Saturday, August 1, 2009

Remembering Eddie Ou

The original story below was based on the assumption that Eddie was lost in the Tsunami that hit Phuket December 26, 2004. I set out searching for him. Finally, now, nearly 7 years later, although I have not found him I have found those saying he is living still in Rawai and baking bread. I expect to see him again this summer (2011). Here is the information I received this week(March, 2011)

1. Just saw the request for information about fast Eddie if no has told you yet he lives in rawai still bakes his bread in the morning and rides his bike on Chofa West road in the afternoon anywhere between 2 and 5PM. Beyond that I don't know how to get in touch with him short of trying to stop him on the road and asking him some day.

2. Fast Eddie is still around and we see him on his motorbike fairly regularly. He has not hashed for a long time now and I do not have a phone number for him.He is I understand still making bread and he sells it I have heard to Farang Supermarket on the new by pass just after the Prince of Songkla University.

So, perhaps all's well that ends well. This is what I wrote when I thought he was lost.

I first met Eddie Ou in Nanjing in August 1988. He was a new student at the Johns Hopkins University - Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing. I was a new faculty member. He had grown up and gone to school in Boston. His parents, he told me, owned a Chinese restaurant. He worked in the restaurant when he was home. What I remember most is that Eddie always "got" the jokes I told. And he always got Gary Larsen cartoons, something quite rare both for Academics and for non-Americans. But he'd always laugh at Gary Larsen cartoons and his eyes sparkled behind round wire framed glasses. Eddie was also know because he drank a lot, mostly the local brew of beer, which was never very good. But he had a big thirst. And when he drank a lot, unlike many other people, Eddie became quieter and he laughed louder. I think he drank because he was merely unhappy with the setting of the Center, with the classes he had to take and with the entire set up.

After I left the Center I went first to Hong Kong and then to Bangkok and finally to Phuket. I stayed that summer, 1989, after Tiananmen, at a place called the Holiday Resort, which has long since been plowed under. One day I was out walking along the beach road and I saw Eddie. He was in running shoes, he was covered with sweat and he went running past me. I called out his name. He stopped and we talked for a long time. That evening we had dinner and beer near the beach. He was living at the Expat Hotel at the end of the strip. And he was in training for the Phuket Marathon. It was being run in mid July and the prime minister was going to be in attendance to announce the start of the race. So I saw Eddie many times in Phuket after that. And on the big morning of the marathon, a Sunday, I rented a motorbike and he got on the back in all his running clothes and I drove him to Phuket Town where the race was to begin at, I believe, 7AM. I had so much faith in Eddie. I actually thought he was going to win that day he had so much determination and drive. He got off the bike and I told him I'd see him at the finish line on the other side of town. It was an international race with a half dozen runners from a couple of dozen Asian countries. These were world class runners.

So I waited at the finish line. The winners came into sight. God it was hot. Very hot. Blistering hot and humid by mid morning. And the first runners crossed the finish line and the Prime Minister congratulated them. But no Eddie. More runners and more runners stumbled down the final stretch and crossed the finish line and collapsed. But No Eddie. I looked at my watch. Three hours. Three hours and no Eddie. People started going home. Four hours and no Eddie. I thought, Jesus Christ, did he get eaten by a tiger or something? Where could he be? ABout 4 hours and 15 minutes after the start, when it was really hot, I suddenly saw Eddie come down over the hill, staggering. But still moving. Moving toward the finish. I shouted and encouraged him on. And on he came. He crossed the finish line, maybe the last runner. But he crossed it standing up. I asked, What happened. And Eddie just said, Jesus Christ it got hot out there. I thought I'd die. I need a beer.

So he got on the back of the motor bike and we went back into Patong Beach where our hotels were and we had a half dozen cold Singha beers. The next morning I left and returned to Hong Kong and I lost track of Eddie Ou.

Then about 12 years later I got a notice from the Hopkins Center in Nanjing that they were trying to locate "missing" alums and Eddies name was on the list along with a dozen others.

I was back in Phuket a dozen times in those years but never saw Eddie. Then when I was there in the late summer of 2004 I was walking back up to my home in Baan Chai Lei, walking along the beach road, early in the morning after having a Starbucks and a mango. Suddenly a voice called out, "Larry Engelmann. Is that really you?" I recognized the voice. And there he was, on the beach road, on a bicycle, smiling a big smile and waving at me. "What the hell are you doing here?" he asked. "What are you doing here?" I asked back.

We sat down and talked and I saw him for dinner that night and I saw him several times in the next days. It seems he fell in love with Phuket. And he decided in 1988 he wanted to live there. But he needed to survive. So he looked around the island and decided what was missing, and what the European tourists wanted, was good fresh bagels, croissants, and French bread for sandwiches. He knew a lot about cooking and baking from working for his parents. So he made some money in Boston working in that Chinese restaurant. He came back to Phuket. He leased a little home down on the end of the island at Rawai Beach. He found some big ovens and leased them too. He began making bread, bagels and croissants and he sold them to the big hotels. He also sold them to Starbucks for making their sandwiches. I noted that in Starbucks everybody knew "Eddie the Baker." He baked at night and delivered all his bread around the island on his motorbike and then he ran in the evening. He loved his little house and he had a beautiful young Thai girl who lived with him and helped him. He was settled in. We talked about his success and about expanding. But he asked why would he want to expand. He was blissfully happy with this operation. The whole idea was to escape, to be Gaugin, in a sense, but without painting. He was a baker and not a painter. He was really happy.

I saw him again in December 2004. We had dinner and he talked about how happy he was with his little life in Phuket and his house in Rawai Beach.

I left before Christmas in order to spend the holidays in Bangkok. Then came the Tsunami on December 26. It really smashed into the coast of Phuket and killed God only knows how many people. Countless Thais were killed. Eddies little house and bakery in Rawai were washed away. And given the time of the morning it hit, I think Eddie must have returned home to his house after making his deliveries. He must have been at home when the Tsunami hit, like a bomb. His house was gone. The bakers ovens were gone. Eddie and his girl friend were gone.

I looked for them in the summer of 2005 but found no sign of them or their house. Nobody had seen them since the Tsunami. But what I remember is how damned happy he was, his laughter, his determination, and the joy of having him as a friend.

I have been fortunate in my life to meet many happy people. People who never complained and who overcame great difficulties. Eddie Ou was one of those people.


Rusty said...

Did you finally find him?

Rusty said...

I'm happy to report that Eddie is very much alive and well and living in Phuket as of June 2015.