"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble.
It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." – Mark Twain
My name is Bill. I was born and raised in a small town in Iowa – U.S.A. When I was 10 years old one day in school our teacher told us the story about the famous character Buffalo Bill and she told us he grew up right there in Iowa. That’s when I got my new name by my friends in my class – Buffalo Bill, they started calling me. I kind of liked it. Nah, I loved it.
My name followed me through the years, all the way through high school, the years I worked in the local mini-mart stocking shelves and all the long years I worked as a US postal worker, delivering mail all over our county in rural Iowa. “Buffalo Bill” said a sign in the front window of my post truck, and I wore a cowboy hat and boots to match.
But nowhere, even rural Iowa, is left alone by the claws of big business. Postal services got bought up, contracted out, privatized, streamlined, outsourced and whatever the hell they call all that crap. In the end it all means fewer hands doing more work and that the fat-cats get richer and the little man suffers. So in the year of 1999 I got my early retirement, just a nicer way of saying I got canned.
I was left with the choice of a small pension for life or a lump sum. I guess I should have taken the pension for life, the safer bet, and tried to find some new employment for a few more years. But I was sick of just about everything by then and I was pissed off! I took the lump sum, sold my stuff, bought a ticket to Bangkok and never looked back.
* * *
Buri Ram province, Thailand – 2001
Our wedding was simply grandiose. There was a ceremony in the morning in the house of Lek’s family where monks chanted and we performed a myriad of ceremonies. After the monks were finished with their blessings a man with a microphone would observe the rest and announce the happenings for those outside the house. He was loud and cheerful. Many people had shown up because this was a big thing, our wedding. Lek was seen as something of a village princess. She had found a good catch in me and this was well liked by all.
The hardest part was sitting on the wooden floor with my legs tucked in under me for so long. The Thais seemed to have no problem sitting that way but for me it was a real burden. Then I weighed 230 pounds so I was twice as heavy as most Thais, and while this is looked upon with great respect and admiration in Thailand it doesn’t help one's agility much.
The part that caught the most attention was the presentation of the sin sot, or the wedding gift. I don’t think many had seen a million baht in cash before because there was a ferocious outburst when the money was presented and the sum was announced. The man with the microphone relayed the on-goings with a voice filled with joy and amazed excitement, and the guests responded in kind. I felt proud I was able to put on a good show.
Now, I couldn’t actually give a million baht of course. The money was solely for display and would be returned to me afterwards minus a “small share” to my new in laws, as it had been explained to me. Anyway, they folded up the cloth the money was presented on and Lek’s mother scampered off with the bundle filled with cash and some gold I’d bought for Lek and everyone thought it was hilarious.
My greatest joy was how beautiful my bride looked. I was amazed and thrilled and so exited that she would be mine after this day. And I was eagerly anticipating the following night’s activities as it would be our first act of physical lovemaking. I knew Lek was even more excited as it would be her first act of physical lovemaking ever. I would guide her with experience, kindness and a steady hand, I mused.
* * *
I had met Lek six months earlier. We met in a bar on Soi 22 off Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. Now, Lek was really something. She was not like the other girls working in bars in Thailand, not that there’s anything wrong with them. But there was innocence to Lek that I hadn’t seen before. Most other girls, lovely as they could be, were often after the cash in your pocket.
Of course those girls like white men who are a bit older and they like big men, nothing strange with that. They are exotic to us and we are exotic to them. But even though I always knew they enjoyed going home with me and always enjoyed what followed, sometimes twice, I still found that they were a bit too keen to dive into my wallet afterwards. Lek was different.
For starters she didn’t go with customers and have sex for money. I liked that, it showed she had character. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with shelling out some baht for some hanky panky but I wasn’t sure I could stomach being with a girl like that on a permanent basis. I could imagine I’d worry about the many men who had gone before me. Not just how many there’d been, but also I feared I’d feel I was competing with them somehow, you know – performance wise.
I knew Lek never did go with customers because I asked her myself to come with me and she explained she didn’t do that. First I felt rejected and embarrassed but then we spoke and I really listened to her and got to know her. I felt she was very grateful for that, that I really listened when she spoke and took an interest in her. I was surprised when she told me, in a hushed voice, that she had never had a man and that she wouldn’t until she married. She told me she didn’t want a man like that, for a short time. She wanted someone who would take care of her and who she could take care of in return.
Care. That was it. Take care of each other. That’s what it was all about I realised. That’s what’s been forgotten in the west where it’s all about the car you drive and the brand name on your handbag and how many inches wide your damn TV is. Two people who truly care for each other, that’s real. It was like the pieces of a puzzle coming together in my mind and I immediately knew what I wanted. Care! Lek!
That idea of mutual care as the basis of a long term relationship made me forget all else and focus my attentions on Lek. Well, that and the fact that she was a young, beautiful virgin. If I am to be totally honest it was intriguing to me, the idea of being the first and only lover in this young girl’s life, to know that she had saved herself and then given herself to me and me only.
Lek was 25 years old and I was 59 years myself. This may sound like a big difference in age but in Thailand it’s nothing that will turn any heads. It’s actually a perfect match. It’s simply a more traditional society and the wisdom of the older man is much more appreciated and is something young women find irresistibly attractive. Like Lek said to me: “I want man, not boy”.
The fact that I was a big man with white hair and a generous supply of white body hair on my chest, shoulders and arms also added to my appeal. Never before had I been complimented for my looks but in Thailand girls half my age or less would tell me they found me handsome. It happened all the time. They would pull on the hair on my arms and say I was a “sexy man!” or something along those lines. Lek was not that outspoken and a bit shy about it but it was clear she found me very attractive.
And that sure was a mutual feeling. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Lek was very small, probably only weighed around 80 pounds or so. She was short but seemed a bit taller in her high heels. She came from Buri Ram close to Cambodia and had a beautiful face with a bright white smile, long black shimmering hair, dark golden skin and the softest little body imaginable. Not that I had felt her up, but she would sometimes caress me in an innocent and playful way as if by accident. It always left me wanting more.
So after a week of coming to see Lek every day I asked her to be my wife and she agreed. She said she had loved me from the moment we met because of the way I listened to her and spoke to her made her realise I was a good man and had a good heart. She thought I was handsome too and she wanted me to be the one for her. I felt more than a little moved and had to fight back tears when she told me how she had dreamed of a man like me for many years.
So we would get married. We must do it the traditional Thai way Lek insisted. I wouldn’t want it any other way I replied. Thai traditions and customs had already been proven to me to be far superior to the cold, hard ways of the west. I was going to go the Thai way from now on I vowed, in things big and small.
* * *
At this point in time I have to take a break and tell of something pretty sad. It was the reaction of my two best friends. Or the two people I had thought were my friends. Mike and Jerry, both of them were from the US just as I was.
We had hooked up in the small hotel we were all staying at in Soi 8 off Sukhumvit Road. I had happened to choose the hotel by chance when I first arrived and was glad to find friends so fast, and guys who seemed to know their way around too. We would meet in the bar downstairs in the hotel in the afternoons and have a few cold ones and talk about life here in Thailand. They had both been here for years so they did most of the talking and I mostly listened, they knew so much. They showed me some really excellent night spots and we really had some good times.
But after the first few months I started to realise they complained an awful lot. I was seeing things that they weren’t. I felt I was seeing the real Thailand and that their negative view in reality was their fear of breaking up with the west. If they would just embrace Thailand they would see what I saw and know this was as good as it gets, but they wouldn’t. So I started to keep my distance from them but we still met up in the afternoons from time to time. And one such day I told them about Lek and how we were getting married.
Well, their reaction was disappointing to say the least. I had imagined that they would be happy for me and supportive and I thought I would invite them to the wedding as they were what friends I had in Thailand. Instead they tried to talk me out of it! They moaned and whined about frauds and tricks and said all Lek wanted was my money. I tried to explain I had never even paid her any money but they wouldn’t listen.
When they started insinuating that she was a prostitute they went over the edge as far as I was concerned. I explained that yes she works in a bar bur she’s no bargirl. They wouldn’t have it and kept pushing me as if they knew her and I didn’t. They told me to wait and to test her in all sorts of ways. I should spy on my future wife they suggested. What kind of a start is that to a marriage?
I realised that they were envious. They had been here for a long time and although I had been a bit impressed with them at first I now saw that they didn’t really have that much going for them. I on the other hand had learned so much and adapted to Thailand in a way they had been unable to. I understood what was going on and how to get ahead. And now I had been rewarded with the love of a beautiful young woman. They couldn’t take it. So I said my goodbyes without much warmth and parted company with them. Friends who behave in such a way? No thank you, I’ll pass on that!
* * *
So as I said Lek and I went out to Buri Ram for our dream wedding. But before we got married I met the family in the village and this was quite an adventure. I had only been in Bangkok and I guess I was at first a bit shocked at the primitiveness of it all. It was a village at the end of a dirt road and the houses were, well, they were more like shacks. They had wooden or brick walls and corrugated iron for roofs. There was electricity but few appliances, mostly it was for lighting and TV. Food was prepared on small gas broilers. There was no running water even, or indoor plumbing. Instead there was a big tub in the back yard and an outhouse.
The village didn’t look very pleasant. It was nice and quiet and close to nature but it was filthy, there was trash spread all around and I couldn’t figure out why no one just picked it up and got rid of it, or how it got there in the first place.
But the houses were kept tidy and neat. You had to remove your shoes outside and the floor was swept every day. Lek’s family’s house was amongst the better ones and had brick walls. There was a living room on the ground floor and a small shop with a refrigerator and some drink and snacks. There was a log where Lek’s mother kept the books over their neighbour’s purchases. I bought a beer and a younger sister logged it in the book. I wasn’t family just yet but I presented her with a deep wai to show my respect.
I let Lek do the introductions and the negotiations with my future in-laws. There were things like the sin sot, the wedding gift, to consider and Lek told me about Thai tradition and told me what was expected of me. I was happy for her to do this as she was so fond of me she saw to it that I was honestly dealt with.
The one million baht dowry disturbed me, because it would be a big part of my savings. But Lek assured me that only a small part of it was to go to her parents and that we would get most of it back and use for ourselves. It was only important to display the money. I learned more and more about Thai traditions and although the whole feast planned for 300 persons was to be paid by me and there were dresses and gifts and various costs I didn’t complain. I didn’t want to be seen to be cheap when this was the most important event of our lives.
This period was a bit hard because I had to stay in a hotel in town. We had agreed to obey Thai traditions so we could not sleep together, or under the same roof, until properly married. Lek slept with her older brother Somchai who for some reason didn’t live with the family. He was a few years older than her and apparently he had been her favourite brother since they were small. Other than him she only had little brothers and sisters, four of them I think. Why he lived with another family was a bit unclear but it was Thai tradition said Lek. He was a nice fellow though. Taller than the rest of the family and a good looking kid and it was obvious that he liked me and looked forward to becoming my brother in law, he would smile widely whenever we met.
But the result was that every night I had to retreat about four miles to my hotel in town. The first evening Lek’s father drove me and I sat in the back of his old pickup truck. But after that day I had to walk. I missed Lek terribly at night and she missed me too.
* * *
A few days after our wedding something wonderful happened. I still lived in town because even though we were married it was Thai custom to wait to go to bed together until after the man has treated his new bride to a honeymoon. He must also invite a chaperone, a senior male in her family. At first I was very uneasy with this because I dreaded having to entertain her father who spoke no English and was kind of grumpy in a way. Not that I didn’t like him, he was a salt of the earth kind of guy. A hard worker recognizes another hard worker and in Lek’s father I saw an honest working man. At the moment he was only relaxing and drinking quite a bit but Lek explained he was on a seasonal break from farming. Anyway, I was relieved it wasn’t him but Lek’s brother Somchai who would be accompanying us.
But the honeymoon was a few days off. This particular afternoon I was sitting out front of the house, drinking beer and the family was inside huddled around the TV-set. It was some Thai series so I couldn’t follow it but they sure were fascinated. Well, the beer made me go pee about twice an hour and I would go through the house to get to the toilet out back in the yard. I suddenly realised a certain word being spoken every time I walked past, “kwai”.
I knew “farang” already. This was what the Thais used to call me or any white foreigner. It was out of respect that they would use this phrase. I had gotten so used to hearing it all the time. Yet now I picked up on a new word and the way it was spoken made me sure that they was referring to me. “Kwai”. I noticed it was often Lek or her older brother who would say something to the family about me and use the word kwai. I had to find out what it meant.
I had a Thai-English dictionary in my travel bag and on my way back from the toilet I picked it up and brought it outside with me. I soon found the translation. I could hardly believe it. Buffalo, it means. I was flabbergasted. That was me – Buffalo Bill. The name I had gone by back home, in my youth and ever since, had suddenly found me here in Thailand. This was almost too good to be true!
Immediately I ran back to the living room where the family sat watching the TV set. “Kwai”, I shouted with excitement, pointing at myself. “Kwai, kwai! Yes, it means buffalo. That’s me, Buffalo Bill. Kwai Bill!”
They looked at me wide-eyed and surprised. Of course they did. How could they have known I had gone under the name Buffalo Bill back home? Then they suddenly broke into uncontrollable laughter all of them. I joined in because I could see the funny side to it. They were surprised at my ability to pick up what they discussed and they were happy I had caught their meaning. We laughed together, and laughed and laughed, and I felt a strong feeling of togetherness and love.
You see, it was no small thing. The buffalo is an important animal to the Thais. It provides help on the farm and it’s an important livestock investment. It’s seen as a sturdy and secure animal. This is how I saw myself, as a safe and trustworthy man, as a pillar of security that stands steady when the wind blows. It made me so proud to know that my wife and her family, my new family, saw me the same way.
Many would have missed this. Many westerners seem to really walk around in a bubble over here and not pick up on the true meaning of things. It’s a shame really, and a huge loss to themselves. But I’ve always been able to see behind the surface, to find the true meaning. I had come to know Thailand well by now and I realised what an honour they had bestowed upon me when giving me my new name. I guess I was becoming a bit Thai myself.
Soon the whole village knew me by my new name, Kwai Bill, or more often Khun Kwai. And I walked with pride and my head held high. Children would run up to me and scream in their little voices “kwai! kwai! kwai!” and I would rise above them, put my hands to my head with my index fingers pointing up like horns and bellow “Mooo” while scraping my foot in the dirt. “Mooo! Moooo!”, I’d go, like a charging bull.
The children were ecstatic and would run screaming and laughing in all directions, and the adults smiled and shook their heads. It was important for me to show I had some humour and didn’t mind playing around a bit with the kids. Thais love kids so these friendly acts towards the little urchins did yet more to entrench the stalwart reputation I had built by now.
Myself, a man of reputation in the village and Lek at my side, my beautiful and loyal wife, how could it be better? I truly felt I was loved and respected by all.
* * *
One day Lek took me for a short walk in the village and pointed out an empty patch of land with only a small shed in one corner and said:
“Here we make house”
“Huh? What?” I replied.
“We build house here. For you and me for live in”
“Here? In the village? But I thought we would rent a place in Bangkok”
“Yes, but have house here. Have for future. Come live when old”
And that was how the house got started. I was a bit overwhelmed with the whole project at first but I soon came to terms with it. In Thailand it’s a great honour for a man to be able to build a house for his wife and future family and I wanted Lek and me to have the security of a house. We could live there when we visited and we’d know we had a place of our own.
I was soon caught up in it all and after several meetings with a builder and the Bangkok Bank for the signing of contracts and the agreements for what milestones in the construction should be met with what partial payments we got it going.
Now, I as a foreigner couldn’t own a house. My name couldn’t be on the deed. But where there is a will there is a way and we worked out a clever solution. We put the house in the name of Lek and her brother Somchai. Then on a separate contract we stipulated that they had “borrowed” the money to build it from me and therefore I had the right to live there and should the house be sold this debt would be repaid first. So on paper the house was not mine, but in reality it was. Somchai was the architect behind this scheme and I appreciated his cleverness and willingness to lend a helping hand.
It took months to build the house and during this time I had to live in the hotel outside town while Lek stayed with her brother. I desperately wanted to go on our honey moon so that we would be allowed to live as man and wife. Lek was equally desperate to be physical with me but we just couldn’t leave the building of our house unsupervised.
When the house eventually was finished I had sunk close to three million baht into it even though the initial budget only called for half that sum. I just couldn’t say no to Lek when she found some improvement she said would please her. It was too much money really, but we did have the finest house by far in the village, everyone was very impressed, and I decided to view it as a long term investment. We could live there rent free for years and years.
* * *
At last we did get to go on our honeymoon. Somchai drove the car and Lek sat with him upfront and I sat in the back looking out the window at the rice paddies and small villages, contemplating my future and congratulating myself on how bright that future looked.
We went to the provincial capitol Buri Ram and booked into a luxury resort for five nights. The facilities were complete with park like gardens, swimming pools and restaurants. I stood aside and let Lek handle the check in. When we went to our rooms it was very disappointing for me to be told that we would still not share a room. It seemed to me that on the honeymoon a properly married couple should be able to sleep together and be intimate.
The following days I felt excluded and grew irritated and grumpy, I must admit. Lek spent most of her time with her brother with whom she shared her room and I felt I was let down. I had had such high expectations and this turned out to be days filled with agony instead of pleasure. Finally, on the last day, Lek came to me and said she was so sad to see me unhappy and that she wanted to be with me above all else but that I had to accept the Thai way and let things take their time.
I assured her that I did indeed wish to do things the Thai way and that if custom called for us to wait I could wait as long as it took, but I also said I felt alone and ignored. Lek smiled and said she would come to my room that evening and we would be together for a while alone, but that we must not get carried away. I was giddy with anticipation the rest of the afternoon.
That evening Lek came to my room and I had never seen her more beautiful. She seemed to be floating when she walked and she had on a small summer dress and she had a big flower in her hair. All my anger melted away and I took her in my arms in a gentle hug and smelled the sweet smell of her perfume. We sat on the bed and talked for almost an hour. She said she had never been happier and that we must take it slow because we had so many years together to let our love grow. We talked about how she would care for me and I would care for her and how happy we would be, forever.
Lek always showed her love for me in small subtle ways. An outsider might not even have known we were a couple some times or notice the deep affection she had for me, but I could always pick up her small hints. When we were alone her expressions of love were more direct and she liked to serve me as a way of showing that I was her husband and also her master.
That evening she even clipped my toe nails. I had been wearing sandals and as I sat on the bed she looked at my feet and frowned and went into the bathroom. She came out with nail clippers and started cleaning and clipping my toe nails. At first I was embarrassed because I felt my feet were not very clean and that it was demeaning for Lek to be attending to them. But this was just the remnants of my western style thinking. Lek looked at me and said:
“I’m you wife. I want do for you everything”
Would a wife back in the States have done that for her man? Right there is the difference here in Thailand. Here the love is true and two lovers will give what they can to one another without hesitation. Lek had promised to take care of me and she meant it in every way. I leaned back and let her continue and marvelled at my good fortune in finding such wonderful woman.
After Lek finished with my feet she said she had to leave, that we mustn’t yet make love and that she dared not stay because she feared she could not control her passion. I hated to see her go but forced myself to show restraint and self control as she left. If she could be patient then so could I.
Later when I went to the bathroom to get ready for bed I saw she had put toothpaste on my toothbrush. My heart melted and I was so moved by her small token of love for me that I almost cried. Care!
* * *
After our honeymoon and when we got back to the village the first thing I noticed was a crowd of people surrounding a bright red shining Toyota Hilux pickup truck outside Lek’s family house. I walked over and admired the vehicle with all the other spectators. There must be an important visitor I thought.
I bought a beer and sat down to watch the spectacle. The people of the village were fussing so much over the truck that I felt a bit, well jealous. Just weeks before it was mine and Lek’s house that was the main attraction and surely that house beat a truck, however new and shiny. Lek came by and smiled at me. My heart always seemed to melt when she gave me her loving smile. I asked her to sit down and she did.
“Whose car is that?” I asked
“Car papa” she said, like that explained everything.
“Papa? Your papa? He bought that car?”
“Mama buy for papa. From money from sin sot”
I didn’t know what to say. It was understood by me that most of the sin sot money would be returned after our wedding and now they had bought a truck for the full amount instead. Lek could clearly tell I was upset and sat there looking at me with those brown beautiful eyes that seemed to plead with me. She had a way of making me want to please her and I didn’t have the heart to make a scene, I could see that she wanted me to let this slide.
I got myself together and joined the crowd admiring the truck. After a while I began to take pride in this spectacle myself. After all, everyone knew whose money had paid for the car. The villagers looked with something like awe on me by now. I had built the finest house for my young bride and I had bought the flashiest truck for my mother and father in law. I straightened my back and felt a surge of pride when I realised how the people around me admired me.
* * *
The hardest part was that I and Lek were still forced to be apart. Well, sexually apart that is. Our house was finished and after a sacred ceremony where monks chanted and blessed the house Lek moved in. But it was not yet time for me to enter the marital bed with her. “Soon”, she said to me with a look in her eyes of built up passion waiting to explode when the time was right. “Soon, teeruk Kwai, my husband. Soon – but first we must wait.”
So her brother moved into the house with her as she’s not used to being alone. I had to temporarily make do with living in the old garden shed in the far corner of our land, on a mattress on the floor. I couldn’t yet move in with my wife in our house and I couldn’t very well live with my parents in law. How would that look?
To some it might have seemed strange that I slept in the garden shed while my wife and her brother had the entire house to themselves. But you have to understand Thailand like I do to know what was going on. It was a test of our passion. To show that our love was strong even if we were forced to be apart. We could have relented to our lust but it would not have been the proper way, so we stayed apart.
I was the man and on me fell the heaviest burden, since I was expected to be strong, which I am. Lek, since she’s the woman, had the comfort of the house and of having her brother with her for moral support, and I was glad she had that because she suffered and missed me terribly. I think this ordeal was even worse for her than it was for me, even though, to be honest, I suffered greatly and even to some degree questioned the whole setup. There was no electricity in the shed and mosquitoes and a plethora of bugs made sleeping almost impossible. But I gritted my teeth and soldiered on.
You see, in Thailand love is a stronger and more pure emotion than in the west where it’s discarded as soon as there’s a bump in the road. Here love is true and forever. To show this we traditionally tested our love. It was merely for show of course, we were both sure of our love for each other, but it was the Thai way. We willingly suffered the pain of being apart so we would relish the togetherness that was to follow even more. And that’s why I slept in the shed.
My mother in law, may Buddha bless the old lady, one time joked: “the Kwai belongs in the shed”. I got the joke and grinned and “pointed horns” with my fingers, scraped my foot on the floor, and bellowed: “Mooo!”.
* * *
One day Lek told me about her idea to have a duck farm. She said that if we had a duck farm here in the village her family could run it and we could pay them fair wages and still get enough money to pay for all our costs in Bangkok, or where ever we chose to live. Needless to say I was thrilled by the very idea.
A duck farm is something real. It’s something you can see and touch and watch grow. It’s not like money in a bank with sleazy bankers and brokers siphoning away what they can and screwing you in every way imaginable. That’s what’s wrong with the west, the corporate go-getter mentality and the lack of values and reason. It will all come crashing down like a house of cards I’m sure. People will have to learn to get back to basics, and I knew I would get a head start in doing so.
I visited the Bangkok Bank again and we met with builders and agents trading in ducklings and with various suppliers. Hands were shook, smiles were smiled, contracts were signed and friends and partners were made. I was the silent, invisible owner. The man in the background who’d pull the strings but who was not to be publicly visible. My name was not on any official papers, Lek’s and her family’s were, but I had private contracts with them to prove I was indeed the sole owner. No one doubted who called the shots.
This duck farm was really something, a living enterprise. I had made the investment and would of course be the man in charge. The family saw this as something natural and knew they would benefit from my experience and sound thinking. Lek’s brother and some friends of his would do most of the manual labour and her father would supervise them. I was sure we would be very successful. We needed to be because by now all my remaining money was tied up in this enterprise. It had cost a small fortune. But I had no doubts we’d recoup it many times again in time.
Soon the constructions were complete and the farm was filled with quacking little ducklings and a store house was packed with fodder. Now the waiting game could begin until we would get a handsome payoff.
* * *
One evening we were invited to dinner at Lek’s parents, or rather our parents as we saw things by then. The dinner was very good but I coughed and blushed a lot because the food was so spicy. We all laughed at this together. I was sure I would learn to eat spicy food but it would take some time yet.
The family discussed something important and Lek soon tuned to me and explained what was needed. To run the duck farm we would need her father’s truck to haul equipment, fodder and ducks. But this left him with no private vehicle to drive so he wanted a new car and he had his eye on a BMW. And Lek’s brother Somchai would do much work that required him to run quick errands and therefore he needed a new motorbike, a Honda, a black one. And since both purchases were for the benefit of our business and I was the owner of the business I should also own the vehicles, and therefore I needed to purchase them.
I played around with this in my mind for a while and realised I agreed in principle. I did own the business and we would need to run it efficiently and that required me to be willing to make the necessary investments. But I also knew I was broke. I had hoped for there to be no more expenses until the duck farm yielded a return. I was out of capital and needed to catch up. I painstakingly explained this to Lek. She looked aghast and very surprised.
“No money? Money finished?”
“Yes, I invested the last of it in the duck farm. We’ll have to wait until that pays off”
“But have more in bank?”
“No, I withdrew it all. There’s no more in the bank”
It was as if she couldn’t believe it. She explained to the family and there seemed to be a fierce debate. Voices were raised and I got the impression that her mother was scolding Lek. I assumed she was angry that Lek had allowed me to pay for all the expenses that I had. I had built a house and a farm and bought a truck and paid for pretty much everything else along the way. But it had been sound investments; I took some comfort in that.
I announced not to worry. Soon we would have our first batch of ducks ready and when we had re-invested the needed funds for the next batch we would have money to spare and I would be willing to share them. They looked at me wide eyed with amazement when Lek translated. I explained that it takes money to make money and we had invested a lot and now came the time to reap the windfall from these investments. I felt like their saviour, their solid, trustworthy kwai.
* * *
A few weeks later we were fast approaching the day to sell the ducks. I now worked more or less constantly with feeding them and cleaning their cages. Somchai was unfortunately sick just when there was the most work to be done but I had worked hard my whole life and simply had to do his work as well.
One day Lek asked me to take a break and visit town with her. She said we could eat well in a restaurant, that I could have some beers and that we could sleep at a hotel, but in separate rooms. I was so happy I could barely keep my cool. And we did have a wonderful evening in town. Many people looked at us and smiled, I guess they could see how much in love we were. Our cute little waitress smiled at us and I rose and presented her with a deep wai. Lek was pleased with my good manners.
But the day after disaster struck. As we got back to the village there was pandemonium. Someone had stolen our ducks! During the night the farm had been broken into and the ducks had been hauled away to the feather. I was devastated, everyone was. How this could have happened was both a mystery and a complete catastrophe. How no one had heard was simply unbelievable. What shrewd villains were we dealing with here?
Conventional Thai wisdom pointed in one clear direction: Khmers, Cambodians! It must have been them was the general consensus. They had stolen our ducks in a night raid and would smuggle them across the border back into Cambodia. People were outraged! I felt numb.
* * *
A village meeting was called. We simply could not let this happen was the general feeling. I didn’t understand the words but I could tell that the whole village was not backing our family. We were prominent and well liked and respected. I was the village celebrity and had contributed to it in so many ways. People would now support us in return.
It was decided that we would send a party to get our stolen ducks back. We would move that very night and intersect the Khmer raiders near the border and reclaim our possessions. They would not get away with this!
I felt a decision had been made and suddenly they all turned to look at me. Lek explained that the whole village had voted that I should lead the small party going after the Khmers. I would have Somchai and another boy with me and we would go straight away.
I protested that I knew nothing about the Khmers and that they were likely to outnumber us and possibly could be armed. That was precisely why I was the one who had to go because the Khmers can be ruthless and cruel to Thais but they would never dare to cross a big white man like me, they would fear the consequences too much. They were so lucky they had me who could put this right Lek explained, because otherwise the ducks and the whole farm would be lost. But I could save them. I could be their hero.
* * *
I felt proud that I had been chosen to lead our group on the task we were on. Those Khmers seemed to be a wily bunch indeed and from what I’d gathered they’d been plaguing the Thais for generations. But they were also said to have a healthy respect for men of physical size so my 230 pound frame should put some fear into them for sure. I would do any negotiations and Lek’s brother Somchai and another boy from the village, Songporn, would be my guides.
We drove towards the border at dusk and the night fell swiftly. A few miles before the border Somchai steered off the main road and onto a narrow dirt track leading into the jungle. It was pitch black except for the beams of our headlights. After a mile or two we pulled over and exited the car. I looked around and hoped the boys knew where they were, because I sure as heck didn’t. Talk about the middle of nowhere.
Somchai and Songporn went to the trunk of the car and spoke rapid Thai in hushed voices. They produced one flashlight each and also one big machete knife each and then closed the trunk. It occurred to me that we were going into the bush to cross the border through the jungle and not at a border crossing. This had obviously been prepared in advance but I had not been informed. Quietly I asked:
“So, Somchai, we going through the jungle?”
“Yes, yes. Have to. So Khmer not know we come.”
“Of course. We’ll surprise those Khmers alright! No flashlight or machete for me?”
“No, you big Kwai. You boss. Boss no have to work. You go first, we take care you.”
It made no real sense that I should go first and not have a machete or a flashlight or know where I was going, but appearances are important in Thailand and this was the way Somchai and Songporn demonstrated that they accepted and respected my leadership. I knew I had to appear confident and act with authority. I was Kwai Bill, after all, the boss!
Still, if unexpected trouble arose it felt good to have the two boys with their long, sharp, heavy machete-knives watching my back. That sure felt good to know.
To point me in the right direction Somchai moved close by my side a little behind me and gently steered me into the jungle. Songporn was just inches behind me and I heard his heavy breathing behind my back. It was actually not so hard to find the way because there was sort of a trail through the undergrowth and I realised someone had moved through here recently.
After maybe ten minutes I saw a clearing in the jungle up ahead. We moved silently in that direction and soon got there. Before us was a strange sight. There was a mound of dirt with two shovels stuck into it next to a large, rectangular hole in the ground. Someone had dug a hole here, right in the middle of the jungle, and left the shovels. And it looked like recent work too. And we had happened to just stumble on this. Very strange.
An eerie feeling came over me and I felt a chill down my spine. I glanced around and I saw Somchai was affected as well. His forehead was sweaty and his eyes darted around. But then he smiled a wide smile at me and I felt moved by his trust in me and by the obvious comfort he took from my presence. I turned to the mystery before us. I knew it was up to me to find an answer to this riddle.
Somchai nervously nudged me towards the hole. I slowly inched closer and stood on the edge and looked down into the pit. But it was dark and I had no flashlight so I beckoned the boys over and they slowly approached from behind me. Their flashlights gradually lit up the hole more and more and I leaned over to look into it. I heard Somchai and Songporn come up right behind me then stand still, and then I heard a grunt and a whooshing sound and th
You had me laughing loud in parts. What is sad is that this story mirrors quite a number I have heard and read about in the press. As unbelievable as it sounds, yes, some guys really are this gullible!