Thailand And My Life
This is in direct response to Stick's calls for such articles. If you're looking for a wild story, skip this one. No nights in Nana, no betrayal, no gogo dancers.
In 1964 when I was eight years old my family sold our house, bought a VW van, and made a three-month trip through the American Southwest. It had a profound effect on my life and instilled a lifelong love of travel.
In the early 1970s I lived in Houston, Texas, USA. I surfed, to the degree one could there. We usually had to wait for a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico or make a very long trip to Padre Island. One thing we could do was go the University of Houston and watch surfing movies. I found that I didn't just love the footage of surfing, I loved the whole idea of living in the tropics. I
loved the idea of living by the beach.
In 1976 I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was still a very laid back place in those days, and no one cared who you were or what you did for money. I fell into construction by default. Even though I came from a family of builders, I'd always had a rather technical, geeky bent, but there weren't many jobs and I came to love remodeling old adobes. Although I never made any real money, that didn't matter. I have never cared much about money. I took a couple of long backpacking trips through Europe and was living a pretty carefree life.
During the recession of 1981 I met a girl. At the time I was planning a trip to India and thought maybe I'd try to get into Nepal or Bhutan. It was not to be. We got married. About that time, I bought my first computer, a Timex-Sinclair 1000. I had worked as a computer operator in Houston in the days when a computer was a set of cabinets the size of refrigerators. I had played around with JCL and Fortran, but that was in the days when programmers were like a priesthood, so I never got to do much. Now I had my own computer! I still remember a line from the manual about programming: "Don't worry, no software you can write will break your computer." I took that to heart.
I became a geek. If I wasn't working, I was writing code. I bought better computers.
In fall, 1985 my wife and I moved to Seattle, Washington. I became a software engineer. I was pretty good at it. I loved it. Our lives went on. We never had kids. We both got good jobs and as soon as I left my first job, I began contracting. I would continue contracting throughout my career whether I had a job or not. I loved working in my home office and most employers and clients let me telecommute.
(Great! What the hell does this have to do with Thailand? Be patient, I'll get to it.)
Through our time there, trips to Hawaii became a regular occurrence and I learned to dive and still dreamed of living in the tropics.
By the late 1990s I was pretty burned out on Seattle. It's a beautiful place but the weather sucks about nine or ten months of the year. The city and the area were growing and I wanted out. My wife and I made a plan to move to Hawaii by January 2000.
In June 1999, I pulled the trigger on the plan. I gave notice at my job and left to devote myself to getting the house ready to sell and get ready for the trip. My wife, who had been all for the plan until then, balked.
She kept balking. She wouldn't leave her job. She wouldn't even take a sabbatical, which she could do. It wasn't really that she was a crazed career woman, it was that she craved security above all else. I must make it clear that she is not like the western women so often described here. Our lives went on and we bought a nicer house. I tried to live her life. I loved her, she loved me, and this was our only major conflict.
In summer 2005 the local dive club planned a dive trip to Thailand. They were going to Pattaya. Since it was mostly married couples, I still can't figure out why. The diving's not that great. I researched their trip, then researched diving in Thailand, and wound up on Koh Tao instead. I had a great time. No bar girls or anything, just a nice relaxed time with some nice dives. Nice friendly people. Good food – I'd been eating Thai food in the US for many years. Hot but pleasant weather. And it was CHEAP. Like Hawaii, but really cheap. I spent a couple of days on Koh Samui and a couple of days in Hua Hin, but didn't have a wild time. I did meet two university students in Hua Hin who took me on a tour of Wat Borfai as part of their English final. We didn't hook up. They weren't that kind of girls and I didn't even think about it. I got some Thai massages, not even oil. No happy endings. I was aware of the bar scene. I'd done my research, but I was mostly happily married and it was only ten days.
I wasn't hooked, but I was definitely interested.
For my second trip in February 2006 I brought my wife. We spent two weeks in north Phuket, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. It was a great trip. She went home and I went down to Phuket for a couple of weeks of diving. Did all the typical dives, got certified for rescue, went to the Similans, etc. And indulged, just a little, in the bar scene. I was in Kata, not Patong. It's pretty quiet and friendly, or it was back then. The girls were just nice and sexy. No BS. Three hour short times in my room for $25.00. The diving was great. I was staying in a guesthouse famous for its food. The weather was fabulous. And it was still CHEAP.
I was hooked.
I went home and tried to forget it but I couldn't. Since my wife had balked at moving to Hawaii, I'd been living her life, not mine. At 51, I'd reached the age at which my father had died. I was in excellent health, but most of my family dies young. If I was ever going to do something, I needed to do it soon.
I began to beg my wife to take a sabbatical, even just six months, so we could go live in Phuket. Although we were both good people and loved each other a lot, plenty of resentment about Hawaii had built up over the years. There were some pretty ugly fights. Not violent, just ugly. Finally we decided that I would go and live in Phuket for six months by myself. I could dive, travel, and maybe 'get it out of my system'.
In November, 2006 I moved to Kata, Phuket for six months. I stayed in a guesthouses at first, but some friends found me a bungalow. The cook from the guesthouse became my mae baan and cook, part time. If I wasn't diving, I was traveling, and went through much of Thailand and parts of Laos. It was like a dream. Like heaven. In six months the only problem I had was food poisoning. Scary but not serious. I 'indulged' occasionally but didn't go crazy. I had been studying Thai in the US and everything was new and fun and… still really cheap!
I was hopelessly hooked.
I went home, and my ex-wife says she knew I was different when I walked through the door. We tried to patch it up. Really. But on a birthday trip to Cozumel, Mexico, we decided to divorce. It wasn't an angry decision. It was a sad one. She just could not leave the security she had, and I could no longer stay. We sold the house, made a very fair divorce without lawyers and I moved here in September, 2007. We still remain very close and email each other often.
So I moved to Thailand. I was planning to go to Phuket in December 2007, but decided to stay in Hua Hin for a while. The terrible plane crash in Phuket occurred right after I got here.
I never made it to Phuket. I met HER. I knew her cousin (Noi) because she'd been a bartender I'd met during my first trip to Hua Hin in July, 2005. Noi was stunning and not easily forgotten. I walked into a coffee shop one morning and there she was. I definitely remembered her. Did she remember me? Who knows? She was a barista. We started talking. She was marrying a young Norwegian man in a few weeks. She introduced me to him and we all became friends. I was not a threat. I was like an uncle.
I was getting laid in Hua Hin. It's not like other places, but there's no shortage of bars, massage parlors, etc. I wasn't being crazy, but I was officially single and could do what I liked. I like small, dark haired, dark eyed women and could have spent a long time working through the inventory.
I had adapted to the environment.
A few days before the wedding, Noi invited me. She said her fiancé’s friend couldn't attend and asked me to come. I spoke English so her fiancé wouldn't be lonely when she was busy. I spoke enough Thai for simple translations – she could tell the family to speak with me slowly and simply and I could tell him what they said. I jumped at the chance. Going outside the tourist bubble.
The Grateful Dead once wrote, "Set up… Like a bowling pin" and I was. Everything she'd said about the wedding was true, but that's not why I was there. I was there to meet HER, the cousin of the bride. Nineteen years my junior, slim, attractive in an exotic way you rarely see here, with a very bright daughter she needed to get through school and then university then med school. I was smitten. That was the plan. If you're single and even remotely normal, almost any Thai lady who doesn't hit on you will play matchmaker, whether you realize it or not. Noi used my obvious interest in real Thai culture. No doubt, given that she worked in downtown Hua Hin, she knew of my nocturnal activities, but just the same, she would have known I wasn't being crazy or evil, just a healthy man who didn't know where to go and needed some female company. I can't count the number of women I've met here who have asked me if I had single friends. It's not evil, at least not usually. It's just sexual economics. It's the same in the US, just a lot more subtle because we're all from the same culture. If you're a crack addict, the girl at the coffee shop won't hook you up with her cousin. If you seem normal and nice, she just might. If there's any real difference, it's age, as far as I can see. I was 51. She wouldn't have hooked me up with a 20 year old. But a woman of 32, with a kid? No problem. Noi knew my work, my history, and almost certainly what I was doing in Hua Hin. She didn't really care about me, I just looked like a good prospect for her cousin.
Noi's cousin (HER) moved in about a month later. I only went to Phuket for vacations. We've been together almost four years.
So how did it turn out? On the whole, pretty well. We've certainly had our arguments. She's strong willed and was divorced (if she was ever really married) at nineteen. Her family was wealthy when she was a girl. She never really learned to live with ANY man, much less a farang, much less a software geek. Much less me. I re-started my business here, and while it hasn't been a smashing success, it's kept us housed and clothed and fed and kept her daughter in school. I've helped the family _occasionally_ but not in any bad way, and it's always been my idea. Her daughter is an A student and I love her like my own. I had some crazy times early on, mostly driven by guilt about my ex-wife, but that's all been worked out. We've had a pretty normal life with normal arguments exacerbated by language and cultural differences. She's a victim of a Thai 'education', ignorant but not stupid. She listens and learns except when her culture blocks it. While she's not always as 'nice' as you might expect from Thai woman, she is always good. I can accept that trade off.
What we haven't had is any of the typical bullshit I've seen here on Stick's site and heard from other farangs. Just none. She's usually honest to a fault, and when she's not, it's usually funny even when it's a pain in the ass. I wound up in the middle of a HUGE family fight when a friend of hers loaned a cousin some money. She (the friend) wanted to get paid back, so they lied and said the money was from me. When the fight blew up because the cousin didn't want to pay the last 10K baht, and I finally heard about it, I could only laugh. I told her, "I don't care! It's not my money! Anybody who loans a Thai money knows that they may not get it back. That's why you said it was from me!" I don't know and don't care what happened to the last 10K baht.
I've spent a lot of time inside a Thai / Chinese / Malaysian / Indian / Mon family from Ratchaburi. What little mongering I do is her letting me off the leash and me acting Thai style – accepted behaviour for a night out with my puak, or 'the guys'. I've learned that while there's plenty of BS in Thai families, in hers it's probably not much more than it would be in a really large extended American family. I've learned to like kids and I love her daughter like my own. I've learned a Thailand, that while it still has horrible faults, is so far from the Nana / Cowboy / Pattaya / Isaan axis that it could be Siberia. I've been in political, philosophical, and religious discussions with Thai friends and family, though I sometimes needed a translator. I've learned, as a recent submission said, that there is 'Another Thailand'.
Now I'm going home for a while. (Huh? Where did that come from if things are so great?)
It's been fun. It's been fantastic. I'll bring her over on a fiancé visa as soon as I can and we'll get married in the US. I miss being a geek and being with other geeks, the nerd herd, if you will. My earning potential in the US is still high even in bad times. I specialize in embedded software and it's a pain in the ass to get the machines over here. I'm sick of having NO rights as opposed to the now diminished rights I have in the US. I hate the traffic. I need a break. And I hate writing Windows software.
I'll go home (to America, but not to Seattle) and she'll join me in a few months. I don't know how long we'll stay. Not more than five years, I don't imagine. Her daughter starts university soon. She's all grown up and a brilliant student and has family to take care of everything but the cost of school. For us, that's much less of a strain from there than it is from here.
So Stick, here it is. Finally a submission after nearly ten years as a reader.
I find these stories of how people ended up here fascinating.