True to her nature, Sontaya continued to stay in touch long after I had gallantly come to the rescue when her life was falling apart. For over a year she sent friendly emails on occasion, asking how I was doing. Never begging for money or even suggesting a coffee date. Though I developed a grudging respect for her persistency, I didn’t bother to reply.
Last October, however, after returning to Bangkok from my annual U.S. vacation, I found myself wondering how she was getting along. My relationship with the freelancer I’d met at Beer Garden had foundered when I discovered she wasn’t as reliable as I’d hoped, once again leaving Sontaya as one of the few halfway decent alternatives. The woman was managing to withstand the test of time.
So I emailed my ex, asking how things were going. To my surprise, even shock, I discovered she had left the bar earlier in the year and was now selling clothes at an outdoor market. Intrigued, I had her over that very evening to hear more about this new direction.
For many people, there comes a time in their life when they start to take things more seriously. (I’ve never had to make this transition, being morbidly serious since early childhood.) In Sontaya’s case, entering her mid-thirties caused a major reassessment. Working in a Nana Plaza bar started to look like a dead-end job. The men she was managing to meet had no interest in a long term relationship. Nor, when she looked, was the mirror offering much encouragement. The time had come to get out.
This left the question of how to continue paying the bills and supporting her son. Working in a market stall, unlike the bar, did not provide nearly enough income. To make up the difference, Sontaya decided to take time off from selling clothes and earn extra money by going with a few of her old customers. One of them took her over to Cambodia for three weeks, another to Vietnam. In some ways it was an interesting life, though still a sad one.
As I listened to all this, I began to wonder if maybe here was a person who could make good use of some serious financial help. She’d already taken the initiative to improve her life — a trait hitherto unknown in Bangkok bar girls. Perhaps she’d be worth opening the spigot for.
As our evening drew to a close, I walked Sontaya out to an ATM and put some money into her account to tide things over for a few weeks. Also a couple thousand baht ($60) for a guitar her son had his eye on. Just my usual generosity. The next day, I sat down and did a quick check of my investment portfolio (to confirm the farm money was still there), then began serious calculations on how much aid I could afford to bestow upon the no-longer-so-young Thai lady.