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. The 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.