- My Thai Girlfriends
In the dream i'm served by a Thai woman wearing a white plaster mask. She and I are the only people in a large hotel dining room: antique table settings, six or eight to a table, and white linen tablecloths. The masked woman folds herself around me from behind, but along with the pleasure of being held comes the fear of impropriety. Foreigners are expected to practice restraint while visiting this country.
Upon waking I write, "At my age sex may be a thing of the past, but to live well, it's best not to rule it out entirely. The desire, not the act, is the important thing."
A year off from work requires complicated arrangements. Someone must be found to replace me at work, where for fifteen years I've been editing archaeological reports for New Mexico's Office of Cultural Affairs. I'm worried that my replacement will not do the job as well as I, or that he will do it better. My house must be leased so I'll have enough money while I'm in Thailand. My medical insurance will be discontinued, putting me at the mercy of Asian diseases. I'll cancel my telephone, and the telephone company will give my old number to a stranger.
There's some explaining to do. It makes people nervous that I'm pulling up roots, leaving everything behind for a year. It causes them to question their own comfortable routines. They demand reasons. I say that I've always wanted to travel, which isn't true. The thought of going alone to an unknown country terrifies me. I say that I want to experience a foreign culture, knowing that it's no more possible to leave my own culture behind than it is to leave my own consciousness. Among coworkers, I don't say that my leaving has more to do with the disavowal of what I'm doing here than with anything I might find to do over there, which might remind them of their own dissatisfaction. Nor do I say that the real object of this adventure is not having to do anything at all.
One of the archaeologists at the office recommends Chiang Mai, a city in the cooler northern part of Thailand, as the best place to start. Chiang Mai has everything, he says—great food, friendly people, antiquities—and for Westerners, at least, it's incredibly cheap since the Asian economic collapse. He tells me how to use the red taxis, which [End Page 55] only seem to be taking you miles out of your way. And he warns about the beauty of Thai women: "It's okay to sleep with them, but don't get serious. You'll end up having to support her whole family."
The Kingdom of Thailand issues me a visa that's valid from July 23, 2002, until July 22, 2002, that is, minus one day. I didn't want to go to Thailand all that much anyway, and now Thailand has complied with my basic reluctance to visit their country by granting me less than no time in the kingdom. The Thais are famous for politeness, and "Please come for minus one day" is probably their polite way of saying, "Don't bother to come at all." I call the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., and talk to Mr. Pop. He apologizes and says there's been a mistake, which means I have to go after all.
As a going-away present, the Office of Cultural Affairs gives me a lifetime supply of condoms.
It might be Saturday. I'm alone in Chiang Mai, sitting on the wooden balcony that overlooks the courtyard of the Mountain View Guesthouse. Guests on the second floor are asked to walk lightly on the teak floors to keep from disturbing those in the rooms below. There's no view of the mountains, but Miss Daeng, the manager, says you can see them if you climb to the roof of the building after a rain.
This morning two real estate agents showed me an apartment in a high-rise condo called...