The story begins with a new foreigner who came to our village two years ago. He was an Australia man, strong and handsome, not so old, but he spoke no Thai and never smiled. I would see him sometimes, with his wife, at the local noodle shop. She was from the tambon, the small town about fifteen minutes bicycle ride from my farm. They came to have lunch in a shiny new black pickup truck. She always smiled at me, wanting to talk because she knew that my husband was fahlang too, maybe we were like sisters.
They bought a good piece of land on the edge of the town, about one rai, and soon they had a crop of long beans and pumpkins growing on part and the rest they cleared, put down mud, and put in stakes for a building that was too big for a house. Everyone said how lucky she was, to meet a man so rich, they said that land cost about two million, but I think exaggeration. The Australia man worked very hard with good skill on the land and this building. It was a long building with sixteen units, like a row of shops such as you could use for motorcycle repair or selling fertilizer and such things, or maybe a small beauty salon. These new buildings are not expensive and you see many of them now in our amphur. But when it was finished we saw families beginning to move into these units. I knew some of them, they were local people who had no land, the grandmothers spoke Cambodian language. So it was an investment the Australia man and his wife were making, for rental housing.
I want to talk a little of a problem with some ladies here in Thailand. I think this problem is in the Thai blood. You can find it in Bangkok, Isaan, even in my own family in the south. High class, low class, education or not, you can find it, but you may not know about it, because they keep it secret, especially from fahlang. Not every lady of course, but many of them.
Gambling is their secret. Usually they play cards, with other ladies, the game called pok deng is the most popular. Sometimes in one game they can win, maybe 30,000 baht, but of course the other times they can lose the same. These are not rich ladies. If they lose and don't have enough for school for their kids or meat and fish they must borrow from the local money lender, which is another story.
Two months ago, you might remember we had a funny moon here in Thailand, we call it Rahoo om jan, which means "Rahoo eats the moon." The English word is "eclipse". It was a nice night in the village, about ten o'clock, and the neighbors came out to see this wonderful thing. A grandmother, 92 years, told some stories about how her husband, who was one of the old hill people who spoke a different language, used to shoot his gun at the Rahoo eating the moon, and we sat at a fire and gossiped about this and that. I said that I had not seen the man with the black pickup truck for a long time. The wife looked to be having a baby at that time when I saw her.
"Oh he went back to Australia" said Auntie Pim, my neighbor.
No one spoke for a little bit. From this I knew something funny happened. Then Auntie Pim went on.
"He lost everything" she said. At first, the wife told every one she found out that her husband was very stingy. But everyone knew she was famous for gambling. He went often to work for weeks in Saudi and then she gambled all the time. Then she borrowed big money, with the title deed to the property.
"She was big belly eight months" said Pee Tip, who had a little beauty salon down the road from this rental property. And when she won, she could not reach the money with her hand, so she did it with her foot.
"How can she do!" said the grandmother. Bad karma to her for insulting the king!
"Yes" continued Auntie Pim. "She lost it all, the house and the land. A lady from the amphur owns it now. The wife has the baby but the Australia man is gone"
The moon was bright now and grandmother leaned forward and her eyes were bright too with the fire. "And this is the fourth fahlang husband she have" she said.
Maybe this story gives you a little worry. How can you know if some lady you like has this gambling secret? Of course everyone in love sees only the good thing, but this is a time to know about an old Thai saying: "If you want to know the elephant, look at the tail. If you want to know the girl, look at the mother. And to be sure, look at the grandmother."
Now you have heard my story and here is your test: if you think of this advice, about the mother and grandmother of your sweet friend, maybe the words come quickly to your mouth: "But Joy is different!"
Then you know for sure you have a problem!
Auntie Nim grew up in a small village a long walk from the nearest paved road. In her twenties she started a Thai language school in Bangkok and later a real estate development company. She divides her time between Bangkok, her home town in the south of Thailand, and a small organic farm which she operates with her husband in rural Isaan.