Asian Roller-Coasters Sometimes Break
• Zhenghang Business Hotel
• Zhongya Hotel
• Hilton Shanghai Hotel
• Holiday Inn Downtown Shanghai
I arrived in Thailand for the first time in March of 2003 after a visa issue in South Korea. I needed to leave Korea ASAP due to an order by the local tax office because I had been found working in Korea on a tourist visa. I was able to go back to Korea but I had to get out for at least two weeks. Thailand overwhelmed me as it has done to many, nothing new there. During my travels I made the decision to stay on and teach in Thailand for a year or so and after being accepted on a free TEFL course through a company out of Mahasarakham, I planned to head back to Korea, get my stuff and then head to Chiang Mai and take it from there. While on the return mission to get my things in Korea, a friend talked me into going to a Buddhist monastery for the weekend.
After a month of rather hedonistic times, the islands, buckets and weed in Pai and all the rest, I was still in party mode. After 3 am prostrations in front of the Buddha and a freezing cold swim in the nearby stream, my friend and his other mate urged
me to go along with them to meet his Zen monk mate. On arrival at the lawn of his hermitage I wasn’t really paying too much attention to proceedings which was obviously noted by the monk because upon retiring to his room for many a pot
of tea with a group of intrepid Buddhists, the monk turned to me clearly having decided that I would do nicely for his little Zen lesson. He began asking me all sorts of rhetorical questions such as “Matt, you can hear people outside, but
who exactly is hearing those people?” After a few too many of these types of questions, I was getting a little bit pissed off and felt a sarcastic answer was in order. A plate of strawberries came out and as I picked up the last strawberry,
sure enough, “Matt, you are eating the strawberry, but who exactly is tasting the strawberry?” I paused, thinking of a smart remark but wasn’t quick enough and the monk let out a bellow that shook everyone in the room from
which he went back to calmly pouring his tea and said “you lose.”
On arrival back in Bangkok, I was sitting on that soi next to the wat near Kao San and this Thai girl came and sat on my knee. I really wasn’t interested in this girl and shoed her off more than once but she certainly did have a lot of energy and rejection seemed to spur her on. I was still feeling in a Zen type of mood after Korea so didn’t really feel like drinking. I sat there flipping though a Thai comic book but she was strong and had big hands that liked to slap but eventually she sauntered off into the night. The next night, while sitting at one of those tables in that area, I had one too many buckets and got absolutely off my face. The alcohol had taken over and I was in one of those reckless moods that Bangkok heat, red bull and Sangsom are notorious for inducing. Cue the return of annoying girl from last night. Of course the story gets a little predictable here. I woke up with the scant memory but knew I had had a great night and realised that I hadn’t strapped it up, and had gone the whole way. We ended up hooking up the next night as well and I took her to a pharmacy on Kao San the following day to buy her a morning after pill. We sat in Gulliver’s and she took the first of three pills. I then watched her disappear into the hazy heat and crowds of Kao San and thought how ephemeral my experience with her had been and as she blended in with the crowd, I thought to myself that it would most likely be the last time I ever saw her.
I then headed to Chiang Mai for my TESL course but the whole time during the course couldn’t get her off my mind. What was strange about the infatuation was that I hadn’t really fancied her in the first place but I guess she was my first Thai girl and I had had a REALLY good time with her. After the course, I got a job in Ubon Ratchatarni. I would bump into her every now and then when I went to Bangkok. Then one day, she said something about having a puppy in her stomach?! I was a little hung over, patted her stomach and made a joke about it. I remember walking to the motorcycle stand with her to send her off as it was time to head to Hwalampong and back to Ubon. The whole ambience of Bangkok with the buzz of the tuktuks, pollution, heat, motorcycles, dingy shop fronts juxtaposed with colourful spirit houses and garish advertisements combined with a hangover, gave me that indefinable dreamlike feeling and as this mysterious girl waied to the spirit house, strapped on a helmet and the motorcycle she was on disappeared behind the smoke of a gai yang barbeque I realised that everything about this girl was a total mystery – I knew absolutely nothing about her apart from her telephone number. The only thread of communication was eight numbers that could change at any minute and she was potentially carrying my child.
She would come and visit me in Ubon and she was really starting to show. I was gunning for a DNA test because she had started proclaiming me to be the father which was freaking me out a little bit. The best I could do was to coax her into a scan which told us a rough estimate of the time of conception. It was about three weeks before the date which I had had sex with her and was therefore around the time of Songkran and she had mentioned being in Vietnam around that time too. I figured that I was off the hook on this one. Close call, anxious times but as easy as our first liaison had been, I figured that someone else had done the same thing as I had done on some free wheeling Songkran night. I relaxed and my friend’s nurse girlfriend put my mind further at ease by telling me the improbability of conception following what had happened.
She continued her visits to Ubon, dragging me out to the local disco. She is a strong-willed girl and wanted to drink whiskey and smoke a few cigs. I poured her a weak whiskey and told her that that was it for her. Of course she wanted more and kept smoking so I grabbed the whiskey, destroyed the cigs in front of her and headed out. She came back to my apartment about half an hour later with her head down. I lectured her for about half an hour about how f%*ked up it is to be doing this stuff when pregnant and that her (maybe our) child would be born undersized and probably have developmental problems if she kept it up.
I got a call about December 14th from her friend that she had gone into premature labour so I jumped on the train the next morning and headed for Sirirat Hospital. Upon arrival, she wouldn’t speak to me because I had obviously been right about the results of her partying ways. I guess this kind of reaction was to be expected from her because she is strong-willed and stubborn and was basically a kid who had just had a very premature kid via caesarean. I gave a fake name to the nurses, who needed a name for the birth certificate, out of fear that I would be held legally responsible for a child that wasn’t even mine. I was the only person allowed to visit her in the incubator room and I had to agree with the nurses that this pathetic shrivelled being did have my ears and there were similarities in the face. I think the nurses at the hospital must see this situation go down a lot and felt altruistically obliged to convince doubters of their paternity. The obvious next thing to do was to have a DNA test but of course, she wasn’t having anything of it because it was like a bargaining chip, one she had over me and she wasn’t prepared to give it up easily. I eventually forced her into giving blood for the test which ended up costing 10,000 baht. So it was back to Ubon to wait for the result which my friend had convinced me would show I was not the father but in the back of my mind, was preparing myself for a match. The letter arrived four days later with wording that said that our DNA profiles were a possible match. I was expecting a piece of paper that said either “yes” or “no” but it’s impossible to say with 100 percent certainty and the hospital had to protect themselves legally but it was a 99 percent result. So heavy stuff – I was twenty six years old, a father, and didn’t really want to ever see the mother again.
The grandmother pounced on my daughter and looked after her day and night while the mother would spend her days sleeping and her nights heading out to Patpong and Kao San. I was of two minds as so many people would be in this situation. I wanted to do the right thing but was well aware of how easy it would be to walk away from the situation, with the knowledge that there was a fake name on the birth certificate and really the only thread between the mother and I were eight digits that I could simply change and be untraceable. I took the latter path for the first eight months but found it too hard so I moved to Ayuthaya and would spend my Sundays hanging out with my daughter, the grandparents (who speak Cambodian but the grandmother could speak enough Thai for us to communicate), and half of the neighbourhood. She was living in Samut Prakarn in what wouldn’t pass for a tool shed back where I am from. It was made from old crumpled pieces of corrugated iron and the roof leaked. It sounds like a rather bleak situation but at least my daughter had the love of the neighbourhood and she really was a white wee superstar amongst the dark Khmers of the neighbourhood.
I continued to go and see my daughter, giving milk money and occasionally saw the mother who was really only interested in getting out of there as soon as she arrived. She often said that she hated me and as my daughter grew, it was obvious that she would resemble me a lot more than the mother so she was being reminded of a person she didn’t like and the dishonourable act that had gone down the year before. The breaking point was when I took my nurse friend out to see my daughter who I had instructed to find out where the grandmother stood on the idea of giving up her granddaughter for a better life. My Thai wasn’t good enough to follow much of what was being said and my friend was talking in what I thought was quite an obnoxious way. I would have been pissed off if someone talked to me like that, but how Thai people treat each other and what pushes their buttons let alone an Isaan person's buttons still remains one of life’s mysteries. We got out of there and the word was that the grandmother was stubborn and wasn’t prepared to compromise which in retrospect was fair enough but that was a good enough excuse to break ties and put my daughter behind me. I moved to Bangkok and got a job that paid quite well and began saving for my escape from Thailand during which time I really put my daughter to the back of my mind. The grandmother or mother would occasionally call me up but I never took their calls.
Cut to eight months ago and the cold of a Japanese winter had me thinking about my life. It had been a year and a half since I had seen my daughter who was due to turn three at that time. I sent an e-mail to the mother and asked her to send me a photo of my daughter. I got three photos back and they broke my heart. I could see that my daughter had turned into a real person rather than some undifferentiated being. The photos of her really affected me and I resolved to never turn my back on her again. My correspondence with the mother seemed too good to be true as she claimed to have fallen in love with our daughter since words had started coming out of her mouth and she had done a cooking course with the goal of getting a job so my daughter had someone to look up to. Although this made me feel a whole lot better about the situation although I still felt a lot of anxiety.
I took a trip to Thailand in March to see my daughter and it was fantastic to see her again. I paid for the bricks to finish off the toilet and tiles to be laid in the kitchen and bathroom and paid for a semester of school. One of my goals was to change my name on the birth certificate but I decided to concentrate on spending as much time as I could with my daughter and the family free of complications. During my stay there, the mother expressed a keen interest to head to my home country and work because her friend was living there. She planned to go there alone and arrange a job on a tourist visa. I helped her as much as I could but wasn't prepared to cave in to her hints for funds because I knew she had money of her own. I told her that she could probably stay at my parent’s house but she got discouraged when my sister was slow to respond to one of her e-mails but I kept encouraging her because I thought that if she got to know my parents then it could possibly have a positive effect on the situation.
Word reached me two days ago that she had arrived in my hometown and was sleeping off the jet lag. I really couldn’t get my head around the fact that this lady who had been such an ephemeral figure in my life was actually staying at my parents' house, the house that I had grown up in, and seeing her over Skype standing there next to my mother with an apron on and a plate of moo manao was pretty hard to believe. So far my parents have been supportive and things have gone smoothly. My parents aren’t stupid so if she gone there for a bit of good old-fashioned gold digging then she will be disappointed. The optimist in me hopes that at least part of the reason that she’s gone there is to get to know my parents because they are my daughter’s grandparents. Well that’s the story so far with a somewhat happy ending. If anyone is in a similar situation and needs advice from me then I would be happy to help.
Wow, what a story. There are a number of stories out there like this, and while this one doesn't necessarily have a totally happy ending, it has a much better ending than others.
Here's hoping that the time in the West has a positive effect on both the mother and the daughter and for the daughter's sake, I hope that she stays there and gets the benefit of a Western education.