Snowflake and the Chain – Su Mai Dai
Snowflake belongs to the recycling lot across the street. His owner is a nice man who likes to blast American music from the ’60s and ’70s. “Smoke on the Water” is a particular favorite, although he cranks the Beatles sometimes, too. At around 9:00 at night when I take Jaidee down for the last walk of the day and I’m fiddling around with Snowflake’s chain, I can always tell when this guy is about to come out and feed Snowflake because suddenly I’m not that interesting to him and he grows still, listening and looking toward the gate. It makes getting his chain off of him much easier, but usually I then have to wait for him to eat dinner before I can take him for the walk. So, for about 5 minutes this guy and I stand there listening to Snowflake smack on his kibble while we chat about my Muay Thai or his love for “California Dreamin’.”
When I leave Pattaya for the purpose of traveling to fights, I’m usually gone for five or more days. I walk Snowflake twice every day, after my run in the morning and then at night before bed, just to give him time off his chain, and so he can smell things in the field at the far end of our street. To go from that to nothing at all is a big change for him, so I always stop in to see the owner before I leave, letting him know that I’ll be gone for x number of days and tell him when I’ll be back. My hope is that he’ll know to take Snowflake off the chain to at least use the field next door to where he’s chained, rather than assuming he’s getting walked. This isn’t a formal agreement and he’s not my dog. Basically, Snowflake used to be free to run around everywhere and he did so, with relish. But then he chased and bit a motorbike driver, so now he’s chained 24/7. It breaks my heart to see him like that, so I started sneaking him off his chain at night to walk with me and Jaidee. His owner knew I was doing this because there’s a camera on the building and one day I got up the courage to ask him permission and he divulged that he already knew and in very rough English said, “thank you, thank you.” That’s how we started talking. Because of Snowflake.
For a while there was some trial and error to the collar that Snowflake wore on his chain. First it was too thin and it rubbed against his neck and created a sore. I made a big deal about showing that to his owner and for the next week I would see him coming out to clean the wound several times per day; and of course he changed the collar. But then the next collars kept breaking, which I kind of loved because it meant Snowflake would get a few hours of freedom when nobody was looking. I’d just turn a blind eye to it, pretend I didn’t see that he was loose so I wouldn’t be responsible for tying him back up. He’d come over to me, sometimes with his broken chain dragging between his legs and want to be petted and cooed at, but I’d have to tell him to buzz off so that nobody could accuse me of not putting him back on the spot he’s tethered to. But he does still chase and bite, so he can’t really, safely be left off either. After I thought the collar issue had been resolved, Snowflake got this very strange swelling just on one side of his neck. It looked like he’d been injected with fluid; like a goiter or inflated frog’s neck. I would touch it when I was taking him off his chain for our walk and try to figure out what it was. There was a puncture wound at the bottom end of it but didn’t look infected. Probably he got in a dog fight, but I worried that it was serious.
I didn’t see his owner for a few days when this happened. But there’s this young guy who works at the recycling lot. He’s very skinny but all muscle, with this big head that makes him look like a child’s toy or something. He wears a wide-brim baseball hat all the time that seems to be the most expensive article of his clothing and therefore his favorite. Part of his job is to pile these folded cardboard boxes onto the back of a truck and sometimes I’ll see him standing on top of the whole thing, with his shirt in his hand, looking out over the street like a King of the Hill moment. We never talk to each other, but occasionally we’ll exchange a smile when I’m fussing with Snowflake’s chain. Because I hadn’t seen the owner for a while and was concerned about Snowflake’s neck, one morning when I was coming back from the end of our street with the two dogs, I saw this kid walking with one of his friends. He smiled at me and I pointed to Snowflake’s swollen neck, telling him that the dog was hurt. I’ve never heard this kid talk before, but he just launched into this story about how Snowflake had gotten into a fight with some of the dogs that live down the alleyway on the other side of the recycling lot. “If he didn’t have his chain on, no dog could fight with him,” he said, with total pride in his voice. It was then that I could smell he was a little drunk; he and his friend hadn’t been home yet, I reckon, and it was now about 7:00 AM. It was kind of a beautiful moment, oddly enough. I’ve never seen this kid give affection to any of the dogs (two others live at the recycling place, but they’re usually inside) and he only seems to interact with Snowflake when he comes to take him inside when it’s raining. But this expression in Thai, su mai dai, is one I hear a lot. It means “cannot fight,” but in the sense of one opponent being so superior that the other can’t stand with him, as we might say. The way in which he said it, too, expressed this pride about Snowflake’s ability to handle himself. If he weren’t limited by that damn chain, nobody could contend with him.
Maybe I was inspired by this kid’s praise of Snowflake. Maybe it was that I’m personally offended by the way Snowflake has to be chained and leashed all the time and these two dogs down that alley come up barking and fronting at him, knowing he can’t go after them. So a few days after his neck injury had healed up, we were at that exact same spot in front of the recycling lot where we’d run into the kid and those two damn dogs come charging up the alley. I just calmly reached down and unlatched the leash from Snowflake’s collar, releasing him to charge right back at them. Those two dogs, once they realized what was happening, turned on a dime and ran back down the alley. Snowflake chased them a good distance, then trotted happily back to me and I patted him on the head and told him how good he was before putting him back on his chain for the day. And those dogs don’t come try to fight him on his chain anymore. Now they understand su mai dai also.
You can follow Snowflake’s story a little through Jaidee’s Instagram. Jaidee is a Thai street dog that we took in as a pup.