The year was 1963, the place Jersey. Not New Jersey the US state on the Atlantic Ocean coast. This Jersey is among a group of islands between England and France known as Channel Islands. I was an exchange student in a London school and on a summer vacation there. “Let us go to Springfield” said my girlfriend, there’s new group called Gerry and the Pacemakers. Sure, let’s go see them. We did. It was okay but I wasn’t overly impressed. A few weeks later another group gave its début in Jersey. I declined and told my girlfriend to go anyway. She did and saw the Beatles. In February the following year they were off to America and the rest is history as they say.
50 years have passed and I never did see the Beatles live. The closest I got to one of them was in a London hotel. I was told that Paul McCartney was staying there with his then wife, that one-legged gold digger. I did see an Eric Clapton concert in Bangkok some years ago and it was great. But this is not about Eric even though the concert was fantastic. It’s about a Thai girl and the memories it brings back to my mind. Funny how you associate melodies or an artist in this case to specific happenings in your life!
Chompoo was a receptionist in a Bangkok budget hotel that I frequented then in the mid-90'es on my monthly or so business trips to the capital. She had a bewitching, warm smile that did it for me. Her English was good also, and that helped. At first I just sat there at the reception and talked to her. Sometimes for an hour or more! Eventually I asked her out for dinner and maybe a drink after. She had to think about that but true to her word she told me the next day; yes, she would go out with me but could do so only in the presence of her sister. I knew by then that sister does not necessarily mean sister here but was happy to take her out even with a chaperone. I treated us all to a pleasant evening and again on my next and over next visit. Eventually after about 3 months the chaperone was not available on our day out. I did not waste the opportunity and the relationship finally became intimate on that day. Seeing each other only for two or three days every month or so suited me and her for very similar reason but that I was to find out later only. The relatively long interval between visits also helped to keep it spicy and there were never any dull moments or sign of lassitude when we did meet. There where memorable journeys to Kanchanaburi, to Damnoen-Saduak, Ayuttaya, Phitsanulok. We usually stayed overnight, sometimes two nights. Driving the long journeys in the car I always had a series of cassettes with mostly oldies music. Beach boys, Dylan, Bellamy brothers’ country-Western or French songs from the Yeeh-Yeeh period!
Whenever we changed cassettes she made a point of noting all details of the artist or group for future reference though the names neither meant nothing nor little to her. Eric Clapton was always a favorite of mine and one day I told her the events that led to his writing the sad song “Tears in heaven”. The story of his 4-year old son dying from a fall out of a New York apartment. That fascinated her and I had to tell the story many times over in month and years to come.
For the earlier mentioned reasons the relationship lasted and by early 2000 I could afford better hotels and did not go to the cheap hotel any longer. That suited her for she could now also stay with me in the same hotel when in Bangkok. On two or three occasions I suggested a journey to Pattaya but she didn’t want to go there. Then one day purely by chance I met one of her former co-workers. Talking to her she asked did I know that Chompoo was married and had a small child? No, I could hardly believe that. When we next met I confronted Chompoo and asked her about it. She got very angry and vehemently denied. But when I could name the bank her husband worked for and the branch in Pattaya he was recently transferred to she just totally clammed up and fell silent. My efforts to mediate, saying that wasn’t the end of the world and we could work it out somehow fell on deaf ears. She did not say a single word again that evening and we parted for the first time ever in anger.
A few weeks passed and I did not hear from her. When I next contacted her she immediately agreed to meet again on my next Bangkok stay. When we did meet things where unbelievably just the same as before. I had already decided not to mention the husband and child at all, and neither did Chompoo. We kept on seeing each other and when the time came for my yearly business trip to Switzerland together with two of my company staff I suggested she come with me. To my surprise she accepted. It was a bit of a hassle to get an extra visitor's visa but she got it. On our promotional evenings I had the three girls dressed in traditional Thai costumes and that was always a hit with everyone. All of them but Chompoo in particular where often asked out, invited for dinner, telephone numbers, to keep in touch! There was no time for that. It was business only on those days. However during the two weeks we also did a bit of traveling and sightseeing though when in the car traveling long distances the girls mostly slept. When I wanted to show them beautiful sceneries; mountains, lakes, castles, large yellow flowering colza fields, handsomely decorated farmhouses, majestic waterfalls, I almost always had to wake them up first. That part of the business / holidays trip was disappointing to me having looked forward to show them the beauty of my country!
A friend of mine was an accomplished Delta flier. That day he had a twin Delta (two people can fly) but somebody always had to drive downhill to meet the fliers and go uphill again with all the people and equipments. The girls all had their turn flying and surprisingly none of them declined or was afraid. Or at least they didn’t show it. Finally when my turn came to join the pilot we realized that none of the girls had a valid driving license. Whatever, I decided to join the pilot and had my go. On arrival the 3 girls where at the bottom of the mountainous hill waving their arms when we landed! All had gone well and we ended that day around a tasty Fondue in front of a log fire. Another surprise, all of the girls joined in though I believe they had never eaten cheese before. We told them it was not allowed to drink water or Coca-Cola with Fondue (it would have given them indigestion) and they all joined us having several glasses of white wine. That made for a most delightful evening and a wonderful day!
It was also almost the end of my relationship with Chompoo. We met two, three more times after our return to Thailand and then it just faded away. I was in a new relationship and made no effort to meet anew. Over the years I learnt that Chompoo had given birth to another child and was still living with her husband. Then in 2007, after I had sold the business and taken retirement I received a call from her; “Your friend is coming to Bangkok” she said. I didn’t understand immediately but then realized it was the Eric Clapton gig she was talking about. Yes, I had seen the panels in Bangkok on the way from the airport. And yes, I was going to see it. Did she want to join me?
To say no is not an easy thing for any Thai girl (or any Thai for that matter) especially anything that’s free! An enigmatic smile is a more likely answer. But we were on mobiles, not Skype, so I could not see her. The long silence that followed my offer said more than words. “Then why did you call me” I quipped? The answer too, was predictable; “I want to but I can’t” That too was standard and I knew if I insisted she’d change her mind. What’s more I was curious how she got on during those past years and no doubt she was too. In the end we did meet and see that concert. And spent the remainder of the evening and the night together! It was nice. And nice is the right word. It was a reunion after many years. And reunions, for those of you who are old enough to have any, are always bitter-sweet. They are so for many reasons but most of all I believe because people grow older. Not wiser, just older.
To this day I still communicate with Chompoo occasionally, though nowadays mostly by e-mail or telephone. Clapton remains special and anytime I slip the CD in when driving the car I think of Chompoo who remains special too. Not so much the lady from the reunion but the girl I met nearly 20 years ago. Reminiscence of that old Latin saying Carpe Diem meaning <enjoy the living moment>!
Today's subs are bringing back memories. My second girlfriend was called Chompoo, from Phitsanulok. Wow, that's a long time ago!