How It All Began Part 1
It’s hard to believe that over two years has gone by since my wife and I took the plunge and moved here to the “Land of Smiles”. So much has happened during that time. We’ve built a home and made many good friends (and an enemy
or two). I’ve been a hair’s breath from death, and celebrated the birth of a son. I’ve worked hard and played equally hard. I’ve immersed myself in a culture that is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. And in the
end I am very happy to be here!
A good way to start of this narrative and to contrast my former life in Farangland and my current life in Thailand is to tell the “Tale of Two Accidents”. In two weeks I will be headed back to America for a quick trip to straighten out some legal matters; specifically to give a court deposition. Three years ago I was involved in what I will call accident #1. This takes place in my former home of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. One morning as I was driving down the main street of town, I stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. It is the law in Massachusetts that motorists must stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and in fact there was a large sign at this particular crosswalk stating this requirement. Unfortunately for me, the driver behind me wasn’t paying attention, and wound up running into my vehicle…quite hard! My Toyota Rav 4 did what it was designed to do, namely fold up in such a way as not to kill me. In the end, my vehicle was repaired, but I was left with a major neck injury, that haunts me to this day. I got out of my vehicle and exchanged pertinent information with the other driver. He was of course mortified to have hit me, and was extremely apologetic. Luckily for me, a policeman on the scene witnessed the accident and was able to write up an accurate accident report. Despite many months of physical therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic therapy, and even surgery, I was left in a condition of chronic severe pain. The other driver’s insurance company continued to drag its feet in providing additional medical treatment, and so I sought out the services of an accident attorney. After dealing with a small mountain of paperwork, we are finally ready to go to court. The wheels of justice have turned, and I expect that in a few months I will be collecting a reasonable settlement from a court of law. That’s justice Farang style.
Contrast that with accident # 2 that happened to me here in Thailand last year. Once again I was driving down the main street of my new home in Lampang, This time I was stopped at a red light near Big C. Once again the driver behind me wasn’t paying attention and slammed into the rear end of my brand new Toyota Hilux Vigo. Fortunately this time the impact was not severe. My rear bumper was caved in, but I was uninjured. I got out of my truck, walked over to the other driver, who had climbed out of his beater of a truck and began to speak to him in Thai. I asked him for his name and telephone number, because we needed to report the accident to the police. He slowly walked back to his truck. I thought that maybe he was getting a pen and paper or his cell phone. To my surprise, this guy climbs in, starts his truck and takes off down the road! I tried quickly to memorize his license plate number, but was unable to recall the last digit! I thought I was fortunate when I saw a policeman down the road. Unfortunately when I flagged him down and explained what had just happened, he merely shrugged his shoulders and drove off on his motorcycle. Undoubtedly more pressing business awaited him. If this was America you might guess he was headed for the nearest donut shop. Here in the Land of Smiles, perhaps it was a bowl of noodles or som tam that was calling out to him. A visit to the local police station did not yield any more concern for what had happened to me. And so the wheels of Thai justice not only do not turn for the Farang, but stubbornly refuse to budge. God only knows what would have happened if I had actually been injured!
To illustrate that possibility, let me tell you about a third accident. This one did not happen to me, but to my Thai father-in-law in the small village of Nongki in Buriram. Even though the village is not large, there is a large highway running through it: Four main lanes, plus local access lanes on each side. My father-in-law was on his motorcycle waiting to cross to the other side of the road. At the time he was not actually even in the road itself. Along came a large bus who was trying to pass another vehicle where it was clearly marked “no passing”. The result was that he clipped my father-in-law’s cycle, and he went flying into the road…hard. Aside from a lot of broken ribs, concussion and many cuts and bruises, he survived. If this accident had taken place in America, the bus driver would have been cited, lost his license, possibly gone to jail and the bus company would have paid for medical treatment and a hefty compensation award besides. However this being Thailand, the driver was not charged with any traffic violation and the bus company did not pay one baht for medical expenses. What my father-in law received after nearly being killed, was 40,000 baht. My wife says that is a typical settlement, and in fact wouldn’t have been much higher if he had been killed!
Since I wrote the above words a few months ago, a number of things have happened. A court date has been set for February for my accident case. The insurance company has refused to settle, so it’s up to the jury now. Here in LOS, my wife and I have each been involved in two more minor accidents. In the first, I was once again not even moving! I was stopped in heavy traffic, waiting for things to start moving, when some idiot who couldn’t wait, decided to try to squeeze past my truck through a space that was obviously not wide enough, and of course scrapped the side of my vehicle. And naturally enough he didn’t stop. In typical Thai style he didn’t even make eye contact, but shot down a small soi and into the night! As for my wife, she was stopped a red light. When the light turned green this guy behind her decided that he would make his own turning lane and wound up clipping my wife. I was wondering what the Thai equivalent of chutzpa is, but I found this in my online dictionary: mee-naa or “(to have ) balls to (do something); to dare to; to have the nerve to” Well this driver had plenty of mee-naa. He actually got out of his truck and demanded that my wife give him 5,000 baht to fix the scratch on his truck! I think he was surprised by my wife’s reaction. Five years in America had given her some spine, so instead of meekly giving in, told him to f**k off! She didn’t bother to call the police. She knew it would be pointless, besides, our insurance would take care of the damage, right? Wrong! Our insurance company had gone out of business! Undoubtedly someone’s pockets were stuffed with our money, and undoubtedly no-one would be held accountable.
And so as my wife and I say to each other every time something inexplicable occurs here….and that happens at least 2 – 3 times a week…. Welcome to Thailand!
First trip to Thailand
Back in early 1998 my life was up in the air, and I was definitely ready for a change or two. At 48 I had recently finished a series of mid-life course corrections, some extremely pleasant, others decidedly less so.
A few years earlier, I had decided to follow a long time passion and become a professional chef. So it was off to the Culinary Institute of America for a two year intensive education in the culinary arts. I was successful in handling the stress of being under the far from gentle instruction of some of the top chefs in the world. I was much less successful in handling the stress of the final downhill spiral of my 25 year “marriage from hell”.
Two days before my graduation, I wound up taking an unexpected helicopter ride to the Westchester Medical Center. At the tender age of 46, even though I thought I was in perfect health, I was having a heart attack. While recovering from surgery I found myself in the extremely embarrassing position of having to call up the executive chef at the Canyon Ranch health spa and say, “by the way, I don’t think I’ll be showing up for my new job next week!”
This was one of those times for some serious reflection on what the hell I was going to do. I physically was not up to what was needed to cook professionally. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen! Most people don’t realize what goes on in the kitchen of an upscale restaurant, for their plate to arrive at their table. While hardly on the scale of a truly demanding job, say crab fishing off the coast of Alaska, life in the kitchen has resulted in otherwise intelligent people losing it, which is dangerous when surrounded by sharp knives!
While my professional culinary career was put on hold, my interest in food was not. My favorite cuisines were Asian. Why not travel to Asia and take a cooking course? Hey I deserved a vacation, didn’t I? This is how I eventually wound up on a plane headed for Thailand. I liked Thai food, I was interested in Southeast Asian culture and Buddhism, and of course Thailand was the home of some of the most beautiful women on the planet.
I knew that I need to learn at least a little Thai, but it wasn’t going to be easy to find a Thai language course. I was from a small city in western Massachusetts, and let’s face it, Thai is not high on the list of languages offered anywhere. What I wound up doing is traveling over two hours to Boston once a week to study at Berlitz, which was able to find me a Thai instructor. Berlitz uses the total immersion method of instruction, which meant that from the very first moment I walked into the classroom, my instructor Sumalee, would speak nothing but Thai, and somehow I was supposed to absorb it all. There were no written materials at all! I prefer a more traditional approach, with actual lessons! For me to study, I needed at least from transliterated words to review. I was constantly asking, “Is this how you would spell this in English?” Slowly I acquired a basic vocabulary that would serve me well enough for what I thought would be a one time trip. Reading and writing weren’t as important as being able to ask where the toilet was!
At the same time I was puzzling out the Thai language, I managed to make an acquaintance with a Thai girl online. She was a friend of one of my friends who worked at the bookstore's fiancée. I wasn’t looking for any kind of romance. I was simply getting to know my first Thai person. Little did I know at the time that she would later become my wife! She was a college student in Korat finishing her degree in Computer Science, and simply was interested in practicing her English. I was happy to learn a little about Thai culture. I told her that I was coming to Thailand to learn Thai cooking. She suggested that I come for a visit, and that she could show me around. Sounds great! It would be nice to know someone, so we made a plan for me to come up at the end of my trip.
I planned to stay in Thailand for about a month. In addition to taking a cooking course in Bangkok, I wanted to travel to Phuket and Pattaya. A little sun, a little sand, and hopefully, a little female companionship!
The nightlife in Bangkok was legendary, as was the Nana Hotel, where I made a reservation. Okay I was set: I could speak at least a little Thai, I was packed and ready to go…onward to the Land of Smiles!
On my flight I made a few friends with some guys who were also going to be staying at the Nana, so we decided to check out the bars of NEP together. I can vividly remember, that first moment I stepped in, all of my senses were stimulated to the max! The music was pumping, the colored lights were flashing, and gorgeous naked girls were gyrating on stage and flashing me 1000 watt smiles! Oh man! I had died and gone to heaven!
Looking back at my bargirl experiences over the years, I realize how extraordinarily lucky I was on my first visit to LOS. The very first girl who came over to my table, wound up giving me my first GFE. Let’s call her Noi. Noi was my ideal of an Issan beauty: young (about 25), slender, smooth dusky skin, waist length silky hair, and the face of an angel. I didn’t know quite what to say when smiling, she sat down in my lap, and put an arm around me. When I recovered my wits, I think I surprised her by speaking to her in Thai. My pronunciation may not have been perfect, but it was good enough to be understood. (Thank you Berlitz!) Some days Noi later told me that she just started working at the bar a few days before. While I know that’s not an untypical claim for a bargirl, I actually believe it was true in this case. For one thing, she didn’t seem to know that she was supposed to have me racking up a bar bill! I had one Singha and she one orange juice! She seemed a little shy but very happy when I bar-fined her and we headed back to my room. Her shyness continued as she undressed to take a shower, but she wasn’t being coy. She really was new at this! It had been quite a while since I’d last been with a woman, so it would have been easy tojust rush everything. Instead I took my time getting to know her and just to cuddle in bed. When the time was right, we made love slowly. Her shyness melted away like morning fog in the summer sunshine, and she became quite passionate. Afterwards we fell asleep in each other's arms, woke in the middle of the night for another go, and fell asleep again until morning.
When we finally woke to Noi’s smiling face in the morning, I knew that I was smitten! I hadn’t thrown away my intellect in the bedroom, but I certainly wanted to spend as much time as possible with Noi. I had a day before my classes began, and I spent it with Noi sightseeing. Noi’s English was not very good, but between a Thai-English and an English-Thai dictionary, we managed to communicate. Her story was one that you’ve all heard before. Her parents were hard working farmers in a small village. She had a young daughter whose Thai father had abandoned them. She was hoping to earn some money and get some kind of job training. She was embarrassed to be working in a bar, but hopefully not be there too long. We went back to the bar so that I could pay her barfine for the whole time I was in Bangkok. I’m not much of a butterfly. I enjoy actually spending time getting to know someone, provided that she is worth getting to know, which Noi was!
The next week seemed to fly by. During the day I was learning about Thai ingredients, cooking techniques and trying out some classic recipes. During the evenings Noi and I did everything! We explored produce markets, tambooned (make an offering) at temples, attended a Muay Thai match, ate street food…all while doing a lot of smiling, laughing, holding hands, and yes of course, making love. Once she got over her shyness, Noi was less reserved in bed, allowing me to find new ways to pleasure her, and in turn doing the same for me.
I ran into the guys I had met on the flight to Thailand. They too had found “girlfriends” from the same bar where I had met Noi and were taking them down to Pattaya and invited Noi and I to accompany them. Why not? Noi was certainly excited. She, not surprisingly, had never been on a holiday in her entire life. She was already friends with the other girls, so off we went to the seaside.
Soon we were all on the beach. The girls looked stunning in the skimpiest of bikinis, even though in typical Thai style they wanted to avoid all contact with the sun, while we pasty skinned farangs wanted to bake in it! Any first time visitor to a Thai beach has to be blown away by the panorama of life that passes them by: vendors selling fruit and ice cold coconuts, and women coming by to give massages, manicures and pedicures (the first I ever had).
We went out in the evening to an amazing seafood restaurant that had a sign outside “if it swims, we have it” (I think they did!) Prices in those days were incredibly low, especially with 40+ baht to the dollar…so it was lobsters for everyone! One night we went to Tiffany’s to see an extravagant kathuey (lady-boy) spectacular. These “ladies” went “the whole nine yards” under the knife, including fixing their Adam’s apples! I never heard their voices, but visually, at least from the audience, they sure looked like they were carrying some Y chromosomes!
Alas, time flies when you’re having fun. Soon it was time to head back to Bangkok, and for me to catch a plane to Phuket. As much as I like being with Noi, I wanted a chance to be on my own for a while. Noi had never asked me for single baht. (Aside from her professional fee of course….which was not very much back in those days 1,000 baht per day!) She had never asked me to take her shopping, although I delighted in buying her small gifts. I decided to splurge and had her pick out a substantial piece of gold jewelry. She actually cried! I promised to meet her back in Bangkok after my trips to Phuket and Korat. I told her, in front of her friends, that I would be walk through the door of the bar at 9:00 on this particular date, lean her back in my arms and kiss her hello! I don’t think any of them really believed me.
Phuket seemed a little more laid back than Pattaya. Yes, there were plenty of bars, and plenty of available girls, but the beaches were clean, and the air was fresh.
Once again I cannot remember the name of the first bar I went into, but lady luck smiled down upon me once again. (Apparently in those days I had a surplus of good karma in my account!) Lady luck in this case was also known as Koong.
Now even at 48, I was not a bad looking guy. I’d had my share of attractive girlfriends. But during this particular spin of the wheel, I had never laid eyes on such a beautiful woman, let alone been with one! Yes my friends, Koong was one of that unique species of Thai woman, “poo-ying waap-waam” or to put it simply, a STUNNER!!! Rarely sighted, even less rarely held! Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, especially when it comes to women, but Koong was absolutely gorgeous by almost anyone’s standard! Why she was working in a bar instead of strutting on the catwalk was beyond me.
What amazed me as much as Koong’s beauty, was that she a genuine sweetie-pie! She was very easy to talk to (her English was excellent) and later to get to know. She was finishing her education at a technical college, and wanted to be a game programmer. So after a drink and watching her do a very nice dance set (she was a dancer, not a shuffler!) we headed out hand in hand into the night. She liked to play bar games, so we strolled around to an open air bar and enjoyed a Mai Tai and played a few silly games, which were nonetheless quite enjoyable. Nothing like the company of a beautiful girl to make the mundane extraordinary!
Back in the bedroom Koong was neither shy nor brash. If her smile could be contained in a bottle, it would be the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world! But I wasn’t in a rush to take off myself. I truly wanted to satisfy her. I spent a very long time plying her with oral ministrations, which eventually sent her over the edge. When I looked into her eyes, I found them full of tears. Was everything okay? Are you all right? Still sobbing, she smiled up at me and nodded. She told me I was the only man who ever took the time to take care of her. Apparently, her sexual experiences were limited to men who took the “wham bam thank you maam” approach! What jerks! When Koong had dried her eyes, she decided to show me her appreciation, in the best way possible!
In the morning I bar-fined Koong for the time I would be in Phuket, and set out with her to enjoy life. We took the obligatory cruises to “James Bond Island” and Ko Phi Phi. I’d never seen clearer water or more colorful fish. Speaking of fish, Koong took me to her nice little apartment, where I set up an aquarium for her. While I was busy with that she proceeded to cook me lunch, wash a few pieces of my clothing, and of course make love to me in her bed! All in all not a bad afternoon!
She came with to the airport to see me off. There were no tears. She knew that she would probably never see me again. We simply embraced one last time, wished each other well, and said goodbye. I sometimes wonder what became of her. I do hope she found happiness with someone.
A very nice start indeed.