I woke late that particular morning, Tangmo had returned home and was showering, "Hurry up, babe!" I shouted encouragingly.
"You-still-here?" startled "You gonna be late for your school," she sounded concerned.
The job was important, we didn't have much money and with a baby on the way. Tangmo, was due to deliver a little girl the following month, and like she said, 'We-hav-to-get-rea-dy-for-her.' I appreciated that a new life, a gentle and defenseless being - I wanted to give her the best of starts. Nonetheless, that was easier said than done, when you live in a so-called developing country with a military government and things are heading south.
I graduated from university at exactly the wrong moment, Summer 2007. Up until then, every one that gained a first class honors degree in the USA was basically set up for life. What my generation was confronted with was the collapse of tried and trusted financial institutions - the cave in of a system which had stood for a hundred and fifty years or so. Mass unemployment, people being evicted from their homes on a national scale, jalopies being used as lodgings, the generally accepted rules of society were thrown out the window - this was life but not as we had previously known it.
So, having started out as a teacher in a private school, although briefly and having been made redundant, because the last to come is the first to go. Then having been fortunate enough to find another position in another private school, only to have the same thing happen again. The quota - the number of students that enrolled in the school the following semester dropped dramatically. The American family's mortgage, finance on the vehicle, utility bills, basic living costs, all came before the kid's private education. Things were hard, only the chosen few were unaffected - hence, once again the last to come was inevitably the first to be asked to hit the road.
I literally ended up working at a MacDonald's restaurant, the guy on shakes. Fast food became even more popular in the downslide, big meals for small charges, value for money became the mantra - survival mentality.
Long after having become more disillusioned with my predicament, some relief arrived - it wasn't the cavalry but it'd suffice. My mother's half-brother whom I was close to as a boy - passed and left me a little money. Uncle Jack once wrote a novel which was published, back in the seventies he achieved local notoriety but later slipped back into obscurity. Despite the fact that, it was only a few thousand dollars I was grateful to him and used these bucks to venture into the unknown, to dip my toe into the great abyss.
Having come to Thailand, a ten thousand mile journey from New England, into South-East Asia for a holiday. Then on a recommendation of a fellow American I met in a bar in Koa San Road, (an area in Bangkok which foreigners frequent) I finally procured stable gainful employment in my preferred occupation.
The day was 17 May 2011, the contract was for twelve months and it came with full health insurance, free meals and most importantly of all for somebody with less than $500 to his name - accommodation. (I only came for a three-week break and now I wasn't going to use my return flight.) The school was located in Bang Khen an unsightly district of Bangkok, and it was apparently one of the largest schools in Thailand with over 7,000 students on a 20-acre campus.
My new home came with a left-side front door entrance to an open-planned living/bedroom with a full-length dividing curtain running crossways. Hold that line, keep going until you come to a second door at the back that leads directly into a good sized kitchen running vertical (a third door at the center of the righthand wall) to a spacious bathroom - it was fully furnished with basic yet adequate wooden Thai furniture.
The apartment was on the third floor of a block of eighteen which stands opposite at a comfortable distance from another block of eighteen in a guard patrolled compound just outside the school's grounds. I settled in and anticipated the day when I was to start in a position as a social teacher -May 25.
The architecture of my prospective school was an interesting combination of American Gothic meets Thai traditional sub-standardized. I mean it was concrete institute reinforced steel and only a singular wall thick. The high hipped roofs were of red fabricated sheeting, the windows were of tacky aluminum frames, the interior walls were roughly rendered and with the exception of marble floored terraces - every expense had been spared.
As a history major, I studied the evolution of modern architecture and therefore knew my stuff. However, to the untrained eye - this campus consisting of a gigantic auditorium, twelve main buildings with multiple classrooms and an innumerable amount of smaller ones, not to mention the 7 or 8 blocks of teachers' apartments, a dozen canteens, scores upon scores of gazebos - conveyed an established westernized educational institution of excellence.
On further inspection I found the classrooms to be of along-the-lines-of America 1950's - old traditional style wooden desks and chairs, green chalkboards, and ceiling fans. It really didn't concern me that much but even after all the hardship and suffering I'd observed and personally experience back home. I still had a social conscience - you can never break the mold from which you've been cast.
As time went by I found that all of my early suspicions were true, although I was relatively content at the school and comfortable in my new home. I simply didn't feel like a real teacher, I felt more like a facade of what a teacher should be and not one who was actually an educator in the practical sense.
The reasons were, to begin with only a limited number of my students could even speak basic English, some knew little more than a few basic Wh questions. And they were totally flummoxed by, 'Where do you live?' Even though I was teaching 15-year-old grade 9 students and most had been studying at the 'bilingual' school for over ten years. To top it all I was supposed to be teaching them Adam Smith's fuckin theories of economics!
Consequently, before the mid-terms, I had no choice but to directly feed my students the answers to the four optioned closed test. Nonetheless, some of them still, somehow, managed to flunk it. This meant retesting, which meant that even if they bombed it again, (which they did) I was compelled to pass them. Not long after, I ascertained that in Thailand there is a national no-fail system.
If this wasn't all illogical enough, I discovered through my social interactions with my co-teachers, that some of the so-called foreign teachers hadn't even graduated past high school. The only prerequisites seemed to be that you were a white-skinned neck-tie wearing westerner who conformed to the school's unscrupulous methods.
Initially, I kept myself to myself, going back to my apartment to watch plagiarized DVD's, surf the internet and chat to my friends and relatives back in the States on social networks and concentrating on paying some of my student loans off. Notwithstanding, as my relationships with my work colleagues flourished into friendships, I began to venture out for the odd beer after work at the local watering hole - the Pub.
This was an old wooden Thai shack with an open kitchen, a single bar with a few stools, outside under a covered porch there was an affray of well used wooden furniture, chairs, benches and tables overlooking a substantial pond - it was not far up the road from the school, and was the focal point for a number of western teachers.
With a pathetically undemanding career and the influence of my new found comrades, barflies, sexpats, Mavericks to the last. The odd beer, over a period of time, became many and I fell into unhealthy habits.
To cut a long story short, I spent the best part of the next five years or so, in bars, clubs, and places of immoral disrepute that Thailand is infamous for. As for my salary from the school, what I didn't spend on booze, I spent on women of a persuasive nature - the rest I wasted, as they say. To be honest, I'm not proud of my exploits but I had some off the wall adventures and I shall retain a few great memories of those times - the rest is best forgotten.
Anyhow, fortunately, those long nights and short days are well and truly far behind me now. Everything changed when I met Chanrisa. From that moment in a bar - I just knew - she was the one for me.
Early on that particular evening while sitting in a small obscure joint not far from Soi Na Na (a well-known adult entertainment zone,) one of those with a central rectangular bar. I had left my friends after they'd decided to move on to a go-go bar, just wanting to have a quiet drink, recall the events of the day and contemplate probabilities of the approaching one. I looked across the partially lit ebony based, onyx topped, aluminum featured Art Deco retro bar and saw sitting alone directly opposite me - an agreeable meek looking young woman smiling at me from ear to ear.
I instantly rethought my agenda for the evening and beckoned her over which she obediently did. Walking tentatively around the end of the bar to end up standing on my right. I could get an even better look at her now, she was tall for a Thai lady around 5ft 7, mid-twenties, slender with long colored light chestnut hair, an angular face, Siamese eyes, chiseled cheekbones, a sloped nose, full lips, with naturally tanned silky skin.
The innocent unspoiled beauty of her face could not easily disguise the facts that were - she was genuinely intrigued and excited to meet me. I told her she was welcome to sit down on the uncomfortable steel geometric formed bar stool next to mine, on which she was soon perched - like a ballerina.
It turned out that Chanrisa's nickname was Tangmo which in Thai means watermelon. In Thailand, everyone has a nickname and their nicknames usually sound wacky when translated into English and a name that they don't use which is often beautiful.
Sometime later into our relationship, Tangmo confided in me how she had only gone to work there for a little while until something better came along, 'I not want to be bargirl,' how a Thai man wouldn't want her now 'they not want dirty girl Greg.' She was different from the other girls I'd known, they wanted a new handbag, a new gown, they lived for the here and now.
Tangmo never asked for anything, she talked about the future, she shared her thoughts, her dreams. She was always enquiring about how I felt, what I thought, what I wanted, she needed me to be in good spirits because as she said if I wasn't happy then neither was she. She hoped we'd grow old together, her parents owned a few acres of land upcountry in Sisaket, one day we planned to have a small basic house built on it. One we could use for vacations, family occasions and finally for our retirement.
She is a practicing Buddhist, every morning she rises at 5:30 to be at the imposing complex of steeply pitched red peg-tiled roofed temples, enhanced with highly ornate golden bargeboards, facias, and finials supported by grey granite tiled walls at the top of the school road by 6:00 am. This is her beloved time of the day, she treasures the tranquility that these majestic temples generate before her day begins. There she delivers her prayers, and there she donates a little money to the monks.
"It only twenty baht, Greg!" adamantly.
"Yeah I know, but you give it every day and it adds up to $20 US a month!" seriously.
"Oh, Greg." sympathetically "We still eat and we get back every baht - next life!"
Soon after we'd met, Tangmo'd moved in with me - my friends told me not to get involved with a girl who I acquainted in a bar. My family said that we were too different and it was too soon - but it just felt right and it still does. Once in a while, you've got to let something die, to allow another thing to live. I felt I'd finally found someone who I could behave naturally with, just be myself, without any apologies, without any pretension - just be who I am. Say what I think- say what I feel - pure subconscious stream - it's a wonderful thing.
She saw an opportunity to become a food vendor outside the school selling pork and pineapple kebabs. She makes a couple hundred baht a day (about $6), albeit she has to send half that back to her parents. Who are basically poverty poor rice peasants - that's why Tangmo had to leave school at the age of twelve and that's why she was working in the bar.
Back to the present and I'm now showering and my once willowy, yet at the moment heavily pregnant chocolate princess is packing my lunch, (the school no longer provides meals, just one of a number of unexplained cutbacks) so it'll be pork and pineapple kebabs again - made by her own tender hands.
Just then, I hear Tangmo scream out! Panic-stricken I run from the bathroom into the kitchen, from there into the sleeping area to where Tangmo is standing and trembling by the wardrobe, having just dressed.
To be concluded. . .