Misadventures with Noi: The Beginning of the End
The days of perfect karmic union between Noi and my job in Singapore were long over. It had been six months since I found out about her other boyfriend, and the tension from that day was still with us. Although we still followed the usual routine of her
visiting me two weeks a month, now more often than not, her phone would be off for one of those weekends. At first, I would worry, get mad, and end up in some pickup bar with a new honey for the night. But lately, it did not disturb me as much.
I had recently given my phone number to my friend’s very pretty Filipino maid, and she had called me on a couple of Sundays and we had a wonderful time. I also met a beautiful Indonesian student who needed occasional, non-committal company.
I started to consider that there were a lot of lonely people in Singapore who needed time from their busy and structured schedules to be with someone different from time to time, just to feel human again. I was certainly one of them, as well.
I was now in the middle of my 2nd year of my international assignment in Singapore and times were getting tough. The water levels were rising from the tsunami of the internet bubble burst. Sales were down as were calls for my services. Recently, I had been to a couple of going away parties recently for ex-pats in my office. A few months prior, my General Manager quit as did my Director. They had both been replaced by some fellow in Tokyo named Kanawa-san. I had never talked to him before nor had I met him. After he became my boss, he had a strange habit of calling me up every few days to ask me some question about my work. I would answer it as best I could, knowing his English was limited, then he would hang up; no follow up, no discussion. As the office was starting to slide, I decided I had better meet with Kanawa-san and talk to him about some ideas I had about getting our office re-engaged with our customers. There was a customer meeting in Tokyo for a project I was coordinating, so I called his assistant and got on his calendar for the following week.
After my customer meeting in Tokyo in the morning, I took a cab over to my company’s office and arrived just after lunch. I waited in the small reception area outside of Kanawa-san’s office, smiling weakly at his young assistant. After a few minutes, Kanawa-san appeared, shook my hand politely, and waved me into his office.
“Why are you here?” he asked matter-of-factly after we sat down. I started into a summary of my ideas to re-engage our office with customers through these bad times.
He listened politely then said, “No, why are you here? You should not be here.” Through his English I was able to surmise that there had been some sort of memo circulated that banned all unnecessary travel. I said I had not seen the memo but I had a customer meeting here (not banned by the memo) so I decided to take the opportunity to meet him as he was now my first line manager.
He sat back in his chair for a minute then said, “You must go home.” I said, yes, I had a flight booked the next day. “No, you must go home to America”, he said. Now it was my turn to sit back quietly.
I blurted out, “You mean now?”
“Yes, now”, he said. I quickly realized that he had no idea what our office did and that he had been reluctantly put in charge of us. Thinking fast, I came across an idea but I knew I had to say in an Asian sensitive way.
“Kanawa-san”, I said, “I know it is time for me go, so I will make plans now to leave next month. But I am very worried about the ABC project.”
“What ABC project?” he said.
I said, “The ABC project for the ZXY Company contract. I have been coordinating it for the last six months and it still has four more months until it is completed. It is very important to our company and it has been a good revenue producer. I am worried that the customer will not be happy if I leave before its completion.” Kanawa-san sat back again only this time he shut his eyes. I knew I had him.
Opening his eyes slowly, “OK, you stay with the project until it is done. Then you go home” he said.
“If you think that is best, then I will respect your wishes and work hard to make the project a success” I said. With that, he smiled and stood up to shake my hand. He walked me to the office door where I stopped and gave him a slight bow, which he returned to me, still smiling.
So, I had four months left in Asia to finish this silly project which required about 10 hours a week effort. I wanted to stay but I knew even if I found a local job, I would not be able to afford to send money back to my wife. That could have dire consequences. On the flight home, I considered what my options were. There were none; I had to go back to America and I had to tell Noi. As I was still married and it was post-9/11, it would be difficult to get Noi through American immigration until my divorce was final. Now the dynamic between us changed completely. Noi and I had just been muddling along; sometimes in love, sometimes off doing our own thing. Now a decision would have to be made: move forward together as a couple or break up and get started on the rest of our lives. Which would I choose, or more to the point, which would Noi choose?
I decided the sooner I told Noi the better, as I needed to make many plans, both personal and professional. My old job back in the States had been eliminated as part of a general reorganization after the Internet bubble burst. What would my new job be? I had to start looking fast. Thankfully, it was Noi’s week off when I returned from Japan so I had some time to think things through. When I picked her up at the airport the following Friday night, we went directly to the Golden Mile shopping center and into our favorite restaurant for dinner. Forgetting my planned speech, I said, “Darling, they are sending me home.”
“When?” she said, not acting surprised.
“In four months”, I said.
“Can I go with you?” she asked.
“Not at first”, I said, “But after the divorce, I can bring you over immediately”.
She looked skeptical but said nothing else. I decided she needed time to digest this information, so I said nothing as well. The rest of the night was significant for its silence and that we slept a foot apart on my king-sized bed. What was going through her Thai mind that night? I would have given a thousand dollars to know.
The next day was a typical Saturday for us; me working in the morning and then going to the gym. Her waking up late and meeting her friends for lunch. When we met again in the afternoon, we were our normal chatty selves. I casually asked what we were going to do that evening.
She said, “Dah-ling, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure”, I said, “What’s up?”
“Dah-ling, now you go back to America, I have to think about myself and my family.”
“Of course”, I agreed, “but I will still be there to help you, and when you come to America things will be good again.”
“Dah-ling, please don’t hate me, but I want to work now.”
“Work?” I said, “What kind of work?”, being slow on the uptake while looking into her beautiful eyes.
“Dah-ling, I want to work in Singapore when I am here so I can save money”, she said.
Now completely understanding what she meant by “work”, I exploded and called her every bad name I could think of. Here I was offering to forget the past, go through a lot of problems to bring her to America to be my wife, and all she wanted was short-term cash. Besides the hit on my personal pride, I just couldn’t believe that she was choosing to stay a prostitute instead of moving to America for a better life. Could she not see past a few months? Or was the Hong Kong boyfriend part of her equation? As ambient as I had been about Noi the last few months, now I questioned the reasons why I wanted her to come with me to America. “Are you crazy or what”, I screamed in a last verbal outburst that was more cathartic than question.
After that I calmed down; she was always smart to let me do this before speaking again. She told me she would only work a few nights each week when she was in Singapore; all the other nights we would be together. I imagined me at home watching TV, Noi coming home very late, me asking how her night was, did she suck any large cocks, and then both of us happily jumping into bed together. I briefly compared that to the Ozzie and Harriet home I was raised in (for those of you not raised in America during the 50’s and 60’s, see here) and I really did feel like I was living in a different world.
After a few moments, I found myself very comfortable with this proposition, so I told her it was alright with me. In the seconds after I had considered myself a latter day Ozzie, I could see how in Asia and in this circumstance, her proposition made perfect sense. In this uncertain world, money came first, feelings and hopes for the future came second. Who was I to judge anyway, my skinny ass was going back to America and the only tie I had to Noi was a ring on her finger. Her old boyfriend in Hong Kong could certainly offer her more security, so in a way, Noi was saying she wanted to stay with me but there had to be a baseline of money in it for her. In a very strange way, it endeared her to me, so I hugged her for a long time. In a short amount of time, this business agreement, and that’s what it was down to its nub, now seemed perfectly natural, and that’s the way it was between us until I left Singapore for America.
So she gets the best of both worlds and you get….well, it ain't pretty, is it?!