This is a true story, and it's a story that's ongoing. I hope it gives comfort to anyone else who finds themselves in the same situation as myself.
I first came to Thailand in 2002. I was recently divorced from my British wife. After a 20 year marriage, the divorce was reasonably amicable. I had a very successful software business, so my ex-wife wasn't going hungry! She was awarded the marital home (a $1 million dollar mansion in 5 acres of land), and a monthly stipend that would provide her with champagne for the rest of her years!
I moved to Bangkok. As a single man, one might assume that I moved to Thailand because of the availability of pretty women. This was not the case. My UK software business specialized in software for adult websites and adult mobile phone services, such as raunchy chat and dating services. As the owner and writer of this software, I had become very accustomed to the 'rewards' provided by my customers! Many of these customers were, to be frank, gangsters. They were very rich 'thugs' from London's east end, who had earned their wealth by operating sex-chat telephone services. When I started to offer highly innovative adult applications that earned them big profits these guys fell over themselves to ensure that I was kept happy! Money was not a problem for them and it was always accompanied by sexual rewards, (such as 2 naked lap dancers in your hotel bed before you checked in!). I can understand why my British wife wanted to divorce me!
But at heart, I was an academic. I had 2 British degrees from London University under my belt and I was happy to live alone in Bangkok. I wrote my software, drank good wines and dined at 5-star restaurants. At that time my monthly income was typically more than 1 million baht. Life was good.
Occasionally, I ventured to the gogo bars of Patpong and Nana Plaza. Sure, the girls were sexy. But the level of conversation was rather stinted. The girls asked trivial questions about me and my family, (just to make conversation). I preferred to discuss the politics of southern Thailand or the concept of forest monks in Thailand. We were on a different level! (Not that I looked down on these girls. I respected them very much, just as I respect everyone in society. I always think that the rubbish collector is much more important that the company director).
I had a few short-term relationships with Thai ladies. But nothing 'tickled my fancy'. I'm a family guy at heart, so I wasn't looking for short-term flings. If I were to have a Thai girlfriend, then it would have to be a long term relationship.
One day, I was walking down Sukhumvit road. I often walked in Bangkok. It gave me time to think about business opportunities. I had plenty of money, but I sure wasn't happy.
Anyway, this particular day, I walked from The Emporium to Nana Plaza. It was midday and it was hot! I was sweating like a pig. So I walked into Morning Night Bar to get a drink. I asked for an orange juice, which caused some laughter. Bar girls seem to think that if a customer orders a soft drink, then he must be a cheap charlie. I order a soft drink because I want a soft drink!
I sat down alone and drank my orange, feeling very tired and drained. One of the bar girls stopped to chat with me, encouraging me to buy her a drink. 'Sorry, don't mean to be rude' I said. 'But you are a little too tall for me, I prefer shorter ladies'. (I'm not that tall, and my attraction is definitely towards the ladies with smaller build).
'OK fine' said the lady, not at all put out by my comments. 'You should chat to Win then'. She waved another Thai lady over to meet me. Win was petite, very petite, standing just 145cm short! Her weight, although I did not know it right then, was just 33Kg. But there was something about her face and composure that appealed to me. I cannot explain it.
We chatted and, after a short discussion, we went up to the short-time rooms above Morning Night. We showered together, and then laid together in bed. I had a painful back – the result of a horse-riding accident in the UK many years ago. Win, being quite light, walked up and down my back, easing the pain. It felt good. After we had finished, I gave her 10,000 baht. Yes, for most guys this was a crazy amount of money! At the time, it was peanuts for me and it was a reward for her easing of my horrendous back pain. I'm one of those guys who everyone hates for paying bar girls over the odds!!
(I learn later that Win was desperate to visit her young daughter in Isaan. When she went with me, she was hoping for maybe 2,000 baht in payment. The 10,000 baht that I gave her enabled her to visit her daughter and family, and to leave money for her daughter's schooling).
I continued to visit Win at the bar, intrigued by her quiet personality and tenderness towards me and my painful back. The money that was involved was of little importance to me. Sometimes I gave her 2,000 baht and sometimes I gave her nothing. Our relationship started to grow stronger and I ventured to suggest that she stop working in Morning Night. I knew that such an offer was fraught with problems. Although I lived in Bangkok all the time, I realised that if I were to 'wean' Win out of the bar-scene, then this had to be a gradual process. Paying her 20,000 baht per month or whatever was not the formula for a successful long term relationship.
So I made her an offer. Stop working as a bargirl and I will buy you your own bar. You will be the boss. This offer was made by me in the total expectation that I would lose all my investment in this new venture! I expected to lose my money. But I saw it as a halfway house – a means of encouraging Win to stop working as a bargirl and to start working for herself.
Win gladly accepted my offer (who wouldn't?). So it was that a few weeks later, Win found herself as the proud owner of a spanking new bar in the Sukhumvit 1 Plaza complex on Sukhumvit Road. The cost to me was about 2.5 million baht. But the money was not important. This bar was a stepping stone to our future happiness.
To assist Win to settle into her new role as bar manager, I also employed her elder sister, Pi Bam. Pi Bam also came from the bar scene. She rarely smiled, but was very trustworthy, especially concerning money. I never had any problem with her and never experienced any losses from the bar.
Win seemed very happy, but she rarely worked! She often cited tiredness, explaining that she got tired very easily due to her low weight. On several occasions, she fainted and I had to take her to hospital where she was infused with electrolyte solution, in an effort to instill more energy into her. It never worked. Win would sit at her bar, chatting with friends, whilst her sister and other staff scurried around, looking after our customers. I found it very frustrating. My girlfriend was very pretty and very sexy. But I also wanted her to be a strong character, not afraid to get her hands dirty when the job required it. Alas, Win never got her hands dirty…
After 18 months, we decided to relocate to Phuket. Although our bar had been a reasonable successful venture, the profits were rather low and the hours long. In any case, the move to Phuket fulfilled my goal of weaning Win completely away from the bar scene. We moved to Phuket, abandoning the Bangkok bar. I put it up for sale at a low price, but there were no takers. As I had foretold, I lost my investment in this business. But Win was now separated from the bars, and that offered a promising long term future for the both of us.
In 2004, we married in a lavish Isaan wedding. More than 500 guests attended and the wedding was featured on Thai TV. (Probably commenting on another farang 'dickhead'….)
We lived quietly in Phuket, relying upon income from my software business. Win became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful son. That's when my problems really started.
We had decided to start a new business in Phuket, and we were busy building a small hotel. My software income was financing the build, and all seemed well. But then Win started to disappear for hours on end. She claimed to be visiting friends. Regardless of whether she was or not, I pointed out that a new mother should be at home with her husband and baby, not out at all hours with her friends. My criticism fell on deaf ears! Her actions became reckless and bizarre. She would venture out to visit her friends in the early evening, with a promise to return later that evening. But she would not return, often finally returning home at 5 or 6 AM the following morning. I was both angry and confused. What on earth was my wife doing? Here I was working all hours to build our new business, whilst she was having 'fun' with her friends. It was very frustrating.
But her behaviour turned from bizarre to downright dangerous. She would visit Tesco supermarket with our hotel driver. As soon as he had got out of the car, she would drive off!!! Since she had no driving license, the predictable result was that she crashed our car. I was called by the Patong police to come and retrieve our hotel car after Win crashed it into 2 parked motorcycles. I had to pay compensation to the police and motorcycle owners. Win was nowhere to be found.
I hired a replacement car, and parked it at my hotel. The following day, Win returned and stole the car. We followed her to Patong where she abandoned the car after crashing it, running off barefoot.
I was at a complete loss to understand what was going on. Then her sister told me the truth. Win had gotten into bad company with some ladyboys. They had offered her sleeping tablets (but not yaba). Win, being very gullible, had accepted the tablets. That single decision changed her and my life forever.
I and my Thai family never knew where Win was from one day to the next. Oh, how we tried to contain her in our hotel. We would lock her in the bedroom, but she would escape out of the window, running and jumping like a monkey to escape us. My hotel customers looked on in amazement as I and Win's sister ran after her, trying to stop her from reaching a taxi.
One evening, we had had a very bad day. Win was completely insane, screaming and running around the hotel, trying to get away from us. Her brother had beaten her around the head, trying to subdue her. It didn't work, and Win had locked herself in a bedroom, trashing everything in sight. I called the emergency ambulance from Bangkok Phuket hospital, pleading for help to restrain her. After some 45 minutes, the ICU ambulance arrived with 2 nurses and 2 heavily-built guys, ready to 'strait-jacket' and sedate her. They needn't have worried. Win was sleeping, exhausted from her manic behaviour. I picked her up, tenderly like a baby, and carried her to the ambulance. Together, we went to the private hospital, where I hoped that suitable treatment could be provided.
The next day, Win was seen by a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her as severe manic-depressive. She had bipolar mental illness, and the doctor suggested that she had suffered from this for many years, but that it had never been diagnosed nor treated. That day was Valentine's Day and, now lucid, Win apologised for her behaviour and promised that she loved me.
Win was discharged from the hospital with strong drugs to calm her manic attacks. We returned together to our hotel and went to bed, cuddling up close under the bed-covers. When I was asleep she crept out of bed, quietly took our car keys and was away again, heading towards the Patong nightlife.
After I discovered that she was missing, I alerted her brother and sister. Together we travelled in the middle of the night to Patong. There, we split up. I checked every nightclub and gogo bar, even risking the calls of the ladyboys on Patong beach as I searched in vain for my mentally ill wife. To be honest, I was a total mental wreck myself. I remember calling into Patong Hospital to search for Win, but I was too overcome to make myself coherent to the staff.
Win's brother eventually found her, happy in the company of her ladyboy friends in a karaoke bar. These ladyboys were happy because Win was showering them with drinks, at her (my!!) expense. This was a classic symptom of her illness, totally reckless spending to gain comfort and praise.
Win's brother totally snapped, and a fight ensued between him and these ladyboys. In fact, he found himself also fighting Win, because she was none too pleased at being dragged away from her so-called friends. He had to hit her again to subdue her and then drag her out of the bar.
We contained her again in the private hospital, where she was unable to escape from her locked room. A guard was placed on the balcony in case she tried to commit suicide by jumping from the window. I stayed with her all the time, trying to rest as I was totally exhausted. Win huddled under a towel, which covered her petite body from head to foot. She neither spoke nor moved for 12 hours.
But she could not stay in the hospital. Every day it was costing me about 20,000 baht in doctor's fees, medicine and accommodation. Whilst I had a good income from my software business, that income was paid monthly. And Win had managed to drain our bank account by handing out blank cheques and cash to her so-called friends in her 'madness'. The bank account was empty, drained of more than 400,000 baht.
The next day I attempted to remove Win from the hospital. With the aid of 2 hotel staff, I physically carried her from her hospital bed, having paid for her single night of stay and all doctor's fees. In the luxurious reception area of Bangkok-Phuket Hospital, my path was physically blocked by security guards who refused to let us pass. My temper snapped. In both Thai and English I shouted at them to let me pass with my mentally sick wife. We had paid our bill and this hospital had done little for my wife except collect their inflated fees. Can you imagine the scene? I was barefoot, tired and unkempt, exhausted after chasing my wife time after time. I carried my wife, her frail, silent and huddled under a towel, with a body like a young child. My 2 hotel staff were trying to fend off the security guards, pleading with them to let us go.
This was not very good for hospital public-relations! We were rapidly whisked into a side-room, our payment confirmed and I was free to take my wife home. But home to what? My wife was mentally ill and I was completely drained.
Of particular sadness for me was that I had planned to visit my 7 year old daughter on her birthday in the UK. I couldn't go. I had to spend the airfare on the medicine and doctor's fees for Win…
So it was that we decided to send my wife back to her Isaan village. This was a remote place where Win was unlikely to cause any harm. She could recuperate with her mother, without any of the temptations or stresses of Phuket. Win seemed to like the idea and she travelled by plane to Udon Thani, and thereafter by car to her village. For the first time in weeks, I could relax.
That night her mother called me. 'She's gone again. I don't know where. Right now she is in a minibus returning to Bangkok'.
I dragged myself up from my rest and assessed the situation. If Win reached Bangkok alone, she could disappear without trace. We had to reach her before the minibus reached Bangkok. Luckily, we were able to contact the driver of the minibus and persuade him (with a financial incentive), not to allow Win off the bus. I caught the first plane to Bangkok and was able to meet the minibus on its arrival in Bangkok. Win was disorientated, unable to think or speak lucidly.
So plan A hadn't worked. What about plan B? Plan B was for me to physically go with Win to the most remote place that we could think of, and to stay with her and ensure that she did not run away. Against my best wishes, Win's family would look after the hotel. This was a plan doomed to failure!
The most remote place that I could think of was Nongkhai, the picturesque town on the banks of the Mekong River. Well, it's not that remote but was the best place at the time. I escorted Win up to Nongkhai and we rented a shophouse on the very banks of the wide, murky river. For me, it could have been a time to relax. Every morning I would wake up and gaze out of my bedroom window upon the slow-moving, brown river. Our rented house lay so close to the river that I could not see Thai soil without craning out over the balcony. All I could see and hear was the small Lao village some 400 metres away on the other side of the river, with its chickens crowing and children shouting and playing. It was bliss for me.
But apparently it was not bliss for Win. Most days she would go out for a walk along the riverbank. But I never knew if she would come back. Some days she just ran away, running amongst the paddy fields until she fell exhausted, miles from the town. I would drive our car out to the nearby villages, stopping and asking if anyone had seen my wife. After I found her I would bring her back to the safety of our shophouse. And after she was asleep I would cry uncontrollably, totally and utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally.
Win had a knack of attracting the wrong sort of friends. She would introduce me to these people and I could see through them immediately. Here was a friend who wanted to borrow money to rebuild her bar. And here was another who had some grandiose business plan that Win was eager to finance. Their selfishness and attempts to exploit my wife disgusted me.
One day, Win came to me and said excitedly 'we've bought a house!'. This was news to me. On investigation, it turned out that I had bought a house… Win had forged my signature on the purchase contract and I was now the proud owner of a 3 million baht shophouse, subject to me paying 100,000 baht every month until the purchase was complete. I met the seller of the property, who refused to annul the contract. 'You signed it' she said. 'I saw you sign it'. Only after prolonged negotiations was I able to get this contract annulled, subject to surrender of the first payment of 100,000 baht. I was furious – furious at Win for her deceit, but even more angry with the seller who lied and lied and exploited my wife.
Two days later, I could take no more and I got into my car and drove to Bangkok, abandoning my wife in Nongkhai. I felt a great weight lifting from me. The actions of Win had killed my love for her. Her deceit and stealing, albeit in the throes of her mental illness, had affected me permanently. I felt no sadness at leaving her.
In Bangkok, I settled into a cosy hotel and planned my future. I had abandoned my wife and baby son (who was cared for by Win's aunt, since Win was unable to look after him). I had also abandoned my 10 million baht hotel that I had financed. Despite these losses I felt happy, eager to put my troubled past behind me. I would get up early and jog in Lumpini Park, then spend the day working on my software business. I shunned the bars, having no interest in the company of others.
To pass the time, I enrolled upon a post-graduate degree course. I enjoyed the academic life, even though most of the other students assumed that the middle-aged guy on the campus was a lecturer!
One day – (my 48th birthday), at the end of the lecture, we were all requested by the lecturer to remain in class. There was a surprise! And what was the surprise? It was Win, cradling our baby son and a birthday cake. After 2 months of searching, she had tracked me down to the university campus. The presence of our young son made it impossible for me to deny her, and I agreed to return to Phuket with her. In fact, my absence seemed to have knocked some sense into her because she seemed quite lucid.
We returned together to Phuket but our son remained in Bangkok. Although Win was much recovered, she was still unable to care for our son. Whilst I was quite capable of looking after him, I could not manage his care, looking after the hotel and looking out for problems with Win. He had to remain with his loving aunt for the moment.
But life seemed better. Win was lucid all the time. Although she did not work, I encouraged her all the time to exercise and eat good food – anything that would boost her self-confidence and health. We were able to live together on reasonable terms for the next 6 months. As was my good nature, I became a volunteer police officer, helping visitors to Phuket with information and resolving their problems.
It was now 2008 and we were living at the hotel in Phuket. Almost one year to the day after Win had her first manic attacks the same incidents started to happen again. This time I was wise to her actions, and moved quickly to protect our bank accounts, confiscating ATM cards, bank-books, cheque books and jewelry, (the latter so that she could not pawn it!). Unfortunately, I was not quick enough. Her ability to deceive me and her family members was amazing, and she managed to 'lose' 230,000 baht – given away to her friends and wasted on tips, drinks and God knows what. (I cannot describe how she got hold of this money, but suffice to say that she exhibited more cunning than could ever be thought!).
This was the absolute last straw. Since I had started to care for Win the previous year, my software business had taken a back seat. Now the only income we had was from our Phuket hotel. With the low season rapidly approaching, Win had just lost all our savings for a rainy day…
I went back to the hospital and consulted another psychiatrist about Win. He confirmed the original diagnosis and prescribed stronger drugs to bring her down from her manic state. These were expensive drugs. The only money that I had left was money that I had retained for the airfare to visit my young daughter in the UK on her 8th birthday. For the second year in a row, I had to abandon this trip and use the money to pay for Win's drugs.
Now I was left with a bag full of expensive drugs, a mad wife, a nice hotel with few customers (normal for the rainy season), and hotel staff that needed paying, as well as the monthly bills. The only problem was that there was no money left. Win had lost it all. I even found my hotel cook crying in our kitchen at the sadness of the situation.
Hard decisions had to be faced. All my staff knew that Win was mad as a mad bat. They knew that there was no more money. Jobs had to go. That day, I laid off nearly all my hotel staff, retaining only a skeleton crew for the low season. Win had also managed to borrow (and lose) money on our hotel car. I spoke with the finance company and returned the car to them. Bam (Win's elder sister) smashed a glass bottle into her own hand out of total despair for the situation.
My hotel business was basically sound. I had worked extremely hard to build up its reputation, caring for and chatting with the hotel guests. No-one guessed of the anguish and despair that I suffered every day as I tried to care for Win.
I had come to Thailand as a rich and successful bachelor. Now I was poor and a shattered man. Could it get any worse?
Although now I was at my lowest point, I never stopped smiling and never stopped feeling optimistic. The alternative was a long dive from the roof of the Royal Plaza hotel in Patong! My late father had warned me that many men turn to suicide after troubled relationships with Thai women. But not me. I was not going to give in and I was going to fight!
So where to start? Well, the only way is up! (wasn't that a song?). Firstly, I needed to reassure Win that I was sticking with her through these troubles. Some readers might say that Win was pulling the wool over my eyes, eager to 'milk' the farang of all his money. Whilst I had the diagnosis of bipolar mental illness from 2 competent doctors, I wanted to understand more, to confirm in my own mind (or not), that Win was genuinely ill. I spent some time 'Googling' about the illness and its symptoms. This was a real eye-opener for me. Many of the classical symptoms of the malady were part of Win's character, even many years before I met her. She was a textbook example of someone who has untreated Bipolar illness. Treatment in the form of medication was certainly possible, but like an illness such as diabetes, Bipolar required daily medication, perhaps for the rest of one's life.
For me and Win, this was our Day Zero
To be continued
I can't imagine the hell you have been through. That you stuck with her through much of it is admirable on one hand, though it would be just as easy to argue it was foolish. Many a man would have walked away earlier.
As I said to a pal on the phone earlier today, in relationships with Thai women – and I say Thai women because in *most* relationships the guy has the financial responsibility firmly on his shoulders – the guy has to have his shit together. That means a stable job or stable source of income. Win severely damaged your ability to earn an income and that in turn complicated things and caused further problems.
I admire you for sticking with it. I know I would have walked early in the piece…