Dec 2, 2010
I’ve decided to call it quits with Rasamee. The reason for this move is the way my Thai lady friend is always asking for money whenever I stop in at the bar she works at. This despite my having paid some nine thousand baht (around $300) from our recent nights together. I realize she is on a strict budget, sending money home when she can, but have grown weary of being panhandled on every visit.
Last night’s request was especially annoying. Her recent paycheck for last month turned out to be far smaller than what she anticipated, possibly because she does not get taken out (bar fined) by the customers. (As I’ve said, she’s not bad looking at all for someone in her mid-forties, but it’s hard to compete against girls half her age.) So, could I chip in to make up the difference?
My reaction, which I chose not to share with her, was one of resentment. Why should I be on the hook because Rasamee didn’t do the math? And where does this all end?
It was time for a new approach. Rather than letting her nickel and dime me to death, I instead offered to cash all my traveler’s checks — which I will not be needing — and give her the $500, which represents almost four months of her base salary. Upon receiving the money, she’d quit her job and move back Udon Thani in time to be with her daughter and son for the holidays. The Boomerang Bar where she is employed sounds like a crappy place — exactly what one would expect to find in sleazy Pat-taya. Surely she could find more pleasant work closer to home, with my contribution making up any differences in salary. At least for the short term.
Implicit in the offer, which Rasamee quickly noticed, is a lack of a future for us. Despite my fondness for her, I’m not interested — or ready — to become entangled in relationship with a Thai. The money represents the best I can do right now. This led to one of the worse nights I’ve ever ex-perienced, both of us crying off and on. It was especially sad when I a-woke at dawn and saw her standing looking out the east window, totally silent. Later I fed her kleenex as she laid next to me and wept. I tried to comfort her, but it was difficult to make a connection. Different cultures.
For a goodbye present, I gave Rasamee a bracelet that had belonged to my mother. I’d brought it to Thailand for the express purpose of giving it to someone special. It is a way for Rasamee to remember me. More im-portant, perhaps, are the email addresses we exchanged. We can at least stay in touch.
Reflecting on the Big Breakup, I find myself feeling uneasy. Yes, I have good reasons to avoid getting serious with someone at this early stage of my Thailand life, but I’m coming to see a less-than-admirable pattern to my behavior. For the third time, I have met an attractive Asian woman, developed a comfortable relationship, then bailed out when she showed signs of becoming serious. Perhaps this fear of commitment means I am always going to be alone, unless I somehow find the courage to change.
Move over, Ebenezer!
Dec 7, 2010
After finishing the previous entry with its attendant soul searching, I de-cided it was time to try and change my ways. I went over to Rasamee’s bar that night, explained that I missed her and, for lack of better words, that I wanted her back. Forget about quitting her job. Stay in Pattaya. We returned to my place and had a magical reunion. It is true what they say about make-up sex.
This blissful state of affairs lasted four days. The night before it ended, my Bangkok friend Alex had come down to Pattaya and given me a tour of Walking Street. (A famous area of the city I’d yet to visit.) By the time we had finished hitting a few go-gos, it was past midnight. Getting home some forty-five minutes later, instead of going straight to bed, I had some candy and did a bit of reading. This was a lazy, foolish thing to do. Soon the sugar hit and before I knew it, I’d wasted most of the night and was dead tired.
That was Sunday. Monday night Rasamee came for a sleepover. I was leaving for Bangkok the next morning and was going to let her stay at the apartment while I was gone so she could take a few leisurely afternoon naps. (Her room, which she shares with a half-dozen or so girls from her bar, is a rather noisy, chaotic place. Like a college dormitory.)
It all started out well enough. We watched some TV and snuggled. When bedtime rolled around, I received a nice massage, which was both needed and appreciated. If Rasamee had simply stopped at that point to let me drop off to dreamland, I think everything would have turned out fine. But no, instead we moved on to love making, which reopened a disagreement about using condoms. (Surprisingly, I’m the one who wants to be careful. She, on the other hand, trusts me.)
Afterwards, it was time for The Great Post-Coital Wrestling Match. Fol-lowing any “boom boom” (the Thai slang for the act), Rasamee likes to cuddle. Since I desperately needed to get some rest in preparation for my Bangkok trip, and cannot sleep with someone draped over me, I gently tried to nudge her back over towards her side of the bed. After repeated attempts, she decided that I was in some way rejecting her and began crying. Wanting only to get some quality shut-eye, I finally ended up ask-ing her to leave. This resulted in a long-drawn-out silence between us. To try and break the tension, I got up, turned on the lights, and busied myself with a few minor tasks. Perhaps realizing how frazzled I was, she at last departed. Returning to a bed that was now exclusively my own, I drifted down into an uneasy slumber.
Dec 8, 2010
This morning, as I looked back at the mess last evening turned into, I de-cided a Thai girlfriend was simply not worth the hassle. Accordingly, I sent off another one of my patented email goodbyes. In it I explained to Rasamee I could not sleep well when she came over and that she would not be visiting again. On the surface this sounds like a silly reason, but the language barrier prevents me from delving into the real cause, which is that her intimacy and emotional needs are too much for me.
Later, while on my way to breakfast, I saw her up on the stairway lead-ing to her third floor room. Judging from the way she beamed at me, it was clear she had not read my message yet. I waved, briefly returned the smile, but didn’t stop to chat like I normally do. Not sure if that made any kind of impression one way or another.
Coming up on two months in this country, the women remain an enigma. I’m especially puzzled by what I see as their tendency to fumble the ball. All I wanted from my old flame Oiy, for example, were but a few emails telling me about her family before we reconnected. Rasamee just needed to move over to her side of the bed without complaint. These were not unreasonable requests from my perspective, but were somehow seen as demonstrating a serious lack of interest and affection. Is their self-esteem that fragile? Maybe I can find some kind of Thai Women For Dummies book to enlighten me.
In any event, I still intend to honor a promise I made to Rasamee to give her some Christmas cash. I admire the way she saves her tips and salary in order to provide for her family back home. It’s doubtful my gift will entirely cover her myriad of debts, which includes payments on a couple of motorbikes, but it will certainly help. At some level, despite our mis-understandings, I’m becoming a friend.
Dec 14, 2010
I ran across Tip last week as part of my ambitious efforts to explore the aforementioned bars on the Soi 7 and Soi 8 roads. Her bargirl friend (Jen) speaks English much better — and is more friendly — but it was Tip who caught my eye with her short hair, small, serious face and elf-like body. We had the usual slightly strained, first-timers chat, but nothing beyond that. I returned the following evening where Jen (to Tip’s embarrassment) tattled about how much Tip had raved about me. Flattered, I told my new admirer I’d be by in a couple more nights to pay her bar fine and take her home.
Yet warning bells were already going off. For one thing, Tip’s English is poor — not that I have any right to expect otherwise, this being her coun-try. But I am unable to handle even a simple conversation in Thai, so I must rely on my date to speak my language to some degree. And beyond this linguistic impasse was the concern that Tip is wound a bit too tight. Seemed nervous and jumpy when I was around her. Perhaps she’s new to the game.
So, as yesterday afternoon rolled by and the night of my big date loomed, I was thinking of excuses for avoiding a visit to the bar. But as evening arrived, I decided it wasn’t right to try and weasel out of my commit-ment, so off I went. In hindsight, I should have stayed home.
I got things started by bar fining both Tip and Jen in order to take them to a nearby Thai restaurant. What fun that was! Jen ordered some kind of Chiang Mai soup that I fell in love with. Tip went with a simple veggie dish in oyster sauce that was surprisingly edible while I had some spicy ground chicken which did not disappoint. (If you ever want a memorable meal experience in a foreign country, eat with the locals!) With all the tasty food being shared and enjoyed, it became more of a pleasant get-together devoid of the usual foreigner/bargirl anxieties. At least for Jen and myself.
With dinner over, Jen returned to the bar (my taking two bargirls away at the same time had left them shorthanded) while Tip and I went for a walk along Beach Road, where the Thai Ladies of the Night were lined up. I was worried this scene might bother Tip but if so, I could not tell, she not being a talkative person. I, on the other hand, should have been wearing horse blinders to prevent my gaze from wandering. It’s the things in life one cannot have which are often the most alluring.
We broke off our stroll to cross the road for a visit to the fancy new shop-ping center at the Hilton Hotel. There we admired the blizzard of holiday lights. It was nice to have someone to share that with and we repeated the experience later at another brightly lit plaza. Then we rode a Songtaew (truck taxi) to the CarreFour Shopping Center, a few long blocks from my apartment. Walking home, sensing how nervous Tip was and wanting to break the tension, I stopped at a dilapidated vending shack along the way and pretended it was my residence, walking up to the entrance and trying my key on the door. We both got a kick out of that, but only after Tip had recovered from her near cardiac arrest. Guess it kind of threw her for a loop.
Unlike almost all my other dates, Tip was not comfortable slow dancing or in receiving one of my world-famous massages. So we instead sat next to the window, listening to vintage pop music (Elton John) while taking in the Christmas lights in the apartment complex across the street. To try and help her unwind (she alas is not a drinker), I entertained her by sing-ing along with a few of the tunes such as Your Song, one of my crooning favorites.
After getting into bed, there was some snuggling and kissing (which she wasn’t very passionate about), but nothing beyond that. Again, the com-fort level was not there. And frankly, from the way the evening had gone with its lack of chemistry, I wasn’t exactly overcome with desire myself.
As usual, I could not get to sleep even through Tip was hardly touching me. I think this was a case of first-time-together nervousness combined with my date’s inability to relax, which made me vaguely uneasy. (When there was a loud noise outside the bathroom window, she bolted straight up, wondering what it was. I didn’t even bother getting up to investigate.) As we heading into the wee hours of the night, I managed to work in a nap or two, but that was it. Worse, Tip turned out to be an early morning snuggler. I had to lay there for about an hour and a half, wide-eyed, hold-ing her.
I never want another date like that again.
When we (finally) parted, she asked when I would come by the bar again. Now, I’ve been developing a philosophy in my dealings with Rasamee: to be honest and fair to my Thai women friends as well as to myself. This however does not apply to first dates. So, rather than tell Tip the sad truth — that she’s probably seen the last of me — I lied and said I’d stop by next week. I’m sure she will now be on the lookout, and be disappointed and hurt when I never show, but I’m not interested.
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 never-theless 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 charg-ing 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 go-ing 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.
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 rela-tionship, 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 Ras-amee’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 pe-dantic. 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 drib-bling 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 some-one 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 out-standing 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 22, 2010
I took Rasamee out for a special pre-Christmas lunch at a Japanese res-taurant 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 pro-blem 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.”
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 tom-orrow.) 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 even-ings 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 sound-ed 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 dis-cover 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 easy-going person and did not overreact. I was thus able to escape home to my waiting novel (The Shining) an unmolested free man.
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 Fes-tival 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.
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 in-deed 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 pre-pare 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 pur-suits 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 de-cided 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.”