When I was offered the posting to Bangkok, I was really being thrown feet first into the big pond. I had traveled to Asia a few times for the company but I did not understand how it really operated on a day to day basis compared to Western work ways.
As a single youngish man, I thought it would be a good experience and it could lead me upwards in the management stream of the company. It looked like a good leg up on the ladder. I came from a country area in Australia and had gone to the “big
smoke” in Sydney for Uni studies and then stayed on and joined an international company in lower levels and had been hoping to get an overseas posting. The older management guys back home were impressed that I had been offered this position
at my youngish age. I thought about it for 5 seconds and then jumped at the opportunity. The fact it was in Bangkok gave it added value, as I had spent two weekends there before and the thought of being there full time had an appeal. I thought
if I did not like it, I could always come back and stay in Sydney whilst I looked around till I found something else. Of course all the guys in the office were making jokes about it and all were telling me to rent a three bedroom apartment for
when they got to visit me up there.
I met Tai on first official work day as she was a senior supervisor although she had only joined the company a few months before. Over the next few weeks we met in work sessions and then I was seated next to her at a work function. She spoke English with a thick accent but was obviously a bright person. I enjoyed her company and made sure we spoke a lot in next few weeks in the office environment. Over the next 12 months we had lots of office contact and the occasional after hours contact with other staff members. I was sampling some of Bangkok’s famous night life activities at what I thought was on a low level with a group of friends and fellow expats who seem to come together in a foreign city. We had guys of all nationalities join in and out of the group as they came and went through Bangkok. The lure of Nana and Cowboy was hard to resist when you were with mates and had had a few drinks. To have freely available what you dreamed about back home and at a low cost compared to there, seemed to be a dream come true. I enjoyed it and had the odd wild “over the top” moment. It was great fun and gave plenty of conversational topics when you met up for a hair of the dog especially at Sunday lunchtimes. As good as it was I was at an age and stage of my life where I realised that I was the type of guy who wanted to be with one person only at a time.
Some time later after a work session finished and we were alone in her office I finally plucked up the nerve to ask her out for a dinner and she surprised me by thinking for a few seconds and saying that she would like to do that but was worried about the office knowing. I said that was easy: we would not tell anyone.
Over the next few months we did enjoy many times together and I heard her story. It was not a lot different from my own and similar to many others in Thailand I have heard of since. These stories were told in many different cafes and restaurants in Bangkok area as we did not go to the same place twice for worry that someone from the office would be there. Her family had a small shop and some land in a village in south Thailand. The money was saved for her education and both she and her younger brother were sent to University in Bangkok. There was one other sibling still in the village. She completed her studies with a good record and easily found a job at a large local company and in the next 6 years had changed jobs so now she worked in a senior role in our international company. She earned reasonable money by Thai standards and sent some back to her parents each month. She had some savings and thought she was doing well. However it was not the same with her younger brother Aun. He did not study hard at Uni and seemed to enjoy the after hours activities much more and just scraped through with pass and getting degree. She once confided in me that she thought he had done some underhand method of paying some money to ensure he got the degree. She realised this when an uncle asked her when he was going to start to pay back the money he had borrowed. When she confronted him about this, he would not look at her and then went missing for a few days.
He eventually got a job with a local company and paid money back to uncle without the family knowing but over the next few years he changed jobs many times. It was always the firm's fault as they did not understand him, or wanted him to work too hard or were just stupid as he knew better. Often in between times he would come to stay in her room and “borrow” money that usually never got paid back. I met Aun a number of times and liked him. He would be what we would call back home, a likeable rouge. He spoke English with same thick accent as Tai had when we met, but whereas her English skills improved by working in international environment, his did not. But none the less it was easy to enjoy his company. He was a rough diamond and sometimes he would bowl big sister over by buying her presents on her birthday or at other celebratory times. He was outgoing in private but always seemed uneasy when in public spots.
Over the next year we started to get serious and it turned into a full adult relationship although not a normal one as we still were trying to keep our relationship secret from the office. We were very happy together but it could have been even better if we did not have to sneak around. I learnt more about her background, her aims and aspirations. By this time I had heard about some of the pitfalls about being involved with Thai women, so was careful about not leading her on to think everything was going to end up like Cinderella. The truth was I started to feel I was falling in love with her and we just started to talk about the future together when I got a call from the Regional Director who was based in London. He wanted to talk to me about my position in Thailand when he was in Bangkok the next week. I could not help but think about this during the next ten days. What if they wanted me to go to H.O. in UK? Our performance had improved enormously in the previous 30 months since I had been in charge. This was mainly due to some personnel and admin changes and some luck in timing as Thailand had started to grow again after the problems in late 90’s. (I did not mention this last part to them in my reporting.) What did they intend for me?
I was surprised when John the Regional Director asked me to meet with him at his hotel rather than have the first meeting at our office as he normally did. I went there with confidence waiting to hear what he was going to say. My heart dropped to my boots when I understood what he was getting at and it made me shocked and dismayed. He said to me as he looked me right in the eyes, ‘You cannot shit in your own nest’. I looked at him and said, ‘What do you mean’? He just looked at me and said, ‘You cannot sleep with your own staff and still expect to have a job with us’. It rocked me. It came out that he had received an anonymous email telling him that I was sleeping with staff members. He said ‘for Christ sake, you live in the whore house capitol of the world and you want to sleep with women from your office. You can go out and get it with a different woman every night if you want, but you cannot do it with women from our office’.
As I recovered from this onslaught, I was able to start my mind ticking over. I told him that the letter was wrong. Yes I had been out with one staff member but that was all. To his credit he did not ask who that person was. We went into the office and he was his normal jolly self with all the staff and held good sessions over the next two days. I went to breakfast with him on his last morning before he flew to K.L. as was our normal practice. After summing up the local office results about which he was very congratulatory and also about my performance, he again brought up the subject of staff relations. He just said the decision was up to me. If I wanted to have a relationship with a staff member then I had to leave.
I did not meet up with Tai outside for a few days and then I asked her to meet me for dinner at my place. You could tell that she knew something was amiss. When she got to the apartment I got a cold kiss and hug and then she sat down in single chair, not on the couch as she normally would. She asked me what had happened with John. Was I going away to another office somewhere? As I told her what had transpired, her emotions went from anger, self pity, sad and back to anger. She was trying to work out who it was who had sent the email. I said it did not matter. Her name was never mentioned. Someone was guessing or trying to stir up trouble with a poison pen type letter. I asked her what she wanted to do. We spoke in general terms and then said we would talk again the next day. She was worried as she did not want to leave the company. We both knew that there was an upsizing coming for our office and her role would be upgraded purely on merit. This was what she had studied for and what her parents wanted for her. To have a good job in a big company where she could have security and not have to worry about day to day existence living.
The next morning she rang me and made it easy for me. She said that she had enjoyed our private times together but it had ended now. It was the best for her and the best for me. She only had one request and that was that we would remain friends, real friends who could talk about things if needed. I agreed. It seemed a good idea. In one way I felt relief that I could stay in my job which I had learned to really like and keep up the lifestyle here in Bangkok that I truly enjoyed.
Over the next twelve months we spoke in the office about work in meetings and sometimes when we were alone we spoke about personal matters like her family and brother and it was good. It felt natural talking with her. I really liked her but knew it was not to be at this time but this did not stop the thoughts of what might have been. I started to ratchet up the night life activities in Bangkok again and in the first few months this had the effect of somehow helping to blunt any feelings or pain that the talk by John had caused me. After about six months this lifestyle lost its allure. I was talking to a friend one time about our escapades and could not even remember who I had slept with two weeks earlier on the Saturday night. What was her name, where did I pick her up or buy her from? I knew deep down that I wanted to have a longer term and a deeper relationship than one night stands. My thoughts turned to Tai. Could I get a job in another country and then she could come with me? Could I go back to Sydney and take her with me? I knew she was keen on living overseas in the right circumstances. I still met up with the friends but was involved more in the drinking activities and the chat than the ladies in the night life.
However I was caught off guard one day when Tai came to my office and after the work talk said she wanted to ask me a personal question. I was wondering if she was going to suggest that we get together again. However she asked me how I would feel if she had another boy friend. I said that I would be happy for her, very happy if she was happy. She said she was. She then went on to tell me the new man in her life was a farang. This shook me a bit. I asked her who it was and she told me it was someone from the software company that we used. He was in our office quite regularly. He was an Italian who had been in Bangkok for about 4 years. I had met him through a very good pal of mine and we had met in lots of different situations. It was through this introduction that he had gained the contract for our office.
We had socialized a number of times both in naughty boy pursuits with our group and also a few times on an individual basis as part business / part pleasure especially when he was trying to get our contract. Overall I liked the man and thought he was a good honest type of person. I never mentioned to him what Tai had said and still saw him occasionally at get together but he never came on our group activities again especially if we had a week end in Pattaya. I casually asked a few people about him and they all said that he had a new girl friend and was not into our pursuits as much. One day we were having a coffee in my office after he had made a work visit, when he said he wanted to tell me something. He started to tell me about his relationship with Tai. That she was wonderful and he was looking to live and marry with her. He was going to go to her village and family home in a few weeks time and wanted her to go to Italy with him at Christmas and New Year time to meet the family. He asked if she could have the time off. I told him that I was happy for them and as long as she had holidays due she could take the time. He told me that he was going to buy them an apartment in Bangkok as he could not live in Italy as the extended family style there would cramp him. He had got used to living Asian style and he thought he understood Thailand and Thais now. He was learning the Thai language and thought this would help him adjust to Thailand much better. He spoke about having holidays in the country and village where Tai came from. You could see that he was in a euphoric state about the whole relationship. He did say that Tai had said that she would go to live in Italy if he wanted. As he left my office, I wondered what it would be like to be in his shoes. She was a great person and was the only one I had met in Bangkok who I thought could be the one for me.
She told me about one month later that the weekend at her village was great, her family approved of Sal and they knew that she was planning on going to Italy with him at end of the year. They had the usual village party and relatives and village freeloaders (my description, not hers) came to help them drink the alcohol and eat the food they had brought with them. Sal had enjoyed it although he ended up with big headache on the Sunday morning. Over the next few months we did not interact much except in work meetings and I did not see Sal much socially. When we did meet he was a very happy man looking forward to the future. I was very envious of him and his happiness and who he was happy with and could not help thinking it could have been me.
It was on a Saturday morning in late November that Tai rang me and asked if we could talk about a very personal problem. I was wary about what it could be. Her voice sounded terrible as if she had been crying so I said we could meet but made it in a public place in a Starbucks café in Central Ploenchit. I was not sure that I trusted myself if she started getting weepy at my apartment. Had Sal told her it was finished? Did she want to leave Sal? I had mixed thoughts about all these scenarios.
When I met her at the café, she looked awful. Her face was puffy, it was red and it was very obvious that she had been crying. When we had our drinks and with very little small talk, she told me the situation. Over the previous year her brother Aun had given her some money on seven occasions: it ranged from 8,000 baht to 37,000 baht. He said to give it to their parents. He would not tell her where he got it. She sensed that he was buying and selling drugs and it seems that she had this fear about him for the past year as he did not seem to have a proper job anymore but never needed money from her. If they met for food or coffee, he always insisted in paying. She put half of the money he gave her into a bank account in her name for him and gave the rest to her parents. They had not seen Aun back in the village now for 15 months. The parents also had put most of it in a bank account for him and had only kept a little. She had been both happy and angry at him. He was being a good son in providing for the parents but she knew he must be doing bad things to get this sort of money but he told her not to worry. He was going to be a rich man and then he would take care of all the family. She had not seen him for about 4 months.
One night as she walked in the door of her room, three men barged in after her. One put his arms around her face so she could not make a noise. Then the older one told her to be quiet and they would not hurt her. They wanted to know where Aun was. They did not believe that she had not seen him for 4 months. They wanted to know if he had given her anything to keep. She told them no. They searched her apartment roughly, threw her clothes everywhere but luckily there was nothing of Aun’s there. Then they threatened her. They pulled knives out and stuck them right up against her face. One of the men ran his hands all over her body and told her what he was going to do to her if she did not tell them where Aun was. They slapped her around and told her to call them when she found out where he was.
After they left she rang the one friend of Aun’s whose number she had. He was from the same village as them and he said they had not seen Aun for three months and they were all worried about him. He confirmed that he had been selling drugs from Klong Toey. They also had many visits from the rough men from there. He said that things did not look good for Aun if he showed up as the men claimed he had stolen their goods and had not paid for it. Two mornings later she received a call from her uncle in the village. The rough men had paid a visit to the family home and roughed up the father, smashed up parts of the house and said they would keep an eye on them all for next 10 years to get Aun if he came back. They told the family that Aun had stolen goods from them.
She started to weep as she looked at me. She said she wanted to ask me what to do about Sal. ‘Do I tell him what has happened’? He knew about Aun and had also met him on many occasions but did not know about this problem. She asked me what to do. What should she say to Sal? Should she tell him or not? ‘He is taking me to meet his family in Italy next month. We are talking about getting married and having kids’. As she went to the bathroom, I got a double espresso and sat back and had a hundred thoughts go through my mind. Would Sal drop her if he knew the real situation? Would she tell Sal the whole story? Should I tell Sal what she had just told me to make sure he knew the whole story? Should I just listen and say nothing to anybody? Would she want to go to another country with me to escape this problem? Could we live together at last away from all this?
When she came back, she just sat there looking at me, waiting for me to talk. I finished the coffee, wiped my mouth with the napkin, looked into her eyes and started to speak.
Ouch. Very nasty situation and not an easy one to solve. Solving this sort of problem in Thailand is much more difficult than in the West.