How are you? Your sister said she would give you this letter and help to translate it, so I will try to use easy words. I am not sure why I am writing this, maybe for you, maybe for your sisters, one of whom just started in the business, or maybe for myself. Maybe after I have finished writing I will know.
I hope you have had a good life in the six years since we last saw each other, but I now know differently. That last time I saw you, I will never forget it; we had just arrived in Hong Kong International airport and we went directly to the train that would take you to Wan Chai. You were going back to work, even though you had been my girlfriend for close to three years. We both slowly waved to each other as the train pulled away. You could not wait for my divorce to be finalized and you decided that you could no longer live on the meager money I sent to you at your home in Issan. I understand why you did not believe that divorces take so long in America with you feeling that your youth was slipping away and that maybe I was bullshitting you when I said I would bring you to America to have a happy life. It doesn’t matter now, does it?
Yes, we had wonderful times together. Travelling throughout Thailand; you showing me the old temples and me bringing you to hotels and resorts you had never seen before. That day on the beach at Bintan Island in Indonesia, when you wore your black bikini and your hair up, against the striking blue sea and white sand beach, I felt like the luckiest man alive. But the best times were with family. I loved your mom and older sister; they were kind people that I admired for their simplicity and devotion to Buddha. My sister, when she visited us in Singapore, thought you were a wonderful person. And my Dad, who always enjoyed talking to you even though it was only by cell phone. He always said it gave a lift to his day and he asked about you years after we parted. Even as he lay dying, he asked about you but I didn’t have the nerve to tell him the truth as you were always a wonderful memory for him. He probably passed thinking we would be married soon and have a happy life together, but it wasn’t to be.
Where would we be today if you had not left? First, after you arrived in America with your K-1 visa, you would have moved into my small apartment just outside of San Francisco. Yes, it was small, but the facility was first class with beautiful gardens and a heated pool. Remember how you loved the Jacuzzi? This complex had a large one where people would bring down drinks and get to know one another. I am sure you would have been an instant hit with our neighbors. Next, we would have visited the local Thai Buddhist temple, about a 10 minute drive away, and there you would have made friends with all the other Thai people who live in our community. I am sure with your charm and beauty, one of your new friends would have offered you a job as a hostess or waitress, something to keep you busy while you took English classes at the community college down the road. When I was convinced you would be happy here, I would have proposed marriage to you. We would have been married in a small chapel in Napa Valley, a couple of hours drive away, and then spent the next few days touring the wineries, eating in their small fusion restaurants, and trying not to drink too much of their wonderful wine. You would have been in awe of this area, so different from your home, that for a few days you would forget about asking me when were planning to return to Thailand to visit your mom and family.
After a year, and now almost fluent in English speaking, writing, and reading, you would want to do something else with your life. I tell you to do whatever you want. After a week of talking to your new friends here in America, you say you want to be a hairdresser. I protest and try to talk you into web design or administration assistant, but you say this is something you have always wanted to do. So, the next day, I help you to enroll in a one year hairdresser certificate program at your community college. After a few months studying and working at the shop they use for hands-on training, it is obvious to everyone that you are a natural at this job. Tall, sexy, chatty, and with a big smile, the shop has already made you an offer for employment yet you are savvy enough to know there may be even better offers down the road. By now, my debts from the divorce are paid off and we have bought a nice condo in a beautiful neighborhood close to a state park. You drive our new BMW to school while I work from home. At nights, we cook Italian and French foods, your favorite, and sometimes we go for a late swim in the pool. On weekend nights, you dream of having children but in the morning, you have other plans; your own shop.
After your apprenticeship, you have many offers from shops owned by your friends. But using a Thai real estate agent, you find a vacant shop in San Jose for cheap and you start putting together how much money it would take to equip it with a few chairs and hairdressing equipment. We joke about what colors we should paint the shop. One Saturday, we meet one of your hairdressing friends and decide on a price to open a shop. You and your friend decide to go into business together. I borrow the money from my savings and two months later your first customer comes into your shop, one of your first customers from school. After six months, it is clear you are the reason the shop’s appointment book is filled so you make an offer to your partner. As you have already repaid what you borrowed earlier, we pay her off and now the shop is yours, yet your partner stays on as your loyal employee. One year later, we have sold our condo and now live in a small house in the hills of Los Gatos. We walk out on our deck with a beautiful view of the mountains, but then hear our baby waking from her nap. Your mom now lives with us so she jumps up to make sure our baby is alright. When she is not caring for our baby, your mom is dating the older bachelor two houses down from us. She will watch our daughter for us, whom you have named Nam, when we vacation in Italy next month.
This is the life you gave up when you gave up on me. Now I hear you do have a baby, but the father has left you and sends no money. Your mom watches the baby while you freelance the streets of Bangkok and live in a cramped apartment with your sister. She only works a few days a week as she is tired all the time. You suspect she has AIDS but you do not want to mention it to her. You realize that you will soon be caring for your dying sister and not working, further impoverishing your family. A couple of men send you money every month but even then, it is hard to pay all the bills. You wish you could leave all this behind and return to those carefree days we had together. A friend suggests you go to Europe to work for six months to make a lot of money, but you sense this is a fairy tale as friends who have taken this journey years ago have not yet returned. What is the answer?
I wish I could help you but all the wonderful things I described above have happened to me through someone else. Someone who was more patient than you and who was not always concerned with how much money they could scam from others. Now, when I visit Bangkok, you are one of the nameless faces I see as I walk Sukhumvit Road on my way to visit friends, waiting for me in go-go bars that no longer need your services. Your spirit still stalks me, jumps in front of me, and even grabs my arm, but I pay it no mind. You are invisible as a ghost, indeed that is what you are; a ghost from happy times past. Please, haunt me no more and go back to live with the spirits of your family in a long past Thailand that doesn’t exist to me or my family. Your time is over. Mine is now beginning with a new Thai wife and a new life you can only dream about. Yet could it have been different? Only your heart knows.
That is scary – and I have no doubt there are many, many Nois out there.