It was not late, but it felt it. It was a few weeks ago and the nights were still drawing in quickly and thickly. Nuan and I were drinking Lao Kow (“White Whisky”) on the porch outside. One of those late night conversations aided by alcohol.
Soon she was telling me all about her daughter. Her daughter, whose name I still don’t know.
She works in Chiang Mai and has done for years. She has two children, the two I live with.
Since Namchai has been born, more than two years ago, she has not been home to see Nuan or her children.
She often does not call, she rarely picks up when Nuan or the kids try to call her.
Nuan kept saying “What can I do?” again and again in Thai. She mimed giving birth and throwing the baby in the rubbish bin and said this is what happens if grandparents don’t look after their grandchildren.
She said that her daughter does not give her money to look after the kids, but that she and Lipo find ways to make ends meet. She said that Salahe (who works for KHT) gives her money every month to help her with the children. I assume this is from KHT, not Salahe himself.
I was talking to Noots. She lives on a lovely little smallholding on the edge of the town. She has chickens and pigs, fruit trees of all descriptions and an abundance of vegetables growing. As far as I am concerned, she is living the dream.
She told me that a few years ago, she started to feel lonely. So her sister gave her one of her daughters. Dodo must have been about 9 years old at the time. She is a lovely girl with beautiful big eyes and a bashful smile.
Her niece’s company meant that Noots no longer felt lonely. But then she fell ill a number of times and was unable to get to hospital. She might have Dodo but Dodo cannot look after her. She is after all, still only young.
So Noots decided the time had come to get married. She had never particularly wanted to, but now she needed to. Within a few months she was married.
Another few months pass and her nephew (Dodo’s cousin, not her brother) is struggling at school. He is living in a monastery nearby and has to get up at 5am every morning for chores before school. He cannot read or write. He is 14.
So Noots takes him out of the monastic life to come and live with her instead. His schoolwork improves and he begins to read and write.
A year later and appearances would suggest at first glance a happy family of four. Little would you know the complexities that lie behind.
I was sitting in a small coffee shop and a lady comes to speak to me. She is a local lady called Tee and speaks excellent English.
She is perhaps in her fifties and I know only a little about her life before. I know she used to be a school teacher in Chiang Mai, but retired early. Now she splits her time between her hometown of Mae La Luang, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. She has a house in each place.
When she is in Bangkok she manages a massage parlour. And that in this area it is not at all uncommon to see old “farangs” (Westerner) with their young, beautiful Thai bride.
I immediately said, “I don’t like seeing that”. She agreed.
But then she took me by surprise by saying, “I feel sorry for some of the old farangs, I mean, I know they shouldn’t be with such young girls, but the girls are just using the men for their money. They don’t care but sometimes the farangs think they do.”
Then she told me a story.
An 84 year old man asks her to arrange some “company” for him, preferably in the form of a 25 year old Thai woman. Tee told the man that he was too old for a girl that young and that she couldn’t do it. But he insisted, and told her that she had money. She told him it would cost $400. He said that was fine.
At this point the details became a little vague but Tee found a willing young girl and she spent some time with the 84 year old American.
After several months, he buys her a new house and sets her up in a little shop of her own. I believe she told him she loved him. Another few months pass, and they continue to see each other.
One day she disappears, and takes all the money he gave her with her.
Apparently the 84 year old man came back to talk to Tee, and told her that he didn’t mind. He had waited his whole life to “live” and finally he had. What did it matter to him that she had disappeared with his money now?
One evening I returned from school to find the house locked and no one at home. It happens occasionally and I don’t mind so I simply sat outside and read my book for a while.
After a while, Nuan returns with two other ladies, who I don’t recognise.
They have all clearly been drinking, and one of the ladies is carrying four big bottles of Leo beer. She has bought them to share with me.
Though I have never met her before, she is softly spoken and something about her reminds me of an old family friend.
It is at this point I realised how poor my Thai is. She starts having a conversation with me, but she did not use words I was familiar with. I suppose she did not know which ones I was familiar with. Over the course of an hour or more she talked to me a lot, and I understood very little. I knew she was telling me about her life, about her brothers. I understood that at least one had died. I couldn’t tell how recently. I knew she was telling me something about school but I couldn’t understand what.
She got more and more frustrated until she grabbed my notebook and pen and started to scribble in it.
When she handed it back to me, I still couldn’t understand. I couldn’t read it because she had written in Thai.
She kept trying and trying and eventually burst into tears. I was left feeling awkwardly English, unable to comfort her in any language we could both understand and unable to understand her pain. It is very important to be polite and respectful in Thai culture and not wanting to offend, I didn’t dare touch her or hug her as I might usually in the UK.