Thursday, 20 August 2020

Young man between jobs (part 4, final)

Man, showing off the tatts
My parents' reply was sane and sensible:
Make friends but please do not give them money. These people will take everything you give them, start to expect it, and become resentful when you stop supporting them.
I was to take their advice, as I didn't feel comfortable handing over money. Man was able to help himself before I came along; even if he had to ensure a bit of hardship, I am sure he would have coped. I replied:
I am not prepared to just cut off support as he won't have petrol to get to work nor food to eat. However, I am sure he can make do with a bit less than I have been giving. When this is over I will confine my help to meeting them as a group for a meal.
After Man's finances improved, I started seeing him less, as he was working long hours. However we kept in touch for a time on social media. 

At first man was responsive to my messaging; one day he posted sadly about loss of his Mum and I suggested he light a candle for her and wai before her portrait, as I had seen him do previously on Facebook.

A year later, on the anniversary of her death, he posted a similar message and I left a similar suggestion. By this time I had stopped giving money and Man ignored my advice. In fact, he didn't even bother with a reply. 

This did not really surprise me: I always get the impression with social media addicts that they would rather be talking to someone else.

The friendship had started to peter out well before then, when I visited the gang at our old haunt on Chua Phloeng Road one night and saw them in a different light: just a bunch of tatty teens.

"Man's here, Man's here," his mates said, ushering me towards a dark corner where I found him sitting in a smart soft collared T-shirt and pair of shorts. They knew we were once close, and recall that I supported him for many weeks when he was in need of help. 

I had also help steer him towards young adulthood, in the brief time we were together, encouraging him to come off the drugs, quit smoking, eat properly, get sleep...

Despite his financial problems, Man always looked well dressed. When I asked him about that once, his reply was frustratingly, vintage Thai: "I am up all hours of the night and day. No one understands how I live."

On this occasion, I barely talked to him. He gave me a big smile but somehow looked less than the person I had known previously. Everything, in fact, looked diminished.

It took me 10min to cycle there from work, but surveying the uninspiring scene before me, I lost interest in conversation and decided to leave.

Man looked shocked when, with barely a word, I turned on my heel. He could see the spell was broken. I see him pop up on social media, but we have not met since.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Young man between jobs (part 3)

Another shot of Man

In a lengthy email to my parents about Man and his mates, I described things this way:

"He chews through the money a bit, and thanks to my help is certainly doing well compared to some of his mates over there, who go without some meals because they simply have no money. 

"I met some of his mates over there again today, and the lack of money to buy food appears to be a common problem...two complained of being hungry. I helped one youngster but I can't give money to everyone. 

"I wonder how they feel when they see me helping Man but rarely them. 

"Anyway, Man and I are developing a relationship of sorts...I find I have to tell him what to do often, as kids his age appear to have few ideas, though he generally does better than I expect he will. 

"Today he opened a bank account and organised an ATM card and Thai ID card, all without adult help. I was impressed. 

"I had arranged to meet him so I could give him a bit of money to cover his expenses, but when I turned up, found he had already left.

"I sent him a message saying he would have to wait now until evening, and he put up a sad post on Facebook (our way of communicating when he is not happy) where he wrote in English: 'I asked someone to be sincere...'  I retorted that I asked someone to wait (but he wouldn't)." 

When I went to see them again he was asleep at a friend's house in a slum off the main road. I had forgotten how mixing with teens could be so chaotic. I take up the story here:

"His mates were sitting on their motorcycles outside and told me how to get there. The place was a's a family home, but there was bare cement on the walls, a mere fridge dividing the parents' bed from the one occupied by Man's friend, called Por. There were clothes hanging from the ceiling, the door was falling apart. 

"I gathered one of his mates, Arm (there's a big lad called Arm and a little one by the same name; this was little Arm) had let a third youngster take Man's motorbike out to buy something...Man was worried he would run out of petrol on the way to work. 

"Yet another youngster berated Arm for lending the bike, as it was not his, although both Man and Arm work together at the brewery (Thais do everything together) and probably go on the same bike, so maybe he thinks it's almost like his own. I told Man amid this hubbub that I was impressed that he managed to open his bank account and get the ID card, but I doubt he was even listening.

"I haven't told Maiyuu about my new friends, as I decided to put all this child-support stuff behind me years ago, and he would not be happy to hear it had started up again. Normally I keep my money to myself but in this case I decided to help." 

now, see part 4

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Young man between jobs (part 2)

'I have only you (to look after me)': another FB post
This drama followed a clash between the two groups in which both sides armed themselves with iron bars, planks of wood and so on and attacked each other. One lad showed me his injuries which he Incurred in the clash, which thankfully did not result in any serious bloodshed. 

They had gone to the police, who called in both sides for a chat. However, the police had not advised the parents of any of the youngsters involved, Man and his mates told me, as at age 18 or thereabouts they were now considered young adults. The case had resulted in police charges, and some of the cases were likely to end up in court.

Chua Phloeng Road is known for its clashes between rival teen groups, though I am not sure I had heard about this one. Never mind...we would just have to keep ourselves out of plain sight, in case the gang with the handgun came back for a reprisal clash. 

I drew closer to Man, the lad who took me on his bike in search of ya dong on our first night, because his life story seemed so sad. He lived alone after losing his mother to cancer three months before; he showed me pictures her funeral. He had an elder brother, but he, like their father, lived elsewhere. Man still lived in the rented place he had shared with his mother in Suan Phlu, about 15min away.

Man and a mate at their meeting place on Phra Ram III Road

Man, in common with one or two others in the group, also had a young child of his own, despite his tender age. The little boy stayed with an "aunt", really a close friend of the mother's, he said.

Man and the child's mother, herself a teen, had broken up after the lad was born and she was not interested in raising the boy herself. 

When we met, Man was about to end a no-hoper job lifting goods somewhere, and had applied to join a German brewery-cum-restaurant on Phra Ram III Road. 

I was to help him over the next few weeks meet his expenses, as the first pay he received from the brewery, where he worked six days a week, was only just enough to cover his rent. 

I told him I would look after him until he starts getting paid properly (normally they are paid every month, but he had started in the middle of the pay cycle).

now, see part 3

Monday, 17 August 2020

Young man between jobs (part 1)

Man, telling me I let him down
'I asked someone to be sincere...'  lamented a young Thai friend, Man, writing in English on Facebook.

Man, 18, was upset that I failed to meet him that day as arranged to hand over money. He was about to start a new job and at his boss's request had to get a Thai ID card made, and open a bank account.

Man was about to start work at a German brewery on Rama III Road. We had arranged meet on Chua Phloeng Road, across the way from my condo, where I would give him some money to get to the get the card done at the local body office, and also visit the bank.

I was taken aback to see his FB post, accompanied by a staged picture of himself, no doubt taken where we were supposed to meet. He was looking at the camera, and holding up thumb and finger in the shape of a heart.  

I suspect he had friend take the picture for him; he and his mates, social media addicts all, routinely take pictures for each other as they dream up their next FB post, I was to discover. It was the first time I had seen the heart gesture, and marvelled at how youngsters have time to arrange these set-piece stunts for Facebook when they could be doing something useful like - well, working.

I did make our meeting as arranged, as it happens - he had left early without letting me know. His friends told me Man had already left for his errands. He borrowed money from them instead.

I met Man and his teenage friends some weeks before on a lone walk one night across from the slum community in Klong Toey where my regular drinking friend Ball lives. 

Ball and his younger brother were seldom home since they started working as chefs at a restaurant in town. I was at a loose end, and decided to go for a walk to see if I could find anyone in the neighbourhood still selling ya dong.

I came across Man and half a dozen mates in a shadowy corner as I walked along Chua Phloeng Road. Some lived in the slum community behind the road frontage; others, like Man, had gone to school in the area and perhaps even lived there once but since moved away. However, they would bike back to see their friends, usually after dark, as they liked to take drugs, shoot the breeze, and race their motorcycles up and down the road late at night when the traffic eased.

"Do you know anyone around here who sells ya dong?" I asked Man and his mates. Man knew of a trader further up in Phra Ram III Road and took me there on his motorbike. 

"Watch out, the farang might seduce you," his friends teased him good naturedly as I climbed on the back of his bike. Unfortunately, that vendor had closed for the night, so Man took me back to see his mates and I shouted everyone beer instead. It was raining as we made our way back, but I held up a small folding umbrella I had brought along to shield us as Man steered his vehicle. 

This was to the first of a series of after-dark meetings which seemed to grow with new cast members every night. Many of the youngsters in the neighbourhood go to the same state school. The primary school is adjacent to my condo; the secondary campus about 200m down the road. 

Occasionally lads from over Ball's way would pay a visit to see Man and his crowd, or we would head over to Ball's side of the road for a meal close to the local 7-11 where a dozen or so traders open food stalls at night.

The first night, we posted a picture of ourselves on FB, and within 24 hours I had 30 or so new FB friends, all of them youngsters who knew Man and his mates. 

When I asked why they seemed to be hiding in the dark, they said a gang of youths had gone past and shot a handgun at them a few nights before (they showed me what looked like a bullet hole in a corrugated iron frontage to some old guy's place). 

now, see part 2

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Culture shock (part 5, final)

How can you get your fill on this stuff?
In the course of the night the ranks of the "kids" swelled, when we were joined by another cousin of Robert's, aged 20 or so, who was to start working for Pim at her stand within weeks, replacing Robert himself who was still being lippy with his aunt. 

Pim's boyfriend, James, also turned up on his motorcycle, though paying for him wasn't my problem. I took the kids home in a taxi about 10.30pm, as I was sick of the place. Pim contributed to their taxi fare, which was kind, as the bill including food came to almost 2,000 baht. 

On the way home, Robert started chatting to the taxi driver, a friendly guy well into his 60s. Robert referred to me as his Dad throughout, and talked to the driver about my habits, likes and dislikes. He was a touchingly attentive substitute son, I thought.

His mother had started a new family in the provinces, he told me once, and his real father had vanished from the scene years ago. This was a lad in need of a role model and all that, perhaps - but really, just a growing teen looking for a bit of fun. At the first distraction, he would be off.

The next day the mood soured when a woman who runs a streetside eatery down the way from Pim's stand and who I have known for more than 15 years, warned me off the family.

"We are worried about you and don't think you should get too friendly," my friend, who I shall call Mai, said. 

Mai runs a great eatery nestled in a small garden and employing two or three young workers from Laos. I discovered her shop years ago, and drop in every day before work. Before leaving home I phone ahead with a order: two boxes of food which I pick up on the way to the office. I know her family, and when we go away on trips we buy presents for each other. Civilised behaviour, and no one trying to gain an advantage over the other.

"We have never wanted anything from you. but these folk have taken your money for clothes, a guitar, a restaurant meal..." Mai said. "What's next?"

Actually, Robert had asked for a new smartphone, but I had told him he would have to help me save if he wanted that item.

Mai had been talking to another trader who runs an Esan-style eatery next to her own shop, who has also known me for years. Her husband works for the same company as me, and I have known her son and daughter, both kids when I met them and now grown up, for as long as I have been here.

Both traders were annoyed by the presence of the Laos family, as their stand drew customers away from their own eateries -  but their unease went further than that.

"If one day they decide to move shop again and they forget about you, what will you be left with?" Mai asked.

I decided to heed my trader friends' advice, especially when I heard that Pim and her young charges had been muttering among themselves about how the outing to the food barn in Bang Kapi was "too expensive" and not worth the effort.  They were grumbling together as they set up shop the morning after our trip and Mai overheard them.

In the coming weeks, Robert was to grow distant as he spent time with his elder cousin, the one who turned up at the food barn that night and eventually joined Pim at her stand.

Shortly after he started, Pim was to banish Robert back to her brother's shop in Jet Sip Rai, and I didn't see him again for more than a month. 

He did not ask his aunt how I was, even though he saw her every night after work. Nor did he call or send messages. I wrote letters which I asked Pim to pass on, but she seldom brought back word. 

I decided I had had enough. When Robert finally returned he apologised for the lack of contact and declared he had mended his ways with his aunt and was now back for good. However, I suspect he had really come back to persuade me to buy him a telephone - our last bit of unfinished business before he had disappeared. 

"Do you still want to buy Robert that phone?" Pim asked me one night around that time, and I knew after that I should expect a visit from Robert, and so it was. Within a day or two, he was back.

I listened to him patiently but did not commit. I had no intention of parting with any more money, but said nothing. In fact, we weren't to speak again.

I passed him at the shop another few times before his aunt realised I had lost interest in supporting them. She sent him back to the brother's shop, as I suspected she would, and some weeks later closed her stall permanently and moved. 

I seldom spoke to any of her crowd after I saw Robert that day, and for weeks biked past their stand with my nose in the air as if I didn't know them. We have not seen each other since.