The Farewell Gifts
Most of my life I have been on the receiving end. Although I’m not rolling in money, I’m OK now and because I will never be able to clear the debt I have with countless people that are now dead or far away, I try from time to time to be on the giving end. But I admit that it is not always easy as old habits are difficult to break and it is not rare that my partner reminds me about tipping by a discreet nudge in the ribs.
Each time I go in a restaurant or purchase a service, when the service has been very good or the behavior very friendly, I’m inclined to tip. And I don’t have the feeling it makes me poorer at the end of the year.
For example, you have that French waiter that jokes and chats with you in such an elegant and natural manner that you have to show him your appreciation. Upon leaving, once the bill has been paid, a 2 euros coin left on the table is a reasonable way to encourage him to keep going.
You have that Hong Kong taxi driver who didn’t need to be repeated several times with different intonations where you wanted to go. And he drove in such a jerk-free and cautious way that you will not ask for the change on the 100 HKD notes you will give him if the counter is displaying 82 HKD.
Better than that, you have that garage mechanic from your hometown that saved your life on several occasions by stopping everything he was doing to fix your car, so that you can set off to that very important business meeting or to your holidays with your family. In that case, not offering him a bottle of Champagne for Christmas would be unforgivable.
And you have that Thai bargirl who provided you such a warm and realistic girlfriend experience…
March 2007, Phuket Island
T** is sleeping curled up on the back seat of the limousine, her head resting on my lap. Through my window I watch the early tropical night blurring together the now dark blue sky with the Andaman Sea and the outline of the cost with the nearby mountains.
I hired a car plus driver, 1000 THB for the afternoon. For this price we have glided soundlessly over the road at no more than sixty kilometers per hour in a very comfortable car with a consummate Thai driver. He drove us from my hotel to the Phuket Zoo, then to the Butterfly farm and finally to Promthep Cap for sunset. A stop at a local bar for refreshment is even included in the price.
T** and I have been in each other’s pockets during the last four days, and everything has been so smooth with her.
After the first barfine and the first night of passion together, I didn’t ask her to leave, neither to stay. We just started living as a legitimate couple of lovers on holiday, being lazy, visiting, eating out and partying during the nights.
She just doesn’t match the portrait of the mercenary Thai bargirl I have been drawn to. So far she hasn’t asked for anything. Of course I didn’t fail to give her an “allowance” every morning, cash that she wadded in her purse after giving me a wai, and our improbable partnership could still have a sting in the tail, only future will tell.
As I’m very happy with her, I feel she deserves some special attention. And I want to test her one more time:
“Mon amour… wake up, we have arrived in Patong”.
“Oh! So fast!”
“You slept. Hum… This is our last night together, tomorrow morning I will leave… and I want to buy you a small gift. You like?”
“Yes! <some thinking – a pause – then a beaming smile> let’s go Carrefour!”
You may not know, but Carrefour is a supermarket located at the far end of the Jungceylong shopping mall. This means that to go there, you have first to pass in front of many boutiques selling fashion clothes, jewelry, shoes, in fact nearly any kind of expensive treats.
After having said goodbye to the friendly limousine driver, we are walking as usual with a light step toward the shopping mall.
Once inside, T** stops in front of a clockmaker's shop and starts to look at what is displayed. The cheapest watch is tagged 5000 THB and I don’t recognize any brand.
She scans quickly several models through the glass windows, but she stays silent.
“Oh! Very expensive” I say. “This is tourist price. Look at my Casio digital watch… very famous brand… not like these ones… very strong… I bought it for only 3500 THB in France!”
Instead of an “oh please” imploring look, I got an amused one that makes her eyes narrowing. She now knows for sure what my definition of a “small gift” is.
“Only take a look. Baa” she answers. Hooking her arm into mine she leads me out of this shop.
Once in Carrefour T** heads us directly to the women underwear section, and she tells me that she wants bras. I don’t like silly gifts, like trinkets or cuddly toys that will end up in a trash bin or in the depth of a dresser, so I’m relieved. Carrefour is not cheap by Thai standards, but I expect the quality to be good, and like most people who used to be poor I prefer buying quality products rather than cheap ones.
There are many shelves with different bra styles that are quite different from the French ones, but I spot right away the line that will fit her. After all, during these few days, I have on several occasions removed her bras and I have played with her delightful breasts enough to know everything about their shape, size and firmness.
As she often wears tops without shoulder straps, I thought that convertible bras with clear plastic straps would be the model of choice that will adapt in nearly all situations. So, I take down a black one from the peg and I hand it to her. She gives it a quick check, puts it back and starts to examine religiously each model on the first shelf.
That very moment I learnt that Thai women are not at all different from western women when on a shopping mission. She will of course browse all the shelves and my participation at this stage may be more considered interference than help. This leaves me the time to check on my side for another suitable model. I spot a white one which is tagged 300 THB like the black one.
After some time, she comes back to me with the black convertible model in hand that I initially chose for her. I show her the white bra I have spotted and this time she doesn’t put it back on the peg.
I suggest we go to the fitting room, of course to make sure the size is correct and also for some more ogling at her delicious brown tits. Mix business with pleasure is my motto!
November 2007, same place, same person
This time I spent one week with T** and I’m absolutely delighted. As I was seeing the end of my vacation coming closer, I have been scratching my head for a suitable gift. This time I would look for something better than a couple of bras.
Between November and March we exchanged a few emails but the limitations of her written English didn’t allow sustained and meaningful exchanges. It has been a deception for me as she can talk Tinglish quite fluently and as she is a good conversationalist.
I now know that she doesn’t like emails because she has to go to an Internet center and pay by the minute, some of these minutes being spent struggling to understand those ramblings farangs are so prone to and struggling some more to try and answer them.
She prefers SMS that she can read and re-read at will for free, or show to her friends when she is not sure of the meaning.
This is how the idea of buying her an electronic talking dictionary, Thai to English and vice versa, forced itself upon me…
Time seems to have flown away so fast. My room is full of the stuff a woman brings when she settles: bras and panties hanging on a chair, spare sets of clothes neatly piled up on the table, beauty products in the bathroom, two or three pairs of shoes next to mine, magazines…
We have set a routine that suits me well. Sleeping until late in the morning, making love again, then a late lunch and some light activities in the afternoon, such as splashing about in the swimming pool, visiting her friends, going to the movie theater or watching luk thung karaoke videos. Nothing extraordinary, but living from day to day in that easy-going way provides me the rest I need for my holidays.
This afternoon we are skimming through a Buddhist chanting book and I try to understand her interpretation of the Five Precepts, three of them being obviously incompatible with her bargirl life. But she is quick to demonstrate the advantages of Buddhism versus our “book” religions.
Speaking about how transient we are in this world, I suddenly realize that tomorrow I will leave this country and my partner of the moment to undergo a rebirth into another character who will need to re-acclimate to a far less enjoyable life than revolves around work and countless other obligations.
“Chérie… Let’s go buy a gift for you. I will show you what I have in my mind and you tell me if you like it, ok?”
After some neat sleeking down of her hair, some whitening of her legs, arms and face and some matching of her top color to her shorts and flip-flops color, we go again to the Jungceylong shopping mall.
I head her to the third floor of the Phuket Square where the IT zone I’m thinking of is. I ask the young guy in charge if they sell Cyberdict:
“Cyberdict don’t have. But below in Robinson have”.
We go down to the second floor and in Robinson I browse the electronics section: TV, DVD players, MP3 players but no electronic translator. I ask another young seller.
“Not this place. Just turn left.”
We follow the general direction, cruising through shoes, clothes and cosmetics sections to finally arrive at a B2S store where they have books, CDs and DVDs.
At the entrance behind the information and cashier desk stand two cute girls that can speak good English: “We have only paperback dictionaries”, “no electronic models” they confidently tell me.
I’m ready to give up when I see a huge Cyberdict streamer over a booth just in the middle of that shop, only three meters far away from the entrance. I say “thank you” to the girls and we head toward this booth.
They have many models on display and suddenly T** lights up. I suspect that until now she wasn’t sure what it was about, and I guess that Thais may be reluctant to ask for clarification in such situation.
First model is 1200 THB, high end is 9990 THB.
“3000 baht maximum” I tell T**.
Of course the seller doesn’t start his sales pitch with the cheapest model but with a 2000 something THB model. I ask him to display too the 1200 THB model and we end up with 4 models on the desk, ranging from 12000 THB to 5500 THB.
Now the talking has switched to full rapid Thai as T** asks for explanation and differences between the produced models and as the seller eagerly shows her all the features.
I can see that the 3500 THB model has caught her eye. And from my experience with women I know that it will be difficult to talk her out of it.
I ask the young guy to test the cheapest model. It seems to me that this model is more than enough and even the talking operation is correct, the synthesized voice not being too metallic. But it suffers from a cheap plastic toy look.
The seller wants now to explain about the 5500 THB, and I stop him right away: “this one, too expensive”.
T** doesn’t seem miffed, she has eyes only for the 3500 THB model. It has too a SD card slot and a USB link, and it can be used as an MP3 player. I’m sure she likes this gift idea.
“OK, take this one” I say to T**. “I’m a little bit short on cash and I need change money. I go back to the room. Ask this guy to show you everything; I will be back in 15 minutes.”
When I’m back T** is waiting me at the entrance of the B2S store holding a bag which is far too small and flat to contain the Cyberdict.
“Gift for you” she says with that mischievous smile that I find so irresistible.
I wasn’t expecting this, and suddenly I fear the worst. For me it is very hard to receive a gift I don’t like and stay cool. I would even say I’m nearly feeling insulted when the gift is a return one that has been picked at random, just to balance the equation.
“Can I open it right now?” I ask because I’m not sure about the custom in Thailand, but in China people seldom open the gift in front of the giver.
As I pull-out what’s inside the bag, relief and happiness overwhelm me. It is a very detailed map of North-Eastern Thailand, printed in Thai and English.
It is only a 120 THB gift, but for me its value can’t be related only to its price as it is a really personalized gift.
She knows I want to visit Isaan, possibly with her, and she knows that the farangs like to check everything before in books and maps. She hit the bull’s-eye as nothing else from her could have pleased more. In this occasion she displayed again this smartness I like so much in her.
Back at the entrance desk the two cute girls show absolutely no embarrassment as they type the bill and pack the Cyberdict.
Total bill is 3900 THB, as I bought on top a SD card plus some batteries.
The Cyberdict seller will download 2 GB of luk thung hits on the SD card, and I give him 100 THB for his trouble.
As I’m paying, T** hands the cashier a green Robinson loyalty card… Every little bit helps is her motto!
Very nice indeed.
That bit with the sellers not knowing what's for sale in their stores is a frustrating issue that consumers frequently face in Thailand.