Secret Admirer Me

Let it never be said that I forget old girlfriends! Probably because there have been so few in my life. Anyway, it had been over five years since I’d last set eyes on Rasamee. The actual breakup came soon after that and though we still stayed in touch via email and I continued to help her, I eventually broke that off as well. The unending requests for money wore me out.

I had never¬†removed Rasamee‚Äôs personal information from my laptop. Usually the parting of ways between me and a Thai lady leaves¬†me in a vindictive mood, which I give expression to by¬†deleting her from my files. But Rasamee was not that way and I’d always felt a measure of goodwill towards her. This meant I still had the woman’s¬†bank account number and with her fifty-first birthday coming up a month after the farm sale closed, making me a rich man, a special present¬†seemed like a fine idea.

As noted in another post, here in Thailand one can transfer money from their savings account to another bank through¬†an ATM. So in the week leading up to Rasamee’s¬†birthday, I did a number of transactions totaling three hundred thousand¬†baht (@ $8,500) to be deposited in her account. It was all done anonymously as I had no interest in having¬†her back in my life, reprising her role as a dogged, slightly annoying email buddy. However I doubt she had any trouble figuring out who was behind all this. I only regret that I could not be there to see her face when she noticed all the money. In the past when I‚Äôd ‚Äúflashed my cash‚ÄĚ I never got much of a reaction from her, but I suspect¬†this time around it would have been a little different.

But why give so much? Three hundred thousand baht is akin to receiving a second prize award in the national lottery. It is because Rasamee is a decent person, someone who is good at heart. More than any of the other women I have befriended in this country (and after six years that number is now approaching the half century mark), she deserves the help. Being over fifty with two children, it’s unlikely there will ever be a man in her life again and Thailand can be brutal on single mothers. I am just making it a bit more pleasant for her.

This would turn out to be perhaps the easiest of my acts of generosity.

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Rescuing Rasamee (Again)

Good Intentions…

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 ‚ÄĒ a woman does not get through the door of¬†my apartment without having some physical appeal ‚ÄĒ 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.

Now “Newt-less”

Before she departed, I got Newt’s phone¬†number and asked that she text me the number of the savings account she had opened. It was my plan to provide¬†her with special¬†assistance¬†once she had resettled with her family(?) out in provinces. She clearly needed time to get things¬†sorted out.

And that’s when it all got strange…

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The New Newt

‚ĶOn the Road to Hell

When we‚Äôd last left¬†our hero, I‚Äôd 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 ‚Äúvacation‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúneeded to hear my voice‚ÄĚ.

Yeah, right. Being boyfriend-less, Newt was clearly going into overdrive to recruit yours truly, Mr. Generosity, as a replacement. Perfectly understandable. 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 ‚Äúmiss you‚ÄĚ missive. Not unexpected. However, the other two were rambling narratives that I could not make any sense of whatsoever. It‚Äôs 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?

This was not going to end well.


Please, Sir!

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 ‚ÄĒ like a character¬†out of a Dickens novel ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôt 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 ‚ÄĒ this¬†was not the woman I thought I‚Äôd 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 forthcoming, 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.


And It Makes Me Wonder

After banishing Newt from my apartment, I‚Äôd hoped I‚Äôd 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‚Äôd 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 maintaining face; shouldn‚Äôt 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 ‚Äúnot available‚ÄĚ 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¬†‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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.

ūüéĄHoliday Noticeūü饬†Next posting will be Sunday, January 8, 2017.

A Comedic Connection

Beer Garden is located a couple blocks off of Sukhumvit Road, on Soi 7. It is what is known as a ‚Äúfreelancer bar‚ÄĚ, 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 ‚Äúcustomer‚ÄĚ. 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 mispronounce, which kept them both entertained.

Where Bam and I hit it off was when I had her write the words in Thai for ‚Äúzero baht‚ÄĚ. 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‚Äôt trying to pull a fast one.)


No problem — he paid up!

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 wavelength.

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.

A Serious Student?

Taking the Plunge

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 ‚ÄĒ something she insisted I do after she‚Äôd been to my place a couple of times. I‚Äôm 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 ‚ÄĒ reaching out with my¬†arms, I could almost touch both walls. On the left side was a worn dresser followed 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‚Äôd been on the fence regarding this woman. Yes, we‚Äôd been having a blast when we were together, but her English was poor, which limited conversation. (Not that I should be¬†complaining ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôs 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.

Our Future


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 purchased.

Other women have required a more serious¬†investment of time ‚ÄĒ¬†and money ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôve developed an early warning system.¬†It‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄĒ 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 apartment gate in the heat for some twenty minutes before going back in 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 memorable occasions.

This guy’s terminally pedantic!

Marry Christmas!

Each December the girls in the Apartment Office have¬†baskets of goodies delivered to some of the tenants. But last month’s gift (with its amusing holiday greetings), was noticeably smaller than usual. Nor had¬†there been any Christmas lights strung up on the trees next to the swimming pool. Upper management¬†is getting stingy.

But this did not diminish my desire to provide an evening of good cheer for my three female friends at the Sports Academy Pool Hall down on Sukhumvit Road. One of them, Lat, was leaving in a few weeks to spend three months in America with her Illinois boyfriend, so this would also be a bon voyage party of sorts.

While Sport Academy (like most bars) does offer wine, it comes in a box, whose vintages are labelled by month instead of year. Fermented mouthwash. To avoid this packaged purgatory, I brought with me bottles of an Australian Shiraz and a tame Cabernet Sauvignon from the snooty Wine Section of the Villa Market grocery store a few blocks away.

Since Lat was playing Nine Ball with another customer for much of the night, the festivities centered on the trio of myself, Fone and Nui (both pictured below). Fone’s French boyfriend would not, alas, be making it to Thailand for the holidays while Nui’s relationship with her Thai husband seemed to be on the rocks. These were two women in real need of a good time.

I had not expected the girls to go into raptures over my ‚Äúrefreshments‚ÄĚ, but was pleasantly surprised nonetheless. I had initially poured partial glasses for each, but these were emptied before we‚Äôd played but a few pool games of ‚ÄúKiller‚ÄĚ. Thereafter I made it my job to keep the vineyard open. (Fone assisted by liberating the second bottle from my sidebag on her own initiative.)

The Aussie grapes worked their¬†magic. After an hour nobody really cared what the score was or even whose turn was coming up. Limiting my own intake, I played the jovial role of the Ghost of Christmas Present, adding sunflower seeds and cookies¬†to the party¬†while exchanging affectionate holiday hugs. As things began winding down, Fone and Nui kissed me on each cheek, then Lat came over and topped¬†it off with a smooch on the lips ‚ÄĒ a pleasure denied¬†the fabled ghosts of A Christmas Carol.

Having all three girls at my table, I decided it was a good time to present them with their Christmas gifts: an envelope each with three thousand, ninety-nine baht (@ $90; the ninety-nine baht was for good luck). This represents more than a quarter of their monthly salary and earned me yet another round of happy embraces. But even before I showered the money upon them, it was clear they were having fun. In fact, I don’t recall seeing all three in such good spirits.

It was the best of times.

Lord of the Rings

It was one of those slow afternoons in July, when there wasn‚Äôt much cleaning that needed doing, that the two maids and I for some reason got started looking at jewelry online. It‚Äôs not an area I have much interest in but the girls (Lek and Pong) were enjoying themselves, so I spent a good half hour¬†showing the kinds of rings that could be purchased in the U.S. As we repeated¬†our little ritual the following week, I noticed neither of them cared much for the fancier, pricier pieces ‚ÄĒ the ones with multiple diamonds inlaid amidst twisting bands. (Some of these looked to be a challenge just figuring out how to put them on.) Instead, they seemed to prefer¬†small, dark colored stones such as green¬†Amethyst or blue Sapphire. This gave me an idea: why not buy them something along these lines when I went back to the U.S. for my summer vacation?

This turned into a minor project as I began getting ready for my trip. Emailing an old friend of mine back in Seattle, I followed her advice and visited the websites of some local jewelers as well as larger retailers such as Walmart and Fred Meyer. I then bookmarked rings I thought might appeal to my special friends and showed these to them the next time I had my room cleaned. After some back-and-forth, eventually the list got narrowed down the above mentioned Amethyst and Sapphire stones with blue, green and red the favored colors, all with modest gold bands.

The correct size proved trickier to figure out.¬†I did know that both Lek and Pong were a ‚Äú17‚ÄĚ, which presumably meant seventeen‚Ķmillimeters?But this did not cleanly convert to a U.S. equivalent. I had to¬†print a sheet of little circles representing ring sizes, then put their rings on top of it and try to line things up.¬†It was an imperfect process but the best I could do, the alternative being to take one of them back to the U.S. with me and do a fitting at a¬†jewelry store.

After arriving in Seattle, my friend and I went to a Fred Meyer north of the city where I showed the lady in the jewelry section pictures of what I was after. But none of them were in stock at that location. So I decided to take a gander at what they did have. Here I got lucky: within the first five minutes I had found a light purple Amethyst that, after some discussion with my friend and diligently looking over a few other pieces, became the choice. I ordered two in size 7 1/2, which were ready in a few days.

The big presentation came a month later, on my first day back in Bangkok. I sought out my two princesses after lunch and magnanimously gave them…a chocolate cookie each. Nothing was said about the rings, which were hidden below the cookies in small jewelry baggies. I simply stood back and waited for the discovery.

Lek found hers first and it became perhaps the only time I witnessed a Thai woman totally forget about finishing a chocolate treat. Pong soon followed and in a span of a few milliseconds both had pried their rings out and were trying them on. Since these were not a surprise, there were no squeals of delight or cartwheels, just broad smiles as they moved their hands back and forth in the light from the patio door, trying to catch a sparkle. Of course I received some grateful hugs, but the real pleasure was making a pair of Thai women happy with gifts as opposed to simply handing out a wad of thousand baht bills. For almost five years Lek and Pong have been changing my sheets, sweeping the floor and cleaning my toilet. They deserved something extra special.

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