Days with P'Nui

„Mai shai tung!“ Nui shouts just in time. The vendor hands me the bundle of green vegetables over the counter. Nui explains: “I told her that you don’t need a bag, you don’t like the plastic.” She knows me. I put the greens into my cotton bag. The lady who always refills my bottle with soy milk and my mug with ginger tea also recognizes me. And the woman at the candy stall next to hers gestures me to come closer, and that today she has the kind of sticky rice that I should eat with mangoes, and without egg this time. It is a normal evening at the local market.
“Look here, you should also try this one, with the coconut milk!” P’Nui has already paid for it and hands me the little rice cake. As always, I complain: “I’m going to get fat!” And, also as always, she just laughs and tells me to work out when I get back home. Right now I have to try everything that Thailand has to offer. And, unfortunately for my waist, a lot of that is vegan.
Nui translates to “little sister”, as she is the second girl in the family. This is the way Thai nicknames work. Another vet assistant in the wildlife hospital is called P’Pet, meaning duck, because his parents thought his mouth looked like a duck’s beak when he was a baby. The P stands for “older sister” or “older brother”. It is how one respectfully addresses an older or higher ranked person in Thailand. Here at the zoo, it has become part of some people’s names that they even save their contacts to the phones like this. Also, when you don’t know somebody’s name, you can always just call them P. But I finally know the names here, and in general I’ve settled in, and I’m allowed to do more. The two vet assistants who administer the drugs to our ward patients via blow pipe every morning can rely on me for preparing them, and by now I’ve figured out which species will be treated with the darts and which ones with a normal syringe. In between, they’ll get me a little challenge to spice it up, like coming in with an anesthetized antelope early in the morning, so that I have to clear the table of all the meds, darts and syringes within seconds, simultaneously prepare everything for the day and monitor the anesthesia. On another day, there are two new faces running around. As it turns out, they are the vets from Dusit zoo in Bangkok that was closed last year, so they have transferred here. And just this morning, we managed four patients under anesthesia within one hour: put to sleep, examine, draw blood, x-ray, and while somebody gives the antagonist that will wake the patient up, another person already puts the next one on that very same table. I have to react as quickly as everyone else in these situations, measure the temperature, count the breaths and heartbeats per minute, write down the drugs that somebody administers and tells me either in Thai or in English (depending on whether they remember that I’m just in the process of learning the numbers, or not), look for any anomalies and then jump behind the lead wall when we take x-rays. There is quite the buzz going on in these situations, people running around, shouting directions, everything needs to go fast, I’m constantly in someone’s way. Field conditions is what I call this.

Suddenly it’s already noon, Ba Moe, my neighbor, has brought my lunchbox filled with yet another vegan delicacy. She brings me food to the clinic every single day, and I haven’t had the same dish twice in the entire month. There are different kinds of tofu, coconut soups, pumpkin stew, lotus stir-fry,… And P’Nui brings something to try out almost every day as well: deep fried chili, sweet tapioca pearls with salty coconut milk, sweet sticky rice with beans, passion fruit,…
In the afternoon, Pet and Lam catch langurs from the cages with scoop nets, so that we can deworm them. And in the evening, P’Nui drives me to the market. I’ve mastered the skill of riding the back of a scooter without holding on, mainly because I’m always hugging my ice tea cup with one arm and a huge bag full of vegetables and fruits with the other.
Nui has been living and working at Khao Kheow Open Zoo for twelve years now. About one hundred employees live inside the compound, it is a real little village at the edge of the zoo.
“Yes, I like it” says Nui, “but sometimes the people can be exhausting, when I have to help out here and there for example.” Two days a week she also works at Dr. Dao’s vet clinic in the village outside the zoo. Dr. Dao used to work at the zoo and when she opened her own practice, she could use Nui’s help. So after the grocery shopping at the market we stop at the small, tropical blue house. Of course, Dao also offers me something to eat. She doesn’t have patients at the moment, so we all sit down and talk a bit, until she asks Nui to go and vaccinate two cats in the neighborhood. Would I like to come?
Of course! With a repurposed camera bag over my shoulder, we’re back on the scooter and drive back to a little restaurant in the small town. While Nui talks to the owners, I vaccinate and deworm the cats.

Dr. Dao's little clinic

I have to thank the rain shower this afternoon, if it hadn’t been for that, we wouldn’t have had the time to do all this. Normally, P’Nui would have gone mountain biking up and down the hills of Khao Kheow, but as the streets are now wet, she didn’t want to do it today. She does it two or three times a week, she tells me, and if she’s not cycling, she takes long walks or goes swimming.
the green mountain

Another afternoon, she takes me to a very idyllic café with its tables scattered underneath palm trees and bamboos. No two tables or chairs are alike. We visit the temple Wat Khao Mai Daeng, where Nui used to take English lessons from a monk. He has now left the monastery to live a life “like you and me”. We are accompanied by her friend P’Kai, and while I enjoy the sunset from the hill that the temple stands on, they sit down on the stairs in front of it to chat. P’Kai, like all Thai people, is very concerned about my overall experience in Thailand. Both women are afraid that I might get bored in the evenings, so when Nui doesn’t have time one night, she drops me off at Kai’s place. P’Kai doesn’t speak any English, but with my three Thai words, lots of wild gesturing, and playing google translator messages for each other, we manage a decent conversation. And, not surprisingly, P’Kai has prepared my favorite dish: stick rice with mango. We drink cane juice with that, an interesting experience – it’s not as sweet as I had expected. And then her husband and his friends get back from their motocross adventure and a spontaneous karaoke party starts to unfold in the garden.

enchanted café

P’Nui double functions as my translator in the hospital, too, who passes on messages from the vets to me or communicates between the other vet assistants and me. And she is the messenger between Ba Moe, and me, making suggestions for vegetables I could buy at the market for my neighbor to prepare for me. 

She also takes me with her to have dinner at the mall in Siracha. This is where she notices that not only my sling bag, but also my wallet is “upcycled” from an old rice bag. Thus, she tells me of her friend, a surfer, who regularly participates in beach-clean-ups and makes bracelets and necklaces from the smooth glass pieces that Would I like to get one of these?

Yes, P’Nui gets me. 


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