My return to Bangkok seemed a little like coming home. It might be crowded, noisy and with air not fit to breathe, but at least I knew how to get around...sort of! So it was back to the Nana, and to Noi. When I waltzed through the door at 9:00, there was a squeal of delight from Noi’s friends. It was like the closing scene from “An Officer And A Gentleman”, with Noi in my arms, covering me with kisses! I think she was really and truly shocked that I returned when I said I would. For the rest of the evening she could barely stand to let go of my hand. In the bedroom that night, things were pretty steamy.
In the morning over breakfast, I talked with Noi about her future. I asked her if she would like to go to school and learn a trade that doesn’t require taking her clothes off. She nodded enthusiastically. I proposed enrolling her in two programs. First a secretarial school, second an EFL program. She happily agreed to both. We spent the morning looking around for suitable places. Eventually she was enrolled. I told her the rest was up to her. Only she could change her destiny. Now again I know the emails will be coming. What an idiot, trying to “save” a bargirl. All I can say is that it depends on the girl. I am a pretty good judge of character. My BS detector is quite good. I have never been scammed in my whole life. If Noi had asked me for cash, her appeals would have fallen on deaf ears. Since I was the one who enrolled her, I knew where my money was going! I really thought that Noi was strongly motivated to make a good life for her and her daughter. I had no intention of marrying or financially supporting this girl. I was just giving her a helping hand.
Two years later I received my reward, although it jumped up and bit me on the ass! Back in Massachusetts I received a letter from Noi thanking me for what I had done, and to say that she had just gotten a job with Thai Airways! Good for her! Of course as someone once said, “No good deed goes unpunished”! My then wife Som has a very bad habit of opening my mail. Needless to say I had a hell of a time explaining who Noi was! Forget the fact that I had met Noi before we had even met! I had been with another Thai woman, and that was enough to condemn me to a lengthy stay in purgatory! What’s a guy supposed to do?
My Thai wedding
My body was in America, by my mind was back in Thailand. My visit there had changed everything. I had bought a lot of Thai music CDs and was listening to them constantly, as well as watching videos I had taken on my trip. I had “Thai Fever”, and I had it bad! All I could think about was when I could return! The “siren song” of LOS called to me day and night.
Of course looking back now, I realize that most of what I had been seduced by was the illusion that most tourists experience. It takes time to experience the many contradictions that is Thailand...the good, the bad and the ugly. By the time the gloss has worn off, you’re either ready to run back screaming to your former home, or to accept life as it really is here, taking joy where you can everyday, and doing your best to not be overwhelmed by the negative. I generally prefer to perceive a glass that is half full rather than one that is half empty, and so have managed to survive the ups and downs of life here.
I was now talking on ICQ almost every night with Som. I’d get up in the middle of the night. She’d head over to the local Internet café. Over the weeks and months that followed, I found myself falling in love with her. I was feeling lonely living on my own, and was ready for companionship based on affection rather than mere sexual attraction. Som was a warm, intelligent, sensitive girl, who seemed to have her feet firmly on the ground. Granted, given her background we weren’t likely to be having any discussions about Plato, but having a kind and loving companion to share everyday life with seemed much more important. I was extremely interested in learning about all things Thai, and Som seemed equally interested in experiencing Western culture. One night I gathered up the courage to “pop the question”, and was delighted if shocked when she said yes!
We talked extensively about what kind of life we wanted to have. We would be living in America, where we both could earn a decent living. I said that at my age, and given the fact that I already had two boys from my first marriage, that I didn’t really want to have any children. She seemed fine with that. She made it clear that she felt responsible for helping to take care of her parents, and wanted to send some portion of what she earned back to her family. I had no problem with that.
Once the formality of our engagement was settled, I began to take on responsibility for a number of aspects of Som’s life. Her college graduation was coming up. Although I would not be in attendance, I needed to clear up her final semester’s expenses. I did receive a nice framed photograph of the ceremony, with Som receiving her diploma from HRH the Prince.
Before we could get married, a number of things needed to happen. First of all, Som needed a “fiancée visa” from the U.S. government. I looked online and found a reputable service that specialized in doing all the needed paperwork. That was definitely worth a few hundred bucks!
In order for Som to be eligible for that visa, I needed my final divorce decree from the district court, which was going to take a few more months. My future ex-wife really had me by the gra-bpohk (testicles) on that! She knew that I wanted to get remarried, and knew that she could hold everything up for years if I didn’t give her the “pound of flesh” she wanted. So I gave her everything she wanted, even though I knew my poor father would be spinning in his grave! Hey it’s only money, right? What’s that compared with happiness! Even though Som was not marrying me for my money (really!), she would have blanched if she had known how much money I was giving away! (Hey, I had worked hard all my life!)
Speaking of money, it was time to negotiate the amount for my sin-sot (dowry). It always amazes me that in a male dominated society such as Thailand, the dowry money doesn’t flow in the other direction! Apparently, anything less than 200,000 baht would be considered an insult to Som’s family. For me, that was a serious chunk of change, but Som assured me that her family would return every baht to us after the ceremony (and they did!). Of course, as the “wealthy farang”, I was expected to pick up the entire cost of the wedding!
After consulting an astrologer, a date was set. May 15th. I arrived in Nongki a few days to help out with the preparations. What I hoped would be a relatively small family event had turned into a major extravaganza (Niang’s extended family is HUGE!)! Suddenly in addition to meeting dozens and dozens of unfamiliar aunts, uncles and cousins, I would be meeting HUNDREDS of neighbors who would be attending! Luckily, everyone seemed impressed with my ability to speak even a modest amount of Thai, and that seemed to break the ice.
Our wedding day began at 3:00 AM, with Som and I heading for the beauty parlor to have her hair done and be made up. When the beauticians were done with it all, Som looked absolutely stunning! I knew I was one lucky guy!
As you may already know, there is no actual Thai “wedding ceremony”. What we did was to have monks from the neighborhood temple over for morning prayers, serve them their morning meal, and receive their blessings along with a sprinkling of water.
After the monks had departed, I joined a parade of well wishers, who were singing and dancing down the street. I was stopped twice to pay a small “fee” in order to proceed through silver and golden “doors” into the house. Som’s mother then made a great show of counting out the sin-sot on to a blanket, making a kind of Mandela out of the bills. Then to everyone’s delight and laughter, she carried away the cash over her shoulder. (Okay, the “goods” are paid for I guess!)
Then the serious partying began. One thing you have to say about Thais, they do know how to have fun! Niang’s relatives had spent hours preparing a real Isaan feast, which everyone washed down with copious amounts of beer and whisky. Som and I had no time to eat though. We were busy circulating through the throng and making sure that everyone else had enough of everything. Everyone did keep slipping me drinks however, since it was unthinkable that the bridegroom should be sober on his wedding day!
Eventually it was time for the formal Thai version of a receiving line. Som had changed from a gorgeous while silk dress into an equally gorgeous red one. We sat on a dais decorated with flowers, hand bound together with a cord. Friends, and relatives and neighbors came to wish us chok-dee, while pouring water over our hands. Envelopes with small amounts of money inside were given as wedding gifts.
When the sun went down, music and singing filled the night. Another thing you have to say about Thais, they are not shy about singing, whether they have any ability to sing or not...especially after they have been drinking for hours! Even moi, who has no ability to carry a tune, was induced to croon a song or two. In Thailand if anyone learns you are from Massachusetts, inevitably you are asked to sing THAT song...you know, the one: “...and the lights all went out in Massachusetts...” Oh well, why not? Since everyone was half in the bag, even my rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes” probably didn’t sound half bad!
Eventually the party ended and we were finally, blessedly ALONE! Someone had sprinkled our bed with rose petals and lit some candles, which was a nice romantic touch. Up until this moment, we hadn’t done anything more than hold hands, and have a few hugs and kisses. In this day and age, most couples have slept together before marriage. My wife however was a “good girl”, and would never have done anything to dishonor her family. But now it was time to become intimate. I was a little nervous, and I know she was definitely nervous. In the end, with a lot of patience on both our parts, we truly became husband and wife. Even with all the stories you hear about Isaan girls, I can personally attest that at least one of them went to her marriage bed a virgin!
The next morning we left for a week’s Honeymoon in Chiang Mai. It would be a chance to begin our life together, here in Thailand, before making the big move back to America. My wife had never been on a holiday in her entire life. She told me that her family was so poor, that her sisters had to leave school after Pratom 6 (sixth grade) to become laborers. She hadn’t had her first Coca Cola until she was in college! Learning to relax and spend money was going to be a whole new experience for her.
We both immediately fell in love with the North of Thailand. Unlike the flat treeless rice fields of Buriram, the land there was mountainous, covered with trees. We did all the usual tourist things, climbed the hundreds of steps to Wat Doi Sutep, rode elephants, drove to the top of Doi Inthanon (the highest point in Thailand) saw waterfalls, and of course went shopping! We went to a really nice silk shop that made Som some very fashionable clothes in every color of the rainbow. I had a very handsome silk suit and some shirts made. We bought some very elegant wedding rings from a much better than average jewelry shop. We ate at some nice restaurants, which was another new experience for Som. Her idea of eating out was a bowl of noodles at the side of the road for 25 baht! To this day, she hates the idea of spending money in a restaurant. While I generally don’t mind eating from a food cart, on this trip we had some “famous” Chiang Mai noodles that had us both running for the toilet!
Eventually our Honeymoon came to and end and it was finally time to head to Bangkok and begin the long trip to Massachusetts. Som of course had never been on an airplane. I can only imagine what she felt as our plane thundered down the runway and then suddenly leapt into the air. I can only imagine what she felt as she left behind everyone and everything she had ever known to travel to a far away land called America.
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