My Thai Sister (Friends Part )2
My Thai Sister (Friends, 2nd part)
This is the continuing story of a fantastic friendship.
In early December 2001 I finally came back to the LOS – my fourth time. The single most important reason had been to meet my very dear friend Dtim again. At the end of my 5 ½ weeks' stay I had spent about one week with her and her family, and I can tell you every single second of it was worth the hard-earned money spent for the flight, the long time planning and settling the trip, then eagerly awaiting my departure.
To shortly mention the other two girls from my second story ("Friends"), I also met Daa and some of her friends and we had two nice days full of sanuk in Saraburi (including delicious dinners, swimming and a picnic at a waterfall and taking photos inside a sunflower field), and I tried to phone Ped several times (without success). Besides that, I travelled around in the North, in Isaan and Laos, met some other old friends of mine and made many new ones, further explored the nightlife in Bangers and Pattaya, and so on and so forth. There's always plenty to do in Thailand. But the following narration is largely dedicated to Dtim, probably my very best friend ever.
…..why, you ask. Well, have a look at my earlier submission, "Friends", and if that doesn't help, I hope it will finally become evident from the anecdotes I am going to tell you now.
So…. I went back to the university near BKK where I had spent half a year and where I had first met Dtim in February 2001. Of course we had stayed in contact via letters and I had even called her twice from Europe (if only it wasn't so goddamn expensive…). I had announced my visit, but she hadn't answered my last letter, so I was a bit worried and wondered if she would be there when I arrived, or if she still worked in the photo shop at all. (Later she told me, "I thought my answer wouldn't reach you before your departure, anyway", but if you ask me, it had rather to do with her general laziness.) I tried to call her in the photo shop from the airport immediately after landing, but nobody picked up. I decided to go anyway and have a look, not really feeling comfortable about it, and started with visiting another shop next to her working place, where I also have two friends. While I was still talking to them, Dtim suddenly came in by chance, saw me, incredulously opened her eyes and then literally beamed with joy. As for myself, I felt relieved and happy. It could have become a terrible day if I hadn't found her, but now everything was alright again. Seven months of waiting to see her again were finally over. BTW, she had only gone to the bank for 10 minutes at the time when I called her. Now she seized my arm and smiled. It goes without saying that we couldn't embrace each other in public. In addition, the shopping mall on the campus is a real playground for some of the worst chatterboxes. That day Dtim was looking more beautiful than ever; she had lost a few kilos after a diet. Just to remind you guys, our relationship is platonic. Though I'd say I somehow love her, I am not in love with her in the usual sense of the word. Got it? She is my Thai big sister. Still she is quite an attractive woman and looks a fair bit younger than her 31 years (OK, which Asian girl doesn't?), which of course makes it a lot easier for me to like her, but it is far from being an important aspect in our relationship.
We had discussed some daring plans beforehand, like going to Chiang Mai together around New Year. You remember, Dtim hasn't travelled a lot (and, like many Thai people, doesn't dare to go anywhere on her own) and is very bored by her work which usually ties her to the university campus up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, with only very few holidays, e.g. around Songkran and (Christian) New Year. So she suggested I could take her to some popular place in Thailand she had never been able to visit before. I wasn't sure how that should work, because it depended on so many incalculable factors: how many days off she could get, how much money she had or was willing to contribute to our journey, if her husband would give her permission or if we would try to conceal everything from him, or if we had to take him or Dtim's sister Ooi with us and how that would fit into their respective schedule – too many unanswered questions …….and what are plans worth in Thailand anyway? But I didn't worry too much. I didn't count upon anything. The most important thing was to see Dtim again in the first place, and anything beyond that aim would just be a nice encore, but wasn't absolutely necessary to make me happy. Another option had been to go to her home province and stay in her family's house for a couple of days. But please be patient, you'll learn later on how that "travel" part of the story developed.
On that first day of our reunion, we just talked for one or two hours in the shop, then I wanted to visit two other friends (i.e. girls, what else? 95 % of my Thai friends are female) on the campus and also stayed in their apartment the following two nights. They are from the same village in Isaan, work as cooks in the cafeteria and share a very basic room not far from the university. As it was getting later and later over our talk in the cafeteria and I didn't have any accommodation yet and the centre of BKK was 40 km away, they decided I could come with them, which I found remarkable because they are quite traditional and decent girls who pay attention to their good reputation. Anyway, I couldn't go home with Dtim on that day because her "husband" (more about that later) was there, so it was an excellent solution. The next day I went into Bangers while my friends had to work (they start around 8 am and don't get back before 8 pm every day, earning 5000 Baht a month…..). They even entrusted me their room key, and I fortunately managed to come back in time. On the third day, which was the King's Birthday, they didn't have to work, but I had made an appointment with Dtim in the shop, so they saw me off at the songtaew stop at the end of their soi around 9 AM. I wondered why Dtim had to work on that holiday, or if she was mistaken, and if I would be able to meet her. When I came to the shop, it was still closed, but just at that moment Dtim arrived by motorcycle taxi – and realized it was her day off! Lots of laughter. But this way, the whole situation turned out to be ideal because we could instantly go home and spend the rest of the day together. So we took a taxi to the house where she currently lives with her mother. (She had moved from her small apartment to a pretty big house belonging to her "husband" three months ago. Her mother joins her there most of the time, still spending some days of the month in Ratchaburi, and sometimes Dtim's older sister Ooi also sleeps there).
So the first new family member I was to meet was the mother – and she turned out to be a very nice person, absolutely uncomplicated, open-minded, merry, amiable, patient, gentle and calm, simply lovely (there seems to be a certain predisposition for such traits in the female members of Dtim's family….). She is very slim, with a friendly curious face and still looks very good for a Thai woman of 55 who had to raise four children on her own. Of course I call her mae – actually I can't even remember her real name.
Later Ooi came home, too. Some words already have been said about her in "Friends", but in the meantime we get along much better than in the beginning – as far as communication is concerned, but also on a human basis. That's a very good thing because it means I don't have to rely on Dtim only. She too is an absolutely nice person, rather reserved (not as talkative as Dtim), kind, unpretending, polite, patient, hearty, trustworthy. It's a bit funny that Ooi is very different from her sister, though. Strictly speaking, she is quite different from most Thai women. Though very uneducated like Dtim (she told me she went to school for 4 years only because her family was so poor and she had to take care of her 3 younger siblings, especially after the father had died), she is pretty clever, amazingly independent and self-reliant, quick at making decisions, has a strong will, and what is most unusual, doesn't want to marry, but has decided to stay alone. As compared to that, Dtim is quite traditional, if you like: a bit indifferent, very timid, totally unambitious and often stunningly inconstant, indecisive, not to say unassertive, she is really not the kind of person who can make up her mind easily. She prefers staying at home to going out and lets others decide and do the difficult things in life. On the other hand, she is curious and chatty like a little child. Sometimes she is a very funny figure, really. She knows all that – she actually counts herself to the chao ban nork, a popular term for (ignorant, naïve) village people – but rests content with it. Altogether Ooi could be described as somewhat robust and intrepid, while Dtim is much softer, more female, and at the same time leaves a certain impression of frailty and vulnerability on me.
I think Ooi was also lucky to get employed in the photo shop of the Thai university next to "my" university where Dtim works. And due to Ooi's connections it became then possible for Dtim also to get hold of a job – for a trial period first – when the second photo shop opened on the neighbouring campus. Despite initial difficulties (mainly language-wise), she managed to get by and has now been working there for 4 years or so.
Dtim and I get along so wonderfully, it's just incredible. I like her so very much and want us to stay friends forever – and I am sure she feels the same. We can communicate so well, there are no misunderstandings or problems of any kind. I certainly don't want to harp on about my (fairly good) knowledge of the Thai language here, but I have to mention it once again to throw some light on an interesting aspect which I think many people can relate to. You know, I am convinced that the fact whether you can communicate with another person or not first and foremost depends on the attitudes of the individuals involved and not so much on their respective language skills. There have been occasions where I wasn't understood by Thai people though trying to speak as clearly and distinctly as humanly possible. Sometimes I get the impression some people simply don't try or don't WANT to understand. When I say something to Dtim, on the other hand, I never pay attention to a proper pronunciation, let alone intonation – and she just understands me nevertheless. And it's exactly the same the other way round. I can easily understand most of what she says, though she neither speaks particularly slowly nor clearly. Somehow it's a bit magical. Thus she's also the perfect interpreter for me when I have to deal with other Thai people.
BTW, in the meantime (during the seven months after my previous stay), no less than THREE acquainted girls employed on the university campus had become pregnant (….which has nothing to do with me! It's those sex hungry Thai boyfriends). All of them are around 25 years old. Two are from Isaan and will return to their home province after the child has been born. (Actually one had already returned and gave birth to a daughter in early January.) The end of their working career, so to speak. They'll be mothers and housewives in future. At least it was all intended like this in their case. But it's a bit different with the third girl who works for a travel agency. She's a BKK native. Dtim said, "Have you noticed she's so gloomy most of the time now? You remember, she used to be very cheerful, always joking and smiling. She feels bad because she actually didn't want to have a baby now. And she had to marry her boyfriend because she got pregnant. But she would rather have liked to wait 2 or 3 years before marrying and having children. She wanted to take her time and do other things like travelling before. Now it isn't possible anymore." When I asked, "Well, how did it happen, then? Didn't they pay attention?", she replied, "Yes they did, but it happened anyway." I wasn't interested in inquiring the details. I just report about this because it shows how quickly such a girl's life can change, their dreams and plans can be frustrated, their future can be determined once and for all – how their fate is sealed.
Anyway, I had arranged a meeting with two other friends (Lee, a girl I had first met in 2000 and her friend Good, who had got my address from her and written to me, stating that she would like to have a farang pen pal) at MBK Center, and now it occurred to me that it would be a nice idea to take Dtim and Ooi to town with me. I had never been anywhere with them except to a market and thought it would be fun, but above all I wanted to show them Khao San Rd. Because last time I had stayed in Dtim's apartment for one night, I had gone to Banglamphu in the evening and she had been excited and interested in coming with me, but had finally declined my proposal when she heard I was to meet a friend there. This time it was different, I was sure the four girls would get along well, and we could visit different places together. Ooi and Dtim agreed and we took a taxi to MBK (we were running out of time because they thought this occasion to be very important and had to dress up first in order to look fresh and decent).
To cut a long story short, everything worked well, my two "older sisters" quickly started making friends with Lee and Good (what a nickname; sometimes she even calls herself Good-Good!) and the four chatted joyously from the beginning to the end of our meeting. There weren't the slightest tensions between them (isn't it fascinating: take a couple of Thai women, put them together, and you'll get a sort of family feeling, incessant talking, smiling and laughter). Quite the contrary, I think everybody was happy and a bit relieved to share the "burden", but it was rather a little straining for me, the farang man, to have four Thai women in tow at the same time. At least it required a good piece of patience and composure, which I fortunately already had appropriated during earlier stays in the LOS, however. We went to Siam Square, Siam Discovery and WTC because I wanted to buy a book and a map, then continued to Khao San Rd, had dinner together and finally went to Sanam Luang to have a look at the processions and decorations for H.M. the King's Birthday. Around 6.30 PM I walked to Phra Athit ferry pier with Dtim and Ooi, from where we took an express boat to Nonthaburi. Two bus and one taxi rides later, we finally arrived at home by 9 PM, all of us with a headache, which was probably due to the good air in downtown BKK. It had been a nice day, though. Only poor Dtim was suffering a bit more than me and the indefatigable Ooi. Not only that her legs were tired, her eyes were irritated, too, they hurt and watered. The next morning she went to see a doctor because it still hadn't become better. She wasn't angry, but this experience confirmed her in her general attitude, I mean that she doesn't like Bangkok (too many cars and people, too hot and polluted) and that she prefers staying at home and avoiding to leave the house at any rate. Sometimes she says she would like to travel somewhere far and I think she is genuinely thankful when she gets an opportunity to go to a place she would never dare to go alone; but then again, she isn't disappointed if the plan cannot be realised in the end. It just isn't so important for her, after all. I think she simply shouldn't be taken out of the environment she is used to…..
As I said before, sometimes she can really be a funny (or tragicomic…..) figure. You should see her when she says glua, I am afraid, or mai glaa, I don't dare. No comparison to Ooi, really. But actually I also like her for that. At least nobody can say she takes herself too seriously. I must admit I often tease her with respect to her (lovely) shortcomings, but she never takes offence. I began to wonder how I could travel as far as Chiang Mai with her: headache, leg-ache and red eyes would be guaranteed…… We once considered her (totally hypothetical) visit in Europe, but when I explained about the weather conditions, she concluded she'd probably die here! But the one thing I still would like to try out on her is to put her into an aeroplane (oh, that must sound very cruel to you now…..but she says she would like to fly one day, or at least look into a plane once).
At this point (if not many lines before) you might criticize that we still haven't advanced a lot in the schedule of my visit to Thailand, and you are right. Unfortunately, that won't change much in the following few paragraphs because I have so many remarks to make…… Thailand is so amazing (yes, TAT doesn't lie!) and I have had so many interesting experiences and been inspired so much that I desperately want to share my thoughts. Sorry if anybody feels bored, but this is not an action movie.
I slept on a comfortable mattress in the living room, protected by a big mosquito net. The next day I went into the city again and stayed there overnight and then depart for my big round-trip to Saraburi (where I was to meet Daa), to the Northeast and Laos one day later. The others left for work early in the morning, so I was alone at home until noon. Shortly before my departure to BKK the phone rang. As I thought it might be Dtim who called from the shop and wanted to tell me something important, I decided I'd better pick up. But at the other end of the line was a Thai man; at first I didn't really understand what he wanted and it took me some time to realize that it was Dtim's "husband" who wanted to talk to her! Problem was, my family had concealed from him that I would stay overnight with Dtim, Ooi and the mother, in a house that belongs to him…..
Actually he is quite a nice fellow. He is a high-ranking police officer in his late 50s whose job is to conduct interrogations and stuff and he also speaks some English. Rather calm and likeable. I had occasionally met him before, but we hadn't talked much. Anyway, my friendship with Dtim had never been a big issue and didn't seem to worry him. The day he phoned, he knew that I had come back to Thailand and seen Dtim already, but this particular situation was of course something completely different. He seemed a bit alarmed and kept asking "who is there with you", "where is the mother", "have you stayed in the house last night", and I tried my best to explain the facts. I didn't want to make up a story (I don't like to lie if I can avoid it, and it would have been no use anyway), so I told him the truth: that I had stayed in the house overnight with Dtim, Ooi and the mother, four persons altogether, not two. He wasn't angry, kept his composure and politeness, but sounded a bit uneasy and concerned. Finally our talk culminated in his unexpected question, "Do you love Dtim?" I was shocked and amused at the same time. Wow, what a strange and tricky situation. I had never thought I could end up in the role of the (alleged) rival of a Thai husband! I was totally innocent, but how could I prove that? Ooi and the mother weren't there, otherwise they could have talked with him. No, I said emphatically, we are just good friends. Mai chai faen. Bpen phuean thii dii. He accepted that, but didn't seem fully convinced.
So I had to carry the burden of uncertainty with me for the next few days. Why had this had to happen? Could this incident possibly endanger our friendship? Was it the last time I had seen Dtim? But I am an optimist and told myself everything would turn out well.
When I was in Phetchabun some days later and called Dtim from there, my biggest concern was to obtain certainty in this matter. I told her the story and asked her if there had been a problem due to my talk with her husband. She just laughed and said no, and that it all had been elucidated already. She couldn't explain it sufficiently on the phone, but everything really seemed to be alright again. Man, I can tell you I felt relieved!
It wasn't until after my return from Isaan and Laos that I learned everything about their relationship, which helped me to understand many things……Well, the solution to the mystery will follow now. You may have guessed it already, Dtim has in fact a mia noi relationship with him. They are NOT married. That's why I called him "husband" (in quotation marks). I have no idea if there's an expression in Thai language for men like him from the point of view of their "little wife" (maybe phua noi would be appropriate?) I think it's also wise not to mention his name here.
Finally everything cleared up one day after my return, when I was alone at home with Dtim and I referred to the issue again because it was really important to me. I asked her if there really had been no problem for her. "No, no. Mother and I talked to him and explained everything." I had always thought that she had once told me she was married, but now she denied it, so I wondered why she called him her "husband" then. And at one point I asked her frankly if that meant she was his mia noi then. She seemed a bit surprised that I knew this expression, but wasn't embarrassed. She told me all the details and we discussed many aspects related to this interesting topic, which gave me more insight into Thai society. Now this might astonish you, but we always talk very openly, and I am thankful to Dtim for that. More examples will follow later on.
He has a wife and two grown-up children, but doesn't live together with them. The official version is that Dtim and her mother have rented the house (which they could never afford). Sometimes he comes there and stays overnight. It could be that his wife actually knows he has a mia noi, but tolerates this situation in silence (that is quite common in Thailand as long as the husband still cares for his regular wife and the children).
Dtim suspected he has another (or several other?) young lover, but she said whenever she asks him, he doesn't want to talk about it. She thinks he is a good man, though. Never loud, never unfriendly, never violent. She says she loves him, but thinks he loves her "only a little bit". Apart from letting Dtim and her mother live in his house, he sometimes gives her some money, but not on a regular basis. But Dtim says that is not important to her at all. She would like to marry him and have children, but that is out of discussion because he doesn't want to divorce his regular wife. On the other hand, he wouldn't be adverse to having an (illegitimate) child with Dtim, but she doesn't want that under these circumstances. Remarkably enough, she has no illusions in this respect. She says the whole thing could be over very soon if he doesn't have enough money to afford her, if he doesn't like her anymore or if he becomes old and sick. She doesn't want to be left in the lurch one day with a baby that she cannot take care for.
So they are not exactly happy with the current situation and there are many doubts about the future. Nobody knows how long they will be able to live in the house. Her mother advised her to end the relationship, especially because he is too old, but Dtim cannot make up her mind. She knows she'd better look for someone else to marry before she gets too old herself, but she says she hasn't met the right one yet. (Well, how could she? She only stays in the shop and at home.) The good thing is he would let her go immediately if she found a new love. It shows she is just a toy for him. And it explains why there was really no problem between us. Looking back I think he really wasn't jealous, let alone angry that day when we talked on the phone. He just wanted to check whether Dtim and I were more than friends, and if I had said I loved her and claimed her for me, he would probably have consented and parted with his mia noi.
He is really a good-natured person, very composed and balanced; moreover, as far as I have known him, he's very slow in everything he does, downright drowsy and idle, never on time. According to Dtim, this might be a sort of compensation for the stress he has at work. Ooi and the mother made many jokes about his behaviour, how much time it takes when he eats and reads a newspaper at the same time, or how he often falls asleep in front of the TV. Talking about their first meeting, she coined the amusing phrase "slow and slow joe-gan (met each other)", another fine example of the Thinglish language.
But now for my voyage to Isaan…..
From Phetchabun I went to Loei, which is a nice little town, not to mention the beautiful mountain landscapes around it, which I sadly had no time to explore. But I spent one night in Chiang Khan, at the Mekhong riverside opposite Laos, a remote village 50 km north of Muang Loei, made up of wooden houses, with some guesthouses (but not overcrowded by travellers) and a beautiful scenery along the riverbank where you can undertake boat tours. And they played folk music (mor lam) from the public loudspeakers all day long….. real Isaan feeling!
I like the Northeast so much because it seems to me like the "real Thailand" – what the rest must have been like 50 years ago. People are poor, but very friendly, humble and genuine. Sometimes they seem a bit uncouth (what'd you expect of uneducated peasants who have a hard time earning their living on the plain of tears?), but I think they have a good heart which makes up for it more than sufficiently. Apart from all that, I don't like beaches and islands – and the Southern Region in general – so much. I prefer mountains and rivers. I continued to Sakon Nakhon via Udon, then to Mukdahan, Ubon, southern Laos (Paksé and Savannakhet), re-entered Thailand by ferryboat in Mukdahan, then went to Surin and Buri Ram and finally Khorat.
In Mukdahan I arranged a meeting with Kung, another friend of mine. I know her because she addressed me when I was waiting on the platform of the bus station in Mukdahan in April 2001 (it was a typical "curious student wants to know farang and improve her English" kind of encounter). She's a bit of a strange person, very quiet and inconspicuous, somewhat queer, not that I could explain it any further, and looks almost a bit pitiable to me. She is now enrolled in Nakhon Phanom Nursing College. We keep in loose contact through letters and emails. (If she writes in Thai I can understand much more than if she tries to construct sentences in English, which is rather hopeless.) That day we had a stroll over the Indochina Market by the Mekong together and also made a trip to That Phanom.
Of course I phoned Dtim several times from Isaan. It developed into a nice little custom. I somehow feel kind of obliged to do it whenever I am travelling. Besides that, I like to hear her voice now and then. Each time I called her, she would ask me, "Where are you? How is the weather there? Which places did you go to?" Not only have we chatted for countless hours in the shop and at home; Dtim is also the Thai person that I have most often talked with on the phone. Sometimes time goes by so quickly, it's just incredible. It feels like 5 minutes, and then I look onto my watch and realize we've been talking for more than 40 minutes already.
Talking about this issue reminds me of something else. In "Friends" I stated that I absolutely enjoy talking to Ped on the phone, though we somehow don't really get along personally. I mean, it's not so much fun for me to be with her. We simply cannot communicate satisfactorily when we are face to face. Isn't that interesting? It could be a bit similar in the case of Daa, though not as extreme. Communication with her is best in written form (letters and emails) and via telephone. And there are many more examples like that. At some point it occurred to me that Dtim is the ONLY Thai person with which I get along well in any kind of situation – personally, on the phone, in letters. Today I must admit it has become quite similar with Ooi. Yet Dtim will always remain special – it has all to do with our blind understanding and that real deep affection I feel for her.
My latest experiences in Laos can be found under the title "A One Night Stand In Savannakhet" on Stick's site. In that submission I already mentioned that when I went to the Thai-Lao border at Chong Mek, a young girl of 17 talked to me on the bus and invited me to her home (i.e. to stay there overnight). Maybe you'll find that a bit strange, but 1) she is a decent girl and 2) things like that happen to me quite often in Thailand. She lives in a remote village in Amphoe Sirindhorn of Ubon province, only 2 or 3 km from the Lao border. Her parents are farmers (what else….) and were a bit surprised at first when I arrived there, but turned out to be very kind people. Genuine Isaan style, you know: not a good example for the proverbial Thai politeness, but very warm-hearted. (BTW, friendliness is what counts, not politeness – if you've ever thought about the difference.) It was all very basic, with a toilet outside the house and open-air showering, but I got some good food and we went to visit the father's rice fields (45 rai), cows, buffaloes and chickens and to gather fruit in the tamarind trees before dawn. Of course I had not planned this additional overnight stay, but it was nice, though….. and now I have two more friends in the Northeast (the girl and her classmate). Curiously enough, it happened to me before that I was invited to a private home by a policeman in Ubon province (in Khong Chiam, also a place to be recommended). That was when I travelled in Isaan in April 2001. His son also took me to visit Pha Taem National Park on his motorbike. I'd like to stick my neck out here and say that judging from my experiences, Ubon people are the nicest in the whole of Thailand. So go to there ASAP if you have a chance….. Oh, telling about this, I remember that in Sakon Nakhon there was also someone who showed me around and took me to some temples in the surroundings on his motorbike for free after I had had a chat with his family on the evening before.
One more episode that is suited to advertise Isaan. When I went from Mukdahan to Surin during the second part of my journey, I arrived at the bus station later than intended and finally ended up in one of those comfortable "V.I.P." buses run by private companies. The problem was that behind Ubon, the bus was to take the new route (National Road No. 24) to Bangkok which passes Si Sa Ket, Surin, Buri Ram and Khorat to the south. This meant I would have to get off at Prasat, a district town 30 km south of Surin, at 10 or 11 pm and probably stay there overnight because there wouldn't be any local bus connection at that time. But I didn't have any choice at the bus station in Mukdahan because it was so late in the afternoon, anyway, and in general I simply HAD to move westwards in order to stay in my travel schedule and come back and see Dtim around 27 December. I discussed my problem with the conductor who confirmed that the driver would stop in Prasat. She was a bit unusual, not shy at all, joyful and very charming. She literally tried to soothe me (which certainly doesn't mean I was severely worried, but I just wasn't really satisfied with this less than optimal solution, either) and to reassure me everything was going to be fine. Before we arrived in Ubon, I contemplated getting off there and taking a direct bus to Surin. But the bus station already seemed very sleepy though it was only 7.15 pm, and the conductor said I should stay on board. Then we entered the city centre of Ubon and suddenly stopped by the curb, behind another bus. She motioned me to get out and follow her. She had called the company office – or that of the public bus company – via cellphone and arranged that a bus going to BKK via Surin wait for me there! She took the surplus amount (the money I had paid in excess) from her cash box, went into the office, asked for the price of the ticket, came back and asked me for 20 more Baht, bought the ticket for me and guided me to the waiting bus, then hurried back to her own bus. It all happened so quickly that I had hardly enough time to call out khoop khun maak khrap, whereupon she turned back and gave me a warm smile. I sat down in the bus of the public transport company, relieved and happy. And moved by the behaviour of that woman. Thai people can always amaze you anew. What a kind person, I thought. She was really dedicated!
In Jangwat Buri Ram I visited Prasat Hin Phanom Rung and Muang Tam, which are both very nice temple sites. Of course they are not too impressive if compared with Angkor (Cambodia), but definitely worth seeing. They compete with Phimai near Khorat in the category "most beautiful Khmer monuments in Thailand".
That leads to another anecdote which proves Isaan people are really nice. I found a hotel room in a district town called Nang Rong and then went towards Phanom Rung by songtaew (you cannot get to the temple directly; normally you will have to take a motorcycle taxi from the nearest village). During the journey I talked to the Thai people travelling on the same songtaew, and as usual, they praised me for my "good Thai language skills". One woman invited me to come to her house with her first and then take a motorbike from there to Phanom Rung. I agreed and when we got off the car, she paid for me. Arriving at the house, it turned out that one member of her family (her husband or brother, I guess) was just leaving by car with his two sons. They said I could also go with them if I wanted to save money. So they drove me up to Phanom Rung (it's picturesquely set on a volcanic hill), came back one hour later to pick me up, then proposed to go to Muang Tam as well and waited there another 40 minutes so I could visit the temple, and then brought me back to their house where we still talked for about one hour. After that the man drove me back all the way to my hotel in Nang Rong (about 15 km). I don't know what they had originally intended to do before I came – apparently they didn't want to visit the temples. But they were happy to drive a farang around for free and talk with him. I think I was very lucky that day. It would have been rather inconvenient to do everything (visiting Phanom Rung and returning to the hotel) by motorbike and public transport, and I probably wouldn't have got to Muang Tam at all. This way it was just perfect.
After Buri Ram, I had fortunately enough time left to make a one-day detour to Khorat and Phimai, where I spent Christmas Eve. Phimai is absolutely great; a reconstructed Khmer temple ruin surrounded by a lovely small town, complete with old city walls and ponds. Nice atmosphere. You can easily visit the temple in, say, 2 hours and then stay overnight in a pleasant surrounding. Thus I had finally completed my list of cultural attractions in Isaan. (Well, there aren't too many of them: apart from the abovementioned sites, Khao Phra Wiharn in Jangwat Si Sa Ket and That Phanom in Jangwat Nakhon Phanom deserve some attention, and I had already been there before. But I forgot I still have to go to Ban Chiang archaeological site one day.)
At the temples, there were so many curious Thai people who wanted to talk with me (and take photos with me), really amazing…… I think it has to do with the fact that these places are rather popular with the natives only and there aren't many western travellers to be found. And then I travel alone, which makes it easier for them to get into contact with me, and when they realize I can speak some Thai they are always very pleased and I will hear the same compliments (oh phuut phaasaa thai gkeeng na) and tell them the same stories (of my 6 months' stay at a Thai university etc.) again and again.
It's a bit strange when they ask you, "How many years have you been living here?" and you have to say, "No, no, I am just a tourist". But the most fascinating situation of all was when someone seriously wanted to know if I was a luuk khrueng (half Thai-half farang, child of a Thai-farang couple) after I had uttered 5 words in Thai!
My final assessment: I think Lao and Isaan people are the friendliest in the world. Na-rak djing-djing.
After a two days' stop in Pattaya (cf. "A Friend In Pattaya"), I finally returned to the house of Dtim's "husband". When I called her that day, Dtim went like "Oh, you are in Pattaya? Is there anything interesting to do in Pattaya?" – a bit of a strange question to most of us, you'll admit – , but I didn't tell her what I had been up to. I mean, I am absolutely sure it wouldn't be a problem for me to talk with her about my bg experiences, but it hasn't happened yet. She seems to think I am very innocent (other than the average Thai male!) and not even really interested in women. This was found in a talk some time later, when she explained me she had always thought I was just looking for friends, but wasn't so much attracted by…… well, the female charms of some of my travel acquaintances. (It's not that she thought I was gay – heaven forbid –, just that I wasn't as much interested in women as you'd normally expect it from a man, maybe because I don't have a girlfriend.) I had to explain her that I REALLY like women, not only for friends.
When I had come to Thailand at the beginning of December, I had brought a set of perfume, body lotion and shower gel for Dtim. When I came back after Christmas now, she had a present ready for me. It was a little monkey made from glass together with a small card on which she had written "I wish you a lot of happiness in the New Year, that you'll always have luck, that we'll stay good friends and have good feelings for each other. And even if we are far apart, we shall be friends forever. There mustn't be a day on which we forget each other." (Please note, this is the attempt of a translation from Thai language.) She had chosen the monkey in the belief that it was my Chinese zodiac sign. Actually I am a rabbit, but who minds – the glass figure was really cute and I liked it. It came totally unexpected and was very moving for me, especially her affectionate words. It's during such moments that you realize what real friends are worth.
She had broken her left leg when getting off the bus (don't ask me how she managed to do that, as I really don't know, but she definitely is one hell of an unlucky devil…..) and consequently had to wear a plaster cast. So she couldn't go to work or anywhere else, just stay at home, eat, sleep, watch TV, lead some phone calls and chat with her mother or sister whenever they were there and maybe help preparing the meals. As she couldn't move a lot, but was very fond of sweets at the same time, she had also re-gained some weight, a fact that she found rather funny, though she had been spending a lot of her hard-earned money for dubious dietary products during the previous months. So it had all been in vain, but on the other hand, when looking at various old photo albums, she once said, "It's strange. When I am slim, I am not so beautiful, but when I am fat, I look better", and she could somehow be right. She isn't really FAT, though. Just a little roundish around the hips, butt and thighs. And it becomes her.
Her injury wasn't just a minor annoyance, but also a bit threatening for one reason. Of course there's no social security of any kind for low-wage jobs in Thailand, so she doesn't earn money when not working, and if she cannot appear in the shop for several consecutive days (or cannot send a friend or relative as a substitute), the odds are that she will be fired and replaced by someone else. But in the meantime, her sister, mother and sister-in-law have been stepping into the breach for her, as far as I know.
So our original travel plans were also out of discussion now. Goodbye Chiang Mai, goodbye Phuket. Nevertheless, the whole story had two positive aspects (primarily for me, not so much for Dtim): First, we could spend quite a lot of time together at home and talk undisturbedly, as opposed to the shop, and second, it was decided that we would go to Ratchaburi for New Year instead of travelling around, so I really got my chance to get to know her home province, home town and the rest of her family and to stay in their house by the river. Of course this had been one of my greatest wishes because I wanted to learn more about the background she came from. And then she had told me her home upcountry was so nice: very small and very simple, but quiet, in a wonderful location and altogether very cosy. I was eager to see it.
But we weren't to leave until 29 December because we had to rely on her "husband" to bring us to Ratchaburi. So there was a lot of time for further talks. As I said earlier, we have always talked very openly. We can talk about anything. In fact I cannot imagine ANY issue that would be embarrassing for one of us. Believe it or not. I mean, you have to consider she is 1. Thai and 2. a woman, which usually entails a whole bunch of tricky complications. There are many factors such as shyness, exaggerated decency and politeness, the necessity to keep face, national pride, and so on and so forth. But not so in her (or our) case.
One example is how she told me about her relationship: "I haven't been taking medicine (the pill) for half a year, but I didn't get pregnant. Maybe it's because he is too old." Who knows, but it seems to me like a dangerous game. An unwanted baby is really among the worst things that I could imagine happening to her now.
One day we ended up talking about prostitutes. I cannot remember why, but I think first she wanted to know if it was easy for Thai people to visit European countries and I told her that it's difficult for them to get a visa because we are rich and basically don't want any poor foreigners in our countries and try to protect ourselves against them. I said that especially Thai women arriving in Europe could get a lot of problems with the immigration authorities because they were automatically suspected to be prostitutes in many cases. Dtim wasn't overly surprised; she asked me whether I thought there were more prostitutes in Thailand than in western countries. I said yes, and told her that Thailand has a bad reputation in the world in this respect. She was a bit gloomy after that, but could understand it. She simply knew what an important role prostitution plays in Thai society.
Normally decent Thai people like her tend to despise the working girls, but Dtim was rather unprejudiced in this case. She said it was not a good thing, but she could imagine that some women were poor and uneducated and saw no other chance to earn money, and she felt sorry for them.
Or let me mention religion. It turned out that our views are maybe not so different. That is especially remarkable when you consider the following. Formally I am Protestant, but I think of myself as a true atheist, i.e. I don't believe in ANY supernatural phenomenon / god / devil / ghost / whatever. I am very sceptical towards all kinds of religious beliefs and I absolutely dislike those absolutely ridiculous, but at the same time very harmful religious institutions (above all, the Catholic Church) that are imposed onto the individual. But the worst thing of all is the silly idea of mission and of telling others what to believe. I certainly respect people's religious feelings, but I think it's a very personal matter and they should keep them to themselves; at the same time, no institution should presume to make them any prescriptions. (Buddhism, by the way, is a bit different and I find it very interesting and agreeable. But then I wouldn't count it as a religion in the word's proper sense here, more as a philosophy or way of living.)
Now, at least one of those superfluous guide books told me that it's not a good idea to tell a Thai that you don't adhere to any religion if he asks you about your confession. The reason being that Thai people are tightly bound up with Buddhism and spiritism and though being admirably tolerant towards other religious convictions, might be shocked if confronted with the idea that their vis-à-vis doesn't believe in anything.
Usually I stick to that advice and just confirm that I am Christian when asked. Period. I can live with that. After all, I was christened, and somehow I have adopted certain ideas and values of the Christian occident during my childhood (though my parents aren't religious, either). And it's no use to try and go into details with a normal Thai whose knowledge of other religions is very basic and who might reply something like "Ahh, so you worship Jesus, don't you?", at best.
But when Dtim once asked me if I was Christian, I dared to go further by explaining that religious belief is not important for me at all, e.g. that I don't go to church. And Dtim wasn't shocked nor surprised, but said, "Oh, it's similar in my case. Religion is not so important for me. When I am here (in the house near BKK) I never go to the temple. It was different when I was younger and at home in Ratchaburi because everybody (family members, neighbours) would go. When I am in Ratchaburi now, I only go to the temple occasionally during the weekend or on certain holidays. Actually, it's very boring and inconvenient there, especially when you have to sit in front of the monks and listen to the sermons. You cannot understand the sense because it's in a special language (Pali). It's so boring. Some people even fall asleep." Well, you'd call that open words, wouldn't ya?
Occasionally the family members would ask me "How is this and that in your country?", and I also told them about certain farang customs of my own accord. Like when we were eating together and I explained that in farang countries everybody has their own dish in front of them and it would be regarded as very impolite (to say the least, but I couldn't express it any better in Thai) if the host tried to take pieces of food with his own spoon and put them onto the guest's plate. They were a bit taken aback, and I made an effort to stress that I liked it the Thai way, too, at least when I was in Thailand.
Another time Dtim asked me, "Can you explain me how a credit card works? I want to know." It was a bit of a tricky task, but with the help of my little dictionary (highly recommended if you can read Thai: SE-ED's Modern English-Thai Dictionary, Pocket Edition, 55 Baht), it worked. She was enthusiastic at first when learning you can easily get quite a lot of money with a credit card whenever you need it, but when she realized you still have to pay your debt back with a hefty interest on top of it (I made up an example and she went like "ooooohhh…."), she finally stated such thing wasn't suited for her, or Thai people in general. "Too dangerous", I agreed with respect to the Thai's careless handling of money. Then she said she didn't know how to use an ATM anyway and she would keep going to the bank and withdraw money from her account personally. Apart from that, I doubt people like her would be granted a credit…..
Another interesting topic is flying. One day we happened to come across it and at some point I was told the mother had always wanted to know if you can open the windows in a passenger jet or not. After I had made it clear to them that you REALLY cannot – for certain reasons I couldn't explain in Thai language – Dtim said, well, in that case mother doesn't want to fly because she will get sick from the stuffy air inside. Objecting that the plane had an air con system wouldn't change their mind at all. That's all the same, Dtim said, she will also get sick from the air con; she doesn't like to sit inside a car for the same reason, either, so she always travels on the load floor of a pick-up truck….…. to which I really had no idea what to say in reply! Amazing Thai people.
One evening we had a lot of fun with my newly acquired Thai language book. Among other things, it has Thai proverbs, tongue twisters and some traditional and pop songs in it. I asked my friends to read the tongue twisters and also tried it myself. Big fun. My favourite is yak yai lai yak lek laew yak lek gor lai yak yai (the big giant chased the small giant and then the small giant chased the big giant). Ooi and Dtim also recited the verse for the 44 Thai consonants (a memorizing tool for school children) and started to sing the songs that almost every Thai person knows by heart, like the Loy Krathong Song. And Dtim's husband began singing "Made In Thailand" by Karabao when I showed him the text. There's this famous line that reads "kor-thor-mor muang thii khon dtok thor", "Bangkok, the city where people fall into sewer pipes". It was really a nice atmosphere with lots of laughter.
There's also a very simple children's song which I like very much, chang (the elephant). It goes like this:
chang chang chang chang chang
nong-koei hen chang rue plao (brother-in-law, do you see the elephant?)
chang man tua to mai bao (the elephant has a big body, not a light one)
jamuk yao yao riak wa nguang (and a long nose that is called a trunk)
mii khiao tai nguang riak wa ngaa (he has teeth/fangs below the trunk that are called tusks)
mii huu mii taa hang yao (he has ears, eyes and a long tail)
Finally her "husband" brought Dtim, Ooi, the mother and me to Ratchaburi with his car. (He stayed there for one night, but had to leave after that.) I travelled on the back of the pick-up (which was protected by a hood) together with Ooi and the mother. Great fun.
I liked the landscape in Ratchaburi very much; the province is quite mountainous and scarcely populated in the west where it borders on Myanmar, whereas the eastern half, where Dtim comes from, consists of a wide plain with numerous nicely shaped limestone rocks soaring from it. On top of some of these rugged mountains there are temples overlooking the surrounding rice plains and inside you can find things like stalactite caverns and a famous cave with millions of bats which emerge every evening around sunset in a seemingly never-ending formation. It's really a nice region and not too far from BKK (about 80 km to the west). The weather was ideal, too. Neither too hot nor too cold, unlike in Isaan, where it can get remarkably cool in the evening and at night time during the winter, made even worse by a constant wind. As there usually is no hot water available (…in cheap hotels and private homes), you can hardly take a shower in the cool season.
They are really very poor and have a very small and very simple house situated directly by the river (the Mae Nam Mae Klong, that's what the River Kwai is called after the confluence of the Kwae Noi and Kwae Yai in Kanchanaburi) in a district town called Potharam. In the morning, you can swim in the river, it's really great! Actually there are three small buildings now as Dtim's brother and sister-in-law live in a second house together with one of her uncles and there is an additional brick structure of 3 x 3 m designed as an additional guest room, where I slept.
Everything was so great during that time in Ratchaburi, we had so much fun together and our wonderful relationship has improved even more during that time – if that is thinkable at all. I got to know the biggest part of Dtim's (actually not so big) family, i.e. her two younger brothers and two sisters-in-law with a 2 ½ years old niece, plus some of her cousins, uncles and aunts. Most of them are very poor and simple people, unemployed or keeping their head above water by doing outwork like sewing dolls. Only one of Dtim's cousins seems to be a bit more educated; she is an English teacher.
The youngest brother is about my age (26) and married with a girl from Samut Sakhon, Fon, who's also quite likeable. They have a 2 ½ years old daughter, cute, active, intelligent and talkative, who's the pride and delight of the whole family. Usually she babbles, giggles and squeals with joy all day long and keeps running to and fro.
Her real (nick)name is Nong (little sister) Beam, which is strange enough (I think the parents borrowed it from English), but she still cannot pronounce it correctly and says "Nuu Bin" instead, which the adults found so funny and cute that they decided to call her like that, too. It's interesting to note that nuu (with a different tone, though) also means mouse and can be used to call a small child. A similar case is the somewhat difficult name of the other sister-in-law, Waew, whom she calls "Paa (auntie) Waeng". That sounds funny to Thai people again. Dtim is really infatuated with the little girl. She loves to talk and play with her. First Nuu Bin was a bit intimidated by my presence (they asked her glua rue aai, "are you afraid or just shy?", whereupon she whispered, "I am shy") and wouldn't talk, despite her aunts' untiring efforts to elicit some words from her, but later on she gained confidence in me and said goodbye and even shook hands with me after we dropped her and her parents in Samut Sakhon. Before that, Dtim had tried to convince her countless times (djap mue kap phii na – give the older brother your hand, will you?), but all in vain.
I had bought two cassettes with Isaan folk music in Mukdahan – when I first played it to Dtim, she burst out laughing because she found it so ridiculous. It sounds a bit monotonous (just like the landscape), melancholic but at the same time hilarious (just like the people). I like to listen to it when I travel in Thailand; it reminds me of Isaan. The first night in Ratchaburi, when we had dinner (they have constructed a kind of palm-leaf thatched pavilion right on the riverbank that serves as a romantic dining-room), the family installed a stereo for the sake of sanuk and I asked if I could play the cassettes I had brought. Of course I could, and guess what, they became a big success, although all the family members are native Central Thais. Some of the men tried to imitate ram wong or mor lam (Isaan), i.e. the traditional dances that include those delicate finger movements.
I had also bought a sarong for my mother in Mukdahan, on the Indochina Market. But basically it wasn't more than two long pieces of cloth, one with a beautiful golden pattern of little elephants on a blue ground, the other one plain blue. Dtim and Ooi said the first piece still had to be sewn together at the ends in order to make a real sarong of it or provided with additional laces so you can tie it up conveniently, while the second piece could be used to tailor a suitable jacket. They proposed me to bring it to Photharam and leave it to a relative who could do the tailor work at relatively low costs. We discussed the best design for the jacket and modelled the size after Ooi and the mother, who have nearly the same figure as my mother. When it was finished later (I got it back two days before my departure), it seemed a bit tight and they worried it could be too small, but fortunately it turned out to fit my mother well. So now she has a special edition Thai dress tailored to measure in her absence.
When in I learned some interesting things, for example that Dtim has Mon ancestors; I hadn't even heard about that minority people before, though the Mon-Khmer group of languages borrowed the first part of its name from it. (So the language is rather related to Cambodia than to Thailand or Myanmar.) In ancient times there used to be a Mon Kingdom in the area of eastern Burma and western Thailand with Bago as a capital, but today the size of the Mon population in Myanmar and Thailand is below 1 million. Basically they got assimilated, I think. They are rather inconspicuous and not comparable to groups like the hill tribes who are very peculiar in their way to dress, their customs and beliefs. But some people in the family (like one aunt) can still speak Mon, and Dtim understands and speaks a little (she had never told me that before). Maybe this Mon ancestry is the reason why all the family members have relatively long, straight noses; at least they don't look particularly Thai, in that respect.
Of course Dtim and Ooi wanted to show me all the famous tourism spots in the surroundings. Dtim's older cousin (the one who can speak English) has a car but wasn't able to drive at that time because her leg was injured, too. All the other family members cannot drive, anyway. So they asked me if I could drive the cousin's car to the limestone rocks, caves and temples. Well, I never tried it before in Thailand and then it is different from Germany in that we are driving on the right side of the road.
But I said I would have a try, it would surely work somehow. Actually I didn't really have a choice…….. on the morning of the second day, we walked to the nearby house of the cousin and everybody took their seats, full of expectations: the cousin, Dtim, Ooi, Fon and Nuu Bin. So I found myself inside the car with 4 adults and one child, the owner of the car right beside me to watch over each and every of my actions. Dtim had told me the car was an Opel Corsa and had automatic gear, but neither was true. Fortunately it was a small car and easy to handle, though, and after a short period of accustoming, driving started to be a lot of fun (it turned out to be a Peugeot 205, which is very unusual for Thailand where an estimated 95 % of all cars are of Japanese origin….). There was only one difficult situation right at the beginning when I nearly touched a wall after leaving the entrance way to the yard. Man, that would have been embarrassing…..
But after that, everything worked without problems. A minor difficulty arose from the fact that my family didn't seem to know their home province very well and always told me very late when I had to turn left or right. They often opposed each other (Left! Right! Left! No, right!), and I felt a bit left in the lurch, somehow having to chose the right direction. In two or three cases their "final" decision came too late for me to change my course and they already thought we were going the wrong way. But I wouldn't let them drive me mad, just relied on the road signs and my common sense and afterwards it turned out that I was right! But anyway, I'd really like to explore other parts of Thailand by car now. (It's certainly a good thing if you know someone who lends you his car because it's too expensive to rent one for my taste.) I have grown used to it, maybe even got addicted to it…..
Driving in Thailand is truly an amazing experience. Normally Thai people tend to be very relaxed, very composed, and the same is basically true for road traffic. On one hand it's a bit strenuous because you always have to pay a lot of attention, especially to all those motorcycles, no matter if inside a town or on country roads, sometimes moving towards you on the wrong side, or without light during the dark; and because of the often very risky behaviour of Thai drivers when overtaking, their somewhat ‘unconventional' ways of turning off and merging into traffic, the habit of cutting corners whenever possible, and similar dangers and annoyances. On the other hand, it's very easy. Traffic rules (right of way, speed limits etc.) are of a rather theoretical nature, and most other drivers use to be very patient and lenient and ready to forgive almost any misconduct you can think of. The loose interpretation of the rules is very practical as you don't have to pay attention to traffic signs or pedestrian crossings and drive through the villages at an average speed of 70 or 80. All in all it's a little bit chaotic (nothing compared to Vietnam, of course!), but also very relaxed at the same time. I think it all comes down to the fact that you just have to have an idea of the Thai mentality before attempting to drive a car in Thailand. That helps a lot.
Dtim had also told me driving upcountry would be very easy because unlike in BKK, there weren't so many cars and people didn't have to hurry. This prediction proved wrong as well. Remember it was the time around New Year, so a lot of people had some days off and went back to their home provinces and visited the same tourism attractions as we did. Most of the car-parks nearly overflowed with vehicles. In addition, the Thai king likes to go to Hua Hin during this time every year and I think many of his subjects follow him suit and jam up the highways everywhere in Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Ratchaburi and Phetchaburi.
Anyway, on my first day behind the wheel, we went to visit places called Wat Nong Hoi (a temple complex on top of a limestone rock), Tham Khao Bin (a famous stalactite cavern), Khao Nguu (another well-known mountain), Khao Chong Phran (the bat cave) and a small zoo where Nuu Bin could admire some birds, snakes and tigers. Dtim always had to stay near the car as she could only walk with the help of her crutches. It must have been a little bit boring for her, but someone always kept company with her, usually Phii Maem (the older cousin) and Nuu Bin. Everybody quickly got used to me as a driver and we had to laugh a lot because it meant that khon farang phaa khon thai bpai thiiao thii muang thai….., the Westerner takes the Thais for a visit in Thailand!
On the second day we went to Samut Sakhon and Phetchaburi, more than 250 km altogether. This time with Dtim, Ooi, their brother, Fon and the child, but without the cousin. My "sisters" were afraid it could be too much for me, but I enjoyed it. The real challenge was that they were changing their plans all the time – it could have driven you crazy, but I took it easy and kept thinking "OK, discuss whatever you want, and I'll drive you wherever you want….." Actually the discussions had already started the previous day. Dtim's original plan had been to go to Kaeng Krachan Dam and National Park in Phetchaburi province. Of course she had no idea how far it was, but I looked it up on a map and told her it was OK on my part. But later she was more and more in doubt whether it was a good idea, especially because we had only borrowed the car and she hadn't told the owner that we wanted to go so far. I proposed to go to Phetchaburi (town) instead because I had only passed it before. Then other thoughts came into consideration as well, as the parents of Nuu Bin wanted to go to Samut Sakhon with her to stay with the grandparents for some days. So we would take them to Damnoen Saduak from where they would take a bus, then continue to Phetchaburi. But on the way to Damnoen, my friends wouldn't stop chatting and discussing. Sometimes I participated in that; and sometimes I asked them to explain what they had just said and then they asked if I understood what they were talking about, which I denied. On two or three occasions, Dtim jokingly stated I didn't need to understand everything. I replied farang ruu maak mai dii chai mai (a farang who knows (too) much is no good, isn't it? – based on a modern Thai proverb I had read about somewhere), and they laughed. Anyway, every 15 minutes or so, Dtim told me like, "I think it's better if we do this….", "Maybe we better do it like that….", which was only followed by new arguments and ideas from the back seat, and so on and so forth. One plan was that we should better go all the way to Samut Sakhon, maybe visit some minor attraction on the way, then directly return to Ratchaburi, which didn't fill me with enthusiasm, to put it mildly. In the next act, Nuu Bin became a little bit car sick and they thought it was better to get out in Damnoen, as they had planned before. Having arrived there, I waited in the car with Dtim for Ooi to come back from the market, but she came back together with the others who had again changed their mind and wanted to go on. All the same to me, I thought, try to make the best of it. Where would this trip lead me? Patience and composure are the virtues you really need in the LOS……. Then I had to stop at the roadside twice so they could buy something. After that, we visited a kind of royal park and history museum, which wasn't so interesting, made our way through the centre of Samut Songkhram and onto the highway through the salt fields towards Bangkok. While I was driving, Dtim almost "fed" me with pieces of fruit (she handed them to me on a little stick), very funny and touching. We finally dropped the brother, sister-in-law and niece in Samut Sakhon and paid a short visit to the grandparents' house. After that, I was alone with Dtim and Ooi and convinced them I could still drive to Phetchaburi. I thought I had a right to get my way, after all it was me who drove the car. They weren't particularly eager to go there, but they weren't against it either, so they complied with my wish. That afternoon they assured me, "you can drive very well, much better than Phii Maem– she is so unassertive, for example she never dares to go up the mountains."
So we really continued to Phetchaburi where Ooi bought a couple of things (mostly food) from various street vendors and I visited the palace hill (khao wang) on my own because my friends had been there many times already. In addition, Dtim had started to feel sick. Struck with the usual ailments – headache and burning eyes, plus the broken leg –, she decided to lay down on the back-seat and try to relax or sleep on the way back. It seems she cannot leave the house without getting sick at some point – what a funny and pitiable person! So Ooi sat next to me when we headed for Photharam at the end of the day, darkness already closing in.
One more anecdote about Ooi – on the way home from Phetchaburi I put my Judas Priest cassette into the player (I presume you know "British Steel" and "Point Of Entry" from 1980/81 and if you don't, shame on you!) and was surprised and pleased when she shyly started tapping her thigh to the beat with the palm of her hand! I mean, Asian people (with the notable exception of many Japanese) usually only like that very smooth and soft music that absolutely isn't my cup of tea; on the other hand, they are largely noise resistant. But Ooi even told me she liked that music, wanted to know what it was and I explained it as much as I could and translated some song titles. Dtim later said she also found it to be OK, only she couldn't enjoy it in the state she was in so she covered the ears with her hands while lying in the back of the car……
That day I paid for the fuel, but that was the only expenditure I had during my time in Ratchaburi. Dtim's family (usually Ooi) always paid for my food and all my entrance fees. There's no way they'd ever ask me for money. To underline it again, we are friends. I know they are poor, but I don't have the slightest problem with that. That's not a question of wealth, poverty or exploitation. I'm not stingy, either. I think it's just natural that a host takes care of his guests……. And I never decline when I am invited by someone, no matter if they are rich or poor. A word is a word and should be accepted without scruples. When friends visit me, I act the same way, after all. It also contributes to the feeling of friendship and connection if the host takes good care of you. And Dtim's family think the same. They have a conception that they also benefit from me in some way or another, even if it is just that we have fun together. That's a typically Thai viewpoint. Money has never played the slightest role between us.
They do their laundry in the river, which is of course womens' work in Thailand. It is learned by them when they are small girls already and they are used to it. One day Ooi asked me for my dirty clothes, and when I gave her 3 or 4 pieces (only the ones that really needed a washing, as I didn't want to cause her too much work), she insisted that I give her some more and started investigating my backpack. "Where is that blue shirt that you wore two days ago?", "Oh, let me see, and this one, and that one", and so on. Then everything was cleaned quickly and professionally by her. (As opposed to that, when I stayed with Ped's family for almost 4 weeks in March/April 2000, they laundered their clothes every single day – Thai people are so cleanly, aren't they? – with the help of a washing machine, but do you think they ever asked me if I had any worn clothes that I wanted them to wash for me? No, they didn't. Strange.)
One evening we had a look at their old photos. Dtim, Ooi and the mother piled up all the photo albums they could find in the house. I'd really have wanted to see how Dtim looked like when she was a small child, but unfortunately they don't have any pictures from that time. There are a few ones where she is 17 or so and many more where she's in her 20s. It was great fun, though. There once was a time when Dtim and Ooi both had short hair, at the age of around 23; it really looked mai suai, which I told them. But don't worry, that is totally normal in Thailand, as they had explained me before. Yes, it is expected from the person who looks at the photos to express his opinion concerning his friends' looks – and without bpaak waan, please. You have to assess each photo and say for instance, "oh, there you were very fat", "there you look beautiful", "this one I don't like so much", "I really like you in that picture", "this is really funny", and so on.
Believe it or not, they have only one single photo that shows the late father. It's from the 1960s and was taken with some of his family members before he was even married. I think he died around 1982, when his daughters were 14 and 12 and his sons 9 and 7 years old or so. I wanted to find out a bit more about him and asked what profession he had had. Again, Dtim talked in stunningly open words: "He didn't have a real profession. He was just a day-labourer. Actually he didn't work a lot. He rather liked to drink and play cards with his friends." She didn't seem to have a lot of memories of him, at least no particularly good ones. Phuu chai thai mai dii……, like she had once said. "And what about your brothers?", I asked. "No, they aren't any better, either…….." Probably the majority of Thai men are all the same: incorrigible machos, gamblers, drunkards and fornicators.
Dtim had told me before that her family had once had a farang friend who'd visited their house in Ratchaburi frequently and supported them financially. But they hadn't heard from him for a long time, several years already. Dtim supposed he was too old to come to Thailand now, maybe sick, maybe even dead. She couldn't remember which country he was from.
Now they showed me photos and it turned out he was from Austria. There were also some pictures of his home town and house, but I couldn't find out where exactly it was. Strangely enough, they didn't have his address. His first name was Kunibert, so they used to call him khun Kuni. He was strong and sturdy, with a beard, but looked quite likeable. He was an estimated 50 years old on the photos. It was strange for me to see those 10 year old pics with Kuni in the middle and young Ooi and Dtim grouped around him, smiling, putting their arms around him as if they were his daughters. Maybe he was a kind of a father substitute for them……. (It created a kind of melancholy as I wished I had known Dtim back then, too.) He had also given them a beautiful photo book of his home country. They told me more details: Kuni had originally met and made friends with Dtim's brother who had brought him to the house. He had then become a friend of the family. He had liked to spend his holidays at the house, drinking with the men, sunbathing near the river (always a strange activity to watch for Thai people!). He and one of Dtim's brothers had also built the house in which they now lived. It had replaced an older one on the same site. Hence she thought his profession might have to do with the construction business (probably he was a mason or carpenter).
On one occasion Dtim showed me her ID card. It said she was born in May 2513 = 1970. But she had told me she was born in April, on Songkran Day, and confirmed that when I asked her again. But there was some confusion about the exact date: was it 13 April or 15 April? She didn't really know and had to ask her mother! (Who insisted it was the 15th, but that was all the same to Dtim.) Then they explained the thing with the ID card: "Mother went to the amphoe (district office) very late, not before May that year." And the people there somehow changed the date, or the mother couldn't remember, I don't know….. Dtim told me that this is in fact very common among Thai people. Often they don't register the date of the day when the child was actually born, but when they went to the office; accordingly, many ID cards tell the wrong birthday, but nobody cares. It's not as important as in western societies. Traditionally you don't get presents on your birthday, either….. Maybe this could be interesting for those of you who check a bargirl's age by having a look at their ID card. (But I think at least the YEAR of birth can be trusted.)
BTW, does anyone know why Thai people aren't allowed to smile on official photos? Yes, it's really like that. They always look rather grim on their ID cards, and that is because they are told not to smile when the photo is taken at the district office, Dtim explained me. That's a bit strange to us farangs, isn't it?
My personal explanation is that our cultures differ in a particular respect here: In the West, smiling is used rather sparingly. It is seen as something special, a gesture that invariably conveys something good. Accordingly, someone who never smiles is regarded as somewhat suspicious. Someone who doesn't smile in a passport photo looks like a convict to us. But in a country that is nicknamed the LOS, smiling is very common, not to say ubiquitous, and though it basically has the same meaning as in the West, it is more than often used to protect your personality, to hide feelings, to distract from something unpleasant, as a means of disguise and camouflage. Everybody knows that. Thus, someone who doesn't smile is insuspicious; he must be sincere; he shows his real face. Not that anyone in Thailand wants that to happen in everyday life, but it could be a reason why the officers tell the people to put on an air of seriousness.
I told them about life in western countries, mostly in a negative way: about the horrible climate in Central Europe (I explained that you have to heat your home in winter), that we don't have so much fun in life, that people earn a lot more than in Thailand, but everything is much more expensive as well, especially things like food and clothes, that you cannot afford to eat out every day and have to prepare most meals by yourself, that there's not so many delicious fruits and dishes like in SE Asia, that there's not nearly as much life in the streets, that people don't smile and laugh so much, that they don't talk with each other, but like to retreat into the security of their houses, that they tend to be egoistic and stingy, that they don't have so many friends. (Sorry, I know I am biased.)
They have a notion anyway that farangs always work hard and "seriously" – not a Thai's idea of sanuk. In Thai language they have borrowed that word from English: tham ngan see-lee-ut…… mai dii na.
In the meantime we know each other so well and can appreciate each other. At least Dtim and Ooi know I don't comply with their image of a typical farang tourist: I don't like to lie on the beach sunbaking, but I like to go to Isaan instead, very very strange! I am not ignorant of Thai customs and behaviour, but I am interested in their country and try to understand its culture and its people and be considerate, adapt to them. I travel through the country on my own without needing many conveniences, but I am not like a typical backpacker, either. Not so disorderly, not so "crazy". And I prefer the company of Thai people to that of farangs. I am not overly serious, I can smile and laugh. I don't work hard, but am rather lazy. And especially I like to have fun with Thai people, I can speak their language to some extent and love to use it.
All of this one day led them to the conclusion: "Actually he is not like a farang….. more like a Thai", which I counted as a big compliment……
We talked about so many different things. For example, the way of addressing people in Thai language: at the beginning of our friendship we had stuck to using khun, but now it doesn't come into question anymore because it is a bit too formal for our relationship. On the other hand, who would use thoe? Sounds rather impolite and is reserved for lovers in the first place. So we call each other by our names, and I also like to call her phii (big sister), or phii Dtim (the same is true for Ooi). It creates such a nice atmosphere of familiarity, a detail that cannot be rendered in European languages. Like most Thai women, they both like to use their own nicknames when referring to themselves, rather than to use chan. This topic was also the basis for one funny talk with Dtim. We debated about different personal pronouns like the ones mentioned above, and I told her about the girl working in the bakery near to the photo shop (who is also Dtim's friend). She is from Ubon, which makes her a khon laao for Dtim and other Central Thais. That girl originally called me phuean (friend) whenever I talked to her in the shop, which I always found very comical. A typical statement from her would be phuean bpai nai kha? You have to imagine her very sedate and laconic: once I entered, she just looked up shortly and said expressionlessly: oh, phuean. I will never forget that. Oh, phuean. But in the meantime she has changed to using my name instead. (Does it mean we are closer friends now?) Anyway, Dtim replied, "Oh yes, that's not unusual for Isaan people. They often use these strange expressions. When I talk with her, she likes to call herself chan and address me as thoe. I myself hardly use these words. I prefer to use the person's proper name." As said somewhere else, Isaan ("Lao") people are being ridiculed by other Thais for their language and behaviour, hence Dtim's judgement: khao phuut dtalok, she talks funnily. Nonetheless, they are close friends.
(On the other hand, Dtim asked me not to tell that girl I had stayed at her house and make up some white lie in case she asked me what I had been up to – in order to keep her reputation and prevent any bad rumours. If you read the "Friends" submission, you might remember that we once had a little bit of trouble because of some silly gossip. Dtim had coped with that, forgotten her anger and didn't care if anyone saw me visiting her in the shop and talking with her now. But she didn't want to be hazardous and challenge her fate, either. I can understood that, for when you tell something to one of the shop clerks, the whole university will know about it the following day. It would have made a really fine story for all evil tongues: a young farang spends the night together with Dtim! Another thought on this topic. Back then it was rumoured that she was cheating on her husband. But consider that she is just his mia noi! So he is the bad boy here, if you like. He has a wife and one or several lovers and isn't honest to any of them, while Dtim is very faithful to him. But the high standards of morale are only applied to the woman, even if she isn't his regular wife, and never to the husband. Being a man in Thailand can come close to paradise, but being a Thai woman rather seems to be like hell in certain respects…….)
Back to language. In accordance with our good relationship, polite particles can also be omitted between us. Or alternatively, Dtim and Ooi like to use the more colloquial and uncourtly dja' instead of the elegant and classical kha (…that contributes so much to the fascination of Thai woman, if you ask me). One day in the yard of the other house near BKK, when I prepared to go to town and told Dtim I would do this and that and probably come back around this time or another, she just replied: dja', which meant "alright, I am OK with that". Also very succinct.
I had promised Dtim to teach her something about computers and the Internet, but now that she was injured, she couldn't come with me to the Internet Café in Photharam (I had to go by motorbike). But Fon was to take me there, so I proposed Ooi could come with us on that occasion and I'd let them both sit beside me and explain them some basics. They didn't have the slightest idea what it all was about. (When talking to me, Dtim had often confused an email with a fax! She thought it was something very similar.) Maybe they had SEEN a computer before, but definitely never touched one. I tried my best to explain how to send and receive emails and to show them some interesting sites with pictures or contents in Thai language, something they could relate to. There also was a headset, so I could play some sounds to them as well. And they sat there patiently and attentively for nearly 2 hours. At the end they seemed a bit confused, but were also glad they had learned something, though they will probably never send an email themselves. But Ooi said to me, "We have heard talking about 'Internet' and 'email' everywhere and all the time, but we never knew what it means." I think she was impressed and thankful that I had showed it to them, and it had been fun for me, too. Later they told Dtim about their experience in exuberant words.
Time went by too fast and suddenly I had to say goodbye to good old Ratchaburi. My family stated that I had to come back one day and that I was always welcome at their house in Photharam. I was glad I had had the opportunity to visit Dtim's home upcountry and get to know more members of her family. Especially for one particular reason: "If one day I shouldn't work on the university campus anymore and you cannot find me, you can always come to the house in Ratchaburi……. I will be here, or at least some relatives will be here and you can ask them about me", she said, and how right she was. Then she asked me, "Can you remember the location? Could you find the way here by yourself?" and I answered, "Sure, no problem at all"…….
I really enjoyed these 4 days in Photharam (it was definitely the best New Year I ever had, and one of the best times of my life) and when I think back to it, I miss it very very much.
I returned to the house of Dtim's "husband" on 1 January together with Ooi because she had to work and I had a flight to Chiang Rai the next day. (Dtim would return later and I'd meet her again after my trip to the North.) Ooi and I took a coach to Sai Tai Mai (Southern Bus Terminal) and then went on with different public buses. She didn't mind travelling with me (appearing as as a "couple" in public, I mean) and was as confident and reliable as usual when it came to walking around in BKK, taking the right bus and so on. Dtim could never do that…..
That evening we had a lot of fun talking and looking at my maps of Thailand. You know, I always want to know my exact position and I like maps very much and always carry a lot of different maps with me when I travel – and a GPS, too. Most Thais (including Dtim, of course!) cannot relate to maps, however, so it was amazing to find out that Ooi was really interested in them! She had a close look at all of them and I had to show her various towns and provinces, translate the legend, explain every little detail. She told me, "Oh, I never knew what all the lines and colours on a map meant. We are so uneducated. We never use a map. I was always confused when I saw one. It's so interesting to learn something about it." (You have to imagine that: initially she had no idea which signature could be a river or a road, all those things that are pretty obvious for most of us. It was nothing more than a strange geometric pattern for her. That was also very interesting for me, putting myself into the perspective of a simple, uneducated Thai woman.) The only problem was that the maps were in English and she couldn't read the names by herself. But she was really into it and we kept talking until late at night. She was afraid I was getting tired and annoyed about her curiosity and said we could stop if I wanted to go sleeping, but it was great fun for me. That day – at the latest – I began to like Ooi very much; not quite as much as Dtim, but she is also an absolutely nice person. As I mentioned before and should be evident from my narration, she is very different from her sister, but I like them both.
So I flew to Chiang Rai – Did you know they have some go-go bars there, right in the centre of the city? The make-up is wimpy and rather ridiculous. There's usually only one or two girls on the stage. They don't even wear bikinis, but street clothes (skimpy ones, nonetheless), and it seems they cannot be taken out. They are simply dancers, though they like to play around with farang men just like ordinary bargirls, be touched by them and so on; one of them even showed her breasts on the stage and on the street in front of the bar for some seconds! Very strange. They often have an after work dinner on the night market with some of their customers, but there's no boom-boom available after that.
I then went on to Mae Sai, Thailand's northernmost town, and also crossed the border into Tachilek for 2 hours (you can go without a visa if you pay 5 Dollars and return on the same day). There's not much to do over there in Myanmar, I just went around with a samlor driver who showed me a statue, two temples and a big golden pagoda (the standard program for visitors), and I had a delicious noodle soup. But I have to say the Burmese also seem to be very friendly people. Many of them sell goods on the market in Mae Sai or work there. Usually they can speak Thai quite fluently. In the evening I had a Thai massage by a Burmese girl. All this happens despite the lasting tensions between the two countries; but on a local basis it works without major problems. I really want to visit Myanmar next time, it's such a large and relatively unknown country and there are many nice things to discover.
May I draw your attention to Jani Bakery House and Internet Café in Mae Sai, on the right side of the main road, about 500 m before the border post. The owner is a (fairly attractive) woman of 28 who can speak English very well. She also employs two Burmese girls. We talked for quite a long time, she's very nice. She makes the cakes herself – and is very good at it! The shop is named after her little daughter. The surprising thing is that it is really like a traditional (European) café and maybe the only one of its kind in Thailand. Seated on cast iron chairs, you can consume fresh pastry and sandwiches and drink different sorts of tea and coffee, all at moderate prices. Really good, not like Starbuck's……
Two days later, when visiting the Golden Triangle, I spotted a booth that sold maps with Thai and English inscriptions, besides the usual postcards. I decided to buy two: one for me and one for Ooi, because it would make a nice present for her (you remember, she was looking for a map that she could read without my help.) Unfortunately I couldn't give it to her personally because she wasn't there when I came back on my last day in Thailand (see below), but I wrote a dedication on it ("For Phii Ooi, a Thai person that is interested in maps…") and later she thanked me for it in a letter and wrote, "I have a look at your map every day."
After that I continued my journey via Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong and Phayao, returned to Chiang Rai and was back in BKK on 8 January. There I went to the house of Dtim's "husband" to meet Dtim and the mother again. I had a look at the sarong that had been finished and brought back from Potharam in the meantime. I had already paid for it, but Ooi had also taken care of some of my slide films, brought them to a shop where she could get a special discount to have them developed and advanced the money, 300 Baht! I paid it back to Dtim. But I didn't have much time that day because I had arranged a meeting with someone at WTC in the evening – "Me", the author of "Voice From A Thai Girl" (http://www.geocities.com/voicefromthaigirl/index.html), an interesting Internet diary. I am not sure, but I think it must have been mentioned somewhere on Stick's site already. Time for some publicity now: If you are interested in Thailand (and you must be if you have kept reading until here!), I strongly recommend you to have a look at it. I like the style of her articles very much and they give you a very good insight into some of the most different matters from the point of view of a Thai woman. The best think is that she doesn't even shrink from the most difficult or embarrassing topics. There are virtually no taboos and you can also discuss your ideas with her via email.
I also returned to Khao San Rd later that evening because I have two female friends there as well. One of them is employed in my favourite BKK travel agency. The other one works in a massage parlour (a "real traditional" one of course, we are talking about Banglamphu area!). Her name is Jit, she's 28 and comes from Phetchabun. Without wanting to go into details here, she is quite a strange person, but I like her a lot. She is very slow, very deliberate. Simple and unpretending. Probably she thinks a lot, just she doesn't unbosom herself. Very shy, reserved and introvert, downright enigmatic. Of course she isn't the brightest of persons (she's just another poor and uneducated farm girl with 6 or 7 brothers and sisters; but a "decent" one), but then again she cannot be so stupid, judging from the letters she wrote to me. There are probably a lot of things going on in her brain that you wouldn't expect from someone like her. She's a somewhat unfathomable and contradictory character. But it's fascinating to know such a girl and to imagine what thoughts might be hidden inside her head. The calmer, the more interesting, isn't it……? In any case, I prefer someone like that to talkative, but plain people. I first met her in December 2000, and after returning to the parlour several times (I like Thai massage a lot!), I finally ended up using only her services. Not that she is an absolute expert in her profession (she told me that she originally worked as a room cleaner after coming to BKK, I think, then attended a 3 weeks course in Wat Pho). By the way, I received my best Thai massage ever one night in Si Sa Ket (Isaan rules!), by a petite girl who seemed very soft and weak, but had a superb technique that more than made up for her physical deficits. It hurt quite a bit, but was a great experience.
No, Jit is simply very gentle and na-rak. It is her personage that makes the big difference. She radiates that particular warmth. And she likes me very much. (First it was her colleagues who told me that, later she said it herself.) She also sent me some photos and postcards already and gave me a calendar as a present. The funny thing is that actually we don't understand each other very well. I mentioned before that there are persons that you simply cannot communicate with, and Jit is one of the best examples for that theory. Of course she can hardly speak any English (apart from the massage essentials like "turn round", "sit up" and "finished"), but she also almost refuses to understand me when I talk to her in Thai. If I speak with her like I do with any other Thai, she doesn't get the sense anyway, and even when I try my best to pronounce everything clearly and distinctly, she still has problems. So we usually don't talk much. But we get along fairly well. There's not much we could want to tell each other, anyway. And of course I will never even come near to understanding her way of thinking. So it's a somewhat strange relationship.
We developed a kind of habit or ritual in the meantime. I usually go to see her late in the evening, so that her work finishes with my massage. Then we go and have a late night dinner at a certain street restaurant in Samsen Soi 2 or 4, I cannot remember exactly. We have done that 3 times up to now. On the last occasions I accompanied her to her room after that, but she wouldn't allow me inside. (I'd just be interested in how she lives there. The conditions must be VERY basic, to judge from the appearance of the building.)
Strangely though, she doesn't have the slightest problem walking around with me in public. (OK, around Khao San it all might look a bit more innocent than in Sukhumvit or Patpong….) I hugged her twice to express my affection, and she was very happy. But whenever her colleagues tease her about her farang "boyfriend" (and they always do it), she is embarrassed, flushes and tries to make them be quiet. I think she would actually like me to be her boyfriend, though she certainly never stated that. But for instance, there's a photo on the pin board in the massage parlour that shows her with another farang man, and she hastened to assure me it was nothing serious.
I spent the night in BKK and on the last day of my stay in Thailand I met yet another friend, Fon. She used to work in the university cafeteria, where she sold drinks, sweets and ice-cream. Now she is employed in a big shopping center, in a shop that has to do with make-up and similar stuff. She is quite pretty in my opinion, has a gorgeous body and always dresses sexily. She is the same age as me, only 2 months younger. When I stayed on the university campus for 6 months and went to the cafeteria every day, she instantly caught my eye. I was a bit intimidated by her first because she was such a stunner, always smiling. Fantastic proportions, a beautiful pair of breasts and a nice butt. I feared she could be a bit stand-offish. Whenever I bought a drink, she was very friendly, but I didn't dare to talk to her. One day I finally overcame my inhibitions and told her that she was very beautiful and asked her for her name. She was surprised, but it turned out she was very nice, no need to worry. You know, she has a talent to make you feel at ease; she's very very natural. Now the ice had been broken, and after that I often came to the counter and talked with her. One day we even ate at the same table because she also had a lunch break.
So one day after my advance, we were chatting a bit when she suddenly asked me if I'd like to go to the movies with her. I happily said yes before she could think about her offer again. The following day was a Saturday and she didn't have to work. I was unable to believe my luck. I had made an appointment with the most beautiful girl on campus, and she had invited ME, not the other way round! The following day we met at the bus stop and went to see the film, had lunch at Pizza Hut and talked a lot. And she paid for everything!
Sadly we never repeated such a meeting. And one day she stopped working at the university. I didn't even have her phone number, address or photo and she didn't answer my emails.
Well, so much for the case history.
When I came back this time, some girl from the cafeteria told me Fon was already married and had a baby in the meantime…. So I thought it was no use trying to contact her again. It was only after my return from Ratchaburi that someone else in the cafeteria asked me if I had already met Fon and I said, "No, I thought she was married", and that girl was virtually abashed and said, "No, she is not. Who told you that? Do you want to have her cellphone number?" Sure I wanted. So it had been nothing more than a tale made up by a jealous lady cook….
Anyway, again I was a little shy and hesitated to call her because I didn't know what she thought of me and if she'd remember me at all. But finally I dared to dial the number and it turned out my fear had been unjustified. After two or three seconds, Fon remembered me, was duly surprised, but seemed to be very glad about my call. And she's really wonderful to talk to on the phone, like Dtim! Absolutely kind and natural. So I have to correct my earlier statement (… that Dtim is the only person that I get along well with personally AND on the phone). She asked me why I hadn't contacted her earlier and I told her the whole story about the alleged marriage, which astounded her, to say the least. She said the girl who had told me that must be khii-itchaa (jealous). She didn't take it too seriously, though. She was simply happy I had called and eager to see me again. We had a lot of fun and arranged a meeting at her working place on the last day of my journey.
My schedule was really tight, but fortunately I could set our meeting on my final day, on my way back to Dtim from the city. It was not easy to find Fon in the huge shopping centre, but finally we met. She looked great and was smiling like a goddess. She proposed we should go and have lunch, and again we ended up at Pizza Hut. Not that I like it so much and want to make advertisement for them. It was a bit strange, the other food on offer just wasn't to my taste (I love Thai food, but the selection available in the food courts of those shopping centres is often rather disappointing). And again she produced her wallet, but this time I insisted on paying. We talked for quite a long time, then she took me to the shop where she is employed. There she introduce me to some friends, and finally we took two photos together. Then I had to go. On the one hand I was sad that we had only met so shortly before my departure, on the other hand I was happy that it had worked at all.
So we haven't been intimate yet, but that is not so important, though she attracts me a lot and I would really want to….. (I leave that to your imagination). But first of all, she is really one of the nicest persons I know. Great to talk with. Always cheerful. Truly warm-hearted. Down-to-earth, very kind, gentle and attentive. And self-confident: When I asked her if it wasn't a problem for her to walk around with a farang man, she told me Fon mai son, I don't care. She's a bit like Ped: Let the other people think whatever they want; I know that I am a decent girl, and that is all that counts.
BTW, Fon says she isn't beautiful, and most Thai people will think the same. When I showed her picture to Dtim's family (she gave me one and I still keep in my wallet), they said mai suai loei, not beautiful at all, which was very honest for their part, but also a bit shocking for me….. It has to do with the fact that she simply doesn't fulfil the Thai ideal of beauty with her broad face, high cheekbones and flat nose (mind you, she isn't from Isaan, though, and has rather light skin). But when I imagine walking with her in public in a farang country, I am sure we would draw numerous incredulous (or yearning) looks…….
Anyway, after securing Fon's address and saying goodbye to her, I still went to the university in order to speak with my friends in the cafeteria kitchen. But first I found Ooi in the photo shop, doing the work in Dtim's place. We planned to leave together and then meet Dtim and the mother at the house. But I spent too much time talking to different other friends, and when I returned to the shop, she had already left.
So that evening I finally had to take leave of my Thai Sister, Phii Dtim. It was going to be no fun. I arrived by taxi around 6.30 pm. I had thought I would see Ooi again at the "husband's" house, but it turned out that she was prevented from coming there, which was a pity because I couldn't give her the map I had bought for her and we also hadn't said goodbye yet. A couple of other things also went wrong. Our final encounter wasn't much to my taste.
First of all, Dtim's brother and sister-in-law started a merciless DVD home karaoke session while I had to pack my things in the same room. During my trips to the countryside I had left quite a lot of things at the house because I didn't want to carry more stuff than necessary. Now I had to re-arrange everything in my big backpack. That evening I could have strangled both of them to death….. the weather was hotter than all the time before and I was sweating. It made me sad and angry that I had to leave and they were kind of partying. But the worst thing was that they really couldn't sing. It was pure noise terror. Nuu Bin joined them for some songs, and she was much better at it than her parents. Their behaviour annoyed me a lot. Needless to say that it destroyed the whole atmosphere on my last day with Dtim. But I couldn't do anything about it. I had to grin and bear it. Composure is a real virtue…… I know Thai people don't have that sense for privacy that is sometimes so important to us. In a western country, the host would tell his guest, "I'll leave you alone in your room now so you are undisturbed and can prepare everything for your journey." Dtim and the mother didn't find anything bad about that behaviour, either. They even tormented me with many silly questions that suddenly came to their mind while I had to think about how to stow away my things. Later they still watched some crap on TV (a thing that also annoys me with bargirls who you take back to your room and whose first move is to turn on the TV and indiscriminately indulge in some absolutely worthless program as if it was something ultra important, rather than calling attention to their customer).
Second, my original idea had been that Dtim and Ooi could see me off at the airport this time because the flight was late at night so she wouldn't be at work. Now Ooi wasn't there and Dtim was injured, but anyway. She could go to the airport and back by taxi (which I would pay for her), and her brother and sister-in-law could come with her as well to assist her a bit. But all my proposals were turned down because they were "afraid", they didn't want to leave the house after dark, and Dtim thought it to be too inconvenient for her and felt uneasy at the thought of drawing too much attention with her crutches. I was quite deceived. All this really didn't develop like I had imagined. I had intended to spent a nice and quiet evening with the sisters, talking and then say goodbye to them at the airport. The next issue was, how would I get to the airport? I planned to go around 10 pm. The house is located in a quiet village-like settlement area around 500 m off a highway of minor importance in the outskirts of Bangkok (i.e. in a neighbouring province). They said there weren't too many taxis around there at night time and I would have to wait for a long time and maybe fail to get one at all if I decided to try my luck by the road, which was certainly a justified objection. When I asked them whether they couldn't CALL a taxi, they said no, they didn't know the number. They didn't have a telephone directory, either. And they didn't know the number of the telephone inquiry. Bingo. Sometimes your patience is really put to the test. They said I should better go earlier. It goes without saying that I didn't like the thought of leaving much earlier, but it seemed the only viable option. They proposed the brother could take me to the end of the soi with his motorbike. Of course I didn't want to stand by the highway with my backpack, nervously waiting for a taxi to come. Finally a new plan was made: Fon and her husband went to the main road to hail a taxi and guide it to the house before it was too late. The best action from their part on that day. They were successful and back 15 minutes later. The driver was waiting for me, the motor running. Everything ended in restlessness and a big hurry.
Nevertheless, my departure was once again a very emotional scene. Dtim was sitting on the doorstep with her broken leg. I said yaak got phii, I want to hug you, and she happily stretched out her arms. We embraced each other for some seconds and after that she still grabbed my arm as if she didn't want to let me go, with a slight expression of panic on her face. I also felt very uncomfortable. Dtim's final verdict about my visit: "Your time in Thailand went by so quickly. It seems to me as if it was only 10 or 15 days…." How right she was. (It had actually been 5 and a half weeks.) I put my luggage into the taxi, said goodbye to the other family members, then turned back to the house because I still didn't want to leave. Dtim came towards the gate in the enclosure on her crutches, and again we talked and held hands, promising each other that we would stay friends forever. It must have looked to the taxi driver as if she was my girlfriend, but we didn't care. Stirred up inside, I boarded the taxi in a gloomy mood. On the highway to the airport I felt dejected and empty. The outside world seemed evil and insignificant. I had tears in my eyes.
Arriving at the airport, I realized it actually wouldn't have been the best idea to take them with me because the departure hall was very crowded (despite the silly take-off time) and it took a long time until the counters for my flight opened, and then to check in. So it would have been quite hectic, inconvenient and boring for my companions. After checking in my luggage, I made a phone call to Dtim. She picked up after 2 seconds and said, "I already thought it was you. I was sure you'd call." …..Even though I hadn't announced it, it was perfectly clear to both of us that I'd want to speak to her again from the airport. We talked for about 50 minutes, but it was rather like 5 minutes to me. Time just seemed to fly past. Similar to the last time when I departed to Farangland and called her from the airport, eight months ago, she wouldn't have ended the conversation at all on her part. She expressed her worries (about the unsatisfactory healing process of her broken leg and everything connected with that; and about my uncertain return to Thailand) in length, and all I could do was to agree and sigh. At the end of our talk the pauses between our statements became longer and longer, but it was difficult for both of us to hang up. Again we were united in silence, and again it was my job to bring this unhappy matter to a termination. My mood after that has to be described as a mixture of melancholy and hilarious contentment. After all I had to admit that I had met my dear Dtim again and spent a marvellous time with her. It only had been too short an experience. But at least we had said goodbye in an appropriate way.
At the time the plane took off from Thai soil, a deep sadness took possession of my soul. When would I return to this wonderful country? When would I see her again? I would have liked to cry and sob, but do that on board of an aircraft, with 300-something other passengers around you……. So I kept staring out of the window with wet eyes.
Anyway, I have survived my depressive mood so far and I really would like to return to the kingdom around Loy Krathong in November. It would be so nice to stay in the house in Ratchaburi again and put down our floats on the nearby river together. But the only thing which is definite at the moment is that it won't be possible to go earlier than that. It's still not sure if I can go in November or if it will take even longer to return.
I once called them at home and also sent photos of my mother dressed in the sarong and Thai style jacket we had tailored for her. Since my return in the middle of January, Ooi has written me 5 times. One should think Dtim has plenty of time to write me a letter, but it's always Ooi who conveys the latest news from my family in Thailand. The biggest advantage is that her handwriting is much better than Dtim's. And she is very reliable and answers all my questions in her replies. Last time she really surprised me by sending me a music CD with "Thai hit songs". This cost her 66 Baht for postage alone, which is quite an amount for ordinary Thai people. The first song is called Dtim…….. and if I am not mistaken, the first line translates as "I never loved anyone like Dtim…." Ooi wrote, "I really want you to come to Photharam for Loy Krathong. Dtim also wants that. We think you will come for sure. But the airfare to Thailand is very expensive. I am not rich, I don't have much money. If I was rich and had a lot of money, I would help you to come to Thailand. My salary is also not high. When I think about it, I am very sad." Can you believe that? Imagine the poor Thais giving money to the rich farang. I am sure she means every word honestly. It's so touching. Now I wrote her I was very moved by her offer, but it wasn't necessary to support me because I could earn enough money to buy a flight ticket in 6 or 7 months' time. I had a different idea and sent her some money so she can buy an international phone card because it's notably cheaper to call from Thailand to Germany than vice versa. I hope Dtim and Ooi will manage to phone me one day, but that still remains to be seen……. At least Dtim didn't lose her job and it seems she can return to work some time in April. The recovery of her leg turned out to be very slow and complicated. She got rid of the plaster cast in late January or early February, but the leg still hurt and she could barely walk. Now I am happy for her and feel deeply relieved.
P.S. All characters mentioned in this story are non-fictitional. Everything told above is absolutely true and not a product of imagination. Most of the quotes might be non-verbatim, but they are suited to render the gist of the respective conversation. Dates, places names and the names of the acting persons are real in any case.
It's such a nice thing to have someone like Dtim to talk with about anything you can imagine. You couldn't do that with someone you're intimate with. There's a conflict of interests that quickly spoils everything. Above all, there's selfishness: you certainly want the best for your partner because you love him/her, but at the same time you want him/her for yourself alone. You don't allow others to associate with him/her, and by that you also take something away from him/her. But our kind of friendship makes it easy. I don't have to care about her intimate relationships, I don't have to be jealous of her "husband" – for I don't desire her. She is neither jealous when I meet other women, because she doesn't desire me, nor would she be disgusted if she knew about my bg contacts. We are simply good friends. At first glance, we are not very similar and at second, only a little bit. But more important, we respect each other's ways and attitudes. We can discuss all these private matters, listen to each other's worries, give each other advice, console each other if necessary, whatever, and still be friends. There's no envy, no jealousy between us. Dtim knows that I have a lot of other friends in Thailand, but she knows (she feels) that she is indeed VERY special for me. We only want the best for each other. Money isn't an issue, either. And you should pay attention to monetary issues not getting involved because I am convinced that if they do, they can destroy even the strongest friendships.
While we like each other so much and enjoy being together, we don't feel an urge to be together all the time. If you live with a partner, you will become bored or end up arguing at some point. In contrast to that, the healthy thing about friendships is that you can part ways and be divided for some time without shedding too many tears, keep in contact and then reunite at the next opportunity, and your feelings and your relationship will be even better than before.
In my humble opinion, a real good friend, or a relationship of this kind is much more rewarding than an intimate relationship with a woman, which can only leads to complications; that's why I don't want to have a girlfriend, let alone live together with a woman, marry, have children, found a family……… these ideas are nothing but pure horror to me.
While most people will disagree on that, there are some important points that cannot be dismissed so easily. I am sure you're better off without a partner than without a friend, in any case. Just think about that. And remember, you can buy sex, but you cannot buy (real) friends. And there are many ways to satisfy your sexual needs (bargirls are one solution), but there's no substitute for friendship.
I am very radical in this respect. I separate love from sex. I hold that it's impossible to maintain a friendship with someone you are intimate with. I think all the good experiences / feelings described above would only be spoiled by sex.
Of course, love is not sex. Love is a mental demand, while sex is a biological demand, if we want to put it like that. OK. That's easy. But I wanted to say more than that. As far as this special matter is concerned, I have two personal categories for women:
1. mother, sister, female friend etc. – who I can love, but cannot have sex with.
2. bargirl, one night stand etc. – who attracts me, who I can have sex with, but who I cannot love, just desire.
People like "girlfriend" or "wife" would fall into category no. 3 – who I love AND have sex with. But I think this is impossible for me. So I cannot have any lasting boy-girl (intimate) relationship. Only short-time sexual encounters (biological) and a lasting male friend-female friend relationship (mental). I have never been looking for love and sex in the same person.
I was never looking for a partner in the LOS. I never wanted to have a relationship with a bargirl (actually I don't want to have any customary love relationship at all). As stated many times before by myself and by others (if I am not mistaken, there was this guy named "Stickman" or so……), they are just good for having fun for one night. Period. It's simply a service girl-customer relationship. I think friendship is far more important. What kind of life would you be leading without friends? I'd rather forgo the bar scene in Thailand if I had the choice to make. On the other hand, I even "love" my very dear friends (like Dtim), but my definition of that feeling is different; it's like the love you feel for your mother or sister, if you understand. I could probably never have sex with them. At least it wouldn't add anything to our relationship, rather take away from it.
I would call that the concept of pure love: The outer appearance doesn't play a role. Even the gender doesn't play a role, for that matter. I don't love Dtim because of the fact that she is a woman or that she attracts me physically; and she doesn't love me (if she'd call it like that) because I am a man, or a farang, or good-looking (I personally don't think I am, but most Asian women seem to think so). It's just that I feel associated, or that I fell in love, with the human being and the personality that happen to be inside her body.
That's why I call Dtim my true Thai sister.