Soi Saiyuan, Part 2
We were sitting in a small beach hut on Kata beach overlooking the sea. The year was 2002 or maybe 03, definitely pre-Tsunami but after 9/11. Accompanied by my good friend and neighbor George, Giuliano aka the Eytalien (see; Soi Saiyuan, 13 Dec 2018) and a middle-aged German named Axel. All 4 riding motorbikes on the way back to our homes in Rawai. We had sought refuge in the small hut because of a sudden, unexpected and violent thunderstorm.
We all had consumed a few beers already. To pass time George entertained us with some of his Oilman stories from years past. His father who preceded him in the Texan oil business was part in most of his tales. If he was here now he would say it feels like being in one of these old rumrunners speakeasy, he said. Inevitably followed by George’s lecture of what a speakeasy was, as none of us other Europeans didn’t have a clear idea what that was. Later illustrated by colorful stories of the American prohibition years. When the beer ran out, Axel, the German guy, was sent to get more and returned with a bag containing Chang and Leo beer all in cans. That was not to George’s taste. Beer out of a can tastes like piss, he declared. But never mind, he concluded, it’s cold and we can play kick the can when all the cans are empty.
More stupid American game stuff, the Eytalien chimed in. You damn Europeans don’t have any culture, George exploded. That was a bridge too far for the Eytalien. You haven’t seen Leonardo da Vinci’s chef-d’œuvres in the museums of Milano and Rom or Venice, indeed around the world, have no knowledge of his multiple and genius inventions. On he went; you’ve not seen the Coliseum in Roma, the sacred cathedrals in Milano and all of Italy….
Either he ran out of breath or perhaps I cut him off wanting to add my bit; ….nor have you seen the Château de Versailles in Paris, the Brandenburg Tor in Berlin, the Wiener Staatsoper facing the world-famous Hotel Sacher and more. George was wrong here and I put myself in the Eytalien’s corner. But I never got the chance to express my opinion on the matter.
Time had run out on the contentious exchange. In walked a petite, delicate young Thai Lady. The rain had stopped and she took off her plastic protection. We all got up from the improvised chairs in the simple hut politely greeting the young lady. George’s massive gabarit towering over all of us. These days when I see President Trump on TV I’m always reminded of George. Same caliber as him. But George, though sometimes loud-mouthed or blunt in his speech, was a gentle giant and always polite especially in the presence of Ladies. He was never a bully despite his massive stature (for the record I’m not insinuating here that Trump is a bully). He offered her a beer, inviting her to sit down and join us. As any Thai girl would, smiling broadly she declined, went over to Axel’s chair, gave us all the polite wai, took Axel by the hand and walked out with him. Followed an awkward, pregnant silence. Then I said: In case no one remembered or recognized her that was his wife. Jaws dropped all around, even George who ordinarily never or rarely lost his composure. Whatever happened here? He said.
Around the breakfast table next morning savoring excellent coffee out of Giuliano’s Italian expresso machine and soggy croissants from Don’s mall (no bakeries where you can get a fresh and crispy croissant here). Axel’s fate had of course priority on the ordre du jour. Axel was not a close friend but more like a casual acquaintance to George and Giuliano that they met occasionally. He didn’t live in our Nana Chat alley but not far from it. We all felt that some discreet inquiries as to his wellbeing was in order. Having a common mother tongue and knowing him the longest I felt best qualified to do so and offered to go see him. George agreed saying that’s what he was going to suggest anyway.
What’s your take on all this Eytalien, George asked? My name is Giuliano-Francesco he corrected him probably for the twentyish time. He was sorting out the plethora of pills and medicament that he was ordered to take since the unfortunate incident the previous year. Obviously he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep either. And yes, send Kloth to look after him. George smiled broadly, blew him a kiss and gave him a friendly slap on his shoulder. All of which only infuriated him more of course. Thus I was dispatched to inquire further. I was in luck as I arrived at his house. Axel was there and alone. Panumporn (Pon), his wife had gone to the market he said.
I had first met Axel several years before, probably late 90s. In a bar in Patong. He was playing pool. With him his girlfriend Pon. To assure her turn at the pool table she went up to the black ardoise to inscribe her name. Porn it said. A few of the other players snickered, others whispered between them. I went up to Axel, introduced myself and said tell your girlfriend to leave out the “r” in her name next time. Once acquainted we sat together, ordered another beer and continued to converse in German.
Over time we met occasionally but never got real close or became friends. I never felt entirely comfortable in his presence or that we played in the same league. There was a reason. Axel had an unpleasant way to brag or blow up his persona in the best of lights. He didn’t smoke or do drugs. Never drunk excessively. He would never gamble, play other hazardous games nor cheat on his girlfriend and later wife, not even look at other girls, and on and on it went. Once, swaggering in his boasting ways I cut him off saying; Axel, nobody is perfect, everybody has a vice. What is yours? But he had no answer to that question. Instead he replied; no, no, not him. He was above the ordinary folks.
Then he got married to Pon. Probably late 90s or early the new millennium. The ceremony took place somewhere up north or northeast. After they both returned to Phuket and rented a house in Rawai. Now the focus of his adoration was not so much himself any longer but Pon and more so her family. They were perfect in all respects. Never asked for anything, money or favors. Even going to restaurants he never needed to take out his wallet, the family took care of all bills.
There were impromptu meetings over the years like the day on Karon/Kata beach described above. Once or twice he was invited to attend one of George’s parties around the large pool on Soi Nana Chat.
What happened yesterday? It took some prodding on my part but eventually he came out with the story: Pon wanted me to build a house. The family owned a plot of land and all it would take was to buy the materials and hire a few helping hands to build the house. I agreed to easily I suppose and plans were made. Soon Pon started to travel up northeast frequently to observe the progress or suggest improvements to the building crew. In the end it all cost much more than on our projected initial budget.
Bills had been due to be paid for over a week now and I just didn’t have the money. That’s when I got on my moto bike and met you seemingly carefree guys on the beach. Just trying to relax for an afternoon. Life with Pon is not easy these days, he added. I understand the dilemma you’re in I said and tried to uplift his spirits as best I could but Axel remained in a despondent mood.
I met Axel again two or three weeks later. He was preparing to travel back to Germany. His former employer had offered a job on a 6 month bases in the transport and furniture moving sector and over the summer month. Though he hated leaving Thailand for so long he was in a much more upbeat frame of mind. He would make some real money, come back and be able to fulfill his commitment to Pon and the family; financing the house.
In the end it took a second stint over another summer to assemble the necessary funds. Before he left for the second year is the last time I saw Axel. It coincided with my own departing Phuket to move into my house further south and way off the island of Phuket.
If things went by plan, Axel has returned and is now living in the completed house up northeast. A contact in Phuket later told me that is probably (hopefully) what happened as the house in Rawai he & Pon used to live in was up for rent again soon after his departure the second year.
Addendum: There is nothing much original to this story. Dozens or hundreds of similar stories could be told by farang from a number of countries around the world. In this case the supposed generosity of the family toward Axel was just a pretense used as a front to get his cash to finance the house they wanted. That is the way Axel has seen it and presented to me on our last meeting.
It’s close to 20 years ago now but I remembered Axel and was inspired to tell his story when I came across another recent submission of a farang apparently married in to a perfect Thai family. His was in answer to another submission mostly dismissive of Thais and woman in particular. The reason I want to say that Axel’s fate is to a large degree of his own making. True, Thais are opportunistic in given situations. But not necessarily dishonest. In this case they simply assumed that since Axel agreed to finance the building he had the means to do so.
He could have said no.
Thais do not like to say an outright NO to anyone, anytime. The reason is the well-known never lose face issue. But we are farang. Saying no is OK. I have done so many times when presented with outlandish demands. They will accept it, not normally sulk over it but mostly just keep smiling.
It’s not the Thai way of ordinary, honest people in rural regions to swindle others (farang) out of money. Sure, deception, even cheating is present in all layers of society. Maggots, bad worms and decay is present everywhere but not because it’s Thailand. In any country or place around the world. In the end I align myself with the opinion of the same contributor who recently wrote something to the effect that generally Thais rate higher on his integrity scale than most Americans (and Europeans I guess). Right, just a few words I like to add; agreed, so long as they are not involved in the sex industry, politics or high finance!
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