Monday, 2 May 2022

Dream spell breaks (3)

Nearby Talad Penang, in Klong Toey

A touching assessment of my worthiness as a life partner followed.

'You would make a good partner," he said, "but Dream has no style," he added, referring to himself diminutively in the third person. By "style", I gather he meant that he was straight, so not a good match.

"Bring your partner around to meet us some time," he offered expansively. "And if you ever need a new one, get in touch."

Some idle conversation about work followed, with Dream noting that his boss is a foreigner, like me.

"He likes me because I speak my mind," he said, asking if I had met many other Thais like him in my travels.

"No, Dream, you are a one-off," I said confidently.

Commenting on why we have remained virtual strangers all these years, he said:  "I see you biking past but never said anything. I wanted you to be the first to talk," he said, explaining the absence of any greeting. I felt the same way, needless to say, but apart from that, it never felt right.

Finally we reached perhaps the strangest point in the evening, when Dream started a sales pitch on the virtues of drinking. Lek, I gather, had told him that I had quit alcohol and seldom sat at their table for long when I drop by.

This, of course, had to change.

If I am not shelling out to help cover the cost of the next bottle of whisky, as I did regularly in the past, regulars like Lek are forced to go dry. 

I suspect this is what prompted her to approach him, though I don't know the precise nature of the plea. Perhaps it sounded like this: "If you tell the farang you want to be friends, he might come back and start drinking again."

Orng's place is in a quiet alcove at the end of the soi. In years gone past, she could draw 30 or more drinkers on good evenings, including her elder brother, a DSI policeman, who was treated with great respect. 

Some regulars further down the feeding chain still come even without an invitation, as Orng's  place adjoins a community centre overseen by the soi committee. Some of that space around the spirit house outside his front door is regarded as common land. 

Some of her regulars - messengers, labourers and the like - are noisy drunks. I spotted one guy in recent weeks urinating on the front path running up to their place, just metres from the front door.

Surely Dream had grown sick of this riff-raff by now? Well, no, at least not on this occasion.

"People still gather here to drink at night," he began.

I chipped in to finish his sentence: '...making a lot of noise."

Naively, I thought he was about to complain about the drunken regulars who gather outside his house, depriving his family of that middle class eccentricity known as privacy and perhaps also interrupting his sleep.

Silly me. "People still gather here, and alcohol loosens people up nicely," he added. "My mum and Aunty Lek don't have many friends, so you are welcome to come back and keep them company as you did before."

I had heard enough. I suggested my young friend head inside for a shower and sleep. He smelled musty after drinking outside for hours.

By this time he had hugged me half a dozen times, and even kissed my neck, for which he sought my permission.

"Aunty Lek, please look after Mali," Dream, ever the generous host, said as he bade farewell.

now, see part 4

Dream spell breaks (2)

Back to Dream's effusive conversation opener - "I know you like me, but I don't want you liking me like that"  - I can't say I was too impressed.

I barely look at him in "that way": having Dream as a friend or even a younger brother-like figure would be enough. 

His assumption that I am addicted to his physical beauty and barely holding myself in check after all these years of suppressed excitement was a bit much. But in the shock of the moment, I did not have the smarts to react.

As for his offer, repeated many times that night, that "I am ready now to be your friend" - far from welcoming, it sounds more like he had to talk himself into it.

More surprises were to follow. "I want to say sorry for the way I spoke to you that day. A younger person should not swear at someone more senior. If I had let it go, we could have moved on," he said, referring to our argument when we cursed each other and he told me not to return to his house again.

"But I swore at you first, remember? it's only natural that you should respond in kind," I replied.

"Well yes, you did," he smiled, while insisting he still needed to say sorry.

"When will you forgive yourself?" I said. "It's no big deal. In fact, I quietly admired you for it. I didn't know Thais could be so outspoken."

Score one for Mali!

An odd teen-style bonding ritual followed, in which at his invitation we swapped Line app details so I could contact him should I ever run into trouble in the Land of Smiles.

"I can vouch for the people in the soi, but nowhere else," he said grimly.

He believes that as a foreigner in Bangkok, I must tread warily to avoid dark threats lurking around every corner. Dream and others in his mother's drinking circle have warned me many times over the years not to trust Thais (other than themselves, of course), and also seem sceptical about my partner.

"You must stop going into the community near your place," he said protectively, referring to the slum soi next to my home. "But if you ever get into trouble, just contact me on Line, and my friends and I will be there."

Dream has many mates, it is true, but this sounded too much like the Thai teen gang ritual where youths seeking to avenge wrongs committed by rivals in the neighbourhood go on the rampage. 

My young friend and I had our heart-to-heart standing by his front door. I was on my feet for the occasion, as I needed to be, as Dream offered me one warm embrace after another, and even a kiss.

Dream's mother, normally a quiet one with little to say, was next to me, along with Lek. They were perched at a small table outside their place which has been witness to many gatherings over the years. Though they said little, I suspect they were no less stunned than I was by Dream's behaviour.

My erstwhile "son" seemed unflustered by their presence as he unburdened himself, and in fact I wonder how much of it was intended for their consumption. Lek had approached Dream before I arrived, I was to learn later, asking him to break the ice with me.

Dream, who works for a freight forwarding firm in Wattana, likes to play the genial host. He was nothing if not a showman, slapping his mates on the back and farewelling them noisily as they headed off on their bikes. 

He also has a night-school qualification in marketing, I told myself, so perhaps all this performative drama is par for the course. But it still sounded odd.

"I also want you to know I was never angry with you after our row," he said, claiming that his mother would have shunned me from the drinking circle if he had really been upset.  
"She sides with me if I take a dislike to anyone," he said.

"Never angry?" I thought. What about the time he slammed the door in my face? 

One day I tried to hand him a painfully composed note apologising for the way I had treated him. He threw it to one side and flung the door closed with disgust even as I stood there. Boom!

Once again I said nothing, for the most part simply watching as Dream's Mr Geniality act rolled on.

"I am happy when you bring your family here," he added, referring to the time I brought one of my sisters and her family, visiting me in Bangkok in April 2014, to Orng's place for lunch. 

She puts on a big meal for locals in the soi every year to mark her mother's passing, and that year, my family were special guests. 

Dream and I were still in no-talkies mode back then, so he made sure to sit with his friends with their backs pointed to me and my family rather than acknowledge their presence or, God forbid, interact.

now, see part 3

Dream spell breaks (1)

Friends again...

"I know you like me, but I don't want you liking me like that," said my young friend Dream, with whom I have shared a rocky relationship since a regular drinker at his place tried to pair us as foster father and son many moons ago.

"I want to be your friend. I am ready now!" he declared after I dropped in to see his mother and her drinking friends recently after a long absence.

As if to prove his sincerity, Dream, 26, who had spent the night drinking when I turned up after work, hugged me repeatedly and even kissed my neck.

A lengthy heart-to-heart - the first time we have opened our hearts to each other, so to speak, in the many years since we met - followed.

Strange? The night he festooned me with hugs and kisses was also the first time we had spoken in almost three years. We had barely managed more than a few words in the more than eight years, in fact, which had passed since that fateful argument, and yet here he was proposing to make a new start and offering profuse apologies for the past.

Our troubled father-son venture hit the rocks in early 2014, barely weeks after it had begun, when I swore at him one day after he grew distant. 

For another two years after that, surly Dream refused to talk to me. While we made up eventually, relations were tense. While we chatted occasionally on Messenger, we avoided talking to each other if we happened to meet. This is a shame, as the young man was charming company for the brief time I knew him.

I have spent many fanciful hours wondering over the years what my young friend was doing with his life and what he was really like. 

With Dream's change of heart, I had my chance to find out, I thought.

However, I was still wondering about his motives: while I believe he was genuine about wanting to be friends with this foreigner, I think he was also put up to it. 

A close friend of his Mum's, Aunty Lek (as she styles herself) asked him to talk to me that night, I was to find out later. She likes a nightly drink, but needs someone to pay for it. 

If Dream and I make up, I might turn up more regularly to see him - and shout her booze by way of saying thanks.


Let's take a step back. About a month ago, I started dropping in to see his mother Orng and Lek after an absence of many years, though I held out no hope of getting to know Dream as I thought that phase had passed. I had visited three or four times at most, stayed half an hour, and left again.

On the night Dream and I reunited, I had dropped in after work. Dream's mother many years ago started inviting friends to drink at her place at night, and one or two locals in the soi would cook up delicious Thai meals for those who came.

On this night Orng and Aunty Lek were sitting outside the house. Dream himself was wrapping up a drinking session with a group of his own friends at a separate table in the cemented area out front. 

Seeing me turn up, he noisily announced his intention to clear the air with an expansive remark aimed ostensibly at his mates, but really meant for me:

"Mali knows what my temper is like, don't you Mali?" he said at the tail end of a conversation as he farewelled his friends, referring to our argument many years before.

Orng's place is in a slum alleyway in Klong Toey, close to Talad Penang market between my condo and office. 

I used to walk to work back in those days when we first met. I would cut through Dream's soi as it's quicker than following the main road.

He was often chatting to mates outside his house. We'd exchange greetings as I walked to work and back again. I didn't think much more of it than that.

Then, as I was heading home on New Year's Eve 2017, my young friend, then 18, thrust a glass of whisky into my hand and invited me to sit with them to drink in New Year.

Most of the regulars were friends and family of Orng's and included some colourful locals from the soi. We enjoyed many boisterous nights sitting at the rickety wooden table outside her place as I got to know the crowd, some of whom, such as Aunty Lek, had been drinking there for many years.

Aunty Lek, a family friend rather than a blood relative who calls herself "aunt" as befits her middle-age, quickly asserted herself as the genial hostess, pouring drinks and introducing me to the others.

When I wrote my first post about this family, I had been drinking there the previous three nights. On night two, Aunty Lek paired me with Dream as foster father/son, even though I barely knew the lad. 

I suspected later she had motives of her own: Lek, a cleaner, is a sturdy drinker who needs her nightly alcohol fix. She saw me as a financial enabler, as cynical as that sounds.

She figured that if she could persuade me to take an emotional stake in the family's life via Dream, I was sure to come back regularly. 

Once there I could be persuaded to help pay for her drinking, Lek barely having the financial means to do so herself. At the table she took on the role of barman, in return for which regulars were expected to keep the alcohol flowing. 

In that first post, I wrote it up like this:
We have drunk together for the past three nights. As the only farang to have joined their group, I am the star attraction.

The first night was for introductions; the second, family bonding.

On family bonding night, I had only just joined the table when Aunty Lek asked me if I wanted to be Dream’s foster dad.

Being hospitable Thais, they are anxious that I keep myself stress-free and happy.

‘Yes,’ I said.

A few seconds later, Lek, who appears to enjoy stitching together the emotional fabric of this family, asked Dream to join us.

Dream, head bowed, quietly took a seat next to me.

‘Farang Mali says he wants to adopt you as his foster son. Do you want farang Mali as your foster dad?’ she asked, getting straight to the point.

Dream, who can be as boisterous as any teen when it suits, gave an emphatic ‘Yes!’

I was surprised, as I thought they were just having fun.

Since then, the family has introduced me as Dream’s foster dad.

No one has explained how this is supposed to work, though for the moment I am happy just to go with the flow.

Our falling out came a mere few weeks later. At the time I wrote:

In the past week or so, I have called and he didn’t answer.

I send text messages, often prompted by snippets of information his mother has given me about her son’s day-to-day goings on, only to get no response.

I was tired of his lack of interest, and told him so when I tricked him into answering the phone one day. I called him on a number he does not recognise as mine, and he answered.

‘What do you think you are doing, ignoring my calls?’ I demanded, swearing at him.

‘You have no right to talk to me like that. You are someone from my home life. When I am at work, I focus on answering work calls,’ he replied.

'Many people enter my life. I am not dependent on you, and can pick and choose,' he said confidently.

now, see part 2 

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." (email, Aug 18, 2018)

now, see part 4