Lose Your Mind In Thailand 1: The Engagement Party
There are countless ways to lose your mind, immediately or gradually and cumulatively, in the Land of Smiles. Many begin in some fashion the first time you clear customs at Don Meuang and, as many prior writers have noted, many more are triggered the
moment you lay eyes on your first attractive Thai woman. This is usually within 30 seconds after clearing customs. However, this submission is not intended to hoe either of those rows, at least directly. Instead, I will jump ahead to my most recent
loss of sanity: the Thai engagement party.
I am in many ways a tremendously, almost painfully, lucky man. Good luck itself is, in fact, a defining characteristic of my family tree, which is populated by a wide array of successful people with no greater ability than that of being in the right place at the right time (or, conversely, escaping the wrong place prior to the wrong time). You can only read so many accounts of Uncle So-And-So being transferred away from Pearl Harbor a few weeks before a certain fateful event, or Second Cousin who sits getting stuck on a transom and missing out on that 2nd class Titanic ticket before you perk up and believe you can, in a karmic sense, thread the needle of any outlandish situation. This, of course, with or without your knowledge puts you on an immediate collision course with Thailand, widely known as a great place to get lost for the rest of your life. Thailand is the death trap of sanity and reason. So many people, myself included, have in our darkest hours pondered the fateful “…I could move here…” that has entrapped, for better or for worse, so many others before us. Given my various lavish prospects and high-paying job in the US (again, mostly a luck thing), I have as yet resisted that particular form of madness. However, as recounted below no one can doubt I have succumbed to many others.
I have never been a sex tourist in the LOS, although I cast no aspersions on those who are. Indeed, I have seen Nana, and Pattaya, and strolled along Patong Beach, and no mortal man can long resist such devilishly crafted and presented women. My only form of defense against their wiles is that I am already engaged to one. During my first trip to Thailand, I lost my mind for the first time and fell in love with what, thankfully, turned out to be a true “good girl” (or the Thai equivalent, if any). She is a student, very sharp, solicitous of my well-being, and has never raised a whiff of a suspicion in my mind about her sincerity regarding her lifestyle and social circle (no mysterious cell numbers, alternate email addresses, or what have you) despite my long exposure to the tales of woe on this very site.
My personal philosophy on women is illuminative here: unlike apparently many others, I do not find Thai women to be that different in their degree of natural deceptions from the various women I’ve dated in the West, it’s simply that their
stratagems are different and they are able to use cultural barriers as both a sword and a shield in targeting your cash. There’s a saying that I believe is attributable to the Last Temptation of Christ that “there’s one woman
in the world, and she has a million faces.” It’s a nature v. nurture issue: anyone who thinks there aren’t zillions of Western women who also have myriad concurrent boyfriends, only want your money, and will throw a screaming,
disingenuous hissy-fit in the middle of a restaurant if you try to get out of buying them more shoes or earrings has obviously never been to Georgia. Women are women; the culture they’re raised in just alters the manners in which they seek
their goals. No man will ever truly understand the Byzantine mind of women and their constant use of inscrutable alien logic, in much the same manner that the Romans had the same issues with Egypt that Western men now have with Thailand. So, after
a while, I resigned myself to being madly in love with a Thai woman who may or may not want me to buy her a house, rather than an American woman who may or may not want me to buy her a house. At least in Thailand the houses cost less.
So, after two years of dating my gorgeous “good girl” I petitioned her father for permission for her hand in marriage (and, I made explicitly clear, permission to take her abroad, because I knew that if I had to permanently move to Thailand in only my early 30s I’d end up wandering the streets in flip-flops and caring about Arsenal matches). After a large meal, permission was granted. Monks were consulted, and an auspicious date was set for the engagement hurrahs. My quasi-fiancée began glowing with a pleased radiance at all hours of the day, skipping early morning classes to stay in bed to pepper me with questions about her future life in America, and all indicators were go for a smooth lead up to the fateful ceremony.
But first it was vitally important for me to go stark, raving mad. Thankfully, my fiancée
has a relatively well-to-do and meddlesome aunt who immediately entered the picture. Up until this point, dating my missus had been ridiculously inexpensive, even though I’m a romantic sap and occasionally would bombard her with trinkets or meals
at upscale Bangkok restaurants (I learned early on about the uselessness of flowers on a Thai woman). Nor am I particularly stupid, and had long braced myself for the inevitable horror of the dowry and the baht and the various to-do. Funds had
been salted away for just such rainy days. Moreover, I had insisted upon a diamond engagement ring, since it was the only thing out of any of the impending mayhem that my stateside relatives had a chance of grasping.
The aforementioned aunt was eager to help. I was told she knew all sorts of great jewellers in and around Bangkok, and could find a good diamond that was “98 percent”. Now I’m no gemologist, but I’m pretty sure there are more scientific ways to drop many thousands of dollars on shiny baubles smuggled out of Angola in people’s rectums. I politefully turned down these offers of help, and commenced locating a suitably huge unmounted and flawless diamond through broker contacts in New York City. Armed with this magnificent hunk of mineral, I agreed that we would craft the actual ring in Bangkok, since according to irrefutable Thai logic the “gold is better”.
Now, those of you who’ve spent a fair bit of time with one or more Thai women have probably noticed how questions you’re asked really only have one right answer. If you say the wrong answer, you are given a reprieve of a few hours or days presumably for you to get your stupid farang head on straight, and then just asked the question again. This is of particular relevance in pre-engagement “negotiations.”
The ring, much like the dowry and the gold baht, soon left what little control I had originally been permitted. For weeks, I answered questions that seemed eerily similar to ones I thought I had previously answered, such as “My father would like to know what size dowry you want to show at the party,” “Tiluk, how many baht do you want to buy for the engagement,” and “Do you want to put anything else on the ring?”
Now, unbeknownst to me, the correct answers to these questions were (1) 500,000 baht, (2) 8 gold baht, and (3) “I would dearly love to encrust the ring with four more diamonds.” Foolishly, back when I was a sane man I kept saying different things, like “Well, since you’re getting a huge ring, I think we can get away with 4 gold baht” or “If we’re going to get back most of the dowry anyway, can’t we show part of it as a bank check or something? I don’t want to roam the suburbs with that much cash even for one day.” My tiluk would always smile and say “Up to you” which of course meant “I see you still don’t get it, I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Eventually, the two of them just wore me down. The dowry was set at the amount I apparently should have known all along. The baht were purchased (although in all fairness, the missus chipped in for a few herself, the “good girl” thing) on a morning when I thought I just had a hangover, but was really half-mad. I knew I’d finally lost it when, in the middle of me sarcastically laughing at a horrible Thai game show, my tiluk came into the room and said “My aunt called, she asked them to put bigger diamonds on the ring because they looked too small, we have to pay tomorrow” and I just shrugged and peered mournfully into my half-empty Singha.
By the day of the engagement, I was a shell of a man. The cash expenditures had nearly tapped my secret reserves, my US-based ATM card had been frozen due to “suspicious activity” (I actually agree with that description, although I had been the one using it), and I had an interesting facial tic developing under my left eye. Getting woken up at 4 am that final morning so my future wife could have her makeup put on by another beautiful woman who, through tremendous baritone, revealed “herself’ as a ladyboy, was the last straw. I spent an hour in the shower, where I plotted my revenge.
I desperately love my now-fiancée, and certainly couldn’t do anything overtly spiteful or vindictive to her family (and, of course, ruin what was at least ostensibly a party for me as well). Then, it came to me. Although I am in many ways a blundering farang, through God’s good graces I have been gifted with a superpower known as the “wai suai”. I know, it sounds like typical outlandish Thai flattery, but in this particular case it is not. No one can explain how such a big, 6’2” gleaming white farang can, intuitively and with serene ease, bust out devastatingly precise and social station-accurate wais to the amazement and secret chagrin of all Thai witnesses, least of all yours truly. No one has ever shown me how to do one properly, and I first learned of their existence through a cheap travel book during my first flight there. My path was set.
When we arrived at the party, I immediately detonated over it like a gigantic wai bomb. Distant relatives and neighbors prepared to tuck in to a free meal and make veiled insinuations about what my future wife must “really be doing” in Bangkok to land a rich farang were shocked into mid-sentence submission by me appearing around a corner or from behind a table and hitting them with the wai suai. I was like a goddamn ninja, tiptoeing up on people and dishing out mercilessly perfect ceremonial greetings instead of throwing stars. The fact that I was wearing a perfectly tailored traditional Thai suit and a gold show ring the size of a drink coaster only added to the devastation. I broke up a buffet line with a display of perfect wais that went down the line like it was a shooting gallery, then doubled back around the house and dropped the wai hammer on five middle-aged uncles trying to get a card game going. Then, before the dust had even settled, I was back out front heaving wais into the processions of old ladies trying to figure out what the hubub was all about. It was a slaughter. One octogenarian grandmother actually sought me out at the end of the party to elaborately wai back to me, because she was caught so off guard the first time she couldn’t even put her drink down before I’d moved on. Another mother rapped her teenage son on the shoulder repeatedly and chewed him out because I was showing him up with my wai suai in front of the whole family.
After three hours of grinning like a maniac and working the crowd like a speed bag with the wai suai, I was legend. Emergency caterers were located because uninvited people kept showing up from the street just to learn what was going on. The elaborate place
settings and benjarong gifts the meddlesome aunt had pressed for sat unattended as I ran away with the show. I was a rock star; people were actually holding digital cameras and DVD recorders over their heads to get a better view of the ceremony as I finally
relented and broke out the dowry and ring. At the dinner, I was suddenly not allowed to sit only at “my” table, because it would make all the other tables jealous, and had to make the rounds of all of them on my own. One man offered
me a cold beer. His neighbor then promptly offered me a motorcycle. I probably could have ripped my pants off and swung them over my head and the only response would have been cheers and people holding lighters in the air.
At the end of the day, as I drove us back into town, I had only to look at the glazed, dreamy expression on my fiancée's face to know I’d done good work. It’d been just another successful day of losing my mind in Thailand.
You're going to have to repeat that performance on wedding day!