The Long Farewell: Part Three
On the long flight from Tokyo to Singapore, I had a chance to review my situation in detail. Matsuda-san said I had to leave “now” so I assumed that with the notice to give to my landlord, utilities, and many others, “now” would mean the end of next month; about six weeks from now. Nong would have to be told soon, of course, but what would her reaction be? I wondered about my next job in America; did I want to go back to my old one or try something new. I would have to call my divorce attorney and tell him what was happening. I am sure the legal process would start very soon after I returned. Now my life would be such a mess, like a barbless jellyfish moving from wave to wave.
The next day in the office was pure chaos. Not only had I been let go, but so had all the other ex-pats who made up half the managerial and leadership roles in the regional office. Now, everyone was scrambling to see who would replace them and what their new tasks would be. There was no guidance from Tokyo, only silence. In all this turmoil, I suddenly realized that I was the technical lead on an important project that would not be completed for four more months. I calmly composed an email to Matsuda-san and told him that I was glad to go home but that the customer on this project would probably not be very happy. I suggested that I complete my duties and ensure we had a happy customer. I’m sure after he made a few calls to confirm my facts, a couple of hours later he agreed with my reasoning and extended my stay. I pumped my fists above my head, forwarded a copy of his email to human resources, and then left early to have a rather long workout in the American Club gym.
This project that would extend my stay in Singapore was really not much work at all. I had to show up at a few meetings, travel to talk to the customer a few times, and write a few papers. This would be little more than a few hours a day. What would I do with the rest of my time? I decided to start looking for a job in the Asian job market. I knew that most postings would require in-country residence, so that limited me to the Singapore job market. As I knew most transactions in Singapore were done through personal connections, I started to hit on recently separated colleagues, including Michael, to inquire about job opportunities. Michael called me and said that due to the recent downturn in the economy; he was having a hell of time keeping his new company afloat much less hiring new people. Unfortunately, this was the story I received from all the other people I contacted. My hopes for staying in Asia rested on an improved economy, but with the American economy reeling at the moment, an up-turn may not happen soon enough.
Nong returned to Singapore for her bi-weekly visit. Now it was time for me to tell her the details of what was happening. When I picked her up at the airport late in the afternoon, we dropped off her luggage at my condo and then proceeded to the familiar Golden Mile shopping complex for dinner. Sitting in a crowded restaurant, I explained to her what was happening in simple terms that I knew she would understand. This took some time but she sat passively through it. At the end, after some quiet thought, she said, “What about me?”
Embedded in that simple question were many more important questions. Again, using simple English, I said I would try to find a job in Singapore or Bangkok and try to divorce my wife from Asia. Otherwise, I would return to America, divorce my wife, and then send for her. This time there were no questions. She turned her head away and sat eyes downcast. This was the one reaction I dreaded most as it was the same look of shock I had outside Matsuda-san’s office when I said “Now what the fuck am I going to do?”
After that, we mostly went through the motions of having a good evening; small talk, a little TV, then to bed where she called her sister and talked a long time while I fell asleep. This act of normalcy repeated itself for the rest of her stay. I tried to break the spell by telling Nong of my latest hot lead for a job or some funny thing that happened in the office. She would smile nicely but I knew more important matters were weighing on her. When it was time for her to leave, I escorted her to the airport and as I waved to her through the glass immigration wall, I thought I was waving good-bye to the life we had envisioned together. Unfortunately, this prognostication would prove to be so very true.
With Nong visiting her sister in Bangkok the next two weeks, I stepped-up my efforts to find a new job. I hit on my Canadian neighbor who worked for DBS bank and asked if there were any openings. He gave me the name of someone in their IT department, I called him but he never called back. Then I had to travel to Jakarta for a day of meetings with one of our big customers there. I stayed an extra day to visit the famous Bats Disco and found a stunning Java queen who provided me with a night’s relief from worrying about my future. In the morning, she told me of her family’s simple life in a small town in central Java. When she left, I imagined myself going with her and living off the thousands of Sing dollars I had in the bank. How long would the money hold out? It was a very pleasant thought on the short flight back to Singapore.
Three days later I was at Changi Airport waiting for Nong to return. I saw her approaching the waiting area but this time I also noticed another Thai woman walking next to her. We hugged as usual and then she introduced her friend Mal. Nong explained Mal was an old friend who she had recently seen in Bangkok. After a long lunch together, Nong invited her to visit us. Mal looked similar in age to Nong and had the same petit figure and big smile. No worries, I thought, as I had plenty of space and she would be good company for Nong when I was working. Two nights later when I arrived home from work, Nong announced we were all going out to a disco I had never heard of but it was a small place on Orchard Road. it was not so much a disco as a long bar with a small dance floor and a four piece band playing pop music from the 80’s. It was very crowded but we managed to find a small table in the corner. I ordered drinks and noticed there were lots of young women sitting at the bar in groups of two’s and three’s. There were also a lot of western men there; drinking heavily and talking loudly. After 30 minutes or so, Nong said I should invite this man to join us and then nodded towards a portly guy; mid-40’s and guessing by his sloppy actions, quite drunk. I shook my head “no” but Nong insisted. So I ambled up to the bar, pointed to Mal, and he agreed to sit with us. He brought his own chair and naturally put it next to Mal. They instantly started talking and laughing to the exclusion of Nong and myself. This disco was a fun idea I thought to myself.
After another 30 minutes or so, Nong said she wanted to dance, which was really strange as she never liked to dance. Two songs later, she insisted we leave. I asked how Mal would get home. She said don’t worry about it. During the taxi ride home, she said Mal knew that man from a previous visit to Singapore, which didn’t make much sense. But that was the end of the conversation about Mal and we rode home in silence.
The next day, while I was at work, Nong called me and said her and Mal were going out that night. I asked where and she said shopping. I got home late, cooked my own dinner, and tried to wait up for them. At 11 PM I called Nong’s phone but it was turned off. Instead of thinking the worst, this time, I felt no emotion and resigned myself that she would be home sometime. I went to bed but woke up at 4 AM when Nong and Mal were trying to quietly enter the condo. I played the part of the sleeping lover. The next evening when I arrived home from work, Nong again told me she was going shopping with Mal. I asked her to follow me into the bedroom and shut the door. For the second time in my life, my mind separated from my body and rose to the ceiling. There, I instructed my body to tell Nong that her shopping story was a lie. What was she really doing? As I suspected, which is why in self-defense my mind left my body, she said they were picking up men up in bars. I asked why and she said that since I was leaving Asia and would probably not marry her, she had to think of herself and her family. My mind told my body to ask if she didn’t believe me when I said I would send for her in America. She said nothing and looked down. I told my body to leave the condo and again, in the elevator ride down from the 16th floor, the two came together again. I walked about 3 km to an outdoor Chinese café I knew where I ate fried rice, drank three large Tigers, and watched Singaporean sitcoms for a couple of hours. I walked back home and went to sleep. When Nong and Mal returned at 4 AM, I curled up next to Nong and we made love before I went to work.
Now I knew she was a working girl who I had mistaken as a hardworking restaurateur. Surprisingly, I was not repulsed; just not in love anymore. I knew that if I threw her out of my life it would be a big scene with endless phone calls and texts, all of which would distract me from my primary task: finding another job in Singapore. So far, nothing was solid and as the time before my departure date shrunk from three months to one, the sad reality that I would have to go back to America started to envelop me like a deathly shroud. Now, instead of Nong visiting me, I started to visit Thailand with Nong to places like Phuket, Samui, Nong Kai, and Nakhon Phanom. After I returned, it was time to call the movers, my landlord, immigration, and everyone else who would help extricate me from a home I didn’t want to leave. I arranged to fly back home from Bangkok a week after I left Singapore. I stayed in Nong’s family home and occasionally rose at 5 AM to have phone interviews with managers back in America. Otherwise, I spent my days hanging around, eating hot Issan food, and drinking a lot of beer in evening with her relatives. The day before I left, we drove to Bangkok to spend the night as I had a 7 AM flight the next day. At the airport, she asked me if she could still use the papers with my letter and passport to go to Singapore. I said they would probably work for a couple more months but she shouldn’t use them after that. I knew she had probably already purchased a ticket to Singapore for today. It was Saturday, wasn’t it; the big night for working girls.
After I returned to America, I started the divorce process and as expected, it was long and ugly as my wife made many false accusations against me. Luckily, I had a fair female judge presiding whose “show-me” attitude to my wife saved me from financial disaster. Almost one year later, a few months before the divorce became official, I met my lovely Thai wife in San Francisco and we were wed seven months later in Yosemite National Park. I returned to work as a worldwide IT consultant and on a trip to Tokyo I actually met Matsuda-san. This time, he was very friendly towards me and in broken English; he said he was sorry he had to can me. He said he was instructed to disperse the Singapore office so it could be re-staffed by employees of the parent company. For his loyal service, he was demoted to sales manager again and I suspect he was fighting to even keep this job. Bean counters are a heartless lot; short memories with a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude.
The diaspora of people from that original office in Singapore was initially hard for all involved, but most landed on their feet and were doing quite well. Michael pulled his company through the crises but when his daughters graduated from university in England, he took a large buyout and returned home to coddle grandchildren. At least that was the story I got from his friend a couple of years later. The others went on to greater glory with other companies who are our keen competitors. Such is the logic of large corporations; execute a boneheaded plan until it is too late to reverse, fire the executives responsible, and then start the process all over again.
Now, years later, I realize that I wanted to stay in Singapore too much; to the point of not enjoying the short time I had left in one of the best places to live and work in the world. I am reminded of a Buddha saying, translated roughly to “We make our own hell.” But I think the most apt thought of my efforts to find a new life in Singapore is an even rougher interpretation of Psalm 33:10: “Men plan, God laughs.”
A great mini-series!