I first met the monkey at a bar on New Year’s Eve, more or less. We spotted him, sitting atop a wooden bar, as my sister and I passed an open-air restaurant on Koh Chang island in Thailand. He was small and furry — clearly a baby — with a protruding brow, a slight faux-hawk, a round tummy, and little human-like hands.

 

I’d come to Thailand as a monkey enthusiast, hoping to see them in the wild. This was my first monkey, and he was sitting on a bar in the middle of a restaurant, but I loved him anyway. I pulled my sister over. “Let’s see the monkey,” I insisted. Stacy had been living in Bangkok for a year already and had seen many wild monkeys on excursions to places like Kanchanaburi and Koh Samet. This monkey was attached… More…

Matthew, the small Burmese Kayin man who worked the front desk at the Lotus Guesthouse, was the first one to suggest that Mr. Benny might be dead. “Benny went back to Burma so he could die near his family,” he told me, his eyes fixed on the TV set as flickering Shiites danced in the streets of Iraq. “He was too sick to live in Thailand any more.”

I had just returned to the rainy border town of Ranong, Thailand, after an absence of five months. It was April 9, 2003, the day U.S. tanks rolled into central Baghdad. Matthew had been squatting in the guesthouse lobby, translating BBC commentary for the other hotel workers — all of them illegal migrant workers from Burma. Deciphering the images from Iraq proved to be a difficult process, since even the BBC commentators didn’t seem to know what was going on. Had Baghdad… More…