10 years ago today I was shacked up in a hotel room in the Banglamphu district of Bangkok with Sai from Patpong, enjoying the air-con and watching an Australian documentary on TV. The show followed an Aussie adventurer’s solo journey as he set
off on walkabout from Sydney to Broome for personal reasons I no longer recall across thousands of kilometres of what was mostly harsh red desert under an unrelenting sun; a landscape which gradually wore him away but he pushed on through sheer
determination to finish what he had started.
I had met Sai some 48 hours earlier during my first visit to Patpong. I was in my late 20’s and caught up on my own solo journey, but mine had taken me to South-east Asia and I was seeing a lot more of the Jakarta and Bangkok moon
than the unrelenting sun on that trip. I had walked down the strip in Patpong, refusing the offers made by the touts to enter various venues and walked into the first one where I could see plenty of dancers and a small crowd, but still quite a
few spare seats around the stage as I wasn’t looking for conversation with other men on their own journeys and it was my first visit to one of those places so I was a bit concerned about being squeezed into a seat between 2 men who were
cracking a hard-on over the entertainment on the stage.
I sat on a stool which had a spare one either side of it and took in the entertainment on offer. I had never seen anything to match that in my life; beautiful, smiling Thai women, perfect hair, perfect make-up and teeth, their flawless bodies
dressed in shiny gold 2-piece bikinis dancing in stilettos and smiling at me! Some of the ladies smiled and held up a finger to make the number one and pointed at my drink, asking me to buy one for them. Before I could answer a goddess moved away
from the 2 men she was dancing in front of several stools away from me and leant over to smile and say, ‘You buy me one’ and all I could do was nod. She left the stage as the song ended and came around to sit with me. She was perfection
– completely without flaw. Her name tag had the number 666 on it and she told me her name was Sai, and that the men she had been dancing for had been buying her drinks but she was staying with me now. I just smiled and looked at the men
who were, I saw, looking right at me, but I figured it wasn’t really my problem and they soon looked away and nothing came of it.
Sai and I talked and had a couple drinks together while some of the other girls who had been dancing with her on stage came up and asked if I wanted to go with Sai or go with them for free but Sai was perfect and I stuck with her, wondering
what game the others were up to. Sai explained the bar fine system and I paid 400 Baht for her to be able to leave with me and after she quickly changed we left and caught a cab to her place in a concrete jungle near the dock yards. The 2-storey
dwelling was very neat and tidy and her 5 room-mates kept me company while Sai packed a bag as she had decided she was going to be staying with me for the 2 days I had remaining in Bangkok before I left for Cambodia and I didn’t see any
reason to argue the point.
We caught a cab back to my hotel in Banglamphu and spent the next 48 hours there, venturing out only for a few hours at night to eat and dance at a bar on Patpong which had live Latin music playing, and it was at the end of our second such
night out that we came to be watching a documentary from back home in Australia about a man who had a compulsion to complete a different kind of journey in his life.
His was an inspiring story for me but I could see that Sai didn’t fully comprehend the enormity of what this man had undertaken so I tried to draw her in, give her perspective on it by equating it to walking more than twice the distance
from Singapore to Chiang Mai, and I saw a flash of understanding in her eyes and thought she was with me then, fully aware of how profound a journey the solo man had undertaken across the desert, when she quickly dismissed the show and changed
the channel, saying: ‘Stupid farang! Why he not fly on plane?’
I suppose it was remiss of me anyway to expect a woman to empathise with the personal journey of a man.
Back in those days I had a strong understanding of who I was and what I wanted, and my family in Australia had a hard time trying to deal with a son who kept disappearing for months on end, alone in Asia. I was in my late 20’s so it
was expected that I’d settle down, marry and have kids soon but I was not having any of it. I once fell off the tourist trail in Indonesia for 4 months and was reported as missing to the embassy but I was in the middle of Java surrounded
by beautiful women and, admittedly quite selfish about it, didn’t have a thought to spare for the world beyond.
This part of myself – and I imagine there would be a few men here who can relate to the ‘solo man’ urge – saw me spending months of my life alone in Thailand, ignoring the outside world, having very little (if
any) contact with other Caucasians and concentrating entirely on the bar girls who I would invite to join me for a short part of my journey.
And there is not much empathy from those back home for this urge. But how could anyone who has not experienced it relate to it? The experience itself is life-changing. In my early 20’s I never imagined I would be like this in 10 or
15 years time, but a 1-week trip to Bali with my Aussie girlfriend at the time changed everything. I fell in love with Asia, and I had a driving need to return alone to enjoy the types of experiences I had witnessed with her but had not been able
to enjoy because she was with me. I went back a couple years later and the experiences I had while travelling alone were so mind-blowing for me I became a different person. Suddenly there was a real thrill to little adventures like riding on a
motorbike through the backstreets of Phnom Penh, drunk at 3 AM; or celebrating Valentines Day in Phuket with the love of my life I met the night before; or ducking out of the nightclub in Krabi (where my then girlfriend was singing at the time)
to get a quick short time at the karaoke bar up the road before my girlfriend finished her set; or tipping the toilet attendant in King's Castle a US$100 bill (twice) because I was drunk and thought it was Thai money.
And what is the point of all this you may be wondering? Well, it’s not entirely about discussing the solo mentality of a bloke, or blokes, in Asia. In a way, it’s more of a follow up to my previous submission about my difficult
Thai wife. Over the past few weeks I’ve done some research online on how to improve my marriage/situation and have had a lot of helpful emails from some of the readers of this site. Her anger appeared to be linked to feelings of insecurity
at first and I tried to address this but my wife is still very volatile and even she, in her lucid moments, can’t explain why that is the case; it actually frustrates her too (but not when she is angry, because then she doesn’t give
a damn about anything). I recently told her that she has exhausted my care-factor and now I don’t care why she gets upset, and if it continues it will be the end of us. She needs to sort herself out one way or the other because nothing
I do has worked and there is no way I can tell her that I no longer really care, that she has pushed me to an extent that I am now fondly longing for a time when I was a ‘solo man’ and, while I happily forgot that part of myself
for the past 4 years it is now very awake again and I don’t know if she will be able to make me ignore it again. I am hanging in there for my child but where I once cared for my wife’s feelings and would never dream of taking our
child off her I no longer have that emotion and will happily fight her in court for custody if I have to.
There are a lot of submissions on this site about the consequences of a farang male taking a Thai bar girl out of the bar (though my wife comes from a well-off Thai family that has never had anything to do with the industry), and whether
this can ever really work. But what about the other side of the coin – what consequences are there for a woman in taking a solo man out of that bar? I write that as a bit of a loose analogy as she did not actually take me out of a bar but
I stopped going to them for her, and she is the only reason I stopped going. She was the good girl, I was the bad boy. Maybe that is the root of the problem; she knows who I was and is angry about it? She wishes I was never like that? I can’t
be trusted? Seems to make sense, after all she did go through my solo man photo albums without my knowledge some years ago and tore up all the pictures (I only learned this last week when she told me of it with a wicked grin as I hadn’t
even thought of, let alone seen, the albums in several years – I thought I lost them or threw them out when we moved in together but it turns out she took care of that for me).
Maybe that is the root of the problem and that is why I can’t fix it. In the same way a man might come to kick himself years later for taking a Thai bar girl out of a bar and marrying her and then having to live with all that doubt
about her fidelity and the mental images of the hundreds of men she may have been with way back when, perhaps the ‘good Thai wife’ has come to find it impossible to forget my past. It doesn’t matter that I have been faithful,
and a good father, and a good provider. 10 years ago I was a solo man and, like a bar girl, maybe I can never expect to live that down. I say that with a touch of humour, because if that is the cause of the problem then so be it; I can be a solo
man again if I have to but I’m certainly not the type who ends up crossing the desert to Broome over it.
I am not convinced the flame is that easy to put out. There really is a powerful message here.