Misadventures with Noi: The Engagement Party
For the first two months of being the only boyfriend of Noi, and she my only girlfriend, we had settled into a nice routine her being in Singapore and having wonderful nights together, and when she was not I would work sixteen hour days or travel to other parts of Asia on business. One day, while visiting me in Singapore, she came home very late after shopping with her sister. She flopped down on the couch and proceeded to ignore me as I watched the TV. I had now learned the Asian boyfriend response of being cool hearted in these situations. After a few minutes, I started to make small talk. “How was your day” I asked her. No response. “Did you buy anything while shopping?” She looked down at her empty hands and looked back at the TV. She wanted to tell me something but I also knew I should remain silent. After five minutes of this standoff, I moved to the couch and put my arm around her. “Darling, what happened today?” A few moments later she said, “Dah-ling, I want to get married.”
As I tried to absorb what she was saying without showing any emotion, I also tactically started to compose my response in such a way that she would not jump from the couch and jump off the balcony. “Darling, you know I can’t get married now, I am still married back in America”, I said. Continuing, “until the divorce is done, we just have to wait.” Still looking down, Noi said that everyone knew I was just using her and that one day I would leave her and go back to my wife in America. I said that was wrong; I was staying in Asia and I was staying with her, forever. I started to suspect her sister was putting words in her ear. After a long pause, she said unless I married her she would have to leave me. I protested that I could not get married in Asia if I was already married in America. She then jumped up and said, “Thai marriage not legal marriage, just for family.” I said that would be against Buddha if I did that, knowing that invoking Lord Buddha in arguments of honesty always helped. She thought for a moment then said, “at least we could be engaged.” Now I was the one thinking. Well, I supposed, putting a ring on Noi’s hand and telling our friends we were engaged, that was OK, wasn’t it? “Alright”, I said, “let’s do it!” Noi immediately jumped in my arms and said she would start shopping for a ring tomorrow. Oh no, what Thai forces had I unleashed?
The next few days saw me working as normal, but Noi was a flurry of activity; shopping with her sister, calling family back in Thailand, and then at night her wonderful entreaties for fun in the bedroom. It was like our first few days together. The next week Noi announced that she had found the perfect ring, at a reasonable price I could live with, and that in two weeks hence we had to travel back to her family home for an engagement party. What the hell was that, I asked her? After a full 30 minutes of broken English, I gathered that it was the party and the ring that would make everything good for her with her family for shacking up with a western man in Singapore. I tried to reconcile this with Noi’s previous life as a prostitute but decided it was a Thai thing that I would never understand. Noi then said we should also plan for a vacation afterwards. “Where to”, I asked her suspiciously and she immediately responded.
I thought this sounded reasonable as well, so I told her I would make all the arrangements. She jumped in my arms and gave me one of her award winning smiles.
The weekend of the engagement party coincided with the end of Noi’s visa, so we traveled together to her home. I had never been to Udon Thani or Issan; can we get there by plane? Noi said her family lived in a small house in a very small village, so I had visions of some small house on stilts with mosquito netting to sleep under. Oh well, I could do that for a couple days. When we arrived at the Udon Thani airport arrival area, her mom, sister, and a bunch of cute Thai kids were there waiting for us. We were greeted as Roman heroes, flowers, food, drink, and everyone hanging on each of our words. Surrounded, I walked with the crowd around me until reaching a small pickup truck. Somehow, all of us either got into or onto this vehicle, and off we went into the night. Some unknown smiling male was driving, and Noi and her sister and mother were already chatting up a storm in the back seat. The rest or our crew were in the open back hanging on for dear life as we weaved through the many pedestrians, tuk-tuks, and motorcycles on the streets of Udon Thai. I sat smiling but white-knuckled in the front seat as I tried not to notice the inches we missed all these moving obstacles.
As we drove, the houses became fewer as did the traffic, and soon we were in front of a very nice house that looked out over a small lake. This was hardly a shack! When we entered, there was a large screen TV in the living room and in her bedroom had a nice aircon unit on the wall. I asked Noi how her family, who I had always heard was poor, could afford this house? She said that her family had lived in a small shack since her father had gone to Japan to work in a factory but never returned. Last year, her sister and she had saved enough money working to build this house on the family land. Being a bit smarter these days on Thai currency and property values, I estimated the house alone cost over a million baht, which Noi confirmed later. We fell asleep on her Korean made mattress with her Japanese built aircon unit buzzing in the background.
The next day was Saturday, and when I awoke early in the morning, I saw there was a gigantic tent in the back of the house with ten older Thai women cutting up vegetables and meats, and then cooking them in a huge wood fired wok. In the kitchen, I met Noi’s other sister who greeted me with eggs and toast, and a truly terrific smile. Her mom came in from the back and I ate my breakfast in smiling silence as I knew neither of them understood any English. A few minutes later Noi came in and broke the silence, while nibbling at my eggs. Noi explained that in the evening there would be a large party at the house with lots of guests, mostly family and neighbors. But in two hours, the monks would arrive for a small ceremony for this occasion. Monks, ceremony, party; what is happening? Noi said that monks are always part of family happenings and that they do it in the morning as monks have to go back to the temple in the afternoon. And oh, by the way, can I have 50,000 baht to pay for the party and the monks?
I looked at Noi in stunned silence for a few seconds, then reached into my wallet and produced five 10,000 baht notes and handed them to her. <Well, you've got me confused here… – Stick> She took them and ran to the back of the house to the large tent and spoke excitedly to a woman there. I walked slowly back to the bedroom and lay down in the bed, laying face up, looking up at the ceiling in silence. A few minutes later, a young man appeared with dark pants and a formal Thai shirt on hangars and hung them on the closet handle. Then another person appeared with a Singha beer and placed it on the night stand. Form all this activity, and without Noi’s help, I realized that the monks were coming soon and that I should start to get ready. After a shower, I dressed in my new clothes while drinking my beer. Noi came rushing in, dressed and put on makeup, and then led me to the living room. The monks, along with twenty other people I didn’t know, were ensconced comfortably and the ceremony began. I don’t remember too much except for the chanting and Noi insisting I keep at least one flat hand horizontal in front of my face. After the chanting stopped, the monks wrapped everyone’s wrists with white cloth string. Holding each other’s hands, I looked at Noi and asked, her if we were officially engaged now? “Yes”, she said firmly.
At that point, Noi and I were shuffled out of the living room and in came the women from the back, loaded with plates of food. After the monks ate, some Thai men escorted them out of the house. Noi and I sleep most of the afternoon in the bedroom. When we awoke, people were starting to set up plastic chairs and tables in the side yard, with other stringing lights. The women resumed their work in the back, and I could smell the delicious food being cooked in the large wok. The engagement party itself started in the early evening. Noi and I stood in the front yard and greeted everyone who arrived. When we sat down, someone brought us food and two Singha yais for me. As we ate, an elderly man with a wireless microphone circulated through the throng interviewing people. When he came our way, all eyes were on us. He asked Noi some questions and when he put the microphone in front of me, I tried to say something nice about Noi in Thai but I think it came out that I liked to screw her in the morning. Now all those staring eyes where double their size with some mouths agape. Noi quickly said something in Thai that included the word farang, and everyone started to laugh. I decided that the less I said that night the better.
When we awoke the next morning, Noi was already dressing and packing her suitcase. I stumbled into the shower and when I was finished, I saw that Noi had arranged some clothes on the bed for me. So these were my official clothes to wear to exit the engagement party and show proper respect for her family. No worries, Noi had good taste in men’s clothes as well as her own, and we made a regal looking couple as we walked from the house to the pickup truck already packed with kids in the back. Noi’s brother drove us to the airport in Udon Thani and we ascended the jet while family members waved flowers and shouted what I hoped were words of good luck. Five minutes after the jet left the ground, Noi was asleep on my shoulder leaving me to consider what had happened in the last 48 hours. I decided that the experience was beyond my western mind and drifted off to sleep.
We arrived in the domestic terminal of Don Muang airport in Bangkok an hour later, then departed almost immediately on a flight to Koh Samui. Another hour later we were gathering our stuff into a cab and soon we arrived at a quaint hotel, with modest rooms, but smack on Chaweng beach. It had been a long day but Noi and I found time to order and eat some food, consummate our engagement, and then fall off to sleep. The next morning we had orange juice, coffee, and cheese toast on the veranda and planned how we would spend the next few days. We decided to rent an under-powered Suzuki and proceeded to drive it all around the island. Our pattern was simple; drive to a destination, find a local place for lunch, then drive back to the beach for a light dinner, drinks, and then bed. I don’t remember much about the sites we visited except for the Big Buddha on the north of the island, which Noi and I both thought was spectacular. Little did I know that these would be the happiest days I would even spend with Noi.
For our last day we decided to spend it entirely on the beach. What I thought would be a relaxing time turned out to be anything but. There were vendors to buy from, pictures to be taken, Thai massages, and even temporary tattoos to be applied. Noi and I chose the goofiest tattoos we could find and put them all over our body. That night, we laughed at each other as we re-discovered our crazy tattoos as we made love. I slept dreamlessly that night but awoke with the realization that the best of times in Thailand are better left unplanned. We packed quickly in the late morning and arrived in Bangkok mid-afternoon. After eating a quick meal in the airport, we taxied to our hotel near the airport, as I would be traveling on to Singapore the next day while Noi would remain in Bangkok. If I had known what would follow, I would have kept going to Singapore that night.
Instead, we got into our room and Noi immediately ordered dinner. She seemed distant, irritable, and just not very friendly. I cautiously asked her what was the matter, but I received only grunts. The food arrived and we started to eat in silence. Then she started in on me; why had I bought all those tourist items, why did we stay at an expensive hotel, why did I tip the waitress so much? I was speechless, where was this coming from? Questions from me only made her madder. Ten minutes more of this conversation and Noi jumped up from the bed, packed her things, said I didn’t care anything about her, and then left the hotel room slamming the door behind her. I thought it was all some sort of theatrics but when she didn’t come back, I started to call her hand phone. For thirty minutes she didn’t respond, and then when she finally answered, she said she was going to stay with her sister on the opposite end of the city. I pleaded with her to come back, saying we had just become engaged and was this the way we wanted to start our lives together, but to no good. After she hung up the third time, I sat on the bed trying to figure out what had happened. Finally, I lay back on the bed and fell asleep, but not for long. <Call me callous but I would not tolerate such behaviour and would have told her to fxxx off then and never looked back! – Stick>
At around 4 AM, I woke up and immediately called Noi but her phone was turned off. I started to worry but tried to go back to sleep. After two hours I gave up and called again, and again her phone was off. Now I was really worried but I had to get to the airport for my flight. I decided that I would force myself not to call again until I got back to Singapore. I arrived late in the afternoon and when I got back to my condo, I unpacked and wrapped myself around a cold Tiger beer. For some reason, Tiger beer only tastes good in Singapore and I was really enjoying this one. I called Noi but her phone was still off. I tried to remember if she said she was staying with her sister in Bangkok or going back to her family in Udon Thani. If the latter, she might still be in the air flying. I opened another Tiger, flipped through the mail, and then did a little email. One hour passed, more than enough time for the flight, but still no answer on her phone. I called her sister; her phone was off as well. Well, maybe her flight was delayed. No problem, sumo wrestling was on the Japanese channel so I settled in for another hour. Another call, another Thai voice saying the phone was off; same with her sister. I fretted away the next hour.
Finally, around 9 PM, Noi started to call me. At first, I ignored the calls, having convinced myself that I was the wounded party in this macabre nuptial dance. After five minutes, I answered her 10th call. “Are you crazy or what”, I yelled into the phone. No answer, then a click.
Ten minutes later my phone rang again. “Are you calm now”, she asked. I hemmed and hawed like a spoilt child, while she explained to me she was just upset that she couldn’t go back to Singapore with me. I said that was no reason to walk out on me and turn her phone off, but she protested that I just didn’t understand Thai women. Maybe she was right, I thought, so I told her I still loved her but she should never turn her phone off again like that. She said she wouldn’t and said she loved me, too. I said in my best Humphrey Bogart voice that I would miss her very much.
“Good bye, my dah-ling”, she cooed into the phone, knowing full well that when she drawled the word darling like that, I was ice cream in an oven.
After another Tiger and ten minutes of trying to understand what had happened in the last 24 hours, I jumped into the shower and put on my best Saturday night clothes. I called a cab and within 30 minutes I was in the men’s bathroom at the Top Ten club in Orchard Tower, splashing cheap cologne on my neck. I walked out to the upper deck and saw 10 pair of beautiful eyes looking back. I picked out a particularly beautiful pair and sat down next her. After a few “Sawadees” and “where you froms”, we were holding hands and chatting away like long lost lovers. I bought her half a dozen drinks and we danced to both fast and slow songs on the well lit dance floor. After the descending big butterfly routine they performed every night, I told her I had to go home. She wanted me to stay and even offered to escort me home for a small sum, but I declined and slipped her S$100. I knew that faster than a speeding bullet, Noi’s old friends at the bar would be telling her what had just transpired. On my ride home in the taxi, I received a call from Noi. I turned off my phone and said “good night, dah-ling”, and my phone stayed off until I awoke the next morning. Two minutes after I turned it on, Noi called and I received such a blistering that my right ear started to burn. No matter, as it was obvious that Noi didn’t understand western men.
What a messed up situation. As I wrote in my mid-submission comments, I would have walked. That sort of carry on does NOT bode well at all for married life!