When I last wrote about my streetwalker friend Gai some nine months ago, we had gotten re-acquainted after a year’s hiatus and I had given her money to help out her ailing mother. This was intended only to get the family through a rough spot. What I did not fully realize then is that for too many of these girls, their entire life is a rough spot. Gai’s mom ended up having to make weekly visits to the hospital, causing the medical bills to pile up and forcing the family to postpone paying their rent.
This put me in the classic Nice Guy Dilemma: either continue my generosity, or turn off the spigot and let their life become inexorably worse. For someone like me, the latter would have been unbearable. Since I was going to be out of the country for awhile, I therefore endowed Gail with enough money for four to five months, at least by my reckoning. Yet this did not go nearly as far as I had hoped. When I returned to Bangkok — after seven weeks — I was shocked to discover she was down to her last one thousand baht ($30)!
What the hell happened? Well, there more medical bills, school tuition for Gai’s daughter, plus one-time purchases to try and make her mother’s life more comfortable such as a small air conditioner and a special bed. Yet this didn’t quite add up and my strong suspicion is that the rest went to help out some of her many siblings — to which Thais feel a strong obligation. I might as well have put the money in a wheelbarrow, gone to a family gathering, and dumped it out on the dinner table.
The good news was that the mother was feeling better. The bad news was that Gai was now unwell and needed to visit the hospital — for “woman problems” related to her profession. (She provided me with an English translation of what exactly was wrong, which I don’t believe I’ll share.) After enduring an unpleasant and painful procedure, she was released after two nights.
The doctor’s advice was that Gai now needed three months of rest, then should find a new, healthier occupation. This was taken to heart and Gai began making plans to join her sister working as a hotel maid. Seeing a chance to help nudge her in a new direction, I volunteered to continue my support during the recuperation period. This was an easy offer to make. Gai is an admirable woman who continued to take care of her mother and raise her daughter during this time and deserved the help.
I made my final “payment” to Gai in mid-January, completing my three month commitment. (Actually three months and two weeks.) I also used the occasion to make my exit, telling her I did not want a Thai girlfriend — which was most emphatically true. I know this hurt — she had told me on occasion that she loved me — but even if I was interested, there would be more family crises and financial needs awaiting down the road and I’d growing weary of playing the hero.
I am now steeling myself for the next time I run into Gai down on Sukhumvit Road, once again out waiting for customers, the hotel cleaning gig having not worked out. In this country, improving one’s lot is extraordinarily difficult. However, in this case I can at least console myself that I did my best for a good person.