An Exciting Future
Chapter One: Starting Again
As the wheels of the aircraft touched
down on the runway at the new Bangkok International Airport called Suvarnabhumi, Craig knew that he was going
to have his hands full with Lek. She suffered badly from travel sickness – it was her one big weakness, but
she even got sick on the bus going to the market, so a flight of 11,500 kilometres and fifteen hours was
always going to be a problem.
Lek had taken five of
the green tablets which were her favourite anti-travel sickness pills. She always seemed to have about twenty of
them in her bag. One tablet would make her appear a little drunk, but five made her seem like an escapee from a
lunatic asylum. He had seen it on the outward flight. He looked at her sitting next to him; her eyes were glassy
and she was humming something quietly to herself.
“Are we there yet?,”
she asked, “That was quick. Have we stopped off somewhere?”
“We’re in Thailand,” he
replied a little too testily.
Craig was fifty years
old and had never asked a woman to marry him so far, but he thought he might like to ask this one. She was a
handful, as they say, that was to be sure, but there was also something about her that he found very
He didn’t like her
taking those pills though, but he knew how badly affected by travel-sickness she could get. She’d had to throw
up in her new crocodile skin handbag once – her pride and expensive joy – because they had gone on a short bus
ride and she had forgotten to transfer all her paraphernalia into the new bag. It was either be sick in her new
bag or on the floor of the bus and she would rather die than do that and lose face.
Later, she would have
to be assisted like a drunk through the airport, baggage control and immigration and suffer the stern stares
from the Thai officials who would assume that she had drunk too much cheap alcohol on the plane.
He was glad that she
had chosen to wear long, baggy trousers.
The plan of the day was
Lek’s usual one whenever anything unusual or exciting happened to her, namely to get down to ‘Daddy’s Hobby’ in
Pattaya and tell her friends all about it. In fact, it didn’t have to be anything unusual at all, it was just
the place where Lek felt most at home in he world. ‘Daddy’s Hobby’ was the name of the bar that Lek’s cousin
owned and where he had met her. Craig didn’t mind going there one little bit. The two dozen bar girls always
made a big fuss of him and Lek even encouraged them to do it.
Within a couple of
hours, he’d have girls hanging off his shoulders, sitting on his lap and plying him with drinks while Lek
recounted the details of her recent adventure in the UK. She should have come round a bit by then
Just in time to share a
couple of bottles of whiskey with her ex-colleagues.
Still, it would be very
pleasant and the apartment that he had booked before they had left was not far from the bar.
He was wondering
whether that would be a good time to propose – in front of her friends, when she least expected it and when she
would get the maximum amount of attention and admiration. It would certainly give her face a boost, not that it
was flagging in Pattaya. All her friends thought she was a star - one in a million.
Craig thought so
However, first things
first, he thought; people were starting to disembark. Craig thought it best to wait for most people to get off
before he tried to coax and manhandle Lek down the aisle, so they just sat there and he tried to get her to get
a grip on herself.
Without much success.
The cabin staff were
helpful – they understood about the tablets – and Lek and Craig eventually made it to immigration, which was
pretty straightforward, although Lek did attract a few of the expected stern looks from the Thai officials and
Craig got more than a couple of knowing nods from them too. He just
smiled back weakly in reply.
They made it to the
carousel, where Lek fell into a chair and Craig picked up the luggage, which he loaded onto a trolley. He
considered putting Lek on it too, but that would have been just too embarrassing, so he settled for letting her
push it, so that she had something to lean against. No problems at baggage control and then out into the
He had more or less
forgotten the overpowering heat and the everyday bustle outside a Thai airport. Taxi drivers and their touts all
shouting at once for your custom. This was one of the occasions where having a Thai girlfriend helped a lot. She
shooed them all away and they stood in the queue for a proper meter taxi to take them to Pattaya, which was only
about an hour away.
They were supposed to
go to the British Embassy to have Lek’s six-month visa cancelled as it was still valid for three months and
allowed multiple entries into the UK, but the Embassy would be closed now and Lek was in no fit state anyway.
They would have to do something about it another day.
They arrived in Daddy’s
Hobby after an uneventful journey. Lek had tried to talk to the driver a few times, but he thought that she was
drunk so he ignored her and tried to speak to Craig, but in Thai, which Craig could not speak, so that quickly
fizzled out too and Lek, being ignored, soon fell asleep, which was probably the best thing she could have done
Lek had wanted to speak
Thai though. She was excited to be back in her own country, where she could hold a proper conversation in her
own language and where she could feel that she belonged again. They
had had a few months in Craig’s home town of Barry in South Wales and everyone had made her feel very welcome.
She liked European food and she could speak English reasonably well, but …
It wasn’t her town, it
wasn’t her favourite food, it wasn’t her language and they were not her people. She had had a fantastic holiday
– her first trip to Europe – but she was glad to be home and she just wanted everyone to know it. She couldn’t
wait to see her old mates.
They got to Daddy’s
Hobby at a good time: nearly six o’clock. All the girls had arrived and were ready for action, but there were no
customers yet and so the music was low. It would seem like a totally different place in two hours time. Once it
got dark, the punters would be out and the volume would rise to deafening.
But between four and
eight o’clock, the girls had time to talk and the volume was low enough to be able to hear them. It had been
Craig’s favourite time to visit the bar before they had gone on holiday. He had come down to the bar for an
early drink and a chat almost every day then and he and the girls had got to know each other pretty
He often translated
messages, texts and letters from and to their ‘boyfriends’ for them. Not that he could speak Thai, but he
translated good English into pigeon and vice versa. It was fun although sometimes the messages were rather
intimate and the girls would blush and giggle and run around
telling each other in fits of laughter.
It was a good ‘job’ to
have: It earned him a lot of brownie points from the girls, even if it went unpaid in monetary terms. They
genuinely liked to see him, although he was quite well aware that he had only gotten his foot in the door
because he was Lek’s boyfriend. Many of the girls were from Lek’s village in the north and she had worked with
others for years. She was like a big sister to them and many of them called her just that.
At thirty-two years of
age, Lek was also the oldest woman in the bar or at least joint oldest with her two best friends: Goong and Ayr.
Her cousin, Beou, was a few years older again, but no-one ever mentioned that – she was the boss anyway. Despite
her ‘advancing’ years (most of the girls were in their early twenties or younger), Lek was acknowledged to be
the most beautiful woman in the bar by everyone, although no-one ever mentioned the obvious fact that that would
not be true for many more years to come.
However, for now, she
was still the beauty queen amongst beauty queens, for they were all very good-lookers in their own
When the taxi pulled up
outside the bar, it was as if a film star had arrived, all the girls crowded around Lek, took her handbag, led
her up to the bar by the arm, fired a dozen questions at her and whooped and whooped and whooped.
Craig paid the taxi
driver and carried the luggage to the bar. He had expected a bit more attention for himself than
Once he was at the bar,
a few of the girls noticed him and flung their arms around him, kissing him repeatedly on the cheek and arms. A
few of the girls took the luggage to store behind the bar and Lek and Craig sat down for the start of what they
both knew would be a long and lively session.
All the women were
talking at once and, although Craig wasn’t being totally ignored, he wasn’t getting served either. He was dying
for an ice-cold beer. He couldn’t follow the conversation, maybe nobody could, but he could see how happy they
all were, so he went behind the bar and got three beers. The first one didn’t touch the sides. He downed it in
two mouthfuls, but the other two he took back to the bar and handed one to Lek.
“Oh, so sorry, telak!
Nobody take care of you. So sorry.”
She said something and
a few girls were detailed to ‘take care’ of Craig. Then she said loudly:
“You only buy two
beers, this is not enough!” and she leaned over and rang the bell, signalling a drink for everyone at her
Craig finished his beer
quickly and accepted another.
Two of the girls
detailed to ‘take care’ of Craig were unknown to him. They had obviously joined the crew while he and Lek had
been away. They were very friendly, but when Ayr thought they were getting a bit too familiar, she sent them
behind the bar to serve.
“So, sorry, Craig,” she
said, “these girls new. They don’ know Lek and you together. I tell them later. Nice to see you again. You have
good time in Wale’?” and she was gone without waiting for the answer.
Ayr and Goong were
Lek’s oldest friends, came from the same village and had shared a room in Pattaya before Craig came on the
scene. Neither of them held any ill will against Craig for taking their friend away though. They were happy that
she was happy, because they were true friends.
“Oh, well,” he joked
with himself, “Shame about that. Still, never mind. At least, I didn’t get into trouble on my first day back.
Saved from myself by Lek’s friend. Saved from whatever their names were too.”
It did the trick
though. He was not ignored by Lek, her friends or the strangers again. Everyone was keeping an eye on him now.
He was served, kissed and complimented without long intervals in between and it suited him fine.
The girls quietened
after about twenty minutes and they all sat around Lek, or as near as they could get, to listen to her favourite
stories. It wasn’t long after that that the first bottle of whiskey was broken out and a few small glasses
appeared. The girls preferred whiskey because it was less fattening than a bottle of beer and it was easier to
finish quickly if a punter wanted to talk with one of them.
Craig sat nearby too
and listened out for landmark words like: Barry, Wales and family names. Sure enough, they were all mentioned
often and he was sometimes called upon to corroborate the details, although no-one actually waited for him to
finish speaking. He just about had the time to nod and smile, even though he didn’t know what was being said. He
trusted Lek though.
She was speaking softly
so that the girls would have to listen hard:
“We set off on a
typically beautiful, balmy Pattaya evening... a bit like this evening in fact, and at about the same time of
day, to catch the overnight flight to Britain. We were going to Wales, where Craig’s family lives, but we had to
go to London first, of course.
“Naturally we had to be
at the check-in desk two to three hours before the flight, but there was nearly a disaster! Really! We nearly
couldn’t go! All because, unfortunately, Craig had forgotten that he was carrying an old souvenir pen-knife in
his pocket that his father had given to him twenty years before.
“I thought they were
going to arrest him. I was horrified! I thought I might have to go alone and wait for him over there and I
didn’t want to have to do that now, did I? Anyway, we were lucky, they only confiscated it. He was very sad
about it, especially as the airline gave us metal cutlery to eat with anyway and the knives that they gave us
were bigger than the one they had taken off Craig. Weren’t they, Craig? Bigger knives?
“Craig said it was
stupid to take his one-inch blade from him under such circumstances and I think that I have to agree with him,
ten-and-a-half hour flight to Bahrain was very comfortable. The food was not to my liking because I am a
Buddhist that does not eat beef or dairy products and the only two other choices were Indian curry or vegetable
pie. I didn’t mind though. It all looked very nice and I swapped my main course for Craig’s ice
“Bahrain was a shock
from Suvarnabhumi airport. Oh, my God! It was OK, really, but we didn’t have any of their money, Dinar, I think,
so we just had to sit there and watch people for the two hours until the connecting flight to Gatwick. That is
in the UK. The time passed slowly and I was a little cold because it was 20°c there, much colder then Bangkok.
Did I tell you that a
man died on the flight? I nearly forgot. Shock or travel-sickness, I think. When they opened the doors to take
him off mosquitoes as big as birds flew in! Oh my Buddha! I was sure we’d get malaria…
“Anyway, the second leg
flight was also OK; not as good as the first, but at least I could eat the scrambled egg and pork sausage. I had
Craig’s too, because he took my feta salad. Feta is cheese by the way. Greek cheese, isn’t it, Craig? Craig?
He’s not listening again... Anyway, they eat a lot of cheese in Europe. The coffee was much stronger than I am
used to too, but it was lovely. All in all, I liked Etihad Airways and would fly with them again, wouldn’t we,
“It took five hours to
get to Gatwick and if Bahrain was a shock, Gatwick’s 5°c was as good as icy to me. As soon as I got off the
plane, I was looking for the Ladies! It was that cold, honest. If you haven’t been abroad, darlings, you have no
idea what cold is. We are so lucky here in good old Thailand. Anyway, fortunately we only had twenty-five
minutes to wait for the bus to Cardiff via Victoria Coach Station – that’s in London again, of
“The tour coach was
good and the driver was friendly, but the weather turned so bad as we crossed the Severn Bridge, into Wales,
that is, over the Bristol Channel, isn’t it dear?, that we were late arriving in Cardiff. We got there just in
time for the eleven o’clock traffic jam. Just as bad as Bangkok, but you’re in the dark!, which makes it a lot
“So, then our friend
Nick, you know Nick, he comes in here sometimes took us in his car through Dinas Powys and Penarth before coming
into Barry through Cadoxton.
getting out at the King William IV – called The Billy – that’s a pub, so that we could have a drink. It was
typical of him; well, you know my Craig, but it was bitterly cold, and it was close. We had been travelling for
thirty-three hours and now we were ten minutes from my Welsh Mum’s house.
“Ooh, I’m parched,
well, when we got to Mum’s, which was a day and a half after we started out from here… No, more about that
“I met so many handsome
men, oh my gosh! Our friends Colin, Ray, Billy, Digger, Danny, Sam, Paul and Selby, the father of two famous
Welsh boxers, Andrew and Lee (he gave me one of Andrew’s jackets – I’ll show it to you one day) - they were in
O’Brien’s and Mike, or Henry as his friends call him, in the Buccaneer and so many others. Those places are in
the centre of the town of Barry, of course, Holton Road, near the
King’s Square. When they come over to visit us, we could introduce you, if you like....”
Lek had them
spellbound. It was exactly what it must have been like to watch Hans Christian Andersen telling fairy stories to
kids in Denmark, although Lek’s stories were true even if a little dramatised. They just stared at her,
sometimes looking at Craig as if to say ‘what with him’, but actually saying “Ooh, really?” and “Ahhh, really?
None of them had been to Europe before, although it was the dream that every single one of them had.
In fact, they would
happily go to live anywhere abroad so long as the job was better and there was more money, which everybody
believed that it was ‘abroad’ – meaning Europe, Australia and the USA. Not many of them had heard of Canada or
New Zealand. Second choice was northern Africa, but most of the girls had heard rumours of sex slaves there and
none of them fancied that.
Beou arrived on her
motorbike and the commotion started all over again. Some girls jumped up to pretend they were working and others
got out of the way to allow the boss easier access to her favourite cousin. She put one arm around Lek and, as
she leaned in to exchange kisses, took Craig’s hand with the other.
“Hello, both! How the
devil are you? Did you have a good time? Sorry that I couldn’t be here to greet you when you arrived, but
someone was late coming to see me. (They’ll never do it again though). So, he didn’t sell you into slavery then?
Or did you do a bit of part-time sex-slaving? Did she tell you, Craig? She was rather worried that you would sell her as a sex-slave to a bunch of old men in
a nursing home! She might not have minded if it was to a football team. Or what do you play over there in Wales?
Ah, rugby, is it? Yes, rugby.”
Lek was blushing deeply
and she thought she would die if any of the girls knew what was actually being said about her, but it was a bit
too fast for most them.
“No, she didn’t say
anything. What’s this all about, Beou? And how are you anyway?”
“Oh, I’m fine. A few of
the old women back home warned Lek to be careful that you didn’t sell her into the sex industry. A lot of people
are worried about it, but I told her that the old biddies in the village were just jealous.”
Lek could still barely
speak so she covered her face below her eyes with a hand to hide her blushes.
“Oh, Beou! How could
you? I didn’t really believe them, but you hear such terrible things, don’t you? And I never said anything about
an old men’s home or a football team! And I didn’t even know what rugby was until a few months
ago.” Then in English: “Don’t believe her, Craig..... Well, not
all of it anyway.”
“I don’t know what you
are all talking about. Don’t believe all of what? What did Beou say?” asked Craig
“Oh, don’t worry, I
tell you later. It is not important now. Ladies in the village tell me to take care nobody sell me into sex
slavery, that’s all. Don’t worry.”
“Oh, is that all,” he
replied, still not completely understanding. One thing he had learned though was that if Lek said ‘later’, it
usually meant either ‘no’ or ‘never’, so he just let it drop. He trusted her and her judgement and, besides
that, they were back on her turf now where she knew far more than he ever would.
Beou sat down and a gin
and tonic was put in front of her, she lit a cigarette and rang the bell, which was an uncommon thing for her to
do. Half-a-dozen of the girls jumped up to see to their boss’ order, but they all came back to find out how the
story would develop. Beou didn’t mind that, she was a pretty good employer and the majority of these girls were
not there to clean glasses anyway.
Lek recovered quickly
from her embarrassment and she seemed to have thrown off the effects of the tablets too. The adrenaline and
excitement of being with her friends again had ‘sobered’ her up faster than a cold shower, a coffee or even a
car crash ever could have. She was flying high and everybody else was up there with her, so Craig just settled
back to drink his beer and watch the proceedings.
Customers came and went
and girls got up to keep them company and either came back when the man had left or went with him. Some girls
had their regulars, whom they were grooming so that they too might have an adventure like Lek’s. Everybody
wanted what Lek had and they were hoping that she would pass on some secret, insider tips on how to accomplish
No-one was surprised
that Lek had been the first to manage going abroad in years and no-one begrudged her her good fortune either.
She was their big sister, the legendary heroine Lek, and they all wanted to be like her. Even the new girls had
heard of her, they had just never met her in the flesh. This put Craig on a pedestal, because they all assumed
that a woman like Lek would have had many chances to get out, but just didn’t take them for one reason or
another. That meant that Craig must be something special.
No Adonis, so must be
kind and wealthy, most of them assumed. Or at least well-off.
Sometimes, Lek wasn’t
sure why either. Some things were coming to a head in her life, it was true: she was no spring chicken any more;
but more than that, her daughter, Soomsomai, was twelve, and she didn’t want her to know that her mother was
associated with the seamier side of life. She also liked Craig a lot, even loved him and he was kind. Not
wealthy, but well-off by her standards and still of an age that he could work.
For his part, Craig
really loved Lek. He had never met anyone like her before. True, he had worked, studied and travelled nearly all
his life and had never been married, but he wasn’t totally inexperienced with women either. He had just never
met one quite like Lek before. Or maybe he just happened to meet her when the time was ‘right’. He didn’t know
and was not much interested in why anyway. He knew that he wanted to stay with her and that he wanted to stay in
Thailand, a place he had come to prefer over his own country.
The only problems from
his point of view were that he had always been wary of marrying someone from abroad because of his limited
financial resources and the huge travelling costs involved with visiting two sets of parents on two different
continents regularly. He would not be able to work in Thailand except perhaps as a teacher and he was sure that
he lacked the patience and confidence for that. There was savings money and a few investments for the time being
but how long would it last?
That was the big
He would have to get
out of central Pattaya as soon as possible; that much was clear, but go where? He only knew Pattaya. Bangkok was
sure to be even more expensive and he didn’t like big cities anyway. They both liked Pattaya, so maybe they
could move to the suburbs. He and Lek had not broached the subject yet, but they had pre-booked an apartment for
two months, so they had some time to work something out.
Craig spent the next
six or seven hours day dreaming and drinking, while Lek spent them drinking and talking. It wasn’t
Not at all. It was
He had even managed
to filter out the awful, loud music that he so detested. He was
just so pleased to be back in Pattaya and Thailand. He was tempted to go and look at the sun setting on the sea,
but couldn’t be bothered.
At sometime near one
o’clock, the official closing time in Pattaya, jet lag and the alcohol were winning out over the excitement and
adrenaline and Lek reluctantly wanted to call it a day and go to their room. Beou called them a taxi which
arrived too soon. They had hoped it would take ten or twenty minutes to get there, but it arrived in two. Lek
knocked her whiskey back in one and Craig took his bottle with him. The driver put their bags in the boot and
they were off. Glad to be going to their new home for the next few months.
Their apartment was in
the Diana Estate which was not far away in Soi Buakhao so they were there in less than ten minutes despite the
busy streets. The security guard on the gate was waiting for them with the key to the apartment, because the
concierge had already gone to bed. Not that that was a problem. They refused the security guards offer to show
them the way as Craig had inspected the apartment three months previously before paying the deposit.
They went up to the
room, stripped off and showered together. When they fell onto the bed, Craig was starkers and Lek was in her
customary towel; pleased to be wrapped in a towel like she had been for some time every day of her life in
Thailand and which she had missed in the UK. She had never thought that such a simple thing like a towel could
bring so much pleasure. She hadn’t realised that she had missed it
in Britain, but now that she had its protection around her again, she knew that she had.
Or maybe it was just
Thailand and her friends that she had missed when she was in Europe, despite the fact that it had been her
ambition for ten years to make that journey.
It didn’t matter for
now really; neither of them had much chance to analyse anything because they were both fast asleep in
That would have to wait
until the next day, the real start of their new life, their exciting future, together.
'Behind the Smile' refers to the fact
that Thailand is known the world over as 'The Land of Smiles'.
by Owen Jones