Thiri Part 2
Steve had met Thiri on one of the popular Thai dating websites and they had chatted for a couple of months when he decided to go to Bangkok to meet her. In the meantime he had learned a lot about her life and experiences growing up near Yangon in what she called Burma. This is the traditional and British name for the country as opposed to Myanmar which was adopted by the current military junta in 1989. She was an intriguing and beguiling girl: despite her humble Buddhist upbringing she was now a devout Baptist and enjoyed singing hymns. She also played both the piano and the violin. Part of her family was still strictly Buddhist, with some family members even animistic, but her uncle’s family had succumbed to the missionary zeal of an Australian couple and had been baptized into the Baptist faith. As they encouraged her to sing the hymns and anthems of their faith, they had discovered her remarkable musical facility so they had arranged for her to learn the piano and then later the violin.
Although Steve favored the Buddha’s Middle Way and was adamant that he would not marry a devout Christian, he was so taken by her that he had agreed to meet Thiri in Bangkok and see how they got along in real life. The exotic and appealing nature that was abundantly evident in their cyber world encounters had seduced him so far, but he wondered if that would translate into the personal chemistry he sought in the real world.
As she revealed more of her story he discovered that she had fled to Thailand to escape the oppression of the Thiet regime, but had found herself in another type of oppression of the highly political confines of the Mae La refugee camp. Although she spoke decent English and was able to express her ideas quite clearly, she never wanted to talk about the camp. She said that even if she had the words to describe the place, the scenery, the people and their habits, she could not describe the feelings she had and the dread of never leaving or being sent back to Myanmar. She said that she wanted him to see and feel it for himself, that she thought he was sensitive enough to be appalled even by a short visit. He asked if her feelings were common, or perhaps unique to her special sensibilities. She answered that she knew she liked him because he asked her the kinds of questions that made her feel good and implicitly complimented her, as she knew that often times they were rhetorical and just his way of expressing his admiration for her.
The songtaew dropped them off in the center of Mae Sot and they walked the last couple of hundred yards to their simple but relatively comfortable hotel. After showering and cooling off it was time for dinner. While walking back to the hotel from the songtaew drop-off point, they had passed a simple Burmese style restaurant that had traditional food in a very basic and quiet setting. Thiri said it looked ok, but as they entered, they both noticed the single TV hung high in the back corner: not a sleek flat screen, but a bulky old CRT that flickered and faded, as though embarrassed to be showing the gaudy and decadent images of American satellite shows in this humble setting.
As they waited for the food to arrive they couldn’t help being drawn into blurry images of the Dallas re-run. Steve reflected on what Thiri had told him about the 2nd , 3rd and 4th generation families who had never left the camp, not even to venture out to explore the local area. He asked her what she thought they would make of the images on the TV, which showed the Ewings preparing a meal in their large, modern kitchen. She said that they would not understand what it was, that they had no way of relating to it, and even if they did they would not appreciate or want it for their family. The scene on the TV moved to a gaudy Romanesque powder room where Mrs. Ewing was retouching her make-up. This time he didn’t have to ask…instead he looked at her staring at the screen. He could see the reflected flickering of the TV images in her eyes and he understood that she desperately wanted to leave her past behind and embrace the comfort and ease she saw on the screen. She didn’t want the gauche wealth; she wanted the freedom and the security that the wealth represented. She felt him looking at her and turned to stare at him, then tears brimmed and spilled from her anciently black eyes.
When they first met in Bangkok Steve was waiting for her in the lobby of his boutique hotel off Sukhumvit Road. Thiri breezed in wearing a sarong and a skinny-rib singlet that showcased her perfect posture and the sensual curve of her slim neck as well as the modest but obviously pert bosom. She lit up the lobby with her energy, and as she saw him she rushed forward and literally leaped into his embrace. He was expecting the typically reserved Thai greeting, and he was so taken aback that he lost his balance and they collapsed together onto the sofa he had been sitting on. With no hesitation and yet also no suggestiveness, she announced: “Let’s go to your room so I can take a shower…” and then she leaned in even closer and gave him a playful sniff and an innocent stroke of his arm to check for sticky sweat before telling him: “and maybe you need one too!”
Needless to say, that shower was a deliciously intimate scrubbing and drying, that then led to even more deliciously intimate and fulfilling pleasures on the bed. She was a vixen who knew ways to arouse and peak his pleasures that suggested the knowledge of a courtesan or the experience of a bar-girl, or both. But he didn’t care.
As they lay in bed and he luxuriated in the warmth and closeness of her presence he asked about her life growing up in Myanmar and why she had left to cross the border into Thailand and risk imprisonment by the Myanmar or Thai authorities. She said that it was quite simple: better to try to be free and risk physical confinement than be personally and spiritually suppressed and oppressed by the military regime. He felt her pathos and yearning for freedom and at that moment he got an inkling that he knew the ultimate reason for their meeting and that he had to do all he could to help this woman achieve that freedom. He asked her what it would take to enable it. She answered quite matter of factly: “Money.” And then as an afterthought: “Time.” So, there it was. Time and money. Money and time. He figured he had enough of the former to allow him to help and he could tell that she had as much of the latter as was necessary to make it happen.
Thiri thought it would take about 50,000 baht: she had saved 10,000 baht and reckoned she could save the rest in about a year. The bulk of the money was to pay the camp main sector headman about 25,000 baht so he could buy a motorcycle, which was what he wanted to allow her back into the camp as well as to re-take her position in the UNHCR review queue. Other money would be needed to say thank you to the family of the girl whose place she had taken, as well as to friends and others in the camp, plus some for a good-bye party. And of course some money to send back to her parents in Yangon to tide them over until she was able to earn and send them more. A lot of money for a girl in her position, but a small price to pay for freedom.
Thai girls don't usually greet you like that on a first date!