Misadventures with Noi: The Last Phone Call
The new operating rules for my relationship with Noi, her working and me worried about my move back to America, brought a new openness in our relationship. The tensions from before, like who is lying, who is sleeping around, where is the money going, were completely gone. I never noticed before how often I was using a forced smile in my interactions with Noi, but now the smiles came naturally, without pre-thought, and I noticed the same in her. We became better friends, doing more shopping together in small stores, instead of the more formal trips to Takashymia where we walked together in silence (money tension). As her schedule became more nocturnal, we relished our time together in the early evening, usually by finding some small, inexpensive restaurant where she would tell me funny stories about her bar girlfriends and the latest blow-up of some meth’ed-out katoey. As I did not share in her rewards, I was less a pimp than a personal confidante, and when we reunited in the early morning hours, she always curled up close to me in a way that she had never done before. Mostly thinking about my next life in America, this new arrangement seemed to suit me just fine, as it did Noi.
As my duties in Singapore were less demanding, I started to travel more, especially to Thailand. On the weekends that Noi had to leave Singapore, I would fly with her to Bangkok on Friday afternoon and then return the following Monday or Tuesday. Having earlier explored all the interesting places in Bangkok, we went to Koh Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin and Chang Mai. On other long weekends, we would fly to her home outside Udon Thani and use her diesel truck to travel all around Issan. As I was no longer viewed as the farang that would only go to farang places, Noi took me to Thai favorites, like the Buddhist temple built in the side of a rock outcrop, a couple of big Buddhas, and an old but charming restaurant boat outside of Nongkhai that cruised the Mekong River as you ate. Once, while visiting the temple at Wat Ban Rai near Chayaphum, we were looking in the window of a closed door at an assemblage of monks and Thai civilians. One of the civilian men saw us and started waving his hand. I wanted to run, thinking we had disturbed them, when the door opened and we were invited in. We sat on the floor with the other civilians and on a raised platform sat some monks eating. One of the monks was the famous Luang Phor Khoon Parisuttho, who is revered in Issan. He looked up at me, smiled broadly, and then continued eating. After they finished and retired, one of the Thai men told Noi that Luang Phor Khoon had asked us to stay, have some lunch, and then speak with him. After lunch, we were ushered into a small prayer room where the revered monk sat. He immediately engaged me in conversation, with Noi translating, about myself and the outside world. Then he asked if I was Buddhist and I said I was still trying. He laughed at that, said I should visit him again and he would instruct me. Then, per Noi’s instruction, I placed two folded 500 baht notes between my flat hands and held then high to my forehead. He took both notes but gave one back to me and said that he had foreseen that one day I would return to Thailand and do good things for Thailand’s poor. I still keep that note in my wallet and hope one day to fulfill his vision.
The days of living in Asia were now winding down. I had engaged my company’s movers, informed Singapore immigration of when my last day was going to be so they could update my work permit, and had a few dinners with my small ring of “Buddhist buddies” as I called them; Singaporean citizens who had taken me under their wing to show me the right Buddhist path. Since my condo lease ended a week before I was supposed to leave, I could stay in the hotel of my choice the final week. I decided to stay at the Stamford; the hotel where it all started with Noi and me. During this week of no-limit per diem, we ate well but mostly in silence. I told Noi that if she could wait until the divorce was over; I would bring her to America and marry her. I said this many times to her but she would just smile weakly and not talk. I knew that farangs had bad reputations in these situations so I understood her feelings; but I really meant it, I would marry Noi, a Thai bar girl, if she could wait for me. On our last night, we stayed up late and talked, but it was nervous talk, something to fill the empty, waiting time. In the morning, I packed quickly, asked her not to come to the airport with me, and stuffed S$2,000 in her front jeans pocket. She was staying on with her sister, for business reasons of course, and that was that. No tears at the airport, only a soft kiss and a weak wave of the hand to remember her by. On the flight home, I drank every drink put in front of me and tried to sleep.
Although I wanted to return to my old job in Washington, DC, the burst internet bubble had caused my company to re-organize in a major way; my old job was gone. Using some executive connections, I was able to find a good position in San Francisco. A beautiful city and five hours closer to Noi than our nation’s capital. I found a place to stay, met my new boss for lunch, and then called my attorney to get the divorce ball rolling. He tried to work out a property settlement, basically 50-50, that would have greased the skids for the divorce. But my now ex-wife was greedy and literally wanted the shirt off my back. This meant hearing after hearing for all the silly reasons she claimed gave her the right to all my property. The craziest one was where she accused me of hiding money in foreign banks (not true) and their evidence: nothing. I got on the stand and when asked the question about foreign property, I said “none”. The judge immediately ruled in our favor and I schlepped back to Frisco. This harassment continued for eight months.
During this time I called Noi at least 5 times a week when her phone was on, and I would assure her I was still true. I even used my huge amount of frequent flyer miles to visit her twice, but it was the same question: “Why divorce take so long?” I knew Thai divorces were basically document signing ceremonies, so I understood her frustration, but moving this divorce along was like pushing a big rock uphill. When all the stupid hearings were over and we had a divorce trial scheduled, five months hence, Noi called me up one night, which didn’t happen very often. She said that she had started gambling and that she owed a loan shark US$8,000. She said she could not leave Thailand until this debt was paid and lately, because of the economy, she was not making much money. “Can you please send to me so I don’t die?” she cooed. I told her that was impossible in my present financial condition (not good) and even if I could, walking into divorce court with a bank record showing this kind of payment would be cutting my throat. I told her to borrow the money from her sister, but Noi said she was broke, too. After several other ideas did not meet with her approval, she said I didn’t love her any more and hung up. I tried calling back, but her phone was off, and it stayed off, for good.
At first, I thought of ways to somehow send her the money. The gambling didn’t surprise me, her whole family gambled all the time. Why didn’t she sell her ring; it was worth half the debt she owed? I smelled a skunk, but after months of being brutally honest with each other, why would she try to extort money from me now? It did not make sense, or was I so crazy from all the events that had happened to me the last few months, that I couldn’t think straight. I was resigned to my situation but every now and then I became depressed. When this happened, I retreated to my neighborhood Thai restaurant to imbibe Singha beer and garlic chicken with fried rice. This mood enhancing routine had been occurring more and more as I was now on a first name basis with the Thai manager. I would usually sit at an outside table to enjoy the San Francisco weather, and he would come out to talk. Mostly we chatted about Thailand and he helped me with my Thai pronunciation as I was lately taking Thai language classes at my local wat. This time when he came, he forthrightly asked me how my Thai girlfriend was doing. I guess I had commiserated to him about this subject before. I said we had broken up some weeks earlier and we didn’t talk any longer. Then he said, “Would you like to meet my sister?” At that moment, his eyes looked into the large window in the front of the restaurant. My eyes followed his and I saw this beautiful Thai woman walking past and she gave me a smile that hit me like a thunderbolt from Zeus.
When I came to, I managed to a get a “sure” out of my mouth somehow, and the manager retreated into the restaurant laughing and started talking to this lovely woman who now commanded all my attention. While they were talking, she looked up at me and smiled again. I knew I had a date. And date we did for the next two months, soon becoming inseparable in our free time. Although I tried to take it slow, this lovely creature was also a wonderful person, so much different than Noi, that I soon lost my heart to her. My mood now was totally different; I felt I had been liberated from the gulag of divorce lawyers and cheating girlfriends. We were making solid plans for our future after my divorce was final, when one evening I answered my cell phone and heard those familiar words, “Hello dah-ling.”
I was stunned such that I couldn’t put any words together at first. Then I said, “Hello, how are you?
“I am fine, sabai”, she cooed again, “How are you?”
“I am sabai, too. Where are you?” Looking down at my phone, I noticed it was from an unknown number in Thailand.
“I am at home now with mum.” A pause, “Dah-ling, I want to come to America with you soon.
“What about the money you owe to the mafia?” I asked.
“No problem” she said, “You pay them I come to America and we marry real.”
Now I paused, as my emotions were starting to boil over. “Darling”, I said, “I am not your man anymore.”
“Why”, she immediately asked, “You have new girlfriend, a Thai girlfriend?”
“Yes”, I said dryly, noting that she thought only another Thai woman could compete with her. She knew me too well.
“But dah-ling, I love you so much. We together so long, you give me ring, why you no want me now? Why you like this girl better?” she pleaded.
“Why?” I asked, and starting to choke, said, “Because she would never break my heart like you did.”
Another long pause, “OK, I go now. I not call you again” she said.
“OK” I said, “Good luck for you and your family.” Then a click and that was that.
Of course, it really wasn’t. Noi called back several times with some new pitch to my heart. But by then, my heart belonged to someone else, someone I would later marry, so her pleas had no effect. Her sister would call me on occasion, she had a boyfriend in America who was having his own marital problems and she wanted me to drive to LA to speak to him. She would let me know what Noi was doing, and about 2 months after we broke up, she said she had a new western boyfriend and a baby from him. They would later marry and live in some ex-pat enclave in Bangkok. I was glad she was doing better, I wonder if the money owed to the mafia was his sin sot, but I couldn’t imagine what their marital life was like. I wondered if one day she would get the urge for a little money of her own to control, and what would happen when he found out. Thanking the stars for whatever providence led me away from Noi; I hugged my wonderful new wife and breathed a sigh of relief.
A lucky escape!