You can’t keep a secret in Thailand

Susan Flanagan
Published on January 14, 2014

No. 3 turned 17 this week. We gave him a bubble-wrap suit so next time he decides to go rollerblading hooked onto a bicycle without a helmet, he can be protected.

Every time one of the children has a birthday, I can’t help but think back on the very first time I carried a child. Chris and I had just got married in Japan, where we were living, and decided to go trekking in Thailand for our honeymoon.

I knew I was in the family way before I ever left Narita airport, but Chris, who couldn’t feel a monumental change in his body, was not easily persuaded. Until … I took the big test in a small beachfront clinic on a 21-square-kilometre paradise covered in coconut palms. It was on Koh Tao, a utopian island off the east coast of Thailand, that Chris finally believed what I had been telling him for weeks.

We were both so excited we proceeded to tell almost every single person we met that we were expecting. We knew it was way too early to make an announcement, but there was no way the people who mattered back in Canada would ever find out the news until we decided to tell them three months hence.

It wasn’t as if Chris had told me some corporate secret and then I blabbed it to my best friend who had it plastered all over cyberspace — like how the news got out that Robert Galbraith, the author of the novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling” was actually J.K. Rowling. This was pre-Internet and the people we told were strangers who we would never see again. This news was secure in the land of monks, temples and dried grasshoppers.

So, once Chris believed I was actually pregnant, he was not only excited but he had some sympathy for why I had been urging from the diesel fumes in the open back of the truck transporting us to our honeymoon hike.

After the jungle trek, we rented a little grass hut for a couple of dollars a night and he began fussing over me, making sure the mosquito net completely covered me so a nasty mosquito didn’t dig his chops into my pregnant blood. My husband encouraged me to eat healthy when I ordered my meals from the Mama-san down on the beach.

He recommended against the dried chicken on a stick which looked as if they had been run over by a truck. And against the live frogs in water-filled baggies complete with a hollow bamboo reed so they could breathe. (Note: Even if I had wanted a frog, I wouldn’t have known what to do to prepare it for consumption.) He thought fish would be my best bet.

So, on New Year’s Eve 1992, as we sat on the beach under a star-lit sky, I ordered tuna, having no idea I would be served the entire fish. While we waited for our meals, we watched fishermen swim about a kilometre from their boats to shore to partake in the New Year`s Eve festivities. I think the Mama-san had a fisherman go and procure the tuna while we waited and because it took a while, she came and offered us some magic peanut butter cookies, to curb our appetites. Chris insisted, due to my delicate condition, it would be best if I refrained from eating the mystery cookies. But he, who likes peanut butter cookies very much, ate enough of the mystery galettes for the two of us.  

Before my tuna had been delivered, my lovely husband was unaware he was repeating everything he had just said several times over and laughing uncontrollably. We’re still not sure of the magic cookie ingredient, but I suspect it had something to do with the fields surrounded by armed guards we had seen only days before in the jungle outside Chiang Mai. Tarzan, our itty bitty trekking guide, had assured us if we happened to stray over the imaginary lines into Burma, we would be shot on sight, no questions asked.

For that reason, I had stuck close to Tarzan while he led us for three days through the typhoon-ravaged jungle, where we stayed in three-sided grass huts with roofs made of leaves. Note: leaf-topped huts do not a good shelter make, especially during severe wind and rain.

On our first night, in order to make it to the aforementioned leaf-topped huts, the plan was for elephants to transport us across a 100-foot wide river.

Due to a typhoon, however, the river was too savage for the elephants to cross, so Tarzan and mates strung together a makeshift bamboo raft to transport us to safety.

We couldn’t just jump on the raft and hope for the best, however. We had to wait until an extremely lean and fit Thai man swam across the engorged river with one end of a long natural vine just like the Tarzan of TV-land would use to swing on. Amazingly the man was a swimmer deserving of an Olympic medal and crawled out on the other side of the swirling black water to attach his end of the Tarzan vine to a tree. Tarzan then made a vine loop around the rope and using this and the homemade raft, he and our other guides transported us two by two across the swollen river, one vine loop at a time.

When it was my turn, I feverishly prayed for the fate of my unborn child and hopped on the rickety raft with a teacher from Australia. There was no way I was getting on the rinky-dink raft with my husband — if we both went down, who would be left to tell the tale of our honeymoon baby?

Yes, well, about that.

Chance encounter

Just as the Little Brown publishing house employee of Robert Galbraith’s (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling’s) last novel found out the hard way, if you don’t expect news to travel, you should keep your maw shut. Apparently, a couple of the strangers we encountered on a ferry just happened to meet some other Newfoundlanders in Thailand. Although the couple from the ferry couldn’t name us, Michelle O’Dea and Chris Bell, living in Thailand at the time, put two and two together. As a result, the news of No. 1’s arrival in less than nine months’ time spread like wildfire among friends and relatives back in Canada before we ever made it back to Japan.

Three months later, we made our official announcements over the phone from our grass-mat apartment in Hitachi. Friends and relatives back in Newfoundland tried to act surprised.

“Really,” they said. “What a surprise.”

It was in their tone of voice.

I knew that they knew.

But what can I say?

The Cuckoo had Called.

All the way from Koh Tao to Newfoundland.

Susan Flanagan is a mother of five who is happy that the day after the raft crossing, the typhoon abated and the elephants were able to meet the hikers and provide them with a well-needed foot massage. She thanks No. 3 for bringing back all these memories. Susan can be reached at

12th Night feedback

Norah O’ Reilly writes: “I loved your 12th night article. This year the story of the three wise men had a little more significance for me.  My two-year-old grandson dropped Melchior and the statue smashed to smithereens. The nativity set is white porcelain. I bought it in the early Eighties from an Avon lady and it’s a miracle that it survived unscathed until now. Anyway, between power outages, snow to shovel and grandchildren to look after due to school closures, my 12 days of Christmas have extended to fourteen. This afternoon I had the Chieftains’ ‘Bells of Dublin’ going full blast and my eight-, six- and two-year old grandchildren help me put away the Christmas tree and nativity set. I read parts of your article to the children and the realism of a smelly stable with their addition of smelly diapers, thus the need for frankincense and myrrh, will be a firm memory for them. The significance of the star on top of the tree to remember the three wise men following the brand new star to find the baby Jesus had them enthralled. Thanks for making it easy for me to relay the coming of the Magi. I don’t think they’ll forget. In the meantime I’ll be checking eBay for Melchior.”

Janette Georghiou writes: “After all of the weather and hardship for some, I was impressed with Russell (Wangersky’s) article — angry but still articulately raising important issues. Then your gentle article about the history and traditions of 12th night appeared in the next section and has put these difficult few days more in perspective. Greeks in the city often have a party around this time as well, but was cancelled this year due to weather, unfortunately. I have never been to Chris and Christina’s party, but have heard about it through friends for years and have enjoyed mummers at parties. Your description of both the party and getting to (it) is how I imagine the fun and will mention your article to friends across the country who used to live here. Being in Newfoundland for the Christmas season is a blessing in itself even with the weather. Thanks again.”

Anna Penney writes: “I loved the article you had about Christmas at Bell’s Turn and I agree with you 100 per cent about Old Christmas Day.  As that was my sister’s birthday, we always had a special celebration while growing up. Today, people put up their trees in November and by Dec. 26 are sick of them and can’t wait to take them down to make “the house look tidy.” It is so sad that we get inundated with Christmas songs in November and after Boxing Day, nothing.”

Chris Brookes writes: “The King has been found. And crowned. Our friends Bert and Keith Rowsell didn’t make it in from Cannings Cove for the 12th Night — but came today for lunch.  So we trotted out the remains of your cake. Keith got the king.”

Esther Buckley writes: “Long Live the King.”