Thai Days: Andrew Biggs and the Thai teacher the Islamists can’t kill

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Hugh Paxton’s Blog likes Andrew Biggs. He’s a large, bald, hard drinking Australian fellow with the sort of shrewd eye and ruthless yet compassionate sense of humour that really hits the spot. He speaks Thai, knows his way around and when it suits him can do a very convincing impression of a seriously naïve tourist.

Thailand is blessed with his observations on a weekly basis courtesy of his column in Brunch magazine. Brunch is one of the far too numerous supplements that make The Bangkok Post newspaper bulge and fall apart as soon as one picks it up. Biggs has yet to do a piece on that. Understandable. He’d lose his job.

His column is called Sanook. It’s a full page affair and in its unhappier moments is sometimes accompanied by an overbearing cartoon that gets in the way of the words.

Last Sunday Biggs got serious. Or as serious as he is ever likely to get.

No inept cartoons to support text. Just photos. The sort of photos that have been taken in a hurry by agitated amateurs with shaky hands.

A woman, rather elderly with a very damaged nose and lacerations to her legs was in a wheelchair surrounded by courteous looking police, apart from the ones who looked murderous, curious bystanders with distressed expressions on their faces and it was clear at once that something had happened.

Her name is Somchit Wongketjai and she is, and remains, a teacher in Thailand’s deep South.

Biggs begins her story (and his) with, “The first time Somchit Wonkketjai was nearly blown to pieces was three years ago.”

I won’t keep dipping into quotes, or not too often – the Post has a decent website, the Sanook article was in the Jan 25th edition of Brunch and if you are an adept internet treasure hunter you can dig it all up. But I will snatch a quote from time to time.

Executive summary: For 37 years this woman had been teaching and then an Islamic insurgent decided to detonate a road side bomb with the express intention of killing teachers. Or monks. Anybody Thai who isn’t a Moslem.

He messed up. The explosion was pretty good but Biggs uses the word “ineptitude” and it is the right word. Too early. The lady was blown off her bike but not blown up. Superficial injuries.

“It certainly gave me a nasty shock,” she recalls. She was offered the opportunity to head North and away but she liked her students and was worried about them.

She resumed teaching but that clearly annoyed somebody. A year later she was off to school again but this time with a military escort. Sad isn’t it? All teachers in the Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces are escorted to school by soldiers. What does that teach children?

Nothing happened.

Then she climbed into the back of a pickup truck with friends to visit friends injured in a bomb blast. They were in a hospital. On the way home there was another bomb blast. The young soldier who was driving was killed. Three passengers badly hurt. She was one of them. Shrapnel missed her eyes but mauled her nose most grievously. Ten days in hospital. Again an offer of a change of job location.

Again a refusal.

Biggs noted, with impeccable logic, “One immediately wonders exactly why southern terrorists would find an elderly prim and proper primary school teacher such an enemy of their cause that she needed to be obliterated.”

He continues. “And yet that is the reality for teachers…” There’s more in the same vein. Biggs is pissed off.

Back to school. This time it wasn’t just grades 4 to 6 who turned up. Allah Ahkbarbarism. The insurgents again! Another bomb on the school road. She rode the rocket. Jan 19th – last week – and she’s back in hospital with serious head injuries.

Biggs asks the question “How much can a 59 year old bear? Surely…surely three times is enough. ”

Apparently not. She still wants to continue teaching.

“My heart still worries about my pupils,” she told Biggs from her hospital bed in what he describes as a soft almost apologetic voice. “There is still so much to teach them. How can I leave them now?”

I suspect that she has taught a lot of people a lot of lessons. But out there behind the bushes beside the roads to school and shops and railway stations there are still Islamic rebs fiddling with bombs and detonators. These people hate education and have chosen to learn nothing.

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2 Responses to “Thai Days: Andrew Biggs and the Thai teacher the Islamists can’t kill”

  1. charlespaxton Says:

    She certainly teaches us the meaning of determination and dedication! Shame on those retrogressive religious fanatics, may they learn the error of their ways.

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