When Sopin Rothom was born, Thailand was still called Siam, the revolution that ended the absolute monarchy was 12 years away and modern-day Pattaya wasn’t something anyone could ever have imagined.
Yet 100 years later, here Sopin is, living out her post-twilight years alone in a ramshackle open-air shack of wood and tin in Nong Plalai.
Looking back at a century of incomprehensible change, Sopin says she loved her life, but is not ready to leave this world just yet. Before she leaves this world, she wanted to get a wheelchair and go to the temple for the first time in 20 years.
On July 21, she got her wish.
Kantapon Sukumalin, an aide to Thailand’s deputy health minister, and Nong Plailai government officials visited the centenarian, bringing her a lightweight wheelchair appropriate for her age, consumer products and cash.
Kantapon said his boss had seen Sopin on TV and felt it was an incredible injustice that the Chachoengsao native – one of just 7,000 Thais over the age of 100 – was living alone in such squalid conditions.
In addition to the material assistance, Sopin now get regular medical checkups at home by doctors from Banglamung Hospital. Kantapon said if she needs medical care, it will be provided free by the government.
Finally, Katapon said, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security will build Sopin a small house next to her adopted son’s home nearby.
The support continued the next day as the Thailand Fighting Fighting Team presented her with an electric wheelchair. The club of Hong Kongers represented by Tai Pang, Kaman and Margiela also brought her a fan, cooking pot, rice and dried foods.
A Land Before Modern Time
Born in 1920, Sopin was 19 when Siam became Thailand, 21 when the country joined Japan in the Axis alliance, and 26 when HM King Rama IX took the throne. She has seen 13 military coups and has survived after her husband, brothers, sisters and all other relatives have passed.
Now 100, she has seen an unimaginable life of change.
Sopin spent most of her life working a farm in Chachoengsao with her husband and selling handmade brooms. When he died 20 years ago, she moved to Chonburi and, for the past decade, has lived in her little hut, which was given to her by a large property owner.
She still sells the occasional broom, but lives mostly on just the 1,000-baht stipend the government pays the elderly. About 200 baht of that goes toward utilities.
Sopin’s diet is simple. She lives on boiled vegetables, bananas, eggs and flaming-hot chili paste.
All her brothers and sisters are dead. Sopin never bore any children, although she did adopt one boy who now has a family and lives nearby.
Sopin said she sees them sometimes. They want her to come live with them, but, after so long, she is fine with living in her own house. Even though her new house will be next door to her adopted family, she can remain independent and not become a burden, she said.
But the grandmother’s mobility is very limited, the byproduct of breaking a hip a decade ago. She’s still able to cook and bathe herself, but cannot really go anywhere.
Yet other than that tumble, she has never been seriously ill. Her vision is still fine and her hearing good enough.
One regret, Sopin said, was that because she can’t walk without holding on to a table or bed post, she could no longer go to the temple. She had not gone to make merit for 20 years. It makes her heart hurt.
So she stayed home and listened to dharma sermons and prayed. Now, thanks to the fame her age has brought, she can go to the temple and enjoy group activities again before she dies, she said.