Can you even differentiate between infatuation, obsession, and love? A pertinent question posed by the QC (Queens counsel) to the accused. In USA it would be prosecutor / defendant. I do not remember the accused’s answer but for some reason I never forgot the question and that QC with his determined and imposing manner in the courtroom of the Old Bailey in London.
Yes, it dates back many years. I was a young student and felt proud and privileged to have been chosen by our professor among only a handful of foreign exchange students to assist a hearing in London’s famous courthouse. Later, I remember him telling us on more than one occasion how the British judiciary were top notch and should be regarded as the best in the world! The professor in question was also a barrister in the court system. He obviously liked me, and I liked him. Occasionally in the evening he joined our group of foreign students, the continentals, as he called us, in a pub and had a drink with us. A few times he was in company of other teachers, all in a very relaxed humor. They talked of cricket, boat races or the deteriorating state of English politics. None of which was of much interest to us foreign youngsters. I never knew the prof’s name as all his other barrister / teacher friends called him silk or the silk. Presumably, a reference to the robe he had to wear in court.
But this is Stickman’s and not about the Queen’s judiciary. The QC came to mind last month when a middle-aged foreigner here in Bangkok asked for counsel. After he had told me his story and the resulting dilemma, my words to him at one point were remarkably like the old QCs back in London all those years ago.
Alois of course was not facing a judge, or a court, was accused of nothing, had basically done nothing wrong but was just immensely troubled.
I can imagine that in the future people will refer to events as pre-Corona or post-Corona. I first met Alois in early March this year. Introduced by an old friend in Bangkok. So, pre-Corona. Or at least pre lockdown and pre-curfew. The story is ongoing, has no conclusion or in other words still open ended. None of us knows how long the lockdown and general uncertainty will go on. As of my writing, 4th May I can only hope that whatever the outcome of Alois’s problem, it will be post-Corona.
Alois had never been to Thailand. But, like everyone around him he had heard innumerable stories of the exotic and far away land. It was tempting. He had turned 50 last year. He suffered what the English call somewhat disparagingly a midlife crisis. I like the more colorful French description. They call it “le démon du midi”.
Married, two grown up children, a respectable position in the administration of the small-sized town they had lived in for more than 20 years. To outsiders they must have looked the very image of a successful, happy family. A deceptive image. An amicable cohabitation would have better described their union. Nevertheless, they cultivated the heile Welt (perfect world) image. Sunday evenings out to the renowned, local restaurant, sometimes joined by one or the two of the children now living their own respective lives away from home. A sumptuous dinner accompanied by a bottle of the local wine, a product of a nearby village’s vineyards.
Behind closed doors the scene became quite different. They seemed to have nothing to say to each other any longer. Sex for years had been non-existent. The breaking point was getting closer, they both realized. Curiously it was the wife that suggested for him to take some time out. A friendly separation she called it. Go away, travel somewhere, anywhere you want. Try and find yourself.
Alois cashed in his 4 week’s holiday due for the current year, requesting an additional 4 weeks unpaid leave. It was granted. Before he left on the long intercontinental flight, his wife had just one recommendation for Alois. Avoid staying in big towns. Go to more remote locations. Find nature, relax, think, meditate. Before he passed customs and disappeared into the restricted boarding gate area, she slipped him a large envelope. Something to read on the plane she said, smiling gently.
Once settled in the comfortable business class seat, enjoying a very decent dinner he tried to sleep. But it was only mid-afternoon, not his time to sleep. He asked for a Cognac and took out the rather bulky envelope his wife had slipped him. He was in no hurry to open it. He expected to see pleas for redemption, suggestions for a new beginning, perhaps assorted or veiled accusations toward his own behaviour.
When he finally opened it, he discovered something totally different. A bulk of all sorts of colorful brochures tumbled out into his lap. They were mostly of regions in the northern part of Thailand. Many remote, isolated places even a totally secluded Bungalows in what appeared to be way out of civilization. Some places were highlighted in yellow, others had little notes attached with words of recommendations and at other places an additional section headed “Things to do”!
Alois experienced a wave of emotion. It must have taken her days to assemble all that information. Some were cut-outs from brochures she must have collected in tour agencies, others downloaded from the internet, printed, and painstakingly assembled, arranged with the corresponding text on sheets of paper. She must have spent hours to do that. Alois decided that he would go through all brochures and documents with equal care. It was the least he could do, he said to himself. And he would start immediately. But after a short while he started to relax, his eyelids growing heavy. A furtive look out the Hublot, it was night-time. Alois fell asleep.
He landed at Suvarnabumi Airport in the early morning hours. His friend Paul had travelled up from Pattaya to meet him. A taxi to the hotel where Paul had previously booked two rooms for 2 nights in Bangkok. I joined them later in the day. Paul, a long-time friend also to me, introduced me to Alois. We had a beer and then for no special reason took a walk up to Asoke. We had pizza in the Little Italy restaurant with a carafe of wine and then inevitably walked through the nearby Soi Cowboy. Passing Dollhouse, the doorman pulled the curtain just enough for us to have a look at a stage full of girls dancing in their birthday suits. No turning back for Alois, he needed to see that. We stayed for a good two hours even following Alois’s chosen maiden upstairs where she performed on a small table / chrome pole, becoming our very own private dancer!
Next morning Alois took a serious look on the travel brochures. He had a choice to make. After lengthy consultation he decided on a place called Mae Sot. He would honor his wife’s wish going away from big towns and tourist traps. What particularly attracted him was a small brochure exclaiming white water rafting, Trekking, kayaking!
Tonight, a simple pad Thai dinner at Swan restaurant on the corner of Soi 4 and 6. The intention was to introduce Alois to “the world’s largest entertainment venue” further down on Soi 4. No, Alois said, he had promised Lek to return to Dollhouse again tonight. We tried to dissuade him saying that there are plenty of girls here in Nana and in Pattaya where he intended to join Paul on the bus tomorrow for a few days before his trip upcountry. But I promised, Alois said. I intervened saying, you are in Thailand now, Alois, promises are just piss & wind. They are made to be broken.
It’s ok, let him have his way, Paul said.
The next surprise awaited us the following morning. Alois announced he would stay on in Bangkok for another few days and join Paul later in the week in Pattaya. By way of BTS, Airport Link and bus from Suvarnabumi, Paul soon was on his way to Sin City. I sat down with Alois for breakfast. We had only known each other for two days but sometimes in life it’s easier to open up to a stranger or an almost stranger than a lifelong friend. Almost immediately it poured out of him!
He had fallen in love with Lek. Despite a considerable language barrier, he had managed to tell Lek he was leaving for a remote mountain town to think over his life and future. On his second day only in Thailand he learned the two words foreigners usually take a day or two more to learn and understand. Pi dwy (I go too). Later he barfined Lek and she accompanied him to the hotel. It was incredible, he went on. She even gave me a blowjob. Something his wife had never done in 20 years of marriage.
I stopped his flow of words. Alois, I said, remember this is supposed to be a sort of salvation journey for you. The spirit it was given in by your wife. To come clear with your own inner thoughts and feelings. Not to take along a 25-year-old Thai girl for entertainment.
Alois looked down and when he answered he sounded like a 16-year-old graduate well out of his depth. Yes, I know. But I can’t help it. I love her.
Alois was not a friend of smartphones. But he carried an old-fashioned Nokia handy. However, he was totally computer savvy and carried a small notebook with him. He returned to Stable-Inn, his hotel on Soi 8 and started to book the flight. Not an easy task he told me later. He knew there was an airport in Mae-Sot but he could find no flight there from Bangkok. He decided to book flights to Phitsanulok and then take a scenic drive either on a bus or Taxi to Mae Sot. At the same time, he booked a hotel for two nights on Agoda. No, not a remote bungalow out in the wilderness but the comfortable Centra by Centara, slightly out of town.
I did not hear from Alois for several days. When he called late in the day the following week, I was glad to hear that they had a good time in Mae Sot. Things went well and they were still happy together. He had booked again for two nights at Stable-Inn and would be happy to meet with me tomorrow. So was I. A snack lunch then the walk along Sukhumvit between Soi 8 and Asoke once again.
Alois was alone. Lek went to her room to sort out stuff and join us for dinner later. When a taxi stopped, we entered without a clear idea where to go. The taxi guy suggested Chatuchak market and I said OK. Plenty of things to show Alois. But when we got there, we realized it was Sunday and so crowded none of us had any envy to hassle through the crowds. Back in to the taxi. I told the driver to take us to the closest boat pier. We ended up at Kiak-Kai Pier only to learn that a boat had just left, and it would take one hour, perhaps more for the next to arrive. Not a problem once again. It was a sunny and hot day and we took refuge on this old bench below the even older tree.
The perfect place for Alois to talk. And he did for an hour or more non-stop. The time of his life he called it. He was particularly impressed by the river rafting. To me, Alois said, it was the highlight of the holiday. Lek thought it was the most dangerous thing she had ever done in her life. But of course, it was not. They were fitted with life vests, helmets and two boaters equipped with paddles, one in front, one in the back. Lek clung to me all the way. I loved it! And I love that girl, he concluded.
Yes, Alois was clearly in the grips of the high noon devil. Suddenly I remembered the words of the old QC in London a hundred years ago. Alois, I said, you are totally infatuated with Lek at this moment in time. It’s not love. I am older than you and I have been there. And I have got over it. Keep the memory in your heart and cherish it for as long as you live. But do not dream of a future with a girl, a bargirl, younger than your own daughter and of a vastly different culture and background. It is bound to fail.
Alois would not have it. No, no and no, you are wrong is all he said.
Later on, the Chao Phraya River boat, taking in the scenery left and right we remained silent. We got off at Oriental Pier, Alois wanting to see the world-famous hotel. He called Lek asking her to join us here on the terrace facing the Chao Phraya. When she arrived, we had a light dinner with a bottle of Rosé. Everybody was upbeat, happy, and smiled as is customary in Thailand in good and bad times.
It was now the second half of March. Tomorrow Alois and Lek would travel to Pattaya where Paul had managed to reserve a 2-room apartment near his own condo mostly due to cancellation, people in fear of the looming pandemic. They reached the destination and settled in the apartment.
Fate took over.
Only days later the country was locked down in a state of emergency. Curfew would follow, later a booze-ban, on and off and on again. The country’s borders closed to foreign visitors. Domestic travel restricted. Lek unable to travel to Si-Saket or Buriram, I do not remember which, to see her 7-year old son and her parents. Alois failed to take one of the embassy sponsored repatriation flight from BKK – ZRH in April, he is also stuck in Pattaya.
As I mentioned earlier there is no conclusion, no ending to this story. The best I can do is to apply the well-known formula; to be continued!
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]