Consider Wisely – Regrets May Follow Part 1
“What is the real purpose for us being here?” – is a question that has vexed the human entity down through recorded history and the answer to which is still arcane. As a Farang Buddhist, I try to adhere to the basic precepts but very often fall victim to my own failings that somehow seem to put me on the red side of the ledger where it comes to merit. And so it goes around again. We do the best we can with what we have – that's all we can hope for. I find it can be quite confusing how Thailand makes the subject of merit appear both easy and hard at the same time. Easy because the ethos of this place surrounds and includes you in a mindset where you would like to be always – but hard also, because there are the ever-present distractions that will draw one away from the ideals you aspire to. The reality probably is that each of us is our own worst enemy.
November 2004: I don't remember much about the flight – all I can remember is landing at Don Muang International and passing through Immigration with a 90-day stamp in a visa page and then retrieving my baggage from the carousel and getting a taxi to Baiyoke Sky Hotel. Check-in was fine and my upgrade suite has a wonderful, high view from Din Daeng around to Ratchadamri – almost 180 degrees. I can watch the trains crossing the level-crossing at Ratchaprarop and the railway movements at Makkasan – but I can also see, in the distance, where Sukhumvit lies – a place of special significance to Natalise, my Wife, and myself. It was the place where we first met. Her sister Amorn was instrumental in helping her set up a small gift shop soon after Nat divorced her Thai husband. Nat is a good salesperson and fairly driven so she soon expanded to include clothing that her and Amorn purchased through wholesalers in Pratunam. When I met her she was the owner of a successful clothing outlet.
Of course, my first duty today is to call and see Amorn, Nat's next elder sister who has a clothing shop at Silom. I never fail to go and see Amorn when I am in Krungthep – quite often every day – because she is such a nice person and I get along very well with Amorn and her husband, Tep.
I caught the Skytrain to Sala Daeng and walked the kilometre or so up Silom Rd to her shop. She was surprised to see me and I gave her a wai and "sawat-dee krup" then she gave me a big, friendly hug and "sawat-dee ka."
She motioned me to sit down beside her.
"Chalermchai, when you come to Krungthep?"
"This morning I arrive and check in to hotel and I come here to see you. Where is Tep – he not come to help you today?”
“He take luksao to school first then he go Pratunam to pick up order from wholesalers for me. He back soon.”
"How long you stay in Krungthep?"
"I don't know – I stay at Baiyoke Sky for five nights and then I fly to Chiang Mai to have 3 nights there. Don't even know why I'm going there apart from the fact that everybody says I should – so I will – how's that for compliance? After that I come back here. Amorn, I miss Nat but she won't try to get back together with me. I don't understand her."
She patted me on the hand.
"I not understand her too."
"Amorn, you like a cold drink – a Spye, maybe?"
"No – you sit and I get drink for you."
"No, Amorn – you stay with the shop – I go get for you. You have Spye and I have Bia Singha, yes?"
"OK – Spye and Bia Singha for you."
She wanted to give me money but I refused and walked to the 7-11 and got the drinks.
I handed her the Spye wine cooler:
"So, how is business?"
"Not so bad – tourists not now buy as much as before but it's OK."
"How about for you – you think you go back to Nat?"
"Amorn, I want to but I don't think Nat wants that any more. I never wanted to leave in the first place – but I agreed that it would maybe be better for both of us. She seems to be a different person to the one that I married – I don't know what I will do. I come here to get a break from things in Australia and try to see things more clearly. Going to Chiang Mai for a few days – seeing something different may help – then I come back to Krungthep and I decide from there."
She started to laugh. “I live in Thailand all my life but I still never go to Chiang Mai.”
We sat talking for quite a while in between customers but I know she has to work so I said I would come and see her again, soon.
After leaving Amorn I made my way back to Pratunam and found a Thai Massage shop on Thanon Petchburi and I decided to stay for a 2-hour massage. It was wonderfully relaxing – the Thai girl was an expert in what she was doing and I decided that I would come back here every day to see the same girl – her name was Daw and she did an excellent massage.
Back at the hotel I had a room-service meal with a few beers and watched the lights of Krungthep from my windows while sipping on another can of beer, before showering and falling into bed. I really needed to sleep and give my troubled mind a chance to rest.
Next morning the alarm woke me early and I dressed and went up to the restaurant on Floor 77 for breakfast. It is a buffet arrangement and there is the most wonderful view of Krungthep that anyone could imagine from your breakfast table. I don't really worry about the food so much even though it is well prepared and presented – what brings me here is the view of this city that I love with all my heart. I wish I could be here always. To the south I can see Klong Toei and the port of Krungthep – beyond that, The Gulf Of Thailand where Nam Chayo Phraya flows to the sea. Down at the intersection where Rama I joins Ploenchit and Ratchadamri I can see a Skytrain heading toward On Nut at the same time that Another Skytrain is on the curve from Ratchadamri Station bound for National Stadium.
After breakfast I did some shopping at the 7-11 Store and pottered around Pratunam for a while. I returned to the room with my purchases and then headed down to Petchburi to see Daw to have another massage. Daw is quite young – probably no more than 18 or 19 – but she is such a lovely, friendly person and she seems to like me. The massage is perfect and we sit and talk for a while after she brings me a cup of warm Chinese Tea to drink. I tell her I like her and I think she is a nice person.
"Korp-kuhn ka – I like you also."
She gives me her card and we exchange cell-phone numbers and I give her a tip. She bows her head and gives me a wai.
"Can I see you for massage tomorrow because I want to come to see you every day while I am in Krungthep. Maybe you would consider having some dinner with me tomorrow night?"
"Yes – but I not finish until 10 tomorrow night so maybe you not wait."
"That's OK – we make arrangement when I see you tomorrow for massage."
She gives me a wai and we go downstairs where I pay the receptionist. As I leave, Daw and I wai to each other. I like this girl.
I wandered west up Petchburi, left into Phayathai and decided to ride The Skytrain from Ratchathewi station to Siam then went for a wander through Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre looking for ATM's of the banks which pay the best exchange rates for Australian Dollars. Some machines will only allow a maximum withdrawal of 10,000 Baht but others will allow you to draw 15,000 Baht. At that time The Australian Dollar exchange rate was around 28 Baht for each dollar – although it was possible to obtain better rates at “Super Rich” or some street-side booths. Don't know what it is about Mahboonkrong but I always get lost inside there, no matter how many times I go there – guess I'm just dumb – but the crowds are really something in there and it's so hard to get where you want to go.
I saw a lady on the Skytrain when I rode from Siam to Chong Nonsi and I thought she was Nat. Couldn't stop looking at her – she was Nat's doppelganger. I wanted to go up to her and speak with her but I knew it couldn't possibly have been Nat – and yet I wished it was. Seeing her made me quite sad for most of the day. I ambled from Chong Nonsi Station back to Silom Road and called in to talk with Amorn for a while. She could see that I was a bit upset so she told her husband, Tep, to watch the shop and we went and sat under a tree together to try and make some sense of a difficult situation. I told Amorn that I intended to write to Nat tonight when I went back to the hotel and I thought I would give her a call to see how she was. She agreed that was a good idea.
When I left Amorn, I caught a tuk-tuk back to Siam Square and walked over to Siam Discovery Centre to get out of the heat and into the air-conditioning. I like to sit in The Outback Steakhouse on one of the upper levels overlooking the plaza below – and watch the office workers and students coming and going, or sitting together in groups to have their lunch. That's nice while I have a nice cold pint of Bia Singha while waiting for lunch to come.
On the way back to the hotel I bought a pack of Bia Singha then I tried to phone Nat but there was no answer. I ordered a room-service meal, watched some Thai TV and had some of my beer. Then I sat down and began my letter to Nat. What could I say other than I was missing her and I wished we could have Christmas like it was last year. I told her about the lady I saw on The Skytrain and how sad that made me feel – yet, it doesn't seem to matter what I tell Nat, she seems unable to want to try to sort out our problems and get back together. Maybe when she gets this letter her heart may soften. I hardly know what to do or say any more.
The next day, after breakfast, I found my usual Internet cafe´ on Ratchaprarop and sent a few e-mails. I spent some time in The World Trade Centre poking around Isetan and ended up in Swensen's Ice Cream Parlour. It's nice inside this building but things have changed since Nat and I lived in Krungthep. Some of the shops are gone and new ones have come – but there is now a lot of empty space in here where new construction is under way. We used to buy CD's and DVD's at Tower Records, a really cool music store on one of the upper levels, but I couldn't find it this time. It's not the same here as it once was.
Outside there are many stages erected and seating with tables are in place because there is the annual Beer Festival taking place each evening on the forecourt. Many food vendors have erected stalls to sell food to the crowds who will be here in the evening. It would be interesting to see some of the live bands. Most of the beer brands are represented – Singha, Chang, Carlsberg, Heineken – and tonight there will be a band on each of these stages.
After a walk around Panthip Plaza I slowly made my way along to Petchburi and went in to see if Daw was available.
"Sawat-dee krup – kor-thort – is Khun Daw available please?"
The receptionist returned my wai.
“One moment, please.”
Yes, she was and the receptionist said she would be down shortly so I sat in one of the recliner chairs to wait.
She hurried down the stairs and gave me a lovely wai and a smile and went through the usual feet-washing ritual – then she took my hand and led me up the stairs to where the massage would take place. Then she closed the curtain and was gone for a few minutes while I changed.
When she returned, she pulled the curtains closed and she began.
"My elder sister works here also and I have another sister who works up in Sukhumvit. Do you mind if my sisters come tonight and we go to have food together after work?"
I smiled at her. "No – that's OK, they are welcome – I don't mind. We can go to a nice restaurant on Ploenchit or there is another on Ratchadamri that is very good. Up to you!"
The massage progressed and we spoke now and again – all the time she was smiling at me when I looked at her.
"Khun Daw, where in Thailand do you come from?"
"Me and my sisters come from Udon Thani. You would like Udon Thani – you come with me when we go home for the holiday to see place where we live?"
“Mai dai, Daw – I go to Chiang Mai next week for a few days and then I come back to Krungthep but I don't know for how long."
"I not been to Udon Thani but I have been to Surin. I married a lady from Surin but we are not together any more."
Then she came out with the line that I have heard so many times – but it still makes me laugh. Of course the place names change, dependent on where the lady comes from.
"Surin lady no good – Udon lady very good. You come to meet my family?"
We finished the massage and Daw brought me Chinese tea again and we talked for a little while. She gave me this little bird that she had made from stiff yellow and red plastic tapes – woven together and hanging by a string from a thin bamboo stick. I still have Daw's little bird after 7 years have passed – thought it was such a sweet gesture. I gave her a tip and some extra money for her cell-phone recharge and then I changed and we went down to pay the receptionist.
"I will wait for you outside at 10 tonight and we go to find food – OK?"
"OK – I will tell my sisters and we see you then."
We exchanged wai's and she smiled as she saw me to the door.
Outside, the heat was oppressive and I sauntered over to Gaysorn Plaza to get into the air-conditioning for a while and I phoned Nat from there. She asked me where I was and I told her I had seen her sister twice and that it was very hot here. I asked her how she was and the kids and she said “OK”. There was so much I wanted to say to her but the words just wouldn't seem to come out. I said I had posted a letter to her and she should get it next week. Then we said goodbye and I hung up. I made my way back to the hotel, showered and tried to relax for a while.
What was left of the afternoon passed quickly so I showered again, dressed and made my way down to the Internet cafe´ then wandered along to Chidlom to check out the restaurant where I wanted to take Daw and her sisters tonight. I asked the owner what time they closed and she said 10.30 – but she would wait open a little longer if we wished to come before 11. I crossed Ploenchit by the Skytrain walkway and went back into Gaysorn Plaza to grab a cup of coffee and sit for a while. Crossed over to The World Trade Centre then to check out the music on the forecourt.
There was a large crowd assembled already and the bands were really cranking out the music so I picked out the band that I thought was the "hottest" and stood there for around two hours watching the performances and adoring the beautiful Thai women who were standing nearby – wishing inside that I could ask one of them to come and spend some time with me – but that's the last thing I need right now. The guitar work on stage was really good and the bands were very tight and polished and it was extremely enjoyable to be able to spend the time there to watch all of this talent.
The food vendors were doing a brisk trade with people sitting at the tables drinking plenty of beer and some were into whiskey. Thais are funny with their beer – mostly they put ice in the glass before adding the beer and I find this really strange because it ruins the quality of the beer. I always ask them to please not put ice in my glass. Anyhow, I thought it was getting near time to go and wait for Daw so I walked up to Petchburi Road and found a place to stand near the bus stop close to the door to her studio. Mostly the shops nearby were closed except the 7-11 and, in the darkness, you could see the occasional rat scampering around looking for food scraps.
Just after 10, Daw and her sister came out and we caught a taxi to Chidlom and paid the driver – but Daw had been trying to contact her other sister and she was now on her way from work to meet us so we waited near Chidlom station for her to arrive. She came about 10.45 and we walked up to the station level and across to where the restaurant is located. When we got there it was closed so we decided to check out the Beer Festival bands, caught a taxi to World Trade Centre and had a meal together on the forecourt and listened to the music while we talked and had a few drinks.
Sister number one spoke good English and did most of the talking for the other girls.
"Daw is the youngest of us and she is not very experienced in Krungthep so we try to take care of her. We share a place where we live but mostly we just work and send money back to Udon for the family. Where do you come from?"
"I'm from Australia and I only arrive here on Saturday – but I know Krungthep well and spent time here a few years ago when my Thai wife and I had an apartment in Sathon."
"You have Thai wife now?"
"We not live together any more – she is in Australia and her two Thai luksao are there with her.”
"How long do you stay in Krungthep?"
"Not sure – I am going Chiang Mai on Wednesday and maybe I stay in Thailand for a few months but probably come back to Krungthep after Chiang Mai."
We clinked glasses and drank a toast to good luck.
It was just a little after midnight when we finished eating and drinking so I walked the girls to a taxi and saw them in and gave them money for their fare home and thanked them for their company. I went back to the hotel and was glad to shower and fall into bed.
The daily 2-hour Traditional Thai massages have really made a difference to my back and shoulders. There is still some soreness there but I can feel the muscles loosening up and I think I will be much improved by the time I leave to go to Chiang Mai. Today Daw finishes work early, around 4 p.m. so we are going to visit Big-C to check out the shops and find something to eat for dinner. Daw seems really keen on the idea of shopping but I am not getting trapped into that so I steer her away and toward the restaurant level where we find a place that is suitable. After eating we went to have some photographs taken together in one of those self-service booths and had them printed out. We slowly walked back to Petchburi Road and sat on the steps outside Panthip Plaza to look at the photographs. Daw was embarrassed by the images but they looked OK to me. She asked me where I was staying and I gave her the name of another hotel – thinking she wanted to come back to the hotel with me. I didn't really want that or her calling me on the phone while I felt so confused about Nat so I made an excuse about being really tired and needing to get some sleep. I hailed a taxi for her, gave her money for the fare and saw her off toward her home.
Back at the hotel I opened a beer and stood for a long time looking out the windows at the city below – lost deep in thought and feeling pretty awful. In the morning I check out and fly to Chiang Mai so I began to get my gear packed ready for the departure – showered, set the alarm and fell into bed.
Nice start! (For readers, please note this is part 1 of a 6-part story that will be published over the next week.)