1 3 WHITHER NOW?
One afternoon, while they were drinking iced coffee on the balcony, the conversation turned to the future.
“So, Lek, we have had a bit of a holiday, so now it’s time to start making some plans. What do you think? What would you like to do?”
“Well, first of all, I want to go see Soom and my Mum.”
“Yes, OK, we’ll go in two days, if you like, but I mean longer term than that. Where do you want to live for a start?”
“That is up to you, darling. I give you two choices: here in Pattaya or in my village, Baan Suay.”
“OK, that’s a start. I must have the Internet, so if we can get the Internet in the village, we still have two choices, but if we cannot, then we live in Pattaya. We could buy or rent a condo or house here and have a small ‘hunting lodge’ affair in the village for holidays.”
“Hunting lodge? What is ‘lodge’? No hunting in the village. Only hunt frogs, not tigers. Cannot hunt tigers now. Police take you and not have tigers any more. I don’t understand.”
“Yes, all right, wait a minute, calm down. I don’t believe in hunting for fun anyway. I mean a small house. A hunting lodge is just a small house. Like a cabin. A small wooden house.”
“Ah, I see! We have many hunting lodges in the village. Not many for chow though – I mean for rent. Maybe buy land and make small house. Can do?”
“Do you have Internet in the village?”
“I don’t know, telak? I think nobody has a computer, but I don’t know. We can go look in two or three days.”
“Yes, good idea. I want Internet in our room too, so today I want to go buy a USB wireless modem. It’s a bit like a mobile phone, but only for the Internet. I saw one yesterday in Pattaya Klang for 3,500 Baht, so not too expensive. Then I don’t have to pay 20 Baht every hour in an Internet shop. Now I pay 100-160 Baht every day. Then I can work from the room or the beach or anywhere I like.”
So, they drank up, grabbed the laptop and set off. Once in the shop, Craig spoke to the assistant:
“I am interested in that wireless modem.”
“That wireless modem there.”
Then she said to Lek in Thai:
“What is the falang talking about? I cannot understand him. Does he speak English? I can speak a little bit of English.”
“He is speaking English, but I don’t know what he wants either. I don’t understand computers at all. Ask him again, but tell him to speak slowly.”
“What you say? Say again, but speak slowly, please, sir.”
“OK, I want that wireless modem there. That one, right there.”
“Ah! Wi-Fi? Internet Wi-Fi. OK. Here. Look.”
Craig inspected the device, took out his laptop and switched it on.
“I can try now?”
“No, cannot. Not have ca’s.”
“What? Not have ‘cars’. What are Internet ‘cars’? Lek what is she saying? Can I see the instruction book, please, Lek?”
There was a flurry of Thai and the manual was handed over.
“I don’ know how to tell you, but we don’t have ‘ca’s’ for modem. I don’t know what is ca’s.”
So he sat down to read the manual.
It was only in Thai. He couldn’t read it and Lek couldn’t understand it. Then the sales assistant took out her mobile phone, took the back off it and pointed to the SIMM card.
“Not have ca’s in modem. Must buy, then can use for Internet.”
“Ah, I see. Must have SIMM card.” The two women smiled and nodded. “OK, if I buy Wi-Fi and a SIMM card will it work everywhere?”
“No,” she said, “only in Thailand. If you go to Cambodia, stop working.”
“OK, does it work everywhere in Thailand? Everywhere? Even Sukhothai, Uttaradit, Phitsanulok, in a village up there? Or only in big city?”
“Everywhere, sir. It working everywhere in Thailand. Even in village.”
“OK, I want one Wi-Fi and one SIMM card, please.”
He was putting his laptop away, when she said:
“You can buy Wi-Fi, but cannot buy ca’s. Not have.”
“What?,” he was starting to become hot and bothered now. “Why not?”
More Thai, then Lek said:
“You must get SIMM card from a DTAC telephone shop.”
That meant nothing to Craig, but he bought the modem and they left. He wasn’t sure about the DTAC SIMM card, but Lek led him straight to a shop near the apartment. When he saw the shop, he realized that he’d seen hundreds of them before. There were several in every main street in Pattaya. DTAC is one of the biggest mobile phone providers in Thailand and with thousands of girls and several million tourists a year, Pattaya could support hundreds of phone shops selling DTAC SIMM cards.
Craig’s cost 750 Baht a month for unlimited usage, which worked out far cheaper than the roughly 4,000 a month he was spending then and it was much more convenient. It also still left them with two choices of where they could live.
Things were looking up.
They went down to Daddy’s Hobby, where Craig plugged in his new toy and was chuffed to find that it worked like a dream. They sat there until the battery on the laptop ran out and then Craig wanted to go home. Lek had a simpler solution and she had the laptop plugged into the mains. The adapter was always in the bag because the battery only lasted two hours and Craig regularly spent eight hours working in the cyber cafés in one session.
He was off again and, with a beer, was as happy as a sand boy.
Lek admired the way that Craig could sit self-contained, detached and completely absorbed in whatever he was doing. At times like this, she had noticed, he would be the only person in his world. Nothing would distract him, yet he would react to his name. It fascinated her. Lek found it hard to concentrate on anything for more than fifteen minutes at a time. For that reason, reading novels was not her favourite pastime.
Lek was telling everyone how excited she was to be going home for a few days to see her family. They all made the appropriate noises, wished they could be going too and those from Baan Suay asked if she would take small presents home for their families for them. It was a custom and Lek naturally agreed. Some girls even rushed off there and then to get something from a local store, while it was not busy in the bar.
Gifts would be things that were impossible to get in the village like chocolate for the kids and dried squid for the grown-ups. A pineapple from Chonburi, the Province that Pattaya is in, is also a luxury as they are famous for being the sweetest in Thailand. Children’s clothing was also often sent back by mothers missing their children.
Some of the girls who knew how to, wanted a go on the Internet. It would save them time and money not to have to go to an Internet café and Craig found himself reading, translating and writing some quite pornographic message to amorous falang lovers. Little did they know that a bloke was writing them, he thought. The image of their faces if they had known made Craig smile.
“Ha, ha! Man tell man he want to kiss him all over. Funny, neh, Craig? If my boyfriend John know you send message, he want box you and me. Tell him I wan’ to kiss him down there. Good joke, neh?”
Craig was not very impressed but wanted to help out and so did so.
It went a log way to getting him back in with the girls and he loved every minute of it. It would become a regular part of his frequent visits to Daddy’s Hobby.
They went to the apartment quite early at nine o’clock, but both were tired after a week of parties. They went to bed after a shower and Lek fell asleep almost immediately as she often did. It was a knack that Craig envied.
He had had problems getting to sleep all his life; for as long as he could remember. Even as a very young child, he could remember going downstairs to ask for a drink of water, just because he was bored that he couldn’t get to sleep. His parents’ advice had always been to just lies there with closed eyes as ‘a rest is as good as a sleep’. He didn’t believe it any longer, but he still couldn’t get to sleep.
Usually, he just got up and read, but this evening he had a new toy, so he switched the computer on and got ready to work. It would set the trend of the way things would be for the rest of his life, but he didn’t know that yet.
Craig had made a few web sites before, but he knew that they were amateurish, so he set about looking for instructions on how to do it properly. He didn’t want to have to learn HTML thoroughly, so preferred the route of using an editor.
After three hours of research he had selected a British HTML editor from a short list of six. It was not cheap, but by two a.m. it was on his desktop and he was preparing to launch it. This was typical of Craig, he always wanted to be ‘doing it’.
By six a.m. he had created a web site that was better than he had ever made before. At least it looked good in preview, so he looked around for a host for the web site. Within the hour, the web site was uploaded to the host and a decent-looking web site was live on the Internet. When he looked up, Lek was standing behind him.
“You get up early, telak? I think you not go to bed. Why you not sleep, my dear?”
“Don’t worry, Lek, it’s just that I’m excited with this new modem. It allows me to do what I want at any time of the day or night. I love it. Look, I made my first web site in Thailand. Not bad, eh?”
“Very nice. You can make money with that?”
“Well, no, not yet. As it stands it will not make money, but....”
“So, I don’t understand. Why you work all night for web site that not make money? Seem stupid to me. I don’t understand Internet and web sites. Tell me later, I go to sleep again for one hour.”
He didn’t feel too discouraged, but he knew that he could not ever be certain of being able to make enough money on line to keep them together either. It was another facet of their new life together that was not guaranteed. In fact, so far there was nothing guaranteed except that anything could happen.
When Lek woke up again at eight thirty, Craig had applied for a Google Adsense account, a PayPal account, an Amazon account and several others. These would allow him to monetize his web sites, if he were accepted and it would mark the first step to being able to live in Thailand without financial worries whether it be in Lek’s village, Baan Suay, or Pattaya.
There was little more he could do now except think of an idea for a good web site, so he undressed and crept into bed beside Lek with sunlight streaming in through the French windows leading to the balcony.
Moments later, he heard:
“Telak, I go get tickets for go to the village tonight. OK? I want to see my daughter and my family. See you later. We go tonight, if I can get tickets. Or tomorrow if I cannot.”
Lek was getting up, before he was completely asleep – this too would become a regular occurrence in their future.
1 4 BAAN SUAY
Craig got up at midday, showered, went for breakfast and a swim and was back at his computer within the hour. He was in his element. There had been no confirmations of being granted accounts, but he hadn’t expected that there would be. Every firm that he wanted to work with was either in the USA or the UK and the time difference varied from seven to fourteen hours.
In his head, he was still working on what would be a good theme for a web site, while manually, he was building a site about Wales, just to get to grips with the new site-building programme he’d bought the night before. Or that morning really. Craig didn’t need much sleep.
When Lek came back at about two p.m. Craig had decided to create a site on Thai food and was getting stuck into making it.
“Hello, telak. How are you? We have ticket for go tonight at six p.m. You want to eat something?”
He didn’t. “No, thanks. I want to work, but I would love a few cans of beer. Can you get me six, please? It’s very hot in here and the aircon is not good.”
Lek was not impressed, but went out anyway. She returned ten minutes later with six large bottles of Chang beer.
“Craig, you stay here? I must go to Daddy’s Hobby get presents from friends to take to their families tonight. Here is one bottle for you and I put five in the fridge.”
He agreed with a grunt and she left.
He was on a mission and so was she, but they were starting to go separate ways already, although neither of them could see it yet.
Craig worked for three hours and drank three beers in the time that it took for Lek to get back. When she arrived, she packed the case with a few things and the presents she had just collected. They showered and took a taxi to the VIP bus station which was not too far away except that they had to get there in rush hour. Having to get anywhere in Pattaya between five and six is best avoided. However, Lek had taken that into account and they got to the bus station with fifteen minutes to spare.
Lek was not a particularly good traveller. Not only did she get travel sickness really, really badly, and the tablets that she took for it made her half-dopey but she worried constantly about having left things behind. Now that they were waiting for the bus, Craig was waiting for her anxiety attack to start. Sure enough, after a few minutes of sitting there she was frantically searching in her bag.
“What’s the matter, darling?” he asked.
“Oh, the tickets. I give you the tickets, yes? I don’t have. I think you leave the tickets by the TV in the condo. Maybe we must buy more tickets. Not have.”
“I never saw the tickets. You didn’t even show them to me. Just slow down and look carefully.” He was tempted to look for himself, but he had never liked looking in a lady’s bag. “Just don’t worry, we can buy more like you say, if we have to.”
“Maybe not have more. Maybe must come back tomorrow or next week. Oh, Craig, I want to see my Soom. I tell her already that we come tonight... Ah, here are the tickets. I put by Soom’s photo in my purse. Good job, neh?” Craig knew that, unless he could get her to fall asleep, there would be eight hours more of this. Sometimes, it was worse than listening to a drunk full of remorse at a bar when she was on these tablets. He hated them.
They got on the bus, which was only five minutes late and after phoning her daughter to say that they were on their way, Lek kissed him and fell asleep. Craig put the blanket over her and turned to look out of the window. Lek never sat by the window because the reflection in the glass and the scenery whizzing past aggravated her travel sickness. This was ideal for Craig the insomniac, because he could spend all night gazing out of the window. Mostly into impenetrable darkness, but they did pass through a few cities.
On occasions like this, since he had lived in Thailand, Craig liked to look for UFO’s at night. He wasn’t quite sure why he was more confident of spotting one in Thailand one night, but he was. Maybe Thailand just seemed naturally more exciting that the UK. In the day time he would look out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of a snake or a crocodile.
He knew that here was about as much chance of that as seeing a UFO, but it didn’t stop him looking. In fact, there are no more wild crocodiles in Thailand, they are bred in farms, as westerners breed cattle, for their meat and skin. Sometimes, a few escaped during the monsoon seasons when the crocodile ponds overflowed and the crocodiles could swim out over the walls. That always caused quite a commotion among the locals. Very few living Thais knew how to be safe with four metre long crocodiles swimming in the river these days.
Now he wished he hadn’t had those three pints of beer, because he would have to scramble over Lek to get to the toilet and he didn’t really want her to wake up. Bugger, he thought. Yet there was nothing for it, so he clambered over her, heard her say something unintelligible and rushed down the aisle to the back of the bus, which was bouncing and swaying down the road at about 80kph. He woke up more than a few people on the way trying to steady himself.
After peeing everywhere in the toilet but down the pan because of the unpredictable swaying of the bus, he ran the gauntlet down the aisle again, annoyed a few more people, woke Lek up properly this time, got cursed for it and took his seat. He swore that that would be the last time he would ever drink beer before a coach trip again, even if there were a toilet on board.
To his amazement, his brain soon got bored scanning the empty skies and, now that his bladder was no longer troubling him, he too fell asleep.
When they arrived in Phitsanulok it was one thirty a.m. but the bus station was still quite busy. Around all four sides of the station there were situated small cafés, a few restaurants and even fewer tiny hotels. The last time they had come up (or the first time, whichever way you want to look at it), they had been met, but this time they had to sort things out for themselves. They both wanted the toilet and Lek knew Craig well enough to know that she wouldn’t upset him if she suggested a beer, so she invited him to choose a café-cum-bar.
He made his selection after a few seconds careful deliberation, but the nearest one wasn’t ‘good enough’, so Lek gave him another chance. That one wasn’t right either, so she led him half-way around the block to one that she had used before. He wondered why she had bothered asking him in the first place, but didn’t say anything.
Craig had a large bottle of Chang, a bucket of ice, with which to water it down to a sensible ABV and a glass. Lek would share the beer with him, but had her own glass and a very large bowl of Pad Thai, which is basically noodles and whatever else the cook puts in it, although most chef’s would say they have a set, private recipe. They were followed every inch of the way to the café by several taxi touts offering their patrons’ services, but when they sat down the touts went away grumbling.
“Right, telak, we have three options, an’ it’s up to you. The bus to the village comes at five o’clock, so we can sit here drinking and eating until then or we can take a room upstairs and wait for the bus; or we can take a taxi now. If you want cheap, we stay here drinking, if you want expensive, we take taxi. We have three hours for wait. What you want to do?”
Thinking about his recent experiences on the bus, Craig asked: “How far is it again to Baan Suay – er, how long will it take? About ninety minutes? OK, lets just sit here, watch TV, read a book and eat and drink until the bus comes.” It wasn’t a financial decision for Craig, he just didn’t want to be lying awake for three hours with nothing to do.
Craig was the first one to need the toilet and it changed his mind. He said to Lek: “Crikey, that bog is stinking!”
“What, telak? A problem?”
“Yes, if the places I chose were not good enough, they must have been very horrible, because the toilet here is not clean at all. Smell very bad and I mean very, very horrible. Please ask how much is room for two hours.” Lek called the woman over.
“One hundred Baht? Is that all? Go look at the room, Lek and if the toilet is clean we take it.” Lek said something and followed the woman to the first floor room. When she had returned, she said to Craig: “It is not same as hotel in Pattaya, but OK. It has UK toilet, shower, TV and bed.”
They took it and two bottles of Chang. Lek was pleased to be able to shower, but there was only one small hand towel and they hadn’t brought any towels with them. They didn’t own any towels either, so she put on one of Craig’s shirts and lay on the bed wet. She was asleep in minutes, leaving Craig to drink his beer alone and look through the five TV channels for something in English in vain.
He couldn’t be bothered to test his new wireless modem by switching on the laptop, so he just sat on the edge of the bed, listening to Lek snoring softly, watching TV from time to time, reading from time to time and drinking his beer. This was beginning to feel more like the first day of the rest of his life. Pattaya was just a fantasy, a fun city, the most Fun City in all of South-East Asia by all accounts and he could well believe it, but could anyone really live there for a long time without going slightly mad?
The time passed quickly and he was soon waking the bleary-eyed Lek for the next stage of the journey. That bus was thirty minutes late and Craig had never seen an older-looking vehicle in public service. It looked American, maybe from the Fifties. It was bare aluminium or tin, with some streaks of blue. It was quite ornate actually and had two rows of double seats with rotating fans above them and a bench seat in the back.
They took half the bench seat so they could sit by their luggage and because Craig didn’t fit in the narrow space between the other seats, which were obviously laid out for Thais or children. Not for 18 stone men anyway, that was for sure. When the bus started up, he could see why all the windows and doors were wedged open – only the one fan above the driver’s head worked, but the bus was cool enough when moving, even if the air was very dusty.
An orange-robed young monk got in at one of the dozens of stops. He gave a cursory glance at Lek and started to sit down next to her on the bench seat. She leaped up and swapped paces with Craig. “Lady cannot sit next to monk. Cannot touch monk,” she explained. The monk smiled briefly at Craig and they were off again. When the conductress came for the monk’s fare, he thrust a iffy Baht note into Craig’s unsuspecting hand. He had no idea what was going on, but the conductress took it from him and replaced it with a twenty Baht note, which the monk took with a smile. “Lady cannot touch monk,” whispered Lek in his ear.
When the bus stopped for them, it pulled over onto a bare patch of earth by the side of the road and they climbed down into a swirling cloud of dust, which was made worse as the bus pulled off. It hadn’t been worth showering less than three hours ago, he thought, but knew that that was not the Thai way and certainly not Lek’s. She seemed to take a shower, whenever she had ten minutes to spare. She was on the phone in an instant and within ten minutes a car pulled up to take them to the village. It was not far, but when they got there it was eight a.m. It had taken 14 hours to travel the 700 kms to get there – more than the time for a non-stop flight from Bangkok to London.
The last time they had come up together it had been for a national holiday and there had been a large welcome party waiting to meet Craig, but this was a normal working day and people had been hard at it in the fields since about six o’clock. The village was practically deserted except for old ladies and pre-school age kids. Lek’s Mum was there though and a few of her friends, cooking as usual. He waaied everyone that was older than himself – that is everyone but the children – as he had been instructed and sat down.
Three plates of food and a beer appeared in front of him instantaneously and he wondered if this visit would be like the last one – a seventy-two hour party with sleeping breaks. He was shattered and just wanted to go to bed, whereas Lek had slept whenever she could and was raring to go. So, after a length of time which made it polite to leave, Lek took him for a shower and put him to bed in the large room that they had used before.
Lek was too excited to sleep though. She had to tell all her stories again to the old ladies who had warned her about the dangers of becoming a sex slave. Her daughter would not be back from school until five-ish so she had plenty of time for visiting. After a couple of hours with her mother and her mother’s friends, she borrowed a scooter and went to the village Wat or temple, which always doubles as a monastery in Thailand. Most, if not every village has at least one Wat, just as western villages have churches, but a Wat has a colony of Buddhist monks too.
Lek had made a pact with God before she had left for the UK: if she returned unharmed, she would donate a pig’s head to Buddha and put on a Lickay, which is a little like a pantomime. Although there is only one storyline to Lickay, a good troupe will rewrite the script frequently to include references to topical, current events. Lek wanted to hire a good troupe as she had promised, so she had come up to give thanks and arrange a date for her offering.
The Lickay would or could take weeks or even months to arrange as the best touring companies were always in high demand, but the offering of the pig’s head was set for two days time, which was plenty of time for her and her mother to arrange a party.
Having taken care of business, she couldn’t wait to talk to her friends, whether they were working in the fields or not. Some of them would be home looking after grandchildren anyway.
Craig woke up at three, went for a shower, tried to phone Lek, but couldn’t get through, so set up his equipment. He couldn’t wait to get back on line.
It didn’t work anywhere in the room, so he went outside to the huge communal dining table-cum-family bench that all rural families sit at just as Americans like to sit at the kitchen table to talk.
It didn’t work there either, but by the time he had found that out, his ‘Mum’ had spotted him and food and beer were placed before him again. With a sigh of resignation, he knew that he was trapped for a while.
It was extremely disappointing that the wireless modem wasn’t working as he had been promised but there were black spots for mobiles, he knew that, and he was still hopeful of finding somewhere he could work. As soon as he was finished eating, he got up and went for a walk. Baan Suay had no bars or hotels he could sit in and the small café didn’t sell beer, so he thought he would buy a few bottles and sit in one of the shelters that he assumed were bus stops. The purchase, in Thai, went well enough, but when the shop keeper saw him cross the road to sit in the ‘bus shelter’ she ran after him.
This conversation did not go so smoothly, because neither party understood a word of what the other was saying. In desperation, the shop keeper took his arm and led him back to the shop. Craig assumed that he had underpaid her or something, but she pointed to a table, then brushed it down and pushed him into it. This shop and this table was to become the nearest thing that Baan Suay ever had to a bar and Craig would use it often.
The only problem was that the modem didn’t work very well there either, so he decided to phone the company that provided the equipment and tell them about it.
“Hello, Hutch? Good. I hope you’re well too. Look, I am up in northern Thailand and I can’t get decent reception on my USB wireless modem, is there a problem?”
“No problem, where are you sir?”
“I’m not sure, in the juncture of Phitsanulok, Sukhothai and Uttaradit. Where those three provinces meet.”
“Oh. Wi-Fi not work in Uttaradit sometimes, sir. Please move.”
“What? Move where? My wife lives here. I can’t just ‘move’. I was told that this device works ‘everywhere in Thailand’.”
“Yes, sir, everywhere in Thailand sir, but not yet in Uttaradit maybe in two month.” We put new mas’ everywhere soon. Can get signal from Phitsanulok, if condition is good. You have tree between you and signal, sir?”
“Phitsanulok city is seventy-five kilometres from here, I imagine there is a tree between here and there yes.”
“Sorry, sir, you say ‘yes’? Can you cut it down? Then you get good signal maybe. Or move. Bye, bye. If you have problem please phone again, my boss not here an’ I not speak English’ good. Bye, sir.”
Great, he thought, I’ve either got to move to a different province or cut down all the trees between here and Phitsanulok.
Lek turned up while this conversation was going on having tracked Craig down on the jungle telegraph with her network of spies. He tried to get her to phone the Wi-Fi company but she would not. “I know nothing for computers,” she protested, “You want me look stupid?”
This was the truth, computers had passed her by, but Lek did not like to cause a fuss either and certainly not with people ‘in authority’, which basically meant anyone with a better job than she had. Being unemployed that meant practically everyone, although she was married to a ‘wealthy falang’ and not destitute, which counted for something.
The truth was that she had a complex about her lack of education and she bitterly regretted the decision to leave school early that she and her parents had taken together eighteen years before.
She could see now what the lack of schooling had gotten her: a ten-year separation from her daughter and family and ten years in the sex tourist industry. It had made Lek fiercely pro education for her daughter as a means to better her life, even if that would mean leaving the village for ever too one day.
So, hoping that lightning would strike every tree between the village and Phitsanulok the next time it rained, Craig ordered another beer, another glass and a bucket of ice and they waited for the school bus, which coincidentally would stop at the shelter across the road. When the bus turned up at four fifty, little Soom was framed in the window and a big smile flashed across her pretty face as she spotted her mother.
She descended and waited for the bus to pull away before slowly and carefully crossing the road towards the shop, the only emotion showing was a glint in her eye and a small smile.
“Hello, Mum. Hello, Craig” and she waaied him. Craig waaied back then it was like a hurricane of Thai between mother and daughter none of which Craig could understand although he could feel the love flowing between them. There was no touching though. Soom sat down and a Coke was brought. They talked politely for fifteen minutes and then got up.
“We are going to do some cooking now, please come home in one hour. OK?”