Slow Learner: The Second Chapter
For those of you who are still reading, this is Chapter 2 and, at this point, I am back in America. Over the course of a few trips to Thailand I have managed to have a go at three girlfriends (one each of Central Thai, Isaan, and Thai-Chinese), but I am no longer involved with any of them. After a year of living in Thailand, I am not even there anymore. For the first time in 10 years, I am in America. And, it is not an exciting time. At least not for me. I have tasted Thailand and I do not want to be in America. But duty calls, I need to send money for my kids (the divorce is now final and they live in my other ex-pat, Farangland overseas) and I need some money for me. I am not broke, but I sure am close.
So, what's a guy to do? Well, the time is 2001. ICQ is popular and has not yet reached the stage where most women are burned out, burned by, or otherwise wary of online chatting to benevolent strangers, and worse. While looking for and securing a job (a one year replacement position in my field), I start looking on ICQ to find Thai women to chat with. This time, I am looking for someone with a degree and a good job. Someone with "future" potential. Or at least someone to chat to who is Thai!!!! How I missed Thailand in those days.
I found a few internet chat friends (one is still now a friend almost 4 years later) and came close to meeting one of them in Thailand (though I backed out, due to circumstances that arose). And I actually found one that was in America, only a half hour away from where I was staying.
After a few months of chatting, I actually met her in the States and we went to a movie. It was not long before I was smitten yet again. She was in the States working on a graduate degree and her family was back in Thailand. As is my habit, I wormed my way into her life. But, she was clear, there should be "no demands, no expectations." She was in America to study, had never dated an older guy like me (17 years her senior), and had every intention of returning to Thailand when she finished her studies.
Within a month or so, I was staying at her place most of the time and we became "roommates", but I could not answer the phone lest it might be her parents calling (I got my own cell phone to cope with that). I had a wonderful few months with her and then we both made our trips to Thailand for the Christmas / New Years holiday period, each for a month but on separate planes as they were independently planned trips.
While there I attended a New Years party that her parents threw for their staff (they are business people there and doing well) and got to know them a bit. A few days later she called and said they would like to take me to dinner. I was worried they had learned I was more than just a "friend in America", but no, it was something entirely unexpected.
They had learned, from her and me, that I loved Thailand and missed it. They were in the process of starting a new business that would cater to non-Thais and Thais both and they thought that having a Farang as manager to get it started would help the business get off to a better start. I was offered a job!!!!
At this point, the "no demands, no expectations", was somewhat abandoned in favor of what I could better refer to as "wishful thinking on my part." I was in love with her, she was young, pretty, bright, and Thai. So, I accepted the job, completed my term of appointment in the U.S. and returned to Thailand to help to start up the new business. She came off and on to Thailand but remained in America to complete her studies.
I was able to get a work permit and I had a pretty reasonable, if Thai, deal for my job. A modest salary, a very nice, free apartment and utilities, and free meals. I was also on a profit sharing plan and, once the business was running well, I could switch to part-time for the same financial package and do other work as well. It was great!!!
Of course, I worked my tail off. And I am proud to say the business is still doing well (I will not say what it is here, though, out of respect for their privacy). They treated me very well and it was another fun time in Thailand, though very tiring working so many hours to make everything work at the outset.
Eventually, someone spilled the beans and the parents found out I was their daughter's boyfriend. I must say, they handled it all better than she or I did. They were clear that business is business and personal is personal. Although they disagreed with the relationship, it was kept out of work.
I spent a year or so again in Thailand and I had my hopes. But, I also learned. They were not hi-so as some call wealthier Thai here. They had started poor and worked for everything they have. They now have a lot. Good on them – they earned it.
Papa was concerned about our relationship on several grounds. First, I was much older than her. A very valid concern. I was well into my life; she was just starting hers. Also, I drank beer and smoked cigarettes, neither of which would help to keep me around when they were no longer there to look after her. In addition, I had two kids from a prior marriage to support and that would not be easy for her in starting her own family. Although these things were made clear to me, everyone continued to treat me on a business level as they had in the past. I hold them in high esteem to this day.
But, Papa was right. It was not in the cards. Had she and I really wanted to go for it, I do not know how I could have met the expectations of an established business family in good standing in the community there. Bride prices are arbitrary, but they follow a kind of seat of the pants formula that takes into account the young ladies socio-economic standing and educational level (and some say educational cost). This was a young lady with graduate degrees from overseas and a private school education in Thailand before that (all the way through school). The family itself was close enough to rich for that not to be far wrong as a description. A bride price in such circumstances is typically 5,000,000 baht. Probably, we could get it lower (according to her), but even at 500,000 to 1,000,000 baht (a probable compromise on their part), that is still a lot of baht.
In a good family, that money is often given right back to the bride. But, you have to have it first as it is part of the ceremony in a traditional Thai wedding.
Also, the groom pays for the reception. For her family, this would be at a nice hotel (e.g., the Dusit Thani or the like) and there would be many guests from the business community with whom they work. And, I have met some of these people, they include a large community of well-connected people. Based on another wedding in her family, the guest list would number about 300. So, let's add another 500,000 baht to the above.
Were I Thai, my parents would kick in most of that money. To my parents, it was a very interesting situation, but there were no offers to pay.
Now, with a salary not much different from an English teacher, I could probably save up that money in as little as 5 or 6 years (if I stuck to the free food that came with the job and did not drink or smoke). Maybe a year or so less, maybe never if I did not save well enough.
Or, I could go home and work in America and save there. But, she would not stay in America. She was Thai. She preferred the idea of entering her profession speaking Thai, with which she was most comfortable, she intended to live near her parents to help them with their businesses as they grew older, and she was not that keen on America anyway. Even living in America and earning more, it would still take me a few years to save that much (plus you really are supposed to have a house or condo and a car when you marry, but the rest was so much money that why should I even start to think about adding those costs?). What are the chances, even with the best intentions on both sides, that a relationship between an older Farang and a younger Thai would survive a separation of several years? Not very great. Not at all.
In short, there was really no way I would be able to afford to marry into a prosperous business family in Thailand given my own position as a divorced Farang who simply happened to love Thailand and to love her. That folks, is reality. If you are both young (or both not young) and you are from similar backgrounds, go for it. Otherwise, face the reality of the culture there. It is real.
SO, once the business was running well, the staff were trained, and the income was moving nicely into the targeted range, I did what seemed the only realistic thing to do. I said thank you and went back to America.
I had a few good months with her in America before she graduated and returned to Thailand. To this day her family is always nice to me when I stop by to say hello when I pass through Thailand. My only problem I had with her father was that he was right. "No demands, no expectations" proved a prophetic way to start. And, like all sweet dreams, it had to end.
And there I am, after she leaves, back in America again. What next? I will leave that for Chapter 3!
Once again – no regrets. Just lots of very nice memories. She is married now, to a Thai from a similar background. I have met him a few times. He is a very nice guy. As far as I know, they are happy. Good for her!!!
I can't wait for part 3!