Captain Jack’s Thailand Trip – 2004 Edition Part 2
The Mighty Wizard’s Thailand Trip – 2004 Edition Part 2
By The Mighty Wizard
The Mighty Wizard’s Thailand Trip – the 2004 edition
The following morning, I got up, took the subway, and headed out to Somkid’s family home, which was a fairly substantial place. Her parents compound, like many in Thailand, was located down a narrow soi and was accessible only after you rolled a gate in a sideways direction. Somkid showed me her parents’ garden, which had jack fruit trees, a banana tree, aloe vera plants, and a plant which had lime leaves. Rather useful if you think about it. I then met her parents (aged 79 and 76), an uncle who suffers from a degenerative brain disease, perhaps Parkinsons disease, and her aunt. I also met some family members who were visiting from Ubon, near Laos. They were leaving, but were having a hard time getting their Toyota pickup truck started. I helped with trying to push start the truck, but we had to get it onto the soi before we could get enough of a running start to push the truck. I wondered if they had been keeping up with maintenance on the vehicle.
That day, we were scheduled to go to Ayutthaya. I love Ayutthaya. The ancient capital is my favourite place in Thailand, although I have to admit that I haven’t made it yet to Sukhothai. Somkid knew that I liked Ayutthaya and had arranged for a nephew of hers who lived nearby to drive to Bangkok and chauffer us around that day. When we got to Ayutthaya, we visited Wat Panan Choeng, Wat Chai Watanarahm, and Wat Na Phrmain (the only wat which had gold left in it when Ayutthaya was plundered by the Burmese in 1767). I love looking at the Chedis and Stupas that are dotted along the landscape. Dozens of school buses were there that day, as lots of schools from southern Thailand were sending teenaged kids to Ayutthaya for day tours. One group of students asked me to take a picture of them, which I did. After I took the photo, I yelled out “Whao Whao!” This always makes Asian people laugh and the kids were no exception. Stupid crazy American farangs!
Meanwhile, Somkid’s nephew stopped and purchased a 3 foot tall ceramic Happy Buddha as a decoration for his home. Somkid told him that he needed to stop buying these statues because he already had something like 20 of them in his house and that he was wasting all of his money. He brushed her off and I found myself sharing the back seat of his car with a Happy Buddha.
While in Ayutthaya, Somkid and her nephew stopped by a roadside stand and purchased some food that reminded me of fajitas back home. Somkid told me that they were not stuffed with meat like fajitas, but that it was sugared, sweetened noodles that were wrapped in the tortilla. The snack was called Roti Sai Mai. When I bit into one, I couldn’t believe it. They were great! I felt like eating about 20 of them at once. Once again, Asia had surprised me. I couldn’t believe that I had been here 4 times before and hadn’t discovered these yet. Somkid was proving to me once again that it is better to travel with locals.
After visiting the ruins of Ayutthaya, we visited Somkid’s nephew’s village. We visited his house where I met his wife and 2 daughters. He works as a wholesaler of clothes for school and sports uniforms. And Somkid was right – her nephew had something like 20 ceramic Buddha statues lining the rooms of his house! I didn’t get the name of the village, but I learned that Mitsubishi had built a plant nearby and now the village was a boom town. We drove around the older area of the town and I saw that it was a good thing that Mitsubishi had built that plant. The older areas of the village reminded me of what it was like in China long ago – poor and destitute.
While we were driving home, I spotted what looked like a major freeway that had not been completed. I asked Somkid about this and she said that the road had not been completed because of a contract dispute with a Hong Kong contractor who was responsible for the project. Somkid then went on to say that historically, a big problem with many big public works projects was the seemingly endless change in governments that had been a feature of Thai political life since the monarchy had given up complete power in 1932. What would happen was that a government would begin plans to build some project, then either would get overthrown, or (since 1992) loose votes of confidence and collapse, or would get voted out of office. Then the next government wouldn’t like what the last government was doing and would fail to follow through with the project. A general excuse would be given that there wasn’t enough money to complete the project, so too bad.
That evening after we returned to Bangkok, I once again went to Nana to see Lek. While in the bar waiting for Lek to get out of her dancing uniform, I saw an old man fall asleep in the bar! Lek yelled at the man to wake up, which he did. That night back at the hotel room, Lek and I had a lot of pillow talk. She said she was from Korat and she told me about her family. She said her father was some like of hospital employee, while her sisters were teachers. As is normal with many bargirls, her family doesn’t know what she is doing. She told me that she had finished school and worked in a factory near Ayutthaya for a while, but for some reason that didn’t work out. She told me that she had wanted to go either into the army or police because she liked guns! However her family talked her out of going into the military and she told me that she was happy she didn’t become a police officer because she knew what some police officers were like. Lek told me she had an aunt in Bangkok so she came here. She then said that her aunt “talked too much” and she quickly tired of her. She moved out but wasn’t able to find a job. With bills mounting, a friend of hers showed her Soi Cowboy. On her first trip down the street, she didn’t really see what was going on. However, on a second trip which she made by herself, she then realized what was going on.
Once upon a time, the great Stickman brought up the matter of punters remembering the first time they did the deed with a Thai working girl. Well gentle readers, let me assure you that the working girls also remember their first time with a customer. Lek told me about her first time with a john. He was an American doctor from Washington. She told me that she thought he could tell that she was scared of what was happening and that she had never been with a farang before. She said that he took her out and bought her a book! She said that she was happy because he was rather nice.
As I listened to Lek talk about her past, I could not help but think about the age old question of why these girls become working girls. Lek was not a genius by any standard, but she clearly had some smarts and had travelled a bit. Her English was not that bad. She had shown some religious impulses, such as one time where she gave some money and bowed to a monk (I know, many working girls do this). I didn’t press her as to why her job in Ayutthaya had not worked out, but that could have been one of all kinds of problems. I could not help but wonder that part of her situation was that she had run into family opposition to job choices, while some of her problems may have been simply that she didn’t like what life had on offer. Namely, I was thinking about her problems with her aunt. Then there was the possibility of just having bad luck. Whatever it was that led her to this life, she clearly had been on the game for a while. She was good looking, but not of the drop dead gorgeous variety. She was popular with punters, so I knew that she probably was making decent money at what she was doing. I told her that I hoped she was saving some of her money. She told me that she did save some of her money and that she gave some money to her parents.
At one point, I asked Lek if she knew any of those old Thai dances where the women twirled their hands around and made those hand gestures. I showed her what I meant and she suddenly laughed. She told me that when she was a schoolgirl, they learned songs and the hand gestures. She sang some of those songs and started to giggle.
After Lek left the following morning, I met up with Somkid again. Somkid had an medical appointment that morning to go to. The hospital that she had been going to was in Thonburi, at an old Ministry of Culture building that had been converted into a medical
facility. I could be wrong on this, but I swore that Somkid told me that the hospital was affiliated with Mahidol University.
Taking a taxi from Lat Phrao to Thonburi, we crossed the Chao Praya river. After we entered Thonburi, we continued along the road which crossed the river. Somkid told me that once upon a time, Thonburi was a separate government entity from Bangkok but they had been merged into one metropolis. While riding along the road, I saw a very long, white coloured wall with a single gate. At one end of the wall, there was a large plaque posted with Thai script characters. I pointed this out to Somkid and to my surprise, Somkid told me what was at that property. That property was home to none other than former Prime Minister Baharn Silpa-Archa! Somkid told me that Baharn, leader of the Chart Thai party, was PM for only a short time (which I later discovered to be true). During his reign, PM Baharn directed vast sums of money towards his districts and home province. Roads were made very nice, electrical power lines and plants were built, drainage improvements were made, and so forth. The joke was that Thonburi was renamed Baharn – buri. The conversation then veered towards other Thai politicians. I asked where former PM Chuan Leekpai lived. Somkid said she thought he also lived in Thonburi, but in a modest home. Somkid also said PM Thaksin also lived in Thonburi, but like Baharn he also had a large house.
When we got to the hospital, I found out that the building was divided into two wards. There was one area of physical therapy and another for stroke victims. Once again, I was the only farang in the place. I sat quietly in a hallway, while Somkid went in for an appointment to examine hip problems. I sat reading Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, while occasionally looking around at the Thais in and around the hallway. Many of the medical personnel were young people, helping older Thais with walking. Soft Asian music played in the background, while fans blew air from the ceiling. The doors to the outdoors were left open, allowing for a breeze to flow through while filling the hallway with that familiar tropical Bangkok air.
A number of Thais couldn’t help but notice that I was there. One man in a wheelchair, who had suffered a stroke during complications from surgery came up to me. He introduced himself, saying that he was a Chinese – Thai who had lived in Honolulu Hawaii for many years. He told me his wife was Thai – American. I told him why I was at the hospital and of my personal background. He was quite amused that someone was not sick would be spending their vacation in a Thai hospital. Another woman, stylishly dressed, also spoke with me briefly. She had spent some time in America. Her mother was also a patient at the hospital. Unfortunately, I didn’t get their names.
After about 1 hour, Somkid came out of the consulting rooms and we left the hospital. We then hopped on a bus. Somkid wanted to take me to Chinatown. I had been to Chinatown on my first break in 1991, but it would be cool to see the area with a local who was someone I knew well. We had some incredible egg and pasta noodles in a restaurant that was famed for them. It took Somkid a while to find out where this restaurant was. Again, I found myself in narrow alleyways where no farangs were to be seen.
After lunch, we hopped on a bus again. Somkid showed me Thammasat University, where she had gone to school. She also pointed out the areas of the city where Chulalongkorn University owned the land. You could tell because the blue coloured street signs had “Chula” printed on them. She also told me that some of the property near the Chao Praya was still owned, either directly or indirectly, by the Monarchy. People could still rent at low rates, otherwise (she asserted) all of the land near the Chao Praya would be hugely expensive. Skyscrapers would completely dominate the landscape near the river.
Somkid then told me about her decision to go to America. She had received a liberal arts degree from Thammasat. Her cousellors and family had asked her what she wanted to do, to which she said that she had wanted to go to America. She was the only one in her family that wanted to see the world. She barely squeezed by on her TOEFL (Test for English Language Fluency) scores. She then got accepted to go to University of Southwestern Louisiana, in Lafayette. The state of Louisiana (like Texas) was trying to attract foreign students as a way to bringing in more money. Therefore there were (and are to this day) large contingents of students from foreign countries who attend school there.
It was at Lafayette that she met Chuck. When she told me this, I laughed out loud! A pair of Thais who meet in America! During their time in America, Somkid did much of their work since Chuck really struggled with his English language skills. Upon graduation for the Master programs, Chuck had told me that they had asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to fix cars since he had been forced to work on his own car (and those of his classmates) while at college. Everyone was aghast, but he and Somkid then decided to move to Houston. One of Chuck’s brothers joined him (I knew him) and several of his nephews had come over at various times as well.
After the tour near the river, we took a taxi because I had told Somkid that I wanted to go visit my company’s offices in Bangkok. My employer, an evil multinational oil and gas company, had held interests in Thailand for many years. The offices were located along Rama IV road. One of my co-workers had been in Bangkok a while back installing some servers, so I knew the office manager by email.
We reached the offices about 2:00pm. I was greeted by a Thai woman in her late 20’s who worked as a secretary. She had spent 2 years in the South Carolina (U.S.A) studying hotel management. It was hard not to notice that she was also very pregnant. I introduced myself and Somkid. The secretary said some words to Somkid in Thai and I heard Somkid break out in laughter. Somkid then told me that the secretary thought she was my girlfriend!
The secretary then called for the office manager to come up to the front desk. When the office manager arrived, I was floored. WOW! What a woman! Her name was Chotima, which I knew from email communication. I thought that she might be in her 30’s. She was fairly tall for a Thai woman, with a broad, oval face. She wore a charcoal gray coloured pair of slacks and jacket. Her English, spoken with a deep tone, was stellar. Clearly my company had hired the right woman for the right job. She was a woman who could command some respect from visiting executives, expats, and local Thais. I saw no ring on her finger.
Chotima showed me around the company office. I asked if I could check my email, so she and I set up a computer for the purpose of doing so. At one point, she had to kneel down on the floor to connect some network cables, affording me a nice view of her from behind. Forcing myself to look around and to try to think about other matters, I found that it was a relatively small office whose purpose was namely to function as an official place for looking after the company’s business interests in Thailand. The real decisions about what to do were made in Houston, after facts were gathered in from the ground.
Later after we had left, I asked Somkid about the idea of asking Chotima out. Somkid told me that it was not considered polite in Thailand to ask a woman directly if she was not married. Somkid suggested if I was still interested to ask the secretary if Chotima were married. She also said that wearing a ring to indicate that one was married was not usual in Thailand. Somkid and I both thought Chotima was probably already married and probably had children, although I never followed up on the matter.
End of Part II
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