It’s My Affair
I am having an affair. I didn’t plan to have an affair, it just happened, by mistake. But that’s the thing about living in Thailand, the only certain thing is the uncertainty of it all. We can be walking down the street, turn the corner into a soi and then ‘Bam!’
You might get hit by a motorcycle riding along the pathway, or fall into a pothole. Equally, you might chance upon the most beautiful creature on earth and instantly fall in love. Perhaps it’s this uncertainty that makes Thailand so appealing. You never know what hand you will be dealt that day.
It was a Sunday evening, the wife and her family were away for the day making merit at some temple and I’d been left to babysit the house. Sunday evening means the Stick column, of course, and I settled down to my pleasurable read. I have to say, I am not one for the naughty nightlife. I find the whole scene so depressing and full of people desperate in their own ways. Even the lower Sukhumwit zone I avoid at all costs as the Thais there have been so corrupted by contact with western money and values they have lost their Thainess. And when you live outside of that environment, it is so blatantly obvious. I hate it. Still, Stick’s weekly column is a window into that world and I love to rubber neck from the outside, often exclaiming out loud at some of those tales of woe and cultural misunderstandings. The things we do, hey?
This particular week the column looked at the Thai dating sites and my eyes popped open at the salacious shenanigans revealed by Stick. This wasn’t my world, tucked out in safe suburbia, behind our high-fenced walls where kids played innocent games on traffic-free streets. All that funny-stuff going on and just a mouse-click away. What harm could it do, I asked myself, from the security of my living room just to take a little peek and see if those things I’m reading are really true?
Well it’s so easy to justify one’s actions and in the coming weeks and months I was to do a lot of self-justification. I’m no religious man, but take a look at the first story of the bible. It’s all about Adam and Eve’s curiosity. And what’s so wrong about that? After all, we in the west live in an age of curiosity, of scientific discovery, of being encouraged to question everything and take nothing for granted. Even Buddha said we should not accept anything until we have found out the truth for ourselves. You see? It’s so easy to find justification for what you do and think. In retrospect, those biblical writers knew what they were doing when they put the story of Adam and Eve as the first Biblical tale. Curiosity, like everything else, comes with a price.
The evening shadows cast a darkness as I begin to click away on this website. I’ve set up my profile and now I’m checking out the opposite sex. It’s all for my own personal research, nothing more. I just want to know if it’s true what they’re saying about this corner of the internet. Idle curiosity needs satisfaction. I target those ladies around my own middle-aged group. Big mistake. I am immediately subjected to interrogation. How old am I? Where do I live? What is my job? And of course, the big one: Am I married? It’s clear these ladies are looking for marriage material and little else.
I have no qualms about lying, after all I just want to see is where this will lead, and so I tell them what I know they want to hear. Another big mistake. It takes barely a few minutes before I’m being presented with lots of elderly flesh that my webcam really doesn’t want to see. And already they’re calling me darling. Then to cap off this unwelcome and surprising experience my mail box is now targeted by spam inviting me to journey my way to websites of grannies, the older women and lot’s of really horrible stuff. It’s an ugly and desperate world out there beyond the security of my moobaan. I really do not want to take this avenue any further. Moreover, if you’ve been reading carefully, the mention of spam would have told you something else. Yes indeed. My visits to this website had now extended beyond this first Sunday night entertainment.
So my own age group was not the way to go. What then with the young chicks. After all, even despised, western, middle-aged men such as myself still have an eye for youthful beauty. Hopefully I will have this desire up to my last ever breath. But that is another, different story. So just to satisfy my curiosity and just as a personal research project, with self-justification pumping through my veins, off I go in search of the younger age group. Well, this doesn’t take much of our time, you are no doubt disappointed to find out. Me, too. Very disappointed but not at all surprised. It seems there is little online interest in us used souls from the younger Thai gik. They’re all, in my opinion, hanging out for guys of their own age. As soon as they find out how old you are – or view your pic – they’re gone. And why not? Time is on their side. They’re not as desperate as their older sisters, not yet hunting for a marriage partner to provide a nice comfortable financial bed to lie in. These youngsters are picky, rude and without a single interesting thought to pass through their empty heads. Most refused to chat, and those that did, you felt they were juggling several punters at the same time. Conversation with these kids is one-way traffic. There is no effort on their part. Again in the interests of scientific research I dangled a few carrots their way. Begin to talk about mobile phones, watches, jewelry, fashion accessories, expensive toys and there is life out there after all. Pavlovian responses. Dogs the lot of them. Time to cut loose.
And then we move on to where, had I more experience in the field, I should have started in the first instance. Those ladies in the 25-35 year old bracket. This is the mother-lode. There amongst the rocks, the rubble, and dare we say, the slag piles a few bright diamonds glimmer. It wasn’t so difficult to pan-handle out the dross, the desperate and the needy. At last, we can find a few bright-minded, intelligent young ladies able to hold a reasonable conversation, able to respond to questions, willing to pose their own without the overwhelming desperation of their older sisters. For sure these ladies were looking for partners but you felt they still had options of their own. There was perhaps a dynamic that the other two age groups didn’t possess.
Now I’m chatting with a small group of a half-dozen girls. Why? What has this to do with my research? Let’s be quite honest for a moment, it’s the shenanigans that brought you here and here you are saying how much you enjoy the conversation. Be truthful and admit it, you’re skating round the edges of this story.
And that’s when I met her. The one. Bam! Smack, right in the face.
She seemed in a foul-mood when I started my little introduction routine and tried to fob me off. She works in a factory of over four thousand women, she said, on the outskirts of Bangkok. She could fix me up with an online chat with one of her friends, if I wanted. Well, that did it for me. I’m deeply competitive by nature. And this felt like a challenge. I wanted to turn her mood around, generate a little interest in me, get her to at least smile. All in the name of scientific research, of course. If I could do that I felt like I’d scored a little victory.
I turned on what little charm I possessed. Empathised with her. Asked questions about her and listened carefully to her answers. We chatted for some time and slowly she warmed to me. Well you can’t hardly stop a Thai from smiling eventually, it’s second nature even when it’s covering up hurt and pain, and I felt I’d cracked it. A little successful experiment. And I’d brought a tad of happiness to some stranger out in the Thailand boondocks.
Job done? Not quite.
Soon it was only a matter of days before we were chatting every day and I’d filtered my online list right down to perhaps no more than a couple of ladies. But Noi was my prime guinea pig. Am I going to utter those famous last Thai words “But she’s different!”, and hope to get away with it here? Ha!, of course not, keep your senses, man. But then… but then… there goes the self-justification alarm once again. We’ve really got to keep those under control.
But then she was different to the others. Our chats were never a one-way street. It was tennis banter. I’d lob over an easy flirt and she’s whacking it straight back. I try a top-spin tease and she thumps me with a drop shot at the net. She sees them coming, parries brilliantly and gives as good as she gets. I’m getting hooked on this web chat stuff, like I’d never imagined. I love clever women. I’m attracted by their intelligence. Naturally good looks are important, I can’t deny, but I like bright woman who can offer a challenge. And here I am in cyberspace with a 34-year old factory girl. Her story is same-same everybody, from Issan school to a Japanese assembly plant via the abusive runaway husband. Six-day week working. Two weeks on day shift, the next two on nights. Churning out bits that go with other bits to make things that people like me and you think we need. Twelve thousand baht a month, a little town-house shared with three families. All in work. Either in the factory or selling road side noodles. The backbone of working-class, straight-living Thailand. In a way it’s kind of poignant. Here I am with my years of western education and world-wise sophistication, well-travelled and broad-minded. And there she is, a little, primary-school educated factory girl who’s never travelled further than a hundred kilometres from home. And when we get online, she seems almost my equal in terms of wit and intelligence. I am smitten.
Some things have an inevitability about them. It’s all within your control and yet it seems as though we’re travelling on auto-pilot. “Would you like to meet up with me?” I can hardly believe I’m saying these words but then it’s nothing more than the simple, logical conclusion of two people out there together in cyberspace. Either it’s cyber-vapour which at some point melts away to nothingness, or it has to get real. It’s about to get real. But what am I doing? I’m a happily married guy, with my own beautiful Thai wife and little Thai family scattered around in orbit. We’re happy together and have been for many years. My wife stands by me, never complaining when my career hits a rough patch. Our mantra is ‘for better, for worse’ and we believe in it. Our early years of struggle, those years that every young couple go through when setting out together, are behind us. We live in a world marked ‘comfortable’. We’ve worked hard through our lives to get there and if you’re thinking ‘comfortable’ is not much of an achievement then you can’t know the sacrifice and effort that has taken us to that restful and pleasant location.
More self-justification from me. Do I still have what it takes to charm a young lady? It’s been a long time since I’ve practiced those skills, and just like jumping on a bicycle after several years of more comfortable methods of transport, you just wonder if the talent still there inside.
We meet up in an out-of-town shopping mall. A huge complex, full of simple folk from the countryside all dressed up in their Sunday best. When I was a kid, we had to dress up to go to the church back home. Today everyone is out in their smartest gear for the retail shopping experience. I’m feeling light-headed, one half of my brain tells me to get out of this place and back to the safety of my home. The other half is pumping like a teenager out on his first-ever date. Adrenaline is making me dizzy. And then I see her. Oh my god, what a sight. She is slender and long-limbed with long-girlyish flowing black hair. Dark-skinned and with the barest hints of makeup. She wears a simple and knee-length red polka-dot dress, tied in a bow modestly at the neck. Simply perfect, no tattoos, no outrageous fashion statements, nothing daring or over the top. Understated and just right for our first encounter in a public place. Naturally she comes with a friend as chaperone and bodyguard. Just the one, which is exactly as it should be, and our first lunch date is in one of the large anonymous chain restaurants found in every Thai mall. Again perfectly neutral and exactly the way this first date should go. They both smell of that cheap, perfume-less soap that is common in Thailand. She has used it to wash her hair, too. Noi's friend, Moo, has a large bosom and shows some cleavage. I fight to divert my eyes. Sorry, I am a man, after all.
* * *
I didn’t think he was going to like me. I can’t afford expensive perfumes and have only a couple of dresses to wear. We’d been chatting online for a couple of weeks and he seemed like a nice guy so what’s to worry about? When we met, I was so surprised. He could speak Thai! All my other dates with farang had kind of petered out because of this issue. I can’t speak English. None of my friends can speak English and after a while it becomes just too difficult. He’d dressed well, for the date. Clean, ironed shirt and slacks. There’s nothing more that turns off a Thai girl than a slovenly dressed man. Do they have no self-respect? How could I possibly be seen together with a guy who looks worse than a night-shift taxi driver.
He was kind-hearted, too. After lunch, he took me into Robinson’s and bought me a new dress; without me even asking for one. So thoughtful. But the prices in Robinson are so expensive, I felt a little embarrassed to tell the truth. With the afternoon ahead of us, I suggest to Moo that the three of us could go sing karaoke for a couple of hours, but then he said he had to leave. Did we do something wrong? Mai pen rai.
* * *
My little experiment had gone really well. Another little victory for research, I told myself. Now get out while you’re ahead. It’s good advice in sport and politics and good enough for this little situation. But I felt tons of guilt when I stepped out of the taxi at home. My wife was watering the garden. ‘Did you have a good time with your friends?”
“Yes, dear, thanks”.
“Did you bring anything back for me?”
“Sorry, dear. I forgot”.
Little lies, and then bigger lies to come. Fabricated stories. Always having to remember to switch the phone to silent and then remembering to switch it back on to tone. The missed calls. The excuses. The deception. What was I getting into? Are more importantly, why?
I got back online that evening to let Noi know I’d arrived back home safely. She was on MSN chat already when I logged in. She was also logged into the dating website. My heart fell. I’d been on a high, I felt elated that we’d hit it off so well. But here she was chatting with another. My dispassionate, scientific mind was not ready to deal with this. Why would she want to chat with another when she had me around? Like the old Bob Dylan lyrics, something was happening (to me?) and I didn’t know what it was.
Now here’s a thing about these chat sites. I think you can’t be entirely honest on them. Firstly you have to protect yourself, so you can’t give away too much detail about yourself. Secondly, if you want to make a catch you have to spread some interesting bait. I’ll justify it this way. If I tell them I’m married then no sane woman is going to chat with me. My experiment will be amongst the internet crazies. So I told Noi that I was separated, and although my wife was Thai she lived in Australia with my daughter who was then studying at university. It’s unbelievable how easy it is to make this stuff up. And it’s amazing how it f***s up your head.
There’s not an evening goes by when I’m not chatting with Noi online. When she’s on night shifts, we’ll chat during the day while I’m at work. My behaviour is changing. I try to keep it subtle and my wife doesn’t say anything. Nights, she’s glued to the Thai soaps anyway and is unaware of the soap opera that is unfolding in her own back bedroom. But at work my staff begin to notice and make comments. It doesn’t take long before one of the braver girls says to me “You’ve got a gik!”
“You’ve got a gik. Now all the men in the office have a gik!” She giggles behind a hand placed over her mouth.
“Yeah”, says her friend. “We know, we woman can tell!”
Sheesh, has it got that bad? After a client meeting, I take the two Thai girls out to lunch. I want their advice. I want to know how things in Thailand operate. One of my rules for surviving in Thailand is observe what Thais do in a given situation. Copy them and you can’t go far wrong. I fess up. They’re young kids, mid-twenties, but they nod sagely at my story and hear me out.
“Should I tell my wife?”
They recoil in horror.
“That’s the last thing you should do.”
“But you said all the guys have giks, so she must know that too. I mean do your boyfriends have giks?”
“Of course not. They’re good men”.
They glare at me.
Auto-pilot. Where’s the destination? How soon do we arrive? I’m online again and the words drop from my brain and slide off my tongue as though sliding on ice. “Would you like to come away with me for the weekend?” I can’t believe I’m saying this. Innocuously, I asked her if she had a plan for the weekend. Big mistake. Never ask that of a Thai. They do not have weekend agendas. They eat and sleep and then the weekend is over.
“Why, where do you want to take me?”
“I thought we could go to Hua Hin. I can book a hotel online.”
Damn stupid me. I told the wife I have a weekend work seminar. Of course she wanted to come. Said she would not be a nuisance, just go shopping while I was working.
“Sorry, but I have to share a bedroom with a work colleague. Family not allowed.”
“Oh but you snore like a pig, nobody will sleep with you!”
Noi came directly from night shift working. She travelled down by minvan and we met at Anuswari. She in her polyester factory clothes, her company logo on the breast pocket of her shirt. I, in my soft cottons, arrived by taxi. As soon as I stepped out of the comfortable cocoon of my cab, I felt vulnerable. So many things could go wrong. The minivan taking us down to the seaside might crash and I end up in some country hospital. How do I explain that away? She might be setting me up. After all I hardly know her. She could drug me in the hotel room and take off with everything. How do I explain that away? So many doubts. But then I saw her standing there with a little weekend bag and immediately all my concerns evaporated. She greeted me with a wai and a huge Thai smile.
* * *
I was so tired. We’d had an extra production batch to finish and I had to run to catch the minivan down to Bangkok. Moo said I was crazy to go. After all, I’d only met this farang the one time and then for just a couple of hours. He could be a mental case, Moo said. Suppose he chops you up into little bits and we never see you again?
“No, he’s such a sweet little guy. I trust him”
I wanted to sleep on the way down to Hua Hin but the van was packed full and the air-con barely worked. We were jammed up front alongside the driver with our bags perched on our knees. When we eventually arrived at the seaside, he had no idea where the hotel was. I had to find out directions by myself, and then we walked through town in the midday sun carrying our bags. I felt my skin turning blacker than ever. Actually, I carried both of our bags as he looked like he might faint in the heat. Not the best of starts. When I arrived at the hotel the check-in started to make a big fuss at me because he didn’t have his passport with him.
“I live here. I live here” he kept repeating.
The last farang I came on holiday with came from abroad and had his passport and everything was hassle-free. This one looks to be a little bit more difficult.
And the prices they charge in Hua Hin! It’s ridiculous. I can eat som tam and khaow niaw for 25 baht in my factory canteen. Here they want 150 baht for a plate of fried squid. I told him, let’s not waste our money.
* * *
I’m a great believer in managing people’s expectations. In my job I have to manage the expectations of my customers, my staff, my boss, our board of directors. I think I’m pretty good at it. I could see Noi was not happy in the seafood restaurant and when we walked back to the hotel I noticed that she paused as we passed by some street food vendors. “Som tam” she said. I didn’t have to ask if she wanted some. I’ve been in Thailand long enough to know that, even though we may have just finished eating, that’s no excuse for not eating again. So we spent 75 baht per person, She thought the price was outrageous but at least I knew I would not have to take this girl out to Siam Paragon to make her happy. Why do these guys try to impress bargirls by taking them to dinner at Lebeua or Banyan? Girls are not impressed by this. They think you are a gullible fool. Learn to manage their expectations.
* * *
The som tam was not spicy enough. Still it was better than nothing. Mai pen rai.
* * *
So we’d eaten twice, returned to the hotel, showered and ready for an afternoon nap. I could finally draw my research experiment to a close. Yes, I could confirm in my own mind that what Stick had written about in his weekly column was absolutely true. Here I was with a beautiful Thai chick wrapped only in a white hotel towel, in a beautiful resort set among palms trees. The shoreline came right up to the hotel boundary and were I to open up the windows I could hear the waves lap gently against the white sand. Totally Perfect.
* * *
I thought we were never going to make love. He was so slow, I had to initiate it. It had been so long since the last time and I needed it so badly.
* * *
My God, she was an animal. I can’t believe my luck. It was raw energy. Amazing. Astonishing. All the superlatives that you could pull from your head. Noi was wicked. Noi was good. Noi was bad. I mean bad bad as in mind-blowingly good. No, make that terrific. She f****d me. I fell in love.
* * *
We had such a great weekend together. We had a romantic dinner. We had cocktails and listened to a live band. We swam in the sea and I took pictures of everything to show the girls back in the factory. They will be so envious of my good luck.
* * *
Coming back to Bangkok was a real downer. Our body clocks had slowed to the gentler pace of the seaside. We’d eaten and slept well. Chilled out, swapped stories, and shared a happy experience together. Before separating at Anuswari we ducked into a small restaurant where Noi tucked into a huge barbeque of grilled meats and sukiyaki. I could only sit and marvel at the voracious appetite of one so charmingly petit.
“Did you have a nice time, darling?” My wife was in the garden when I got home.
“Yes thanks, and look, I got you that palm sugar you asked for”. The palm sugar that I’d sent Noi to buy in the market by saying my staff had asked for it. I was almost completely surrounded by my lies.
I was anxious to get upstairs into the back bedroom. My phone was already showing a missed call from Noi. When I did, she was there waiting on MSN already.
“Tii rak, home ok?”
“Yes, just ten minutes ago”.
As we chatted, I casually flicked opened the dating site and went to Noi’s profile. Noi was logged in.
You know what they say. Look out for the red flags. Watch for alarms going off. Spot the tell-tale signs. It’s true. And even when confronted by the truth, it takes a lot of effort not to be in denial. But this time I was truly devastated. Her logging in to the dating site might be innocent enough. But why would she be going to a dating site to meet farang barely minutes after we’d separated from a passionate weekend together? Did the weekend mean anything at all to Noi? I could have called her out on it, but I know I’d have heard whatever she thought I wanted to hear. Such direct approaches are pointless with Thai people.
The next day at work my two girls immediately picked up on my mood. I felt like a teenager caught up in the whirl of emotions of that first love lost.
“What is the matter?”
I was too wounded to talk about it. But I was hatching a plan to test Noi and discover the truth of what was going on between us.
I set up a spoof account on the dating web site, picked up a picture of a reasonably attractive guy off the internet, and registered an interest in her. Within 24 hours she replied with a message. “Hi how r u? I not speak English. Only yes, no and ha ha ha” It was the same first message she had posted back to me. I messaged Noi back that I was on business that week in her home area, staying in a hotel and was looking for someone to be my guide. Was she interested?
Yes she was interested, she posted.
Then a couple of hours later she posted me back. “Hi. I have plan. Friday brother me drive to home my mother. You come with family to Petchaboon”.
“Do you have a hotel I could stay at?”
“You stay family me.”
“Ok, do you have MSN we can chat. It is not easy to send message”.
She sends me her MSN contact details and we are online. I don’t open the webcam and she doesn’t ask to open, so I chat for a little while, asking about Petchaboon, her family, her life. She tells me much the same as before. I prod a little deeper. Do you have a boyfriend?
Do you have anyone special in your life?
Not even penguin?
There is a long silent pause. Noi’s nickname for me. Penguin. Then the ‘open webcam’ request box fires up. I click on “accept” and there is Noi howling out tears of sadness as though somebody had just died. In a way, somebody had. I say nothing as she is distraught. She cries and cries and cries. The tears of regret and sorrow, or the tears of someone caught with their hand in the cookie jar? To this day, I don’t know.
Hook, line, and stinker.
Noi pleaded with me. Begged me for forgiveness. Implored me not to leave her.
I knew it was over. Just the end game to play out.
* * *
I couldn’t believe he would pull such a trick on me. After I had been so nice to him and taken care of him in Hua Hin. He married already. So his wife is in Australia but they are still legal. And I have no one. I’m 34 years old and my time is running out. I have to take care my old mother. I want children to take care me when I am old. Why he not understand this?
* * *
So this is the point in my story when I sign off, walking away sadder but wiser. All those clichés rattling around inside my head. There’s no fool like an old fool. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more fish in the sea. There’s one born every minute… Yes, I’ve been in Thailand long enough and I’ve lost nothing except a bruised ego.
I’ve just had the mind blowing sex of my life and I’m about to walk away from it? Hang on a minute. Yes, I know it’s the end game, but who is controlling the strings now?
* * *
The moment he said he forgave me was the moment I fell in love with him. He was going to clear away all the blockages that prevented us from being together. He was going to tell his wife about the two of us. I said I was not his gik. I was his girlfriend. I told my mum about my farang boyfriend and she was so happy for me. I told all my girlfriends at work and they were so envious that I had a farang. I uploaded our romantic holiday pictures to Facebook, but he wasn’t very pleased about that.
* * *
I told her I had a bit of a problem. My wife was returning from Australia for a couple of weeks. Although we didn’t get on so well, she would be staying with me. Noi wasn’t very pleased but I held the moral high ground and there was little she could do but pout for a while.
We met up for sex in her home town, until I complained that I didn’t feel safe travelling alone up to her area. She agreed and instead she started travelling down to Bangkok for sex. It was the best of times. We were a couple. She loved me. Noi wanted to be with me forever. My web of deceit spun tight around me. Every action had to be considered. Who was in earshot when I was on the phone? How to excuse myself in the evenings for cyber chat. Who could see my computer screen in the office? In the daytime Noi would open the webcam and strip off her clothes. If this was the end game it was a dangerous game. But I had become addicted to the thrill of not just illicit sex but all-you-ever-dreamed-about sex. And all this from an intelligent, caring Thai beauty. And then the most dangerous game of all began. The what-if game.
What if I told my wife that I wanted a divorce? What if I moved in with Noi? What if all this great sex was more important to me than Comfort Land. I began to juggle the various outcomes. This was no longer an experiment with Thai dating sites. I was now thinking of throwing everything away for a Thai factory girl.
Hook, line and sinker.
Well I’ve been in Thailand long enough and read Stickman for long enough to know that what you see is not what you get. I’d been seeing Noi for around a year by now, and though it was brilliant and lovely and filled me with happiness, did I really want to go through all those years of teaching Noi and moulding her to fit the way I am? And to be fair, was I happy to be moulded by her to fit the way she wanted me to be? I wanted a sex-kitten. She wanted a provider. Marriage is probably not the best vehicle to meet those needs. And would she continue to give once we were in a marriage? Does any woman? Isn’t that the age-old problem for men? Why couldn’t we just carry on like this? She was pressing me for my side of the deal.
It’s time to call time.
And then Noi pulled an unexpected one on me. I didn’t see it coming. Right out of the blue. She phoned me at work one day.
“I’ve quit my job.”
“I’ve applied for a job in Rachada near your office.”
I listened in stunned silence.
“I have interview tomorrow. Can I see you after interview?”
We meet the next day in a small restaurant. She’s looking stunning in a business outfit. I want to take her right there.
“They say I must live in Ratchada before, then I can have second interview”.
“You mean they want you to quit your job and your home and come and live in BKK and they will only interview you?”
“I quit job already. You want me near you? You say everyday you love me”.
“Tell me this is a joke, you’re kidding me?”
“No joke. Now I no have job. I want be near you every day. You find apartment for me. We live together”
So I’m angry. Not with her, but with my stupidity. I’ve let this relationship drag on when I’ve had plenty of opportunity to kill it off. Now I’m in the deep shit. She’s getting to close to the real me.
A couple of days later Noi calls me up.
“I have interview finish already. Have job”
“What about your apartment?”
“I find room near office. Share with girl. Near office you. Now can see everyday”.
Noi sounds so happy.
* * *
All my friends in factory cry when I finish job. Say I am big sister love so much. They say I so lucky have farang boyfriend. But I not say friend I have no job. Tell a lie. Say stay with boyfriend. Work office he. Noi lose face if friend know true.
* * *
Noi is in the next office building to mine so we meet for lunch every day. She takes my hand as we walk together and everybody, just everybody looks at us. She has no office suits but borrows clothes from her room-mate. And yet she looks stunning. So stunning that I’m embarrassed because we are as ill-matched as a fat aging tourist on Pattaya Beach Road arm-in-arm with a sexy young hooker. If Noi could be described as a slinky, low-cut dress then you’d describe me as an old worn-out cardigan. We get a lot of cold, hard stares, especially from the girls of her own age. She doesn’t seem bothered. I’m introduced to her sales team as her boyfriend. More cold, hard stares. If Noi doesn’t notice, I certainly do.
And yet… And yet…
Every time I see Noi my heart skips a beat. She is truly the kindest most caring person I’ve met in that old-fashioned, traditional Thai manner. She wais me each time we meet. She’s attentive to my smallest needs, she’s demure in public and a tiger in the privacy of our room. She is that image that we all dream about and yet is as sharp as a button and nobody’s fool. If only we’d met 15 years ago. That’s become our mantra.
All those stories I’ve read in Stick about the foolish farang suckered by a simple bar-girl. Now I know just how easy that is. Damn you, hormones!
Noi is selling insurance. It’s not a full-time job. She is a freelancer and has to make a quota each month or else they ditch her. She is under pressure. She puts me under pressure. Why won’t I buy her life insurance? Don’t I want to help her? She doesn’t want to understand when I explain that the immigration officer who takes care of my annual visa is my insurance guy. He makes my visa trouble-free and in return makes a commission on my insurance sales. It’s a nice win-win situation that I cannot and dare not upset. A potential client asks her to join him for golf one Saturday morning. Now I am under pressure. He asks her out the following Saturday. I’m intensely jealous. She says she has to do it. Don’t I trust her? I want to answer about the little trap I set for her, but this is the end game, isn’t it? Other clients are asking her out for dinner, she’s drinking most nights with her room-mate and potential clients and yet Noi claims she is not making her sales quota. She wants to upgrade her phone to a Blackberry. Can I help until she makes some money? She never asked me for money when working in the factory. Noi said she was too proud. Noi is changing. The simple factory girl is moving in more sophisticated Bangkok circles. She’s liking the lifestyle but has no money. The two don’t integrate so well.
I call up a Thai businessman. He owns several businesses in Bangkok and employs around a thousand people in total. In fifteen years as a friend, I’m breaking a vow I made to myself never ask him for help. But I’m breaking that vow for Noi. My friend can put a lot of business her way. He agrees to a meeting. I’m putting a valuable friendship on the line.
“Look Noi. This guy will make you successful. He knows everybody in Thailand. Trust me, you will be sabai. I will come along to the meeting and introduce you.”
Noi wais me and thanks me. “Mai pen rai, I say. Besides, this Friday we’re staying together in a hotel. My wife is away, and I’ve already booked us a room.”
“Tii rak”, she looks concerned. “Can you change the day for the hotel. I can’t go”.
After just fixing her up with a potentially huge client, this is not the reply I was expecting.
“Why? Are you playing golf with your new friend this Saturday?” I ask coldly.
“I told you long time before about Friday. It’s too late to cancel the booking now”
“Ok tii rak”, she says.
* * *
How to tell him the truth? I can’t lie. He is too kind. Help Noi everything.
* * *
I arrive in the office around 4 PM, my staff have all skipped off early in my absence. I’m not surprised. In Thailand nothing surprises me any more; I call Noi to come to my office and we’ll take a taxi to the hotel. When I go to open the door, she stands there holding a clutch of insurance forms but no overnight bag.
“So where are your things, have you forgotten about tonight?”
“Tii rak. I cannot go tonight. Pussy is mai sabai.”
She pats that part of the body to make sure I understand.
“Noi, it’s not your period, that is a week away”.
“No. Pussy is sick. I have virus”
We sit down. “What do you mean you have virus? Have you been to see the doctor.”
“Yes I go to see doctor about ten years ago, have virus from old husband. He sleep many girl. Give virus to Noi. Now virus come back Monday. I go to pharmacy already. Cannot sleep with tii rak.”
These are strange moments. It’s like being outside your body and observing two other people holding a conversation. I’m there but I’m disconnected from what I’m hearing. Noi is speaking English now, which is something she does when she really wants me to understand what she is saying.
“In future cannot sleep with tii rak. Cannot kiss tii rak. Cannot touch tii rak”
“What is this, what you saying. Why you don’t go see doctor”
“Why shy, if sick go see the doctor”
“Noi have virus. HIV”
I cried. She cried. We didn’t hug and cry. I sat at my desk and cried. She sat at my colleagues desk and cried. Last week we’d stripped off all our clothes and made love on that chair. Noi loved having sex in my office, she said it was thrilling to think about it.
“Tii rak. You will always be inside my heart. And I will always be inside your heart”
Yeah whatever, Noi, I thought to myself.
Noi stood up, walked to the door and turned around. She looked at me with those hauntingly beautiful black eyes, then waved good bye and was gone.
I cried alone for a few minutes more, then dried my eyes; shut down the air-conditioning and closed the office lights.
Out on the street the office workers were beginning to make their way home. I needed to be touched. I stopped off at a massage shop and had a long two-hour relaxing aroma massage. Several messages came in my phone from Noi.
“Are you ok?”
“Meet for lunch on Monday?”
I ignored them all. I took a taxi to the hotel and checked in.
“A room for two, isn’t it, Sir? Would you like a single or twin beds?”
“I’d like a single bed”
Friday night, I lay on the single bed listening to the sounds of the street below. I reached out my hand to where Noi should been. Then I picked up my phone and typed in a message to Noi.
“I think this is the time to say goodbye. I cannot forget Noi and you will always be in my heart forever. But we cannot be together. I’m so sorry”
A few moments later came back her reply.
“Mai pen rai”.
Wow! Great story!