Social Outlets

My morning begins with a texted weather report from Joy, telling me how hot and sunny it is. She also asks if I have eaten yet and admonishes me to take care of myself. A kind of mothering, but with good intentions. I respond by wishing her a nice day.

I like Joy. She only asks for occasional help such as for rent or special purchases, the most recent being medicine her doctor prescribed. She’s also been doing some job hunting, visiting large restaurants to see if they will be needing staff as businesses begin opening up next month. I hope she finds something.

My masseuse, Porn, texts me during the day every week or two, wanting to know when she should stop by for the at-home massage and what kind of food to bring for my dinner. This a routine that began on my birthday back in April and has continued for almost three months. Being a rather lazy cook, I appreciate having some variety in my diet. As I age, I’ll no doubt be needing this kind of service more often.

With Porn not being a prodigious texter, I call her on occasion, just to see if she is doing ok.

Bia is shyer than the others. If she needs assistance, she will not ask directly. Instead she will say she misses me, a heartfelt sentiment. I then inquire if she needs money, which is always the case. In fact, I just sent her some yesterday. Bia has travelled back to Bangkok from her home in the provinces and, like Joy, is looking for work. But her finances were at a low ebb and required a boost.

Even without the troubles brought about by Covid 19, Sarankorn would be having a rough year. Her sister died back in February and her father passed away early this month (I paid for his funeral). Anticipating she might appreciate having someone to talk to, I told her to communicate via Apple Messages. When at home I am almost always on my laptop, so anything from her using this app will instantly pop up on my screen, allowing me to respond right away. We also do FaceTime sessions every couple of days, usually just after I have had dinner. It’s a wonderful way to interact during these stay-at-home times.

My friend Tui ended up confined to her tiny apartment on Soi 71 for April and May. Knowing she was there alone, watching Tom Cruise movies on the internet, I started doing regular FaceTime meetings with her as well. Because her English is excellent and sense of humor on the same wavelength as mine, I used these evening engagements to entertain her. It became a comedy routine and at times I had her in tears. A nice break from the Mission Impossible flicks (which all look the same to me).

Tui managed to return to her village a few weeks ago and is busy taking care of her daughter (school starts up again this week), cleaning around the house, and working in her garden. Although the future remains uncertain because of the fallout from the virus, whenever I contact her she is always in good spirits.

Be it ever so humble…

A Rescue Request

Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from Sirada. She and Sumontha were the two barmaids I’d been helping out ever since the Beer Garden bar had closed three months ago. They, along with some of the other staff, were now back there doing some cleaning up and with that almost finished, would like to come visit me. I told them to come on over, not realizing the surprise I was in for.

When they arrived, we sat at an outdoors table and spent time catching up on our mundane stay-at-home lives. It was great to see them and I expected they were going to tell me that the bar would soon be back in business.

Well, not quite. One of their managers (whom I will call Mr. M) is indeed interested in getting things going again, but there’s this tiny obstacle: to renew the lease, he needs to come up with 1,400,000 baht, of which he only has a million. The girls therefore wanted to know if I’d be able to lend them 200,000 baht each ($6,500) to make up the difference. I would be repaid in a few months after Mr M’s bank loan comes through. In the meantime, the girls would get their old jobs back, the customers would surely return, and all would be right with the world β€” or at least that part of it on Soi 7.

As far as I was concerned, this rosy scenario was not going to happen. I’d recently extended my Retirement Visa, which requires maintaining a very high balance in my bank account through early September, leaving me with limited liquidity. No way could I come up with the amounts they were asking for. Sirada and Sumontha readily accepted this explanation and did not push the issue. (In fact, the pair were almost apologetic in making the request in the first place, leading me to suspect Mr M was behind all this.)

The other concern, which I did not share, was my uneasiness with the whole idea. This was not an act of charity, but a business transaction with no paperwork such as, say, a repayment schedule. For Mr M to imagine I would hand over a huge chunk of money (via my friends) to support his ambitions with no strings attached is straight out of fantasyland. (Maybe he also believes in Santa Clause.) And entering into any kind of a financial arrangement with a Thai has, at least for me, all the appeal of a colonoscopy.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, the 400,000 baht would be needed in four days when the current lease expires.

Gee, let me check my wallet.

Not April 1, maybe not ever…all my fault!

Business Report

The Terminal 21 Mall, where I’ve had many a meal, is now welcoming all customers, albeit cautiously. Upon entering, a person must do a QR code scan with their smartphone, then have their temperature taken. For Neanderthals such as myself who only have a cell phone, a sign in is required in lieu of the scan.

All part of preventing the spread of the virus. What I don’t care for is having to repeat the drill anytime I go into a store (most of which appear to be open). Seems to me once should be enough. Kind of dampens my enthusiasm for doing any shopping. And I’m not sure if you need to scan something when you enter the restrooms, or use a stall. (Maybe the toilet paper?) I did not feel the call of Mother Nature while I was there, so I cannot say. But it would not surprise me.

Come one, come all.

One of the casualties of Covid 19 appears to be my local internet shop on Soi 4. I had talked to the fellow who runs this back in May and was told he’d finally be re-opening June 1, but that has not happened. Too bad. I did my Retirement Visa extension last Friday at Thai Immigration, which required a small tree’s worth of paper. I would liked to have used his place for all the copying and printing instead of having to make half hour journeys to the only other print store I know.

Perhaps things will not be as convenient anymore.

Nobody home.

To Swim or Not To Swim?

The pool area at my apartment complex is pretty enough for a postcard. From my balcony I have a perfect view.

Sadly, I have spent little time there during the many years I’ve been a resident. Lounging in the tropical sun requires applying a generous dose of sunscreen, then scraping it off later. A hassle. Other times it’s just so miserable outside that all I want is to be hunkered down in my studio apartment with the air conditioning on high.

But beginning last winter, to my credit, I started getting out at least twice a week to swim laps. After finishing, I’d relax in one of the recliners for a bit. It became a pleasant way of clearing my head. Apart from a month-long break following minor surgery, I continued this routine until the pool was closed in late March as part of the Covid 19 shutdown. (Which was a sad day!)

A few weeks ago, the maids informed me that the pool was now open again. However, there is a limit of two people and they can only stay an hour. A signup sheet appeared next to the gate, which remains locked. After getting your name on the list, I guess you need to have one of the security guards let you in.

This is too regimented for me. The way I operate is to glance out my balcony window and if it looks like I can have the pool all to myself, jump into my suit, grab a towel, and hurry on down there. But I’m afraid such spontaneity is not part of the new Covid 19 world.

Take a number.

With Two Kids

Gae is a Beer Garden woman whom I had decided not to help during the troubles brought on by Covid-19. As mentioned in an earlier posting, she did not thank me for my Christmas gift of money, causing me to see her as ungrateful. However, as I got to thinking about this, I began to wonder if the problem was language related. Gae’s English is poor and my Thai atrocious. Perhaps she did not understand me when I tried to explain my holiday generosity. And maybe I was too hasty in passing judgement.

I called her up in mid April to try and start over.

This turned into a challenge. Her young daughter was playing around in the background, often screaming. Then the son would join in. It sounded like I’d dialed into a lunatic asylum. Even if Gae had been speaking perfect English, I’d have had trouble following what she was saying. I did pick up enough to learn that the place where she had been working (a flower shop) was closed. Also that she and her children were not able to get to her parents’ home in Myanmar.

Clearly a family in need. I would lend a hand. This time around I didn’t waste words, simply saying, “I will give you” followed by the Thai word for ten thousand baht. Gae got it, allowing me to mercifully end the call. The next day, after I’d done my duty, I sent a text message informing her, receiving a thank you (!!) in reply. More than that, actually. She invited me to come visit her “room”. This was intriguing, a chance to see how a family is coping with the Covid-19 lockdown. However, before I enter a confined space with two energetic children, I’d need to have a couple drinks. Will have to think about this.

Despite our improved relations, I don’t see Gae becoming a friend due to the language barrier. She also can be a bit aggressive for my tastes. I was reminded of this a few days ago when her phone went on the fritz. The below were all sent within a span of four minutes:

“Monte My phone is broken”
“I don’t have email”
“This phone is Huawei, cannot use email.”

I did not answer. Not the kind of problem I am going to concern myself with. But I will continue with monthly support until she is back at work, probably sometime next month.

I’ll need to keep in touch β€” and brush up on my Thai!

Not a crisis.

It’s Wan’s Birthday!

Wan the laundress is one of my best friends on Soi 4. Whenever I go by her place, usually on the other side of the street out of habit, she runs across to give me a hug and asks where I’m going. Then she suggests we “go together” β€” a Thai euphemism for intimate relations. All in good fun, of course, though it does provide a glimpse into how she is thinking. (Because this display of affection started up sometime last October, after years of her stoically doing my laundry with only a rare smile, I can’t help but wonder if maybe she has become divorced or separated. I certainly have not gotten more handsome.)

Beyond the friendliness, Wan has surprised me on a couple of occasions. Once, when I was struggling in the heat with six 1.5 liter bottles of water purchased at the 7-Eleven, Wan rushed over, relieved me of my burden, and carried it the remaining three blocks to my apartment complex. (I was impressed!) On April 5, when I was returning home, she strolled over to wish me a happy birthday for the following day. (And how she remembered that I have no idea. The only time I might have mentioned it would have been a year ago.)

Wan’s own special day of finding herself a year older was last Sunday and was celebrated in front of her laundromat. There was lively Thai music and bags of soup and rice handed out to anyone who happened to stop by. (A good idea in light of the hardships Covid 19 is causing.) I only spent a few minutes there, long enough to leave my gift and take a few pictures. Later that evening I happened to pass by a second time and received a special kiss from the birthday girl.

I wish her all the best. Few people I know deserve it more.

The one on the left.

“Do you remember me?”

Whenever I receive a text from a bar girl I haven’t heard from in a long time, it’s safe to assume money is the motivation. I mean, if they were truly interested in me, they would have stayed in touch. It is only now, with the bars looking to be locked down for a third month, that the women have become desperate and are trying to reconnect.

The latest example of this appeared a couple of days ago in my inbox:

“Hello. I am Su from Beer Garden. Do you remember me?
How are you? I hope you are not sick with the Covid 19.”

This was baffling as I could not recall anyone by that name. She was not on my list of “friendlies”, so there must have been something I did not like about her. To try and get some help, I emailed my barmaid friend Sumontha, who did remember Su, but could only confirm I had not been interested.

I decided to do some digging. Whenever I have a special date with a lady, such as going out to eat or maybe hit a nightclub with crap music, I often make a note of it in a document on my laptop. And it was there I got lucky: it turns out that three years ago, Su and I visited Gulliver’s Tavern over on Soi 5 to have some drinks and get to know each other better. This was the only time we got together. When I discovered she had a daughter in her early twenties and a two year old baby, I backed off. Supporting three generations is not something I’m into. Eventually I stopped saying hello when I would see her at Beer Garden. (Which was too bad, really; she was nice looking and easy to be around.)

I did not reply to her message.

Update: Su later tried calling me on two separate occasions in early June. The second time she made multiple attempts, so things must be getting desperate. I am now screening her calls.

The atmosphere was nice.

Food Line

Every day starting around 11am, people queue up near the corner of Soi 8 and Sukhumvit to receive the Thai equivalent of a boxed lunch (rice and veggies) along with a bottle of water. This place is one of many food outlets set up by various organizations around the city to help those Thais particularly hard hit by the economic shutdown. Having witnessed few acts of genuine kindness during my time in this country, this large scale generosity has surprised me.

The story behind the Soi 8 venue, according to my friend Joy, is that it is being funded by a wealthy couple who want to help others:

“An old man and woman have a lot of money. So they buy the food.
They give out every day. Good time, noon. A lot of people. Customers
are very quiet. Not tasty enough to eat every day.”

Out of curiosity, last week I had Joy take me to see this. As she said, it was indeed a silent affair with little talking. A couple of policemen were kind of meandering about, but they were not needed. No one was trying to cut in line. There also was a fellow with a camera who took a picture of each person just before they got their food, presumably to discourage them from coming back for seconds. (Something Joy had no interest in doing, even with the nice dessert.)

Seeing so many people patiently waiting for a meal was a stark reminder of the hardships Covid 19 is causing and I could not help but think of all the food sitting in my cupboard back home. It made me feel both very fortunate β€” and very uncomfortable.


Checking Up

One of my Beer Garden friends, Chom, visits the bar every few months when she comes down to Bangkok to stay with her daughter. On the rare occasions when our paths cross, we always enjoy a nice time together. But I’ve never become as comfortable with her as I have with my other drinking companions. She is quiet and reserved, making it a challenge to establish any kind of connection.

Despite this, I decided to get back in touch last month to see how she has been doing (I had not seen her since just before Christmas). This is such a bad time for everyone here in Thailand; I hoped she and her family had not gotten sick.

The news was good: everyone is in fine health, at least as far as I can tell. Only a few people in her village have contracted the virus. Chom did not sound worried. I suppose it helps to be living on a farm and working in the fields, where you can maintain a comfortable social distance.

With our birthdays a month apart, we have decided to exchange gifts. I have sent her some money (of course) to help make ends meet while she is weaving a colorful mat for me made out of papyrus β€” a project that looks like it requires some serious time and effort. Am looking forward to seeing the results.

The more I get to know this woman, the more impressed I am.

The Latest Chapter

My ex-girlfriend Sontaya and I have a convoluted history that goes back over seven years, although we were only serious for the first two months. Since the long-ago breakup, there have been sporadic attempts to at least be friends, but these never worked. The problem, if that is the right word, has always been about behavior: Sontaya is at heart a decent person, but does things I simply do not agree with. To further complicate the picture, there have been times when she has genuinely needed help, such as her father’s mental breakdown.

To try and handle all this (and maintain my own sanity), around three years ago I began communicating only through emails and text messages, helping out when I thought it appropriate while keeping my distance. No face to face meetings unless the circumstances demanded it. And when I needed extended time off, I would block all communication for a few months β€” or longer. This puzzled and hurt Sontaya (who nevertheless exhibited an almost eerie patience waiting to hear from me again), but it was important that I be fair to myself as well as her.

I guess I should not have been surprised when I ran into Sontaya in mid February. We were overdue for another go-round. She had begun work at one of the cluster of bars on Soi 6, a few blocks down the street from where I live and always walk by whenever I go out. After almost a year it was admittedly nice to see her and catch up, but I could not help wishing she’d ended up at a place beyond my Beer Garden migratory route.

Because there was no easy way of sneaking past Sontaya’s bar, I began keeping an eye out for her and saying hello whenever I passed by. Not an onerous task, really. She’s nice-looking and very pleasant to talk to; it’s only after we are together for more than two weeks that things always go sour.

Covid 19 may end up nudging us out of our rut. Because Sontaya has problems with her lungs, contracting the virus might be the end for her. So, at my suggestion, she quit her job (the bars closed soon afterwards anyway) and has been staying at home while I provide support. This has brought us back together, electronically speaking, and we’ve already had our first major disagreement, right on schedule. But unlike before, we seem to have worked our way through it. Sontaya has backed off trying to manipulate more money out of me (improvements for her parents’ house), while I have resisted the urge to throw in the towel. Maybe we are both coming to realize the importance of having a friend right now.