The Sleep Of The Damned
I met my girlfriend (who I’ll call Dang) about 5 years ago in Australia when I answered an ad asking for guitarists. I turned up at the venue with my guitar for my first jam… and Dang answered the door, she’s gorgeous I thought, anyway
– she went back inside and the guy I was going to jam with introduced himself (we’ll call him Frank). It turned out that Frank was the boyfriend and Dang was a Thai studying for her PHD after completing her Masters in Australia.
Anyway Frank was a kinda cool guy so I kept in touch with both of them. A couple of weeks later he hinted that he wanted out of the relationship because he was interested in another girl. It was at that moment that I conceived of a plan that would
change my life forever. I would become the new boyfriend.
As I was talking to both of them via ICQ quite regularly I could plan my strategy with some precision. The plan was simple, a) encourage the Frank to break up with her and b) study the subject of her PHD to the extent that I could amaze her
with my “general knowledge”. So that’s what I did, for the next few weeks I sat down at coffee shops in the evenings studying a big fat text book. I also talked poor Frank into dumping Dang as soon as possible. Yes –
what I did was morally corrupt.
Anyway, the moment came and the break up happened. I knew I had to strike while the
iron was hot so I immediately invited her out for coffee. Over the next month or so we met numerous times and talked. Yes – she was amazed, even dumbfounded by my intimate knowledge of the subject she was studying… but she didn’t really
seem that interested in me. It seemed that my plan had failed. Things got worse and eventually she said explicitly that she wasn’t interested over the phone, or at least I thought she had! How dare she, I thought – I’d put
in a month’s work (plus an extra 2 weeks she didn’t know about) and NOW she says no!!! I showered her with expletives and hung up the phone. I then proceeded to send her what we both now consider to be the perfect hate email. I eloquently
described every physical and character flaw that she had. It was brutal, yet savagely beautiful. <You should have sent a copy for us! – Stick>
The trouble was that I’d misunderstood her on the phone; you see English is her second language. As soon as I’d hit the send button there was a quiet knock on the door. She’d caught a Taxi to my place right after I’d
hung up and she hadn’t read my email. She then went on to explain what she meant on the phone… I was wrong.
I had no choice – I had to show her the email immediately. I cringed as she read every line, her big puppy dog eyes wet with tears.
Once she was done (and her ego totally crushed) I fessed up about the plan I had been working on for 6 weeks. To my amazement she was not distressed at being manipulated by me, she was delighted that I had done all of it for her! It was at
this point we became boyfriend and girlfriend. <There is something in this about the mentality of Thais and farangs and how they're quite different – Stick>
It turned out that Dang was on a Thai scholarship. Why does this matter? Well because the brain drain is so bad in Thailand they have to make many scholarship contracts extremely unfair. This is to force the now well educated students to
stay in Thailand for an extended period of time after finishing their degrees. For example, Dang’s contract says she has to either work at a particular Thai university for twice the amount of time she did her degree(s) or pay back 3 times
the scholarship money. We’ll look at some real figures later.
All this stuff seemed very distant as she had just started her PHD at this point. We discussed it and decided that we’d find a way to get out of it.
Over the next 2 years we researched it, talked to people, discussed it with lawyers (both Thai and international), and formulated dozens of plans – to no avail, and all the while getting more and more attached to each other. By this
time my outlook had changed – I’d started to look at my life in Australia as being somewhat transient. I knew I shouldn’t make any long term plans as the future was uncertain – we’d probably have to move to Thailand.
I discarded my plans to buy a house, buy long term investments, or do anything that required staying in one place for long. It was a horrible way to live, seeing my friends (who made the same kind of money as me) get established and become rich
off property and investments while I was throwing my money at wild short term schemes. The other part was secrecy – I couldn’t tell anybody at work what my problems were because my problems involved leaving the company. But one day
I let it slip to the CIO and that was the beginning of the end for me.
It was at this point that Dang’s PHD experiments started going bad. We had thought (up to that point) that the PHD was almost over and all that really remained was for her thesis to be completed. This was not the case. She would keep
saying – oh, just another couple of months now. By now we were living out of boxes and sleeping on the floor in rented apartments. I had stopped sleeping well and was moving from short-term job to short-term job with alarming regularity,
always thinking that this would be the last one before the big move. Little did I know that this would continue on for another 3 years!
I went back to university and completed a Masters with the intention of continuing on with a PHD but found I couldn’t commit to it as I’d have to remain in Australia. The schemes and crazy plans got crazier, the money continued
to drain, and I never bought anything permanent. By this time I’d become a hermit – staying up until 7 or 8 in the morning, drinking myself to sleep and waking up a few hours later. I’d only go out to get food, to see my supervisor,
or to try and find the occasional bit of work to pay the rent.
Finally the experiments finished. By this time the scholarship bill was at $600,000 Australian dollars (that’s around 18 million baht) or alternately 14 years of servitude!
We’d tried everything, her visa was about to expire and the scholarship had run out. The only option we had to stay together was for me to move to Thailand.
I arrived a few weeks after Dang, she’d organized an expensive apartment in Bangkok (I didn’t want to live in a dump) and after an intense taxi ride at around 130km an hour, swerving in an out of traffic I arrived at the front
The first month was bizarre, whenever we’d go outside many of the locals seemed to scowl at us and most of the farang just ignored us, trying not to make eye contact as we walked by them. We attempted to get a few things happening
with Thai government agencies but they were strangely apathetic. Why is this happening we thought? The answer came when we took our first walk up Sukhumvit Road towards the Nana and Asoke areas on a Saturday night. She’d never been in this
area and neither had I. We quickly realized that people thought Dang was a whore and I was the John. She started to get teary eyed and hysterical – “I want to get out of here NOW” she said.
So after that we didn’t really go out at night again. She started to stay up with me (by now I was a chronic insomniac). Over the next month or so she slept less and less, sick with worry that we were fast running out of what little
money we had, the surprising loss of face at being with a farang, and the prospect of spending the next 14 years in a little tin hovel on 10,000 baht a month. We argued more and more and slept less and less, all the while trapped in our flat like
Things came to a head last night. I’d finally had enough, I was desperate and lonely and I wanted to go home. Maybe, just maybe… If only I had another farang to talk to, someone to listen then I could survive a few more days? I’d never been to a bar, I’d just read about them – but I knew I could find my own kind there. So I jumped on to the skytrain and off at Asoke then had a look around, there was a little alley called “Soi Cowboy” so I went down it.
After glimpsing into one of the bars I knew I was f**ked. With all that I’d been through I now have to remain faithful after seeing that… f**ked I tell you.
It was all over and I didn’t care anymore, all hope was gone. I started getting tired and my eyes closed, weary from 5 years of insomnia I fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.
A moment of clarity.
I’ve heard many stories of heartbreak from Thai overseas scholarship students, both Thai – Thai and Farang – Thai. But after witnessing first hand the grinding poverty and the hopeless conditions that most Thais live in, I think this thing is bigger than us. These people need Dang, and if she left then many kids may be the worse for it.
Oh crap, it’s now 6am and I haven’t slept yet… Good night!
Amazing that you kept it together as long as you did!