Return to Thailand, Part 3
This is part 3 and final part of the story. I apologize for taking so long to write it but work and family demands have been greater than normal.
I would be remiss if I did not correct an omission in my last story. The wonderful beach resort that I stayed at in southern Thailand at Ban Saphan Noi is called Ban Sai Thong and I highly recommend it. This resort has been discovered by Bangkok’s businesses as a good place to hold business retreats. Even though they are building new units, I would call ahead early. The web site is in Thai but you should be able to find a phone number and talk to someone who speaks English for a reservation. For a quiet weekend getaway from Bangkok, you will not regret it.
The ride from Ban Saphan Noi to Bangkok at first started as I expected; explaining to my wife how I lost my wedding band in America. During uncomfortable pauses I quietly viewed all the different scenes that driving in that part of Thailand offer. The backdrop of the mountains gave everything a three dimensional aspect not seen in other parts of the country. To me, the shops that we passed looked as nondescript as any other shop, but then my Thai friends drove off the highway to a side street and parked in front of a small, modern looking building. It was a coffee shop that had glass doors with a beautiful garden in the back. They offered upscale coffees and European pastries. It was run by a hi-so Thai couple who were very proud of their shop, and for good reason. We lingered there and sampled the small pastries and snacks they had for sale. It was better than any Starbucks this side of Seattle. How did my friends know about this place; there was no sign that I noticed? They could not explain; they just knew where it was there. I was astounded, and then they did it again with another wonderful shop an hour later. For those driving from Bangkok to Phuket, there are some great places to stop and relax. I just wish I could remember them.
After the second shop I started to notice it. The Thai talk; it was nonstop between my wife and her two friends. I tried to sleep but I dreamed Thai words were coming at me like baseballs such that I would wake up suddenly with a start just as one was about to hit me. By the time we got to Bangkok, even though we had stopped twice, I was ready to burst out the car door. We returned to the wonderful condo we were staying at before we left for my wife’s home, so I was greatly relieved when we entered the gracious lobby. Inside the condo, it was plain my wife and her friends were very tired and they started to nod off early. As there was no dinner planned, I sauntered off to the nearby 7-11 for some Singhas and snacks. I was finally away from the clucking Thai ducks and drinking Thai beer. Ah, heaven!
When I returned to the condo, I tried to wake my wife as it had been some time since we had been alone in a bedroom together. She woke up slowly and explained that her “Aunt Flow” was visiting so I fell back on the bed beside her and let the Singha work its magic of relaxation. Soon I was asleep next to my wife for the first time in 3 weeks. We both slept soundly all night but I awoke early the next morning. It was 6 AM on a Saturday morning in Bangkok; what a great time to be awake in the city! Quiet, cool, no cars or motosai’s, with birds chirping in the trees below. I drank my Milo on the balcony in complete bliss. I expected my Thai contingent to wake up soon but they didn’t. Restless, I went for a walk. After a few blocks, I started to realize that every third building seemed to be abandoned. That seemed odd; I was only a few blocks from a Skytrain stop. Then I started to think about when we were driving in the city and the empty buildings I saw then. What is happening to Bangkok? I had first come to Thailand in 2000 and saw the motionless cranes looming over empty buildings; a ghostly remembrance of the financial crisis of 1997. Today, the cranes seem to be active but there were a lot of empty buildings everywhere I had been in Bangkok. Were the coup and the new foreign investment laws having their effect already? I wondered about my plans to move to Thailand in the next few years. I was planning on working in IT for a few years; would there be enough business left for that to feasible?
When I returned to the condo my wife and her friends were awake but moving very slowly. It was overcast and I could see there was no rush to start the day. After an hour or so, it became clear that my wife intended to go back to sleep. This was no great surprise to me. She had been dealing with her Father’s death and helping her family affairs for over two weeks, while sleeping on a mat on a concrete floor and without air conditioning as well. I patted her shoulder and sent her back to bed. I wish I had her wonderful ability to just shut down when overly tired. In the living room, I chatted with her friends and told them this would be a good day for me to visit Pantip Plaza to stock up on electronic stuff. They offered to escort me, which I declined, but I did accept a ride from them. I said good bye to my sleeping sweetie and off we went.
When I got into Pantip Plaza it was 11 AM and many of the stalls were still covered with plastic. I looked around at the open ones and quickly found some of the DVD’s and software I was looking for. I generally am not one to buy this illegal stuff but in the case of Microsoft and Hollywood, I feel they charge way too much for their monopolized products. By 12 Pm I was done and looking for my ride home. My Thai friends were still shopping and a quick call to my wife confirmed she was still asleep. I walked around the fringes of Pantip and only saw the usual tourist stuff to buy. Fearing an afternoon with the clucking Thai ducks (don’t get me wrong, they are wonderful people but they can certainly carry a conversation), I called them and let them know I was off on my own to determine my own fate for the afternoon. They readily agreed, which surprised me, and now I pondered my fate. After a few moments reflection and a consideration of my own dry self, I decided to take a taxi to Nana Plaza to see what the naughty parts of Bangkok were like in the daytime.
I had never been to Nana or Patpong in the daytime before, and except for the daunting prospect of a gloomy day in a condo full of sleepy Thai women, I would not be here at all. I was dropped off at the open bar that guards the entrance to Nana and sat at a small table looking out over the street. With The Nation newspaper in hand, I surveyed all before me and it truly was a site to behold. Bar girls, with eyes down, walking quickly through the streets in casual clothes; western men of all shapes and ages, walking more slowly but with eyes everywhere. It was a dynamic that I did not understand at first. A very nice Thai girl asked me what I wanted to drink and quickly brought me my usual Singha. She smiled widely when I gave her a good tip and then disappeared. I started to read my Nation but couldn’t keep my eyes off the street. The variety of Thai and western sojourners seem to grow by the minute. My interest was piqued as to why these people were parading around in some weird show. Was there some event I was missing at 1 PM on a Saturday afternoon?
Back at my bar, I noticed that there were very pretty Thai girls that kept “checking in” at the bar desk and then going to the back of the bar. Two of them, different from the first, each came forward and asked me if I wanted another beer; each time smiling perfectly when I said no thank you. On the third different girl I said yes and she went to fetch another cold one. When she brought the beer to my table she just stood in front of me and smiled. This was awkward; now what? I started to ask the standard bar girl questions and received the standard bar girl answers. I finally told her I was married to a Thai woman. Oh really, where is she? Sleeping, I said. Oh, OK, good bye. Hmm, what just happened?
After a while I grew tired of the paper and the next two different girls, and moved across the street to the open bar next to the Nana Hotel. This place was much livelier and I would soon not be by myself. First, a very large American with large gold chains, started to talk everyone near him and no one in particular. He eyed me quickly and gave me a look that said I was not in the spirit of this place. I sat quietly and smiled at him and got the impression he was trying to impress someone, but not sure who. Soon he was talking with one of the bigger breasted waitresses. She eyed him the way a crocodile eyes a fish that is slowly moving closer its mouth. After a few pops he had his arm around her and was talking more loudly. I moved away to a table closer to the street.
From here I could see a western man with a Thai baby on his shoulders walking on the street towards the bar. He had a nice looking Thai woman in tow behind him, and when he saw one of the patrons sitting by the rail, he stopped and put the baby on the rail. All the waitresses at the bar ogled the baby and said what I assumed to be kind words on how plump the baby was now getting. On closer inspection, the woman in tow revealed more than a few tattoos on her arms and back. Reflecting on this scene, I imagined a farang man living in Thailand who had met the bar girl of his dreams, had a child, and was now playing the role of proud Papa while living close to Nana Plaza. How long would this family bliss actually last? Would the very cute child actually reap any benefits of having a farang father? Or would the father soon grow tired of the Bangkok bar scene and return home to his northern clime and resume his stale marriage to an overweight malcontent. I tried to put these thoughts from my mind and appreciate the friendly laughter and congenial spirit of having a beautiful baby laughing at all the attention it was receiving.
By this time my waitress, wearing a very revealing top that exposed wonderful man-made breasts, sat down next to me and started with the usual bar girl questions. Growing tired of this dance, I told her I was married to a beautiful Thai woman and was just here for a beer. Instead of this putting her off, she instead relaxed and told me the story of her recently lost German boyfriend. She said that they had met three years ago and had lived briefly in some German city. They had a daughter but he couldn’t stay sober long enough to be a father. She couldn’t find a job in Germany so she came back to Thailand to resume working in the bars again. She told me this sincerely and although I was sympathetic, these were old stories to me. I almost launched into my own tale of woe from years ago when I let my guard down once, fell in love with a young Thai woman, who took some money and left me in shame. I didn’t because it would have been an old story to her as well. I finished my beer and said my goodbye and good luck to my newest friend in Bangkok.
I called my wife again and when her friend answered, found out that after a brief waking period and a quick snack, she was back asleep again. I debated on my next destination and decided that since I had made the midday rounds of Nana, I should complete the cycle and proceed to Patpong. After a grueling taxi ride in traffic that had no reason to be bad on a Saturday afternoon, I arrived at that oversold and overwrought place called Patpong. Even though it was 4 PM, the street vendors on the main strip were active and there were more than a few tourists who casually looked at their meager wares. I walked through the twin streets of Patpong with only a few hawkers offering me young girls or boys. I had a couple of hours yet to waste and looked in at some open bars that were already inhabited by hefty, older patrons and their stalking hostesses. I didn’t want to play another game of “where you from” so I walked quickly past their inviting glances.
Soon, amidst a line of closed shops, I came upon a small bar with two very pretty girls sitting at the end of the bar just inside the open front. A nice smile from the one with long dark hair, made me decide that one more beer before going home couldn’t hurt anyone, especially me. Again, I decided that honesty is the best policy and told them I was married and was just thirsty to drink a Singha. No problem; they were bored and I was their only customer in the bar. They were very pleasant company as we talked and watched the stray farang walking past us. I bought a lady drink for girl next to me with long hair and when she returned with her coke, I noticed the large eyes and perfect smile. After a while, the conversation and television was too much for her and she invited me to play a game of pool. I was surprised by the invitation and when we went to the back of the bar, sure enough, there was an ancient pool table there. I agreed and we started to play.
Her mood immediately changed to quiet confidence as she slowly but deliberately beat me at all three games of eight ball. I came close in one game, but it was obvious I was being played with by a pro. Her long hair and slim figure reminded me of some pool players I had seen on ESPN and I felt privileged to have been beaten by such a talented player. With each winning game, her smile became wider and her talk more animated. At the end, we were almost mates, but it was time for me to leave. As I put up my pool cue her friend came up to me and said in English, “Do you want her?” Mai jai kao (I don’t understand). She elaborated, “Do you want to have her?” As P.G. Wodehouse wrote, the scales fell from my eyes and my pool partner’s now come-hither smile confirmed that I was being propositioned in a very big way. Flashes of my partner’s near perfect rear end partially covered by her long, dark hair, briefly flashed before me and I mustered up all the courage within me and said, “No thanks, I have to get home”. Again, it was no worries as I had helped them to pass a gloomy afternoon with a little fun. I scampered home on the Skytrain and tried not to think about what might have been. When I arrived home and saw my wife’s sleepy eyes, those thoughts quickly vanished. My afternoon adventure was over.
Why do happily married men like me still like to experience the familiar rituals of Nana and Patpong? Maybe it’s just for moments like that in the pool bar where a fleeting fantasy has a real chance to come true. Imagine sitting in a movie theatre and seeing all the pretty women there. And then imagine that with a smile and a slight nod, they could be yours for the night. Yes, it would not be real love and it would set you back a few baht, but even with some real relationships, isn’t it the same contract? Later, when I asked my wife whether she was worried about me being by myself in Bangkok, she said, “I trust you in the day but not at night”. I laughed at that thinking of my close encounter, but on reflection, maybe she was right. Maybe the allure of these places are enhanced in the nighttime, with the bright lights that highlight those it shines on and darkens those in its shadows, making the bars seem more interesting and exotic than they really are. Would I have made a different decision in the half-lit back area of a bar where my pool buddy could have pressed closer and slowly put her arm around me before asking me that fateful question?
On my last full day in Thailand I insisted on going to visit the ancient city of Ayutthaya. My wife and her friends agreed, and surprisingly early in the morning, we arrived. Without going into much detail as this is a well traveled tourist destination; I was just stunned at the beauty and mystery of this place. Here, hundreds of years ago, the ancient Siamese lived, worked, and devotedly worshipped Lord Buddha. The disfigured Buddha statues were subtle in their beauty and were now lovingly restored by conscientious patrons. As I walked around the site taking a hundred photos, I noticed how alone I was. Being from Washington DC, I imagined that Thais had been here many times on school trips and such, and now had grown tired of visiting (much like I have of DC’s monuments). When I got back to the car, I was shocked to learn that my Thai friends had never been here before, even though half of Thailand is probably within easy driving distance. I don’t know if this is a national consensus but I wouldn’t be surprised. I remembered Jim Thompson, who revived the almost dead Thai craft of silk making back in the 1950’s. At the time, most Thais were unaware that their country had for centuries been making some of the world’s finest silks.
Three weeks after I returned from my trip, my wife also returned from Thailand. She had been with her mother at their family home, helping her Mother get settled into her new life and without her husband of over 60 years. When she arrived at the airport, I showed off my newly purchased wedding band that was smaller than the old one, but now allows me to wear it even during heavy exercise or anything else for that matter. She seemed very pleased when I exclaimed, “I will never remove this ring the rest of my life”. When we got home from the airport, we moved her bags up to our bedroom where I displayed the new, expensive bed sheets and comforter that she had been ogling for some months. At first she was all smiles, then she looked a little worried and said, “Why did you decide to buy bed sheets now, did something happen to the old ones”? Stunned, I started looking around the closet for the old bed sheets to prove my innocence while my wife looked behind the pillows for incriminating evidence. Somewhere in this marital dance of jealousy and felicity, I sighed, “Ah, the joys of being married to a Thai woman”.
The last line of the submissions says it all, the joys of being married to one!