Stickman Readers' Submissions July 19th, 2012

My Boss

Reading this title you might expect a narrative about a bargirl by whom I feel not enough respected. Far from it. This is a portrait of my real life boss, Wolfgang, who might still live in the memories of bar-regulars in Pattaya’s Soi 7 where he had his favourite watering holes. It was he who inspired me to move to Thailand after my retirement, like he had done a few years before, a man to whom I owe a tremendous respect.

Wolfgang was born in 1928 in Berlin. The older he grew in his teen years, the younger the Nazis wanted German children to enter the Wehrmacht. Wolfgang choose to become a mariner in the Navy. That must have been in the last year of the war. His first deployment was in a speedboat that evacuated female nurses from East Prussia to Denmark, to save them from the hands of the advancing Russian troops. He liked to tell the story that years after the war a woman addressed him: “Excuse me, weren’t you in the Navy?”

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“How do you know?”

“I am Sister Angelika. I remember, you were on the boat that brought us in to safety. It was you who saved my life. I always wanted to thank you.” With this she embraced and kissed him.

On his last trip to East Prussia his boat was hit by a Russian torpedo (or a mine) and exploded. He was catapulted into the icy water of the Bay of Danzig. Comrades at another speedboat watched its demise and managed to pull him out of the water. They packed him into blankets and filled him with a bottle of Schnapps. He survived.

When he came home to Berlin, his father’s house lay in the Russian sector of the city and had been dispossessed. He left Germany to study Asian languages in Amsterdam. Later he became a roving correspondent for newspapers until he was made my boss.

In the beginning I had the feeling that we could never match. He introduced a new working style. Every noon he invited his underchieftains to a briefing of the day at which he opened two big bottles of white wine and urged us to drink with him. I was the only one who refused, and I knew that didn’t bode well for our future cooperation.

Then a miracle happened. I went to Hong Kong to find a translator who could render German texts into Chinese. China itself was still hermetically closed. The assignment was an easy one. I had been a founding editor of the TV Company ZDF, home of “Der Kommissar” and “Der Alte.” I left TV soon, because in my eyes television was an aberration in the development of the media. If you produce a TV program, you have so many cooks pissing into the cooking pot that no one can predict the outcome. A problem under which Hollywood still is suffering. To my old TV colleagues I was still a man of the first hour and always welcome. So I met the people of the German TV studio in Hong Kong and asked them if they had a freelancer wishing to go to Germany. They gave me two recommendations. The first one was a beauty, more interested in my person than her future job. The second by the name of Connie was too good to be true. She worked as a secretary or assistant to the Office of the CEO of “Noble House Hong Kong”. She was a woman on top of the social ladder, but she was obsessed by the idea of leaving Hong Kong before the Big Bang. A Big Bang never materialized. But she came to Europe.

A year after her arrival Wolfgang called me to his room. On the table stood a bottle of very old Armagnac.

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“This you cannot refuse to drink. I drink to you and you drink to me. The reason: Connie and I are going to marry.”

I was speechless. I had not observed the slightest indicator of this development. Of course I worried. If an overqualified translator became Wolfgang’s wife, what would my position be? But Connie was absolutely loyal to me. She did not undermine but rather strengthened my position. And she stayed a translator.

The couple led an eventful life. It was Wolfgang’s obligation to visit all the parties and receptions given by Asian embassies. His responsibility stretched from Korea to Afghanistan. Answering their invitations, he always appeared with Connie at his side, dressed in a tasteful Chinese silk dress. This made a deep impression on their hosts, furthering the relations between the two respective countries. On days without official duties the couple tried all the newly opened restaurants in Düsseldorf, Bonn and Cologne.

“Do you never cook for Wolfgang?” I teased Connie.

“I leave that to the professionals.”

In 1989 Wolfgang and I had our great hour of cooperation. I had taken a few days off and flown to China to watch the protesting students. When this became a mass movement, more powerful than Prague and Budapest, with also parts of the working class uprising, I called Wolfgang and told him, history was opening a new page. He understood immediately und suggested that every day for as long as possible I should phone a report on what was happening. This was of course forbidden under the meanwhile declared Martial law. He would distribute my reports and commentaries to the whole German broadcasting network. Luckily I had in my hotel room a telephone with intercontinental direct calling that never was shut down. I wonder if they forgot, or if someone high up wanted my voice to be heard in the car radios of European workers on their way home.

One time when Connie was visiting her parents in Hong Kong and I was again on my way to Beijing she called me in my hotel in Kowloon and invited me to eat out. Her parents lived in the north of Hong Kong Island, a location I was not familiar with. She led me to a small soi that was completely filled with food stalls, comparable to the food courts of Singapore, but under the open sky. When we tried a few dishes and she commented: “They cook much better here than I ever could.”

I embraced Connie only one time. That was when she confessed to me that she was suffering from cancer and going to die soon. She still was so young. I felt terribly guilty. If I had not invited her to the West, she still might enjoy the food stalls in Hong Kong in good health. She had wanted to escape from unknown dangers in the East and was overwhelmed from the dangers in the West.

Her slow and painful dying put a terrible strain on Wolfgang. After her enterrement he took his retirement and moved to Asia. From all the countries he knew – and he knew a lot of them quite well – he chose Thailand to find his peace. In the first year he was engaged by a university in Chiang Mai to teach mass communications. Later he visited the City of Sin and discovered that his libido had not yet completely retired. A reason to stay in Pattaya.

In May 1997 I sat at my office desk when my phone transmitted his voice.

“Felix, I remember you have a hand in money matters. You must immediately take all your free money and transfer it to Thailand. They pay 10 percent interest here on the baht. Do I need to tell you more?”

I could have told him that if a currency pays such an high interest, it is going to be devalued. But who was I to contradict my good old boss?

On the last day of June I stood in Hong Kong in the relentless down pouring rain and watched Prince Charles entering the Royal Yacht to abandon the former crown colony. If only Connie could have seen this peaceful transition!

In this same year the baht lost more than 50% against the Mark. But that didn’t hurt Wolfgang, because he received every month his pension in Marks. So in fact he could now spend twice the amount in baht.

It was against this background that Wolfgang met his Nemesis – or should I say “Teeruk”?

The lady owned a hairdresser’s shop. I am not aware of the MO of hairdressers in Thailand. When I went out to get a haircut, my Thai Chinese household manager Hong always accompanied me, to prevent misunderstandings. But I know for sure that in Taiwan many hairdressers offer a haircut combined with a blowjob or a full ride. If demanded, even on a male to male basis. So, gay readers, and straight ones, keep Taiwan in your crosshairs.

Wolfgang was a caring man, always willing to help the needy. When in Chiang Mai he started an action for the support of the garlic farmers of the north. He was jai dee.

The same cannot be said of his teeruk. She found out how high his monthly pension was and followed Dana’s mental reconstruction of Thai thinking: “Your money is my money.” For her the only question was how to transfer this money into her possession.

She told him that she was only half his age, and if something happened to him, what would become of her? Would she be forced to sleep on the Beach Road? Was that his wish?

His wish, no, his hope, was to establish a business for her from which she could live carefree after he had passed away. Her first idea was to open a limousine service to bring hotel guests to the airport. Wolfgang bought a Camry for her. After a few weeks she told him, that the Camry was not good enough for her distinguished guests. It had to be a Benz. Wolfgang said no. He himself had only owned mid-range cars.

Her next business idea was to establish a songtaew service between Sattahip and Pattaya. That made sense. I lived on that route and often had to wait half an hour for the next songtaew (baht bus). Wolfgang gave her the money for one songtaew. She took it as down payment for two. Going into high interest debt, she expected Wolfgang to pay it off. For both cars she engaged drivers. One of them accidentally killed two pedestrians. Wolfgang had to go to the police and pay 10K baht to get the driver released from prison and make the relatives of the victims renounce compensation. Wolfgang shuddered with self-disgust when he told me this.

After moving to Thailand I had been meeting him on a regular basis in Soi 7. He had built a house in the north of Pattaya, far behind the railway tracks. I stayed in a beachside condo south of Jomtien. One evening he urgently wanted to speak with me. He had been to a check up at the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital, where a Dr. Abichai, a man, whom he trusted absolutely, had told him: “Wolfgang, as your doctor I order that you leave Thailand with the next flight West and never come back.” While Wolfgang had heart troubles, I think this advice was more psychological motivated, because the doctor understood that his teeruk was poison for Wolfgang.

Luckily he did what his doctor ordered. At the bank of the Rhine River he had been renting all the time a 2-room flat in the Allianz Towers as a refuge in case of emergency, where he could move in directly. There I visited him in the following summers, and we had a lot to talk about Thailand. He made it for seven more years, after my doctor-son Octavius had convinced him to stop drinking. He never returned to Thailand. When I asked him what his plans for his house in Pattaya were, he had none.

One winter day Hong met the teeruk in a supermarket. The teeruk told her that she had found a buyer for the house, and she was willing to give Wolfgang half of the selling price of two million baht. Soon afterwards she must have changed her opinion. Wolfgang never saw a single satang.

Hong and I drove out to see if the house had really been sold. The place looked abandoned, but a neighbour told us that the house had indeed a new owner, a businessman in Bangkok who came once a month to Pattaya to enjoy his new weekend-abode.

How was it possible that the teeruk could keep the whole sales-proceedings, while she had invested no money of her own into the project?

According to Thai law, a farang is not allowed to buy a freestanding single home. The most popular way around this restriction is to form a holding company with a Thai partner in which the Thai side has a majority. This holding then buys and sells the building. As the teeruk owned the majority in the holding, she had a free hand to decide as she wanted.

This is the only such case I know of directly, but I am sure there must be more. House-buyers beware!


Beware indeed!

It's interesting to hear the doctor's advice and I wonder how many others could have done with such advice. I wonder how many would actually have had a longer life had they limited their time in Thailand to holidays. Or perhaps the opposite could be true and many may have prolonged their stay on earth?

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