How I Met Noi
The date: May 1997
The location: Sattahip, Thailand
It was May 1997, and I was on a 30 day work assignment in Thailand, assisting the Thai Army with a military equipment delivery they were receiving. Although I traveled to many parts of the world and was somewhat familiar with NE Asia where I had lived and worked for some 15 years or so during the previous 25 years, this was my first trip to Thailand. Of course, I had heard all the stories about the wonderful culture, picturesque scenery, friendly people, beautiful women, fine tasting cuisine, and endless number of temples sites that abound in Thailand but I had never been able to find the time or opportunity to travel to Thailand. My bad!
What follows is the story of “How I met Noi”.
I landed at Bankgok’s Don Muang Airport at approximately 2230 hrs. It was hot and humid but the Mercedes Benz ride from the airport to the 5 star hotel on Silom Road was cool and calming after the long flight from the across the Pacific. After checking in and freshening up a bit at the hotel, I took the short walk down Silom Rd through the “night market” to the infamous Patpong to get a beer, get an orientation of the ground area, and take in the sights. This being my first trip to Thailand, I was totally unaware at the time that Nana, Cowboy, Washington Square, or the numerous other nightlife areas even existed. Hummm, my bad! I’ll state this right from the beginning, that the beer was cold and the girls beautiful but I was on a mission and neither the nightlife or meeting any women were part of the planned mission. Enough said.
I spent the next few days in Bangkok meeting with both the resident U.S. and Thai Army representatives laying out the plan and coordinating the logistics for mission accomplishment. Basically the plan was to off load and stage the equipment in Sattahip, transport up range about 2 hours North of Bangkok, process the equipment during the next 3 weeks or so at the up range location with weekends free spent in Bangkok, and, upon completion of the mission, out process in Bangkok and head on home.
After wrapping up the in-brief and administrative stuff in Bangkok, with driver and van, I was off to Sattahip to meet the vessel and begin the off loading and staging process. As there were no 5 star hotels in Sattahip, and Pattaya was only about 20 – 30 minutes up the road, the decision was made to stay in Pattaya and make the daily commute to Sattahip to work. As it turned out, a wise decision as there was surely plenty more to do and experience in Pattaya during the evening than in Sattahip. On about 3rd day of work in Sattahip, we finished up a little early and the driver asked if I wanted to go see the Buddha that was engraved on the mountain cliff, Khao Chee-Chan and the Chinese Temple, Viharnra Sien nearby. Always being interested in the local sites and culture, I agreed that we should go to the sites.
We drove a short 15 – 20 minutes back country roads lined with coconut trees and fields with other tropical vegetation abounding. Then in the distance, the mountain cliff with the engraved Buddha appeared. It was an impressive site. After taking a few pictures, we moved on to the Viharnra Sien Chinese Temple just 5 minutes down the road. Again, at the sight of Viharnra Sien, I was impressed and arranged with the driver to park the van and wait as I wanted to walk around inside the temple grounds. Entrance to the inside the temple grounds required the purchase of a ticket so, I proceeded solo down the path to the ticket booth and rest area passing two women chatting away coming from the opposite direction. They appeared to be mother and daughter of about 50 and 30 years of age respectively. I made a quick pit stop at the rest room, purchased my entrance ticket for 20 baht or so and proceed to the temple entrance. The grounds inside the temple walls were clean, well maintained, and had plants, flowers, and various tributes to the Buddha. I took a few pictures outside the actual temple and then proceeded into the temple’s first floor area. The temple was absent of any visitors but “wow”, very impressive and it was much more like a museum than a temple area. There were an assortment of statues on the large open areas of the floor, other artifacts in glass cases, and large pictures on the wall of men in Thai clothes of different generations who were obviously to be held in high esteem.
I took a few more photographs of the interior of the temple area and wanted a few more pictures but with me included in the pictures. Although my camera had a self timer on it, I had not brought my tripod and there were no flat services in which to place my camera to take a picture of me inside the temple. Hummm! OK. I said to myself that I would walk around inside the temple absorbing the history and culture around me until someone else came into the temple and then, I would ask them to take a picture of me with some of the interesting backgrounds inside the temple. 15 seconds later, a youngish looking woman walked solo into the temple. I recognized her as the younger of the two women that I passed 15 minutes earlier on the way to get my ticket and I would have said at that time that she was 30ish in age. It remains as clear to me today as it did 10 years ago. She had shoulder length dark brown hair and olive colored skin; wore a dark blue pokka dot on white buttoned blouse, freshly pressed blue jeans, and flip flops; and had a genuine smile as charming as I had ever seen. I approached the young woman and politely asked in English if she would be kind enough to take a picture of me inside the temple. With a smile but with out any words, she accepted the camera, waited for me to get into position, took the picture, and kindly handed the camera back to me. Shy as she was, I think possibly her Thai curiosity got the best of her because she ask me my name and where I was from. I responded appropriately. She offered that her name was Noi (not her actual name) and asked if I knew who the men in the large pictures on the wall were. I did not and indicated so. What I got as an answer to who the men in the picture were was far more than what I bargained for. With her mental wheels turning to carefully select the precise words from what was apparently her somewhat limited English vocabulary so that she might properly enlighten me, Noi explained that the men depicted in the large pictures on the wall were in fact the various Chakri Dynasty Kings of Thailand. Noi rattled them off. King Rama I, King Rama II, King Rama III, King Rama IV with the added name of “King Mongkut”, King Rama V with the added name of “King Chulalongkorn”, and so on up to the current king, King Rama IX with the added name of “King Bhumipol”. In a slow but precise manner, Noi gave a little description of what some of the more famous kings were famous for. I was impressed. Without it being conscious to either one of us, we were walking around the museum like temple, me asking some questions about what I was seeing and Noi providing as best a response as she could based on her English vocabulary and knowledge of the information related to my questions. When we came to the steps that lead to the second floor, we proceeded up without even a thought. Here I was getting a Thai history and cultural lesson all for the temple admission price of 20 baht.
Anyway, on the second floor there was a large opened air area that had pot bellied Buddha like statues and warrior like statues in martial art positions. I wanted a picture with the statues so again I asked Noi if she would take a picture of me. I posed in a martial arts form like one of the statues and that must have caught Noi’s fancy because that great smile appeared again and I got some encouragement for some additional poses with the statues. I did.
I asked Noi if she would mind if I took a picture of her with the statues and although a little reluctant, she agreed. She was reserved in her pose but did move around and provided the opportunity for some additional photographs to be taken. As we continued around the museum like temple, we continued to take some pictures and talked about Thailand, it’s culture, history, and food. An hour or so later when we walked out of the temple, Noi motioned for me to walk with her over to a shaded rest area where the other woman that I had seen earlier with Noi was introduced to me. James (not my real name) this is my mother. I was somewhat surprised when the woman introduced to me as Noi’s mother spoke to me in English. Hummm, not bad. It was then that the noted Thai characteristic of asking personal background questions began. Where was I from? How old was I? Did I like visiting Thailand? What was I doing in Thailand? How long had I been in Thailand? How long was I going to be in Thailand? Was I married? Did I have any children? Where was I staying? Etc… I answered each and every question honestly and in between being asked and responding to the barrage of questions I was able to find out that Noi was from Bangkok, that Noi and her mother were visiting Noi’s uncle (father’s brother) in Sattahip for a few days, that Noi was 36 years old and never married, that she had worked as a lead coffee shop cashier at a Bangkok 5 star hotel for about 8 years and had just recently started a new job at a mail and postal service, and was headed back to Bangkok the following day with her mother to attend a wedding during the upcoming weekend. It was further noted that Noi’s younger brother was a licensed tour guide and would welcome the opportunity to show me around Thailand if I had any free time.
Enjoying her company and wanting to gain a more profound understanding of the Thai culture, history / culture / cuisine and possibly be shown some of the sights of Thailand, I provided the phone number and room number of the Pattaya hotel that I was staying in and asked how I might contact her. Noi and mother had a short Thai conversation which I did not understand at all and I was subsequently asked if I wanted the phone number of Noi’s uncle in Sattahip and phone number at the house in Bangkok. I was informed that her uncle in Sattahip did not speak any English but if I called the Bangkok number, Noi’s brother could speak English and could talk to me about showing me around. I was also provided a number of Noi’s father’s house and was advised that he also spoke English but if I called that number and he answered I would have lots of questions to answer. From what I got out of the conversation, I could call Noi at either her brother or father’s number and I could leave a message for her there with my new location contact number once I moved from Pattaya to either the up country or when I came to Bangkok for the weekend. I took this to mean that if I called to either her brother or father and if the message got to her, Noi would have the option of contacting me if she wanted. Anyway, I was assured by Noi and her mother that a call would be placed to both the father and brother to advise them of the potential for receiving a call from James the American. Hummm.
That evening, I called the Sattahip number. No pick up. I then called the brother’s number in Bangkok and it was somewhat apparent that the brother had received advisement from Noi about meeting an American earlier in the day but indicated and was not sure when Noi would be back in Bangkok. Not long afterwards, I received a call from Noi. She and mother were still in Sattahip. Noi said that she would call later and that if I left Pattaya to work up country to call her brother’s number in Bangkok to leave a message where I could be contacted. 2 days later I left Pattaya without hearing back from Noi. When I arrived at the work site up country and checked into the hotel, I called Noi’s brother’s number and left a message where I could be contacted. The next evening I received a call back from Noi. After some pleasant small talk about the wedding, where I was currently staying and what my plans were, we began to make plans for a sight seeing outing the next Saturday when I would return back to Bangkok for the weekend. It was clearly noted that her brother had a car and that he would accompany us on the outing. OK with me! Arrangements were made to meet at 10:00 AM in the lobby at the 5 star hotel I would be staying at on Silom Road.
Come Friday evening after work, the driver drives me back to Bangkok from up country. I checked into the hotel and got ready for a beer on Patpong Road. Too early for much action on Patpong but I did get my 2 or 3 cold beers. On the walk back to the hotel, I picked up a few items from the vendors on Silom and stopped at a restaurant for Thai food. I ordered a few of the food items on the menu that looked good from the pictures that were on the menu and sure enough, when it arrived and I started eating, it really hit the spot. The spices and aroma complemented the Singha beer just right. Wow, what a great meal. I went back to the hotel to relax as I was really looking forward to the sight seeing outing with Noi and her brother.
I woke up early, took a shower, got ready for the planned outing and went down to the lobby. Heck I was just like a little kid and was about an hour early. I took the opportunity to walk the area around the hotel and picked up some Thai pastry for Noi and several of those sweet smelling Jasmine lei’s for Noi’s brother’s car. I returned to the hotel lobby with just a little time remaining before the designated meeting time of 10:00 AM. I sat and read my book for a while and at 10:30, there was still no sight of Noi and brother. About 10:45, one of the hotel front desk attendants approached me and asked if I was waiting for Noi. I responded affirmatively and was informed that they she had just received a call and that Noi was in route and would be here shortly. 15 minutes later and 1 hour after the originally designated meeting time, Noi walked into the hotel lobby with the grace and charm and looking ever so much like the perfect traditional Thai young woman that she was. As Noi approached I noticed how graceful her walk was and then she greeted me with a charming smile and the most elegant wai that I have ever seen. Noi apologized for her lateness (Bangkok traffic), and we sat and talked for just a few minutes before she walked me out to the car to meet her brother. Noi’s brother was a few years younger and I noticed from the start that he spoke better than average English for a Thai. I was ushered into the front seat with Noi’s brother driving and Noi in the back seat. I presented the Thai pastry to Noi and the aromatic Jasmine lei to Noi’s brother. I way again provided a wai by both Noi and Noi’s brother before they were graciously accepted. We discussed the day’s plans prior to setting out and apparently, a trip to the Rose Gardens for a traditional Thai dance show, a look at some elephants and a bit to eat was first on the list.
As we start the trip, there is an obvious interest to find out more about me. The same was true of me, wanting to learn more about Noi. There was just something fascinating about her smile, her walk, her mannerisms. She was delightfully charming. After about 10 minutes of conversation with all of Noi’s questions of me being asked through her brother in Thai and he then asking me in English was enough. I politely noted that during our initial meeting, Noi’s English was sufficient for our general discussion and I suggested that if Noi had a question of me, she could ask me directly. Besides and to be perfectly honest, it was easier for me to understand Noi than it was her brother. There was some reluctance on Noi’s part as she thought her brother spook better English than she did and that her English speaking skills had a lot to be desired but we did reach agreement and Noi addressed her conversation directly to me. The conversation flourished non stop. Different things were pointed out to me on the drive to the Rose Garden and we talked about different things Thai as well as the harmless probing issue into the my life. I also managed to pick up some background about Noi and her family during the conversation. All of which provided proof of the strong traditional Thai upbringing of Noi and siblings as well as the belief in Buddhist philosophy and lifestyle.
We arrived at the Rose Garden, and being unfamiliar with the activities there, their associated ticket costs, and the show times, Noi’s brother proceeded to the information booth while Noi and I roamed the grounds until we came across the elephant rides. Well, a trip to Thailand without an elephant ride is not really a trip to Thailand is it now? The line for the elephant ride was short and the fee for the 200 meter ride was clearly posted so Noi and I took an elephant ride. There was a smile from ear to ear on Noi’s face when we started the ride and I found out during the ride that this was the first time Noi had been on an elephant. As we were nearing the end of the short ride, we saw Noi’s brother returning to the area where he had departed us to check with the information counter. As he did not see us upon his approach to the area, he began looking all around. It appeared that he was slightly concerned because we were not there and the first thing that came to my mind was that he was worried about where this farang was with his sister. Anyway, Noi and I gave him a holler and a wave from atop the elephant. Noi’s brother immediately seemed relieved. Noi and I had a good laugh at her brothers expense.
Noi’s brother informed us of that the traditional Thai dance show and other entertainment would be starting soon, that he had purchased tickets, and that we should begin moving to the theater area. Both Noi’s brother and I were insistent on paying for the admission tickets to the show. I expressed my appreciation to Noi and her brother for taking the time to show me around their country and explained my intentions for covering the days expenses. With some reluctance, my western style persistence was accepted. Enough said.
The three of us took in the show and afterwards took some pictures of the elephants and surrounding gardens. I asked if Noi would take a picture with me in front of the elephants and she indicated that she wanted a picture of us on the elephants. It was arranged with the Mahut and we had our first picture together. We proceeded to lunch at the lake on the Rose Garden grounds. I was encouraged to try the Pad Thai noodles which I did and there was some fried rice brought out as well. We all shared the food that was brought out to the table and Noi and brother watched me as I ate to determine if I liked the food or not. It all tasted exceptionally good. The conversation at lunch was easy going and continuous. We laughed and had no lack of things to talk about. I felt so comfortable being with and really enjoyed the company of Noi and brother. When coconut ice cream, my favorite, was brought out for desert, it was clear to see that Noi and brother enjoyed the fact that their choice of coconut ice cream for me was appreciated.
With the show, walk around the Rose Garden, and lunch over, we decided on a drive back to central Bangkok for a wind shied tour of the city. We all shared equally in our conversation and asking each other questions during our ride back into the city but once back in the city, Noi’s brother did most of the explaining about the temples, Lumpani Park, and various other sites we passed. All was very interesting. As early evening approached, Noi’s brother indicated that he had an appointment to keep so we headed back to my hotel on Silom Rd. In our continued conversation I again extended my appreciation for their kindness in showing me around their lovely country. When asked what I was going to do the following day (Sunday), I indicated that I had no plans. I was informed that Noi’s brother was busy the following day but another one of her brothers, the one that was a licensed tour guide could show me around if I was interested. Of course I would have been interested in any outing that provided me with a 1st hand experience to learn more about the country’s background, history and culture. And of course, if it allowed me the opportunity to spend some more time with and learn more about Noi, so much the better. Even though there was an evident connection from the moment we set eyes on each other, there was no expressed reason to think there was any interest in me on Noi’s part except for curiosity’s sake. With confirmation by Noi that she would be available to come along on the next day’s outing with her tour guide brother, I accepted the offer to see more of the city.
We returned back to my hotel on Silom Road, confirmed our planned meeting location and time for the next day’s outing for my hotel at 1100 AM, and said our good by’s. Wow, what a wonderful day. And getting to know the kindness and goodness of Noi a little better was not bad either.
As it was early in the evening and had not had a beer all day, I again took the short walk down Silom Road toward Patpong. Two beers and 45 minutes of spectating the dancers in one of the gogo pubs was sufficient exercise for me for that evening so I headed back toward the hotel picking up a few items from the night vendors on Silom Road.
Sunday morning arrived. I sat in the lobby waiting for Noi and her brother. At about 1100, a hotel desk clerk approached me and asked if I was James and was waiting for Noi. After acknowledging that I was, she handed me the phone and Noi was on the other end informing me that they would be arriving about 30 minutes late. Bangkok traffic. OK, no problem. At 1130 AM, Noi walked into the hotel lobby and after spotting me in the same chair I was in yesterday walked over my way with the same smooth grace as on the previous day, smiled and again provided me with that same elegant wai. Where do these wonderful creatures learn to walk so gracefully and learn that ear to ear smile that can charm a cobra? And the wai, oh so enchanting. With that greeting, Noi indicated that her brother was waiting out in the car so we proceeded to exit the hotel and when approaching the car I noticed several people in the car. Hummm. Surprise #1 for the day. I was first introduced to Noi’s brother who was standing outside the car, then to Noi’s brother’s girlfriend, and then to Noi’s mother. I started my wai to Noi’s mother and an obvious puzzled look began to form across my face. I turned to Noi and mentioned that her mother looked different than when I first met her at the Chinese Temple in Sattahip. Out came the smile across Noi’s face as she directed me into the front seat of the car. Before we departed I was asked if I had been to the Grand Palace or crocodile farm. I responded that I had not so the plan was set, off to the Grand Palace to be followed by the crocodile farm.
After several minutes and still somewhat perplexed about Noi’s mother sitting there in the back seat, I got Surprise #2 of the day and my first recognizable awareness of never quite knowing the whole story when it comes to the Thais. (Not necessarily a bad thing but I did start becoming aware of the fact after that event that it is often only as much information that is necessary to be known by an outsider that is provided. It is only later when there are questions, the need to save face, or otherwise becomes necessary, that the “rest of the story” is made available and even then it is probably not the whole story. Enough said.). Noi went on to explain to me that the woman I met with her at the Sattahip Temple was in fact her step mother and that the woman sitting in the back seat of the car today was her natural mother. It was further explained that her natural mother did not speak any English. Noi’s brother and girlfriend on the other hand did speak English so we had a good exchange of conversation on the way to the Grand Palace with translations being made for the benefit of Noi’s mother and myself.
I set the record straight about my expectations to cover the expenses for the day since it was Noi and her family that was taking their time to show me around. I did not receive any argument as it seemed that there was an understanding from the previous day that I had no problem with footing the bill. After all, I was getting one heck of an insight to Thailand this way and as is the case I was getting to spend some time with what I was finding to be a most delightful and intriguing young Thai woman.
Because of the lack of parking and the fact that Noi’s brother had been through the Grand Palace 100’s of times with tour groups it was decided that he would stay nearby with the car. There was somewhat of a dress code for entrance to the Grand Palace so there was the apparent need for Noi to change her very conservative knee length skirt for the ankle length skirt that Noi’s brother’s girlfriend was wearing. I got out of the car so the change could take place. No big deal. With the change of cloths finished and the girls / women out of the car, a nearby noodle shop was spotted and Noi, Noi’s mother and Noi’s brother’s girlfriend made a B line for the shop with me in tow. We all had a bowl of noodles and with the arrival of Noi’s brother after finding a parking spot Noi and I headed off to view the Grand Palace while Noi’s mother, brother, and Noi’s brother’s girlfriend all decided to stay behind in the market are to do some shopping. As Noi and I began the tour of the Grand Palace it became apparent that Noi, although familiar with the history and story associated with the Grand Palace, was unfamiliar with the whole layout of the Palace and where the different temple shrines were located within the Palace. Noi finally confided in me that she had previously only seen the Grand Palace from the outside and that this was her first time to actually be inside the Palace walls and have such an up close and personal interaction with the Palace.
We walked leisurely inside the Palace grounds, often lightly brushing up against each other and constantly conversing along the way. We stopped at the more noted sites so that I could read the description in my Lonely Planet Guide book and to take a few pictures of which I always tried to get Noi in the picture. Noi often added her own commentary and antidotes of the site and the exchange of thoughts on the various sites resulted in a memorable and educational process for the both us. Just prior to exiting of the Grand Palace, Noi and I had our picture taken together with the golden domes of the Palace in the background. A great picture.
We met up with the other family members of our outing and walk to the nearby boat pier on the Chao Praya River. Nio’s brother negotiated with one of the long tail boat drivers and we were soon in the boat with water splashing all around us headed into one of the Klung spurs of the river. We proceeded to a market place where we walked around for a short period. The three women in our group all had a bowl of noodles and I still can’t figure out how the women can eat so many bowls of noodles and remain so thin. A little further up the Klung we stopped at a Cobra Snake farm to see the Cobra venom milking and the snake show. As on the previous day when I had the opportunity to interact with some of the local wildlife, I took this occasion to have a Python of some sort put on my shoulders. Noi was considerate enough to take my picture and then told the snake trainer jokingly to wrap the Python around my body. Lots of laughs again at my expense. Oh well, all in good fun, right?
We long tailed it back to the pier and as we walked past the multitude of noodle shops on the way to the car, I half expected the women to stop for another bowl of noodles but we managed to get through with only purchasing some sticky rice in banana leaves. Heaven forbid taking the ride to the crocodile farm without something to eat while in transit.
Walking around the crocodile farm was interesting and the crocodile show with the trainer sticking his head in the crocks mouth was even more remarkable. As I previously indicated, Noi’s brother was a licensed tour guide so by showing his credentials, we had front row seats. After the show Noi’s brother asked if I was interested in having my picture taken with a croc. OK, why not? I mean after all, I was already on an elephant and had a Phyton on my shoulders. Time to graduate for the more dangerous stuff. Little did I know what was in store for me this afternoon. I positioned myself about 10 feet in back of the croc and with eyes on the croc told Noi’s brother to take the picture. No, no, no. U have to get closer. So after about 5 minutes and some coaxing, I had 1 knee on the back of the croc and in a position to get the hell out of there if the croc even thought about turning his head. The picture was taken and I was up and out of there in no time but I must have made quite an impression on the crowd as I got a standing ovation and was treated to an ice cream.
We walked over to the large outside stadium for the elephant show. Again, even with the large crowd, we were ushered to some great seats as a result of Noi’s brother’s licensed tour guide credentials and the fact that there were only 5 of us in the group. We watched the show and at 1 point, there was a request for 5 volunteers from the audience to come down to center ring to assist with the elephant show. I was coaxed again by Noi, her brother, brother’s girlfriend and mother to volunteer. I agreed under the condition that Noi’s brother volunteered also. We entered center ring and I saw the show organizers laying large freshly washed towels on the dirt ground about a meter apart. The volunteers, Noi’s brother and myself included, were asked to lay down on the towels front side up. We did as requested. I was 4th in the series of volunteers and Noi’s brother was last. After we were in position, another large towel was placed on top of us with heads and feet showing. Any doubt or question of what might be in store for the volunteers was quickly removed when the 4 elephants from behind stage were walked our way and the crowd started to laugh. Surprise #3 of the day and not the last surprise I might add. I quickly took the camera out of my front pocket and asked one of the attendants close at had to take a few pictures of the event. I got an OK response. The elephants got closer and as they did, one of the volunteers got up and left. 4 of us remained. The first elephant was carefully brought up to the position of where the first volunteer lay on the ground and was guided over each of very carefully, one step at a time. OK, 1 down 3 elephants to go. The second elephant was guided over myself and the other 3 remaining volunteers by a Mahout one step at a time but a bit more quickly than the first and much to my skepticism the 3rd elephant started feeling his way over the 4 of us volunteers unguided and without a Mahout. He completed this successfully and in a skilled manner. OK, 3 down and 1 elephant to go. As the last elephant carefully stepped over the first 2 volunteers and reached my position he stopped. Oh my gosh, what’s going on. Surprise #4 of the day and hopefully the last. With his trunk and much to my surprise, the elephant started to feel up my leg and reached my crotch. Oh my gosh. The trunk of the last elephant went under the towel and started to feel around my crotch. I tried to brush the elephant’s trunk away with my hand but no, he continued to feel around. I moved my knee up to my chest to try and discourage the elephant from feeling me up any more but no, he continued to feel around. By this time, the crowed started to go wild. They were out of their seats with laughter. OK, more attempts on my part to shoo the elephant’s trunk away from my crotch with my hand and more knee to the chest movements to discourage getting felt up anymore. The crowd continued to go wild with laughter. Finally, the elephant must have gotten enough because it then continued to step over me and completed by stepping over Noi’s brother. The towels were taken off us volunteers and we were helped to our feet. The crowd gave us all a big round of applause. As I returned to my seat, I was getting high fives and thumbs up from the crowd in the stands. They obviously enjoyed the humor at my expense but recognized my being a good sport about the whole thing. When I got back to the seat, Noi, Noi’s mother and Noi’s brother’s girlfriend were wiping away tear of laughter. Yea, I was a good sport and I really think that this revealing of my not being so serious of a person and as a person who can take things in stride was the first event to making any real impression on and making headway to being appreciated by Noi. Oh yea. It must have been a real funny sight now that I think of it.
Following the elephant show, the elephants were on display outside the stadium. I noticed many of the locals walking under the belly of the elephants. I asked Noi about that and was informed of how revered the elephants are in Thailand and that is was considered good luck to walk under and elephant and that good luck would be bestowed on those who fed an elephant. Always looking for as much good luck as possible I both walked under the elephants and fed them some sugar cane. As a side note, I follow the same belief when it comes to religious blessings. Needing all the assistance from the God’s as possible, I’ll sprinkle holy water, light joss sticks and offer lotus flowers, spin the menorah, or do whatever it takes to being looked favorably upon come judgment day.
On our way walking out of the crocodile farm, I noticed a few other animals in a zoo type environment so we walked over that way to take a look. What we found was another adventure photo opportunity. There on a platform without any cage or bars was a Bengal Tiger with a chain ankle restraint. At this point, the group I was with had full knowledge that I was up to the challenge of interacting with animals. I got what little encouragement I needed to have my picture taken with the Bengal Tiger. Scared shitless and not wanting to get too close to the tiger, I still had to save face when directed by photographer Noi insisted that I get closer. With one hand on the Bengal Tiger’s back Noi got the picture. As I backed off with both eyes on the restrained tiger, I heard, “one more picture, one more picture”. OK, just one I responded but it was just not to be. As I took one step back toward the tiger, he turned his head toward me, slightly shifted body and growled. I never moved so quickly. I was off the platform and out of reach of the tiger in less than a second. That was it. Not getting any closer and no more pictures. I was a crowd pleaser though and the spectators and passers by were all again having a good laugh at my expense. All in all though, I think, as a result of my “not being too serious and that I had a fun loving approach” I was making a good impression on Noi. Possibly not the brightest pencil in the box for taking risks with the animals but none the less a fun guy.
We loaded into the car and headed back toward Bangkok. It was early evening and Noi’s mother needed to get home. I was asked if I would not mind driving along so that Noi’s mother could be dropped off at home since it was on the way to the hotel. No problem with me. It would be my first look inside the walls of a typical Thai home.
As Noi’s brother turned the car off the main street into a narrow side soi, we made several 90 degree turns and progressed further back into the housing area until we reached a dead end. Without a word or hesitation, Noi got out of the car went to and reached over the gate directly in front of the car and in some way opened the gate and pushed open the sliding gate so that the car could enter the rather large parking area within the perimeter walls of the compound. There within the compound walls stood two separate structures, a small two story house and a longer one story structure. Every one got out of the car, I wai’d Noi’s mother and before she retired to her room I suggested taking a picture of Noi’s family. I got agreement and after Noi arranged everyone for a family picture, requested me to set the camera on the tripod and use the time so that I could get in the picture. How could I refuse. The picture turned out great and to this day, I cherish that first picture of me with Noi and her Thai family at their house.
Noi showed me around her simple but functional traditional Thai house. The ground surface area between the two separate building structures had smooth concrete and was covered with a roof. This area acted as an open air cooking and eating area as well as a patio. Noi informed me that the second story of the two story building was the original house of her grandmother and grandfather and that the enclosure of the first floor of that building and the construction of the single story structure were added later. The second story of the two story house was a large room and functioned mainly as a bedroom and sitting room for when family members visited and stayed over. The first floor of that two story building contained a full Western bath room, a large room with cloth closets and refrigerator and a bedroom. In the single storied structure were two separate bedrooms and an elevated wood deck. The larger of the two bedrooms, the one with an air conditioner, was Noi’s mother’s bedroom. The other bedroom was Noi’s room. She showed me the inside of the room and I noticed that there was a desk, wooden dresser with mirror, a wooden closet, a fan, and a fold up mattress for sleeping. Again, everything was clean, simple and functional. Noi then opened the back gate and we walked out onto a three foot wide concrete sidewalk along a Klong. Noi explained to me how when she was young, there were no other houses in the immediate area and that on all the land surrounding this house, there was nothing but mango and other type fruit trees. She also noted that she would both take the row boat out onto and go swimming in the Klung. Here again, Noi was opening up and allowing me into her life by provided a great insight to the way things used to be in this part of Thailand back in the late sixties at a time when she was growing up.
While still at the house, Noi received a phone call. There was several minutes of conversation and when she rung off, there was no mention of who called or the conversation was about. OK, none of my business. No problem. We sat on the patio out of the way of receiving the direct rays of the setting sun, talking with Noi’s brother and girlfriend. Shortly afterwards, Noi’s brother and girlfriend gathered their things, gave me and Noi a good bye wai, got in the car and left. OK, I’m beginning to feel just a little uncomfortable and wondering if I’ll end up taking a taxi back to the hotel. Noi straightened up the chairs and sweep up the patio leaving me to sit, drink my water and look out the back gate at the Klung. Not! I was really watching the gracious movements of Noi moving about doing her little bit of straightening up. It was dusk now and I noticed car headlights just outside the front gate. Noi noticed the headlights at about the same time, indicated that we would be leaving and asked me to open the sliding front gate to let the car in. OK, Noi’s brother must be back. Not! I slid the gate open, got out of the way and in came a car that was obviously not her brother’s. This unfamiliar vehicle was occupied by an older and two younger women. As they got out of the car, there were wais all around, some even directed my way and I got the friendly Sawasdee Ka James. I had not met these people yet but they knew who I was. I was then introduced to Noi’s aunt (mother’s younger sister), cousin who I will call Joy (mother’s younger sister’s oldest daughter who looked about the same age as Noi but a year or two older), and another cousin who I will call Fa (who was really a long time friend of the family and much later was to find out a former girlfriend of Nit’s brother who took me to the Rose Garden the previous day. The second cousin / family friend looked about Noi’s age, possibly a year of so younger). Both of 2 younger girls / women spoke relatively good English. In fact, the cousin / family friend, spoke excellent English. I was informed that Noi’s aunt did not speak any English but it was obvious that she was a talker and that she would be right in the middle of any conversation regardless of the language being spoken.
Noi advised me that they would all be taking me back to the hotel. Fa was driving and I was ushered into the front seat. Noi, the aunt and the cousin all got in the back seat. The conversation was non stop and a mixture of English and Thai. There were questions directed my way in English and with each response I made there was a translation into Thai for Noi’s aunt. On the drive to the hotel, Noi indicated that they were hungry and asked if I was interested in having dinner. OK, why not. Who could refuse having a nice dinner with one older and three younger lovely Thai women.
There were tables on the sidewalk outside the restaurant as well as inside, the fresh seafood was on ice and display in front of the restaurant, and as well as an inside kitchen, I could see much of the food being grilled on an outside charcoal Bar-B-Q. The aroma of grilled seafood filled the air. When the food arrived, there was grilled prawns, grilled pork on a stick, what looked like rice soup, and some type of salad. I was encouraged to try everything. The conversation as well as the food were both a little spicy. In translation, I was asked by Noi’s aunt if I knew any Thai women. “Of course” I responded. “I knew Noi, Noi’s mother and step mother, Noi’s brother’s girl friend, and you three here at the table with me”. All smiles and a little laughter around the table. It was explained to me that what Noi’s aunt was really asking was if I had a Thai girlfriend. With my response that “I had been in Thailand for just over a week that how could have a Thai girlfriend?”. Again, smiles abound the table. Although my response did not specifically addressed Noi’s aunt’s question, my response surely met the Thai criteria for ways to answer a question without really answering the question or, put another way, answering a question with a question. The follow on question was, “do I like Thai women”. My response being something like, “I’m a guy, why wouldn’t I like Thai women?”. OK, another response to a question with a question but it must have gotten the point across because the conversation turned to a lighter subject. With the meal complete and everyone full, off we went to comfort of my hotel on Silom Road.
There were Wai’s and Kop Khun Ka’s and Krup’s all around when we got to the hotel. I asked Noi if I could call her during the week to possibly schedule getting together the following weekend. I received the OK to call but a qualification with her response that she did not know if she would be home or if we could meet the following weekend. I left it at that and said that I would call and if she was not home would leave a message. Noi greeted me farewell with another Wai, Kop Khun Ka and Sawadee Ka. Oh how graceful and lovely a woman she was… and still is for that matter.
At 0 dark 30 the following morning, the driver picked me up at the hotel and we proceeded up country for another weeks worth of providing assistance to the Thai Army. The days were uneventful except for the daily traditional Thai massages after work. After a hot and hard days work, the air conditioned massage parlors provided a good opportunity to relax, have a cold beer, cool down, and take a nap while having the tightened knots worked out of your muscles. Dinner and a few beers at a roadside restaurant after the two hour massage and then off to bed before the 0600 wake up call for another days work.
It was Thursday evening before I called Noi to see if we might be able to schedule a weekend outing. It took several calls to the various numbers before I was able to talk to someone who was able to understand that I wanted to speak to Noi and when I was able to get wanting to talk to Noi understood, she was not available to talk. I did however leave a message with the phone number that I could be contacted and about one hour after ringing off, received a call back on my hotel room phone. It was Noi. She explained how she had just gotten back from the market with her mother where they had noodles for dinner and was getting ready to go to work at the mail center. As it turned out Noi was working second shift at the mail center’s international section. As the discussion worked around to doing something when I came to Bangkok this weekend, Noi informed me that she was going to be out of Bangkok visiting her Aunt with her cousin. The Aunt was the very same who had dinner with us at the Seafood Restaurant the Sunday before. I confirmed with Noi that I was staying at the same hotel on Silom Road and she gave me a number I could call when I arrived in Bangkok. For what reason was not explained to me and remained unclear. I upheld the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as I was becoming accustomed to and understanding that if I was meant to know, I would be told. OK, although not Thai, I had been around the block a few times and knew that two could play the game but in this case I also knew better than to ask too many questions. I decided to let well enough alone.
On Friday afternoon, as the van driver neared Bangkok from our up country work site, I asked the van driver to pull over at the Lotus so that I could call the number Noi had given me. Noi answered and was surprised that I was calling in the late afternoon rather than in the evening but seemed pleased that I had called. Noi indicated that she had to work that evening at the mail center but had time to meet for dinner before going to work. The plan was for me to continue to the hotel, wash up and at about six o’clock have one of the hotel front desk clerks call Noi at the same phone number so that the name and directions for the restaurant we were to meet could be provided in Thai. I was to use these directions to give to the taxi driver to take me to the restaurant. Oh yea, nothing is ever very easy. At 6:30 PM or so, after getting the directions I took a taxi for the designated restaurant rendezvous location. The taxi arrived at the restaurant and I immediately recognized it as the seafood restaurant we had eaten at the previous weekend. Noi spotted me from a table she was sitting at and gave me a nice smile. As I approached, Noi stood and along with the ear to ear smile greeted me with a Wai. Noi was alone. Hummm, what’s this all about? No chaperones? I asked Noi about this and the response was that she was going to go to work but wanted to have dinner with me and ask me a question before she had to go to work. Sounded serious. I drank a cold Singha and Noi had shaved ice with fruit in it while we looked at the menu and discussed what it was we wanted to eat. Grilled shrimp, sliced and grilled pork on a stick, rice soup, and some fried catfish is what Noi ended up ordering. We had no difficulty finding things to talk about. Noi was interested in my travels around the world and my family back in the States. It was clearly on the table that my marriage was estranged and that I had two children that I adored. Noi never offered an opinion about my married status but in the same respect, was always attentive to what I had to talk about, regardless of the topic.
It was just as I was thinking about asking Noi what it was that she wanted to ask me when she explained that she would be going out of Bangkok to her Aunts fruit farm the following day with her cousin. We talked about her Aunt’s fruit farm and I asked several questions about where the fruit farm was, what type of fruit she grew, and if there were any animals on the farm. My expressed interest must have hit the right note because without missing a beat, Noi asked if I wanted to go along with her and her cousin to the fruit farm. Sure I responded, what time we leaving. Noi explained to me that her and her cousin would pick me up at my hotel about 09:00 AM after she got off work from the mail center. OK, the plan was set just as the food and another beer arrived at the table. We ate and continued our conversation. The food was scrumptious and the conversation very enjoyable. At about 08:30 PM, we caught a taxi to take Noi to work at the mail center. We confirmed the following days arrangements and waied each other good night.
So, this is how I first met Noi and was introduced to Thailand. There is plenty more to follow in this series of follow on business and holiday trips to Thailand. I will follow up with subsequent submissions to Sitckman that address these additional visits, the courting of Noi, and where we are 10 years later from the date we first met in Sattahip.
There are so many Nois in Thailand. (Sorry, I really do not know what to say, hence daft comments.)