Doing All The Wrong Things – But With The Right Person!
I met my wife on the 11th of January, 1992, in Bangkok. At that time, I was 42 years old, having travelled the 'Far East' extensively since 1988, starting with a Transsiberian railroad expedition to Japan, following the invitation of a Japanese professor. After that, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines – see the Gingerbread story, as a guest of a dentist's family in the suburbs of Manila, doing some exploring in Thailand and Singapore. And well, I had never been married, was at that time even without any 'relationships' to the supposedly fair sex because I preferred to be alone on my own instead of being basically alone in an unfulfilling twosome.
I ended up in the Grace Hotel on Sukhumvit, of all places. My free-of-charge reservation with a guesthouse near Khao San Road had evaporated because my flight from Singapore to the 'City of Angels' had been delayed for more than 5 hours. Instead of arriving around 8 PM, my plane landed in the small hours of the morning, and I started telephoning hotels from Don Meuang, with the Ambassador (as A then B and so on in the book) telling me they had only expensive suites available BUT there had been a large family group switching to the Ambassador from the Grace Hotel and therefore there should be a vacancy in the Grace. Well, now I can understand why a family would prefer to move away from the Grace Hotel. I could write yarns about that, but that would essentially be another story.
The 11th of January was a Saturday and sometime about 9 AM I spent 2 baht for a bus to get to the vicinity of the Thai National Museum. I had to walk a quarter of a mile at the end. But that was very interesting, strolling past the Ministry of Defence with all its old naval cannons in their front yard, some magnificent old pieces there from roughly 1750 up to 1870, the time of Rama V. Admission to the museum was free that day, Children's Day, yet shelling out some 10 or 12 baht no matter for Thai or farang would not have been an obstacle anyway.
There was a fine special exhibit on the ground floor about Thai military history of the last 4 centuries with a focus on the giant blunderbusses which could only be handled mounted on an elephant's howdah, turning these magnificent animals in to the 'heavy tanks' of the unending wars between Thailand and Burma. They even had pretty good English descriptions including a text about the episode when a commanding Thai prince wiped his Burmese counterpart from his mount with a memorable long shot out of this veritable black powder 'cannon'.
Had a small snack in the cafeteria of the museum, then continued to explore the exhibits which, however, seemed to be concentrating on many many statues of the Lord Buddha from all possible epochs – Sukhothai style, then early, middle and late Ayutthaya style… After I had first admired, then studied, later only seen roughly 255 such statues I decided to call it a day and set out back to the Sukhumvit, on another bus crawling through KrungThep's every-day mega-traffic-jam.
Got to the hotel around 5 PM, took a shower and changed, really necessary after a day in Bangkok's traffic then, and yes, I had a fine brand-new T-shirt from Manila, with a colorful Jeepney, the slightly larger Pinoy counterpart of the tuktuk.
Sat down with my laptop for a while and wrote a series about computer role-playing games (the SSI 'Goldbox' series, something for CRPG archaeologists now). But then I realized that spending time here with the computer seemed kind of stale, with all of Bangkok's life outside and yeah, perhaps I could find a dragon. I had seen a brass dragon figurine somewhere here on my first arrival five weeks earlier yet had decided against lugging that thingy all the ways along with me.
Right opposite from the Ambassador Hotel's cafeteria, along a green-white construction fence, two young women commented on my 'Manily Jeepneys' shirt, Filipinas for sure. I surprised them with a "Manigung bagung taon" (Happy new year in Tagalok!) and then asked them if it was ok if I sat down at their table in a small mobile noodle shop on the sidewalk.
And then I saw my wife, the third woman at that table, for the first time – and she struck me like a sledgehammer! She had a fascinating presence, great eyes and lips all practically without makeup – yeah I know I am the odd man around I look at the face first. Immediately I knew this woman is a 'worthy opponent, no victim' in the positive sense, as I would gauge a new chess partner.
What can one do then, as a single man travelling Thailand with all the surely not quite unfounded prejudice against the likes of him. Well, I decided to be absolutely open, honest, be myself – if that would not work then it was not meant to be. That was a matter of split seconds which somehow seemed very long, surprisingly at that moment I vividly recalled another key event in my life before, when in 1969 I attended my first 'computer science' class in Kiel which turned out to be a total déjà-vu experience making me immediately switch my major from physics to computer science, sort of a complete change of direction I never ever regretted.
Well, that night did last until about 4 AM in front of the NASA Disco, we had been dancing, talking a lot – my wife's English was first rate, she worked as a hotel manager and cultivated the friendship of those Filipina ladies partly to further hone her language skills. And I did get the impression that there was some real interest in me. But, true to my style, I stayed very gentleman-like correct, attentive yet respectful, with a shy kiss on her hand for goodbye that early morning. Probably that was exactly the right approach, because the social-moral 'climate' of the Thai people outside the bar sphere has a lot of similarities to that of the Victorian age in Europe.
In spite of this very positive 'almost-shock' of getting to know her, I never stopped observing details and, in some way, questioning motives – yeah well, the scientific mindset strikes again! 'Fascinating' as Mr. Spock would comment, like when I saw the Filipinas were happy to accept someone being there to pay taxi and admission (which was no trifle for the NASA Disco) whereas my wife tried to contribute her share – like bringing a good-size fruit basket having (rightly) gotten the impression that a mere little bowl of noodle soup had not really been enough for me after the meagre museum cafeteria lunch.
One of the first points of discussion was, naturally, the difference between Thailand and the Philippines. I probably scored some brownie points there with my wife when I remarked that nearly all Thai people were immensely proud to be Thai. That was an attitude which I – my apologies to the Pinays there – had never seen in their homeland.
One small point, however, almost put a stop to things – as I said I was 42 years old then, and when I asked my wife for her age she replied '24'! Oh crap I thought, isn't that a little bit young, she is much too nice for just a 'foreign affair' and for anything more serious perhaps too young on the long run, that would be almost 20 years difference! But then already I had arrived at the distinct impression that she seemed far more mature than even a Thai lady of only 24 years, so keep on track, get to know her better and let her see what kind of person I am.
For three days, as far as her job made it possible (weekend helped somewhat there), we were getting to know each other, most of the time 'chaperoned' by her girl friends. On Monday I told her openly that I had changed my return flight from Wednesday to Saturday in order for us to have a little more time. The third day, we shared a small tourist bus to Ayutthaya with a French family – no Filipinas then.
The ruins of this ancient Thai capital that had been devastated by a Burmese army in 1767 impressed me deeply. I sort of tried to superimpose pictures of the Wat Pha Kheo over the chedi remains, imagined the people, the colors, the sounds of old Ayutthaya. 'Lady, that must have been a wonderful, absolutely fascinating city, probably the largest of the world at that time! Deep in my heart I can really understand you Thais that, after 225 years, you are still angry about that loss!'
And then my wife took my hand and kissed it! I was extremely surprised, very happy, but I wanted to know where we really stood (yes the scientist again!) 'How come such a wonderful woman can like an aging, slightly rotund foreigner?' – 'Against the fat, we can do something. Young I will keep you. But you are a good man, a gentleman, and that is important!'
Wow, what a statement. Commitment, future, respect. Darn it what more can I ever want in my life than an woman who likes me for what I am! So: 'Lady, do you want to be my wife!' – 'Yes, I do!'
A French family congratulating, smiling in slight surprise at a couple who were looking at each other, nonetheless full of surprise. Not planned, not anticipated. Back to Bangkok to make plans. Sat down in the Ambassador Hotel cafeteria – did not like the atmosphere of the Grace's surroundings. I suggested and booked a flight to the south to meet her parents near Surat Thani – I wanted them to know that I was not the run-of-the-mill 'standard male tourist to Thailand' and I wanted to see them too. When I asked my wife 'What if they do not accept me?' Her answer was very special: 'They will NOT do that, they know I do MY OWN thing!'
Well, we decided that she should quit her – not really well-paid – job and start an intensive course of German. I would take care of that. We were going to get her a visa 'for marriage', and yes, a diamond ring with its stone mounted like a small bridge came on top, as 'We have to build a bridge now. This is to remind you that I am very very serious about you and about us! Think of that for instance should the German bureaucrats stall and make problems!'
Man, that was prophetic on my side…
Now, we have been together for more than 21 years, have two wonderful children, Heinz born 28th of May, 94 and Sara, born 3rd of May, 95 – eliciting the comment 'Wow, You again?' when we came into the maternity ward for Sara!
I speak rather workable Thai now, my wife pretty good German with occasionally slightly creative grammar. And well, before my 1992 flight back to Europe then she confessed that she already was an 'old woman of 29'! – 'GOOD!' (Surprise!)!
Through most difficulties of 'arriving' in a new and very different land of residence my wife just breezed with her natural and open style. She never had the slightest problem in the village where we lived then especially after scoring, Messi-like as center for the local ladies soccer team!
Good – though sometimes really not all easy – that she absolutely is no, nay, never one of these 'up-to-you' girls. So well, in a sense I truly have found the 'Dragon' I had set out to look for along Sukhumvit, yet not in the form I expected it!
Lukchang & wife
Nice to hear a happy story – long may your happiness continue!