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Friends





The following text has absolutely nothing to do with prostitutes, bars, sex, or love affairs. It‘s just about three different Thai friends of mine. Nevertheless, all of the persons I am going to introduce are women. That is due to the fact that I don’t have a real male friend in Thailand. At least no-one who isn't too lazy to write me a letter. In comparison with that, Thai women are such nice beings, I always get in contact with them very easily (many times I was addressed by them first); I get along with them really well, no matter if they are bargirls or „decent“ girls, and furthermore, they are far more reliable when it comes to keeping in touch afterwards. That's why I currently find myself in a more or less frequent contact (in written form) with about 10 girls, 6 of which have an e-mail address (though only 2 or 3 access the Internet regularly). Now I would like to tell you how I got to know three of them, but let me still put in one little reflection before I start:

I find it amazing how things can develop in life. I don’t believe in anything like fate. I think most things just happen by chance, though you can of course influence them to some extent, and then a chain reaction is triggered. When I think about how I happened to get to know Thailand in the first place, for example……originally I didn’t intend to go there, it was merely second choice as a holiday destination after an excursion to Vietnam (hard to believe today…..). But then it changed my whole life. Nowadays I cannot imagine living in a western country anymore. When I have finished my studies, I have to leave for SE Asia. I simply love Thailand, every single bit of it. The weather (it IS better to sweat than to freeze to death…..oh, how I hate this goddamn climatic zone which someone had the cheek to call „temperate“!!!), the culture, the landscape, the food, the fascinating and admirably tolerant religion / attitude of mind, the language, but most important, the people. They aren’t only polite, they are really friendly, charming, warm-hearted, compassionate, childlike, funny, curious, gentle, patient, tolerant, patriotic in a positive way (i.e. self-sufficient), forgiving, hospitable, helpful, generous and cunning; to express it with a single word: simply na-rak (amiable, or cute). Today I have so many friends and acquaintances, it’s unbelievable. Two of them I like VERY VERY much indeed, and I am convinced that having such friends is most important in life. Nevertheless, I admit the permanent availability of lovely willing ladies from the bar scene – while these are not good for a lasting relationship – has also to be considered an important factor for a man’s well-being in Thailand (please refer to my first two contributions for that kind of topic). I even love Bangkok, despite all the noise, traffic and pollution. (I think you HAVE to love it anyway, because if you hate it, it will destroy you. You must arrange yourself with this city, then it can be great fun. Besides that, you can discover many green, quiet, beautiful, astonishing, peaceful, yes even rural spots right inside this huge mass of concrete, steel, glass, cars and stinking canals.) I know BKK quite well. I feel at home there in a strange way, as if it was the town of my birth. I don’t think about it as being very big. I had never any problems to get used to it or to find my way. I have travelled by all means of transport which are available, tuk-tuk, public bus (normal, A/C and microbus), taxi, minibus, songtaew, motorcycle taxi (normal and real fast one), long tail boat, canal taxi, express boat, train, skytrain. I have even WALKED long distances in Bangkok, and you CAN do that, though it’s not to be recommended for beginners. I have managed to cross one half of Ratchadamnoen Avenue (i.e. 7 lanes full of buses, taxis, private cars, tuk-tuks and motorbikes, their drivers acting like complete maniacs) on my own, away from the traffic lights (but I will never try it again). I have the impression nothing bad can happen to me in this city, and I have a strong feeling of coming home each time I am approaching Don Muang inside a plane, which I absolutely don’t have when returning to my „real“ home, on the other hand.

But let me make one thing clear. I am not a naive idiot. Thailand has many problems that cannot be looked over, it’s not paradise on earth, as imagined by many farang travellers (but it comes close). I have seen poverty, I have seen pollution, I am aware of bureaucracy, public lies to keep your face, bigotry, development restraints, laziness, bungling, social and regional disparities, I can roughly imagine the scale of corruption; I don’t want to become Buddhist, and I am pretty sure I don’t want to have been born in Asia as well. I think it’s just great to live in Thailand as a farang. In general, people respect you a lot and are interested in you without being excessively obtrusive. And according to my experience, it’s ideal to be a westerner when it comes to women, because most westerners like Thai women and most Thai women (bargirls as well as others) seem to like westerners. It just fits perfectly and contributes a lot to your overall satisfaction in the Land of Smiles.

Part 1 – Ped

In April 1999 I was walking around in Bangkok's Chinatown, two days before my return to Europe. At the corner of Th. Yaowarat and Th. Song Sawat I passed an old man who was sitting there on a stool, without really noticing him first. But he started to speak to me, asking me where I came from and what I was doing in Thailand on my own and so on, the usual stuff. Eventually he stood up and joined me. It turned out he had been an English teacher, but had retired some time ago. His name was Mr. Sman and he was 65 years old. He was in quite a pitiful condition, feeble and meagre and could only walk very slowly. But he was mentally fit and had retained a good knowledge of English. He asked if I’d like to have lunch with him, and so we went to a nearby Thai-Chinese restaurant in an alley called Soi Nana (no, not Nana Plaza). We went on talking, and told me he was quite sick and showed me some kind of health pass for regular check-ups, but I don’t know from what he was suffering, probably just weakness of old age or cardiovascular problems. Mr. Sman said in former times he had lived in the centre of BKK, but now his family had bought a new house somewhere in the suburbs, and when I’d come back to Thailand next time, I could visit him there. He wrote down his address and phone number in my notebook, then we stood up and walked towards Wong Wien Yiisipsong Karakadakhom (22nd July Roundabout), where he kindly asked if I could give him 20 Baht for the bus. Then our ways parted, and this was the last memory I should keep of him.

Because after my return, I sent a postcard to Mr. Sman, and at the beginning of July 1999, I got a response, but it was from a young woman. She wrote she had received my postcard and she was sorry to tell me that Mr. Sman had died one month ago. She was either his niece or granddaughter (same word in Thai, so she got a bit confused and wrote „I lost my grandfather. […..] I am his niece.“). If I returned to BKK, I should contact her, she'd be „glad to help me“. Her nickname was Ped (duck). A regular correspondence followed, in the course of which it showed she was 23 years old, had one older sister, had graduated from Bangkok University with a Bachelor degree in Advertising and Public Relations and just found a job as a management trainee at a branch of Swensen’s (Ice Cream Shop). So we made friends (in one letter she even wrote „thank god to give me a new friend“!), sent each other photos (she is very short, looks quite cute, but not too pretty), and when I announced I would return to Thailand in March 2000 for one month, she told me I could stay with her family during my time in BKK („to save your money for travelling“) and she would come to pick me up at the airport.

She did as she had promised, meeting me at the airport (she was surprised when I greeted her with „Sawasdee krap“) and taking me to Royal Hotel, where I had booked a room for the first two days, in her brother-in-law’s car. But she urged me to meet her family and have dinner with them on the first evening already. She visited me in the hotel twice after, before I finally moved into a private Thai house for the first time. Her family lives in Phetkasem Rd, Nongkhaem (far in the Southwest of BKK). Her sister and brother-in-law have a nice new house 10 minutes away from her father's house, and that's where we stayed first. Later Ped and I moved to her father's house because she said it was more convenient for her to go to work from there. I found out Mr. Sman had actually been Ped’s great-uncle. He had never married and had no children, so he couldn't be her grandfather. They gave me an old photo so I could remember him. Anyway, I will never forget his face.

Time to say something about Ped‘s character. She certainly doesn’t belong to the traditional kind of Thai woman. She is quite extrovert, has a strong will of her own, is frank and outspoken. She is clever, eager to know about foreign cultures and quite good at English, if somewhat insufficient in grammar and very negligent in her pronunciation. Sometimes I got the impression she pronounced some words indistinctly on purpose (I mean, she could have done better if she had wanted). But when I didn’t understand her due to this, she stated it must be my fault as other farangs she had met had told her she was speaking very clearly.

She didn’t mind taking me to places like MBK Center and Siam Square and walking around in public with me. She told me she didn’t care what other people thought of her (and that's rare in Thailand!!!). Otherwise she could barely have decided to get into contact with some stranger from Europe and invite him to her house after only knowing him from letters. She sort of has a rebel heart. But don’t get me wrong. Compared to western standards, she is still a very well behaved girl, of course. She cannot break with Thai customs. For example, she once told me sometimes she had sorrows and felt bad, but had to conceal her feelings from her parents and smile at them all the same because she didn’t want them to worry about her. Ped is much contrary to her sister, who is much more gentle and very reserved and won't speak a lot with strangers, though she can speak English well (she is teacher) and is very nice to talk to when you happen to have the chance. In addition, she is very beautiful. Their father is a slender man who suffered severe burning in a car accident 20 years ago and has retired early. He does some outwork (cutting rubber parts or something) in a shed in the yard of his house. I think his attitudes are quite modern and he encouraged and supported his daughters so they received a good education and got their driving licences. He can also speak some English. And he keeps telling Ped she must improve her language skills because it is important for her job-related success.

Basically, the stay gave me some insight into Thai family life, Thai food, Thai culture and Thai language and helped me to learn how to use public transport in BKK. Apart from that, a special occurrence frequently comes to my mind when I think of Ped. One day when we passed a big image of King Bhumiphol, I said something like “that is the king of Thailand, isn’t it?”, I cannot remember exactly. It was rather to show that I knew him, not a real question. Ped replied with fervour: “Yes, HE IS MY KING.” I still recall this sentence and the solemn tone of her voice in this very moment. It was quite fascinating for me because she didn’t say “this is the king” or “this is our king” or “this is the Thai king”, but “he is MY king”, which showed to what extent Thai people relate personally to the monarchy and the royal family. Of course, the king is completely out of reach for normal people, still considered something like a half-God by some of them, but nevertheless, every single subject is convinced he watches over them and cares for them personally, like a loving father.

During my last stay in Thailand, I spent the time round New Year 2001 with Ped’s family. It was a nice experience again, including a big family meeting at her grandmother’s house in Bang Kholaem on New Year’s Eve. They lodged me in her brother-in-law’s house again. At midnight I sat in front of the TV with him. He is a very calm, but also very nice guy. He showed me pictures of his ordination as a monk. On 1st January he and his wife went shopping with me. (OK, that's not a really interesting thing to do on New Year, but at least I had the chance to buy some things I needed.)

Nowadays, when I happen to arrive at Don Muang Airport, I usually try to call Ped, drawing benefit from the free local calls available for passengers there. It’s always a lot of fun. She is glad when I call her and show her that I still care. We used to talk for a long time, asking each other what we have been up to in the meantime and making jokes. I don’t know why, but we seem to get along much better on the phone rather then when we meet personally. I mean, she is still my friend and I can visit her family whenever I want, but somehow the two of us don’t really harmonize. We just don’t have so much in common. Nevertheless, Ped was very important as my first real friend in Thailand, who showed me and helped me to understand many things in the Kingdom. One could say she somehow acted as a stepping stone. I am grateful to her for responding to my postcard, inviting me to stay with her and for the relationship which developed after that, but today she isn’t the most important person in BKK for me anymore. That's quite natural, because after some time you will find your way through the big city jungle by yourself, won’t have to rely on friends and then make new acquaintances all the time.

But that seems to be much different with the next two girls:

Part 2 – Dtiim

This is going to be something like a declaration of love to a very dear friend.

From November 2000 to April 2001 I stayed in a university next to BKK, doing some research work for my Master thesis. On the campus there are many facilities, including a photo shop. During the first three months I didn’t go there because I use to take slides and have them processed at home, but in February I was preparing for some field work in Isaan and had to buy two negative films. That's when I first met someone who has become a very special Thai friend for me in the meantime. I am speaking about the woman wo works in that shop, nicknamed Dtiim (I prefer to write it like this; native English speakers please pronounce „team“, with a rising tone). First it wasn’t obvious we were going to become close friends. I just bought my films, and later I returned several times to make prints, also to bring one of my slide films for developing, then I needed a receipt, and so on. First I just thought „Oh, well, that's a nice girl, too……“ because she IS quite pretty, if slightly chubby around the hips and thighs, and smiled at me immediately and was being very nice. She has a friendly round face, gentle brown eyes and absolutely beautiful, black-brown, shoulder-long hair. But that was it, I had no intention whatsoever to hit on her in any case. (Though some people might state at this point that it’s not so easy not to flirt with a Thai girl…) Anyway, later I learned she is 31, that's 5 years older than me, and most important, she is married already. Then on one occasion we must have started to talk more than was necessary to settle the business. Probably I asked for her name, I cannot remember, but it was me who took the initiative. That's when the ball finally was set rolling, because the conversation lasted for a long time and was only the beginning in a truly unforgettable series of meetings, talks and common fun.

Dtiim can speak some English, which is necessary in order to deal with the particular kind of customers in that shop – students, employees and teaching staff from many different countries. But it’s only a basic knowledge, and I had just begun to learn Thai at that time, on the other hand. Nevertheless, we didn’t have the slightest communication problem. It just worked fantastically. It was somewhat magic, a blind understanding right from the start. We talked about almost everything you can imagine, especially everyday’s life/problems and about Thai and farang culture, customs and attitudes (but obviously not about sophisticated things such as politics or the state of the world economy) and got to know each other quite well over the course of time. I always told her about my weekend travel adventures, we showed each other photos, and so on. On some days I stayed in the photo shop for hours, happy to have some distraction from my work, but also very happy to be with Dtiim. I really really liked her from the first moment we talked. My feelings for her are very strong and very special. And they are not easy to explain at all. I like her because of the person she is, not because she is a woman. I fell in love with her character, not with her body, if you understand. I just like her way of behaving, of thinking, of talking. Maybe my feelings for her can best be compared with the sort of deep affection or love you bear towards close family members; I like to think about her as something like an older sister, or a sister substitute for me (I don’t have any brothers or sisters). As she also likes ME, we got along really well, without any limitation.

By the way, it’s for similar reasons why I like Thai people in general. You will agree with me that most women are cute, as far as their physical features are concerned. But in addition to that, I think all Thai people are somehow “cute” when it comes to their character, their behaviour, their mindset. In my opinion, they are not only polite and friendly, they are just lovely. With their particularly adorable impartiality / mindlessness / spontaneity, (plus tolerance, hospitality and generosity), they downright force you to like them. I am afraid I cannot explain it any better.

During our talks, a weird language mix developed, which was Dtiim’s merit because she unconsciously put in Thai words whenever she didn’t know the corresponding English expression or simply when the Thai word came to her mind before the English word. After I had drawn her attention to what she had just said, she usually had to laugh about herself. Later I followed that funny habit of mixing up the different vocabularies arbitrarily. Unfortunately, I cannot recall many of the utterly comical expressions that resulted from this practice on Dtiim’s side. Like „no, mai same“ for „it’s not the same“ or „you can gkin together, na“ when she proposed me to try and eat two different Thai dishes together. I am afraid it doesn’t sound very funny now, as you have to imagine the whole situation and take into consideration her pronunciation, too, but we had lots of fun!

Now it’s high time for some details about her:
Dtiim is from a small town (Photharam) in Changwat Ratchaburi and has been working in the photo shop for 2 or 3 years. Prior to that, she didn’t know any English. She had only attended primary school (6 years) and used to prepare and sell food together with her mother at home in Ratchaburi. She told me she had had a lot of problems in the very beginning because she couldn't speak English. Many of the customers had been very unfriendly (especially people from the Middle East, whereas she said she had never had problems of any kind with farangs), and some of them had even demanded that she be replaced by someone else. She works in the photo shop from about 8:30 am to 5:30 pm EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE WEEK, apart from public or university holidays. And she even stays inside the shop during lunchtime. But in general she can decide herself when to leave and close the shop earlier on weekends if there aren’t too many customers, for example. And of course it’s not exhausting work, accepting customers‘ orders, handing out prints and sometimes selling a film or two. It’s rather boring, and she spends a great deal of her time chatting with friends or playing with the 3 year old daughter of a woman running a nearby tailor shop (a really cute and intelligent girl). She told me her salary was 6000 Baht, I think. (So if we suppose she works an estimated 250 hours per month, that is 24 Baht an hour, which comes close to what Stickman said about the salaries for unskilled workers in Thailand.) She said she didn‘t know what to do if she didn’t have that job. She was aware that she was presumably too uneducated and too old to find another one. Probably she would have to return to her family. She lives alone in a small but modern apartment about 5 km away from the shop. Her husband is about 25 years older than her (she told me she likes older men, which has to do with the fact that her father died when she was a teenager, so she has a need for something like a father substitute) and working as a policeman in Samut Prakan, on account of which they cannot live together and usually only see each other on weekends. They don’t have children and Dtiim told me they don’t want to have kids in future either as they think their father would be too old. Ooi, her older sister, runs the photo shop on a neighbouring university campus. She, too is a very polite, patient, sympathetic woman. Sometimes she came over after she had finished work or during her lunch break. Then she often brought something to eat with her, and of course I was encouraged to try some Thai food or snack. It’s moving how Thai people care about the fact if you have eaten already or are still hungry! It must be one of the greatest horrors to them to be hungry or to know their guests could be hungry.

As to Dtiim’s character, she is definitely a likeable, curious, merry person, often playful, even childish at times, and very indecisive. She is sensitive enough, but not behaving more politely than necessary. I think she cannot disguise herself, but just acts naturally. On several occasions I was witness how she reacted to certain customers who were being impolite, treated her like a subordinate, complained for absurd reasons or simply asked stupid things. In such cases she could be very short-spoken, gruff and stroppy. She really rebuffed them, but most of them didn’t seem to note it, and least of all did they realize the cause for her behaviour. Each time I was standing aside and smirking, enjoying this funny scene. (Ironically enough, her last name means “polite”.) But then she'd never do that with people she likes! It’s unthinkable I could ever have an argument with her. She doesn’t like to bother her head very much. There’s this popular (maybe unofficial?) Thai saying which runs, “khit maak phuat hua”, “think much, have headache”. Why occupy yourself with problems if you can avoid it? It will only cause you pain and more problems. (As a farang staying in Thailand, you can get used to this conviction, too…..) Thais are true masters in pushing aside unpleasant things. And Dtiim is a perfect follower to this principle. She likes to chat, but not to think much about what she says. She always uses a calculator to figure out the change in the shop (there is no cash box, just a drawer for the money), even if the price is, say, 140 Baht and the customer gives her 200! She explained me: “khit mai ork…” – I can’t think it out. But basically, she’s just too lazy. I teased her several times with regard to this matter. Fortunately, she has a good sense of humour and self-irony and can laugh about herself. Me too, I don’t mind if someone makes fun of me, as long as it doesn’t become malignant, and so we had a lot of fun together. On countless occasions she had a real fit of the giggles, which made her appear even lovelier.

But then again, though she is uneducated and simple-minded, she is far from being stupid. Regarding certain matters, she actually possesses a kind of natural slyness (again that seems to be typical for many “simple” Thais). Another point is that I think she has to be very talented when it comes to languages, because she had less problems speaking English than average Thai people. She just had never learned it properly. All her knowledge came from the customers and the sales clerks of the other shops. (Her sister Ooi can only speak a few words because there are hardly any foreign students at her university.) If you look at the whole long time we spent together, there was virtually nothing we couldn't talk about. If one of us didn’t understand at once, we tried to explain with other words and/or gestures, and it worked well. In a time span of 2 months, there were maybe two occasions on which one of us couldn't make himself clear even after putting some effort. But in most cases we instantly knew what the other wanted to say, or even what he/she thought. Her childlike curiosity sometimes stunned me, for example after I had met two girls on a journey and showed one of their letters to Dtiim, she wanted to know everything about them and was eager to see their photos, then she asked me which one I liked more and told me which one SHE thought was more beautiful. Then she told her sister and friends about the whole story, too. When I told her she was very curious, she had to laugh roguishly. After I had explained her which kind of women I like, she also made some comments about the small, dark-skinned (Isaan) variety of Thai women which she thought most farangs prefer. Following the Thai paragon of beauty, she stated they weren't attractive, so short, “black” and “noseless”! Yes, she really said “mai mii djamuk” – Thai people tend to think long, even noses are beautiful; they don’t like snub-noses.
Having said this, it reminds me of another topic: as a representative of the group of Central Thai people (khon paak khlaang), Dtiim also taught me something about the relationships between the different regions, especially between Isaan and the richer Centre / South. She was a bit prejudiced towards Isaan people and didn’t like them, generally speaking. “Normal” Thais often seem to think they are all hopelessly miserable, ill-bred, inconsiderate, black-skinned (read: ugly) peasant yokels with bad manners and a ridiculous accent. Dtiim also complained about a bunch of Isaan workers living in her apartment house who would frequently drink, dance and sing somewhere downstairs until the wee hours of the morning so she couldn't fall asleep. She thought this to be somewhat typical for people from the Northeast. On the other hand, her best friend (a girl working in a bakery shop 2 doors further, who is also my friend) comes from Ubon.

Another stunning thing for me was when she cheerfully told me she couldn't go out on her own, which is typical for most Thai people on the other hand. (Thai travelling behaviour: it’s only sabai if you go with your family or friends. That's one thing they absolutely cannot understand about single farang travellers, though some admire them at the same time.) She said she'd never go anywhere alone because she didn’t know the way, didn’t know which bus to take, and was simply „afraid“ (glua) of places with too many strangers……..she belongs to the sort of Thai people who would prefer to stay in their home province – or district – if they could. She never went to Bangkok or even to the next shopping mall by herself, only with her sister or with a group of friends. She was also afraid of coming home late in the evening and said the motorbike drivers in her soi were often drunk at that time and she suspected some of them had knives or even guns and could threaten her.

She isn’t independent at all, nor does she have much of a personal will or like to bother herself with thinking. After work, she returns home by bus and motorbike taxi to go to sleep immediately. (That's surely not what most western people would call an interesting, fulfilled life……..but Thai people surely don’t think in this category of „self-realization” and stuff.) On weekends, her husband would come to the shop in his car in the early afternoon to pick her up, and in most cases they would go to Ratchaburi together. But it was never sure because he had to do shift work and never knew beforehand if he would be able to fetch her at all. All things considered, Dtiim is very modest, or even unambitious, if you like. Ooi is different, she seems to have more self-confidence and decisive power.

Dtiim was concerned about her weight and had been buying different kinds of diet foodstuff (pills and powders) for some time, without success. She wanted to lose 5-10 kg. She suspected the products didn’t help and it was only a big fraud and asked me for my opinion on this matter. But she wasn’t really sad that she had spent several thousand Baht for nothing. She found it rather funny to tell me about it.

We went to a huge nearby wholesale market (known as „talaat thai”) twice after she had finished her work, together with Ooi and a friend. There we had dinner, which they paid for me, and walked around to have a look at the different stalls (mainly fruit, vegetable and clothes) and buy some things. There was also a booth with ancient (?) Thai medicine – powder from special herbs, mixed for specific purposes and then dissolved in warm alcohol! It was very popular with Thai men and foreign students from my university, as they told us. I had a try both times we went to the market, but I don’t know if it is to be recommended…..

Towards the end of my stay Dtiim told me she had never experienced something like this. She had already spoken with many foreigners in the shop, but none of them were interested in talking for a long time or making friends with her. And she had never had a male friend, apart from her future husband. I think similarly to me, she was surprised that we understood each other so perfectly.

One day she was in a bad temper. She had just found out that some other women working inside the university, especially the keeper of the grocery store next door, had talked about her in a bad way. They had suspected that Dtiim had a relationship with „the farang” (me) and was cheating on her husband! They had seen me talking with her in the shop frequently and for a long time and had watched how I had left with her and the others to go to the market in the evening. One of them had even claimed that Dtiim and I had gone to her apartment after separating from the rest of the group and that we had spent the night together. Normally I would have found it rather funny, but I knew it was a big problem for Dtiim and sympathized with her very much. It really worried her, and I tried to console her by saying these people were idiots and she shouldn’t care about their opinion. (I know it must be hard, like a personal catastrophe, especially for an Asian woman who is running the risk of losing / spoiling her reputation, but it was true that those women were only chatterboxes and evil tongues trying to gain some attention by circulating rumors.) I had never been alone with Dtiim anywhere but in the shop and hardly ever touched her. Fortunately Dtiim wasn’t angry at me because she knew it wasn’t my fault, but she was sad and upset and couldn't understand how anyone could be so mean. She said these weren't real friends and she wouldn't talk with them anymore. At one point she even lost her confidence in Thai people in general and thought this hypocritical behaviour was typical for Thais, until I assured her there were persons like that in Europe, too, and probably all over the world. She bothered herself a lot with this matter and said she couldn't fall asleep in the evening because she had to think about it constantly. She had even spoken to one or two of the women in question, explaining that I was only a good friend and that I would leave Thailand in a couple of weeks anyway, but they weren't willing to believe her. After a few days the whole thing was finally forgotten, or Dtiim gave heed to my advice and decided not to care about other people's opinion anymore, or she pushed her thoughts away. It didn’t affect our friendship at all.

When my stay in Thailand came close to its end in April, we began to worry about the future and if we would see each other again. I offered her a photo showing me and my parents, which she happily accepted, and later she gave me her picture in exchange, now to be found on my working desk. Of course she asked me several times when I would return to the Kingdom, but I couldn't give her a definite answer. I just said I loved her country and really wanted to come back as soon as possible. And that I would return for sure. And wanted to stay forever, if possible. I told her that maybe there would be a chance to call her from Europe one day, but she shouldn’t expect me to do so as it was very expensive. So we would have to rely on writing letters in the first place. Now, before I left for Malaysia, I wanted to go to Ubon Ratchathani and Si Sa Ket for some days. After I had told her the exact date and time of my flight to KL, she came up with the proposal to see me off at the airport, something I wouldn't have dared to ask from her. I was so glad, it showed me how much she liked me and I also thought it would be a nice goodbye. So we made a plan that I would call her after my return to BKK and tell her again when she should be at the airport. She had been there once before as a visitor and thought it was interesting. I had told her a bit about how air travel works, and she wanted me to show her round at Don Muang and explain her everything, and maybe we could eat together and watch some planes from the observation deck.

When I left for Isaan, I was quite in a hurry and we didn’t say goodbye in a proper way. I called her from Si Sa Ket and then again from Khao San Rd on the morning of my departure to Malaysia. She said she would take a taxi and be at the airport at the agreed time. After I had arrived there I had a quick look around, but couldn't find here, so I checked in my luggage and looked again. But she still wasn’t to be found. I wondered if she had taken the wrong entrance or got lost somewhere in the building and had her name announced at the info desk. Then I tried to phone her in the shop, but nobody picked up the phone. Maybe she was late and had just left, or maybe her husband had come and taken her with him? But that seemed rather unlikely. On the other hand, it wasn’t out of the question. I started to worry, but I had to call someone else and eat something first. Then I had another look at the departure hall and paged her again – without any success. Now it was slowly emerging that she wouldn't turn up, but I wouldn't admit it to myself. I disavowed the unbearable fact. I waited until the last possible moment before I decided to go through the passport control, stirred up and sad. In the end I had to hurry up to get to my gate in time, and I think I was the last but one passenger who boarded the plane. And if there is one thing I hate, it’s arriving late. Finally I was sitting on my seat, still out of breath and confused. Why did this have to happen to me? WHAT had happened, anyway? Had she got lost, or hadn't she had time to go to the airport? But when I had called her in the morning, everything had been allright. I was hopelessly sad, like paralysed. I hadn't had the chance to take leave from her in a proper way. This was really not what I had imagined, this was pure horror. At the moment the plane took of and left my beloved Thailand and my friends behind like that, it was becoming really bad. I had gloomy feelings, tears in my eyes and kept asking myself why the f…. I had to go to Malaysia. What did I want there? Could I still spend a happy holiday there after this incident?

During my stay in Malaysia I also returned to Southern Thailand for three days and called Dtiim from Hat Yai one day. It was great to talk to her again, but we didn’t speak about the airport story. (Later it showed that Dtiim’s husband had really been the cause. He had surprisingly appeared, without prior announcement, after I had talked to her on the phone, and they had already gone to Ratchaburi when I tried to contact her again from the airport. That's what I call bad luck!) Finally I made the decision to change the date of my flight back from KL, for several reasons. I wanted to go to BKK one day earlier than intended. Normally it would have been only a two-hours-stop to change for Europe. This would give me just enough time to go to the city, buy some things and have a Thai massage there, return to my university institute, say goodbye to Dtiim and meet three other friends. In the hindsight, it was a brilliant decision. It was going to be an amazing (that is, eventful, stressing, but fulfilling) day.

Having arrived on Thai soil, I immediately called Dtiim from Don Muang. Of course she was surprised. She probably thought I phoned from Malaysia at the first moment. When I told her I would go to the city first, find a hotel room and come to visit her after that, she objected. She thought it was much better if I came to the photo shop at once and thought about my accommodation later. She assured me „I think you come now, na. I want to see you!“ (imagine the stress on the last syllable, as usual for Thai speakers), but she feared there would be very little time left: „Maybe husband come early, maybe welaa kui……..“ (The following day was a holiday, so she anticipated he would come in the early afternoon to pick her up. She wanted to express something like „if you go to the city now, we maybe won’t have much time to talk, or maybe no chance to meet at all“.) So she quickly convinced me to change my plan. Anyway, it was quite logical to go to the university first, as it is not far from the airport, but takes between 80 minutes and more than 2 hours from Hualamphong station by public bus, depending on the traffic.

I went straight into the photo shop where I deposited my heavy backpack. It was like coming home. After a first talk with Dtiim, I paid a visit to my institute and had lunch in the cafeteria, where I have some more friends, who were surprised to see me again. Unfortunately I was a bit in a hurry and beginning to feel uneasy because I feared Dtiim’s husband could arrive soon. But she was still there when I returned, and he hadn't phoned her yet. Maybe he wouldn't come at all. So we started making plans for the rest of the day. I could go to the city and sleep there; I could try to find a room next to the university and then go to BKK (maybe with Dtiim); or if her husband should fetch her, I could sleep in Dtiim’s apartment; and if he didn’t arrive, I could even stay there overnight together with Dtiim and her sister (without his knowledge, of course…..). The latter option was most enticing because it would give me the opportunity to stay with her until the morning of the next day. Later Ooi arrived and joined in our discussion. We waited and waited, while I was running out of time. The plans kept changing from one minute to another, which wasn’t good for my nerves at all. In the worst case, her husband would appear as late as 6 pm, take her with him and leave me with very few time to go to the city and finish the rest of my program. Another scenario was that he could come back in the middle of night, go to Dtiim’s apartment and find a farang man sleeping in the same room with his wife and his sister-in-law! Would have been slightly embarrassing and could have destroyed everything. Finally Ooi decided to call him and ask him if he would come. While Dtiim and I waited for her return and the redemptory answer, I kind of prayed he would be prevented from coming. Fortunately it turned out he was busy and wouldn't appear before noon of the following day! As it was already 5.30 pm, we decided to leave at once, but there was one more complication: They were worried that they could be seen together with me on the way home. So they proposed that I should go first, they'd follow me a few minutes later and we'd meet at a bus stop outside the campus. What a tough job!

When we finally sat in a taxi, all I thought was: “No more changes, PLEASE!!!” But from that moment on, everything just went well. Dtiim lived in a new apartment house 1 km down a soi from the main street (highway, more precisely). I unpacked a few things, we ate something, talked and took a photo, then I told them about my plan to go to BKK, buy something and meet a friend (just another woman) in Khao San Rd. Dtiim was quite excited and pondered if she should join me because she had heard about Khao San Rd, but wouldn't have a chance (or dare) to go there on her own. On the other hand, it was quite late (7.30 pm) already. Again she couldn't really make up her mind. But finally she decided she couldn't go because I wanted to meet a woman and she thought it would be inappropriate to accompany me. The situation was a bit tricky for me, as I would have liked to show her the legendary backpackers’ homeland, but it didn’t really fit into my tight schedule. In hindsight I think it was better to go alone. Now we had to arrange some things, like how will I go, will I find my way back, can I come back late, can they give me a key? In addition, I told them they should wake me up before they left the following morning so we could say goodbye. I took a motorbike to the main road, then decided to take a taxi instead of the bus because I hadn't much time left. Well, I managed to get everything that I wanted and to meet two friends. At 1 am I took a taxi back (taxis ARE cheap in Thailand, aren’t they?), found the right soi, found a motorbike with driver, found the door of Dtiim’s apartment and slipped inside, using the key she had entrusted to me. Dtiim and Ooi were sleeping on the floor and had left the bed at my disposal. It was a short night because they got up at 7.30 am and I awoke by myself at the same time. Now it was time for taking leave from my best friend in Thailand. She came up with a new idea: maybe she could come to the airport this time, but she wasn’t sure if she would be able to leave the shop, so we agreed that I would call her immediately after my arrival at Don Muang to check it again. At 8 am the two sisters left for work and when they were standing on the doorstep, I stretched out one arm towards Dtiim instinctively, not knowing if she would react in the way I wished she would. But she seemed very happy about this gesture and came closer so we could embrace each other (for the very first time). It was a moving moment. Now my one-day mission in Thailand was over.

I left about one hour later, and this time I took a public bus to the airport. I called her like I had promised, and it showed her husband had come in the way once again. He would fetch her in one or two hours, so she couldn't come to see me off. But this time it wasn’t a problem, because I had met her again and we had said goodbye in the way I had imagined. So I said “mai pen rai”, and we chatted in a laid-back atmosphere. The tightness of the previous day had fallen off from me because I had achieved all my goals and the story with Dtiim had finally met a good ending. I had literally found my peace of mind. We kept on talking for a long time and just couldn't stop, or at least Dtiim didn’t want me to hang up. In the end, we didn’t know what else to say and there was a long silence. It was strange, as if there existed an invisible connection between the two of us. I felt that we were united in our thoughts. It simply wasn’t necessary to say anything anymore. Finally I found it was time to end this remarkable conversation, I mean someone had to take the initiative, and surely this couldn't be expected from Dtiim. I overcame my procrastination and told her we should stop now, and we wished each other good luck. My feelings during the flight were well-balanced and conciliatory; just a very little bit of sadness had remained.

After my return we wrote each other letters and I sent her some photos we had taken together. Of course she cannot write in English, so I had to cope with her negligent Thai handwriting, but it worked. It was similar to talking with her; the expressions she uses are not very elaborate, but rather simple, as one would expect. One letter was really cute and touching. Probably she had never written such a long text (2 pages) in her whole life (anyway, reading and writing are not a Thai’s favourite occupations), and some thoughts were very nice. She told me she had only three real friends (including me and her sister!) and she would never forget me. She wrote she missed me (or thought of me, which is the same in Thai language) “every single day”. I felt very much the same. The bond of our friendship hadn't suffered from our separation. There was – and is – still a sort of spiritual connection between us. Our thoughts are with each other every day. It’s really very special.

One day in June I phoned her from Europe. We talked for 8 minutes or so, which was expensive enough, but it was absolutely worth the money. She was incredulous at first, but then a nice conversation developed, and I could hear that she was absolutely glad about my call. She somehow exhibited a deep, heartfelt gratefulness. And knowing to please her was really the biggest reward for me. Besides that, I was very happy to hear her voice, too. It was really great fun. Apart from a few English words we talked in Thai, which, astonishingly, was not a problem for me.

Some days ago (26 September) I called her again, and I didn’t regret it. It was such a pleasure. She recognized me instantly, was duly surprised, but quickly regained her senses and tried to tell and ask me a lot of things. How are you, where are you, is it cold (YES!!!), when will you return to Thailand? She said she had moved to another apartment and the girl from the bakery had asked about me, but the funniest thing was when she told me, “I have lost two kilograms. Now I am beautiful (suai laew)”! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to tell her when I would come back, but I have a plan to go in December and hope I will have the opportunity to do so……

She had promised me on the phone to write me another letter, and 6 days later it arrived. I enjoyed reading it very much. Among other things, she wrote “Thank you for calling me. I am so happy that you still haven't forgotten me.” and “I hope you can come back to Thailand soon. I hope you can be here around New Year because the weather will be fine then. If you come, we can go to Ratchaburi. I will take you to the mountains. You can live in my family’s house. I will tell my mother to cook food for you. She makes delicious food.”

P.S.
I wondered if I should mention the names of the two universities involved in this story and the province they are situated in; but I think some clever readers who know Greater Bangkok well might be able to make this out on their own, considering the hints which I interspersed. Send me your guesses!

Part 3 – Daa

In March 2001 I went to Lopburi for one weekend. I don’t want to talk about Lopburi here, which is a pleasant town and worth visiting, boasting some picturesque Khmer temple ruins and King Narai the Great’s Palace and giving a good example of a peaceful mid-sized Thai provincial capital.

On my last evening in town I decided to enter a kind of bar or night-club or disco which had caught my eye earlier, during my daytime visiting tour, because it looked quite unusual with its dark wooden wainscoting and animal horns (!) on the outer walls. The sound of music was welling out and there were also some rocker-like people with heavy motorbikes waiting outside. I couldn't make out what it really was, if it was a decent place or maybe just another pickup joint (that was not what I was looking for). First I hesitated to go in, but it looked very interesting and I wanted to find out. Well, there was a big dark air-conditioned room with tables and chairs and waiters who sold alcoholic drinks and a stage on which different bands were performing a kind of Thai country music! I guess the venue doesn’t receive more than 10 farang customers per year. I simply call it “country-club” because I cannot remember its Thai name.

I decided to stay for a while and seated myself not too far from the stage. The place was still rather empty at the beginning, but started to fill quickly. After some time, people began occupying the neighbouring tables and the remaining chairs at my table or asked me if they could take them away. But nobody attempted to talk to me first. A group of people had sat down at the table to my right, but I hadn't really noticed them. After half an hour or so, someone from this group suddenly addressed me. It was the girl sitting next to me. She could speak English really well. Her name was Daa. As far as I could judge in the dim light, she was quite pretty and relatively tall (for a Thai woman, I mean) and slender. She had come to the country club together with her sister and brother. She is 27, has grown up in Lopburi, but lives in Saraburi now, where she works as a secretary in a factory. She was curious what I was doing in Thailand in general and in Lopburi and in this place in particular. But it wasn’t easy to talk much because of the loud music. After some time I felt she appealed to me and I would like to know her better and stay in contact with her, but I didn’t know if I should ask for her address. But when we (Daa, her brother and sister and me) finally decided to leave the club together, it seemed she had been feeling the same all the time, because she overcame her inhibitions and asked me to write down my address and phone number before we stood up. I was happy to give it to her, and of course I made use of this chance and asked her to do the same. Outside we didn’t talk much either because they were tired and wanted to go home, so they immediately boarded the brother’s pick-up, but Daa and I promised to write each other a letter. That's how I won a new friend with whom I would stay in regular contact not only during my time in Thailand, but also after my return to Farangland, but back then in Lopburi I still couldn't know that everything would develop in quite a remarkable way.

After my weekend trip I wrote her a letter and also called her at work two days later. (An operator picks up and you have to tell her the extension number or ask her to connect you with “Khun Daa”, preferably in Thai language, but it works quite well.) Daa was pleased about my call, and she promised me to write me as well. So our contact started to develop. At that time I had 6 weeks left in Thailand and I got 4 letters from her before my departure to Malaysia. In addition to that, she also phoned me in my dormitory room at university several times. I got the impression she was a really nice person. I was happy that I had entered the “country club” in Lopburi after an initial hesitancy and that I had met her there, and I told her so. In return, she informed me that she thought I was “a nice gentleman”. On the other hand, I felt I could appear a bit obtrusive as I had written and phoned her immediately, like I wanted to date her. But when I mentioned my scruples, she explained me that she was glad about that because it had given her a motive to write back. She had been afraid to write first because she considered it indecent for a Thai woman.

One day she announced she would go to “Chonburi” (which usually means Pattaya) with a group of friends. Later she told me in a letter that she had been to Nong Nut Tropical Gardens and also to the town itself. She wrote she hadn't liked Pattaya (actually it must have been a bit of a shock for her) and stated: “Now I can understand why many foreigners look down on Thai women.” I have never looked down on a Thai whore (unless I was lying on top of one, haha), but I can understand what she means, or how she must have felt like.

She sent me two photos. Before that, I couldn't remember her face exactly, but now it showed she was really quite pretty; or let’s say lovely. One of them shows her with two chimpanzees. It looks really funny. What she wrote was even more comical: “Make sure there are only 2 chimpanzees in the picture, not 3.” She likes to make fun of herself.
On the phone she once told me, “You must speak slowly with me. My English is not good”, but it was rather a case of courteous understatement. Of course I also sent her a photo, and we assured each other that we would certainly stay in contact after my return to Europe.

I wrote her a postcard from Malaysia (BTW I think when I was in Malaysia, I wrote about 12 postcards to friends in Thailand, half of which in Thai language. It was rather exhausting!) and called her from Yala during my short trip to Southern Thailand and then again from Don Muang immediately before my departure to Europe. She was surprised and glad to hear my voice again. On one of these occasions she told me I should give her my e-mail address. She didn’t have an e-mail account yet, but she wanted to try and acquaint herself with the new technique.

After my return I got a letter from her and wrote her a postcard on which I mentioned my e-mail address, and after that, we have only been communicating by internet because she managed to set up a hotmail account. In her first two messages she told me “This is the first time I have sent e-mail and it made me very puzzled when I started to send e-mail (I have never done it before)” and “I have many problem, how to change font and size, how to find my last sent e-mail, etc. I usually have a problem with technology. It made me puzzled. If you can help me please advise me how to do with it. I have a chance to send e-mail only on my weekend when I come back my home [she meant Lopburi] because on my workday it is not convenience to go to internet cafe.” Another nice quotation from one of her e-mails: “Now I do not have any message from Thailand to tell you but when I have interesting thing I will let you know. I think you have many friends in Thailand and they will tell you many things about Thailand so, news from me not import. (I have one problem, If I know some news in Thailand, but I can not tell you because I do not know how to write in English. Since I am very expert in English. (It is my Joke.))” As I said above, she likes to make fun of herself. When I think about it, ALL her messages are funny. You can imagine they are always a pleasure to read. By now I have got 15 or so. Daa is very reliable, she mails me every Saturday or Sunday and always answers all of my questions. Usually our messages are very comprehensive.

As to her command of English, I had the impression she was very good at speaking when we met in Lopburi and when we talked on the phone. Like most people, she has many more problems with writing, especially with grammar and construction. There are these typical “Thai-isms”, like wrong use of articles and the verb "to be", mistakes with punctuation and tenses and omission of the "-s" in third person singular (he say, he go) and so on. But it’s not too bad, far better than 90 % of all other Thai people I have known. She can express her thoughts quite well and I can understand everything she writes. What surprised me very much was that she actually knows a lot of words. Sometimes she uses rare expressions or words from an advanced vocabulary which I wouldn't expect from her. So it’s rather a question of style, and I tried to make her confident after she had apologized for her “bad English”. She has a funny tendency to criticize herself and to make herself appear less intelligent than she actually is. But she is clever, civilized and independent. She also found out how to send photos by attachment and had some pictures scanned by a colleague in her company. So we exchanged photos, told each other personal things and explained each other about Thai and farang culture, respectively. In addition, I have Thai fonts installed on my computer, so one day I started to put in some Thai words, and sometimes she also writes something in her native tongue. But the best thing is that I can ask her anything about Thai words or language, and if I get a letter from another Thai friend with a sentence I don’t understand, I can type it and use her free translation service. In case I couldn't decipher something at all, I could even scan the letter and send it to Daa and get a translation in one week’s time. Anyway, I am thankful to her for providing me with a permanent link to Thailand. It is very important in order to keep me alive here in Farangland.

So this is certainly a bit different from my friendship with Dtiim. But I like Daa quite as much. These two are my best friends in Thailand. Well, I think in Daa’s case I also like her as a woman, I think she attracts me physically, but so far we didn’t really have a chance to talk face to face. Yet it’s fascinating. You meet someone by chance, it seems insignificant first, but slowly it develops into such a permanent and profound contact. To pick up my little reflection from the beginning, I don’t call this fate. It’s just a lucky accident. Every action causes a reaction. And if you live on this planet, you have to act in some way or another. You cannot lie in bed for the rest of your life. You will go somewhere and interact with other human beings. If you go to one place, you will meet person A; if you go to another place, you will meet person B and never know that you could have met person A who would maybe have become a very good friend of yours and taken you to other places and introduced you to other people and so on. But instead of that, you might have experienced a different story which hasn’t been bad either. It’s just like that. Very easy, but the results can be far reaching. The smallest cause can have a tremendous effect.
Often you will be able to choose where you go and who you meet, but a great deal of it is nothing else than pure chance. That's my conviction.

Time to end this philosophical excursion before I get carried away completely. This text is getting too long anyway. Well, if I really WANTED to have a relationship (of the boyfriend-girlfriend type) with a Thai girl, Daa would definitely be my first choice, assuming that shed agree, but I think there would be a chance because she seems to like me a lot. Of course it’s not so easy for a decent girl like her to admit her feelings without running the risk of appearing somewhat immoral. I think she would feel like a cheap slut if she did so. She is a good example for the type of Thai woman that pays a lot of attention to behaving well and keeping her good reputation. Very traditional in a way, but also cultivated and modern on the other hand, and least of all narrow minded. It’s a very complex issue. I mean, after all she’s not a prude, just well conducted and very polite. Anyway, she already insinuated she really likes me and also thinks I am handsome. And when I made some (careful) compliments to her, she was very pleased. But at the moment, I’d just like her to stay a good friend of mine.

I really want to see her again because we met only once and couldn't get to know each other so well back then. We didn’t have a good opportunity to talk from one person to another. Basically, all we know about each other is from phone calls, letters and e-mails.

Epilogue

Writing this, I can have a contented look at Daa’s and Dtiim’s photos which I put onto my desk. It’s nice to have such friends far from home, and hopefully I can live much closer to them in the near future!

Finally I also want to express my belief that everybody can find such friends in Thailand, provided that he/she is not selfish, but open minded and to some extent interested in the country, its culture and its people. Thai people – especially women, it seems! – are always keen to get to know farangs and also to stay in contact in order to learn more about English language and western culture. They aren’t always as reliable as Daa, for instance, but there are definitely plenty of decent girls around who are worth a try. If you are young and travelling on your own, there’s even a big chance that they will address you first.

Stickman says

I never imagined anyone would submit so many submissions – and submissions of such quality. Reading this submission allows one to understand so much about the Thai people and it really is nicely written.

I had to chuckle reading about Miss Dtim. Spending so much time with a girl that is married is bound to stir up a hornet's nest in gossip hungry Thailand and had the husband somehow caught wind of it in the wrong light, things could have got really messy!

You come across as a real gentleman, particularly in the cases of Daa and Ped, in that you didn't try to pursue things a little more. The majority of Westerners would have "tried their luck" with these two, some might have even made a play form Dtim. What's that proverb abut good things come to those who wait….