When I recently dusted up my old DVDs collection I came across an old film featuring the departed Patrick Swayze in the lead role as a dance instructor at a summer camp. I had a similar experience but far less amusing or entertaining. Dancing was not on the agenda; I’m a lousy dancer anyway. It was a sort of pre-university boarding school. No dancing competition, no romance or other intrigues. And most importantly no girls, a boys only school. Still there where many fun times to be had and even a few similarities to the Dirty Dancing movie.
These days I like to say that Jacqui and I had known each other for a lifetime. That, when you get to my age you can take almost literally. Strictly speaking though in reality we first met at school. A residential internship near the town of Fribourg called Internet privé.
Originating from the German-speaking part of the country I was sent there to improve or polish up le Français. My father insisted in telling me how important it was to master languages in the future modern world. I seriously hated the Internet at first and dismissed his argument, certain that the reason I was sent there was just to rid them of the difficult teen I probably was.
Father was right of course but it took me many years, lots of travels and new meetings with all sorts of peoples to realize that he had been right all along. Admittedly it did help when I had managed to put another two new languages under my belt.
Jacqui and I soon became buddies bunking in the same room. Apparently the school had a fair reputation and for the second year a new student joined our room in an extra bed that made the room lodging look even smaller. Eventually after a long 3 years we all passed successfully our bac à lauréat. Despite the good intentions of our parents none of us made it to university. Jacqui was needed in the family business in view to take over in years to come. Jean-Louis’ ambition was to become a maître de sport (sports master). He was a big, strong guy and had all the attributes necessary to realize his dream. An extra year in a teachers college allowed him to succeed. As for my own fate it has been described in many previous submissions.
My latest misadventure was an unsuccessful stint as a manager of a restaurant at the shores of lac Léman. It also caused me to finally realize my long cherished wish to discover the Asian continent.
The three of us kept in touch sporadically over the years, got married and produced families. Approaching our 40s, Jacqui and I both faced partly friendly but nevertheless traumatizing divorce proceedings. On the last of our yearly meetings we made a spontaneous decision when turning 40 in a few weeks’ time to celebrate that milestone by taking a trip to Paris. It was also the eve of my departure for my Asian adventure as Jacqui called it a bit dismissively.
Traveling on the comfortable and fast TGV (train a grande vitesse) from Lausanne to Paris, we did what people do in Paris. No need to elaborate on it. Eventually it was time to take leave for my friends at the gare de Lyon for their journey back home and me for to the airport.
This time I was on a charter flight to Bangkok on an airline called Minerve, probably defunct now. Although Jacqui had promised to visit me the coming year it took 3 years before he finally turned up in Phuket. Accompanied this time by his new wife. A mistake of course even though I had warned him Thailand was not an ideal country to take the wife to.
Still it turned out they both had an agenda.
Hers, a pretty, slight woman, was to have a breast enhancement procedure and him to get a taste of the transvestite scene he had heard so much about and which seemed to fascinate him.
Mamour is what he called her (my love) had some preliminary tests at the international hospital in Phuket and was due to report to the clinic the evening before the procedure. After having delivered Mamour there I took Jacqui directly to the Simon Cabaret, a Tiffany style ladyboy show surrounded by a sort of headquarters at the time of the transvestite scene in Phuket. We saw the show and afterwards Jacqui had no problem inviting one of pretty she-males for a drink. I drove them back to the hotel and on the way could not overhear the price negotiations for some extra action that was to follow.
Mamour’s breast implants did not take place as planned. She called early next morning to inform Jacqui to come and fetch her at the clinic ASAP. What’s wrong, he wanted to know? A lack of communication skills mostly. While the clinic was clean and seemingly well-equipped, the operating surgeon would only speak Thai and the present translator English. She required to be informed in her own language which was French. No way to change her mind, the procedure was cancelled and would have to be performed in her own country where she could clearly state her particular desires. Disappointed and reluctant, Jacqui went to check her out of the clinic.
He however went ahead with his several and previously arranged dental appointments at a much reduced price to home. This and her breast implant had been the very reason Mamour agreed or rather wanted to go on that Phuket trip in the first place. The 3 weeks passed and they returned home. Not before Jacqui telling me that he’d be back next year but without the other half.
He did and it took less than a year. For some unfathomable reason he had suddenly developed a taste for ladyboys. Being alone this time he now had an undisturbed and clear path to live out his fantasies. When I asked about Mamour and the breast implant he acknowledged that she had had it done in a Geneva clinic angrily adding at more than three times the cost it would have been here. He regretted it dearly and never failed to mention the large sum he had paid for it. But he did have a good time nevertheless on the holiday enjoying his new-found passion with she-males.
I’ll be back next year he said on leave-taking. And so he did. This time in company of Jean-Louis, the other friend of long past days at the Fribourg Internat. What about Mamour, I asked. I divorced her was the short answer but immediately followed by an exclamation that was to become a sort of Leitmotiv in conversations in with friends in years to come: …and I even paid the stupid bitch for a pair of new tits.
It did nothing to diminish the enjoyment of our 3 week. We would sit in a bar or bars drinking. Jacqui alternatively sometimes concluded the evening outing with a pretty girl or a ladyboy. Jean-Louis was the quiet one. He could sit for hours in one of the go-gos watching the girls. But he never barfined. Before leaving he had promised his wife who was also a schoolteacher that he would always be faithful to her. While not wholly understanding his ways we respected it and even congratulated him on his steadfastness.
The second week we decided to take a 3- or 4-day trip to Krabi. Wonderful excursion but it was also the first sign that something was not right with Jean-Louis. It happened on a boat trip to nearby Railley Beach intending to spend a night in a simple fan cooled bungalow. We left Ao-Nang on a long-tail boat in the sweltering midday heat. Less than half an hour on our way we had the boat stop and jumped in the sea to cool off. Jean-Louis stayed in the boat.
When returning after a long, refreshing swim we naturally wondered why he did not join us. His explanation was somehow bizarre. It went like this; some time ago a guy, he explained, had also jumped into the (admittedly very cold) water in lac Neuchâtel. When trying to get back into the boat he may have gotten cramps or severe fatigue and did not find the strength to climb over the hull and eventually drowned. As our boat did not provide a boat ladder to climb back up Jean-Louis felt it was too dangerous to jump in. Jacqui, an outspoken guy, mocked him saying he should be ashamed as a sports teacher not to dive in as everybody else did. Jean-Louis had no answer to that. But when reaching Railley Beach and settled in the bungalows the incident was forgotten and Jean-Louis joined us in swimming and diving along the shore.
The three weeks passed and the two boarded the flight to Don-Meuang and then on back home. Two more years passed and many more discovery tours in the south of Thailand. Our assigned taxi driver, a 28-year-old single mum, proved to be an ideal guide, sometimes over several days staying in small towns or cheap bungalows.
The third year Jacqui debarked once again but on his own this time. He brought bad news. Jean-Louis had been diagnosed with acute Leukemia and treatment in the local hospital followed. Later the same year I went to visit him. He looked ok and was in good spirits. Before the year was up he’d be back in Phuket for the next holiday adventure he promised.
It was not to be. Jean-Louis expired only weeks later leaving behind a wife and 2 children. On our few days of travels we avoided Lek’s frequent questions why Jean-Louis was not part of our excursions this time, or simply deviated to other topics to avoid more questions. On the last day shortly before returning to Phuket, Lek stopped the taxi to fill up gas and to get us a drink at the service station. Before, please, she said, now you tell me why Jean-Louis not come? So we did. It had been drizzling with rain and she was slightly wet when returning to the taxi.
Why you crying Lek, I asked. I not cry, it raining. You’re lying Lek, I said. Finally she let the tears flow. She was sincerely embarrassed and hid her face as eventually it burst out of her. In her limited English vocabulary she added; why must the good people go to die?
Thais never or only rarely show emotion in public. Her obvious and public sorrow touched us deeply. We let her find her composure again and she drove the last few kilometres in silence. Later, back at the hotel we too lamented over the injustice of life. Several glasses of wine in the hotel bar and only few words spoken was our way to regain our own, limited serenity.
While we had always met in Phuket until now, that changed in the coming years. Phuket too, the place we had both come to love, had changed into an important tourist hub losing slowly but surely the initial charm. For me retirement was nearing and I made a serious effort to cut back on the workload and permit myself to the more enjoyable things in life. Jacqui back home had turned over the family business to his son but remained as administrator which kept him busy over the remainder of the year.
Our yearly meeting place now changed at Bangkok Suwarnabhumi AP. We started to explore first the exotic town, then the north and northeast of Thailand. Jacqui would now stay 4 or 5 weeks instead of the 3 weeks holidays of yesteryear. We both loved the northeastern regions and the simple people living simple lives in the small villages we visited either on bus journeys or in hire cars. Once we crossed the Friendship Bridge to Laos but staying a short time only. Jacqui declared after a few days that the food and the ladies where both vastly inferior to Thailand. Let’s go back to Nong-Khai he said.
His libido too had diminished with the years and was partly replaced by gourmandize. Once in a restaurant in Udon-Thani he ordered spaghetti bolognese. When the rather small dish arrived he laughed and immediately ordered another. And then another. Some of the smiling waitresses came to observe the ongoing feast. Even the chef came to inquire if anything was amiss. Not at all had he replied, better than in Italy he declared with special congratulations to the chef.
Jacqui, always in his best moods when eating and drinking even more so when surrounded by an audience however limited. And also perhaps in a slightly inebriated state. He soon started to tell snippets out of his life’s story embellishing a bit here and there.
Northeastern Thais are less than proficient in English, Jacqui resorted to gesture language. Two fingers joint slowly separating means divorce. Sign language for Money or otherwise costly expenditure is universal. His gesture of enlarging women’s breast made for hilarious laughter all around. The conclusion of the story was clearly understood by all; the now familiar Climax of his frequent narrations;
….and the damn bitch even made me pay for a new pair of tits!
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