Lek – on Buffalo Bill
My name is Patcharin Boonsangmarpark but everyone calls me Lek. I came to Bangkok to work when I was 17 years old. I had gotten pregnant and had a daughter back in my village in Buri Ram and the father of the child ran off. I could have stayed in the village and taken care of my daughter and worked a little bit on our small farm but I hated being trapped there. Everyone knew I had gotten pregnant without being married and that my boyfriend left me so I was ashamed. People gossip so. Also it’s really boring in the village, there’s just nothing to do. And working on the farm is hard and very boring and it doesn’t pay well at all. So I left my daughter with my mother to work in Bangkok and through friends I started working farang bars as a bargirl. It just pays so much better than anything else. And most of the time it can be pretty sanuk too; you have lots of friends among the other girls.
At first we worked out of Beergarten on Soi 7 because that’s where my friend brought me. That was not good because the farangs there are mostly old cheap charlies and the bar itself pays you nothing. My friend was older than me and not so sexy so she had problems finding a bar to work and stuck with hanging around the Beergarten. But I’m really sexy so I found work in a GoGo in Soi Cowboy after a few months.
I worked in Cowboy for several years and I had many, many customers and a few farang boyfriends and I made a lot of money. One time a few years ago I went to Holland with a farang named Berndt but it only lasted 6 months until my visa ran out and I had to go back. He said he would come back for me but he never did. I was really sad, I think I loved him.
About a year ago there was a big fight in the bar in Cowboy. I and a few other girls got into an argument because Nui had been barfined by Song’s boyfriend and everyone yak-yaked at everyone else until there was a fight. Well, I threw one of my shoes at Nui but I missed and it hit our Mamasan in the face. She got crazy and I had to run away from the bar. I went back the next day to say I was sorry but she told me to get my things and get out. She said she would make sure I could never dance in Cowboy again, she was so mean.
I wanted to go to Pattaya to find work in a bar but my boyfriend Somchai had friends in Bangkok and he said we should stay there. So that’s when I started working in the small bar in Soi 22 off Sukhumvit Road.
* * *
Bangkok – 2001
Bill walked into the bar alone one afternoon. It was just me and a few girls there and I served him the beer he asked for. I smiled politely and spoke to him a little because in this bar I didn’t get many customers who barfined me like in the GoGo on Cowboy so I didn’t make much money. That’s why you have to be polite and maybe you get a tip or maybe you get a farang who can barfine you for several days.
But with Bill I only wanted a good tip. He was too old for me and very ugly. He was big and fat and had on a Singha-shirt and shorts so it showed that he was hairy all over and I hate that. He was sweaty too and I didn’t want him on top of me. So when he asked to barfine me I just said no. I could see he was annoyed so I told him I never go with customers. Ha, I must have gone with a thousand customers before, it’s no big deal.
I thought he would leave or get another girl from the bar but he started talking to me. He talked forever and asked a lot of questions and it was very boring but he gave me a big tip like I had hoped for. Then he started coming back to the bar to sit and drink and talk to me every day. I got a commission on the drinks he bought me and he tipped me well so I guess it was OK. We don’t get so many customers.
When he asked me to marry him I was shocked. I knew he really liked me but I thought he would try to just pay bar for me again some time but instead he asked to marry me. I thought he must be crazy but farangs can be really strange sometime so you never really know. I said yes because my mother had been nagging me to marry a farang so she could get a big Sin Sot.
I told him I loved him too and wanted him forever. And he looked like he would cry so happy he was. I knew then he must really be crazy.
* * *
Somchai was furious with me at first when I told him I had to go to the village to marry Bill. He didn’t want to leave Bangkok and he was mad at me already because since I got fired from Cowboy I didn’t make so much money and we couldn’t party and go shopping like before.
When I was younger I used to always do what he told me but since then I had learned to tell him to shut up when he was being stupid and I told him it was smarter to marry this old farang and get a lot of money from him than work in a small bar for just a little money. Besides we would only have the ceremony and not register the marriage for real. I didn’t want an old and ugly man for a husband and I was only 25 so I had time to find a good farang to be with if it came to that, not that I mention that particular thought to Somchai.
Then Somchai said that he could stay in Bangkok and that I could send him some of all this money Bill would pay me. But I wasn’t having any of that. He would get drunk with his friends and end up with some cheap slut to spend my money on I was sure. I told him in so many words that if he wanted money he’d have to come. Because he didn’t make any money for himself he didn’t have much of a choice.
Somchai had to take a bus in advance and I told him to say that he was my brother when Bill and I got there. I also said my daughter would have to pretend to be my younger sister because since Bill thought I was a virgin I couldn’t very well have a daughter, now could I? Well, she didn’t have to pretend but I’d just say she was my sister. It’s not like he would understand what we talked about.
Bill and I went with taxi because he paid so there was no need to take a bus. I pretended to sleep because the taxi driver kept pestering me with questions about what I was doing with that old farang and Bill wanted me to tell him over and over and over that I loved him. He never got tired of me talking sweetly to him, but I got tired of it very fast.
* * *
My mother brought up the sin sot discussion as soon as we walked into our house. How much would she get, she demanded to know. I said Bill was rich and she said then we should try for a million Bath. I thought it was excessive and that we should be happy with less but mother said to tell him he’d be getting most of it back again.
Bill agreed after a while to pay a million Bath and I was so happy because it would be a big honour for me. Then we planned the wedding and the party afterwards and who to invite. We thought that the more people we invited and the better people we invited the more money we would get in envelopes. And since Bill would pay for the party anyway it was better to invite lots of people and make it a big, expensive party.
We talked for hours about all the food and drink we would have and who we would invite from town. Bill just sat there with a stupid look on his face all the time. I smiled at him sometimes and he was very pleased with that. But having him around was tiresome so often I would tell him he could sit outside drinking beer and then he would go do that. Mother made sure every beer got bought and paid for in our store.
* * *
The wedding could have been beautiful if it had been with a good man. But I was not ashamed because everyone knew Somchai is my boyfriend and that this wedding would only be a ceremony to get the old farang to give us money. People didn’t look at me with contempt that I had such an old and ugly man but with admiration that I had been clever and ensnared a rich man who would probably build me a house. I intended to make damn sure he built me one.
The big topic of discussion was of course the million Bath sin sot. People talked about it all the time. Who would get the money? Was any of it for show and would that be given back to Bill? Was it for us as a couple maybe to build a house? Or would a house be built also? Would my mother, who is known to be really money-hungry, part with the money? It was just a topic with the potential for endless discussions.
The party was great I guess. The food was really good and there were lots and lots of it. We had bought expensive imported whisky for the better guests and everyone else got Mekhong but they got as much as they could possibly drink and people were very happy. Everyone had a great time and no one paid any attention to the old farang who walked around and shook hands with people and waied all and sundry like some sort of clown.
He was really embarrassing but I never told him he was making a fool of himself. I thought it was better to let everyone know I didn’t care for him in any way. They would respect me much more than if they thought I genuinely loved Bill, if anyone was dumb enough to come up with a thought like that.
The best thing was how I told Bill it was Thai tradition for the man to build a house for his wife and very good luck if they waited to sleep together until they could do so in their own bed in their own house. That was a perfect idea because now he would have to buy me a house I thought. I knew he was so eager to have my body.
* * *
We started calling Bill the buffalo because he was big and fat like a buffalo and he was stupid like one too. But it turned out he wasn’t so stupid he couldn’t figure out when we talked about him and learn some Thai words. I would have to be more careful in the future I realized.
But luckily for us he was completely insane. He actually liked that we called him a buffalo. He even said he had always been called a buffalo, even since he was little. How could he like to be called a buffalo? If someone called Somchai a buffalo he’d try to kill them. He’d go completely berserk. But Bill was proud of it. How we all laughed at him when he came running inside our house and was all exited about being called Kwai Bill. It was hilarious and we talked about it for days.
He even stared acting and moo-ing like a buffalo. Especially around kids in the village he would go “Moooo” and put up his hands with fingers like horns. I even got embarrassed on his behalf even though he didn’t matter to me. People thought he was crazy.
My mother said she wouldn’t have him in her house unless it was absolutely necessary and when he took things from our store he had to pay double the real price. No guest in our house had ever had to pay for things from our store but Bill had to pay double. That says a lot about what my mother thought of him. Buffalos should be in the field and not in the house, she would say.
* * *
Every girl wants a house in her village. I wanted to have the finest one so everyone would know I was successful. I didn’t want to live there yet but I guess I can’t be a bargirl all my life and it would feel good to know I had a house that was mine. Somchai nagged and nagged and eventually I agreed to include him in it. My mother was furious with me and said I should have made Somchai marry me before letting him have part in the house. He had promised to marry me I explained. He’d better – she said.
Bill walked around pestering the workers with questions about everything. He wanted to help here and there but was just in the way. The workers got really sick of him but with the prices they made him pay they could not complain. We made sure we got ours too and during the whole time of the construction we had parties in the village with money from Bill that supposedly had gone towards the house.
Bill himself was never at any of the parties because I had told him he had to stay in town for the time being. So he stayed in a hotel and the idiot walked to the village from there every day. No one ever walks that far and people thought he must be crazy. And why didn’t he just take a taxi? He was rich.
I made sure the house would impress all. I chose the best materials and appliances and when it was ready I paid, well I had Bill pay, for a good luck ceremony with twelve monks. I was so proud and the first night Somchai and I made love three times, one time in each bedroom. To Bill I told some story about a honeymoon before sleeping together. An insane story but he believes anything anyway. Somchai and I talked about it and we agreed we would like to go on a nice vacation together. Why not call it a honeymoon and let Bill pay for it?
* * *
So that’s how me and Somchai got to go on a vacation which was supposed to be mine and Bill’s honeymoon so we had to bring Bill although we would rather have gone alone. At least he would pay so we went to the Sawasdee Resort Garden in Buri Ram which is the best hotel in town. It has everything. There are swimming pools and nice big rooms and TV with many channels and restaurants with everything you want to eat. I had never been there because it’s really expensive but we had Bill to pay for it so it didn’t matter.
Somchai and I stayed a lot in our room and ordered so much from room service. Somchai had never had room service before but I knew it from Bangkok so I called and ordered lots and lots of drinks and food for us. We slept a lot and made love all the time. Sometimes we went out to the pool to swim and Bill would sit there all the time looking for me.
I didn’t want to but I had to speak with him sometimes. I didn’t want the other guests to know I knew him so I tried only to speak with him when not much people were around. I could see he got angrier and angrier and eventually I had to promise him I’d come to his room the last evening.
Somchai teased me and said to me not to fall in love in Bill’s room and I threw a hairbrush at him for that. I dressed prettily because it was important to have Bill think I loved him. No more than an hour I promised myself and then I went to his room.
I don’t remember what we talked about really. I kind of shut off my brain and just smile and say “Yes Teerak, I love you, I want same you” and silly stuff like that. I did clip his nasty toe nails to pretend I care for him. Farangs usually fall for stuff like that. They are not used to it and they think it means you really love them. Bill was no different.
* * *
Of course my mother kept the sin sot. There was no way she would let anyone touch any of that money. Not me and certainly not Bill. She kept it for herself and gave some to my father when he begged her for whisky money.
I was not surprised at all she had bought a Toyota Hilux. Another family in the town had bought a Toyota the year before and really pestered everyone with stories about why it was so much better a truck than the ones other families had. My mother upstaged them by getting a newer and better equipped model and they were furious. Also my mother put paid to the rumour in the village that she wouldn’t get to keep the million Bath sin sot and that it was all for show. Now everyone knew it had been for real and this made me really proud too. No other girl in the village had married for such a sum.
Bill first just looked at the truck without understanding. I was a little nervous about how he would react when he realised he wasn’t getting any of the money back because we had specifically told him he would be getting most of it back and he had been asking for it a few times since. I pondered whether I should deny that we had ever made such a promise or make up some story about Thai traditions or something.
In the end I just told him and looked sweetly at him and he just let it go. I was amazed to see how easily he accepted and that after just a while he even seemed to be happy and proud. He was proud that he had paid the sin sot that bought the car when everyone just thought he was really stupid and that my family was the ones who were clever and lucky.
* * *
People were really impressed with me that I managed to get Bill to sleep in the old garden shed and that I avoided him at night. I had made sure everyone knew that Somchai was sharing my bed during our honeymoon and that I had never been in bed with Bill. Now they could all see that I could do whatever I wanted. Bill paid for a beautiful house and I stayed there with my boyfriend and Bill slept alone in a dirty old shed. People wondered how I did it and I was so proud.
I had told Bill a story that it was tradition to wait and that it was very much respected. And whenever he doubted anything I said I moved close to him and said in a low voice that when the time was right I would make love to him every night and that I too longed so for this but it would be all the sweeter if we waited a bit more. Always he agreed.
It’s not that I don’t like sex or sex with farangs. It’s just that I want my man to be handsome and not old and ugly. Seriously, what girl wants a fat old man? No one does of course. Berndt who I lived with for 6 months in Holland was tall and muscular and really good looking. He was about 30 years old and we had great sex. Somchai is 28 and good looking and with a nice body and we have great sex.
So Bill got to sleep in the shed and we started calling it the buffalo-shed for fun. I wondered how long we could make him accept this but as long as he did and bought things for us and gave me money it was OK to have him in the village. If he stopped giving money or insisted on sleeping with me he was out.
I had vowed never to sleep with him if people knew. If we had been alone in Bangkok I could have done it to get money. I have had sex with many ugly men to get their money. It’s not something I enjoy but sometimes you have to do what you don’t enjoy. No one enjoys working hard in the rice field yet people do it because they have to. I can work hard all the day in the rice field and get 100 Bath. Or I can have sex for half an hour with a farang and get maybe 2000 Bath. Of course I will have sex with even an ugly farang rather than work 20 days in the rice field for the same money.
But with Bill I had built this reputation that I got his money even without giving myself to him. People were impressed and I was proud and I didn’t want this to go away. I could consider letting him have me if we were away from the village and no one found out, if he paid me well, but not here. Never.
* * *
I don’t really know why I came up with the idea that Bill should build a duck farm. It was my father’s idea to begin with but he hatches such crazy schemes all the time and they never amount to nothing. He’d run it he claimed. Sure. First time he got into a drinking binge that lasted a week and he’d find a farm full of dead ducks when he sobered up. Somchai would do the manual work we said to Bill. Sure. Somchai hasn’t done any manual labour in his life, unless you count fist-fights.
But I mentioned it to Bill anyway and he jumped at the idea. He went off immediately and started building the thing. We made sure to be around when the contracts for the construction and for the supplies were made up because Bill would be cheated which was fine but we wanted our share. Like he did on the house he paid about twice the normal price and the other half was divided between the contractors and us. So we pocketed about a quarter of everything Bill spent, and that made the duck farm a win-win affair from the beginning.
Somehow my mother always ended up with most of the money though. And Somchai, he saw to it to always be around when Bill started spending. I never got that much myself.
It took a while to get the farm ready and filled with ducks. It was actually a pretty good business opportunity if someone had been ready to do the labour. I thought that maybe my mother could hire labourers and run it, because no one in our family would want to work there. But for now we had a farang so we let him do the work. He seemed happy to, anyway.
* * *
One day we decided to get more money from Bill. My mother was always nagging and saying he was rich and we should get what we could from him. She said that a new car would be good for the family and not a truck this time but a regular car. We’d be the only family in our village with a regular car plus we’d have the finest truck. We’d be the envy of all. I understood how important this was and with Bill it was possible so why not try?
We had Bill over for dinner at my parents and my mother prepared the food extra spicy just for a laugh. Even I thought it was a bit too hot and I like spicy food. Bill sat there all red in his face with sweat pouring from his forehead and huffed and puffed. It was disgusting to see him but also really funny and we made many jokes about it. I was glad he slept in the shed, that’s for sure.
After the meal I brought up the subject of a car for the family to Bill. And Somchai quickly added the black Honda motorsai he saw as his piece of this deal so we included that as well. Bill sat there and squirmed so I looked at him extra sweetly and pleaded with him, that had always worked before. Then he really shocked me and confessed he had no more money left.
At first I didn’t believe him but when he explained all he had spent money on I realised he had spent quite a lot. Apparently that had been al the money he had. How could he be that stupid? Spend all his money like that. But he was stupid, that I knew all along, and I realised he was actually broke. I had assumed he had millions and millions of Bath and we could get whatever we wanted. Now he was just a broke, old, ugly buffalo. Well, that changed everything. What good was he now?
He made some foolish speech about the duck farm and working hard and building a business that would give a steady profit and blah, blah, blah. What did he think? That I would stay in the village with him and be a duck farmer? I would rather die.
* * *
Everyone was in an uproar. Somchai was angry because he wanted the black Honda he had been promised and my mother was angry because she wanted a BMW, she has seen one in town and desperately wanted one for our family. My father didn’t say much but I could see he was angry too. I was upset because it was I that had to appear married to that fat old farang and everyone else had gotten a lot of money and things already and still they complained to me and wanted more and more.
My mother didn’t believe that Bill was out of money. She said I should stay with him in the house and sleep with him like a wife and he would give me more money. Somchai agreed and this made me so angry. It’s easy for them to say that but it’s me that would have to fuck that hairy beast, and I was sure he had no more money anyway so it would be for nothing. I told them I refused and I lied and said Bill had shown me a paper that proved he had no more money.
Then my mother started screaming again that I had been stupid to waste the farang’s money on a duck farm. We could have bought a car or bought something we could sell and get money for instead.
“How can we sell a duck farm on our own land?” she screamed.
“We can at least sell the ducks” I said.
We eventually agreed that we would sell the ducks but that we’d sell them ourselves and not involve Bill. He’d only spend money on new ducks and perhaps he would try to keep the rest of it for himself. Better to get him away from the village and sell the ducks and then get rid of him somehow. He had no more money anyway so no one wanted to have him around. I sure didn’t.
* * *
I found Bill inside the duck farm where he worked the whole days. It smelled awful in there and it was really hot too. Who would want to work in a place like this? I knew many poor people did but I would much rather go back to Bangkok or maybe to Pattaya. How a farang who had had lots of money could work like this was unbelievable. No one could understand it. If his money was finished why didn’t he just go back home and get more?
Anyway, I told Bill I really missed him and that maybe we could have dinner that evening in town, just him and me. And then stay the night at a hotel. I quickly added that we mustn’t stay in the same room yet but we could talk all evening and he tried to hug me but he was all sweaty so I moved away a bit. He realised he was sweaty and dirty and apologised and said he’d go shower before we went to town. It was so easy; he would do whatever I wanted. Now, I didn’t actually want to go to town with him but I had to get him away because early the next morning some Chinese traders would come with trucks and buy our ducks. Somchai had set it up.
I was embarrassed to be seen in town with Bill. It’s easier in Bangkok because I don’t know so many people there but in town there are people all over who knows me. I had made sure Bill at least dressed well but still he kept acting like a complete idiot. He waied our waitress after he had paid for our food. People all around stared at him like he was insane and I was so ashamed to be seen with him.
The whole evening was terribly boring and I couldn’t wait for it to end. I vowed that no matter how the sale of our ducks went I would not stay with Bill. I had the house now and I could find work in a bar again and earn good money. Bill was history, I just wanted him out of my life.
* * *
The next day when we got back my family and many other families in the village put on a show for Bill and told him the ducks got stolen by Khmers from Cambodia in the night. We laughed at him so much because he would believe everything he was told. I knew that not all farangs are as stupid as Bill but the people in the village said they are all just big, dumb buffalos. We played angry and worried and I told Bill only he could help us.
We had decided to get rid of him anyway and it was convenient to have him chase after the ducks into Cambodia, the ducks that were on their way to the markets in Bangkok. Let the stupid buffalo roam around in Cambodia looking for ducks, we thought.
I was annoyed and worried myself because my mother and Somchai had divided the money from the duck sale and neither one of them would let me have any. I felt it was mostly mine because it was I who had gotten Bill and his money for us and the ducks came from that. I would have to give some but that was OK. I just wanted the money to be mine to give but they behaved like it was theirs in the first place. Somchai thought that since it was he who had set the sale up and negotiated with the traders, and since I was his woman anyway, the money was his. My mother thought they were hers because if there is money around she always thinks they are rightfully hers, no matter what.
So we quarrelled a great deal but in the end they kept the money and I got only empty promises. I said to Somchai that he’d better get Bill away from the village that very night and then come back to our house immediately and not stop in town to spend the money on whisky and ganja and Buddha knows what else. He could tell I was really angry and promised he’d get rid of the buffalo and then come straight back.
We held a fake village meeting and I told Bill some story about Khmers being afraid of farangs and as usual he believed me. He seemed pleased even to be sent to look for our ducks as some sort of hero. He held some moronic speech that no one listened to that basically was about how he would save the day. I spoke quickly to Somchai to get the full plan before they drove off.
* * *
I asked what they would do to get rid of Bill because I thought they might kill him and I didn’t want that. It’s wrong to kill people like you kill animals and even if Bill was maybe not a real person like us he was still people. Plus he had actually never done anything bad to me. OK, I was furious at him for wasting our money on the duck farm but that was just because he was stupid, not because he was mean. So I didn’t think it was right if we killed him.
Somchai said not to worry and that they would only get Bill across the border to Cambodia and that we’d throw away his passport so he could not come back. And if he did come back he was only a stupid buffalo who couldn’t find the village again anyway. And if he somehow did we’d just kick him out because we owned everything he had paid for and mine and Bill’s marriage wasn’t even registered anyway.
I thought this sounded good. There was no need to kill him because he couldn’t do anything anyway. Just to get him away from us was enough. I felt better because while I wasn’t afraid of Bill coming back, we’d just tell him to leave and stay away, I was a little afraid that if we killed him his ghost might come back.
Bill came and said goodbye to me and I hugged him and said to him again that I was so proud of him and that he helped save the whole village. Then he got in the car with Somchai and Songporn and the car drove off.
It was only a bit later that I started to feel something was not right. Why did Somchai bring Songporn? Songporn is not especially clever but he’s very strong and very mean and he’s always looking for trouble. It’s the sort of guy you’d bring to a fight. Or to a killing.
A few hours later the car came back and from just one look at Somchai’s face and seeing his smile and I knew…
Very well done indeed.