John Nara, we will miss your smiling face so much

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An amazing man died today, but he wasn’t known by millions. He wasn’t famous. But he was a star in the lives of the people who knew him.

His name was John Nara, but I just knew him as “Kun John”. He was my landlord for a short time, but he had a big impact on my life because he was kind and happy.

It’s strange to be talking about him like this because I was posting stories just this week about the backpacker lodge he ran in Bangkok. I was chatting to him just the night before he died so when the news came, I didn’t believe it at first.

When I stumbled into Discovery Lodge, I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. I just looked online and found it. A smiling Thai man in his mid 50’s greeted me. He told me his name was John and welcomed me to his lodge. At first I thought it was a sad life for him, unmarried with no children, spending his days running a tiny backpacker place full of foreigners in an old apartment building in Bangkok. But I changed my opinion very quickly. John was happy. He loved his life. He’d done interesting things. He had travelled. He was a chef in Japan for two years. He cooked the most delicious ramen. But above all, John was kind.

When his tenants were short of money, he would cook for them and even buy them beer. When pretty girls dropped in to visit, like the time Hamed and I found the four bedraggled and lost French girls on the way back from the public pool and dragged them back to the lodge unannounced, he would put on a feast. He told us all “Use my fridge, my bathroom, my stereo and my guitar. My house is your house”. He cared. Even if it meant money out of his own pocket, he would do anything for his friends, and everyone who knew him was his friend. He didn’t care about money or fame or cars or houses. As long as he got to sit on his balcony with a Chang in his hand watching the soccer or strumming away on his guitar with his friends, he was happy.

When I left Discovery Lodge, weeks later than I had intended, it was with a heavy heart. But I made it a lot lighter by buying John a new guitar to replace his broken one. I still remember the look of confusion and disbelief on his face when he flipped it over and saw the thank you note from all of us that I had hastily scrawled on the back just before my flight was due to leave. But he did more for us than we ever did for him. We had good times with John. From the many times that his friends dropped in to play guitar and sing, to the time we were all sitting around on his balcony at 2am and I asked him what his favourite song was. He told me it was Michael Jackson’s Black or White, which fitted John perfectly because to him, everyone was an honoured guest and he didn’t see race or colour, he only saw new faces and interesting people to talk to. I said “Well, let’s put it on.. loud ! C’mon John !” and we did. We cranked it up and the four of us grabbed broomsticks and chairs and danced around like idiots on his balcony in the middle of the night to Michael Jackson. It was one of those wonderful moments in life when you’re overseas in a strange country with new friends and you just think “Well, why not ? Let’s have fun”. I’m so glad I still have the video so that I can see his smiling face, dancing to his favourite song outside his apartment in Bangkok.

After John closed the lodge recently, I was so sad. When I was booking tickets for my wife and I to travel all over Asia, I looked at Bangkok and said “No. I don’t want to go to Bangkok. Discovery Lodge isn’t there anymore and I don’t know where John is, so we won’t be going”.

But John, just last night, as you always did, you quietly liked something I said on Facebook and I messaged you to ask how you were going. You told me you had a new job at the markets and you were really happy and I asked “Are you a cook ?”. Of course you were. That was what you loved doing the most. You assured me you were happy and I promised that I would bring my wife and come visit Bangkok as soon as I could. And the next day, you weren’t with us anymore and I wept.

John, you touched the hearts of everyone you met. I doubt any person on this Earth could say an unkind word about you. You made us come together as friends. You made us laugh and sing. You toasted us and you talked to us. I’m sorry I still have your room key sitting on my bedside table from last time I visited, but I’m going to put my keys on the keychain now. Discovery Lodge may be gone, but you will live in our hearts forever. You were a star, if only to the people who met you. Your light will shine for a long time to come.

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John sure was young at heart for a man of his age. I hope I’m cool enough to be taking selfies in Super Mario Brothers shirts when I’m in my 50’s.

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A happy moment that will always remind me of how much fun we had a John’s place.

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One last photo. I’m sorry if anyone thinks it’s inappropriate, but this is probably the coolest photo of anyone I’ve ever seen so I wanted to make sure I included it.

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