All These Years On And Still Going Strong Part III – Married Life The First Year
Continued from parts I and II in which I met, got engaged and married my Thai wife all within 3 months.
I had got back from marrying M on a weekend and I when returned to work on the Monday morning there was already an email from T asking me to call her as a matter of urgency. I immediately had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as the eternal pessimist within me assumed that something was wrong.
However, my fears were groundless. T wanted to let me know that M had her visa interview the next day, if she could contact her in time. She had put herself on a short notice waiting list in case another applicant cancelled, which is what had happened. By the afternoon I’d had another email from T to say she had got hold of M who would be staying at T’s house that night so T could prep M for the interview and make sure she was at the Embassy in good time.
I had butterflies in my stomach for the rest of the day and hardly slept that night worrying what the outcome might be. Morning could not come soon enough.
Tuesday morning and I was at work unusually early for me. I ran the gauntlet of sarcastic comments along the lines of “What’s the matter, couldn’t you sleep?” If only they knew just how close to the truth they were.
The prayed for email was waiting for me in my inbox, the subject line said it all, “Congratulations Mr & Mrs C.” I dashed into a private room to call BKK. T and M were both in the office waiting for me to ring.
T explained that when they got to the Embassy she had grave reservations as M was to be interviewed in a room that had a reputation for more rejections than acceptances. I don’t know how much truth there is in this although I’ve read references as such in other readers’ submissions.
Despite the potential “chok mai dee” M breezed through her interview in 15 minutes compared to the normal average (I’m told) of about 45 minutes. She had obviously remembered everything I had told her about me as I’ve heard tales of others girls failing when they couldn’t remember their fiancé’s occupation, where he lived and in severe cases even his name!
I would like to take some credit for this as I had been very thorough and meticulous when preparing the half a rainforest of papers to submit in support of M’s visa application, which included pay slips, bank statements, photos, income/expenditure & assets/liabilities statements and even a log of all our emails, phone calls and letters. This was necessary to prove (a) my ability to support her financially and (b) the pre-existence of our relationship.
There was an added bonus in that the Embassy staff had the gumption to grant a full 12 month spouse visa instead of the 6 month fiancé visa we originally applied for in view of the subsequent addition of our marriage certificate to the paper mountain.
At that stage I expected it would be another one or two months before M could settle her affairs. However, before the week was out there was another email asking me to send money as M had already booked her plane ticket and needed to pay for it. And by the following weekend I was at Heathrow eagerly awaiting her arrival.
I was at the airport more than an hour before her plane landed. As the wait became longer and longer, gradually mild panic began to set in. Two hours after the plane had landed and still no sign. What could I do? How could I check if she was even on the plane? Thoughts of T’s scaremongering the night before our wedding day came flooding back (see Part II for details).
Finally, after about a further 30 minutes, my vision of loveliness appeared through the arrivals doors looking nervously around like a timid kitten. She’d had trouble following the signs, locating her luggage and then there had been a bit of confusion at passport control (the entry visa had been issued in her married name, whilst her passport was in her maiden name, albeit endorsed a few pages in with her new name).
But what the heck, panic over, she was here now!
At this point it’s worth pausing to reflect upon just how quickly events had unfolded. I made my first trip to Thailand early March 2002 and before the end of June 2002 my legally married wife was here in the UK. Is this some kind of record I wonder?
I asked her what her first impression of England was (apart from cold, obviously, despite being in the middle of a British “summer”).
“Very green,” she replied.
M used my mobile to call and let the family know she had arrived safely and then spent the journey home staring out of the window at the views we passed. Her reaction reminded me a lot of my own first trip from DMK into BKK just a little over 3 months previously.
I had spent the day before M’s arrival cleaning the house from top to bottom and had even enlisted my mother’s assistance knowing how Thais “mai chawp sok ka prok.” So what’s the first thing she does on entering her new home? Run a finger over the sideboard to check for dust and blow me if she didn’t find some!
For her first evening in England I took M to a Thai restaurant in a nearby town so she could meet other Thais and to re-assure her that she was not alone. She took the phone numbers of a couple of the waitresses so she had someone to talk or refer to in case of need.
As M had brought very little in the way of warm clothing one of the first tasks was to get her kitted out. Me being crafty, (aka “khee neeo”) I took her round the charity shops in town. However, she thought even their prices were too expensive and it took a few trips to proper clothes shops to convince her otherwise. It was at least 2 weeks before she let me buy her first jumper.
After about 2 weeks we heard of a friend of a friend who lived in a nearby village and was also married to a Thai. Meeting them was a godsend as his wife was able to fill M in on where to find Thai food and cooking ingredients, in particular a shop in the next town that specialised in Asian foods, predominantly Thai. Another good contact made, which helped M to settle in.
When we went to the above-mentioned shop I thought M was going to have a heart attack when she saw the price of papaya over here. Something that cost her 5 or 10 baht back home was now, depending on weight, anything up to £4. She quickly learnt that cucumber made for a cheaper alternative on a regular basis and limited her papaya “fix” to, say, once a month.
I was very conscious of the huge step M had taken to up sticks and move to a foreign country. My biggest worry for her was homesickness and helping her to acclimatise. It was, therefore, good that she had brought with her the phone numbers of about half a dozen other girls that wed via the same agency as us and were already in the UK. Her network of friends grew quite quickly and help or advice was only a phone call away, although I noticed that at the slightest hint of any bargirl history she would drop them like a hot potato.
M spent the first three months taking care of the home, cleaning, washing and making sure a meal was ready for me as soon as I got home from work. NB I am not a chauvinist pig who expected her to do this; M did it of her own volition.
The cooking part was a learning curve for M because, due to the long hours she worked at the factory, she had been used to just picking something up off the street vendors on her way home for so long she had forgotten how to cook. I don’t know why but I found it slightly amusing that she had brought with her a Thai cookbook so she could cook her own favourite meals.
After getting to grips with her own culinary needs I then had to teach M how to cook some of the English style dishes that I prefer as, whilst I do eat some Thai food, “Phom mai chawp ahaan phet.”
On the subject of food, this led to our first row. Well row is a bit of a contradiction in terms as it actually resulted in me getting the silent treatment for 2 days.
Bearing in mind Thais tend to eat a little and often, I light heartedly remarked one day “Eating again?” Unfortunately M misunderstood my intended joke as a criticism. She thought I was implying that she was costing me too much in food!
It took me the best part of the next 2 days to get my pronunciation of “poot len” correct enough for M to understand what I meant.
Moral of the story, Thais take their food very seriously. Don’t joke, not even about the “fish smell,” a sort of fermented fish sludge that they adore but to me looks, smells and tastes disgusting.
Tip for UK residents that marry a non-national. Get your spouse’s name on as many official documents, such as utility bills and the like, as quickly as possible. Very useful later when opening bank accounts and more importantly when the time comes to apply for permanent residency as demonstrates permanency of the relationship. <Very useful for her divorce lawyer too – Stick>
After the first 3 months M was bored and asked if she could get a job. As her spoken English at the time was still fairly basic and reading and writing non-existent, then obviously her options were limited. After a lot of door knocking by yours truly M secured the position of chambermaid at the largest hotel in town.
This coincided with starting English lessons at the local college of further education where the council ran a free ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) course. To start with M went to college 2 days a week and worked at the hotel 3 days a week. Working at the hotel helped to improve her English as she was interacting with other people and had to use English without me there to translate for her.
When I say translate, that makes me sound as if I claim to be bi-lingual. All I actually did was to re-phrase sentences, in English, but with words of similar meaning that I knew M already understood.
As Christmas 2002 approached M started talking about wanting to go home April 2003 to visit family for Songkran, but was insistent she wanted to make her first trip back alone.
In view of the speed of our courtship and marriage it would be arrogant of me to think that M loved me from the outset. More a case of over the years she has grown to love me. A few years later down the line M was to tell me she had told herself she would give it a year and seen how things developed. If I had turned out to be no good, a butterfly or not treat her right, then she would have cut her losses and gone home. So maybe she was keeping her options open by wanting to go alone.
However, as her departure date got nearer M kept saying she wished I was going with her. Perhaps explains our success to date in that I’ve always shown M respect and treated her as my equal, after all marriage is a 50:50 partnership.
Anyway I duly booked her plane ticket and this inadvertently led to our second “row” (aka sent to Coventry – quite ironic really seeing as that was where I was working at the time). The reason being, M found out a friend had got a ticket for £100 cheaper.
I got the silent treatment again for another 2 days for wasting money. As her English has improved over the years I have come to understand why this would have upset her so much having since learnt just how poor she and her family were and the daily battle they faced simply to survive.
To placate her I cancelled the ticket and bought another from the same travel agency as her friend. So in her eyes I had saved £100 (to this day I haven’t had the courage to tell her I incurred a cancellation fee of £100 anyway!)
When you are with someone 24/7 you don’t always pick up on subtle changes, or in M’s case the improvement in her English. While she was away we spoke almost daily on the phone and I noticed there was a big difference compared to only 12 months before.
The trip went well, M enjoyed seeing her family and ex-workmates but when she got back M said she was glad to be home, which spoke volumes to me. There was something different about her demeanour,
she seemed more confident about our future together. I think any reservations that she may have harboured had been dispelled by the trust I had placed in her.
I was amazed at how overweight her luggage was, nearly double the allowance, without being charged. I guess Thai Airways are more lenient to Thais, especially one travelling alone. <100% true this – have seen it with my own eyes – they are much easier on Thai nationals – Stick> Most of the extra weight was food she had brought back just to save a few £s. We didn’t have to go to the Thai shop again for the best part of a week (joke).
Shortly after her return we submitted M’s application for indefinite right to remain visa. It all went very smoothly and came back in under 2 weeks. I think we battered them into submission again with the sheer volume of supporting documents.
A month or two later M got phone call from one of her sisters, D, regarding their father. He had been complaining of pains in his side when M was there and had now been diagnosed with the big C.
M is one of six children, one elder brother, K, and then two sisters, D & J, and two brothers, H & P, all younger than her.
K was the only one with a fulltime job; D had a low paid part time job, J and H were both at university, whilst P was still at school. Added to this their mother had died about one year before we met. The financial ramifications for the family were, therefore, obvious.
M realised they would be looking to her for support. Now, whilst I am reasonably comfortable, I am certainly not wealthy and occasionally struggle from one pay day to the next. M was fully aware of my means before we married and I had made it clear from the outset that I was marrying her, not her family.
With this in mind M decided to pack up college and started working at the hotel 5 days per week. M had only been studying for about 9 months and her English was coming on leaps and bounds so it was a bit of a shame really, but needs must.
Over the ensuing 12 months M was to change jobs several times, each time for a little bit more money and saved nearly every penny. When the family needed help, primarily father’s hospital fees and education fees for the 3 youngest, then M was able to support out of her funds without recourse to yours truly.
I suppose you could argue that I was supporting indirectly by virtue of paying all the UK bills thereby enabling her to save all her wages, but that would just be pedantic.
And so endeth our first year as husband and wife.
To be continued.
I am surprised you were so easy on her for those 2 day sulking sessions!