Home comforts greet 'Wild Boars' captain after Thai cave rescue

Home comforts greet 'Wild Boars' captain after Thai cave rescue

'Wild Boars' news conference in Chiang Rai
Duangpech Promthep introduces himself during the news conference in Chiang Rai, Jul 18, 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

MAE SAI: Happiness is a birthday cake, a meal of pork-knuckle rice, a warm bed and a trip to buy a new mobile telephone.

Those were some of the treats enjoyed by Duangpech Promthep, captain of the Thai boys' football team rescued last week from a flooded cave, during his first hours at home.

"My bed felt warm," the 13-year-old, also known as Dom, told Reuters.

The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and the 25-year-old coach of the Wild Boars football team returned home on Wednesday (Jul 18) after being discharged from hospital and appearing on national television to describe their ordeal inside the Tham Luang cave.

"When I first came back home, there were so many people waiting for me. I was very surprised," said Dom, who was welcomed by relatives from as far as China.

READ: The faces of Tham Luang

READ: Thai boys rescued from cave in tears, mourn diver who died

Thailand cave homecoming 2
Banphot Promthep, father of young football player Duangpech "Dom" Promthep, displays sacred robes gifted by Buddhist monks for the rescued members of the Wild Boars football team, as he waits for his son to return home. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

His first meal was stewed pork knuckle over rice, a dish he had yearned to eat while stranded in the cave, where the boys had no food for days and survived only on water dripping from stalactites.

Dom also blew out candles for a belated celebration of his 13th birthday on Jul 3, a day after the boys were found by two British divers about 4km inside the cave.

Authorities have asked that the boys be allowed to recover at home, away from the public glare, so that they can return to their normal lives.

Dom, who lives with his aunt, uncle and grandmother, wrote on Facebook that he had to create a new account because of to a surge in requests to befriend him. He also bought a new mobile telephone to replace the one he lost in the cave.

Thailand cave homecoming 1
Khameuy Prompthep, grandmother of young player Duangpech "Dom" Promthep, of the Wild Boars football team, and family members wait at the shophouse for his homecoming in Mae Sai in Chiang Rai province on Jul 18, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

Getting back to normal means homework on weekends and football practice after school, said Thanaporn Promthep, Dom's 41-year-old aunt whom he calls mother.

"He's a good, very responsible student," she said, adding that meant no girlfriend for two more years.

The boys embark on a course of study this month to become novice Buddhist monks, in honour of Saman Kunan, a volunteer diver and former Thai navy SEAL who lost his life during the mission to rescue them.

"It's a very important thing to do," Dom said.

Thais view the team as national treasures, but three of the boys, and the coach, are technically stateless.

Mongkol Boonpiam, 13, whose parents are from neighbouring Myanmar, could qualify for citizenship because there is evidence he was born in Thailand, an official handling his case said.

Thailand cave homecoming 3
Family members of rescued player Duangpech "Dom" Promthep wait for his homecoming at the family's shophouse in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province on Jul 18, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

"Even though his parents are not Thai they have been in Thailand more than 10 years," Kittichai Charoenying, a municipal official in the northern province of Chiang Rai, told Reuters.

The cave ordeal highlighted the plight of people from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar living in Thailand who are denied some rights and opportunities because they are not citizens.

More than 486,000 people are registered as stateless with the Thai government, official data show. Of them 146,269 are - like three of the Wild Boars football team - younger than 18.

Rights activists blame bureaucratic obstacles for the slow pace of Thailand's verification process, but authorities have promised to shepherd through the newly-famous four.

INTERACTIVE SPECIAL | The story of the unprecedented operation to rescue 12 boys and their football coach from Tham Luang cave complex: cna.asia/thaicaverescue

READ MORE | Full coverage of the search and rescue operation:  https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/topic/Thailand-cave-rescue

Source: Reuters/zl