“Do you miss Ireland?”
“When it’s not raining, Ireland is a great place,” Michael replies, thoughtfully sipping his post-workout tonic.
I wonder what he is brooding about; what it means to leave one’s home forever, still having proud traces of it on one’s skin—he who has tasted many lives, at least three. First, he was a farmer in his Irish countryside, then an English teacher in Thailand, and now a dispenser of adages and pleasant small talks while waiting for something to happen, and when it does, rest assured it will not be pleasant.
A thought not born of pessimism, it is the incipit of Murphy’s Golden Rules, the ten rules engraved on a plaque hanging on the wall behind him; the first? “Beauty is only superficial skin; ugliness goes straight to the bone.”
In his sunglasses, the reflection of the Mekong flows undaunted, punctuating the early morning light.
In a silence of the most sincere kind, the minutes wear on and the ashtrays fill up:
“One more beer, please!”
“On the rocks?“
“Alright.. thank you.”
Michael has been running his business in Nong Khai, Thailand, a border town with Laos, for over four years. His Irish Pub is more than just a venue. It is a fort for nostalgic outsiders tired of turning pages and realising that the book no longer makes sense. A temple where Anglo-Saxon expatriates shed all masks and don the robes of the high, tainted by an unforgettable past.
“I have lived here for over ten years, which is highly convenient. Not only does it allow us to live comfortably with our savings, but it is also safe, has warm temperatures year-round, and delicious local cuisine“Grant, an Australian retiree who has chosen to spend his old age in the Land of Smiles, confesses to me.”I can also access quality medical services with health insurance, which is necessary to live here. However, it does not interest me much.”
“In what sense?” I ask strangely. “Let’s just say that the way things are shaping up, maybe I’d better tell my kids in Australia where I hid my wallet.”
A voice rises from the rows of stools: “Tell me about it! I’ll come by your house and tell them, trust me!”.
Grant looks at me, smiles and closes his eyes, “You know, almost suddenly there comes a time when you have to cling to a sense of humor rather than a purpose.”
The sun hides hour after hour, carrying away the heat and humidity. Green, orange and blue neon coloured the Pub as the last light flashes ignited the river’s current. The counter is decked out with leopard-print glasses that thoughtful waitresses keep filling. Cheerful snickering and fat laughter air in the environment.
“Is that your bat hanging on the wall?”
Michael smiles, “Yes, but in case you need it, only my wife could use it,” pointing to a woman with elegant Asian features intent on serving customers. She, sensitive, notices our attention and gives us a lively look before heading to the kitchen.
His blue eyes follow her to the doorway, “She’s a tiger,” he tells me, “and since we’ve known each other, we care for each other.” Care with the capital “C.”
So many frequenters of Nong Khai’s Irish Pub have changed their lives in search of such precious medicine for the soul: a moment spent together, a caress, a “Good Conversation” that transcends language barriers.
I think many people here have found it, just as I believe the night draws to an end for me. I look around for the last few minutes I have allowed myself and try to savour the atmosphere of a place that has shown me how exceptions, sometimes more than rules, often help you stay alive.
As I leave, I think back to the last Murphy’s Golden Rules pill:
“The light at the end of the tunnel is the beacon of a train pulling straight toward you.”
And we like it that way because we’ll laugh at that damn train; be sure, it will be riveting.