The Mongering Philanthropist Part 12
In last episode our hero finally got his finances organised, was involved in a fracas, and helped make a programme for the BBC which pulled his pal Sir Norman’s ass out of the fire. He was about to embark on the artist’s workshop at last.
Part 12 An Artists workshop
The phone call from Gerald spurred me into action. He had received the first bookings for the artist workshop and they would be arriving in two weeks time. Gerald gave me the list of participants. There was a young American who was heir to a New York banking empire. For some reason he wanted to learn about the casting process. The next student was an artist from London who had some original statues she wanted casting in bronze. A middle aged couple from Stuttgart who were enthusiastic amateurs completed the party. Gerald informed me he had already deposited £20k in the appropriate Thailand account minus a 5%.commision.
I sat down with Ratana and we made a list of things we needed to do. We first went to see Phai’s brother in law Jow the travel agent. He had initially been hesitant about the idea but now he had something concrete to work on he sprung into action. He arranged economy flights from Heathrow, booked them a good Bangkok hotel, organised transfers and the flight to Udon Thani. It only left us to collect them from Udon airport and ferry them around during the course then returning them to Udon airport after three weeks.
To which end I bought a ten seat Toyota Commuter minibus. It was probably bigger than we needed but Jow knew a tourist company that was upgrading its fleet and had a suitable vehicle for sale. It was a few years old but in surprisingly good condition, the right price and appropriate for our needs.
Rich was teaching English in Phai’s school and was keen to assist us with the sculptors’ course but was unsure how he could contribute. I told him he would probably be occupied driving the minibus ferrying our guests around from the hotel to the foundry and being Ratana’s general dogsbody. I suggested if he drove our guests back to Chez K every evening he could renew his relationship with Ploy, stay the night and bring them back in the morning. I could see this arrangement had piqued his interest. I suggested he could then still get to his teaching job at the school on the small motorbike he had recently purchased. I did also ask that he help with preparing the teaching material for the course. I suggested we have a chat with Chan to get an idea of what he was intending to teach then we could prepare a series of PowerPoint slides to support them. I informed him that Ratana would decide how much he was paid so not to expect anything more than Isaan rates. He laughed and agreed, as he was living rent free at Phai’s house and his salary from the school paid for his entertainment. He did confess he had opened a savings account as he intended to accumulate a trust fund for Lawan, Ploys daughter. He did not have much in it yet and had not mentioned it to Ploy but he hoped it would be sufficient to pay for her education in the future. I applauded his efforts and consoled him he had quite a few years left to save. I was quite proud of his unselfish objective.
Ratana had already discussed practical needs with Chan who had suggested she prepare tool kits for the students. He gave her a list which included measuring callipers, 6” rules, tape measures, rolls of wires as well as the conventional scrapers wire shaping tools and wire spatulas. A selection of paint brushes and wire wool was also recommended. Ratana spent the next few days collecting the items and had the idea of buying tool boxes with a slot to take an individual name plate for each student. Chan liked this idea as it promoted ownership of the tools so they would take responsibility and care of them.
All the production equipment had been transferred into the new foundry building. The lost wax facilities, de-waxing ovens and furnaces occupied half of the building. There were two new work stations for assembling the wax trees and investing them. Pravat had engaged two local ladies who performed these operations with great dexterity. The other half of the building housed the greensand foundry and all the dressing and finishing operations. There was an area allocated for assembling large statures with all welding equipment and tools for chasing conveniently located close at hand.
The layout of Chan’s studio had been transformed; all the clay, wood, wires armatures and general paraphernalia had been neatly racked on one wall. A large bench with enough room for six work stations dominated the space. The projector was now mounted on the ceiling which would throw up images on a large screen on the wall behind. Along the opposite wall all the woodworking equipment had been arranged which included a band saw, sanding disc and the small wood lathe.
We had decided to use the furnaces in the new foundry for demonstrations as it was felt it may be too hot to operate those in the studio. A cast iron plate had been placed across the old pit furnaces in the studio but the large hearth and the brick chimney remained providing a natural draught which ventilated the building. The benches and equipment for making latex moulds now occupied the area.
The studio workshop was too big for air conditioning so large fans had been installed to keep the place cool. It looked impressive and gave a very collegiate ambiance. I then performed a comprehensive risk assessment on the whole operation, not because there was “elf n safety” legislation forcing me to do so but I felt a duty of care to the students that they came to no harm whilst they were guests with us.
There was one minor construction task left for Alec’s crew. Adjacent to the studio was an old wooden building some thirty foot by fifteen used for storage. We cleared it out and removed the rotting walls and roof to expose teak uprights in surprisingly good condition. Alec and his crew replaced the roof with green cement fibre tiles which minimised the strain on the structure. Four electric fans, one on each corner created pleasant cooling effect; the result was an agreeable rustic outside communal and refectory area.
It was Christmas Eve before Rich and I sat down to prepare the power point slides. Although every one was Buddhist and Christmas is not officially celebrated, the Thais rarely avoid an excuse for festivity. I always enjoy the strains of “Jinger bells” in the shopping malls or the confusion of Snow White and the 12 apostles. On the evening of Christmas Eve Rich and I took the minibus and made our way to Chez K for their party. Big Mike had closed his pub for the night and set up bar in the reception area. Somchai, Alec’s brother in law had set up his keyboard and the party was already in full flow when we arrived. Most of the inhabitants of the district had turned up but the buffet the girls had set up looked as if it would last for a week. My intentions to drink with moderation soon disappeared. I remember Rich dancing the night away with Ploy whilst I monopolised Somchai‘s microphone and sung everything in my limited repertoire. I vaguely recall boogieing with Pong and Jenerai whilst their husbands laughed at my total absence of any sense of rhythm. I woke the next morning on the sofa in reception. After Kul gave me a strong coffee I persuaded Richard to do the driving back to Phai’s. The 45 minute drive gave me chance to sober up a little before facing Phai’s censure.
Phai was cooking a traditional Christmas dinner or at least her Isaan version of it. Fortunately there were still a few hours before her guests arrived and as she had sufficient help from Mali and Ratana I did not get an ear bending for my absence.
Phai had invited her headmaster and his wife to dinner. Phai had requested a little time off from school to help with the forthcoming workshop and he had been very understanding. Phai’s headmaster was a gawky fellow in his early 50’s who usually sat silent and smiling all evening whilst his wife, a strange creature with a severe beehive haircut would shovel food into her mouth at a terrifying rate. She treated all you can eat buffets as a personal challenge. That evening Phai had positioned me next to them as penance for my previous evening’s excesses. I was glad of the absence of conversation as my head still ached.
The hiatus between Christmas and the New Year offered the opportunity to complete the last minute arrangements for the upcoming workshop. On New Years Eve we all went to Chan and Pans house for a firework party. I was on my best behaviour and found myself chatting to their headmaster whilst his wife was impersonating a swarm of locusts at the buffet table. He had been practicing his English, it turned out he was actually a splendid fellow and was very interested in our projects and endeavours. He explained he had only been quiet on previous meetings because of his poor language skills. It was to his credit he had made the effort to learn English to be sociable with me and I felt humbled.
I went with Rich and Ratana in the newly polished minibus to collect our guests from Udon airport. Ratana stood at arrivals holding a sign with the names of our guests but we quickly identified our party of four and made ourselves known. They seemed relieved to see us. Richard and I took control of the luggage whilst Ratana led them to the minibus. Once we had loaded their belongings we made our introductions.
Jennifer was a tall striking redhead in her late 30s. Charles was a handsome young man in his late 20s with a shock of curly black hair. Stephan was a distinguished looking gentleman in his mid 60s with a full head of silver hair. His wife Ingrid was a few years younger, a little on the plump side but attractive and immaculately dressed with short well manicured blond hair.
With everyone safely aboard Richard took the wheel and we made our way to Chez K. The journey took just under an hour so there was opportunity to get to know each other a little. They all described the long queues and delays on their arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport the previous day but remarked the Bangkok hotel had been comfortable and much appreciated. They also expressed amazement at the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.
Jennifer explained she worked as an artist in London and also taught at a couple of art schools. She had originally wanted to see a couple of her clay statues converted to bronze but had decided to learn about the process instead. Charles told us he was heir to a large US banking empire and had recently completed his MBA. He had enrolled on the workshop as an opportunity to do something completely different from banking before he had to take on his responsibilities. Stephan was from Stuttgart and had been a senior executive in the automotive industry, his wife Ingrid had fancied herself as an artist and had dragged him along. Ingrid was a good humoured lady who asked we ignore her curmudgeon of a spouse. She explained she had a small studio and wanted to gain an appreciation of the techniques involved in producing bronzes.
It was mid afternoon before we got to Chez K. Kwan and Kul were waiting to greet us. They did us proud fussing over our guests in welcome. Kul suggested they get comfortable in their rooms take a shower and in an hours time they would have light refreshments waiting for them. Nong and Ploy took them to their rooms as Richard and I followed them with the luggage. I could not fail to notice the wide eyed reaction from Charles and Stephan to the sight of Nong and Ploy in their shorts and polo shirts.
Within the hour everyone was back down in the restaurant refreshed and ready to tuck into the rather appetising buffet the girls had prepared for them. After being suitably refuelled, everyone relaxed on the sofas in the lounge area of the reception.
Kul and Kwan had invested in a Jacuzzi hot tub which was installed in the far corner of the reception area. Kwan explained to our guests they were welcome to use the facility at any time and towels were always available. I had my doubts about this extravagance but on seeing the appearance of the delightful Nong and Ploy in Bikinis climbing slowly into the hot tub I immediately reversed that opinion. From their open mouthed expressions there was no doubt Charles and Stephan shared that opinion.
I later took our guests across the road into Mike’s bar. I ordered the first round as everyone settled into seats around the room. I saw Jennifer sat herself down with Richard and Ratana. My friends Alec and Jenerai were in the bar and they immediately asked Stephan and Ingrid to join them. I took a stool at the bar and was surprised to be joined by Charles. Over a couple of beers we had a very interesting discussion on a variety of subjects. I had feared that he would be a spoilt brat knowing his privileged background but he turned out to be a most engaging fellow.
The door of the bar opened and as Ploy and Nong entered every man gave an audible gasp and the room went silent for a few seconds. Ploy went to sit with Richard and I called Nong over to join me. Nong gave Charles a 1000 watt smile as I introduced her to him. Charles had momentarily lost the power of speech and Nong informed me that Kul and Kwan were coming over as soon as they had finished cleaning up and they said that I was to have a drink waiting for them when they did. Nong then turned her attention to Charles who immediately offered to buy her a drink. I smiled to myself as I knew Charles was lost.
Ratana approached me rather sheepishly “I have never sleep in one of the rooms upstairs I think Richard will be with Ploy tonight so will not drive home” she gave me her little lost girl look before continuing “I am scared to take a taxi alone so can I stay in the vacant room tonight?” I gave her my best fatherly smile “My dear, you are the manager of this project, you do not have to ask my permission but I do think it would be a good idea for you to stay then we can all go in tomorrow together”. The huge smile on her face told me I had said the right thing. I bought us both a beer and caught Mikes eye, as I handed him the money he tipped me a knowing wink.
I had hardly taken the skin off my beer when Kul and Kwan walked in. They were both wearing soft cotton dresses and had applied makeup for a change, they looked lovely. They came to where I was standing at the bar and both planted a kiss on my cheek. I ordered a Whisky cola for Kwan and a gin and tonic for Kul. Both girls snuggled up close to me and put their arms through mine. Kwan leaned across me to pick up her drink deliberately rubbing her breast against my arm. Even through the material of her dress I could feel her nipples were erect. Kul then took my hand and placed it against her hip. I think she was trying to inform me that she not wearing panties. She stood on her tiptoes and whispered into my ear “You have not boom- boom me and Kwan for six month” I was speechless for a moment. I had feared with our relationship becoming more business focused they would not wish to continue to indulge in our horizontal arrangements, I was clearly wrong. I asked “Would tonight be ok to catch up?” Their wide grins gave me my answer.
The party broke up early, everyone took an early night claiming the travel and country air had made them tired. Once we checked everyone was safely tucked in and the premises locked up for the night we made our way to Kul’s bedroom. Sex with them had always been relaxed and good fun but this time I noticed a definite urgency in the coupling. In the post coital languor they told me they had not had sex since August. It was poignant that I was their only source of male comfort. There were no eligible men in the district as the Thai men only wanted young girls. Although they were now in their early 40s they were both very attractive ladies. Kul was a bit chubby but still had a beautiful face. Kwan’s face had begun to show the ravages of time but she had retained a slim figure that would be the envy of many girls half her age. I suppose their fate was similar to men in the west where we become invisible after a certain age is achieved. It was very sad. They made me promise that I would continue to service them at least once a month to which I agreed.
When I woke Kul and Kwan were already up and preparing breakfast for our guests. I took a shower and joined them for a hearty repast. At 8.30 Ratana marshalled every one onto the minibus and Richard took the wheel for the drive to the foundry. We pulled up at the site to see to see Phai Pan and Acheron in the new outside refectory area ready to serve tea and coffee. We dismounted the minibus I walked up to Phai and gave her an affectionate kiss. I joked “this is just like the WRVS or Mothers Union” she did not understand so replied with her customary “Farang ting tong”.
Coffees served, the party are directed to the studio where each takes a seat around the large bench. Richard switched on the projector and I gave an introduction outlining the itinerary and presented a few slides on general safety and the hazards in the foundry. I kept it light and after ten minutes introduced Chan to them.
He explained that the first morning he would show them how to prepare clay and demonstrate how to make basic figures from simple geometric shapes. He later showed them how to construct armatures as the framework for their sculptures and gave a fascinating demonstration of how to bend bamboo using heat from a small burner.
Lunch was buffet style in the refectory area and in the afternoon Chan gave them a tour of the foundry facility. Pravat and his assistants Phanon and Prem gave a demonstration of the melting and casting process. I could see they were mesmerised by the heat and sparks, even now I feel the pouring of molten metal is almost balletic. I later gave a short talk on the history of bronze which to my surprise they found fascinating and a lively discussion ensued. It was soon time to return them to the hotel. Ratana went with Richard as he drove them to the hamlet; I think she had developed a taste for staying in the room at Chez K.
I spent a quiet evening with Phai on her sofa; she was alarmingly affectionate to me that night. I put this down to the sixth sense Thai women have when they think their partner has been up to mischief. She also told me that now they had an idea of what was involved it did not need all three of them every day so Pan, Acheron and herself would take it in turns to organise the catering arrangements.
The next day they continued with clay modelling. Chan had created a model of a fat laughing Buddha which he said was modelled on me, to everyone’s amusement. He demonstrated how to make latex moulds from the clay original .After lunch he made a wax from a latex mould. Jennifer was clearly an inquisitive artist and asked if we could invest any combustible material to augment the wax models. Chan was pleased with her interest and suggested they experiment together. The next morning Jennifer seized on this new technique to great effect creating some quite surrealistic shapes from a range of materials such as wood shavings, shredded paper and polystyrene.
Chan had a commission to make a half sized seated statue of the beloved King that would eventually adorn the entrance of a new shopping mall and retail development in the city. Chan and his team had been working on it over the past few months. From the original small clay model by careful measurement they had scaled it up on a large armature frame. They had used foams and layer of clay to sculpt the half sized model and by judicious jointing they had created a number of individual latex and plaster moulds on the clay model. They cautiously cut away the plaster moulds to later create 360 individual wax patterns each uniquely numbered for later assembly. A robust frame using wood and sacking had been made to facilitate and support the reassembly and welding of the individual pieces. It was now surrounded by scaffolding. For the last two months each of the wax patterns was invested and cast. They only had a few to make and they would soon be ready to reassemble and weld them together.
It was a prestigious contract and Chan asked his students if they would like to help with it. He felt it would be a good way of gaining hands on experience and would make a break from their own projects. They were all excited about this and readily agreed. Over the next few days they were given instruction in welding by Pravat. The plan was each afternoon they would take turns to work on the Kings statue on alternate afternoons. Jennifer and Charles would team up with Phanon and Stephan and Ingrid with Prem.
The next two days followed a pattern; they were collected from Chez K and in the mornings worked on their own sculptures and afternoon helping assemble the king’s statue. Each evening they would return to the hamlet for dinner at Chez K. They all claimed the physical activity and the country air made them sleepy so after a quick beer in Mikes they took an early night.
The routine was broken up on the Friday by Chan taking them on a trip to the Bang Chaing archaeological site. I went along with them and was fascinated to see Chan wax lyrical about the importance of the site and his new found enthusiasm for history.
During the week Stephan and Ingrid had built up quite a rapport with Phai and Ratana. That evening Phai invited them to the house for dinner. I broke open a bottle of my best whisky and had a long chat with Stephan. He had been the engineering director of a first tier supplier to the automotive industry and we found we had a few mutual acquaintances. He had been widowed ten years previously but had married Ingrid two years ago. He was now retired but had set up a small artist’s studio to indulge his wife who he clearly adored.
I have a sneaking admiration for the Germans, not just because they regularly humiliate us at football but their whole way of life, work ethic and pragmatic modesty demands respect. As a nation they retained a love for solid engineering rather than the superficial obsession with finance and short term casino style banking so rife in the UK. Their food is excellent, seasonal robust and greatly misunderstood. A pleasant evening with Stephan confirmed my affection for the Germans and the feeling if the British had followed the German economic model we wouldn’t be in the mess we are.
The second week Chan slowly introduced his students to the various stages and processes in producing a casting. In the first week they had all produced clay sculptures they were happy with and prepared latex or plaster moulds from them. During the mornings of the second week they produced wax patterns, assembled them on wax trees and invested them in the ceramic. By the end of the week they all had various moulds ready for casting the following week. In the afternoons they continued to take turns to work on the assembly for the King’s statue. They were all becoming very proficient in the process of welding and Pravat declared Ingrid was particularly skilled showing a real aptitude for it.
The Saturday involved a trip into Udon Thani and a chance for shopping in the market and the Central shopping Mall which Ratana and her sister Mali took charge of. On the Sunday I took a taxi to Chez K to join them for dinner. I found myself seated next to Jennifer and got into conversation with her. This was the first time I had chatted with her, I had not particularly avoided her but subconsciously I probably had. Jenifer was tall and skinny and that evening wore her long red hair in a severe ponytail, she also wore a white tee shirt and denim shorts which showed her long legs and small well shaped breasts to great effect. She was not classically beautiful as her features were quite angular but her complexion was exquisite and the effect of pink lipstick on her full lips contrasting with her pale skin was most provocative. Even with the confidence of being in Thailand I was clearly not in her league so was very careful to be polite and respectful. When the other guests retired she remained in the lounge area and sat talking with me for some time.
I commented on her sculptures and the technique she was developing adding a variety of combustible materials directly into wax sculptures. Chan was fascinated with her ideas so had helped her and had already cast some of her work. They had created some wonderful often bizarre effects in the resultant casting.
I observed that some of her creations were quite exquisite and innovative. She admitted she was already an accomplished artist with a growing reputation and was making a good living from her work. She had come on this trip as a break from the pretensions and the artificiality of living in London. She also confessed to wanting to escape from a tedious and stifling relationship with a fellow artist. As she stretched out her long legs she declared it had been very good for her and she was discovering the boundless possibilities of the casting process to an artist.
I asked if she would recommend our little retreat to her colleagues. Her enthusiastic reply “I will actively promote it amongst the art schools and colleges I have contact with” surprised and pleased me.
I was also surprised how well we got on, she was an educated empowered and confident English woman, the sort of lady who would totally ignore me in UK but tonight she seemed relaxed with me. I was further surprised when she give me a wicked smile and remarked “I have had a few conversations with Kwan and Kul about you, they have told me all about Mr. Tongue and the infamous multispeed vibrator that they call a batteree”. I was totally lost for words for a moment and actually blushed. Recovering my composure I asked if she would like to borrow it for the evening. I was astonished at her reply “No I would like you to demonstrate its use in my bedroom… now”. Never one to refuse a lady’s request, we discreetly repaired upstairs to her bedroom.
I will not upset the delicate sensibilities of my gentle reader with too much detail but once stripped down her delicious soft body was a delightful sight. Her ginger muff was neatly trimmed rather than shaved and most inviting. I am no longer a young man and have to pace myself so was thankful I had my mongers little helper to assist me with her youthful enthusiasm.
I woke the next morning to find Jennifer had already gone down for breakfast. I took a shower and made my way downstairs to them. She was already seated with Charles so I joined them. Jennifer was very polite and aloof with me so I assumed the pleasant experience of the previous night was a one off exercise.
Monday of the third week was a hive of activity and involved our students casting their moulds in the foundry under our careful supervision. On the Tuesday Jow organised an excursion to Nong Khai to see the mighty Mekong River and the neighbouring country of Laos. On the way back they visited Baan Na kha to see local silk being made. On Wednesday I took our students into the sand foundry. Nok and his assistants Som and Tik gave a comprehensive demonstration of the sand casting processes which they found fascinating. In the afternoon they knocked out the now cool moulds they had previously cast and began the process of fettling and dressing the castings under the careful tutelage of Pravat.
That evening Phai had organised a pageant at the school and we all went to watch the cute children give demonstrations of Isaan dancing. Phai had done a good job and their performances were enchanting. The next day our students had finished fettling their castings and were carefully polishing them with some pride. Later that afternoon we all piled into the minibus to visit a Morlam festival in a nearby town. There was a dancing competition competed by teams of ladies from local villages. The music is quite haunting played on a strange instrument I believe is called a khene. The drink was flowing and there was variety of food on sale. I was developing a taste for eating insects particularly crickets in soy sauce and grasshoppers with chillies although I couldn’t take to the water bugs much to the amusement of my friends. It was quite late when we finally dropped our guests back at the hotel.
The next day Chan gave a lesson on how to create different patina or finishes to their bronze statues. The "patina" is the colour of the bronze. "Patination" is the process whereby a calculated chemical reaction between bronze, acidic chemicals and high temperatures oxidize the surface of the metals. Certain chemicals will produce certain predictable colours when they are sprayed on the bronze and then heated up. Brown, gold, and reds are typically produced through the use of Ferric Nitrate. Green and blue can be made with Cupric Nitrate. Whites and beiges can be produced with Bismuth Nitrate and Zinc Nitrate. Silver Nitrate is very expensive, but if applied very hot and with expertise can create a beautiful silvery-gray patina.
Once the desired patina is achieved it is usually sprayed with wax to seal it. Chan’s father had experimented for over 30 years with patinas and had passed the knowledge to his son. Chan very carefully supervised his students as they applied the potentially dangerous chemicals. Some very pleasing results were achieved and our guests felt justifiably proud of their achievements.
That afternoon Ratana and I returned in the minibus to the hotel for a final dinner with our guests before their return to Bangkok for the flight home the next day. Kul and Kwan did us proud with a veritable feast. After dinner I took them over to Mike’s bar where Somchai had set up his keyboard. We had our own Morlam party and an impromptu dancing competition. Pong and Jenerai gave a very impressive demonstration of Isaan dancing before retiring to judge the efforts of the rest of us. It was great fun as we split into teams. I believe Alec Mike and I were the stars although our sterling efforts were met with hoots of laughter. Ratana Richard and Ploy received great applause as did the efforts of Charles Nong and Stephan. But the prize was awarded to Jennifer and Ingrid who had obviously been paying attention during the previous displays or had been having secret tuition from Kul and Kwan (as I later discovered). Everyone took a turn at singing a tune to Somchai’s accompaniment and great efforts made to keep the microphone away from me. It was a wonderful night and a fitting end to a successful three weeks.
The following morning we took a leisurely breakfast as one by one our guests reluctantly checked out to huge tears from Kul Kwan and the girls. Richard loaded their luggage on to the minibus as they made their final farewells.
When we got to the studio we found Chan and his team had been in very early and welded the last of the pieces on to the kings statue, it still had a few weeks work chasing the joints and polishing but it was clearly identifiable as the beloved King. Chan suggested the first task was everyone should have their photos taken with the statue. It was the end of the course and the day of departure so we had an impromptu party in the studio. Mali had printed some certificates which Chan had signed. I noticed each certificate had a small bronze broach attached instead of the customary wax seal which I thought was nice touch. Pan, Acheron and Phai had prepared some food and Chan produced a bottle of best Scotch whisky (a present from me at Christmas) insisting on toasting everyone. There were spontaneous speeches, tears and declarations of undying friendships; it was all quite emotional and touching.
As Richard bought the minibus up to take our guests back to the airport, Jenifer pulled me to one side. She restated her promise to promote our little venture and apologised for being so aloof with me since our evening of intimacy. She assured me it was much needed and greatly appreciated and with a wink thanked me for my discretion. She gave me an affectionate kiss on the cheek and jumped into the minibus. Charles effused how much he had enjoyed it and promised me he would return. I must confess I believed he would. Stephan thanked me warmly for turning what he dreaded coming to into a delightful experience. When we finally disentangled Ingrid from her tearful embraces with Phai everyone climbed aboard the minibus and made their way to Udon Thani airport.
That evening with our guests safely departed we all made our way to Chez K for a celebratory dinner. I was a little apprehensive as I had been keeping my life carefully compartmentalised and avoided any contact between Kul Kwan and Phai. I had been successful in this for over a year. We arrived to see the tables had been put together to form one big surface which 12 people could sit around. I tentatively introduced Phai to Kul and Kwan. Phai astonishes me by declaring “We have met already and we know all thing about you” Kwan and Kul laugh at my obvious discomfort but seeing Phai’s huge smile I realise it was good natured teasing and I was clearly not in canine residence.
Again the girls had done us proud and a veritable feast lay before us. Ploy and Nong laboured valiantly to keep it topped up as Kul and Kwan sat with us. Tucking into the food we all discuss how we felt our first effort has gone and in general everyone was pleased. Kul and Kwan said they were happy, it had been exciting and they had made a little money. Jow commented he had just about broken even (which meant he had done extremely well).
I was concerned that it had been a lot of work for my friend Chan but was relieved when he declared “My friend, I have enjoyed teaching our guests, they were lovely people and very enthusiastic students. I look forward to the next course” Pan added “I think he always secretly wanted to be a teacher” Chan exclaimed “it is enough I am married to one” to huge laughter. Pravat who was usually quiet stated “I think we would not have got the Kings statue finished so quickly without their help” and with a huge wink in my direction continued “and with our new foundry building the students workshop did not affect our normal business at all”.
Ratana had been keeping a close account of expenditure for me and informed the party we had made about 4,000 baht surplus. This was to be expected as it was our first effort and we did not fully understand the costs. I was pleased and declared “That will pay for tonight’s dinner then” to cheers and laughter from everyone present. The consensus was that it had been fun, we now knew what we had to do and everyone was looking forward to the next course planned in two weeks time.
On the journey home I reflect I had not made a bean from the project, well not directly but we had achieved something special. I considered the comradeship and common purpose amongst those involved was priceless.
One thing that still bemused me was Phai’s reaction to Kul and Kwan so I asked her. She laughed as she explained “I knew all about your friendship with them, Nong is originally from our village and was one of my star pupils in the school. She has kept in touch with me for a long time. When she came to see me last year and told me about the charming farang who was helping them I immediately figured it was you”. Phai looked serious for a moment and continued “I am the happiest lady in Thailand that you are with me but I knew you would be bored living in an Isaan village and scared you would eventually leave. So I am happy the most that you have many things to keep you busy”. She give me a small smile and continued “I do not mind that you sometimes sleep with Kul and Kwan as long as you are careful and do not do anything silly or bring disgrace to me” I gave her a Thai kiss and sniffed her cheek to which with a laugh she said “You can boom- boom them once a month but must boom- boom me twice a week. I laughed as I had never heard my demure conservative Thai lady use that expression before. Life was getting interesting.
To be continued