We’re back on Samui and I have rented a brand new furnished one bedroom house for $12.00 a night at “Solitude Resort” on a mountainside about a mile from Doug and Luk’s bungalow.
The first evening we were welcomed by our next door neighbors, a hilarious 55 year old skinny Austrian jewelry maker, Stefan, with a shaved head except for a very long salt and pepper pony-tail in back, and his flirty 30 year old Mongolian wife. He was escaping the extremely harsh European winter, he said. The owner of the simple “resort” with six houses and a swimming pool is a youngish Brit, Mark, from Yorkshire, and I understand only about half his English. His wife is a pretty young Hmong tribal woman from Lao. (I confess I can remember the names of neither woman.)
The Austrian and his wife were pretty well oiled by the time we arrived about 6 in the evening…Doug, and Luk and I opting for juice. The 7 of us sat on the front porch fighting mosquitos while the two guys regaled us with stories about how they met their wives (Stefan and his wife were both working in “Czecki” and Mark met his wife in Vientiane, Lao while on a post university year of travel) and about the difficulties in getting married when there are no consolates (Austrian or British) in the respective countries they are trying to get permission to marry in (Mongolia and Lao).
The women, with minimal English, gave up on trying to follow the hurried conversation and lapsed into a smaller discussion between themselves about how they had been married for 5 and 7 years and still had no children. To get married, Stefan had to go through the Australian Embassy in Beijing…Mark the Australian Embassy in Britain. Stefan was told he had to pay $125 for something but that it was “impossible to do!” (We all laughed having heard similar injunctions many times before!) Mark had to pay off officials all the way up the bureaucratic chain to the tune of $1500 to get the usual year waiting period reduced to three months. He had to fill out 25 forms that had to be translated in four different languages (the fourth because Mark’s father is from Mauritius off the coast of Africa). One of the forms Mark had to sign was an affadavit saying he had never slept with his prospective bride…if he had refused he could have been hauled off to jail…it being against the law to sleep with a woman in Lao if you are not married! I thought to myself that the pressure from the local families, probably financial as well as cultural, for these couples to be married must have been pretty strong to get these guys to go through all this rigamarole. Or maybe I have just become cynical!
Then, as usual between expats, the discussion turned to the lack of local efficiency…Mark lamenting about how any tools made in Thailand were sure to break or fall apart as soon as they were purchased…make sure anything you buy is made in China or the west he advises. And Stefan had stories about how gems were glass, earrings made of tin infected his wife’s pierced ears, and the gold he tried to make jewelry with broke apart because the 24 carot gold was so soft. (The Thais won’t have anything but pure gold. It’s a status thing.) This we already know of course. The evening’s black humor produced a lot of much needed comic relief. But, Mark says, even so, every place in the world having it’s ups and downs he would never choose to give up living in “Paradise.” We are all learning to live “mai pen rai!” loosely translated meaning “no worries’ or “never mind!”
This morning as I was leaving the house on the back of Doug’s bike, Mark was cleaning the pool. A 60ish year old Italian guy was animatedly trying to teach Mark Italian…in Italian…Mark patiently nodding and smiling all the while. Mark caught my eye and we had a good laugh!
These experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.