May, 2015 — Bangkok

I was to stay in Pattaya for another three months, into late March of 2011. By then it had become clear the city was never going to be the retirement mecca I’d envisioned. Not developed enough for my taste. Crowded and messy. Seemed I could never really relax when I went out. So, with the punishing hot season well underway, I decided it was time to depart. Not just Pattaya, but Thailand. I had given the country a try, but things had not worked out. I closed my bank account, packed up all my belongings, and returned to Seattle.

Actually, all I really needed was a some time away to clear my head. In fact, it only took a week of being back in the Emerald City before I came up with the idea of returning to Thailand, this time to live in Bangkok, which would offer a more modern, comfortable life. I still had half a year remaining on my hard-earned Retirement Visa, plenty of time to see if this might work. What the hell.

At this point luck came into play. For my apartment hunting base, I had booked a hotel in Bangkok on Soi 4, not far from the bars and go-gos of Nana Plaza. An area of the city I knew somewhat. What I didn’t know was that just a couple blocks from my hotel, in the opposite direction of the Plaza, was an apartment complex called Siam Court. On my second or third day, I happened to wander by there and saw a sign advertising monthly rates. I walked into the office, had the manager show me a few units, and after a half hour of looking had paid a deposit and first month’s rent on a spacious second floor studio with a partial view of the outdoor swimming pool. Four years later on I am, amazingly, still residing here, although I check out each summer for a month or two back in the states. All because I made a second attempt at living in this country.  

For More Details, See: Another Try in the Land of Smiles

                                                          ✦   ✦   ✦

As for Rasamee, when I left Pattaya so did she, to go back home to Udon Thani and work at a laundromat she and her sister owned (and which I helped pay for). But once she found out I was back in the country, living in Bangkok, getting down to see me became a near obsession. I fended her off, wanting instead to meet more women in order to discover what I liked and disliked about them; whether I indeed wanted a girlfriend, or simply casual acquaintances. My years as an IT social misfit had never afforded me the opportunity to find this out. 

This meant Rasamee and I were at cross purposes and when she asked for money a couple months later for her son’s college tuition, I said goodbye. Being in different cities this time, the breakup proved more durable. Rasamee ended up going back to the bar in Pattaya for the higher salary she could earn working there.

It was not the end, however. A half year later, in early 2012, she emailed me, saying she’d heard I had a new girlfriend (which was not true) and wishing me well. Not sure where she got that notion from. In any event, I didn’t want to hear from her, a feeling that was reinforced in April when her bar unexpectedly closed down and she had to travel over to Cambodia to find work that payed as well. Once again she ended up needing help and, after initially refusing, once again I opened my wallet. (At no time did we ever meet, though. It was all long distance.)

This pattern continued for the better part of a year: me gallantly coming to the rescue whenever the latest financial crisis hit. After each bailout I’d swear to myself no more, that’s it, only to get sucked into the next calamity. Finally, totally fed up with being on call, I deleted the email address I’d given her, leaving my persistent ex with no means of ringing the fire bell. It was, in the end, the only way for me to move on — severing all communication.

But old habits die hard. For Rasamee’s fiftieth birthday two months ago, I anonymously transferred fifty thousand baht (close to $500) to her bank account. After four years apart and countless experiences with the “fairer sex”, I have not forgotten the hard-working woman who once knitted me a Christmas scarf. How could I?

Rasamee with Family

Daughter, Son, Me & My Lady


Dec 31, 2010

During our time here on earth, there are perhaps a handful of years that, in hindsight, stand out. When far-reaching decisions are made. Or when momentous events roll through, rearranging perspectives and priorities. While we cannot know the new future that is being summoned, we can sometimes sense when a path has been altered.

I’ve been fortunate to have lived in two foreign countries before coming to Thailand (Japan and South Korea). The years in those places were indeed special, with unforgettable experiences, but did not change my life’s overall trajectory. Despite the occasional moments of euphoria, I knew the day would eventually come when I’d pack my bags and return home. America was where I ultimately belonged.

Thailand, however, has presented a new kind of challenge, thus insuring that 2010 will go down as an important, even a pivotal, year. For moving here required a new mindset. I had to let go of my home country and prepare myself for not just another extended time away, but a journey. To travel down a sometimes twisting road whose ultimate destination would be unknown. It has been both exciting and a little unsettling so far. The undiscovered country — in more ways than one.

My maternal grandfather had a younger brother, Raymond, who worked for a number of years as an accountant for a hotel chain. His financial acumen allowed him to retire early and devote his energy to various pursuits such as playing the violin and traveling (which, like me, he had a real passion for). Because it was late 1960s America, with cheap gas and most of the new Interstate Highway System in place, he and his wife decided to purchase a small sized motor home. Discovering they loved the experience of being on the road, exploring, they ended up selling their house and spent a number of years crisscrossing the U.S., following the seasons. Winnebago Vagabonds. My grandparents would know of Ray’s whereabouts only from the occasional postcard. One of them contained the below postscript, which I think will be helpful to keep in mind as I venture into the new year:

“Don’t know where we’re going. Don’t care.”

See Ya Next Year

Dec 30, 2010

Time for some more bad news: Rasamee’s daughter was in a motorbike accident a few days ago. The girl had been driving home after repaying ten thousand baht (part of my gift from last week) to one of Rasamee’s friends when it happened. Thank heavens it was not serious. Following two nights in the hospital, she ended up with only a sore shoulder. Lucky. This is the third person in Rasamee’s life who’s had a motorbike mishap, her son and best friend Wan being the other two. (There was also an older brother three decades ago who, like Wan, was killed.)

Would someone please teach these people how to f*cking drive?

Rasamee is going to take a few days off work to go home, look after her daughter, and be with the extended family over New Years. It is a Thai tradition to get together for this holiday and I was invited to be part of it but declined, not being comfortable with the implications of meeting the parents. Plus, I could use some time to myself. Being around Rasamee and her troubles makes me on occasion feel like I’m suffocating and it will be nice to have her out of town for awhile. Her vacation will be my vacation.

Before Rasamee’s departure this afternoon, being in an understandably good mood, I treated her to a New Year’s lunch over at the Central Festival Shopping Center, or whatever the hell it’s called. (Our eating out together is one of the things I’ve come to enjoy, sans any bad news.) This was one of the malls I went to with Tip a couple weeks back for a bit of sightseeing on what turned out to be our only date. For Rasamee, I took her to an upscale Thai restaurant on the fifth floor that I’d been wanting to try. Both of our dishes were scrumptious. In a way, this meal was an atonement for my forgetting to get her a New Year’s Day card. (Oops!) She gave me one, and I should have remembered the reverence Asians place on this particular holiday. But at least we were able to share a nice lunch to commemorate it — and say our goodbyes for the year.

An Expat Christmas

Dec 25, 2010

Here it is Christmas Day and I’m sitting in my modest room in my boxer shorts, typing away at my PC with the fan aimed at me. (Actually, I’m wearing my comfy attire a day early — Boxing (Boxer?) Day is tomorrow.) What an agreeable change from a year ago when I was fighting the flu back in dark, chilly Seattle.

I celebrated Christmas Eve by having a special dinner, by myself, at a place called Bob’s BBQ and Mexican Grill up on Soi LK Metro street. (A friend introduced me to it a few years back during one of my visits. Rather strange to see a something like this in Thailand.) I’d been in a bit of a dining rut, having had chicken and fried rice the previous four evenings at the corner eatery. Not that bad, but with the waitresses becoming a little tired of me, it was time for a change of cuisine and Mexican sounded wonderful. I savored every bite. When finished, I carefully packed up the leftovers, then stopped by Canterbury Tales, a large English language bookstore a few blocks away. There I purchased a couple of paperbacks, one by Stephen King (cannot go wrong with that guy!) and another by Tony Hillerman. Simple pleasures for a simple (?) man.

After getting home, I dropped my books off and went down the street to Rasamee’s bar (Boomerang) to see what they were doing for the holiday. To my amusement, all of the girls were wearing Santa hats with flashing red lights. After I’d plopped myself down at a table, they put one on me too, which probably looked silly, but who cares? All part of the fun. I had brought my Thai writing book with me and Rasamee and her best friend ended up sitting on either side, happily critiquing my struggles with the hieroglyphic-like alphabet in return for buying them drinks. Perhaps not the best way to learn a language, but it did keep everyone entertained.

Amidst the atmosphere of shared comfort and joy, I was surprised to discover that Rasamee was “in the mood”, so to speak, pointing out it had been nineteen days since our last little tryst. (Quite a change from Seattle, where such intervals were often measured in years.) My emails a while back attempting to break things off had not been taken seriously in light of the special financial help I’ve been providing. Therefore, we should retire to my apartment for our own private celebration.

I turned her down. Anything that has the potential of bringing us closer together these days is going to be resisted. From the couple of weeks I spent being her pseudo boyfriend, I’ve discovered I’m not ready for the emotional demands of an intimate relationship with one of the natives. It’s too much, too soon for someone who has been in the country only a couple months.

My refusal was met with a friendly argument or two from my would-be lover, who did not see a little bit of holiday intimacy as any big deal —  a view I suspect my Thais share. I, however, had been raised with a more reverent attitude regarding “the act”, which means I tend to make it far more complicated than it needs to be. Fortunately, Rasamee is an easygoing person and did not overreact. I was thus able to escape home to my waiting novel (The Shining) an unmolested free man.

Green Santa

Dec 22, 2010

I took Rasamee out for a special pre-Christmas lunch at a Japanese restaurant I particularly like (Fuji). While enjoying our meals, I informed her I’d be willing to pay all of her debts except for what she owes on her family’s two motorbikes — vehicles I’m not especially enamored with. It comes out to just under sixty thousand baht (about $2,000). Upon hearing that figure, I promptly pulled out my coin purse and began ponderously counting out one baht coins. We both got a good laugh out of that.

My offer was made not a day too soon. Yesterday Rasamee had gotten a call from her daughter, who is feeling the strain of holding down a part time job while studying at college. It was hard to tell how serious a problem this is — when Rasamee told me about the call, she did it with a smile, which is the way Thais often convey bad news. Probably the girl simply misses her mother; in Rasamee’s absence she’s having to handle the household chores in addition to her studies and work. Very stressful. Since my support includes funds earmarked to pay her tuition for next year, perhaps that will help ease the burden.

The rest of my money is intended to clean up loans Rasamee has taken out from her sister and two friends and is paying interest on each month. (Borrowing money seems to be a common feature of relationships here.) I’m of course not so naive as to think I’m changing her life, just helping her through an especially difficult time. A couple years down the road she may well be in the same situation, though with her son and daughter both hopefully through college.

Because there’s a thirty thousand baht limit on ATM transfers, I sent the money over to Rasamee’s bank in two transactions. For the first one, I let her push the buttons to initiate it. The second I did by myself after we’d finished up our shopping. Throughout all this, Rasamee was clearly very grateful, but there were no sudden tearful hugs or heartfelt declarations of love. That is not really her style, plus we were in public. However, I did get the impression she feels the two of us are now closer — when we got back to our neck of the woods, she asked to take a nap in my apartment for a couple of hours. Since this did not put a crimp in my plans — what plans? — I said no problem. But I was not enthusiastic about the idea. It would be difficult — and perhaps a bit mean — to try and explain I’m helping her more out of admiration than affection.

Whatever my motivations, this felt like the proper thing to do, and the right time of the year to do it in. 🎄 Ho! Ho! Ho! 🎄

From a wooden plaque that used to hang in my grandmother’s kitchen:
“I shall pass through this world but once.
If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or good I can do,
let me do it now.
Let me not defer or neglect it.
For I shall not pass this way again.”

Money Mechanics

Dec 19, 2010

After my visits to her bar to provide some comfort and support for her latest troubles, Rasamee now sees us as a couple again, albeit one that does not sleep together. I am somewhat more ambivalent about the relationship, but can understand her thinking. After all, we just got through exchanging early Christmas presents, a sure sign something is going on between us.

For my holiday gift to Rasamee, I enclosed the money I’d promised her in a nice card along with a picture of myself. Nothing fancy. Rasamee, however, presented me with a lovely blue and white scarf that she’d knitted over the course of three days. (Accompanying it was a small note in broken English expressing the hope that I’d like it, which touched me almost as much as the scarf itself.) It certainly says something about Rasamee’s affection for me as well as the kind of person she is. It’s almost laughable to try and imagine any of the other bar girls I’ve come across doing something like this.

Some financial good news to report: at long last, I finally have the means to wire funds from my U.S. investments to my Thailand bank account! I’d done some research on how to get this set up once I was over here before I made the big move (See Wiring Money Overseas) and it sounded straightforward enough. But this turned out not to be the case. Because the names on the sending and receiving accounts did not exactly match, I had to journey up to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to obtain a signature guarantee so that the good folks back home managing my money (The Vanguard Group) could be sure I was who I claimed to be. Talk about pedantic. This assurance, along with a form containing my Thailand bank account info, was then FedExed to them. About a week afterwards, I was informed via email that the wire transfer option had been created in my customer profile and wasted no time logging on (love the internet!) to try it out. Seeing the money arrive in my account at the Siam Commercial Bank some seventy-two hours later was a both a thrill and a relief — I now had the means to stay here without resorting to panhandling the tourists.

My newfound riches have also allowed me to finally move beyond dribbling out help to Rasamee in one and two thousand baht increments. It can now be handled in larger chunks, especially since here in Thailand a person can, via an ATM, send money from their bank account to someone else’s, even if theirs is at another financial institution. To try out this intriguing feature, yesterday I had Rasamee provide me with her account number so I could do a transfer of five thousand baht from my account to hers. If this works, then I’ll talk with her later this week about her outstanding debts, which I might be able to put a serious dent in. It will be a chance to help someone who, in addition to her bar job, is also working part time at a restaurant across the street. All in an attempt to repay some of her loans (from various friends and family) and help her two children go to college.

All this makes me wonder what, after my generous assistance, Rasamee’s plans might be. Maybe in this country, with so many people having only the means to live day to day, thinking further down the road is not worth the effort. I do know she’d like to be back in her own home, and her close friend Wan’s recent death in the motorbike accident has only added to her distaste for this city. (Rasamee had stayed at Wan’s place the night before, then was at the hospital when she passed away. How many of us ever end up being with someone during their final night on earth?) Yet at the same time, Rasamee is keen to be my official girlfriend once again, a reason to stay here and, perhaps through better behavior, try to make that happen. I remain dubious about our chances.

But first things first. Time to check with my special friend and see if the money made it over.


Dec 16, 2010

Rasamee’s reply to my breakup message of last week — where I told her she could not come over anymore — was one of puzzlement. To avoid any kind of confrontation, I’d given a flimsy reason: my inability to sleep well when she was with me. She deserved a better explanation so I sent a second email, this time using Google Translate, listing the things she had done that I had not liked (such as overreacting to my request to move to her side of the bed). To soften the blow, I reiterated my promise to nevertheless provide her with some Christmas money.

This elicited a counter complaint, one that always arises in relationships involving people from different cultures: I do not understand her. (Guilty as charged, though when I only get three hours of sleep I’m not in much of a mood to understand anything.) But there seemed to be no anger or vindictiveness in her response, as I had feared there might be. In fact, I thought Rasamee showed some class, thanking me for my message and promising a Christmas gift of her own. Then again, my intent to provide financial help for the holidays perhaps contributed to her pleasantness.

The last part of Rasamee’s email contained some upsetting news: one of her friends, who also works at the bar, was recently killed in a motorbike accident near the CarreFour Shopping Mall. Apparently the woman, who I’m not sure was driving or just riding along, was thrown into the side of a truck when the bike collided with it. It’s of course very sad to hear of the death of a young person, but not completely surprising given the way the Thais drive. The motorbike riders are especially aggressive, worming their way forward between waiting cars at the intersections, then charging through en mass the instant the light changes (and heaven help you if you are trying to cross anywhere at that moment). They act like the rules of the road do not apply to them — much like Seattle bicyclists.

This brings up a minor reason why I broke things off with Rasamee — she is one of these people to whom bad things seem to happen. Her son has a motorbike mishap (and what a surprise there) where he fractures his arm and requires periodic X-rays; her last paycheck was smaller than she had expected; a friend gets killed. Now I understand that one needs to be supportive, but these troubles occur on a near-weekly basis. Depressing.

But not so bad that I’m going to completely stop seeing her. Last night, to my surprise and perhaps against my better judgement, I found myself going to Rasamee’s bar to offer her some moral support. Turns out she was taking a sick day, so I later sent an email saying I’d stopped by and will try again tomorrow night.

What’s the matter with me? There are no special obligations here. I am completely free to move on to someone else (who, hopefully, has fewer problems). However, I feel so sorry for Rasamee I cannot do that, cannot completely walk away from a decent person who is having to endure so much misfortune.