The Brokenman is Repaired Part 15/3
Part 3 A glimpse of the Isaan
I had enjoyed my few days in Pattaya. I had seen a few old friends and made some new ones. On Sunday morning I booked out of the Opey and took a taxi to the airport for the 1:30 flight to Udon Thani. I had never been to the Isaan before so felt this trip was a good opportunity to get a glimpse of the region at last.
I was flying with Thai Smile, Thai Air’s sister service which is the equivalent of Flybe to British Airways. As I regularly flew from Birmingham to Edinburgh last year I thought comparisons would be interesting. Thai Smile employs pretty young hostesses much younger and cuter than Flybe or Thai Air. I suspect I probably have underwear older than most of them; I certainly have shirts of a similar age. The flight was comfortable and I was given a little cake in a bag which was novel.
I closed my eyes and reflected on the chain of thought prompted by my pal Al when in Pattaya. He declared that once I had enough of the mongering life he was sure his wife could introduce me to a cultured Thai lady. The idea of retiring to the kingdom was compelling but could I settle in the Isaan?
Udon Thani is an agreeable little airport; I disembarked off the plane down an escalator straight into baggage reclaim with great efficiency. There was no taxi rank visible so was at the mercy of the local mafia. However a mini bus deposited me at the Irish Clock hotel in next to no time for only a mildly extortionate rate. The Irish Clock is a friendly little hotel in a lively soi near the town centre. The rooms are well appointed and very spacious; in fact I feared I may experience agoraphobia at some point in my stay.
I was just getting settled when I received a phone call from Nat, my ex wife, informing me she was on her way to see me.
At the fear of boring my regular readers (who have heard it all before) I feel I should tender the reader’s digest of my story for those new to my tale. I had met Nat on my first visit to Thailand in 2003. After a full on Thai girlfriend experience we kept in contact and in subsequent years our relationship settled into a platonic friendship. Then prompted by a fit of loneliness the preceding Christmas, Easter 2008 we got married in Bangkok. In September she moved to the UK to live with me. All was idyllic until March the following year when she left me to work in London for a few months before returning to Thailand leaving me broken-hearted and £18K poorer.
I did not see her again until my trip to Thailand at Easter 2011 when we divorced in amicable circumstances. I met her again in 2012 on my return from China and again all was genial and good-natured. Then in 2013 she phoned me to drop a bombshell that she had given birth to a daughter in October 2009 and the father was her old English boyfriend Tom. I calculated she had been conceived in London whilst we were still married and not long after she had left me in March. Before getting married I had done the risk assessment and performed the due diligence. There was no shortage of prior intelligence and preparation. I had kept a steady bat but was still beaten by the in-swinger to the leg stump. <You just confused 35% of the readership! – Stick>
Although I asked myself how many more indignities she could heap upon me I decided being angry was a futile exercise akin to pissing yourself in a dark suit when you get a warm sensation but nobody notices. I was resigned to filing this revelation in the ever-expanding cabinet known as “unexpected experiences”.
Despite all the anguish she had put me through in the past I was pleased to see her. My gift of perfume and the return of some of her clothes that had remained in my wardrobe clearly pleased her. She was now quite chubby but she remains the most enchanting (and infuriating) woman I have ever known. I knew she lived in a parallel universe, like Alice through the looking glass. Her latest obsession after a lifetime of devotion to the catholic faith was she had discovered Buddhism. I suspect it was merely about ingratiating herself with the pillars of her community as she was always a little snob. She claimed she was making a modest living selling food in the local market but as usual insisted she currently had no money claiming she only had 300 baht in her purse.
I had no illusions or desire to rekindle our romance but I did feel the compulsion to suspend reality and enjoy a few days with her in her alternate world. I appreciate this is difficult to explain but the thought of losing myself for a while was appealing. I imagine our metaphorical psychiatrist would certainly have a field day trying to understand that.
We have always been comfortable in each other's company and were never short of something to talk about. We quickly slipped into a domestic intimacy as if I had seen her only yesterday rather than two years ago. Whilst I was taking a shower she joined me and sat on the toilet. The slightly surreal discussion involved the relative virtues of employing the Thai water jet bum washer compared to using toilet tissue. For no particular reason Nat mentioned her mother kept a little towel at the side of the wash basin for wiping her mudgeon after her toilet.
We took dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and caught up with our respective stories since our last meeting. She mentioned she wanted to introduce me to a girl who was the niece of her old Ajarn (teacher). I smiled to myself as I suspected she had some scheme in mind. It soon became clear she wanted to make “face” within her new society. I suggested that as a good Buddhist she should be concentrating on making merit rather than making face but knew it went over her head. We later took a stroll around the bar area in Samphan Thanit Street opposite the Irish Clock. The bars were disappointing and were all identical. They reminded me of the bars along the Loh Kroh Road in Chiang Mai which I thought were like a cemetery with lights.
After a couple of drinks we returned to the hotel. I had established that Nat was not interested in indulging in any carnality with me. She slept with me but kept her clothes on. I had no intention of pressing my attention on her but she did tell me the next morning she felt it was nice to have someone hold her hand as we chatted. The next morning we took breakfast in the hotel then began the drive to her mother’s house in Sriburuang in the neighbouring province. Nat’s vehicle is a Toyota Fortuner which was about 7 years old but still in very good condition. The hour and half journey gave the chance to chat. She claimed she had broken all contact with the father of her daughter a few years ago. Although I asked enough to fill in many of the gaps I did not push her for all the details of her time in London. I was comfortable with things as they were and didn’t particularly want to open old wounds.
After an hour we stopped at Nong Bua Lamphu at the Tesco Lotus superstore. The food hall was most impressive with a great availability of cheap and tasty food. I considered ordering a traditional English breakfast but after being admonished that I should eat Thai I ate a yellow curry with a fried egg instead which I really enjoyed.
After another half hour of driving we arrived in Sriburuang. The first port of call was her sister Gow who remembered me and gave me a big welcome. Gow, her husband and three children live in a small neat house on a plot of land owned by Nat. Nat told me of her plans to develop the site when she had the capital. The plot of land was triangular in shape and I estimated she could comfortably fit a further six houses on it.
Nat dropped me off at her mother’s house nearby whilst she went to the local school to pick up her daughter and niece Ploy. Her mother was pleased to see me and sat chatting with me over cups of green tea. Her mother is a retired school teacher with quite good English and we have always got on well. She told me she was disappointed and embarrassed with the way Nat had treated me. Her estranged husband was now a revered monk at a nearby temple and she explained when he had heard of how his daughter had behaved he had made her serve a two-week penance living in simple austerity at the temple. She also implied that if I decided to retire in Thailand her daughter now had an obligation to take care of me. I must admit I was taken aback by this unusual and unexpected declaration.
The house was modern, well built, relatively spacious with a large lounge area, a well appointed separate kitchen and three upstairs bedrooms. However the bathroom and washing facilities were a bit basic. The lack of maintenance was indicative of the absence of a man in the household. The shower was broken and replaced with a big blue tub and a small bowl for washing Thai-style. The wash basin was cracked and unusable. Before I began to wash I looked for a towel but all I could see was a small towel hanging beside the WC. I immediately recalled the use to which Nat said her mother put it and decided this was one occasion it would be prudent not to wash my face.
Nat arrived with her daughter Tina and her niece Ploy. Both girls are six years old and looked as cute as buttons in school uniforms. The contrast between Ploy with her dark Isaan features and Tina her white skinned luk-kreung cousin was quite marked. I had purchased a kit at the Tesco Lotus for making beads and quickly had them engaged in making bracelets and necklaces for each other. This kept them entertained for a time. I was informed that at the weekend the girls would be involved in a parade in the town so they wanted to show off their majorette skills to me. This amused for an hour until their teacher arrived to give them some private tuition.
Nat explained the girl she had invited to meet me was not interested in Thai men and wanted to meet a western gentleman. I was a little uncomfortable with the scenario but decided to go with the flow for now. Within the hour said girl arrived following a two hour bus journey. Gabby was a 24 year old cute coltish girl next door, slim, pretty and very light skinned. Introductions effected I established she was quite delightful and genuinely shy. I also suspected she was a virgin.
Whilst I was willing to go along with Nat’s fancy I felt it necessary to quickly establish some boundaries. I was far too old for Gabby (and the thought of her being a virgin horrified me) so insisted they should forget any romantic illusions Nat may have given her. However I declared the three of us could spend a few days together as a metaphorical family. I would school Gabby in the ways of the west and later help her to find a more suitable younger western fellow, maybe amongst one of my students back home. Everyone seemed happy with the suggestion much to my relief.
Although Gabby had only basic English she was inquisitive and willing to learn. The three of us had a pleasant journey back to Udon Thani. We stopped at a seafood buffet just on the city ring road. It was an amazing establishment with a huge supply of meat and seafood on display. There were crabs, prawns, winkles, whelks, squid and miscellaneous fish of indeterminate origin. We were shown to a table on which stood two charcoal braziers. The thought struck me I could lose my life through my annular orifice if one didn’t cook this fare correctly so was relieved I had two Thai girls with me who knew what they were doing. It was a lovely experience sitting back and letting them dance attendance on me. They took control in selecting, cooking, peeling and putting food on my plate. I felt like an Arab potentate being waited on like this. We sat eating and chatting for almost three hours and the total bill came to less than 900 baht which was amazing value.
When we got back to the Irish Clock I informed the hotel that the room now had three occupants and offered to pay any additional cost. For 150 baht the hotel supplied an additional mattress. As I am a courteous gentleman I gallantly let the ladies sleep in the bed whilst I slept on the floor. Once arrangements were made I left the ladies and went to explore the hole in the wall bars nearby.
I could see very little difference in any of the bars so selected the one at the end of the row. There were three girls working with the owner working behind the bar. I took a seat bought them all a drink and got settled. No sooner had I taken the skin of my beer when one girl began pushing me for another drink. My rejoin “drink the fecker you have first” was ignored. She was a sexy little piece but clearly inebriated if not under the influence of ya-ba.
In order to deflect her excessive attentions I gave her some money to fetch me some cigarettes from the nearby 7/11. On her return she began dancing provocatively and even showed me her Djihm. She continued harassing me for drinks and generally being a nuisance. She even ordered food then wouldn’t eat it declaring she wanted to “take care”. In the end I called the owner over and complained of the antics of this girl. I had explained I had bought everyone a drink and just wanted to relax but the behaviour of this one girl was preventing this. The owner apologised but by then the mood was broken and I took my leave.
As I made my way back to my hotel I wondered what on earth that girl considered to be the definition of “taking care”.
Next day the three of us took a drive up to Nongkhai. Nat parked in a temple car park and walked us to a small family restaurant she knew just off the town centre. Nat ordered a selection of food much of which I didn’t recognise but was tasty and great value. When I asked to visit the toilet the proprietor walked me through her bedroom and kitchen to get to their own facility.
The girls took me to Sala Kaew Ku which was a weird museum displaying huge strange statues from principally the Hindu faith. I was told the story of how it was built and whilst appreciating the years of work that went into its construction I still found the whole thing bizarre. The temple on the site was interesting and the small lake area rather peaceful and relaxing. Whilst Nat stayed in the temple ostensibly making merit (more likely making face to someone she had seen who she knew) Gabby and I spent a pleasant hour chatting by the lake feeding the massive fish that made the water boil when they came up for food.
We drove back into Nongkhai and parked in the grounds of another temple. Once again Nat wanted to make merit so Gabby and I had a walk through the market area towards the riverfront. I was very impressed with the river front and the pleasant promenade. We took a seat alongside the awesome Mekong River and chatted for a while. When Gabby got bored with learning English phrases she went shopping around the market whilst I had a cup of tea and watched the world go by. She soon returned complaining everything in the market was too expensive.
We later met up with Nat who confessed she had actually been shopping rather than going to the temple which came as no great surprise to me. We went to a lively Vietnamese restaurant on the riverfront and the girls ordered enough food to provision a small military campaign. It was my first introduction to Vietnamese fare and I found it most palatable. After an agreeable stroll along the pleasant promenade we took a drive back to Udon Thani.
Leaving the girls in the room I went to look at the other group of bars in the nearby Day and Night Complex. The temperature was 18 degrees, cooler than in Bangkok but still warm enough for me but I was amazed to see everyone shivering, wearing overcoats with woolly hats and scarves. I chatted a while with a pleasant young lady in one bar but soon got bored and made my way back to the hotel. I slept well which could be attributed to the country air.
On the Wednesday we had a lazy breakfast in the Irish Clock. At midday I checked out of this pleasant hotel and Nat drove to a Starbucks near the town centre. We sat chatting over a coffee or two for an hour or so. I gave Gabby 3000 baht with instructions to treat herself. She was genuinely delighted and talked with girlish excitement about how she would spend it. When I proffered Nat the same she pouted and declared “that is not enough for my problems”. I smiled, returned the money to my wallet and stated “nothing is ever enough for your problems” and continued “On Sunday you only had 300 baht in your purse but over the last three days I have fed you, entertained you and kept the fuel tank on your car filled.” I paused and smiled before continuing “your greed is the cause of all your troubles and you will probably have to serve a penance at the temple for it now”. I could see she understood so offered her the 3000 baht again which this time she quickly accepted with the comment “you understand me all thing”. If only that were true I thought it would have saved me some anguish six years ago….but never mind.
They dropped me off at the airport and gave me huge hugs and promises to keep in touch. As I stood outside and watched them drive away I reflect on a peaceful few days which had left me feeling refreshed and relaxed.
I boarded the plane with a large party of Israeli women. They we all wore the same T shirt design and were clearly on some kind of expedition. Their ages ranged from late 30s to early 50s. They looked a healthy bunch and were probably ex military. The thought struck me a sexual liaison with one of these impressive women would be considered akin to operating heavy machinery by my insurance company and void any medical claim made. My friendly smile to a couple of them was returned with a grimace I suspect was reserved for suicide bombers just prior to dispatching them.
I settle in my seat and reflect on the past three days. I ask myself could I live there in the Isaan. I could quite probably live in Udon or Nongkhai as I found the people, ambience and pace of life endearing. There is always the concern of keeping oneself gainfully occupied but teaching was one option to consider. On the question of whether I could live with Nat again, the jury is still out. I still care for her but I am unsure if I will ever completely trust her again. Nevertheless I suspect we will remain friends for the foreseeable future.
I remain convinced with a little effort I could find a caring loving Thai lady probably in her 40’s to take care of me in my dotage. Whether this is through my own internet efforts or through introduction by friends I continue to be optimistic.
My musings were interrupted by the captain announcing the descent of the plane into Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. Within the next hour or so I would be back in Suhkumvit for the last week of my Siamese sojourn.