Young readers of Stickman may not know the meaning of the word or possibly have never even heard it. To keep it simple, let’s just say it’s another word for what the Thais call a mia-noi. Purists will no doubt tell me that it’s not exactly the same, especially in its original meaning in France (la courtisane).
Others purportedly from another generation will understand. They may never have heard the name of a Dutch woman called Margreet Zelle but will pay closer attention when informed it’s no other than the famous Mata Hari. One of the best known courtesans in history, mostly because in addition and prior to being a courtesan, she introduced Europe and the world to sensual or exotic dancing. Later she supposedly became a spy for Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany during WW1. Exposed, arrested and tried in her adopted country of France, she was executed by a French firing squad in 1917. Books have been written, films made about her life. Even a statue erected somewhere in the Netherlands in her honor. Most Dutch people believe to this day that she was innocent of espionage.
No, definitely not resembling the résumé of the average Thai mia-noi. But read on, you’ll understand. Finally on a more personal note I like the term courtesan much better than the mostly used and overused word mia-noi in LOS.
Stick once mentioned that he rather likes my retro or good old times stories. Well, this narration for once is more contemporary. The beginning about 5 years ago in one of the Basilico Italian restaurants situated in the higher up sois of Sukhumvit. On this day a particularly pretty young girl served me. I had seen her before and usually exchanged a few words with her. It’s my last day tomorrow, she announced. I will go home up north for two weeks and when I come back I transfer to the Basilico branch on Phahon-Yothin road, Soi 7 near Ari BTS station. Although I rent my condo in the vicinity I never knew they had a branch there. Oh that’s great, I replied, see you there then next time.
I’m European but not Italian. Still to me Italian cuisine, due to its large variety and assortment in its offering takes the number 1 spot in restaurant foods. What’s more, Italian restaurants are almost always well run or managed and clients get that all important feeling that you are a valued and well esteemed patron. Thai food of course makes it easily in the number 3 spot. Brownie points taken off only and mostly for the sometimes lackluster service.
I was absent for a time in Europe but when I returned I checked out the Basilico branch on Soi Ari. Two or three months had passed but the young service girl remembered me. That is not surprising, it could have been 2 years. Thais never forget faces.
She smiled, not the commercial, hurry and make your order kind of smile, but a gentle, somewhat curious but restrained, an almost enigmatic smile that would have sent Da Vinci for a paintbrush. After I told her she looked na-lak (pretty) I ordered a pizza with a carafe of red house wine. Even though it was Friday the Ari Basilico branch was quiet. Newly opened and thus far less busy on this day than the Sukhumvit branches on weekends. My name is Orapan (Oh) she introduced herself later and that led to a non-committal and relaxed exchange.
I liked the Ari branch and returned occasionally. Mostly because it was close to my own lodging, offered many of my favorite dishes and had a more laid-back or relaxed feel than the busy downtown branches. And there was Oh, of course.
Then one day I was sat next to a farang couple with a toddler about 3 years old. Oh came to make introduction; they’re American she said, Nathalie, little Kevin and David. He’s my boyfriend looking up lovingly to David and holding on to his arm, she added. Smiles all around. Soon after the couple left saying little Kevin needed to go to sleep. I stayed on finishing my Gnocchi a la gorgonzola and red wine. After coffee espresso, the manager came to ask would I accept the usual Limoncello digestive that he offers the better clients after dinner.
Nice joke about David being your boyfriend I said to Oh when I finally cornered her later to ask for the bill. That enigmatic smile again but a clear, no-nonsense answer. Not a joke. David my boyfriend, jing-jing. I love him. What about his wife? She love him too, I think?
DAVID: I met him weeks later on his own and he explained: Yes, he said, we are occasional lovers with Oh. Nothing to hide about it, especially not from my wife.
Care to explain it a bit more in-depth?
Sure! I’m an Information Technology (IT) guy of some competence or so I like to think, have special inside knowledge plus the right connections in the US where it helps my job. Which in turn is why I got hired here by a large, globally known Co. (that will remain unnamed here). I’m on a 2 year contract and have 10 month to go.
But not on a delivery boy’s salary rate I interjected.
He only smiled at that one saying, yeah I get paid well and in USD. I love my wife and my family. She lives in a large city in the US with our child and local nannie. She’s not particularly keen on Thailand. The co. lodged us in a large apartment, almost a penthouse. The first three months my wife and little Kevin stayed with me there. From the outset she never felt at home here as she is also professionally active. Too hot. No interesting social contacts, too often left alone with nothing much to do, no events (Theater, shows, opera) to her liking.
Though born toward the end of the past millennium she’s a 21st century woman, liberated if you like, Nathalie would return home. Her employer had kept her job available for a time of course and that time was running out now. I agreed but it left one problem.
We made a pact! I promised not to take prostitutes from the seedy corners of town and she wanted to meet and know personally the person I was going to sleep with (use for your sexual needs she calls it) in her absence. Just like me David was taken in by the apparent innocence of Oh when he first saw her in the restaurant. Himself a young and fairly good-looking guy made her an offer that she couldn’t refuse.
The kind Don Corleone would have made, I added smiling!
A deal was made. Before her return home and two or three times after while Nathalie was on short holidays at his penthouse they met with Oh, had a few drinks and proceeded with what David’s wife (a French speaker) called “une partouze a trois”
OH: No, no, never. I could not do that, never. That was Oh’s answer to my question had she ever worked or been part of the sex industry.
I continued my Italian food evenings mostly on Fridays. I had started to go in early when it was not busy and had time talking to Oh. I felt comfortable asking her about the relationship to the foreign benefactor’s couple as she had herself introduced them to me.
To be intimate with a person not familiar to her or newly met just an hour or two before in a bar or a go-go place? No, no way she could do that. How then did she become a mia-noi?
I like my job, people are nice and the hours regular. But I cannot live on the small salary, everything is getting more expensive all the time. David and Nathalie had come to the restaurant 3 days following. On the third day David asked me would I spend the next free evening with them. When he added that he’d pay 3,000 baht I accepted. I also knew the meaning of the invitation. I’m not naïve or stupid. I’ve had two Thai boyfriends before. But never a threesome with man & lady.
They took me to a nice restaurant downtown. I think it was Novotel. I could eat Thai food, they eat farang. It was nice. David said I had to drink a bottle of beer. And then one more. I don’t like beer. Later it became clear why he wanted me to drink so much liquid but I don’t want to talk about this.
When Nathalie returned to the states I continued to see David every week, sometimes twice a week. He’s very generous. He buys a new Samsung for me and makes other presents. Things I like. Now I can rent a room for myself not sharing with other lady. I can buy new clothes when I want or other nice garments, underwear, shoes. I know what he likes. I love him.
ME: Those last three words of course translate: I love the money I get from him. For that I do what he asks for. Simple as that. David has now almost completed his 2-year stint for the Co.
What happens to Oh when you leave I ask him.
I’ll pass her on to another guy. I have already introduced her to two possible contenders or candidates that are interested. I keep Oh informed of the situation and while she’s not overjoyed to see me leave, she accepts the reality. If the new benefactor is generous and treats her well she’ll stay with him. If not, Oh is by now cunning enough to get by and make her way I’ve no doubt.
I believe this kind of relationship comes much closer to the erstwhile mentioned original Courtesan. And if you have retained the introductory words you will now more easily comprehend the meaning of the word as seen by French benefactors of young and willing Ladies in the 19th and 20th century and no doubt up to this day. You have to go no further than Google or Wikipedia to learn that:
Courtesans will provide charming companionship for extended periods, no matter what their own feelings or commitments might have been at the time. In some instances and if the courtesan had satisfactorily served a benefactor, he would, when ending the affair, pass them on to another, new benefactor.
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