A Different Kind of Girl Friend Experience (GFE) Part 6, End Game Thai Style
All the pieces were fitting together to enable them to source the 5,000 jeans and make the Big Deal happen. It was as though the deal really was meant to be because things came together so easily and quickly. The Miller’s Outpost guy was ready
to deliver almost on time and it was surprisingly easy, perhaps too easy, for Khun Eddie to make the arrangements with the so-called competition in Bangkok… so easy that Eddie suggested that they cut back on the Miller’s Outpost jeans
and take more from the Thai connections. In fact, Eddie didn’t just suggest it he actually went ahead and did it by ordering an additional 1,000 jeans from them, at the expense of Steve’s buddy at Miller’s.
That put Steve in a very tough spot as he had to break the bad news to the Miller’s guy. It was very fortunate that he hadn’t actually paid for the jeans yet, but had arranged to take them on credit with the promise to pay as soon as was paid. Despite the big loss of revenue he took it very well and joked that he’d learned the hard way not to spend his windfall money until he had it in hand, so although he’d been tempted to go on a blow out high-roller weekend to Vegas he made himself wait.
A couple of days later Chanida asked Steve to meet with Bas and Kritsana to discuss the final arrangements. Steve knew that this would also involve the discussion, or should that be negotiation, of the final terms and conditions of the deal. Although Chanida had originally presented the spreadsheet that included the investment of their full cash account in Bangkok, she had later suggested investing more cash so as to maintain the reserve. Steve had been adamant that they should keep to the original plan and now he expected that Chanida would take another run at her idea. But Steve had already put in his $17,500 cash and was not going to up that by a penny.
Sure enough Chanida began by stating how important the reserve in BKK was as it was the basis of their future ventures and that they should keep it intact. By now Steve knew very well not to challenge this and mention the totally obvious hole in this bogus argument that they’d have an abundance of additional cash as soon as the deal closed and they delivered the jeans, and that could be the basis for a major reinvestment in the business that ultimately would make it into a legitimate, above-the-board enterprise.
Steve knew there was an angle he was missing, that Chanida was approaching it this way for some other reason but he couldn’t figure it out. Although he was smart and successful in the farang business world he was still struggling with the Thai style that used so much decorum and apparent smiling politeness as to create misdirection and subtle deception, and so he wasn’t able to really understand what Chanida and Eddie were up to.
Now that the jeans were on order and being assembled they had to arrange for the shipping. They didn’t have time for the cheaper delivery by land and sea, so it had to be air freight. 100 bags at $100 each meant $10,000, plus they knew there would be a premium to pay in Don Muang also as that many bags would attract a lot of attention and they could not afford to either have anyone try to muscle in on the deal or have any of the bags disappear. Sure enough Eddie confirmed that they’d have to arrange even more “special” handling to bypass customs altogether and have the whole shipment off-loaded and diverted right at the gate where the plane docked, not through customs. The way this was being arranged gave Steve another glimpse into the opaque and yet deviously creative mindset of the Thai businessman.
The Thai perceives opportunity where we see barriers, bides his time while we forget and arranges while we rely on chance.
Khun Eddie had not forgotten the Colonel who was supposed to have helped Steve with the 10 bags when he had flown them to Bangkok. And evidently the Colonel had perceived a potential opportunity when he realized the stupid farang with the bags was actually working for some smart Thai operators (of course such a person could not be working with Thais) and he had one of his lackeys follow Steve and thus also find out about Eddie. After Steve had returned to Los Angeles the Colonel had arranged to be at that same salubrious club when Eddie was entertaining some other guests or clients and had put on a deliberately ostentatious show of abundant women, drinks and entertainers as well as a large enough entourage to mean real money and likely also some influence and power. It didn’t hurt that the Colonel arranged with the management to have 2 of the service girls whisper within earshot of Eddie about the Colonel and the airport.
Eddie was quick enough to pick up on the connections and realize that this was no happy coincidence, and so the game of greng jai began, with Eddie understanding that as the younger and less senior partner in this relationship he needed to be respectful and deferential to the Colonel, while also needing to subtly but consistently assert his presence and value. He also knew that the stakes would be headily high because the Colonel was not the kind of man to be crossed or to disappoint.
After a very entertaining evening during which they both hinted at profitable opportunities, they agreed to meet later to discuss things in a more private setting, during which Eddie revealed some details about the big deal. The scale immediately caught the Colonel’s attention and he agreed to participate and arrange for the direct off-loading of the 100 bags from Los Angeles.
And so the alliance between the Colonel and Eddie began.
Back in LA the order was nearly ready to ship and they had 2 weeks to arrange with the Thai Korean Air contact to get all 100 bags on the same plane. That was done over a dinner for Khun Pat, which understandably excluded Steve, at a Thai restaurant/night club in ThaiTown in Hollywood, and although it was a very downscale version of the palatial experience in Bangkok, the abundance of spicy Isaan food, Johnny Walker Black and saucily clad young hostesses did the job. That and a bonus of $10 per bag… cash of course.
The Wednesday shipping was set, they had rented a large panel van to haul the bags to LAX, hired a couple of day-laborer guys to load and unload the bags and had the cash bonus for Khun Pat, the shipper.
On Tuesday evening they gathered at Chanida’s house to go over the arrangements and reconcile all the figures in the master spreadsheet. Despite the typical Thai smiles there was an undercurrent of tension in the meeting. That wasn’t so surprising based on the huge investment of work and more especially of cash they had made, but there was another vibe from Chanida that felt uncomfortable. She was uncharacteristically fidgety and wouldn’t look directly at Steve, didn’t use his name but referred to Steve as “him”, and most telling of all even broke into Thai and referred to Steve as the “farang”. This was maybe understandable, although annoying, when dealing with strangers but it was insulting for her to revert to such a relatively demeaning way of addressing him, especially right in front of him.
Steve knew this was not a good sign and a sure indicator that Chanida was struggling with something she was withholding and neither wanted to deal with nor confront him with. He felt that if he could talk with her alone and appeal to her typically kind and considerate nature that she would give him some idea of what she was struggling with, but he also knew she would never open up in these circumstances and tell him what was going. It got even stranger a few minutes later when a particularly clear call came in from Eddie.
After the typical social exchanges and his confirmation that everything was good to go at his end he addressed Steve and made a couple of cryptic references to their night at the hostess club in Bangkok.
He asked them if they wouldn’t like to all come to Bangkok to celebrate their success, and they could go to a private club like the one he had taken Steve.
“You remember the club we went to, don’t you Steve?” Eddie asked, apparently innocently enough.
“Yes, of course, it was quite a place and a lot of fun,” replied Steve, and then added “I even remember the ladyboys.”
“Ah, yes. Things aren’t always what they seem to be in Thailand.”
Steve assumed this was addressed to him and was about to agree when Eddie added “Right, Chanida?”
Steve looked directly at Chanida but her eyes were downcast and she had flushed slightly. The pregnant pause lasted a few moments and then without looking up she replied in a defeated tone “Yes, Pee Eddie”. She had never referred to Eddie with that particular title before and now Steve recalled that it was the term she had reserved for Steve in the loving and intimate early days of their relationship. But she hadn’t called him that for months, so why was she now calling Eddie “Pee”? And what the heck did it mean anyway? All he knew for sure at that moment was that things definitely were not as he had thought and the sinking feeling that suddenly hit him confirmed not only that but that they never would be.
“Pee” Eddie cued off Chanida’s response and said, or rather almost announced: “But soon they will be back to normal.” As cryptic as this was supposed to be it sent a chill through Steve, as though he realized that he was caught up in something that he had little control over, that the world and reality he knew and lived through didn’t matter anymore, that a different set of rules, or a parallel reality were in play and he neither understood nor could control them.
Eddie reverted to the charm and wit of social Thai and ended the call. There was a heavy silence for a few seconds, then Bas lightened the mood by bringing out some beers and suggested a toast to the success of their deal.
Steve left with a foreboding, but also the knowledge that there was little he could do now other than keep his wits about him and not get sucked into anything else.
Despite the misgivings, Steve woke up on Wednesday morning quite excited and eager to get the shipment in the air. They met at their storage unit and supervised the loading of the 100 bags into the panel van, then convoyed to Los Angeles International. Khun Pat was waiting for them and had 2 porters with their big trolleys lined up to cart the bags not to the ticket counter as Steve expected, but directly past the counter and back into the cargo routing area.
Khun Pat told them that Korean Air preferred to do this with such a large single shipment, which made sense. They settled up with him and then stuck around in the terminal to make sure that everything went smoothly and to be on hand in case anything went wrong. Their nervous banter betrayed the excitement and anxiety they felt, and then that gave way to awkward silences that echoed the tension from the previous evening’s meeting. Chanida was again as evasive and distant as she had been but now Bas and Kritsana matched her tone and mood. Only the residual adrenaline of the moment allowed Steve to remain even somewhat buoyant, and he even thought about trying to retrieve 17 of the bags (to match his 17.5% investment and stake) but his heart was sinking and he resigned to the fact that he had to let it play out as the Thais intended.
When they got the confirmation that the flight had left they agreed to meet at Chanida’s home when the plane landed in Bangkok via Seoul 21 hours later. Steve needed some serious distraction and so he reverted to his standard habit of immersing himself in work, drove to his office and worked through the evening until he could barely stay awake, then went home for a fitful and far from restful night’s sleep. After a light breakfast and coffee he called Chanida to make sure she was available, but unusually there was no answer, so he went on over to her home anyway. It was 10am Pacific time and the plane was scheduled to land at 10:15. As he drove his excitement began to build in anticipation of the news from Eddie and their big score, but when he arrived at Chanida’s home he was surprised not to see her car parked in the driveway and with a worried foreboding he walked up the driveway and rang the doorbell. When there was no reply he walked around to the back and peered in the kitchen window but there was no sign of anyone or any activity.
As he was walking back to the front of the house he noticed a man pulling into the driveway of the neighboring house and he called out to the man:
“Excuse me, do you know Chanida, the Thai lady who lives in this house?”
The man hesitated as though he wasn’t sure how to answer, so Steve reassured him by saying: “Don’t worry I’m not with the IRS or the cops, I’m a friend and we had agreed to meet this morning, but it looks like she’s not home. Any idea where she may be?”
To set the man at ease even more Steve added: “Oh, I’m sorry to be rude. My name’s Steve.”
“Hey, Steve,” the man responded, “I think you may be waiting quite a while.”
“What do you mean?” Steve inquired.
“Well, last night a moving van showed up and it looks like they moved out.”
“Wow, you saw Chanida move her stuff and leave? I can’t believe it.” Steve shook his head in disbelief and muttered almost inaudibly, “Jeez, this could be really screwed up.” He had a mounting realization that his worst fears were coming true, but then he realized that the neighbor had used the word “they”, so Steve asked: “You said “they” moved out. I’m not sure what you mean because I thought Chanida lived alone.”
“No, well, yes. I mean she did until her husband arrived from Taiwan. He came a few days ago and I only met him once, but he seems like a cool guy.”
Steve’s head was reeling, but he kept enough composure to figure out part of what was going on: “Maybe I know him. Is he a tall guy, slim, black hair, but decent looking?”
“Yeah, that sounds like the guy. I think his name was Pete Eddie or something like that. Never heard Pete and Eddie together like that, but I guess that’s an Oriental thing. He was from Taiwan, you know.”
“Thailand,” added Steve distractedly and almost in a daze now, “He was from Thailand.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said,” the neighbor replied, then seeing Steve slump down on the porch steps, inquired: “Hey, you OK? You don’t look so good.”
“You ever been butt-fxxxed? His name’s Pee Eddie…he’s from Thailand. And he likes butt-fxxxing stupid foreigners who screw around with his wife.”
The letter arrived about 3 weeks later. It was postmarked in Bangkok but there was no return address. Although Steve recognized Chanida’s neat and perfectly formed handwriting and was very curious about what she had to say he left the letter unopened on his dining room table for a day. He was both angry and intrigued: but most of all he wanted to know the truth. Had she ever loved him, or was the whole “relationship” a sham and a scam? If not, when had it gone sideways? And who really was Eddie and how connected was he, and to whom?
I cannot tell you all but I can tell you some now. You must not follow me or Eddie and you must let go this, sure. You are a good man with a warm heart and I do not want more hurt to you, so please believe me that this is the best way. I know your habit like to analyze and solving problems in the farang style, but please trust me to say you cannot solving this problem and if you try it will painful and I do not want that to you.
I can only tell that I will stay in Thailand for my life now, and I have no freedom like before. My destiny is Eddie and I cannot change that he will not let me go and so I stay. I have good feelings from the USA and from you but that is past now so I do not want to dream of that because it cannot be again.
I did not want for hurt you but Eddie has many power and my fate is with him too. Maybe you understand maybe you not but I think so you do.
Now I have to go and live in my life alone but with Eddie there too. Funny life for me, sure.
Goodbye Pee Steve and good luck in your life.
So, that was it. No real explanation and no apology…just the inscrutable Thai way that is so captivating and yet so unfathomable and inaccessible. We’re drawn to the Thai nature by the beauty, grace, charm and sweetness of the smile and lose rational touch with ourselves, trying to become Thai while never realizing that it’s as impossible as the elephant losing its trunk.
As Steve reflected on the whole episode and all the events of the past couple of years an old saying came to mind. It was something that a good friend who was the owner of an insurance company once told him: “The perfume of the premium masks the stench of the risk”. Sure enough, Steve had been taken in by the seductive and heady fragrance of a Thai temptress and temptation and just as surely it had kept him from trusting his own innate instincts and hard-won reason. But, then again TiT – This is Thailand and perhaps it’s the very riskiness and challenge of attempting the impossible that not only makes the game so interesting but also so dangerous.
Welcome to Amazing Thailand!
A very nicely put together series / story, and one that I don't doubt is entirely true.