Thai Reality Part 4
It's been a year since my last submission and this will be my fourth since May of 2003.Previous accounts of my involvement with a young Thai lady and the gradual unfolding of my relationship with her, her family and friends primarily centered on
my concerns regarding the vast differences in our ages. She is now 33 and I am 66.
In those accounts it was pointed out I came to Thailand not to do the bar girl scene but to simply explore all aspects of this beautiful country. My involvement with Gail, and my captivation with Thailand and it's people are pretty well outlined in those submissions and I will attempt to convey how this relationship continues after 4 years. I should also note that in my previous accounts I presented a rather glowing account of my experiences which I still hold. Some of what I report now is less flattering,
My saga does not involve the bar scene or any of the bucolic experiences so well explored in many of the posts entered on this site. Rather, I prefer to report some observations I have experienced as a result of my relations with a urban working class gal and her environment. She and her family are all employed at some kind of work where they work long hours and get paid around 5000 baht a month. In general they would be considered "good girls" but not well educated and of the darker skin variety. They are, however hard workers and very bright.
On my last visit in June 05 Gail and her friend Poo had been fired from their job at tailor shop. as result an angry dispute over working conditions and unfairly paying some employees more than others. Apparently, being fired in Thailand is different. In the US when you get fired you get about 30 minutes to get your things and get out, usually with an security escort, In Gail's case, she was fired and given 30 days to get out. She said this was common in her work world. There is no unemployment insurance so they let you go slowly apparently with the expectation you can find other work. However, in her case this would not be easy as she is a 33 year old female and darker skinned; A deadly combination in Thai society. The day I left in June would be her thirtieth day and last payday. Despite her objectively sparse life circumstances she has never wined or complained about her situation, and usually was in high spirits when I was with her and her kids. To me, his is one of the amazing things I have observed within this segment of Thai society. How can you exist at such a marginal level and still carry on in such undaunted fashion?
The day I left would be an exception. She was depressed and teary eyed as her situation look desperate for her and her two kids. She felt it would be futile going about job hunting as we would in the West. Her only hope was networking her friends about some kind of work doing anything. Her only possibility seem to hang on the chance there would be an opening in October in another tailor shop when a friend she knew would be out having a baby and she could fill in for her.
Another possibility would be to work with friend named Nok whom I had met two years ago. She works as a tout along the KO San road area where she hits on the farang trying to interest them in visiting a tailor shop, a jewelry shop or directing them to a tour operator. When I first heard this I thought what dread full way to make a baht, but it was a glimmer of hope for Gail, so I encouraged her to check it out.
About a week after I returned home, I called as I usually do, and found Gail had started her new career as a tout. She didn't seem to excited about it as she was new at the job and had not made any real sales. This was all back in the summer of 05 and she has been doing this up to the present time.
I visited with her this January and the situation has vastly improved, as has her spirits.
I had pictured Gail and her friend handing out fliers with a big smile and hoping for the best. I saw them as two vulnerable young ladies operating on their own in a desperate
hope of earning a few baht a day. I had a lot to learn.
Things started slowly for her and when I called from home she reported she had earned a few hundred baht in the first week as a result of her steering some young farang to a tailor shop. As time past, she began to report more success with her commissions. She began to receive four and five hundred baht sales and things were definitely looking up. One day she had scored a twelve hundred baht commission for steering some farang to a tour guide. I remained skeptical, but the reports were getting better as time went on.
When I returned in January 06 I found her in a very upbeat mood. Her new career was going well and she was very conscientious about getting to work at around nine o'clock. The good part was she was now getting off work about four o'clock. This was a big improvement over her ungodly hours at the tailor shop when she would leave around nine and not return until eight that night. Even better, she was reporting some surprising commissions easily earning over two thousand baht a week. Again, I was aware that Thai folks like to exaggerated their well being as a kind of "face' thing but Gail has always been candid with me about everything, so I accepted her at her word.
What was going on here? As I began to question her about all this, she revealed how things work on the streets, particularly on the infamous backpackers row.
Her Friend, Nok, had been doing this tout thing for a couple of years now and I even caught sight of her in a tuktuk two years ago as she was barrel ling down Khao San road. It turns out, she was part of tightly knit group of folks who are well organized in their pursuit of the unwary back backers looking for a bargain in the tailor and jewelry shops or a cheap tour of the LOS. As best as I can piece this together, her organization consists of about twenty people who coordinate their efforts at getting these bargain hunters to their destinations.
This network of entrepreneurs consists of about twenty people, eight girls who actually approach the bargain hunting youngsters, and the fleet of about a dozen tuktuk guys who will take the them to some of the prearranged shops.
Apparently, there is the district manager, who oversees the entire operation. He makes contracts with the various shops and tour operators to clarify how much is to be kicked back to the group after a successful sale and insures that everything is handled as agreed upon.
Then there is the mid-manager who is the guy on the street level who guides and directs the girls to the bests targets for the day. He holds weekly sales meetings to review their efforts and engage in group discussions about strategy. During these meetings he advises them of the various incentives being offered by the different shops. For example, a jewelry shop owner offered a bonus of twenty thousand baht if he got a least one sale a day for a month. It would be up to the mid – manager to decide how this would be distributed among the girls.
This was a complicated scheme I did not fully understand, One the one hand each girl would be awarded a commission for each sale they made on the day they made the sale. Another angle was the group would be given a bonus at the end of each month if they performed well as a group. There would also be bonuses given to one or two who had given the best performances for the month. This was based on the number of sales made, who was putting in the most hours, or did not call in sick. Therefore, incentives were given to both the individual girl and the group as a whole. So, the girls might expect to earn something on a daily basis and also a monthly payout. Some of these gals have been doing this for several years and their experience was usually reflected by then number of sales they scored each week.
Gail was tutored by these street wise veterans as to how to target their prey. It was vital to start early, around nine in the morning as this was when you might catch the farang who was "fresh". It was important to be the first tout to hit on him that day as they as they become defensive after the being accosted by several others. Your best bet is to find a young guy in sandals with a map in his hand trying to figure out were the hell he is. This will be your most susceptible bargain hunter as you help him find his way around. Of course, you will be all smiles and profuse with your compliments about his height and fine hair. You will be happy to assist him in efforts to get a bargain on his suit and find some exceptional buys in jewelry. However, if the customer was planning to hang around Bangkok for more than a couple of days they were not considered prime targets for the jewelers as they had time to reconsider their purchases and ask for a refund. This would some times involve the cops and get messy.
Some days the pickings were good and they might earn a commission, other days they earned nothing for the hours they put in. Their success was related to the flow of young bodies along the street and this was affected by the normal seasonal numbers of tourists. In general, Gail seemed much more happy with her new career as it allowed her more free time and she escaped the tyrannical she wolf she was working for at the tailor shop. For the month of January she had certainly earned more baht than she would have if she was still with her old job. In fact, on the night I left, she was proudly sporting a new gold necklace which she had earned as result of her efforts for the month. She quickly had it appraised at 5500 baht before she returned from work.
Remember, she was earning about 6000 baht a month at her other job involving twice as many hours. She was offered a choice of the gold or cash. She said she took the gold as she was less likely to spent it and it was a form of savings for her.
While having our last evening meal before I left for the US she received a call from the most seasoned of the girls, one who has doing this for over eight years. She was reporting that she had a spectacular day in that she had earned twenty thousand baht on a tour deal she arranged for a group of farang could see the look on Gail's face as she realized she may had missed out on part of this when she took the whole day off to be with me. I did not detect jealousy-just disappointment.
Probably, the real perquisite of this job was the continued flow of men, young and older, from the West. The girls have countless opportunities to meet and get acquainted with these guys who see the girls, not as hookers, but "good girls " trying to earn a living. Many of the guys find this quite an arresting prospect if they are in the market for a long time mate. Apparently, Nok has hooked on to one such fella from a Scandinavian country. Nok is in her late twenties or early thirties and this guy is in his mid fifties. I'm not sure how long they have known each other, but there is a marriage in the works. Shortly, she will be headed off to his country for a month long stay in some small fishing town where her potential hubby will be out to sea for a couple of weeks at a time. If all goes well they will get married. (what's the chances of this?) as he has already agreed to pay a sin sot of the equivalent of 12,000 American dollars..
This last week has not been good for business. Because of the political turmoil some governments have been advising there citizens to avoid Bangkok and head for other parts of Thailand and this has drastically effected the flow of warm bodies along the street. Sales are down and so are the spirits of the girls (except for Nok).
While on my last visit I managed to extract Gail and her family from the fumes of Bangkok for a trip to Cha Am on the beach. We had great time, but that will require another submission to explain some qualifications to that statement.
It's been four years now since Gail and I began this "relationship". When I come there we are as a couple. She is with me day and night when she is not at work. The kids and I get along great and we all enjoy each others company. When we go to the beach, Mom and the whole family go along. It's obvious that Gail and I share the same bed but no one seems to notice or care. Gail is on to my habits and likes and dislikes and I to hers. For both of us, I think it has been great. I get the warmth of a lovely lady and she gets some financial help from me as explained in previous submissions. This help has always been voluntary as she has rarely asked for money and it doesn't amount to any real stain on me even though I am not a wealth guy.
It has always been a pleasure to me to pay for all the expenses of our trips, restaurant meals, amusement parks, and all other pleasurable activities. But there is one thing that I really found hard to take, and that is Gail's sister's boy friend, Bum. He is involved in most of these gatherings and while he is a rather pleasant fellow, he is not family and I have always felt some resentment that he never showed any gratitude for my beneficence. This is so foreign to my way thinking, but hey, this is Thailand. During our last meal at the MK restaurant Bum did not show up until after we had finished the meal and were preparing to leave. Everyone sat back down so he could order some food which he did. This really pissed me off. Now Bum and Gail's sister stay in a real hovel on the third floor of raggedy place in an eight by eight room. It's the one I help Gail and her kids to move out of so they would not have to sleep on top of each other. For this reason I did feel some compassion for both Bum.
Some time later Gail must of sensed my displeasure with Bum when I Inquired how he was earning a living these days. A couple of years ago when I asked him about this he said he was a chauffeur for some monks, one of which was his father.( a monk with kids ?) Anyway, he showed me his fathers credit card and explained monks were not supposed to touch cash and therefore needed the card. This was some time ago, and when I asked this time she told me Bum was working as a delivery guy distributing papers and magazines. He is now earning 7000 baht a month. However, he then dutifully turns his entire check over to Gail's sister! She in turn grants him an allowance of 70 baht a day to live on. I suddenly lost all my animosity for this poor sap.
Except for my first visit to Thailand, I have made the others alone. I mentioned in my last submission that my old friend's Son wanted to come with me in January of 05.
I did not know him well as he lives in California and I live in the Midwest. He is by all measures a successful young man, 31 years old. He is a tall, thin good looking guy with an outgoing personality and a winning smile. After learning of his life's situation and his accomplishments it was clear he was a solid, level headed thoughtful guy not given to any rash moves or behavior. who had a solid career as a electronic wizard working with high tech security systems. As he had not traveled for from the US I had no idea how he would take to the LOS. We'll call him Bob.
When Gail learned I would be having a young man joining me she suggested he may want meet a friend of hers. I told her he was not coming to get a girlfriend as he had made it clear to me that he wasn't going with me to "get laid". He just wanted to see Thailand. By the time we got off the plane in BKK and getting to know him a bit I sensed he was going to be dead meat when the girls got a glimpse of him.
Gail, her sister mentioned above, the friend meant for Bob, the kids, the whole bunch met us at the hotel. It was palpable from the beginning the girls would be vying for the guy's attention. The all had boyfriends, but the hunt was on. It was most entertaining watching them turn on the charm and maneuver around each other but to make along story short, Bob succumbed to the charms of the very pretty gal who had been arranged for him. She is 21 years old, and had been working with Gail at the jewellery shop from witch they had both been fired. Her name was Win. At the end of his two week trip it was clear that he had made a real connection with Win, but he still seemed like the solidly composed level headed guy who maintained his cool despite the reception had received from the girls. Wrong again. He had left for the US a week before me. On my last day at the hotel, I was shocked to get a call from him as he was most careful with money and not prone be wasting money on a call to me. He simply wanted to test his new phone card for calling Thailand. I didn't think anything of it until I returned home to the States. A week after that as I was talking to Gail on the phone she mentioned Bob really liked Thailand and he said he would be returning on the 21Th.
This was the last week in January and I wanted to know the 21Th of what month.
She casually responded, the 21Th of February-in three weeks!!
Wow! What was happening here? He just get back from an 18000 mile round trip and has already bought another ticket for the trip back in three weeks. What happened to that assiduous, prudent, precautious, foresighted young man I left home with? He had been Thawed. He was taken by the whole Thai experience but obviously mostly by a pretty young Thai pooying. To make a long story short, his return visit went well as he met her parents and other members of the family. Things seemed to be off to a good start. I returned in July of 05 and he followed a few days later as they planned to take a trip to Ko Samui. They met at our hotel, and after a short visit they headed to their room for what I envisioned to be as a very pleasant night. To my surprise, I found him sitting alone at the breakfast table the next morning. Obviously things did not go well the first night and did not improve much over the next two weeks. They did manage to reconcile enough to get to Samui but she did not even see him off on the last day the trip. I am not sure what happened but I could only imagine his disappointment and disgust. I was beginning to feel guilty as I had set all this in motion by bringing him here in the first place. After his returning, we spoke by phone for a long time as he laid what went wrong. There was clearly a boy friend involved but details are not clear.
At the end of our talk I offered my condolences and said I was sorry to have gotten him involved in a mess like this. To my surprise, he said not to worry. In fact, he was planning to return in January!
In January 06 he and another guy ten years his senior, returned to Bangkok with a clear notion of going to Samui for a week and then to Phuket for another. He did not wish to see Win even though she had sent him some e-mails offering her apologies for her behavior and expressing her desire to see him again. He was putting her out of his mind and heading for pure debauchery on the islands. I felt relieved; sanity had returned. After a visit to Gail and her family in Bangkok they headed to Samui for an intended one week. However, after only three days Bob's friend refused to leave Samui as he felt he had died and gone to heaven and there could be no better place on this earth than this island. They stayed for two weeks. While there, he observed that some enterprising farangs had gone into businesses of different sorts catering to the tourist trade. They returned to the States, and I assumed to a normal existence following his career path to security and the happy orderly predictable life he had been living. Some weeks later we were critiquing his trip by phone. In the course of the conversation he casually mentioned that he had turned in his resignation papers and was in the process of training his new replacement. He would be moving to Thailand by mid Summer!!! He planned to return to Samui and do……..something.
What happens to apparently normal, sane guys when they come to Thailand?
So what started four years ago as an unpretentious trip to Thailand has ended up as a real journey through the lives of some fine Thai folks and some of the greatest times a guy my age could have. Now it is spilling over into the lives of others and we will see how this unfolds.
My concerns about the age differences between Gail and myself of been of no real problem given our respective life circumstances and I know her and her family have benefited from my involvement with them. Not to mention my own. It's been a great ride so far and I hope it can continue.
I always leave Gail with the admonition that we are not to have any long term commitments and I only want her to happy in what ever way she can. She always tells me the same thing. Lets see: That's four years now. What is long term?
I mention we took a trip to Cha Am and it would require another time to expound on that.
Maybe next time. A trip to Cha Am- Sanuk Mai????
Comments to resume on submissions tomorrow i.e. I'll be back from Phuket.