It took me only a couple of days to decide I’d up the ante in order to continue the fun I’d been having with Bam. Not being interested in half measures, I gave her a thank you card with ten thousand baht ($300) in appreciation of her efforts to teach me some Thai. This was also a signal that I was to be taken seriously, that I wasn’t just some funny but stingy foreigner. Soon after that Bam came home with me, spending the night when the wine I served proved to be too much for her beer-soft alcohol tolerance.
My decision to actually begin supporting Bam came from a visit I made to her apartment — something she insisted I do after she’d been to my place a couple of times. I’m still unclear as to why the invitation came. Did she want me to spend the night, or simply to witness how she was barely scraping by? Probably the later. Regardless, I was saddened when I saw her cramped accommodations — reaching out with my arms, I could almost touch both walls. On the left side was a worn dresser followed by a tiny table with a single plastic chair. On the right was the TV. Bam slept in front of this, atop a thin cushion which seemed to offer little relief from the rock-hard floor. A narrow street ran by the rear window and the roar of passing motorbikes drowned out any conversation.
Up to this point I’d been on the fence regarding this woman. Yes, we’d been having a blast when we were together, but her English was poor, which limited conversation. (Not that I should be complaining — after a half decade in this country I should be speaking her language.) And, horror of horrors, she preferred beer over wine. But the sight of her sad little room decided me. I would begin providing what is called Safety Money so she would not have to be scrounging for customers at the bar anymore. Perhaps find a less miserable apartment.
I only stayed a half hour at Bam’s before she hinted that maybe I should return home. Being escorted from her place through dark alleyways out to a main road, I stopped at an ATM and withdrew my first Safety Money payment of fifteen thousand baht (over $400). As I handed it over to her, there was none of the teary happiness that usually follows my largesse. She simply stood there, silently counting the bills without even a thank you. Then she made a request: was it OK with me if she continued going to the bar? Understanding that Beer Garden was where she hung out with her friends, I had no problem with this. But…would she still be going out with customers? The thought didn’t occur to me at the time and if it had, I would not have cared. As things turned out, I ended up detonating the relationship for a far more mundane reason.