It's been a busy news week with all sorts of issues jostling for attention, but not a single Thai man skipped over the news from Phayao last Saturday. It was the story of the wife who cut off her husband's penis. He and the severed appendage were whisked off to nearby Pong Hospital.
In a fit of remorse the wife then swallowed a bottle of weed killer and she, too, went to hospital, albeit a separate one from her phallically challenged husband.
This all happened around 3 o'clock in the morning. By the time the sun rose on Saturday, the husband had been reattached and the wife was dead.
This story did the rounds of the world media, probably filed under "Yet Another Weird News Story From Thailand" at each news agency. For me, it was a case of deja vu, for reasons you are about to learn.
(While researching the details of this Phayao story, I googled a few key words in Thai and up came a picture of a severed penis in an intensive care ward. Five days later and the image still refuses to leave my head.)
Thailand is well known as a leader in various circles. We are a world exporter of rice. We are a prime tourist destination. The whole world is in love with Thai food.
But did you know Thailand also has a reputation in the medical world for two particular surgeries?
Those surgeries are gender realignment and penile reattachment. This is not a cheap joke to keep you entertained while reading Brunch. It's true; nobody removes, and reattaches, penises like the Thai medical profession.
People come from around the world to have gender realignment surgery. In the West things are a little tougher and bureaucratic for anybody wanting a change of sex. One has to undergo psychiatric questioning, along with other Western notions such as a "window of reflection", giving time to contemplate the magnitude of the decision.
In Thailand, it's different. Hospitals advertise the cost of a sex change on the front page of the Bangkok Post. Ditch the Oprah Winfrey-esque "window of reflection". Just turn up with a fist full of baht, and your manhood is gone before you can say Jacqui Robinson.
I'm not saying this is a bad way of doing things. From my own experience (as in, good friends who have had gender realignment) people who change their sex don't do it on the spur of the moment. There perhaps needs to be a minimum age for the surgery, but most people contemplating such surgery have been experiencing a "window of reflection" since birth.
That's the first surgery. It's the other one we need to look at today.
Thailand is also a hub for the surgical procedure of reattaching penises.
I write that with an absolute straight face; anybody tittering over that can go straight to Spectrum where the more nerdy types hang out. You're not wanted here.
When the Phayao story reared its ugly, and severed, head, it took me back to 1990 when I was new to Thailand and desperate to learn the language.
There was an older Thai woman, a schoolteacher, who helped me with my Thai. She got me reading the front page of Thai Rath, Thailand's biggest-selling newspaper, in order to increase my vocabulary.
Thai Rath was a bit of a scandal rag. I'm guessing it had an editorial policy of firing any editor who didn't publish at least two pictures of dead bodies per day on the front page.
One day I was sitting with my prim Thai teacher and pointed to a random headline that I couldn't work out. The only word I could read in the headline was the word "duck".
"OK, what's this story about?" I asked. "I know it's about ducks."
My teacher read it quickly and her cheeks blushed.
I had chosen a story about a senior police officer from Mae Hong Son whose wife had discovered he had a mistress. Nothing strange about that. It is in the DNA of every Thai man, exactly six months after marriage, to get his wife pregnant then immediately find himself a mistress. This really cut up the high-ranking policeman's wife, though not as much as her husband was about to be.
You know the rest. She cut off his penis while he was sleeping. And as every male reading this shifts uncomfortably in his chair, may I tell you it only gets worse.
The woman took the penis and threw it out the back window for the ducks to eat, fulfilling a well-known Thai idiom that is "feeding the ducks" -- cutting off your husband's manhood then getting rid of it before he gets any ideas of reattaching it. The West would probably label that a "window of reconnection".
Once my teacher got over her initial bashfulness, she explained that this was a common occurrence and that Thai women found other creative ways to dispense of the evidence.
"Some flush it down the toilet," she told me, coolly and perhaps calculatedly. "Wealthier women put it in the blender. I recall there was one woman who attached the severed end to a helium balloon and released it to the heavens." Oh my goodness. Don't you wish you'd gone off to Spectrum like I told you?
(Years later I realise this last scenario was impossible. Where does a Thai wife get access to helium? My older Thai teacher was embellishing, or maybe just fantasising.)
Hand between my legs, I asked if Thai men were worried about this wifely practice.
"Oh yes," she said, adjusting her pince-nez. "But that's all right. We like to think of it as an insurance." She looked me in the eye and added almost demonically "kha". Cue the Psycho violins.
Imagine the ignominy of having your name splashed across page one of Thailand's biggest-selling newspaper alongside the headline "Memberless in Mae Hong Son". But it got even worse for the police officer.
Thai Rath reported that the cop woke up, realised what had happened, and jumped out of bed. Clutching his groin, he ran out to where the poultry were fighting over his manhood. Incredibly he managed to retrieve it, pack it in ice, and rush to the local hospital. My female readers may be wondering how on earth a man could drive himself anywhere while in such pain. Trust me; men would do anything to save their members.
After hours of surgery, the procedure was a failure. Doctors were unable to reattach the penis, but they had a good excuse. According to Thai Rath, in big black letters on page one, it was too small.
"That's enough reading for one day," my Thai teacher said, folding up the paper and putting it back into her sensible brown handbag. "See you again next week." Ashen-faced, I watched her stride confidently away.
In Thailand, philandering husbands have resulted in knife-wielding wives, but knife-wielding wives have resulted in world-class penis reattachment procedures.
That's good news for the Phayao man. Phayao may be a remote rural province, but the surgeons there have world-class skills. His penis was successfully reattached, so he is free to continue his philandering ways without the burden of a wife.
But in the English news story that went around the world, the very last paragraph quotes a Phayao doctor saying the man can now urinate but will never be able to perform sexually again.
The very last paragraph? Talk about burying the lead! n