I Missed A Bullet
I must admit I’ve had a pretty good innings. It was early on in my IT career that I decided to go freelance. I didn’t want to spend my life working for a boss, climbing up the corporate ladder always looking over my shoulder at the up-and-coming competition. It was a good decision. I travelled the world, working six months here and twelve months there, taking in alien cultures and learning so much about people and the world that we all share together.
But situations change and when my daughter reached the age of 9 it was no longer fair to drag her out of a school simply because I had a new contract somewhere else on the globe. So we made the decision to settle down in my wife’s country, buy a house in the suburbs and park the child at one of the international schools.
Bringing the wife back to Thailand brought fundamental and unexpected changes to our lives. If you, dear reader, plan to do the same, this is my experience: Before, we were a small nuclear family. Mum, Dad, Kid. Just like millions of families in the west. But on moving back to Thailand we became Mum, Dad, Kid and extended family of brothers, sisters, half-brothers and sisters. Uncles, aunts and grandmothers and grandfathers, and brother-in-laws and sisters-in-laws, and cousins and nieces and nephews and great aunts and uncles. And to this giant web of relations we must add the honourary aunts and uncles and honourary grandmothers and grandfathers and in-laws and cousins and close friends and neighbours. Against this army of family I was the single farang. And all of these people had more status in the eyes of my wife. I was at the bottom of the pile somewhere alongside the kids who needed just to be fed and watered, to be seen and not heard. I’d gone from head of our little household to number zero.
My wife changed in another way after we moved back to Thailand. She became embarrassed to be with me in Thailand as a couple. If we were in a large family group it was never a problem. Yet she never wanted to be with me out and about in Thailand as a couple. I believe she felt she would lose face as Thai people would assume she was a prostitute. We never went out as a couple for dinner alone. Never went to the cinema unless our kid or another family member tagged along. There was never any space to develop and nurture our relationship.
At first it wasn’t too much of a problem because I was still working contracts around the world and only ever came back for a long weekend every couple of months or when resting between contracts. It was around the year 2002 when I was back in Thailand after the end of a contract that I met a Thai neighbor with whom I struck up a good friendship. He introduced me to his Thai buddies and we began hanging out together in the way that Thai men often do. That is, eating and drinking together, whoring in Thai brothels, weekend trips down to Pattaya with the guys and the wives left at home looking after the kids.
One day browsing the internet I came across a job in Thailand that required my skillset. I thought I would apply for it while waiting for the next contract, even though the job was permanent. A week later I was at the Labour Office applying for a work permit. Those days were great; out with the gang several days a week. Not just having naughty fun but often business networking, social networking and making business trips. The wife knew what we were up to, but tolerated it, so long as we were respectful and quiet when with family. Thai men, like cats, lead double lives. Around the house most Thai men live in the shadow of their wives and the female members of the great extended family. But at night they take on the persona of the hunter, out on the prowl for young female flesh.
But nothing lasts forever and the novelty of having a farang guy in their midst wore off after a while and my invites became more infrequent. I had time on my hands. My wife was now fully converted back to Thaidom and I was a stranger in a strange country. Hand on heart, I was now actually lonely. I’d ridden with a Thai crowd but we were not really friends. My wife’s family tolerated me because I was the sponsor of good things that came their way, and the only true close relationship was with my daughter who, like me, considered herself an outsider in Thailand.
And this is where my story begins.
I wanted a soul mate. I wanted, and I expect many lonely men coming to Thailand are the same, I wanted someone to talk to and to share life’s experiences. I wasn’t getting this from the wife and once my kid left for university overseas I felt truly alone and decided to fulfill my needs elsewhere.
Noi was a factory girl from Laos. Quiet, unassuming and with a radiant smile. To look at her you would never have thought this meek, unworldly girl would wreak a havoc through my life, like a tornado racing across an open prairie. It all started as I guess most of these relationships start and ended like the majority do, shifting through the wreckage to see what can be salvaged. In the beginning it was all about sex. And oh what sex it was. Like feasting at a banquet, as much and as often as you want, with so much variety to taste and explore. These are the moments that men live and die for, that kingdoms are fought over, moments that cause changes in the tide of history. I know that when I am an old, old man, when my limbs are frail, when the lights dim to my eyes, still my thoughts will return to those days of joyous, amazing, delicious and exciting sexual congress.
To Noi, it was about baiting me and then reeling me in.
Let’s examine the first warning bell.
Our first “pai thiaw” came after chatting online about a month. We went away to Hua Hin, where Thai businessmen take their secretaries and mia nois, and had our first sex together. After dropping her off at the bus station and made my way home at the end of the trip, I went to the dating website where we met, and found she was already online and was obviously chatting to another. It was disappointing as we’d only separated an hour earlier but not the end of the world. I wanted to know, however, if she was ok with me. She denied chatting to another which is a typical Thai face-saving thing to do and no big deal, but I decided to test whether her interest in me was real or superficial. I created a spoof account on the website and soon was chatting with her in another browser as another persona whilst chatting to her for real in another window.
The red alarm bell went off when she then invited the spoof me to go up to her family home for the mother’s day holiday. This was someone she had not even seen in webcam, had been chatting for no more than a few minutes, and was now inviting to join in a special family event. In retrospect it was probably because my spoof account had a photo of a very nice house and a very flash car.
I kept up my pretence for a few minutes more, to see how far she would go: asking if she had a boyfriend, if there was anyone special in her life, and what local hotel I should book into. Of course, none would be necessary. When I revealed my true identity by using the cute nickname she’d given me, the flood of tears would have sunk the Titanic without the help of an iceberg. It was truly pitiful.
One-nil to me.
Now we men are rational beasts. As generals we can move armies across a battlefield and wipe out ten thousand enemies without the blink of an eye. But when it comes down to lust, we are lost. A woman’s charms wraps us up into a ball of confusion and we become unable to think rationally. Can I forgive her? Yes, of course, because forgiving her will mean even better sex than before.
But that alarm bell was never silenced in my head. I should have called it quits if it bothered me that she was still in the market and I felt that I wasn’t. If we were not on the same page, however, perhaps I needed to author some changes.
What did she want?
She wanted to be number one. She knew about my wife, but in that strange Thai way of accepting the concept of mia nois and giks, (and something that to this day I can’t get used to), she was ok to go along with the situation as long as it meant that one day Noi would be number one.
She wanted constant reassurance that she was attractive to men. Noi asked me to take flattering photos of her that she could post in the dating website. It may seem crazy but she gave me her passwords to Facebook and dating sites so I could see who had been in contact with her, because she was obsessed with the idea of “check-rating”. How many guys had shown interest? How many likes had her pics received? Had she got more likes than her friends?
She didn’t want to be alone. She’d made a bad marriage choice. Like many, she had fallen to the sweet mouth of a Thai male who’d run off with all her gold, but at least she didn’t have any kids. But at 32 and with her workmates pairing up and making babies, she felt left out. Loneliness was a big driving force in her life.
Some more red flags.
She would engineer an argument in order to take off somewhere. We’d been an item for 9 months and her birthday was coming up. A couple of days beforehand she created a scene from nowhere and disappeared. I investigated amongst her friends. She’d gone off to Pattaya with an Italian guy she’d hooked up with online just a few days previously. Like my spoof friend, she’d never met him before and yet she was waiting at the arrivals gate for her birthday fxxx-buddy gift to arrive.
Of course she denied it but by now I’d installed a key-logger onto her computer and had more information on her than America has on the Taliban. Was this a deceitful thing to do? I suggest it is a very necessary step to take. She was shocked when I called up the Facebook page of some random Italian and pointed out that those were her shoes in the corner of the beach picture. She could not deny that they were not her shoes as I had bought them for her.
So why did I continue with her after this?
I don’t know how to express it fully. It was schadenfraude in a way. I was curious just to see how far this would and could go. What kind of weird, messed-up relationship would come out of this? Honestly, so much of life is boring: waking up, making breakfast, scanning the newspapers and reading stories about other people’s lives. We all want to live a little before we die. This relationship was turning into something dangerous and exciting. How faithful is she going to be? What is the sex going to be like now? I loved her and I hated her at the same time. To my wife I felt totally indifferent to her, and she felt the same way to me. I knew my marriage was in the final stages, we were winding it down with civility, but it was over. Then Noi discovered my wife’s phone number and the civility in our marriiage came to an end.
Worse still, in the same week I was fired from my highly-paid job which was then given to my poorly-paid assistant. That’s capitalism for you.
To complete a month of woe, the Thai floods came and Noi lost her factory job. She used it as an excuse to make another disappearing trip but learned to cover her tracks better and I never discovered with whom she “pai thiawed”.
How events beyond our control can change the pattern of our lives. I fell sick and Noi re-appeared and we set up life together in a cheap room off Rachadapisek. A totally irrational decision but we started a period of great personal happiness. We did simple every-day stuff together. We cooked and cleaned and chatted. I made her coffee in the morning and we hugged at night. It was the ordinary that I craved. My wife had isolated me, made me a prisoner in the house. She hated if I walked in the moobaan. She was embarrassed to have a farang husband. But with my little factory girl I was free to do anything I ever wanted. Noi told me later that she fell in love with me at this point. She was now number one. The little lo-so girl had replaced my middle-class wife. She was now reassured of her attractiveness to men. She was no longer lonely. In summary she found everything she had been looking for.
I quit the rented room and went back home after 3 weeks.
Noi had started a new job in an office in Rachada. No longer the assembly line girl, she was selling life insurance policies. Noi was in 7th heaven, wearing a dress and make up for working instead of head-to-toe overalls. She leant me her laptop to work on. I would make money from creating websites. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t know that photos in the recycle bin are recoverable. She lied about that trip to Laos.
I was back at the marital home by the time Noi came home from work. Through more tears she told me that she’d already told the guy who accompanied her on the Laos weekend that she had chosen me over him. Why, she asked, did I think we were living together if she was interested in another?
I took the point but countered with “but you lied about going with a guy on this trip.” Of course, I already I understood that this was a Thai lie, a face-saving lie, not to be confused with a real down-home lie. But what really hurt was the deleted picture of her head on a soft-white pillow. She had brushed her hair so that it flowed demurely across one bare shoulder, her red lips were slightly parted in that way that women do when they are desirous of sex.
And her Thai lover was so ugly.
The insurance job didn’t work out. She was too unassuming for a sales job and Noi moved back to her home. The factory job was no longer available since she had left. Without money she took off to some distant family in the mountains of Loei. She went off the radar and my existence returned to deathly dull suburbia. The wife took me back so that she could berate me. To be honest it went in one ear and out of the other. Noi was exciting and dangerous. She made love like a demon. She was a man’s dreams come true. She was funny and most importantly she was inclusive. We were an odd couple against the world. My wife made a few half-hearted attempts to stab me. I still carry the flesh wounds as a badge of honour – but she chopped up a few nice shirts which I think was uncalled for.
And of course, Noi couldn’t live without me. After a couple of month’s silence, she called me from a public call box one day out of the blue, just to say that she was alive and I should forget her. Translated from womenspeak this means I am lonely, come and get me.
But where was she exactly?
I had just the public phone number on my in-log. So I called TOT and asked them for the location of the phone, and to my surprise they gave it to me. I called TOT again and a second call center clerk confirmed the same location. This being Thailand you can’t leave stuff like that unchecked. Now I had the name of some tiny village hugged up against the border with Laos. I called the public phone and eventually someone picked up the phone. “Is this village X” I asked.
A three-way confirmation and I’m on the money. Next, a call to Noi’s old, old boyfriend. One she had a relationship before meeting me. One that rejected her for a younger model despite all their protestations of undying love for one another. I have all the computer records. Noi is amazed and doesn’t know how I do it. She warns everybody I am a hacker. I tell her I can hack everything. But this is not the point. The point is the old, old boyfriend has her new, new SIM number, and he is prepared to give it to me. Bingo! Guys sticking together. I like this guy and twelve months later meet him in person. He is a nice guy.
I call Noi and when she picks up the phone I tell her the name of the village where she is living. She is stunned, and excited, that I could locate her. On the “check-rating” scale that’s a lot of points.
So happy is Noi to be found, she drives all the way to Bangkok to pick me up and then drives all the way back to Loei. We cross mountains and valleys, so high that clouds drift below us. I tell her about Bonnie and Clyde. She’s seen the movie. “But they were real people”. I explain. The happiest of happy times. We buy sacks of passion fruit and pineapples. We make jam. The village turns up to see what we are doing. Soon the whole village is making jam. The village store runs out of sugar. Nobody has any glass jars. It doesn’t matter, we’ve made jam and at night we hug and go to sleep on the floor. We tour the area. So much going on here. The villagers own a communal herd of cows. Tomorrow there’s a lecture on growing macadamia nuts. Laotians cross the river to sell huge hessian sacks brimming with peanuts. I chat with a guy about wine-making. So many ideas, so many plans to make money. We can survive. I set up a stall in a muddy field selling stuffed monkeys I’d bought in Klong Toey. It start raining and my monkeys get wet. And my father wanted me to be an accountant.
We are outlaws. Living on our wits. Surviving for the day. Tomorrow we’ll get lucky. We’ll open a resort for tourists, I’ll do the website. Making plans. Dreams.
You know something. We all have to eat. And food costs money. And money comes from an ATM machine. We all know that. A rumbling belly disturbs dreams. So we’re heading down the mountain with 75 kg of unripe bananas at 13 baht a kilo and 50 kg of passion fruit at 23 baht. Calculations, revenue, profit, don’t forget to include gas money in that. Back in civilization it’s 3 AM and we’re setting up stall in the market. Tired, cold and hungry but we need to sell. I have no work permit for this but it’s a game, not real life. For Noi it’s real life, not a game. She sells. She sells well. Bananas 45 baht a kilo, though tomorrow when riper that will be 30 baht. And people don’t know what passion fruit is, so Noi cuts some open and they taste it for free, and they buy. The pile of fruit is diminishing as the sun breaks through on the horizon. Another day spreads its first light before us, but we are sleepy and by 10 AM we are back to her home, in bed, showered, hugging. Maybe 5K baht in profit after gas costs. I’m thinking. One trip every weekend. Bring back a bit more. We could be looking at 30K a month. And that doesn’t include the monkeys.
The best of times, the happiest of times. My wife agrees to sell our house. We’re back to civility and no more knives are drawn in anger.
But it is my fault that my relationship with Noi came to a crashing end.
I tell everybody, when they ask what went wrong, that I was trying to keep both sides happy. I was swimming back and forth between two islands, spending a couple of weeks with Noi and then a couple of weeks back at home. I will reveal the truth here. My home is far more comfortable than Noi’s. I have air-conditioning. My wife cooks and knows what I like to eat. Her sister cleans and knows not to bother me. I am a prince. At Noi’s there is just a small fan and we sleep two in a single bed. Her mattress hurts my back. Her food is Thai country and you know what I mean by that. Her family asks Noi “What is he doing here? He doesn’t seem rich.”
The sex becomes less frequent. I ask her why? She hurts when we make love. Her herpes plays up when we make love. She is tired. She is working 7 days per week and 12 hours per day. A prince is an unaffordable luxury in a poor man’s dwelling. The end is swift and I didn’t see it coming.
“When will you sell your house?”
“Who can say? It is on the market.”
“Your wife will never sell.”
“Tomorrow I go Bangkok to renew my visa. My wife has agreed to do this one more year. When we sell the house I will divorce and then marry you.”
“You lie. You say you marry me 3 years already. I wait long time already.”
“We’ve talked about this before. I told you my wife has agreed to give me 50% of the house and I have promised to pay you a salary so you don’t need to work every day. You can work five days per week and you won’t be so tired. This has always been your dream, right?”
“Ok you go Bangkok and make visa”.
Two days later and the visa process is over for another year. My wife says I can return to my girlfriend’s home. “You can stay as long as you want”. It’s just weird stuff. Noi’s birthday is in five days time so my wife has a load of clothes for her. Elder sister has a load of stuff for Noi, too. I wonder if I can take this all on a minibus or whether I need a taxi.”
“I’ve finished the visa, I can come to you, have some birthday surprise too.”
“Oh, can you wait there. I have to go home town in three weeks to pick up kids for mid-term. If you stay alone my house nobody take care you”.
“Ok if you say so. I’ll wait here. I’ll miss your birthday”.
“Never mind. Can do later.”
I’m suspicious. She doesn’t like to stay alone and nobody is there to help her work. Besides, in the past she likes to find a f*ck buddy for her birthday”.
So we’re reduced to phone calls and Line chats to keep in contact for the next couple of weeks. But after almost four years together I can feel the signals she is sending off. The words she uses, the way she speaks, the short-shrift of our conversations. She is too tired or too busy to talk. And then it is the eve of her birthday. Noi doesn’t even mention the event. Four years and the antennae are ringing alarm bells. I thought that boyfriends, and giks and lovers were a thing of the past.
I decide to travel up to her home. Not on her birthday, but the day after, figuring that if she is with someone they will be there in the morning.
My wife drives me to the bus station; she thinks I am on long-time. I arrive at Noi’s home in the early morning; her pickup is not parked immediately outside the house but further up the soi. The parking space in front of her house is empty. The gate is unlocked. The front door is unlocked and slightly ajar. I enter the house. Not a sound. A giant-sized KFC box on the table indicates a little celebration. There are two unwashed bowls on the table. Two sets of forks and spoons in the unwashed bowls. No one downstairs.
I climb the steps quietly as I can. I see Noi’s bedroom door is wide open. She always sleeps with the door locked from the inside. In four years she has never slept with the door open. But first I duck into the master bedroom. It is empty. The floor strewn with old, unwashed clothes; dirty sheets lay twisted on the bed. My middle-class wife would be appalled to see the conditions inside Noi’s house. The bedroom beside Noi’s also has an open door. Again more clothes lay across the floor and the sleeping mattress, but the room like the master bedroom is unoccupied.
Noi doesn’t wake as I enter. She sleeps on her side, clutching her mobile phone. I sit down on the bedroom chair and quietly survey the room. On top of the overflowing laundry basket are a pair of men’s trousers. They are not mine.
It’s time to awaken the sleeping beauty. A soft touch on her hands and Noi’s eyes flutter to life. She seems unsurprised to see me there. In my hand I hold up the offending garment.
“Who do these belong to?”
She blinks then grabs her phone as though she might find the answer on the screen.
“Who slept with you last night?”
Saying nothing she slips off the bed and goes to the toilet. It’s a chance to explore the room but everything else is as I would expect. Her room a mess, unswept and not tidied up since I left a fortnight ago. I check my condoms kept on her make-up table. They are as I left them.
Noi comes back to the room and sits on the bed.
“My boyfriend was here”, she said. “I don’t love you.”
I begin pulling my stuff from her cupboards and pile them into a black trash bag I’d brought with me. I suspected the worst and she confirms it.
“The guy I pay 40 baht a day to set up my market stall.”
“But you told me that guy has just got out jail after shooting someone dead.”
“Yes. He’s not handsome, but he’s my spec. I love him.” Her words were a knife to my heart, and she knew it. Thais don’t use the word ‘love’ so much, but she kept saying it, each time a deeper stab. “I don’t love you. I love him.”
Ok, so I cried. I cried so long and hard and bitterly that she began to cry too. She stroked my hair. “My dream was to die an old man in your loving arms”, I cried.
“You never made my dreams come true", she said. "I wait long time already.”
I don’t know what all those stages of grief are, but I never imagined the physical pain I would go through. In the beginning was denial, and the anger is starting to subside. I was back at home for the negotiation stage. I couldn’t sleep all night and at 8 AM I called her up and told her to get on Line chat and prepare for a big quarrel.
“You know I am selling the house. Why couldn’t you wait a little longer?”
“I wait you long time already. I not believe you sell house, you not help me work in market.”
“I can’t help you work in market. I have no work permit. I told you I will give you a monthly salary.”
“I don’t want salary. I not your staff. I want be big boss. You sell house, give me all money and I take care you until you die, ok?”
“Huh? You don’t love me, you love new boyfriend.”
“I tell he go. You give me money all sell house. I clear my car. I clear my house. I make cooking room new. I take care you.”
So a relationship, so exciting, so passionate, so sexual, so sublime melts away into the ridiculous. It seems almost pointless to articulate the stupidity of my even considering such a course of action. Many have been there before, but I have discovered my limit. I may have placed my head upon the guillotine block, but I am not going to pull the draw string. One last attempt at reason before the curtain closes.
“I offer you this. I have some emergency money in my bank account overseas. Nobody knows about this money except you. I will pay you a monthly salary from this. It’s enough for three years; it gives me plenty of time to sell the house. Then I will pay you from the house sales. If we do it this way you can work five days per week and won’t be so tired as you claim. It’s enough for you to hire a staff, too. Ok mai?”
“Mai ok. You give me all your money”
So that is the end of my little tale. Thanks for being with me to the end. Even for Bonnie & Clyde it was always about the money.
It was one helluva rollercoaster ride and I’m disappointed that the train has now rolled into the sidings. I can’t thank Noi for all of the happy and wonderful times we had together, and they were honestly the best and happiest times of my life, because it was all about the money. She has cheapened the memory. Now when I picture her beautiful smile and imagine her warm embrace, I ask myself was that smile the result of her calculating my net worth?
She played me for the long haul and nearly landed me. But her new ex-con boyfriend screwed it up for her at the death, I believe. They’d obviously talked about me, and I guess he pressured Noi into getting the money sooner rather than later. I’m glad I’m out now. The divorce is still going ahead, that would have happened without Noi, but it means I can make a fresh start with some fresh adventures.
Why did I stay with someone who was so unfaithful?
I loved her immensely, but always knew that we would not be together forever. I forgave her infidelity because I knew that for a time she would come back, apologize and we would live for the present moment. Yet I knew her so well that I knew she would eventually kill the relationship by going that one step too far. She would do something that would be impossible to accept. Asking for all my money, and believing she was entitled to it, was that step.
Deep down I truly regret that there was no happy ending with us walking off set, hand in hand, with the sunset blazing across a golden sky. And I can’t get all philosophical and say, oh well, that was a lessoned learned, because from the very outset when I first fired up my laptop to go on to that dating website I could have predicted the eventual outcome.
What I couldn’t have predicted was the journey that led to the outcome. It was exciting and wonderful and passionate and I felt alive and in touch with life and breathed in the air of love. Who could have regrets about that?