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Pattaya Daily News

16 October 2008 :: 15:10:18 pm 20644

The legacy of grandpa yen

To reach the ripe old age of 108 is an amazing achievement by any standards. But every Thai must have paused for a moment on hearing that the nation had lost one of its most celebrated and admired senior citizens, Grandpa Yen, the grand old man of the Phetchaburi River when he passed away on Sunday 12th October from natural causes.?
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The life of Yen Kaewmanee, to give him his full name, is a remarkable and inspiring story and Grandpa Yen?s name has become almost synonymous with the self-sufficiency that Thais are increasingly being urged to adopt in their lifestyles.

When his wife died in 1993 Yen, a Thai-Muslim, decided to save 800 baht in rent and live on a houseboat on the Phetchaburi River. Only during the rainy season would he go and stay with family some 20 km away. Each day if he had the strength he went fishing, needing only one small fish to keep him going but maybe earning extra from a small catch. He never asked anyone for help or money.

And so this simple austere lifestyle would have continued had it not been for a chance meeting with a tv documentary producer, Suthipong Dhammawoot. Grandpa Yen?s life was about to change dramatically when his story, ?Khon Kon Khon?, was broadcast to the Thai nation in 2005. http://www.clipmass.com/movie/72555752640896

Following the documentary donations of goods and money began to pour in and Her Majesty the Queen gave him a new boat to live in and requested officials to take good care of him. Grandpa Yen was overwhelmed by the response and true to character often had to be begged by well-wishers to accept offers of help, even from the Queen herself.

A further demonstration of Yen?s character was when a visitor took 170 baht straight from his hand to which Yen?s response was: ?That?s okay, we were born to help each other?. On another occasion when thieves stole 70,000 baht of just donated money he didn?t even file a police report. As he couldn?t take care of it, he refused to accept more money for a while until for the first time in his life he opened a bank account.

Soon after he appeared on TV, officials delivered hearing aids and many other necessities to his boat. When Yen hurt his legs on river rocks, the governor of Phetchaburi arranged for a mobile medical health unit and for the first time garbage around the bridge where he usually docks was cleared away.

The documentary inevitably focuses on his solitary life aboard his boat but Grandpa Yen comes across as a friendly man who did not seek to isolate himself and enjoyed the company of others. He routinely chatted and exchanged jibes with friends and the large number of visitors he received following his newfound fame. However, at times this was too much for him and he often found himself hiding under a blanket from the stream of admirers that used to turn up unannounced to see him.

He also clearly demonstrated his strong love for his wife, Erb, whom he lost when he was 98. He recalled how he cried for 3 months following her death and still cried every time he talked about her.

About one month prior to his death heavy rains sank his boat. He spent 15-20 minutes in the river before neighbours rescued him and took him to hospital. After hearing of his plight, the Queen had the Ayutthaya Shipbuilding Industrial and Technology College repair and upgrade his boat. It was equipped with an engine to give him better control of the vessel. The Phetchaburi Red Cross Society also delivered meals to him every day, as requested by Her Majesty.

Following his accident Yen?s health had deteriorated and on the morning of Sunday ***12th October nurses suspected something was wrong after he failed to answer their routine call ahead of their daily visit to check his health. They found him in his boat unconscious and with a weak pulse. He was rushed to the Phra Chom Klao hospital in Phetchaburi where doctors tried to resuscitate him for more than an hour. At around 11am, the hospital announced that Grandpa Yen had passed away from heart failure.

Because he is a Muslim, Grandpa Yen was buried within 24 hours of his death, at the graveyard of a well-known Phetchaburi mosque. The Queen donated 200,000 baht towards the cost of his funeral which was attended by over 500 mourners, including Pridi Chueaphudee, executive member of the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, Prasong Pithoonkijja, an adviser to the Lord Chamberlain and Phetchaburi governor Sayumporn Limthai.

Grandpa Yen is survived by two adopted daughters, both married and living with their families. They have agreed to donate his old steel boat to the provincial cultural office, where it will be showcased together with the centenarian’s biography. His new boat, the gift he received from the Queen on his 105th birthday, will be exhibited near Lamyai bridge, which crosses the river on which he lived for the past 15 years. The area will be made a landmark where Yen is to be honored as a role model and people can study his life and self-sufficient methods.

Following Grandpa Yen?s death Public Health Minister Chalerm Yubamrung has ordered state hospitals to operate dedicated checkup rooms for the elderly so that they do not have to wait long for treatment and Health Department chief Narongsak Ankhasuwapala said every tambon would have its own club for older residents within the next year. There are about 4,000 officially registered centenarians in Thailand, according to the Public Health Ministry. As of last year, Thailand had 6.8 million elderly people, aged 60 or more. Their average age was 79 for men and 81 for women.

The story of Grandpa Yen has given many Thais an unprecedented insight as to how the nation?s ageing population struggle to cope with an inadequate welfare system. Yen’s philosophy on life, and later his fame, enabled him to overcome such obstacles but for many elderly Thais their plight continues.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Society

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