A Rather Strange Smell…
I met Mem in Phuket. She wasn't working in a bar or on the street. She was a friend of my mate's girl (Lek)… That girl was the friend of another friend who did indeed work in a beer bar, so you could deduce that the chances were high that
Mem, 33 then, had some involvement in the neon scene, at least sometime in the past. Birds of a feather and all that.
So I get to look at some photos of Mem and then talk to her on the mobile. She has good English with a slightly posh British accent, which should have set off alarm bells. She didn't have any kids and seemed full of life on the phone… I agreed to pay for the bus ticket(s) from Khon Kaen to Phuket. I am 10 years older than her and no movie star in looks but a cursory glance at the couples in Phuket revealed that the older the farang, the better the girl seemed to like it.
Having said that, the girls working the gogos and beer bars had always come across as rather mercenary and the two I'd enjoyed had both given every impression of wanting to be elsewhere. Which was strange as there were a lot more girls than customers. Anyway, my friend had assured Lek that I was a good man despite the beer and girls, and Lek came up with Mem.
Mem wasn't quite what I expected. She was a sort of pocket Venus, less than five feet tall but full of curves in all the right places. Her face looked a bit pinched but was transformed by a smile that most movie stars would envy. She was full of life despite having quite recently left hospital after being beaten about the head and left for dead. She reckoned it was her last British boyfriend who did the deed and fled the country, although this seemed rather odd as she still occasionally talked to him on the phone and he had been back in the country at least once. The cost of hospital treatment had been paid for by a quick sale of the house he'd bought her, meaning she had nothing to show for the 6 years with the guy!
I'd been warned not to believe what these girls said, that they had a way with words that meant they would say whatever it took to flatter the man of the moment. Mem had a certain childlike enjoyment of beach life, happily ate farang food and brought a rare enjoyment to sex that made me feel all full of myself. However, she seemed to be very loose and I could barely feel even when she had an orgasm. She seemed to say whatever came to her mind, asking why I had such a small member compared to the last boyfriend who despite being twenty years her senior seemed to have been some kind of sex maniac – a few days into the relationship Mem showed me her permanently distended anus! She also liked to pat my beer belly and say I was her buffalo.
This should have made me do a runner, I suppose, but despite rampant sexuality she still had a childlike joy at life and I didn't want to hurt her. She had also been to the UK eight times, for a month to three months at a time and opined that she would like to live their permanently, the obvious implication that I should marry her and whisk her over there. She also had many mobile calls, some in Thai (total ignorance of the language on my part), others in English – I think she was trying to make me jealous.
My friend had also been told that Lek had a Thai man following her around. The girls sometimes disappear for hours, not in the least concerned that we would react by doing the bars and gogos. Neither of us were handing over a daily allowance so we were pretty sure that if there were Thai men involved they were not getting any money… unless the girls were doing a quick short-time with other foreigners and then handing over that dosh to their Thai men. I couldn't believe that Mem would be that stupid or nasty.
Three weeks later it was time to return to the UK. I'd agreed to come back within six months and try for a visa to take her to the UK for six months, although what the embassy would think of her having gone so many times with the past boyfriend and then switching men probably didn't bear thinking about. So I didn't think about it.
Meanwhile, I gave her some money and said I would send more, not sure if I wanted to come back or not. She was a lovely looking lady but being so loose made sex hard work and her history begged lots of questions – but compared to what the girls in the bars demanded we were only giving them loose change, so you could say we were still ahead of the game.
About three months later Mem phoned me up, said her old boyfriend was coming to Bangkok and she might get back together with him if I didn't come to her rescue. Apparently, he had sold some property and was well loaded, this money overcoming the fact that according to her he had beaten her up and put her in hospital. I was astonished by this kind of stupidity but at the same time veered into a black depression at the thought of losing Mem…and less than 24 hours later I was on the plane to Bangkok!
I was greeted at Bangkok airport with jubilation from Mem and an extended cast of family members who had somehow fitted into a 4-seat pick-up truck driven by her aunt, who had the look of a failed mamasan. I had booked a room in Pattaya but we headed off on a 6-hour drive to Khon Kaen, but not before the car had been filled with gas and the family sitting in the back provided with several bottles of whisky. I know Stick talks about putting your foot down but there was a certain inevitable momentum about the change of plans that I could not bring myself to complain at, let alone redirect them to Pattaya. <And if you don't put your foot down right at the start, it becomes so much more difficult to do it later on! – Stick>
I had the prime passenger seat whilst Mem and aunty's husband were squeezed into the back seats, which were really half seats. I would have much preferred to have Mem on my lap but supposed that family sensibilities wouldn't allow that.
Aunty, I had previously learnt, had actually brought Mem up after her mother did a disappearing act so it was important to keep in her good books. She had passable English despite being the mistress to some French guy, having previously been a mistress to some Chinese guy (and having two kids with him). She admitted to working in a Phuket bar for a short time but couldn't cope with changing sexual partners every five minutes – she looked like the kind of woman who enjoyed getting her claws into someone! Her Thai husband sat in the back seemed totally disinterested in the disjointed conversation, slurping on a bottle of whisky as his facial features slowly dissolved under the influence of the alcohol.
If I told my friends back in the UK I'd just jumped into a pick-up with a bunch of drunken Thais and had no idea where we were going, they would probably be on to the embassy urging them to get the police involved… but that's the nature of Thailand, you never quite know what is going to hit you next! The family home turned out to be a two-storey concrete structure that was close to the railway line and gave every impression of not receiving an ounce of tender care since it had been built twenty-odd years ago. The Chinese guy had bought it for Aunty back when she was first pregnant and had died shortly after the second child was born, all his money going to his official wife. I am not sure how many people were actually living there but Aunty certainly didn't like the idea of living alone.
After dropping off everyone at the house, Aunty and Mem and I then drove back to town to a hotel that looked about as dilapidated as the house but I was assured that Aunty knew the manager and I would get a good room at a good rate (more likely she was on commission…) but at least we would be alone. The room was okay(ish) and 700 baht a night but far from the idea that I had in my head of a beach holiday in Pattaya. These provincial Thai towns are at best boring. I had time for a quick shower (alone, alas) and then it was back to the house for celebrations, which consisted of beer and whisky. Oh, on the way out of the hotel, a rather ebullient porter gave Mem the eye and they sneaked an exchange of glances…
I was tired from the 12-hour flight and heated by the night air, helped along by a few bottles of Chang that did nothing for my beer belly, which seemed a particular point of amusement to the Thais – I caught one lad careering around with his back bent back and hands outstretched in front of him. Hilarious. The first thing that happened back at the house, the Thais waving empty whisky bottles at me and Aunty had a hand out until it was filled with many purple notes. Her elder daughter and husband dispatched on the family motorcycle to get supplies… the house was in a little soi full of similar structures but stretches of empty land all around them. Weird place to my mind but what do I know,
There was a constant flow of people coming and going, much muttering in Thai. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that Mem being brought up by Aunty wasn't a good recommendation – with multiple men in her life and a much younger Thai husband it didn't set a good precedent. I had noticed that when walking around with Mem, Thai men often gave her the eye and she wasn't shy about giving it back!
Late in the night an elderly Swiss guy turned up with his much younger Thai woman (Lek2). According to him Aunty had previously run a massage parlour where the young Mem had learnt her trade with keen Thai guys. Mem had previously admitted to living with a local man whilst she worked in a factory to provide him with money for whisky, and this guy was still in love with her and sometimes went out looking for her, with a gun and murder in his mind! She was 26 when she started with the Brit, a few years younger when living with the Thai guy so she could still have had a session in the massage parlour (she reckoned she was raped when she was 14 after someone in a disco put something in her drink). Lots of things didn't add up but it seemed part of her character was that she just fell in with whoever was available and professed to love her.
The Swiss guy had a nice wife in Pattaya but kept Lek2 going as he thought her a wonderful person and had made a house for her on the next housing estate, about ten minutes away. Later, Mem said Lek2 had a Thai husband who she passed off as her elder brother and an English guy who sent her money every month… my head was beginning to hurt with the information overload and the endless permeations of betrayal. Some of the fizz had gone out of the sex with Mem, and she seemed to be closing down some of happiness and becoming harder of eye. There seemed to be a certain expectation that I would do the decent thing and marry her there and then, despite her still taking phone calls from her last British boyfriend – there were plenty of photos of them in the albums littered about the house and if I every get hold of the skinny little runt I will give him what for.
The next day it was touring around the town visiting various people. At one house, there were a couple of police drinking whisky who gave Mem bright enough smiles to suggest they were past or even ongoing fans of the lady but they seemed friendly enough after I handed over a couple of purple notes to buy yet more alcohol. Aunty, despite her dubious past – or maybe because of it – seemed to have plenty of contacts with minor officialdom, which gave me pause for thought! Probably not the kind of lady to get on the wrong side of.
Her French guy had built a minor mansion on a hill – all in Aunty's name, of course – but had gone back to France to sell off his business so I didn't have the pleasure of meeting him, no doubt yet more disturbing gossip would've resulted if he deigned to speak the English language, my French as extensive as my Thai.
On the third night, well into another drinking session, Aunty's husband and Mem got into a noisy altercation that resulted in Mem giving him a hard slap across the face… to me it was the kind of assault a woman would only get away with if she was intimately involved with the man. But I had actually seen Aunty and husband in a fairly intimate embrace so that couldn't be right, could it?
Mem was in a dangerous, drunken mood back at the hotel, revealed that Aunty's previous Thai husband had seduced Mem when she was about 20, causing total chaos and mayhem when Aunty had found out. Mem had gone off to work in a local brothel, having nowhere else to go, whilst Aunty had attacked her husband with such viciousness they had never spoken since!
Amazing things, these Thai families. It had taken Aunty a few years to forgive Mem, which involved Mem handing over all the money she had saved from working in the brothel. How did I feel about living with a Thai girl who had probably had sex with a few hundred Thai men whilst working in a brothel and possibly massage parlour, let alone what she had done with various farang? Gutted probably sums it up. But all the warnings had been there.
I couldn't quite bring myself to add to the ongoing disaster that Mem's life represented by dumping her there and then but did find enough steel to insist that we relocate to Pattaya for the remainder of the holiday. Away from the family, much of the niceness came back but I was pretty sure it was just an illusion, a front that hid a much darker soul. And I have the suspicion that she was letting her Thai man and Aunty pleasure each other in a bizarre payback for her previous stupidity.
At the airport, no new visa in her passport, and a paltry amount of baht from me (by bar-girl standards) she drifted into indifference… The last I saw of her she was texting away on her mobile, probably excited at the next new guy or the return of her old boyfriend! No telling really but I could cry for such a lost soul who seemed to have run right out of luck.
It's really hard to see anything good coming from involvement with a woman like that. There's a reason Thais look very closely at the family of a person they are going to marry….!