“How old do you think zat man is?” Hans hissed at me, pointing to his equally white-haired, equally German chum. “Um, fifty?” I guessed politely. Hans threw his head back and cackled. “NO!” he hollered, “Fritz is seventy-five! And he is living viss a twenty-eight year old Thai girl!”
What else could I do, being the only young, female, American guest here at this party, but smile and coo: “That’s wonderful!”
I had accepted Hans’s invitation to his Thai ex-wife’s massage parlor party with a peppy journalistic spirit. “Lillie–” warned my Muay Thai boxer buddies from the hotel, “You realize this is going to be a bar packed full of seventy year old German men and their young Thai girlfriends, right? You realize you are getting yourself into a really creepy situation, don’t you?” I smiled and hopped on the back of Hans’s mo-ped, clinging to his puffy waist as we revved off towards the massage parlor slash cocktail bar.
Arrival: multicolored lights, balding silver hair, long dark hair, smiles. Hans’s ex-wife, Nok greeted me warmly, her tight red dress sliding along her curves. She showed me to the free Thai food buffet in honor of her daughter’s birthday and poured me a Coke. Plate heaped high, I squeezed between Hans, Fritz, and Peter. Just one of the middle-aged German men! That’s me.
German jokes flew fast and furious, as did hugs with the Thai women, and refills of “bier”. Hans glowed increasingly red, and began belting out every song the Classic Rock guitarist strummed. “Brown sugar, how come you taste so good? Brown sugar, just like a young girl should!” I sang along too, because really, who can resist Classic Rock?
The story began to trickle out. As a young German sailor, Hans had seen the world, and all its women. Thirty-seven years ago, he decided to settle down and wed a German woman. They had a son. Two years later, he could no longer stand the endless quarrels, and fled the country. “I don’t know what happened viss my son,” Hans admitted, looking away. “Maybe his mother told him that I am a bad person, but now he will not talk to me. I try to call him always but even though he’s grown now he won’t think for himself to forgive me. I could have taken him around Thailand, shown him so much, but he won’t forgive. For this I say I have no son.”
So Hans arrived in Thailand, wealthy and unencumbered, and soon made his way to one of the massage parlors infamous in Phuket. “Behind zee glass,” explained Hans, “were women paid to sit for twenty four hours to offer massage. They got paid for massage if they got hired, but if no massage zey still have to sit behind the glass all day for no pay.” Here, Hans met/hired Nok, and started to love her. At last he said, “I don’t want you to do massage here. It’s not a good place. I want you to have your own massage parlor, viss your name on it.” Nok, one of many children from a poor rural family, was overjoyed.
In just a year, Nok’s life was completely transformed. Hans found and bought a tract of land in Nai Han beach and ordered construction of a clean new massage hall, with a roofed outdoor restaurant/bar adjacent. Nok’s name appeared on top in blazing red letters, and glossy business cards went with it. “Soon I say to her,” Hans remembered nostalgically, “I love you, I love your young daughter, and I have a big house. Why do you not both live viss me?” And so the wedding and move-in occurred. “Two hundred thousand I paid for the party,” said Hans, shaking his head. “And I pictured us growing old together. But she had other ideas.”
Hans had lived a jolly long life of excess and hedonism, so he told Nok, “I am sixty-eight and you are thirty-five. I cannot always keep up with you, so if you want to stay out late and enjoy, do it.” But this began to spin out of control. Nok got home later and later, drunker and drunker, and began to say she was sleeping at the house of a female friend. “Just tell me,” said Hans. “Don’t give me stories. I just want to know.” One night Nok came back late and drunk and revealed that she had just bought a bar in a town fifteen miles away without consulting Hans. Hans knew he was losing her, and in a few months she asked for a divorce.
“Here is zee stupid thing,” Hans growled. “I married her because I loved her, but also to give her my pension. When I die, vich is ten years, fifteen years, maximum, she would have gotten 60,000 Baht every month, just for doing nothing! She gave all that up when she divorced me! That is so stupid.”
“And now this idiot,” Hans laughed, pointing at the white-haired German gazing worshipfully at Nok across the room, “Now he thinks HE loves her and zat she loves him. HAH! I give it less zan one year before she takes all she can from him and it is still not enough. You cannot blame either one of them. Zey are both good people, but this is what happens.”
Suddenly the smell of gasoline filled the air. “Fire show!” squealed the audience, and five Thai boys sprinted in with blazing torches, spitting gasoline out of their mouths and bursting them into flame balls. The spectacled German man near me slid his hand down the back of his Thai girlfriend’s skirt, and she stared at the twirling fire.
These fire dancers spin torches along their young skin. These German men love and pay. These Thai women love and exchange. Fire play, flame dance, and the glow of possibility and risk!
At this point a German voice shouted, “Oh no! The motobikes!” and we all realized the pyramid of fire-twirlers were inches from the thirty gas tanks. But the show went on, and ended with a flourish and a hat out for money.
“She has found a new sponsor,” said Hans, sipping his Tiger Beer, “and for me, I say never again. Now I make sex viss the young girls each night, and zen live the rest of my life alone, happy. Vee all stay friends, and vee all still love each other, but for me and her, never again.”
At this point I thanked Hans for the kind invitation and bribed one of the Thai women to drive me home through the pouring rain.