My wife’s uncle. He’s 79 today (Sunday), or thereabouts (goes by the lunar calendar, so it’s hard to keep track.)
We were in Bangkok’s Chinatown tonight (Saturday night), at the same Chinese restaurant where he met me for the first time way back when. Back then, my future wife and I were preparing for our wedding, and he was impressed with my chopsticks ability. We became drinking buddies. The company he worked for sold rubber sandals. “Flip-flops” is what I believe they’re called. The firm sold so many that he won a couple of trips to Europe for meeting his quota. Partially from that, he acquired a taste for fine French liqueurs. Tonight, he broke out the Hennesy, and we had a grand time, let me tell ya.
He’s Chinese, not really Thai. He was born somewhere west of Shanghai but carries a Taiwanese passport but has lived in Thailand for decades. I don’t know the story behind that, he won’t talk about it. I know he would have been in his 20s when that whole Chinese-revolution thing was going on. I know also he’s not banned from China or anything like that, because he visits mainland China often now; perhaps that’s just a fairly recent thing, I dunno. But he’s tickled pink that I always have a good time visiting China myself.
He liked me from the first, because his favorite niece had chosen me to marry, so I must have been okay. At that first meeting in that Chinatown restaurant, as I said, he noted my skill with chopsticks. We became drinking buddies, and in this culture, choice of alcohol is important. One time, about 10 years ago, I brought him back from a trip to the US a fifth of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. His daughter, my wife’s cousin, actually cried when she saw what I’d brought back for him. I never expected to share in it myself. He had, and still has, a small group of Chinese buddies of his age that he regularly drank with, and the Blue Label was for sharing with them. I heard that he gained a lot of face – and I mean a lot – by telling his friends that his niece’s (farang, or Westerner) husband gave him that Blue Label. But he portioned it out with them slowly over several years, and saved the last of it to drink with me. I was surprised that he still had any left, and drinking the last of that Blue Label with him was an honor, let me tell you.
He really has a taste for the good stuff, and anytime I was abroad, I’d pick him up something good – Scotch, cognac, anything that looked good. And he was never stingy with what he had with me. He 's my wife’s uncle by marrige, so we’re both outsiders. Maybe that has something to do with it. I dunno. But he is, hands down, the best person I know. And I wish him a Happy Birthday.