I noticed that the mishap had occurred after dinner. I had dined well on one of my favorite meals; marinated belly pork strips grilled crisp, boiled potatoes dressed in melted butter and sweet corn on the cob. Not really a Thai meal but all the ingredients except the butter were readily available fresh in the village market. My busy tongue, searching for a last morsel informed me I was missing a tooth.
Not a real tooth; one out of my bridge work, the result of a youthful indiscretion, but still a considerable annoyance. And it was gone, down with the pork, spuds and sweet corn. I went into the bathroom and cleaned my teeth and examined the damage. The right incisor was missing, pissing me off greatly. During my two year divorce battle I had maintained my medical and hospital insurance, a considerable financial burden, specifically to get a new set made in one of my home cities better dental clinics before I moved to Asia.
I summoned my wife who had never suspected the existence of the false choppers, I’m a bit shy about it, and suggested a trip to Chiang Rai to the dentist after the weekend.
Not a problem, Chiang Rai had many dentists she said.
The next day, a Sunday, I decided I never really needed a dentist, I needed a dental mechanic; a term not in my Thai phrase book, but was gratified to find my wife knew and understood the term.
Her brother in law did that, she said.
Her brother in law?
She had two, both building workers.
Pah wasn’t only a major consumer of Lao Khau in the village he was also the original snaggle tooth. Although sound they protruded and pointed out his mouth randomly.
Sure, Pah could do that, he had done it for Mair and Duang the other brother in law.
I considered my options, the visit to Chiang Rai would involve considerable waiting, a possible overnight loss of the teeth and certainly more waiting the next day.
I decided to approach Pah with caution, an appointment was made and I went around to his house and he surveyed the damage. He then produced a amazingly comprehensive kit of dental mechanic's tools complete with a selection of random teeth. A frisson of unease ran through me as I imagined Pah plundering corpses at the crematorium but a closer examination showed they were attached to a card. He selected an incisor and proceeded to shape it to fit the gap with a miniature electric grinding wheel.
Now committed I mentally left him to his trade and looked around the house, a two story shop front building he had virtually built it single handedly the year before last. The loss of their first house was still a bit of a mystery to me; when they bought it they had never bothered about the paperwork and it had been sold out from under them twenty years down the track was as close I got to understanding the situation. The ground floor, the large single room that Thais love so much, was largely unfinished. Just floor coverings on the rough concrete floor and not a lick of paint to be seen. The front was a small shop. Strategically situated between the temple and the village school it prospered, selling drinks and candy with a small freezer for ice cream. They did a busy morning trade selling jugs of petrol to motorcyclists on their way to work.
The only adornment on the walls consisted of four framed photos of their daughters’ university graduation; one of each girl with two class photographs. Several hundred academically gowned young Thais ready to grasp the world by the throat. Both girls now held good jobs in their field but were still unmarried in their late twenties, their mother’s pride and despair.
I heard my wife talking in English out the front of the shop and glimpsed a group of young Western women who had apparently been looking at the temple. They were fellow Australians but I wasn’t going out to greet them with my teeth out. A tall blonde bought a bottle of cold Singha beer and walked off swigging it from the neck. Tourists.
Pah was mixing a few drops of liquid with a white powder and using the resulting paste to cement the tooth home, he handed me the finished product and instructed me to bite down. I felt the new tooth press home solidly. I went out side and spat the chemical taste out of my mouth then shared a couple of bottles of Leo with my newly arrived English neighbour to further remove it.
What was the cost of the procedure I inquired of Pah?
He hesitated, torn between greed and family responsibility. He decided to shoot for the whole basket.
One hundred baht.
© Julian. All rights reserved by the author.