Looking back at 22 Thai-German Years Part I
Well, Stickmanites, and anyone interested, after accounts of 'First Impressions' 1989, 'Medical Mysteries' 1990, gingerbread-baking in Manila 1991, then my wife's and mine 'big bang'-meeting in Bangkok 1992, and the fortunate 'Elephant by the Sea' adventure from 1994, I have been asked to write an account of the time, of almost 22 years now. Will gladly do so, yes!
Why could it happen? Long before the Event…
My first closer touch with Asia occurred in the winter of 1978, when I strolled along a bus stop in the University of Kiel and professor Takeshi Teshima from Japan got off that bus, Japan-Air-bag in hand and he asked me that, coming directly from Japan, he needed to know where to find the 'mensa'! That is the student/faculty cafeteria. He spoke good yet somewhat stilted German and I explained the way to him, politely took my leave, turned and began to walk away. Then I started THINKING (yes THAT is my style), – he comes directly from Japan they sure do not sell Kiel University 'mensa' coupons there – therefore he has no ticket he sure does not look like a student they will not sell him a coupon HE WILL STAY HUNGRY that is no good way to start in Kiel! So I ran after him, explained the situation and gave him one of my faculty tickets, worth about one dollar then. And that was, as they say in 'Casablanca', the beginning of a remarkable friendship…
Teshima-san invited me to Japan that spring, when I had dragged him to a site of an excavated viking ship, the tiny picture of which he had shown me in one of his books, he must have been longing to see it in real for over thirty years, as professor for old Nordic languages in Kyoto, of all things! He came back to Kiel on academic exchange twice, and finally at the end of 1988 I took off to visit him in Matsumoto and Kyoto. To get there, I travelled an unconventional route trans-siberian railway through the then Soviet Union, took a boat from Vladivostok/Nakhodka to Yokohama. Worth a contribution of its own but that would sure be another story. After three weeks in Japan, I spent some days in Taiwan and Hong Kong, found myself falling in love with Asia, especially to travel there during the icky North-German fog-and-drizzle winter, what a difference!
A science conference in the Philippines which was aborted due to the military coup attempt of 89 made me 'land' there anyway because I already had the tickets stopped a week in Taipeh until there were less bullets flying in Manila. Hit upon 'my' Filipino family (described in the Gingerbread story) and, from then, used Manila as a base for expeditions into Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan.
At the time, I was around 40 years old, had never been married yet had experienced several more-than-a-year long relationships which were nice but that was it, nice and good but nothing to really grab me deeply enough to say 'OK this is it now until the bloke on the black camel doth us part!'
Had spent some fantastic holidays practically alone deep in the Swedish forests and lakes, with a small camper and boat, 'living off the land' even learning the language pretty well through several evening courses back here. Relationship-wise, I also opted for the 'alone' version, stopped some half-assed threads, because I prefer to be alone on my own instead of basically alone within a non-fulfilling twosome. Additionally, I am a rather honest person and any unresolved residue on my soul would make me unable to really open up and be myself in the unlikely case of 'lightning striking'.
As it did on the evening of Saturday, the 11th of January, 1992, somewhere across from the Ambassador Hotel on Thanon Sukhumvit. When I reflect now on those incredible first three days then, always in company of other people, I think a small explanation can be my style of 'evenness', not preached but practised. When my (now) wife called me that Monday morning, what would I want to do, I told her 'Wrong question, Lady! Yesterday it was weekend and I wanted to see the Chatuchak weekend market. Today is YOUR turn!' – big pleasant surprise on her side…
Side remark even to the horizontal-oriented travellers if you meet a lady from south-east Asia whose thought processes have not been overly mangled by the beer-bar-subuniverse, then this perception of being treated and respected as an equal partner in normal everyday-life can act as an eminently strong 'aphrodisiac', really! Add to that the knowledge that (most) western men are not regarded as inveterate 'butterflies' and lady-chasers like a significant percentage of Thai males.
At that very moment, I did not think in these categories, just tried to act normal and be honest. That was clearly understood and appreciated, I can see that even looking back now. What a whirlwind week, including a 36-hour trip BKK->Surat->BKK to meet her parents. Long talks with her mother and father where my wife patiently translated. Never a question about money. Rather questions to the daughter like 'can you really be happy there?' – to contribute towards that, we planned for my wife to start an intensive course of German in Bangkok, the next week, quitting her not-generously paid hotel management job.
So the Saturday saw our tearful parting in DonMuang, on Monday I resumed work in Kiel University, on early Tuesday morning she called me and told me she loved me in GERMAN! Well, things were not all roses. Almost endless hassles with the authorities who seemed to see 'human trafficking' everywhere and could just not imagine two people from very different cultures simply and deeply falling in love. One important message to all these bureaucrats, the real evil 'traffickers' do know all the legal lingo, procedures and loopholes perfectly or have droves of seedy lawyers for that whereas 'normal' people who never before had dreamed of lawfully getting their wife to Europe from Thailand find themselves up the proverbial brownish creek without a paddle!
Help we got from two very unexpected sides. When nothing seemed to move, I called a state government agency from the university we have a phone network short-cut to the Schleswig-Holstein administration, that the recipient could see on her phone and it probably gave me a bonus. When I mentioned 'my fiancée from Thailand' I could really hear a deep breath being taken on the other side. Disregarding all my prepared lines I continued 'Lady, I can fully understand you taking a deeper breath at the keyword 'Thailand', there are a great many unpleasant things happening in that context but that does not have to mean ALL applicants come from the crooked corner. I ask you please to listen to me for say two minutes and then you can either put down the receiver or perhaps help me, help us!'
I told her quickly but very openly what had happened, down to my wife's 'You are a good man, a gentleman, and that is important'. Well, surprise, that lady fought for us like a lioness! For instance diligently questioning all the regional 'foreigners offices' about where 'our' formal information request from the Bangkok Embassy could have ended up successfully in the end, I would never have been able to do that, did not even know the procedure. That took care of the more germany-centered side of the problem. Well, about four years later we still were in contact with that admin lady and sent her a picture of my wife and me with our two children.
My wife had told me she was rather shabbily treated by the THAI personnel of the German Embassy, who seemed to be deep in their standard procedure of 'yeah one more bar hussy trying to get to the fleshpots' not a very nice or helpful situation. When the embassy wanted a document from my employer (Yeah he has got a job, darn it) I asked our then head of the institute, a very impressive 'old school university teacher' for an interview, told him our story openly and asked if it could be possible to address the document about my employment explicitly to the embassy in Bangkok, that would greatly enhance its significance. Wow he liked that idea, and it did make a tremendous difference in the way my wife fared in the Bangkok embassy after that 'The VIP Treatment', she commented! Well they probably do not get such too often. When this professor once glimpsed an enlarged picture of my wife frying a fish for me in her parents' kitchen, he chuckled 'If she is half as nice inside as on that picture, it will work out beautifully!' – right he was!
So far the official side. On the 'personal' front, I wrote her about one hundred letters and tape cassettes between mid-January and the beginning of May when my wife finally arrived. I knew that her German teacher would help translating them as far as they were in German. Living my concept of 'evenness', I tried to imagine what I would wish to have in the case that conditions were reversed and I tried to imagine 'walking a mile in her moccasins'. Most important, FRIENDS for her who would, if necessary, even side against me in case I blundered somewhere!
I was lucky I found at least two individuals who, as it turned out, would fulfil that role extremely well, a former 'almost-girl-friend' of mine and her mother, 'Granny Helga' who would, two years later, even accompany us to Thailand and later 'skip' the German winter with my wife's family near Surat Thani! When my wife arrived on the 6th of May, this lady had suffered a slight stroke and spent several months off work recuperating from the after-effects, plenty of time to explore North Germany together with my wife when I was in the university. Fortunately, Helga did NOT speak one word of English, so my wife had to practice GERMAN with her. The influence of Helga on my wife, as an impressive elder German woman to the younger Thai was extremely important, can not emphasize that enough. Many aspects about how German people and especially women really 'tick' was much better and far more credibly transported by her than I could have ever done it.
My family (brother and sister plus their partners) was surprised but rather pleasantly. I told them the full story and they got the idea that ours had been and was a very special meeting of two individuals from origins one-quarter of the globe apart. Two months later my sister acted as one of the witnesses for our marriage ceremony, the other was Helga's daughter, my wife had asked her.
With friends and colleagues from the institute I always took care to take time for a longer chat, telling them what had happened to me, how it would continue and yes, with 'One night in Bangkok' a popular tune then, there had not been any touch of mercenary nature here! Better to grab prejudice by its horns and force it down unless it might, unaddressed, raise its ugly head later. Congratulations I got and best wishes, and only one professor, of all the crew, let loose a stupid remark like 'when she behaves it is no matter what she has done before'!? WHAT? Man, you seem to have not listened to one word I told you, lucky for you when you said that you stood some 9 feet away from me! – Well, scratch one from the list of 'closer friends'…
My wife arrived in Hamburg on Friday, the 6th of May, a chaotic day because there was a strike on at the airport, and instead of flying SAS from Copenhagen to Hamburg they touched down in Billund quite a way north of the German/Danish border and continued to Hamburg by bus. No real problem for my wife, she had a return ticket (I insisted on that to really make her go and travel completely at ease) but she sure was happy to see me right from the bus driving into the terminal. We had originally planned to let her 'get her bearings' for a few weeks and then start to arrange our wedding. Well, the Tuesday morning found us at the 'Standesamt' already, to set the proceedings for our marriage in motion, so clear it was 'we belong together'!
And yes, the older lady there in the office helped us a lot. Such low-level officials surprisingly have a lot of freedom to act on details, for instance she accepted my wife's statement about her mother's maiden name and filed it without demanding further official confirmation.
My wife and I quickly settled into 'married life' in my small house 'out in the sticks', she loved the open markets in Kiel on Wednesday and Saturday, buying fruit and vegetables and readily adapting fresh (and cheaper!) European veggies to go with her wonderful Thai-style cooking. We were lucky about the weather, spring 1992 came without rain for 11 weeks (farmers were complaining) and the northern long daylight in the evenings, up to 10:30, fascinated her. I had borrowed a camcorder and we mailed videotapes from our every-day life to her family, along with an adapter to play the small cassettes on their video recorder. They all sure could see their daughter was happy!
So far, Part one of the '22 Years' but I think you see our 'state of mind' how we tackled the matter really contributed to its success!
Lukchang & wife