All These Years On And Still Going Strong Part I – The Meeting/Engagement
All These Years On And Still Going Strong Part I – The Meeting/Engagement
Having been a reader of the Stickman website for a number of years now I felt it only fair that I reciprocated with my own submission.
This series of submissions detail how I met my Thai wife, our marriage, her arrival in the UK and our ups and downs over the following years. They are offered as hope to those out there that despair of making a Farang / Thai relationship work and as guidance for those that may follow in our footsteps.
Those looking for titillation need read no further.
To set the scene, shortly after I turned 40 in 2001 my first wife died aged 43. She was an alcoholic and, not to put too finer point on it, drank herself to death. With hindsight it was the most considerate thing she ever did for me (the life insurance money funded the events detailed below).
We had been together nearly 13 years; God knows how or why I stuck it out so long in view of all the problems, arguments (many times violent on her part), etc caused by her drinking.
However, despite all that, I was surprised how traumatic I found her death. My employer was very understanding; I was off work for 2 months.
I had left my parents’ home fairly late in life, 25, moved into digs sharing a house with 2 other guys before moving in with the first wife. She had 3 kids by her first marriage, the last of which had left home a few months before she died.
So I had always been used to being around other people but at the age of 40 I was suddenly alone for the first time in my life and sank into depression at the thought of spending the rest of my life on my own. In other words I was feeling sorry for myself.
I’m an average looking guy, a little overweight, steady job but never going to be a high flier/earner, so not much of a catch, if any, to a Western woman.
January 2002 I saw an advert for a marriage introduction agency and found the thought of an exotic Thai wife very tempting.
The fees were a bit pricey, but I was naïve, with the lion’s share payable in the UK before departure and the balance in cash at their office in Bangkok.
I contacted the UK owner (no names, but has been featured in a Stickman personality interview before) and discussed in great detail pros, cons, and the multitude of questions I had. He later said I had set a new record for the number of questions asked.
I was sent a brochure with the ladies’ details from which I was to pre-select those that I would like to meet when I got to Bangkok.
Once I had decided to bite the bullet and do something to change my life everything was done in a bit of a rush in case I chickened out.
I was so unworldly wise at the time I didn’t even have a passport so that had to be obtained first. As soon as the passport arrived I bought plane tickets and booked two weeks off work.
Then I got back in touch with “you know who” with my selections and 2 weeks later in March 2002 I landed at Don Muang for the very first time.
It had been the furthest I had ever travelled and I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning with eyes wide open taking in all the sights during the limo (one of many unnecessary expenses I was to later discover) ride from the airport to the hotel.
It was early evening on a Sunday when I checked into The Ambassador in Sukhumvit Soi 11 and then went to the beer garden for, imaginatively, a beer or several. After a couple I’d worked out that it was cheaper to order by the jug. About half way through the second jug I got up to go to the toilet. It was at this stage that I discovered Singha is a little bit stronger than Carling. Suffice to say the legs didn’t function as efficiently as they should have. Once I’d recovered my composure I decided I’d better retire early and sleep off the jetlag.
The following Monday morning the agency manageress (who I’ll call T from now on) met me in reception and we took a taxi to the office. (It wasn’t until my second trip to Thailand I learnt that, in view of the traffic congestion, it was actually quicker to walk from the hotel to the office and vice versa.) Of all the taxi journeys I was to make that week I thought it a bit odd we never went the same way twice. Must have been something to do with the gigantic neon “Newbie” sign flashing above my head.
Anyway I digress, back to the plot. When we arrived at the agency office I was informed by T that ALL of the ladies I had pre-selected were no longer available. As I had chosen from supposedly the most up to date list only 2 weeks beforehand instead of just shrugging my shoulders and saying “mai pen rai” I started to worry that I may have just walked into a rather expensive sting operation.
I was given various brochures to start trawling through, many of the pictures I had seen before and dismissed as not meeting the strict criterion I had set myself. OK I’ve since looked in the mirror and agree I’ve got no grounds to be so picky. However, one principle I would not compromise on was no kids (having brought up another man’s children before I was in no hurry to repeat the process) and you’d be surprised how many that instantly ruled out.
After rejecting all that was placed before me T then started to show me pictures “hot off the press” i.e. they hadn’t made it into the brochure yet. And that’s when I first saw the woman that is now my wife.
She was everything I had imagined and ticked all the right boxes. This is the one I would like to meet I told T who hurried off to phone her. However, she was at work and they were unable to contact her apart from leaving a message at her lodgings.
In the meantime T suggested I might like to meet someone else while I was waiting and sort of steered me towards certain ladies in the brochure. When I relented and agreed the girl in question was duly produced there and then. There had been several girls milling around when I arrived and I had assumed they worked there. In actual fact most of them were on the books and just hanging around in case they struck lucky.
Without boring you with the details this happened for the next 3 days running and I was starting to wonder if the girl I had set my heart on meeting actually existed. In the meantime I was going out on meaningless dates that I wasn’t really interested in and felt as if they were just trying to saddle me with whoever happened to be in the office each day.
By the Friday morning I was running out of patience and had decided to call a halt to proceedings and ask for my money back. (Ask a Thai for money back! Have I told you I was naïve?).
However, when I arrived that morning I could sense a different atmosphere, the girls in the office seemed to be smiling more than normal and whispering excitedly. The reason being “She” was on her way and would be there in about 30 minutes. (This is when I learnt about Thai time where 30 minutes equals 2 hours.)
I am ashamed to admit I did not even notice when M (first letter only to protect the innocent) walked into the office. She was on day release from her employer to study at Bangkok University and was wearing a uniform of white blouse and blue skirt. Not being used to Uni students wearing a uniform, coupled with all Thais looking at least 10 years younger than they actually are, I just assumed she was the schoolgirl daughter of one of the others.
“Don’t you want to meet her then?” asked T.
“Who?” I replied.
“The girl in the picture, she is here.”
I made my way sheepishly into the interview room and took a seat opposite T and M who were sat on a sofa. We “wai-ed” and went through the same ritual I had done so many times before that week, i.e. describing my background , job, home, why I was looking for a wife etc and stopping every couple of minutes or so for T to translate.
M spoke no English. T said M thought I was very handsome. With hindsight I think T “poot mai jing.”
Anyway we got to know a bit about each other and were then left to our own devices and for our first date decided to visit the Grand Palace. M had a chaperone in tow, a work colleague who was also on day release.
Needless to say I didn’t get much of a look in as the girls chatted to themselves most of the time; any questions I wanted to ask were confined to making up sentences by laboriously pointing to words in my Lonely Planet phrase book. This later led me to ponder – when two Thai girls are together who the hell gets the last word?
The Grand Palace was mind blowing and I wanted to take it all in and savour the marvellous sights. The girls on the other hand rushed ahead without really looking at anything. The only time they stopped and took much notice was when the batteries ran out in my camera. Even without any common language they quickly understood and rectified the problem
Another valuable lesson learnt – Thai girls like having their picture taken!
Our visit was cut short, M and chaperone had an exam to sit that afternoon. We had earlier arranged, via T, to meet up again that evening at the wedding reception of another couple who had met through the same agency.
So off they went to Bangkok University, whilst I headed back to the hotel to rest and freshen up before meeting T and some of the other girls back at the office.
When it was time to leave for the hotel where the reception was being held there was no sign of M. My stomach started to churn at the prospect that she might have changed her mind (apparently Thai girls have a tendency to do that). We waited until we could wait no longer and set off leaving a note on the office door with the hotel address.
It was about 6 PM by the time we arrived at the hotel, which was quite posh. The happy couple met us at the entrance to the garden where the reception was being held. I wished them “chok dee” which the bride had to translate for her new husband. One up to me I thought, I’ve been here less than a week but at least I’d bothered to learn a little of the lingo. The reception itself was very impressive with a lavish spread of food, two wonderful ice sculptures and musicians.
My own future bride-to-be eventually turned up at about 9 PM, still in uniform and with chaperone in tow. It transpired she had fought her way across Bangkok rush hour traffic only to find out from the note on the office door that the hotel was just around the corner from the university (no-one had thought to tell her the address beforehand). The poor girl therefore had to do battle again with Bangkok’s finest congestion only to get back near to where she had started out from.
With T and the other girls from the agency around M felt safe enough to discharge the chaperone and I gave her the taxi money to get home.
After a bit of small talk over some food T, M and myself adjourned to a quiet corner to discuss how we take it from there. I suggested we go away for a break to, say, Phuket so we could get to know each other better. However, M didn’t want to take a full week off work at such short notice for fear of losing her job. A compromise was agreed whereby we would go from the Saturday morning to Monday evening and M arranged for a friend to phone in a sickie for her on the Monday.
We had only known each other for less than 12 hours and were effectively engaged; M innocently asked if that meant she should start calling me darling. (And no it wasn’t an Isaan joke about a monkey’s arse).
With that we drove her back to her digs, which was one small room in a row of houses in the same town where she worked out past Don Muang. After which I hurried back to my hotel to pack an overnight bag.
Early next morning we met at DMK with T on hand to arrange tickets, hotel booking and excursions at one of the kiosks they have there. And without further ado we were in Phuket and being shown to our room before lunchtime.
The look of horror on her face was a picture when she realised the room had only one double bed. It was quite amusing really the way she drew with her finger an imaginary line down the middle of the bed, pointed to one side then herself and then to the other side and to me. It didn’t take an Einstein to work out what she was saying.
The weekend passed in a flash with us doing the usual touristy things such as FantaSea, giant buffet restaurant and a boat trip taking in Koh Hawng, James Bond Island and snorkelling. The only thing that started to irritate me a bit was the lack of personal contact. Don’t get me wrong I had already accepted the no sex before marriage rule. M was a good honest girl whose upbringing had bordered on Victorian, which I respected. But when even just holding hands is taboo it did make me wonder if we would be compatible when the time came to move onto a physical level. (The old “test drive” adage springs to mind.) The only time M took my hand was when crossing a busy road and that was borne out of her concern for my safety.
We were very tired by the time we returned to the agency office in BKK. So I was not prepared when the gold and “sin sot” bombshell was dropped on me. The agency brochure had warned that a “small” dowry might be required, only trouble is you would have to take their version of small, multiply it by ten and then add some more! (I later found out that one of the less respectable girls on their books had planted a seed in M’s mind as to the amount to expect).
This nearly became a deal breaker. I felt as if they had me over a barrel in that I was due to fly home on the Sunday with little time left to start the process over anew. However, after a couple of frantic phone calls to her eldest brother (who subsequently proved to be a money grabbing b*****d and used most of it to buy a car) in which M told him she really liked me and felt I would treat her right we arrived at a more mutually agreeable figure.
Formalities concluded we moved onto how we would spend my remaining time. M still did not feel secure enough to give up her job there and then. She worked 8 AM until 6 PM plus overtime until 9 PM and on Saturdays whenever possible. So, whilst M returned to her lodgings, I changed to a hotel in the same town, which was a 45 minute drive from BKK. The plan being we would then meet up in the evenings after M had finished work.
I made the mistake of asking the agency to make the hotel booking. The next morning when I arrived at the hotel they had no reservation in my name. However, their sister hotel back in Bangkok did! No worries though as there were plenty of rooms available. The hotel itself had not been open long, was of a good standard but seemed a bit out of place. Too far from DMK to be a classed as an airport hotel and too far off the beaten track to appeal to tourists in a town dominated by two large factories, the workers of which were the main inhabitants. Nevertheless it suited our purposes.
M met me each evening after work, still in her factory clothes, and always with at least one work colleague as chaperone, one of which in particular, O, proved to be invaluable as she spoke good English. O was engaged to another Englishman via the same agency and was already attending English lessons ahead of her move to the UK.
We dined, talked and generally got to know each other better over the course of the following 4 evenings. Whilst enjoyable the drawback was during the daytime I was bored witless and ended up paying through the nose for excursions to Ayutthaya, Floating Market, Rose Garden, etc just to kill time. One day I even rang Pat, the limo driver who met me at the airport on the first day, to come and take me back into BKK just so I could go window shopping and seek Farang company in the bars and speak English for a change.
On the Friday evening M turned up casually dressed for a change and with a different set of friends, two of which were P and Y, a married couple, who had their own car into which we all piled and headed for a giant shopping mall in the next town.
Once there M and friends made a beeline (with obedient “tee rak” following behind) for the gold shop from which she selected a bracelet and necklace, which to her credit came in a little under the pre-agreed amount (see above).
This was followed by the purchase of a mobile phone so I could contact her on my return to the UK and booking her a course of English lessons.
Before leaving the mall we grabbed a KFC bucket meal and picked up a BBQ fish, som tam, rice, etc from a roadside stall on the way back to P & Y’s house, which was opposite M’s room.
Once there other neighbours and friends arrived. The men sat outside under a veranda and the ladies inside. The food was shared out with the ladies making sure the men folk had enough first.
The banquet was washed down with Singha and Thai whiskey, all in all a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
After we had all finished eating I was ushered inside and sat on the sofa next to M to formally present the gold to her. I guess at that stage we were officially engaged although M was still reluctant to let me kiss her on her cheek despite goading and teasing from her friends, although, wait for it, we did hold hands briefly (wow).
That night M went back to the hotel with me and we were waved off by her friends and a few crude nudge, nudge, wink, wink type gestures from Y as to what I should do! Needless to say his appraisal of the situation was way off beam but M did allow me to put my arm around her waist as we slept (wow again).
Isn’t it strange how Thais assume Farangs have a one-track mind. I wonder why that is?
Saturday morning P & Y, their baby son C, and two friends, M2 and O2, met us at the hotel. M wouldn’t tell me where we were going as she wanted it to be a surprise. So imagine my joy when I realised our destination was Ayutthaya. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d done it all earlier in the week when I was kicking my heels.
Don’t get me wrong the Wats, ruined or not, are magnificent but as I’d already had a bellyful of them one tends to get a bit blasé after a while. Nevertheless I managed a passable impression of feigning awe.
By the time we got back to the hotel, after stopping en route to eat, it was about 6 PM and I was disappointed, bearing in mind it was my last night in Thailand, when M said she could not stop that night.
I ended up drowning my sorrows in a karaoke bar where I chatted with some of the hostess girls and bought them the odd drink but nothing more than that.
Just as well really because unbeknown to me at the time M was observing from a distance to see if I behaved myself and was in other words testing me to see if I was a butterfly. (She didn’t tell me this until much later after arriving in the UK).
Sunday, return to UK day. M turned up at the hotel in a taxi expecting to take me straight to DMK. My flight was due to depart at 12:00 only trouble is that was 12:00 midnight whilst for some reason M had gotten noon into her head and seemed disappointed that she had to put up with me for another 12 hours.
The time was spent hanging around her room and P & Y’s house opposite with M trying to get me to rest, even persuaded me to take a nap in their bed. Reason being she had made other plans and was expecting friends round, probably to gossip about the “baa baa ba baw” Farang she had hooked.
At DMK she gratefully accepted the “katang noy” I had left and beamed a smile when I said she could go and didn’t need to wait until my boarding gate opened.
And with that I departed after my first two weeks in LOS, engaged but with just the odd doubt and reservation.
To be continued.