When Eagles brook-up in 1980 Don Henley was asked if they would ever consider reuniting again at a later date. His answer: When hell freezes over. It did not and years later in 1994 they reunited again naming their newly produced album appropriately Hell Freezes Over.
A few years later I found myself in Kuala-Lumpur to reception a group of people from Europe co-guiding on a Thailand round trip. With time on my hands before their arrival at the hotel I wandered in shopping centers. Saw the DVD being played on a giant monitor and bought it. The world-wide hit song Hotel California soon became the unofficial anthem in bars, clubs, karaoke’s all over Thailand and much of Asia. Perhaps it still is for all I know.
Claude would certainly empathize with Henley having felt the same way at what was then a still somewhat temporary conclusion of his tale. He did not use the same words, but he made it abundantly clear that he would never, ever want to see Riam again. What had begun with a promising new relation years ago had completely soured.
We were sitting on the terrace of Tumerin-Thana hotel in Trang drinking beer. It was dusk and the band was about to install their equipment on the elevated stage. The leader or lead singer walked past our table, locked eyes with me and said just one word: Massachusetts! He remembered me. I’m a Bee-Gee’s fan and sometimes requested that song when sitting at the Tumerin terrace. Claude and I finished our plates of seafood and settled back. The band was now ready to start the daily gig. As always, they produced their signature song to start off the evening: Apache, an engaging, easy going instrumental tune from the 60’s by the Shadows. As for Claude, he tried to relive and analyze the years past behind him. I mostly listened. His narrative took us almost to midnight when the lights started to dim and eventually be turned off.
Claude is a Frenchman. Just one year short of turning 50, he said. He originated from and lived in Annecy, France. A small and charming town offering many historical sights and medieval cultural traditions over local festivals. Situated on a picturesque lake of the same name. 50km or an hour’s drive to Geneva. A much larger city of international renown but across the border on the Swiss side. Equally worth seeing, offering more attractions, multiple excursion destinations, sight-seeing, and some more seedy but famous and somewhat notorious places. Some call them “maison de glamour” (glamor-houses), destined to entertain the many international male visitors.
It was not surprising that Claude chose to drive to Geneva on his first intercontinental trip rather than travel all the way up to Paris. The free shuttle to Zurich to board the long non-stop flight on THAI to Bangkok. I was in my mid-forties then, Claude said. The best years in a man’s life! They are almost gone now. I wish I had known!
Back in his hometown, weeks before he had met Riam. In a shop. A bakery. Him buying his daily fresh and crispy French baguette. Her, he does not remember. Claude liked the look of her. Young, smiling, pretty face with high cheekbones and bright eyes. What was her name, and would she care join him having coffee? As is customary in French bakeries there is mostly an adjoining Salon de thé. inviting people to taste those delicious looking patisseries offered on display in large variety. Sure, she would love that. Over café au lait, éclair au chocolat, and then another café au lait, they talked. And they actually did talk. Claude soon realized the girl could speak his language. A further incentive to him to initiate and try to pursue a relationship with her. After an hour’s talking mostly banalities, interspaced with an occasional joke from Claude producing discreet laugh burst from Riam, the non-committal meeting ended. But not before Claude had asked her would she have café again tomorrow with him. She happily accepted.
As any man past age 40 Claude had some serious living behind him at this point. He was staying on his own in a deux-pièces appartement at the time. He had been married a young man but to the chagrin of his devoted parents it turned out to be a mistake. Now he was a divorced man.
On the positive side he had a job, although he readily admitted that was somewhat menial or inferior. He was taking care of the towns parking meters. More precisely, daily, or weekly he collected the coins accumulating in the meters and delivered them to the town’s responsible purser. There was not much joy in the job but that did not matter to him. He could easily do without it. His father was owner of a large and profitable rental building. At his demise, the building would eventually belong to him and his sister. In the meantime, father paid them each a comfortable allowance in Euros per month. More inconsequential banter followed the next day. On the third meeting the conversation became only marginally more personal. Riam was now accompanied by her friend Nok. Claude not surprisingly had many questions. In his quest for information he became quite animated, but the two girls knew how to calm him down. When there was no clear answer forthcoming to his inquisitions, he was rewarded with a puzzling, at times bewildering smile instead. It only added to the intrigue that was building up in his mind. He did learn a few things though. Yes, Riam had lived in France for over a year. Yes, she had been married to a Frenchman. A union that did not work out. Divorced and currently she bunked temporarily in Annecy with her Thai friend Nok she had known earlier in Paris and now married to another French guy. Why temporarily Claude wanted to know? Her residence permit expired at the end of the month. She would have to leave the country and return to Thailand.
That is when I made the mistake, Claude clearly remembered, talking to me across the table at the Tumerin terrace, reliving the evening with Riam. Actually, two mistakes, he corrected himself, and continued the narrative.
…..Not if I marry you, he told Riam in jest. They continued conversing and later Claude let it slip that he was not exactly a poor man either. Beneficiary from a monthly stipend from the family and later in life a co-owner of a large property. And currently an allowance that will permit him to live comfortably anywhere in the world if he chooses to do so. That was the second mistake! The marriage proposal clearly made “en plaisantant” and the easy money flow statement a bit of a show-off on his part, he freely admitted.
Any French girl or other Westerner female would have easily laughed it off. Not so Riam. She had received a marriage proposal from a rich man and that was that. On the next encounter, now upgraded to a dinner date, the cheerful tune of the not-binding relationship between them had clearly turned into an amorous melody. At least in Riam’s world. When Claude realized what had happened or what he himself had apparently initiated he soon tried to talk himself out of it. It was just a joke. He did not really want to get married but was quite happy to live his independent lifestyle.
Riam just smiled and remained perfectly calm. She had three weeks left in town to do her job and knew the way, the Thai way, to bewitch and ensnarl the Farang. And plenty of experience on top (that would become apparent to Claude only much later). For a start, and in record time, Claude would be tasting some of the sweeter things of Riam. That was easy, after all she had learned years ago, as a young girl, that a woman’s mission in life was to always please her man. Without immediately realizing it, Claude had soon snapped at the proverbial hook. His attitude changed. Suddenly he felt it was his duty now to live up to the initially insincere proposition made only a week earlier. Within days Riam started to take control of the power pedal, lining up the steps that were to be taken. She herself would take the already booked flight back to Thailand and due to leave in another week’s time. Claude would assemble the necessary paperwork to travel at ease, settle whatever he had to take care of here and follow in a few weeks’ time.
Riam originated from a place called Huai-Yot, or a nearby village, somewhere south of Krabi. At the Airport there they would meet. Claude was to book a THAI flight to BKK, thus getting the shuttle to Krabi free of charge on his intercontinental ticket. He followed her instructions to the letter and 2 month later found himself debarking at Krabi AP celebrating the eagerly awaited reunion with his lover.
Before leaving France Riam had introduced him to her friend Nok’s husband François. Days before boarding the airplane for the long journey Claude met with him for useful travel-tips. But more importantly some good advice too. Notably, François said: don’t take more money along as what you are prepared to spend at the very most. And: should you decide to get married to Riam do not register the union officially. Go to the Temple instead. That sounded strange to Claude, but François assured him that would be perfectly acceptable to a rural Thai family.
After his arrival happy days followed for the lovers mostly around Krabi at those beautiful beaches at Ao-Nang, Railay or Had-Noppharat and many other places I can imagine. Above described events took place during a transitional time frame for me. I was introducing and eventually turning over the tour-company to my successor. I left Phuket to settle further south. For a few years I had no news from Claude.
When we reconnected several years later almost accidentally, I was living in Trang and Claude in Krabi. The towns are only 150km apart. Living so close to each other I called him, and I invited Claude to join me for dinner. Thus, we met on the Tumerin-Thana terrace on a Saturday evening and I became privy to the second half of his Thai adventure. He continued the narrative:
Yes, a great honeymoon, travels, mostly around the south. Introduction to Riam’s family in nearby Huai-Yot. A Temple wedding ceremony 6 month later. It was bliss. In one of the many new estates being built in and around Krabi we went looking for a house and soon found what we wanted. I made a reasonable down-payment and Riam took care of the monthly mortgage payments with the money I later transferred from France.
There is a small French community in Krabi that I happily joined. 3 Years passed and I learned many things about Thai’s and Thailand. Riam’s friend Nok and her husband François visited for 2 weeks and he told me more about the time the 2 Ladies had been living in Paris and what they had been up to there. It was not what I wanted to hear. Riam started to return to her parents’ village by Huai-Yot more often and a young man she introduced as her brother turned up more and more often in our house. I had read a book recently called “ma danseuse particulière” (Stephen Leather’s Private dancer) and started to have nagging doubts as to man’s identity. Who was he really? Then suddenly letters from the bank started to arrive that I could not read but knew something was fishy. Eventually the truth came out. I learned that the monthly mortgage payment had been made twice only in almost 2½ years. The bank was now repossessing the house, put it on the market for sale through an agent but agreed that we could stay until such time, paying monthly rental of course.
Riam’s only justification when confronted was to say: but you are rich Claude, you have money, you can pay. No word or justification as to what happened to the embezzled money. To me it added up just too much all at one time. The lies and the many uncertainties became overwhelming, Claude went on. Yes, it was his own kind of hell freezes over moment and he decided to cut his losses and just put a full stop to the Riam saga. Spontaneously he decided to leave. He returned to Annecy.
Claude continued: Arriving back home I intended to resume my previous solitary bachelor existence. But soon I realized how much things had changed in the 3½ years of my absence. The Annecy municipality where willing to reemploy me by means of absolving a 3-week seminary course in a place near Paris as the town’s administration service had now turned fully digital including parking-meter payments. I did not want to participate in a seminary of probably mostly 25-year old’s or younger. I missed Riam.
I met my friends and former work colleagues. They all asked: Where is your beautiful wife? Why did she not come with you? I lied and said she had to stay in the house in Krabi to look after the cat and dog. Take care of the garden plus multiple administrative chores. I missed Riam.
I went to see my parents who lived near Evian. My father was in poor health. With me, the only son living so far away in Thailand he had reassigned all property title deeds to my sister with the instigation that I would continue to be co-beneficiary or usufructuary of the estates proceeds after his demise. I missed Riam.
My morning coffee at the bakery had a taste of lead, not tasting as good as before. The croissants were not crispy as they should be. I almost longed for the sometimes rather soggy toasts Riam served me together with that cheap marmalade from 7-eleven in the morning. And I missed her.
Less than 3 months after I departed Krabi I was back. Riam welcomed me with open arms. During the many hours of the long intercontinental flight I was unable to get her image out of my mind. That perfectly shaped and slim body, the long legs. The deep brown eyes and the bright smile. Both, as I knew now, not always sincere. I did not care about that. I wanted her back.
Now I go to the bank every month or send a postal order to pay my monthly dues for the house. To be honest and with my limited Thai language skills, I don’t even know whether I’m making monthly rental payments or refinancing the house in Riam’s name. I don’t care about that either. My father has died after a long illness. He was only 76 years old. One of the last things he said to me on my visit was: Enjoy every minute and every day of your life son. You never know when it’s the last one.
On the long evening and into the night we had been drinking rather heavily during several hours. Prudently Claude took a room at the Tumerin-Thana for the night. Next morning, we met for a joint breakfast and vowed to keep in touch. Claude took a leisurely drive back to Krabi,
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