Saturday, May 23, 2009

Kids pining for long-lost dads

Thai Takes

WHENEVER Keigo Sato, a nine-year-old Thai, saw Japanese tourists at Wat Tha Luang, a riverside temple in Phichit, about 345km north of Bangkok, he would ask them “Do you know my father?” And the boy would show them a faded photograph of a long-haired, bare-chested 30-something Japanese man wearing a pair of sunglasses.

The answer from the tourists visiting the temple where Keigo’s Japanese father and Thai mother had married was: “No.”

In 2000, Keigo’s mother, Thipmontha, who as a teenager ran away from home to work in Bangkok in a job that exposed her to the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, returned to Phichit with her Japanese husband, Katsumi Sato, to tell her family that she was pregnant.

A couple of months later, she turned up at her hometown again, abandoned the baby with her family and returned to Bangkok. Three years later, Thipmontha and Katsumi visited their son Keigo.

Last year, during the Songkran (Thai New Year) holidays, Thipmontha returned home because she was ill.

But before she died of her illness on April 3, the 33-year-old woman’s final message to her son was: “Wait for your father at the ordination hall of Wat Tha Luang and you’ll see him.”

Since then, according to the Bangkok Post which front-paged Keigo’s plight on May 12, hardly a day goes by without Keigo waiting for his father with a photo at the ordination hall and praying to the deities to grant him the wish of seeing his father some day.

The Thai and Japanese media pounced on the story of Keigo’s search for his father.

His story tugged the heart of the Thais, including the Thai Queen and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. Donations poured in for the boy who lives with his 35-year-old aunt and 60-year-old paralysed grandfather and earns a living selling fish feed at Wat Tha Luang’s pier.

The Phichit Residents Association promised to give him a 10,000 baht (about RM1,000) scholarship every year until he finishes college. Boon Rawd Trading offered three air tickets for Keigo to reunite with his father.

Three days after Keigo‘s plight was highlighted, the director of Phichit’s Social Development and Human Security Office was abruptly transferred to another province for failing to help the boy find his long-lost father.

On May 13, Kasit ordered the Thai embassy in Tokyo to contact the Japanese government to obtain information on Keigo’s father.

The minister also asked the Immigration Department and Thai tour companies for help.

“Essential data should be kept at airlines and the Immigration office. They must have immigration details. Information nine years ago is not too far back to recover,” he said.

The Japanese embassy in Bangkok confirmed that a Katsumi Sato (now 31 and living in Tokyo) married Thipmontha in 2000 and they divorced in 2004.

Katsumi, according to the Japanese embassy, admitted Keigo was his son.

On May 16, the Japanese embassy, however, informed Keigo’s aunt that Katsumi was not in the hurry to meet up with his son as he was uncomfortable with the publicity.

When told that his father would not come to Thailand but would make a personal phone call to him, Keigo cried.

“Dad doesn’t love me,” the tearful boy told reporters. “I just want dad to come to me fast. I don’t want anything else from you. I don’t want your money … Please let me hug you. … I want to have a father like all the other kids. And I want my friends to stop teasing me for being a love child.”

Keigo’s search for his father inspired Narumi Hamada, a 18-year-old Thai/Japanese from Chiang Mai to find her Japanese father whom she has not seen for 15 years.

Twenty years ago, Narumi’s mother, Sangwan Bamrung, met Ryoichi Hamada, a driver at Toyota Motor Thailand in Lamphun, a province about 670km north of Bangkok.

Subsequently, Sangwan, who worked for a computer spare parts company, stayed with Ryoichi in Japan.

After four years there, she returned to Thailand to give birth to Narumi. Ryoichi visited his wife and daughter a couple of times in Thailand and then disappeared.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Narumi said she wanted to know whether her father was still alive.

The big question in Thailand is: Will there be a happy ending for Keigo and Narumi?

(Published in The Star on May 23, 2009)


The FrogBlogger said...

That's a sad story, thanks for bringing it to our attention. Always amazes me how a father could leave his child like that, no matter what the circumstances...