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Experiences From ‘The Flow’ (5) – The Stray
“She endured five years of infidelity, mental abuse and beatings; but the rape of her little sister was the last straw. She finally left him…and ended up in my house.”
“Prosperity: An eternal flow of all that is good in life…”
*Below is the fifth episode in a series of real life events experienced by the author. The only deviations from the truth may be the names of people and places.
– Open Day –
We (my “adopted” sister, her husband and I) have an “open house” policy.
If a friend falls on hard times and needs a place to stay, all they have to do is call or just stop by. Over the past two years we have taken in countless “strays” and helped them as much as we could.
Whether it was an abused wife, an abused girlfriend/boyfriend, an abandoned child or a delinquent adolescent; my home became the most popular refuge in our “Mubon” (Thai: village) and “Soi” (Thai: street), a warm and safe place to go when there were no other options.
The visitors stayed long enough to overcome their individual, temporary crisis—sometimes two weeks, sometimes two months. Once they are back on their feet (emotionally, physically and financially), we bid them a hearty farewell; we wish them all the best for a better life.
Benevolence was always repaid—not with money, but with much-needed help.
As a Falang in Thailand, the simplest things are often difficult to accomplish. Many times when I needed help with mundane but vital tasks (eg ordering food, buying a motorcycle, getting directions, traveling by taxi or bus, changing currency, etc.); I could rely on people I had helped in the past.
Asians have really long memories. It is not uncommon to return to a place many years later and find that random acquaintances still remember your name, the things you did, and the things you like or dislike.
– Number one –
Her name was Nueng (Thai: number one). In any other country, she would be described as quite attractive: smooth, brown skin; slim, athletic figure; long, dark brown hair flowing down her back and an exotic face with a beautiful smile and seductive eyes.
But by Thai standards, she was “over the hill” at the age of 24.
In her younger years (from 16 to 21), she was considered quite a beauty and was the object of desire of all the local men in her village. Unfortunately, she ended up with the local Bad Boy and spent most of her “beauty years” in an abusive relationship.
Out of personal pride and family/public pressure, Nueng stubbornly tolerated years of infidelity, lies and physical abuse from her longtime boyfriend. But the rape of her little sister was the last straw. She eventually left him…and ended up at my house through my sister.
– Nueng Who? –
Nueng arrived on Friday afternoon while I was still working. My sister already asked me if it’s okay for Nueng to stay with us and she said, “You met her at ‘Moo Kra Ta’ (Thai: BBQ) last year, remember?”
I said, “No (I don’t remember), but if he needs a place to stay, yes, of course, that’s fine with me.”
When I saw Nueng, I immediately remembered who he was.
During a birthday party at a local Moo Kra Ta for a friend last year, Nueng and I met and chatted briefly. I also remember that the woman who accompanied me to the party was very jealous of Nueng – mainly because Nueng was, as a friend put it, “too friendly” with me.
It also pissed me off on the date that Nueng wasn’t the usual “scared to speak English” (especially to foreigners) Thai girl. Nueng, on the other hand, was a good sport. She wasn’t afraid to speak (and mumble) English. I reciprocated with a proper thrashing in the Thai language, having a great time trying sounds that have no English counterpart! No exaggeration – sometimes I think speaking Thai requires an extra tongue (or at least a spare epiglottis)!
I also remember telling my sister that Nueng reminded me of a girlfriend I had in Hawaii (many years ago).
– That first night –
During the first night at my place, I could clearly see that Nueng was in pain. Being Thai, she forced a smile whenever I looked at her, but her eyes couldn’t hide her true feelings.
There was a look of forlornness in her beautiful brown, Asian eyes—that sad look seen in people who have no one (and no place) to call themselves. Of course, there were also countless other reasons for her unhappiness (shock, anger, loss, grief, heartbreak, insecurity – and the list goes on and on).
Recently, when I got over the grief, I really felt for Nueng, I tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible – and I failed miserably. My clumsy attempts at hospitality only widened the cultural gap between us and reinforced the fact that yes, I am a “Falang” (Thai: foreigner) in Thailand.
Sadly, the Phalanges in Thailand don’t have the best reputation for being serious or reliable.
Since I couldn’t communicate well with Nueng, I could only imagine what she was going through. Maybe she was struggling with the idea of going back to her abusive boyfriend? Statistics show that there is a high rate of recidivism (repeating the bad habit or returning to the abused situation) among abused girlfriends and husbands. Deep in my heart, I hoped she would be strong enough to do what was best for her life (and safety).
– To sympathize or not to sympathize? –
I wanted to reach out to Nueng and tell her that things would only get better.
But I personally knew that in the post-breakup shock and blues period, words really don’t help much. Good people, kindness, and other supportive environments soothe emotional wounds better than listening to cliché-sounding advice.
I wasn’t sure if she was ready to talk about her situation.
I wanted to tell her how deeply I understood what she was feeling right now. I wanted to tell her that abuse isn’t just a “women’s problem,” it happens to men too. Would it help if she heard about my recent experiences dealing with cheating exes, lies, psychological abuse, financial indiscretions and eventual break up?
Maybe it would plunge her deeper into grief? Was it the right time, or even the right topic to talk about? To regret or not to regret – that was the question.
I used my bilingual sisters as translators and told Nueng to relax and make herself at home.
“You can stay as long as you need,” I said.
“Kop khun kaa, Khun JC, kop khun kaa maak (Thank you, Mr. JC, thank you very much.),” she said with a reverent “Wai” (a Thai gesture made by joining the hands as in prayer and touching the thumbs to chin).
“If you want to stay here, you gotta just call me ole” JC No “sir.” Please. It makes me feel much older than I am,” I said.
After the translation, Nueng’s face lit up with a bright smile.
Then I heard her laugh for the first time since arriving. It was an amazing sound…
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