From Mamasan To Marriage
The flight from Bangkok was uneventful apart from my noticing of the amount of older farang men with their teeruks, I was curious because they seemed to represent a larger than normal number of "well lived" sort of characters.
I have always been a people watcher, sometimes to the point of attracting unwanted attention myself, and it made the flight go easier imagining the different circumstances of how these guys ended up on a flight to Khon Kaen.
I bet they didn't think this was their destiny when they first met their lovelies in the southern beer bars. Some looked like old hands, some looked quite nervous at the prospect of meeting the Isaan family. All the girls seemed to be wearing the trophy gold for display. The spoils of conquest? I had bought my girl a ring and necklace in the months I had known her but some of these girls, and the old fellas, were literally dripping in it.
The only sobering thought was that I was one of them, I was part of this club that had never even heard of Isaan, let alone Khon Kaen. I was part of this club that was a long, long way from home.
Was I nervous? Not really, I had met my girl six months previous and we had had a great time travelling around the southern islands. We had escaped a tsunami by hours that destroyed the three hotels and beach huts that had been our lodgings in the three days prior to the big waves people died in the rooms we had slept in. We went back and were awe-struck with our luck. It was fate that we were still together. We had made totally baseless and unexpected changes to our plans 12 hours before the tsunami that unknowingly put us out of harm's way.
She couldn't speak any English and I couldn't speak Thai but we managed through a common easy companionship. I had worked in Asia in various countries for the last six years, mostly confined to the oil port towns of southern Thailand, Indonesia, Korea and China where the bar life is at its most active. I wasn't a newbie so I wasn't overawed by Thailand's nightlife, but I did fall in love with the Thais. I knew my girl well enough as we had travelled around a fair bit to know that she would look out for me, and she knew me well enough to recognise the signs when I needed rescuing.
I has asked lots of questions about her family and in her broken but improving English and my broken but not improving Thai I had formed a mental picture of what to expect. She had never seen her father except for one agonisingly sad time when she was introduced to him at 16 and had all of thirty minutes to overcome her shyness and ask him why he had never contacted her. This meeting ended up with them both crying in each others' arms and then ending as abruptly as it started. She has never seen him again to this day eleven years later. The mother had it tough and is a tough lady. She works hard and drinks hard. Fa had no real time for her mother and her daughter's duty did not extend to helping her out financially because she didn't disperse the money as Fa wished. Any money she sent home she had sent to the Grandmother who was apparently a beautiful, old, traditional thinking Thai / Laos who neither asked for or expected money, but when she got some was very fair in how it was spent. One golden rule was "no money for whisky".
We spent the night at the Sofitel Hotel in Khon Kaen in luxury. We were very glad to be together and grinned like Cheshire cats. Her English had improved very much as she had text books and her English / Thai dictionary. She had a textbook full of lessons and study and snippets of conversation she had translated, I was very proud of her. She had topped the class at the English course I had paid for. I had never doubted her intelligence, in fact it was her intelligence coupled with her serenity and physical beauty that had attracted me to her in the first place.
On the drive to the village she got a phone call from her childhood girlfriend now living in Sydney telling her that her mother had died (the girlfriend's mother) and she had flown in the night before and could we come and pay our respects in a neighboring village on our way. That's a bit sad I thought, bloody funeral on the first day. Fa didn't seem too upset, the old girl had been sick a long time. Oh well I thought, bit of a bummer, we will just do the right thing and then continue on our way.
Off the main road and down a dusty pot holed track, around a couple of shacks and we were there. Christ on a stick, it was a drunken mob swarming the street, the amount of people was staggering and overwhelming. We got out of the car and were surrounded by a large part of the mob. I was a fish out of water, it was the same feeling I got surrounded by beggars in India years before. I could feel a bit out of place here and looked to my girl for a way out. She was streets ahead of me and was clearing room at an outdoor table in the shade and organising a beer for me to ease myself back to my usual bemused self.
I was merely an exhibition for the next few hours while the monks chanted and large quantities of the local firewater were consumed. That is when the village idiot saw me from a distance and made a bee line. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I get uneasy around people who are a few cans short of a piss-up whose next move is unpredictable. I get a fixed grin on my face that has been likened to the expression a dog has when a vet is trying to stick his finger up its behind. The guy was harmless apart from trying extract things out of my pockets and making a pest of himself, some gentle scolding from the old women sorted him out but to tell the truth I couldn't get out of there too soon and when the time came to leave I was glad of it.
We arrived at the wife's village at sunset after picking up a few boxes of beer on the way. The first sighting I had of this village was postcard beautiful, emerald green rice paddies, coconut trees, contoured land and spectacular mountain backdrops north and south that were purple in the sunset as we wound our way past chooks and dogs on the road catching the last rays of the day. The wife pointed out the family farm and it was stunning, anywhere in Australia worth a million bucks but here bugger all. You can't help but pity the poor buggers when you realise the prices they get for their produce either. It breaks their spirit.
We pulled into the drive and there was this tiny, nut brown, wizened old lady sitting on the platform outside of her rice hut, she gave the broadest red, beetlenut stained grin and made her way to the car. She was a sight; back bent at ninety degrees, one leg three inches shorter than the other due to a dodgy hip operation but my god, the look of joy she had on her face was priceless. My wife is one of only two females of her generation in the family and the old girl had brought her up from the age of 6 when the mother started hitting the sauce. I knew from my girl that they shared a special bond together and both pretty well ran the family in that unique Thai way, the blokes know it as well I suspect.
The old girl looked at me and looked IN to me, held my gaze for a good two minutes. I had no trouble holding her gaze as I had become very calm in her presence all anxiety of meeting her had evaporated. She pulled me down to her level and gave a short sniff into my hair. I didn't know what it meant but according to the wife the old girl had seen something in me and was happy we were together.
From then on until about nine o'clock was a never ending procession of family, neighbors, old women, young kids, old men and other curious onlookers, they had all come to see the farang. I was squeezed, prodded, hugged, stared at, laughed at, had my ears examined.
While this examination was happening I saw an ancient man walking with the aid of a stick, also bent at ninety degrees from a life of rice farming, legs bent at the knees with a big old straw hat on, he walked up to me and had a devilish grin on his face gripped my arms tightly and welcomed me to the village, this was the Granddad (Khun Ta). We became good mates in the following days and subsequent visits and I love the old guy.
He gets up at 4.00am everyday, scowls at the dog and has a feed. Then he goes off to his hut on the farm for the day until he painfully walks back to the house around 5.00 pm. he is taken food and water during the day, he keeps himself busy with little jobs around the farm.
He has few other old blokes dropping in on him, sometimes they get a bit naughty and share a bottle of whisky down there but the only time I have seen the grandmother have a go at him is when he had to be carried home one night a bit under the weather, he tried to make it but found it easier to curl up under a tree and who hasn't done that before eh?
Whatever Thai I had tried to learn was useless because they speak Laos anyway its a funny dialect to sit and lister to with its subtle yips and yelps.
Many times I have had Khun Ta sit and talk away to me. I haven't got a clue what he is talking about but it sounds like a good story and I could listen to him for hours as we have a couple of "sundowners".
Later on when we ate, my legs hurt because I don't think I had voluntarily sat down cross-legged since primary school some 35 years ago. I envied their ability to sit for an age in a position I couldn't bare for more than 20 minutes. I was observed eating, congratulated for eating their tucker with the sticky rice molded into the ball and dipped into God knows what. We laughed without knowing why, they laughed with me and at me but in a good way. We have some great photos of those few days but I am at work in China at the moment and don't have access to them. My wife held centre court, they hung on to ever word she said, she had gained much face and it was a good introduction to this way of life.
The house was Spartan to say the least, no chairs, no tables, no white goods except a fridge. Pretty well as Stick has described before, fridge, TV, DVD and a rice cooker. mattresses on the floor although in different bedrooms, cold shower and squat dunny out the back. Lucky there is no more electrical appliances because the wiring looked very dodgy. the teak floor boards were so old and polished from years of bare feet they didn't feel like timber, more like hard satin, hard to explain. The place had its own little eco system going, veggie off cuts and food scraps to the chooks, very minimal plastic waste no rubbish lying around, no smell except good smells when cooking. I took a big plump chicken from KK Big C and they didn't like it, preferred their scrawny long legged country chook, told me that my one was too much fat. The kids liked it because even out here in the boon docks they are brainwashed by TV to think KFC is the ducks nuts. Pity really.
We went to bed that night happy, mosquito net down, bucket on hand for a slash if needed and lights out. Then another unexpected surprise, we have a good sex life but whether it was the familiarity of being at home or something in the fried insects she ate that night my future wife went off like a rocket, I usually keep these things to myself but I am still, two years later looking back on that night of horizontal dancing as being worthy of a gold medal.
The next day I woke up to the sounds of roosters crowing and dogs barking at the morning. Underneath my window was my wife in simple sarong with grandmother (Khun Yai) and I watched them for an age. Talking quietly, my girl sewing my ripped pants, just catching up on village gossip and the scene was total tranquility. I watched people walk though on their way to other houses and stop for polite chats and warm greetings, I watched a few other old ladies come and mash up that bark and paste and god knows what else into a wad of chewing material then sit around happy in whatever fix they get from that stuff. I met stunningly beautiful grandchildren being permanently cared for by Grandparents while their own parents had gone off to earn their wages in Bangkok factories and building sites.
I was a novelty and remain to be so, there is only one other farang in the area who lives about 10 km away and he isn't liked because he hits the dogs with a stick which has a nail hammered through it. I am compared to him many times and come up trumps. He refuses to eat anything local as well, doesn't share his beer and is pretty well considered a tosser (ying), how can I lose?
Meal times started about 4pm where an excursion around the farm with a big cane basket took place, all fresh, whatever is in season, herbs, chilli, lemongrass, mango, papaya, limes. We walked down to the little river that borders one side of the farm and being an Aussie from dry country I was mesmerized by the cool, clear water. I love a good creek and this was a good clean one.
A trip to the market for a chunk of pork then it was another case of watching the family interact with each other while they were preparing and cooking the meal, all done outside on the back verandah where you can look out on the purple mountains in between sips of beer and a smoko with the old Granddad. My wife doesn't drink a drop, makes her faint, so the old boy and myself get growled at by both my wife and Khun Yai if we get our ambitions mixed up with our capabilities in the drinking department. Even that gives me a warm sort of feeling.
I had a great time in that village, and I learnt many things, not least that it is possible for 16 people to fit into and on the back of a duel cab pick up.
I learnt that you don't need much money to be happy but it is impossible to explain that to people who have nothing and bloody arrogant to suggest such a thing in the first place. I learnt that western families could do with a lesson in family structure and respect for elders. A caring extended family is a beautiful thing to see and be part of. I have it in Aussie and I have it in Thailand.
I fell in love with my wife in that village, I suspected that I may have loved her before but it was during that first visit when I saw how she was in her surroundings and amongst her own that I looked at her for a long time quietly from the bedroom window and knew that I was going to marry her.
I continued to enjoy every trip there, so much so that we have bought some land and plan to build our own house there next year. They are a descent hard working family, even the hard drinking, black sheep mother has a good heart but is driven by some force or memory to alcoholism. I pity her but the wife doesn't… too much history there and my missus reckons that her mother is constantly reminded of her "butterfly" father when they are together.
The mother-in-law has a habit of going the grope on me when she is a bit pissy. She did it too my old man when my parents came for a visit once. One more thing, when the women folk get a couple of drinks into them they are not shy in asking my wife the dimensions of my genitals either, my wife just gives them a silent smile and keeps them guessing, God bless her.
Oh, another thing that probably should be mentioned due to the amount of enquiries in this website is money! I have never felt like a cash cow, I have been generous in what I contribute to the family but not so that it is taken for granted. I took my wife out of the work force and happily contributed what she was giving to the family herself plus some.
Apart from a very irregular cash contribution I tend to buy tools for the men, cosmetics for the women, a bottle of duty free for Khun Ta and I pay for the education of the younger brother and his cousin (bugger all). If they are in dire straits they know that they can come to us but they haven't had the need as yet. I have been told that I am lucky that my wife hasn't got older lazy brothers and I am sure this is true. I am lucky that there are no demands from bludging brothers and cousins or sisters needing seed money to start noodle stalls etc
The minute we bought the land it was made clear to us that saving for a house was now the priority and don't feel like we had to pay for everything on our visits. They had nothing but their labour to offer us when the time comes to build but that was offered without payment, just a good party when finished.
They have no idea what I earn and the wife is under strict instructions not to divulge any information about income. Why complicate things when a formula is working OK? My wife knows that my three children from my previous marriage take a bit of maintaining although they are all in their late teens now. She knows and respects that I contribute to my folks so they can continue to be old nomads themselves in their Autumn years. I followed my gut instinct and it wasn't long into my relationship before I realised I had a true partner, a women who wasn't after a cash cow, just after a good hearted, loving farang. Maybe that is what the old girl saw when she stared into my soul on that first meeting.
My wife's family has no idea she had left the factory and gone to work in a beer bar on Phuket. They think we met in Lumpini Night bazaar in Bangkok. <Do you REALLY believe that?! They usually know but just keep up the story so everyone maintains face – Stick> I asked my wife recently why she went to Phuket and she bluntly told me that she had wanted to marry a farang since she was a little girl, she openly told me that she would have settled for anyone who wasn't cruel. When she cried her eyes out on our wedding night she held me tight and told me she was the luckiest girl she knew. She looked at me with puffy, wet eyes and simply said "Thank you Khun Andy".
I think the generalisation that bargirls make bad girlfriends and wives is a crock of shit and is relative to the length of time they have been working in that capacity.
I think that a hell of a lot of them are liars and scammers and driven by family greed or their own greed. As it is so many times mentioned, it is simply a business transaction for services rendered but don't be blind to the fact that some girls do come in the hope of meeting a husband. Maybe a desperate stupid move but there you go.
Maybe there are a couple of things to look for, especially if the girls is from upcountry. If she can only speak a little English and has only worked in that environment a short time that may be a good sign. If she doesn't like the taste of grog and doesn't have her history inked on her skin that also may be a good sign but there is one thing I cannot stress enough…you must take that girl out of that environment as soon as you decide that you want things to develop further. Send her home, send her to English school and get her away from those horrible manipulating bloody mamasans and the other girls who may be jealous of her now she has scored.
I saw another batch of old guys leaving from Khon Kaen airport when I left. Most had the usual strings around their wrists. Most looked happy and a few snippets of conversations I heard there had been some eye opening experiences. I looked at those blokes and wondered what made them take the leap from bar hopping in Pattaya or wherever to making the pilgrimage to Isaan and I thought to myself: maybe they mucked up their first marriage or maybe they had been shafted but I really wanted to believe that they simply wanted another chance at love. Maybe that fantastic world of cheap sex had started to feel a bit too false. Maybe they just wanted to be better men.
You simply cannot be a regular reader of Stickman without questioning what you are doing sometimes. You can be made to feel pathetic, you can be made to feel part of a great party. But please do not criticise those old blokes looking for a bit of happiness.
I silently wished them luck, for to have made that trip to Khon Kaen for the first time is a brave step in a direction that can lead to great rewards or great emotional and financial pain. Eyes and ears open fellas, and do not ignore your gut instincts.
We got married in Perth and in my speech I said that when I met my wife I thought I would have to teach her everything. It ended up that she has been the teacher and I have been the pupil in so many ways. Yes boys and girls, there ARE good ones out there and I have got the best one.
It's good to hear from a guy is happy. I thoroughly agree with what you say about getting a bargirl away from the bar scene completely. If you want to put a ring on her family, she has to leave that scene and sever all ties with it.