I wish I could say that Newt, a lady masseuse who works at Friend’s Thai Massage in a nearby hotel, is a person I have a good rapport with. Like so many single Thai mothers, she is struggling to raise her children while working in a field bereft of glamour or good pay. Yet despite knowing her for over four years, things between us have never advanced beyond brief hellos and semi-annual massages in my room.
I think it stemmed from the second time I had Newt over, way back in 2012. As described in Making the Rounds, she wore a seductive dress and coyly let me know what the rate was for a beyond-the-rubbing roll in the hay. I was of course tempted — a woman does not get through the door of my apartment without having some physical appeal — but this time I hesitated. My lover-to-be hadn’t shown any real affection or desire during the massage and was now viewing me in a rather cold, calculating manner. Waiting to see if the mouse would take the baited cheese.
I ended up declining, though it was a close call, and from then on kept a certain distance. Our rare massage sessions remained pleasant enough; at times I found myself enjoying her company. Things just never advanced beyond that.
It was during one of our get-togethers back in June when Newt showed me a sore bruise on the back of her head. Apparently she has an abusive boyfriend who had slammed her up against a wall. Knowing the limits of what I could do in this situation, I nevertheless provided her with some extra money in order to return to the doctor. After we talked a bit more, I also decided to include cash earmarked for her son, advising her to go to a bank and put it into a savings account. During my half-decade in this country, I’d heard far too many unhappy stories about negligent Thai men and what absolute turds they could be. Better to keep any windfall out of his sight.
Two weeks passed. Then late one night, well after midnight, there was a soft knock on the door. It was Newt and a friend, both holding grocery bags filled with clothes. Newt had decided to leave her boyfriend as well as her dead-end job and was stopping by to bid me farewell. She was also clearly hoping I would provide some more money to help facilitate what sounded like a courageous move. No hay problema! I got dressed, took her down the street to an ATM, and withdrew twenty thousand baht (almost $600). She then hailed a cab to the bus station at Mo Chit, on her way out of the city.
Before she departed, I got Newt’s phone number and asked that she text me the number of the savings account she’d opened (at Siam Commercial Bank). It was my plan to provide her with special assistance once she had resettled with her family(?) out in provinces. She obviously needed time to get things sorted out.
And that’s when it all got strange…
When we’d last left our hero, I’d given Newt a hefty sum of money to allow her to escape from a violent boyfriend and leave Bangkok entirely, returning to her family and friends upcountry. This was of course only a temporary solution and with no job, her “vacation” would not last long. Therefore, the day following her departure, I transferred thirty thousand more baht ($850) into her bank account, hoping this would allow ample time to get her life in order and decide on the next move.
Though we were never close, Newt had always struck me as a down-to-earth, reasonable person, which is why I was helping out. After I’d taken care of the money, I texted her the details, expecting maybe a thank you in response with a brief update on how things were going. Instead, I get this desperate message saying that she now, suddenly, really missed me and “needed to hear my voice”.
Yeah, right. Being boyfriend-less, Newt was clearly going into overdrive to recruit yours truly, Mr. Generosity, as a replacement. Perfectly under-standable. However, the tactics being used were comically divorced from reality. There never had been anything the least bit romantic between us and her clumsy attempt at manipulation guaranteed there never would be. In fact, I decided right then and there that, having done my good deed, I was through assisting my former masseuse.
I have learned from long experience that there is no real reasoning with a Thai woman. The (Western) guy may think he’s making a point when in reality he’s only wading deeper into a quagmire. It is more than cultural differences; these ladies are just plain tough and never lose sight of what they are after. Therefore, I elected not to respond to Newt’s declarations of newfound affection. Nothing I could say would have any effect.
A few days later a trio of text messages arrived, having been sent at the ungodly hour of three in the morning. The first was the standard “miss you” missive. Not unexpected. However, the other two were rambling narratives that I could not make any sense of whatsoever. It’s like they were written by some alien who knew the rudimentaries of English, but was clueless about how to use them.
For the next three weeks, I maintained an uneasy silence while batches of bizarre, stream-of-consciousness texts continued to show up at irregular intervals. At times Newt seemed to be talking about some guy she once knew, but I could not follow the story at all. This woman seemed to have wandered off the reservation. And what, do you suppose, was going to happen once the money ran out? Would I need to start looking over my shoulder?
I had predicted to my American friend that Newt would be showing up at my place as soon as the money was gone. The way she’d been behaving suggested someone unable to get her life together and who’d inevitably be seeking another infusion of cash. (I’d had an aunt who was like this.) What shocked me was how soon what turned out to be the grand finale took place.
If I had not been up late watching a movie, I would have missed the soft, tentative taps on my door. As I peered through the peephole, I could only make out a dark, bedragged figure that must have mistaken my apartment for that of another fellow. (My neighborhood being the sleeze center of Bangkok meant there were often women coming and going at odd hours.) Opening up, I took an involuntary step back. Before me was Newt with greasy, unkept hair hanging down over the shoulders of a rumpled, dirty blouse. On the verge of tears, she pointed to a large bruise on her upper leg while mumbling in a self-pitying voice. Destitute and helpless.
What the hell had happened? That large sum I’d transferred into her bank account a while back when combined with my prior “donations” meant Newt had enough to comfortably get by on for three or four months. Yet now here she was, barely four weeks later, in dire straits all over again. Suspecting that the money had been wasted, and more than a little pissed off, I firmly shut the door. While not denying her wretched misery — like a character out of a Dickens novel — this was also an attempt to wheedle a knee-jerk reaction out of me. Something like Newt…? Oh my God! Come in! Unfortunately for my visitor, I am a veteran of Asian woman mini-dramas and had no interest in following the script.
Temporarily repulsed, Newt slumped to the floor next to the door, out of my sight. There was no thought of admitting defeat. Rather, this was the next act: to try and make the soft-hearted guy reconsider the plight of the forlorn woman huddled on his doorstep. Someone with nowhere else to go. (Cue heart-wrenching music.)
I didn’t even bother to peek out as I reached for my shoes while trying to keep my mind clear; I knew she was there, playing the game. Yet despite my experience in these situations, Newt had nevertheless shocked me — this was not the woman I thought I’d known (ah, and how many Western men here in Bangkok have uttered that lament?). It was time to put some distance between us.
OK, then. The first step in these predicaments is to remove the lady from the premise. Stepping out past my supplicant, I motioned for her to come with me, which to my relief she did, no doubt anticipating another trip to the ATM. (If she had remained, I was prepared to head out on my own and leave her there.) As we descended the second flight of stairs, Newt re-engaged her Oliver Twist persona, stepping with her good leg, then painfully dragging the injured one down beside it, all the while grasping the railing. The performance was so compelling that in a better mood I might have applauded.
At the gate to the apartment complex I suddenly stopped, mentioned the amount of money I had given her so far (some $1,500), then crossed and uncrossed my arms like an NFL referee signaling an unsuccessful field goal attempt. I wanted to make it clear that nothing more would be forth-coming, that this…was…the end. I then quickly turned and headed back to my apartment, leaving her standing there, silent. On my way I stopped and asked the guards not to let that woman through again.
After banishing Newt from my apartment, I’d hoped I’d seen the last of her. The best explanation for all the unpleasantness is that my generous financial help had caused her to go goofy on me. There must be, beneath that calm exterior, an undercurrent of weirdness that the well-intentioned money had somehow brought to the surface. It baffled me that I’d never sensed this before. Usually I can tell if a Thai lady is somewhat off kilter (especially if she’s had a few too many). But not with Newt. She became a completely different person. Kind of scary.
Three weeks passed with no more surprise visits or messages. It seemed I was finally free of the craziness. Then Newt fired off another round of incomprehensible SMS texts. Huh? I would have thought she’d gotten the point during that apartment scene when I emphatically explained I was through helping her. The Thais after all place great value on main-taining face; shouldn’t this have caused her to reconsider and not risk another (and likely more vehement) rejection?
This time I decided to send a brusque reply, having grown weary of the unending gibberish: Leave me alone!! Unable to let things go, Newt responded with another batch of messages (which often seem to come in threes for some reason). The first two contained the usual indecipherable garbage. But the third was a brief (and surprising) apology, which I found mildly encouraging.
Soon after that exchange, I left Bangkok for my annual U.S. vacation. As one of my pre-departure tasks, I turned off my cell phone and removed the SIM card, leaving it along with some other items with a friend. This meant that any attempts to contact me would result in a “not available” response. If Newt wanted to bang her head against this electronic wall for over a month, she could go right ahead.
Perhaps that did the trick. In the almost three months since I’ve returned to the Land of Smiles, there have been no further mystery texts. But to my dismay, my tormentor ended up back at her old job at the massage shop, a couple dozen paces from the entrance to my apartment complex. I was not completely surprised when I saw her there, however; in fact I could have predicted this sad trajectory once there was no more support forthcoming. I forced a smile and a friendly wave, then rapidly retreated to put some distance between us, all the while biting my tongue least I spit out the f-word. At least she can no longer make surprise visits to my room — the guards will not let her by.
All in all, it’s a messy, exasperating ending to what began as an honest effort to assist someone in real need. Instead, it turned into another lesson in how things in this country can unexpectedly go awry.
One nagging question remains: What happened to all the money? This woman burned through over one thousand and five hundred dollars in less than a month — an exorbitant rate by Thai standards. If I had to speculate, I’d say she saw this not as a lifeline, but rather an opportunity to live the high life off of my largesse while assuming it would continue. Or, to put this another way, that she could cajole me into keeping the cash coming. This strategy might actually have worked to some degree if she had acted in a sensible manner.
Ultimately I am never going to know what she was thinking — or if she was just acting out of instinct and not thinking at all. It will have to go down as one more Thai Woman Mystery.
🎄Holiday Notice🎄 Next posting will be Sunday, January 8, 2017.
Beer Garden is located a couple blocks off of Sukhumvit Road, on Soi 7. It is what is known as a “freelancer bar”, a meat market in other words, where Thai women go to find a foreigner willing to part with some of his baht for a brief interlude of intimacy. With dimensions resembling that of a warehouse, there can be two dozen girls lounging around the maze of counters some nights, chatting with their friends while keeping their eyes peeled for a “customer”. If there is a heaven for lonely old men, it surely includes a place like this.
I ended up sitting next to Bam one July evening purely by accident. We swapped looks, but with her square, rather plain face and tiny figure, she didn’t make much of an impression. After awhile, to kill time, I got out my language notebook and begin practicing writing Thai characters. This is the way I meet women over here and it works amazingly well. When they see the pages I’ve churned out, demonstrating my seriousness, they practically fall over each other attempting to give me instruction. It’s a natural, nonthreatening way to make a connection. Soon Bam had joined the nearest barmaid in writing down Thai words that I’d comically mis-pronounce, which kept them both entertained.
Where Bam and I hit it off was when I had her write the words in Thai for “zero baht”. I copied them onto a small piece of paper then, reaching over the bar, took my running bill for the evening from its wooden cup and replaced it with my scratchings, all the while keeping a straight face. The audacity of this had Bam in stitches for the next ten minutes. (The barmaid was somewhat less amused, being responsible for the bill, but was a good sport once she realized I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one.)
This was the first of what became three consecutive evenings of at times uproarious fun. Bam would try to teach me some Thai while I looked for ways to send her into semi-hysterics. Although I like to see myself as a composed, somber individual, at heart I’m a comedian and am delighted whenever I find someone whose sense of humor is on the same wave-length.
When I showed up later in the week for what I hoped would be a fourth night of frolics, Bam informed me and the barmaid (who had become part of our little gathering) that she could not join us. Though I had been tipping my petite instructor five hundred baht each night ($14), this was not enough to pay the rent and she needed to find a serious customer.
If had half a brain, I’d have seen this coming. This was a freelancer bar, not a nightclub, and it was naive of me to expect a lady there to welcome my rib-tickling company night after night only to be left with a pittance. On the other hand, shelling out more baht for the company of someone I was having such a super time with might be a worthwhile outlet for my new riches.
Not being interested in trying to find another lady to entertain, I soon left for home. The featured music that night was grinding electronic garbage and I needed some quiet time to consider my next move.
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 fol-lowed 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.
After over six years in this country, I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying warning signs in potential girlfriends and quickly moving on. For many of the candidates, it’s a no-brainer. For example, the one who requested my email address and promised to send a message the following day, but didn’t get around to it for a week. Or the bargirl who, upon entering my apartment, made a beeline for the fridge where she ate the sandwich I was saving for lunch, downing it with a few swallows out of the milk container. A third set up a Christmas date, then cancelled with a phony excuse, leaving me alone with the wine and cheese I’d gone out and pur-chased.
Other women have required a more serious investment of time — and money — before I sadly concluded we were not compatible. Often being dependent upon me for support, they were understandably reluctant to bring up issues or fully reveal themselves. But eventually the troubles surfaced.
To try and shortcut this arduous process, I’ve developed an early warning system. It’s called the Tardiness Test and is stunningly simple: when I am getting to know a Thai lady, if she is glaringly late for our initial dates, or takes more than a few hours to respond to my calls or texts, then I say goodbye. Admittedly, some of this behavior can be cultural — this is not a nation of clock watchers. But this could also mean I do not rate very highly with this person, or that she is playing games to see how much I’ll put up with. Worst of all, she may be unreliable. None of these scenarios sits well with me.
Unfortunately Bam, the woman I’d decided to support, ended up failing the exam. For our first official get-together, I’d asked her to come by my apartment at 8:00pm. So what happens? She doesn’t even bother to leave her place until five minutes after. I ended up waiting outside by the apart-ment gate in the heat for some twenty minutes and it was another fifteen before she finally showed up.
Bam only stayed long enough for me to discover that nothing specific had delayed her. In fact, she saw the whole thing as rather funny. Teehee. Ha ha. Not sharing her amusement, but keeping my temper, I sent her back home, then followed up with a goodbye text. Clearly baffled, she responded by apologizing and saying I had made her happy. Maybe we’d meet again at the bar? I responded that she’d made me happy, too, and perhaps we would meet again. I like to get along with others and it would be impossible, not to mention silly, to try and avoid her at Beer Garden.
What happened here is my heart outraced my common sense. I did not take the time to get to know this lady (starting with the Tardiness Test) before my Savior Complex kicked in. It is so tempting help these women given my generosity and means, especially the ones I become fond of. I have to learn to keep my wallet under control.
Unlike my previous financial forays, this one had a happy ending. After a few months of keeping her at arm’s length at the bar, Bam came up to me in early January in a friendly manner that would have been rude of me to resist. Soon I had my trusty Thai notebook out and was learning impolite phrases amidst wine-fueled toasts to the New Year. Near the end of the evening, I slipped two thousand baht (almost $60) into Bam’s purse. I’m no longer her Sugar Daddy, but am happy to leave a lavish tip for mem-orable occasions.
I’ve never had much success in breaking up with Thai girlfriends. After I patiently explain that things are over between us, they never fully exit my life, continuing to send occasional emails or text messages. I suspect this behavior, which I find endlessly irritating, reflects the nature of Thailand, where everything from relationships to ATMs are in a state of flux. Few hard and fast rules beyond saving face. And who knows what tomorrow may bring in the shifting kaleidoscope of a Thai/Western relationship? No harm in trying to stay on the radar of an admittedly soft-hearted guy who might someday change his mind.
My old flame Sontaya was a prime example of Thai perseverance. After our first go-around foundered on the usual cultural misunderstandings (see My Final Thai Girlfriend), there was no vindictiveness on her part. No SMS texts with four letter expletives. When I told her I was done supporting her and suggested she resume working in a bar, that’s exactly what she did, with no further requests for money. Interestingly, she ended up at one of the drinking establishments near the entrance to Nana Plaza just down the street from my apartment. As I passed by on my way home in the evenings, I’d sometimes look for her and offer up a friendly wave. On a couple occasions I stopped in and we’d have a drink together while bringing each other up to date on our lives.
Two years passed. Having failed to make a Western-style relationship work with Sontaya, I contented myself with playing the field, avoiding new entanglements. Catching even a whiff of seriousness would see me retreat as if from a medieval plague. My ex in the meanwhile continued at the bar, waiting for the next boyfriend to magically appear. It turned into an education of sorts for her. When Sontaya had made her initial foray into the Bangkok bar scene, it only took a couple of months before she’d landed a Kiwi who ended up paying support for some three years. Shortly after that ended, yours truly showed up. Now she would learn that those early relationships were essentially a form of beginner’s luck — which had in my opinion spoiled her somewhat — and that decent guys were not an everyday experience.
What ended up getting us back together again was, ironically, an online dating site called Thai Friendly. I had ventured into this in search of a “respectable” Thai companion only to become quickly disillusioned. The first woman I contacted turned out not to be interested in any Westerner who had previously consorted with ladies in the entertainment industry — which eliminates some ninety percent of the expats in Bangkok. The second one would not agree to a simple luncheon date unless I foreswore making any sexual advances, as if the romantic ambiance of the Golden Arches was going to drive me into a frenzy. For whatever issues I’d had with Sontaya, she’d never made me feel like a leper, which is why one evening shortly afterwards I moseyed down to her Nana Plaza bar and brought her back home, we still being on good terms. This time, I vowed, I would not make the same mistakes as before. No more eager-to-please Mr Nice Guy, for one thing (a persona Thai women don’t have much respect for). I would be calmer, more confident and build a relationship (v2.0) that was pragmatic and straightforward.
Our first go-around had lasted almost three months. This time we nearly made it to two.
My First Day of Online Dating
The first official act of my reunion with Sontaya was to proclaim that I would be her “special friend” instead of boyfriend. What this meant was I wouldn’t be supporting her this time around. Before, when I was shelling out eighteen thousand baht a month (@$600) to have a girlfriend at my beck and call, I frankly did not feel I’d gotten my money’s worth and did not want to head down that path again.
In most other respects we picked up where we had left off, with evening swims, DVD movies and wine and cheese, all at my apartment. For Valentine’s Day, we got dressed up and Sontaya took me to the Moon Bar atop the Banyan Tree Hotel. It was a place she had been to with one of her customers and it took my breath away. She’d always been very good at showing me around the city, introducing me to new experiences. It was a trait I both valued and admired.
The magic, however, never really returned. For one thing, the two years of working in a bar had given Sontaya the classic pudgy bargirl figure. It was like she had this large sign advertising her profession and made me a bit embarrassed to be seen with her in public. I also was reluctant to share as much of myself as I did before — such as my tastes in music — having discovered the hard way that the chances of making a connection were slim. Different cultures, different worlds.
Perhaps our second incarnation was not meant to be. But it was strange that it ended up rupturing because of an eight o’clock movie on cable. I had figured that getting back with Sontaya would allow me to have her over on relatively short notice, her bar being less than a ten minute walk away. Doing something simple like watching a movie at my place should not pose a problem…right?
Wrong. After I’d sent the message about the show and when it started, there were troubles with Sontaya locating the bar’s mama-san to get per-mission to depart for the night. I waited, unperturbed. A cardinal rule for living in Thailand is to never expect things to work smoothly and it was only a quarter after seven. Plenty of time.
I didn’t bother to call again as the big hand passed the half hour mark and started climbing towards the hour. If Sontaya was being held up for some reason, there was nothing I could do about it. What I did not know was that an old drinking buddy (customer?) had unexpectedly stopped by the bar and as I patiently sat and watched the clock, my movie date was busy downing a quartet of Rum & Cokes.
It was an interesting scene when my one and only finally got to my place sometime after eight-thirty, fairly soused. First she parked the bouquet of roses she’d brought as an apology on top of the DVD player. Then, after careful aiming, she plopped herself down on the sofa and explained the reason for her tardiness. Deciding not to make an issue out of it (at least for the time being), I mentioned there was a second movie that had just started on the other cable channel that might be worth a look. But after I had turned it on and my date gamely sat up to try and watch, I decided it was best to just put her to bed and forget the whole damn thing.
I threw the roses out the next day.
When Sontaya kept me waiting that fateful night in order to do some heavy drinking with her friend, that was essentially the end of our second attempt to be together. It was simply too big of a red flag to ignore. She’d always had a fondness for alcohol, but back when I was getting to know her and we were having such good times together, this was not a concern. Quite the contrary. It was only now when, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I found the magic turning against me that I began to fully comprehend the trouble. Going overboard on the booze is practically part of a bar girl’s job description as she tries to entice the patrons to buy drink after drink for themselves and for her. Being in this environment for over two years had introduced my “special friend” to some bad habits. Not being a Substance Abuse Counselor, I did not want to try dealing with them.
The only question was when to break things off. Because Sontaya was leaving the next morning to spend a week with her family — some much-needed time off from the bar which my money was making possible — I decided to wait until she’d returned. For the rest of the night I simply did my best to make her comfortable, listening as she shared her troubles and hopes. (It was during this I heard for the first time her desire to someday own a car.)
Once Sontaya was back from her vacation, I sadly bid her adieu. While honesty can sometimes backfire with Thai women, I nevertheless decided to confess I wasn’t comfortable being around her anymore because of the drinking. To try and soften the blow somewhat — few people like being labelled a drunk — I transferred ten thousand baht (@$300) into her bank account as goodbye money.
Sontaya’s graceful reply:
Good after noon M. Thank you for reply my email and Thank you for help me and my son .that is ok if you not feel like to meet me right now.but one day if you are need a friend or want to see me.i am want to let you know. I am will be your friend forever. ..you can call me any time.
And about alcohol I do try my self to not drink to much because that not good for my health. .I can do it ..
Well you tack care of your self.
Now I am know you are ok just don’t want to see me.i will not send you sms for Harry (bother) you…I am always be your friend….
You have a nice day.
God will be with you.