grass and flowers, yet during the hot season February to April hundreds of mangos sprouted from the branches. My neighbors admired the small green fruit, as they grew into maturity. my wife and daughter harvested the early ones. Tart and hard perfect sliced and smeared with chili sauce

Every afternoon an older elephant or chang from the nearby elephant park lumbered down the soi, guided by his mahout, who sold sugar cane to feed the elephant. My wife and daughter stood in the yard behind the fence. They were rightfully scared of changs. In the late 1950s I had ridden atop an elephant at Simpson’s Animal Park. I had been probably the same age was Angie and just as small. I still recalled the smell; dusty. I later learned that the elephants have no sweat glands and cover their cracked skin with dirt or mud to protect their flesh from the heat and sun.

The massive male chang was over sixty years old. Yai eyed the mangos, but the mahout gently restrained his snout from snagging at the fruit. He surrendered without resistance, as if there was a reeason he hadn’t ravage the fruit. I lifted a bag of mangos for Yai as reward. He stared in my eyes, squinted, then allowed me to feed the mangos one by one. When done he extended his trunk as a friendly gesture and I held it with both hands, feeling the strength and his gratitude. He smiled his thanks and the mahout tugged on his ear, then Yai silently shambled down to Soi Bong Koch. I realized elephants for all their size were extremely quiet as long as they had a clear path. I smiled, thinking I had a new friend.

The next morning I thought about Yai and went to the tree, intending to pick off mangos from the higher branches.

Climbing trees isn’t advisable for men in their fifties, but I easily scaled the tree. My wife came out and shouted something about red ants. I looked around and saw there were thousands of them living off the sap. Hundreds were on my skin. The second I saw them they bit in unison. I dropped from the tree and wheeled crazily in the driveway, swiping off the ants and realized why Yai hadn’t attempted to seize the mangos off the branches.

“Mot daeng,” my wife laughed. Thais love seeing farangs or westerners do something stupid.

Red ants indeed.

Throughout that hot season and those to come Yai turned up every day along with my neighbors to feed on the sweet fruits. The tree produced mangos much sweeter than offered at the ta-lat or market on Pattaya Klang. Yai always had a smile for me and scared the shit out of Angie every time he embraced me with his trunk.

Sadly I moved away from that house off Soi Bongkot in 2008. My business selling bootleg F! clothing has been closed by the Thai Cyber-Police. I returned to New York to earn money. Enough to take care of both my families. Three to four times a year I returned to Thailand to spend time with my clan who lived in Chainat and Sri Racha.

During these visits I traveled to Pattaya for a night or two at the Last Babylon on Earth. Drinking with friends at the Buffalo Bar and wandering Walking Street drinking more. One night I walked along Beach road with Sam Royalle, my friend from London days and a refugee from a Rasta Brixton yardie gang. He loved go-go bars. I loved drinking. He was English and loved drinking too.

We weaved though Walking Street, which was packed with farangs, Thais, Chinese, Indians, every nationalities on Earth, then the crowd parted and every eye looked over my head. Sam and I turned expecting trouble, however Yai stood behind us. A smile on his face. I wore one too. I hugged his trunk and he hugged me. I laughed with joy. The mahout too. Released I bought two watermelons from a fruit stand. They weren’t mangos, but Yai happily popped them in his mouth. We strolled down the street to the Tuna Bar. Yai and I bid farewell. I handed the mahout five hundred baht.

“Chai yo.” I shouted and Yai bellowed his answer.


I haven’t seen him again, but maybe this hot season.

After all elephants live a long time and so do I.

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