I have no doubt that many long time Thai visitors and expats who have been reading these posts have been grumbling under their breath, calling me all sorts of nasty names, rolling their eyes, and bemoaning that here was obvious proof of another naive, stupid farang being taken for a ride, foolishly throwing large sums of money at a bar boy, and ignorantly believing the ‘I love you’ lies when we all know the only thing a bar boy in Thailand loves is money. I’m sure the title of this post has set off those same curmudgeons giggling with glee, having known this was coming.
And fuck you.
I’m not naive nor am I an idiot. I do not have a panglossian view of the Thai bar boy world. I’ve certainly heard enough of these stories to be aware that the walking ATM syndrome is quite prevalent in bar boy/farang relationships. If you expand your horizons and dip into the bar girl/farang dynamic, it’s an even larger problem. Duh. Even without taking into consideration the Thai cultural basis that plays such a pivotal role in these relationships (as much as y’all would like to ignore that it does), that money and creature comforts from one party and sex/love/companionship from the other result in a plea for more and more of the former, just makes sense.
So it has become a standard joke that at some point in their relationship the farang will get a phone call or email from his Thai friend that the family’s buffalo has died. Time for the farang to prove his love and pony up for a new beast of burden.
Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, does not come from a rural family. There is no buffalo available for a timely death when finances run low. But almost as good as a dead buffalo is a sick and/or dying family member. And Noom has a large family. So it was with some trepidation that I read an email from him about his brother’s illness, the deplorable state of business, and Noom’s need of a ‘loan’.
To his credit, Noom has never pulled the ‘I love you’ crap on me. Though he has told others that he does (love me, well, lub me). When I’m in Thailand, he treats my money as though it was his, meaning he spends it freely. At the same time, he is frugal in his spending. But facts are facts: Noom is a bar boy. So I pay him for his time when we are together, just as would any other customer. Because I am a customer regardless of any other feelings between us. At the same time, on a trip the previous year when I’d missed my flight out of Bali and had to cough up $600 for a new ticket, Noom volunteered I could pay his ‘tip’ the next time I came to Thailand if I was running short of cash; more the action of a friend than a prostitute.
On the other hand, the sick brother scenario was suspect. We all know that Thais pay very little if anything for health care. And there was the whole ‘dead buffalo’ scenario to take into consideration. Noom was asking for a sum larger than his brother would ever need for medical treatment. He had though included his own need for cash due to business being slow as part of the reason for the sum he’d asked for. A dilemma. And I weighed the known against the unknown, the request against the facts, the motives against the possibility of this being not only a grab for cash but a test of our friendship. Or a test of my gullibility.
Was I overanalyzing his request? Was this a case of that familiar bar boy refrain ‘you tink too much’? Occam’s razor propounds one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything. In other words, don’t make unnecessarily complicated assumptions; the simplest explanation that fits the facts is often correct. Was it possible that this was nothing more than Noom needing money and turning to someone he knew who could help out? I finally decided to remove the whole bar boy part from the equation and treat him as I would any friend asking for a loan.
“Yes! We Knew it! You fool!” crows the cantankerous crowd.
And fuck you.
I wired Noom the money. Sent my wishes for his brother’s speedy recovery. Passed on my prayer that the damn red shirts who’d taken over the streets of Bangkok causing business to dry up and forcing a city-wide curfew to be put into effect, would all die a quick and horrible death. And you know what? It felt good (the money part, not the death wish thingy). It made me happy to be able to help out someone I cared about. And once I’d disregarded all the naysayers, his request took on a positive light; it felt good to know when he was in need of help he felt comfortable turning to me. As for the money being a loan, I’ve always held to the simple rule that a loan to a friend is a gift. I never ask or expect the money to be returned. Loaning money to a friend, and expecting to be paid back, is a guaranteed way of ruining that friendship.
Three months later I was in Bangkok again. Short trip, just over a week. I was thrilled to see Noom again and we spent an enjoyable week together with neither of us ever mentioning the money I’d sent. But when I handed him his ‘tip’ at the end of our time together, he counted out the amount I had sent him and silently handed it back to me. No thanks given. But the degree of the accompanying wai said more than words could have expressed and encompassed all that that ‘loan’ had meant to him. And to our friendship.
Noom finally played the ‘dead buffalo’ card. I temporarily listened to the devil on my shoulder and forgot you are supposed to trust your friends. Our relationship continues to grow. And I get one more opportunity to say to the doubters, the naysayers, and the curmudgeons: Fuck You.
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