The world is already peopled with sufficient Pobaans, I decide some time ago. Despite relentless pressure from Mrs Pobaan’s mother (whose vision for her daughter in her senior years is to be surrounded by a regiment of offspring who, like industrious oompa-loompas, will attend to her every need), Mrs Pobaan agrees. She likes children in small doses but couldn’t manage a whole one.
But how to overcome Mr Pobaan’s legendary powers of fertility? It is Mrs Pobaan who comes up with the practical solution: ‘You could have a cut; you know...’
‘That’s what it’s called. The Snip.’ I do an impression of an angry crab wielding its pincers.
‘Oh, that. In Thai it’s tam man.’
‘Seems a very simple term for such a major undertaking.’
‘Not so major.’
So it is agreed in principle. For Mr Pobaan, agreeing something in principle isn’t quite the same as actually doing it, especially when doing it will involve removing my shorts in polite company. I prevaricate. I procrastinate. I decide to do it after such-and-such, and then after so-and-so. Finally, my cowardice is starting to concern me, so I gather my courage about me like a cloak and visit one of our impressive Pattaya hospitals.
I make an appointment with a doctor who is said to know about tam man. He is a jolly fellow, not unlike a troll in appearance, with a wide grin and inquisitive eyes. He describes the routine nature of the procedure in a couple of minutes.
‘Then, after you have, er, ejaculated 30 times, we will test you to make sure you’re safe. If you were a Thai man it would be 15 times.’
It seems so unfair, I reflect. Why do we foreigners always have to pay more than the locals? I ask, ‘What do I do next?’
‘See the nurse,’ says the doctor and shoos me out of his office.
The nurse tells me the operation will cost 12,000 baht. I agree to this and make an appointment for the next week. As I am preparing to leave, she says, ‘I mean 15,000 baht.’
‘I forgot the extras.’
‘But we agreed 12,000 baht,’ I protest.
‘It will be fifteen,’ she responds, unabashed.
Mr Pobaan is a man of his word and cannot do business under such conditions. I cancel the appointment and walk out. A little stunned, I drive to the second Pattaya hospital and enquire about tam man there. The receptionist quotes me 18,000 baht. I say I’ll think about it.
Disappointed and frustrated, I return home.
‘Was it sore?’ asks Mrs Pobaan.
I tell her the story and spend a week or so considering my options. Eventually, I feel brave enough to try a third hospital. I am given an appointment with their tam man man who turns out to be the same gnomic specialist I met at the first hospital. I am beginning to feel like an insider in the exclusive world of Pattaya snips. The doctor recognises me as a persistent potential patient, apologises for the confusion at the first hospital and books me in at the present one for next week.
The event itself, perhaps because I’ve had so much time to imagine how awful it could be, isn’t as bad as I feared. I am asked to take off my clothes and put on a nightgown designed for a very small woman. In this revealing attire I am led across the reception area to a very small room (‘operating theatre’ would be overdoing the drama). There, I lie on a bed as numerous women scurry around me with instruments. Eventually, the doctor enters and says, ‘So, vasectomy today?’
This cheery enquiry is probably hospital protocol to ensure that surgeons perform the right operations on the right people. It’s clearly a process which is rarely subverted by mood-lightening banter because, when I reply, ‘No, it’s supposed to be a transplant. I hope you remembered the heart,’ the doctor jumps a couple of centimetres off the floor and looks startled. I can see him mentally going through his appointments book to double-check he’s got the right day.
‘I was only joking,’ I explain weakly and he calms a little. I cancel my other witticism, which was to be about splitting the deferens.
The operation itself is fine. It doesn’t hurt because the doctor gives me an injection. Surprisingly, he does this without cracking a joke about a little prick. I consider having a go at that one myself, but am discouraged by the reaction to my heart gag earlier.
The aspect of the surgery that I don’t expect is how public a spectacle it becomes. The women who have previously drifted in and out of my room are joined by others who now come and stand around my bed with their arms folded, giggling to each other. Since the focus of their attention is exclusively my crotch, I begin to take this levity as a comment on the quality of my endowments. If I’d known, I would have worn a ribbon.
When it’s all over, I do my John Wayne walk out of the hospital, feeling no worse than if someone had kicked me in the groin. At home, I discover it’s sore to sit down but otherwise life drifts back to normal.
Until the next day.
When I wake up, I discover half my willy has gone black.
‘Not completely,’ Mrs Pobaan observes helpfully. 'It's like chocolate and vanilla ice-cream.'
There’s little improvement in the situation by the next week when I have to return to the hospital for a routine check-up. I lie on a different bed and the doctor comes into my cubicle. When I pull down my pants, he puts on his reading glasses and bends low over my crotch as if he’s reading the small print in a legal document.
‘Some discolouration,’ he reports. Some discolouration? I’m presenting him with evidence that part of me is descended from Robert Mugabe and that’s all he can say? Calling it ‘some discolouration’ is like describing the Black Death as a minor case of the sniffles.
‘It’s not important,’ the doctor continues.
‘It’s important to me,’ I retort. ‘My black and white pizzle is making the Friesian cows go crazy.’
In the interests of journalistic integrity, I confess that I didn’t actually use the cow gag on the doctor, but I got close.
The doctor says that everything’s looking okay and reminds me to make an appointment for a sperm viability test ‘after 30 times’.
‘OK,’ I reply. ‘See you next week then.’
This time he gets it. I think he’s tuning in. ‘Superman!’ he says.