In The Morning She Left
My first night ever in Thailand was spent at the Thermae.
I had been snowed-in overnight in Seoul on my way from Boston to Bangkok. After waiting for nearly a year – and a bad night in South Korea – the plane touched down and I took a taxi to the Ruamchit. Yes, it is pretty worn out, but great when the Thermae was open until 6:00 AM; if you end up at the Thermae after hours, you won’t get lost on the way to your room no matter how drunk you are.
I can’t say that I was comfortable during my first night in Southeast Asia, my first drive down Sukhumvit. I couldn’t believe the amount of people in the streets at 3:00 AM: food stalls, drunks, beggars, fortune tellers, girls, tuk tuks, drunken westerners, and power lines hanging all over the place. It seemed very strange, and I said to myself, “Well, this is where you have been dying to go for the last 12 months – enjoy it!”
As the taxi pulled up outside of the hotel and the driver opened the trunk to give me my bag, I felt a hand sliding on my shoulder. Two beautiful girls were walking by and one of them decided to say hello with a touch. They both looked back as they passed and I saw huge smiles like the Cheshire cat in the dark. They kept walking, up the steps then down into the Thermae. This isn’t so bad after all.
The American from Texas who I had met in Seoul (and who was by chance also staying at the Ruamchit) with whom I had shared the cab, proclaimed, “what a country!” He had been here many times, including R&R (aka I&I) during the Vietnam War. His simple phrase became a slogan for the rest of the trip, the rest of my trips.
I checked in, showered, and within minutes heard the knocking on my door. The Texan saying “you ready yet?” We went down to the Thermae and, I don’t know if I had a sign on me saying “Rich Newbie; get him before he learns a goddamn thing”, but the girls were all over me. “What a country!”
I remember chanting to myself: three more weeks here!, three more weeks here!. I ended up going with a gorgeous girl who couldn’t speak a word of English. She just stood in the corner by herself until the Texan translated for me. Whenever we tried to communicate she would shyly cover her face and giggle nervously. I learned the Thai word cold “now” that night because I had the AC on full blast.
Even to this day, with the more experience I get in the bar scene, I think she was the furthest from hardcore as I have ever met in Thailand – but that is another story.
It seemed that almost every night, I would end up back at the Thermae. One night I went home with some fun, but crazy, girl with a stud in her chin – a small silver stud beneath her lower lip. We had a good time together but there was never a plan to see each other again.
After three or four days I was really burning the candle at both ends. The jet lag, the heat, eating only once per day, and the gallons and gallons of beer were really putting a beating on me. One night in the Thermae I saw this sweet little thing. Noi.
I had seen her a few nights before actually, while walking down Sukhumvit. She and her friend were walking in the other direction. My Texas friend has known her for years. He told me she was an old roommate with his ex-girlfriend. She told him that she wanted to meet me but we were heading somewhere else and, let’s face it, girls wanting to meet you in Bangkok are just not that rare. We said good-bye and kept walking.
But on this night, and in the Thermae, I saw her again and recognized her immediately. We made eye contact from across the room and she came right over. We began to talk, both with huge smiles on our faces (I can’t speak for her, but my huge smile was definitely genuine). Before we even spoke I think it was a done deal.
We spoke for a few minutes. But the crazy girl with the stud below her lip came into view, came running over. I speak very little Thai, but I could understand that the crazy one told Noi to fuck off in no uncertain terms. Noi took off immediately.
I looked at the crazy one and said “What the fuck was that for?”. She replied with the infinite wisdom of all bargirls / freelancers: “You buy me gin and tonic?”. Needless to say, I would have bought her a slap across the face before a drink, but I just shook my head and walked off.
Two days later, I felt like I was there was a man with a shotgun living in my head. In one night I had gone to Patpong, Nana, Soi Cowboy, and some place on Sukhumvit with a midget for a doorman. The night ended, again, at the Thermae at 6:00 AM. I had been drinking for about 14 hours, and felt like complete shit. One of those mornings- I guess I should say “afternoons”- when you wished you were dead. The Texan knocking on my door would not allow that though.
We left the Ruamchit and walked over to the bar immediately next door. (In January of 2003 – two years after the trip of which I am writing – it was called Bill’s Coffee Shop. Is this bar still there?). I drank a cola like a goddamn girl – felt awful. You know you feel like shit when you order yourself a lady drink. “You want cola… same same lady drink?”.
The Texan looked at me and said, “what do you want to do tonight?” I said, “I would love to drink a few beers and meet up with your old girlfriend’s roommate, the sweet friend. She seemed so laid back and as sweet as a freelancer can be. I could use a night like that tonight.” He understood, but we decided to go to the Nana Disco – perfect for hangovers, right?
We were walking down Sukhumvit, I think right in front of the Landmark, and I saw her. Unbelievable- like a dream. I could not believe it. She said “Where you go?”. I said “I go where you go” The Texan laughed and said, “Holy shit man – Ask and ye shall receive.” He walked to the Disco, she and I went to the restaurant in Nana for a few drinks.
She is really short- about 5 feet tall, with hair that is probably 2.5 feet long. Beautiful, sweet face, nice body. She was older than most, I think in early thirties and on a night like tonight she was completely what I wanted. She was so relaxed, demure. She didn’t order a whole buffet of food or drink too much. She was polite and thoughtful and, as experienced as she obviously was, I thought she was the perfect girl for a quiet night in Bangkok. Even to this day, I still cannot believe I ran into her minutes after saying I wanted to find her. She has these big, watery eyes and one of the irises has a tiny imperfection in it – almost as if the color of the iris had gently, barely, almost unnoticeably leaked out into the white – an imperfect circle. Almost three years later and I can see it perfectly. I fell into her eyes and sweet smile.
We had a few drinks and stayed together for two nights. She taught me some Thai and I taught her the English alphabet. She spoke ok (more years in the scene I guess) but her writing was bad; when we exchanged emails I knew someone would be writing for her.
During our two nights together I had noticed some scars near her knees. When I asked her about them she directed my hand to her head. Underneath her thick, beautiful hair, she had a small indentation in her skull.
She told me that she used to have a boyfriend from Holland who loved riding motorcycles. He would rent a Harley and drive from Bangkok to Pattaya as many times as he could in a holiday. Unfortunately, she had an accident on a motorcycle taxi, and had been in a coma for almost a month, about two years ago. She would NEVER ride on a motorcycle again and, because of this, her boyfriend had left her.
We talked a lot. Most of the night.
We said our goodbyes, and I flew to Chiang Mai, then I went back to Boston. The last sentence in my travel journal, writing in the Departures Lounge in Don Muang was “I love Thailand too much”. I could not wait to come back.
Over the next year, I tried my best to go back to work, and finish my Master’s Degree, but was always dreaming of Southeast Asia. I received emails from several girls – never too serious, only Hellos and Miss Yous – never a promise, and never claims of love. Except from one girl.
The “nice girl” or “sweet friend” or Noi constantly sent me emails writing how much she loved me and missed me. I know I spent two days with her, and I did think of her with genuine affection, but she would not stop. It was the stereotype of bullshit emails. The fact that I knew she couldn’t write in English made it all the more sad.
One day she sent me an email “I have motorbike accident. Please help me.” After the story she told me about the boyfriend from Holland, the scars on her knees and the hole in her head, I was disgusted. Anyway, I did not send her money. I said I had problems here too (true) and said sorry. Months later I got another email from her, she said she needed an operation and needed help. I almost laughed at this. I felt like I was a member of the punter’s gang – receiving Help Me emails from Bangkok bargirls. Sorry, Noi. I will be back in Thailand in a few months and you can see me again if you want. I never got a response, oh well.
One year after my first trip I was back in Bangkok, drinking at a famous, non gogo bar in the corner of Nana. They stayed open after the official 2:00 A.M. closing. At 3:00, I started walking, or staggering, back toward Sukhumvit alone. From across Soi Four I heard, “John!!!!!” Huh? Noi came running over to me and wrapped her arms around me. Even after the emails I was really happy to see her. We had a drink and then went back to the hotel. I was shocked that she recognized me from across the soi after one year. But the strangest thing was next.
Out of her tiny purse she pulled out a small stack of papers. The papers were actually every email I sent to her over the past year. I didn’t even begin to know what to say… She knew I was coming back to Thailand in January but I still could not believe it. Even as a scam, did she put all of these in her purse (with no other papers) just knowing she would find me?
We spoke for a long time but she was trying to latch on to me for the rest of my holiday. I asked her about the motorbike accident. I told her I thought she would never ride on a bike again, and she didn’t really respond. I told her that I had to meet my friend the next day, so in the morning she had to leave. She looked sad and left around noon. “You not same last year.” I felt kind of shitty about that actually.
Two nights later, while I was getting ready to go out, the phone rang. It was the hotel reception. “Mr. John- Ms. Noi here to see you.” Even after a couple of minutes in my room I was not sure what to expect of her. Maybe a big mistake. She was polite but looked sad. She didn’t talk very much, but eventually lightened up.
She wanted for me to take her to a gogo in Nana. She said her friend worked there and that her friend “not believe I have young, handsome boyfriend from America. If she see you she have to buy for me one bottle whiskey.” I immediately saw this as some kind of bullshit, but I wanted to go to Nana anyway, so we went.
Inside the gogo, we were actually both having a great time. Her friend who worked there did a special dance for us and I though it was a lot of fun. However, Noi started to look serious. “John, I cannot believe you not help me last year.” She started to cry and mascara ran down her face. I tried to talk with her but she went into the bathroom and came out ten minutes later. She was still crying. I asked her friend about it and she just shrugged. People in the bar were starting to notice her and look at me.
Eventually, we went back to my room (probably a big mistake) and she told me about the motorcycle accident, and she said she had asked her friend to write to me under her email to ask for help. She also showed me her appendix scar. It was definitely not there the year before, although I had not noticed it two nights before with the light off. She cried for what seemed like a long time. I felt really bad. I remember thinking that, if this is a scam for money, it is one of the best I have ever seen. She tried to explain in poor English what had happened to her over the past year. Before we went to sleep she asked me, “if I see you again but not talk to you, do you understand? I cannot love you no more.”
In the morning she left.
Tough shit, Noi. Farangs aren't the bloody charity. You were paid for your time so cut the bloody tears.