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Gary's Stint in the North of Thailand

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Okay...Time to set the stage.

In 1996 I made the big mid life plunge, quit a good government job with the Liquor Board, rented out the house in Canada and went to Chiang Mai, my wife, (now X wife) and 2 children following a month later.

Groundwork had been laid! (so I thought).

A few years of prior visiting and I felt I had a reasonable grip on what I was doing..I had been researching Yao (yu Mein) hilltribe paintings, gone to the hills in Chiang Rai area and Nan area, made contacts.. numerous visits were needed as relationships needed to be built before you saw any of the good stuff!!

I had also hooked up with this Italian who had some knowledge in these Taoist paintings. I felt I could make some money with antiques!

However, five days after arriving my now ex wife informed me the she was taking the kids and leaving... "What", I said awakened by her saying "I'M Going"
"Where I sleep?" stupid asked, "at the market?" 17 years done in 17 minutes!!!!
As she left in the songthaew. The crux of it was ..the night before..after a couple of sips of good old Sang Thip I told her the truth..I didn't love her ,didn't know what love was at 20 (when we got married) that was it!!

In hindsight,taking her there was madness...but I really loved my kids!

Anyway, now I have bought these sets of excellent Yao paintings etc that I had bought the day my wife pulls off, kids crying, to go to the airport I go into the house I have rented for us, in shock, I go into our bedroom and all the money is gone, bank books, etc, I have my passport and Canadian driving license, thats it!!.

That was the beginning of my new adventures in the Lanna world!

So here I was in Chiang Mai trying to focus on what to do next, while reeling emotionally with the sudden loss of contact with my 2 children (aged 12 daughter and 10 son, at the time).

I had these Yao paintings..they were beauties.These old Taoist paintings have quite a story unto themselves,the Yu Mein used to have them painted with great ceremony and ritual! Good ones are very hard to find now...Ask Aldo down at the Night Bazaar..he is on th 2nd floor main building,not outside,the only falang still able to maintain a business himself there all these years(Antiques),a bit eccentric Italian,but a good guy!If you see him say Hi from Gary in Canada! He has been there for over 20 years.Sorry I digress..let me pour another..twist one up and perhaps continue a bit more before bed,it's 11:55PM here in Sooke B.C

So ...I'm trying to figure out what to do!

It really was hard to concentrate ,the loss of contact with my children was truly upsetting!! but I had to get on with it..hey my prior visits,starting 1992 were not entirely innocent! the girl who I knew from a year before came back into my life..when my falang wife arrived (actually a few weeks before) I had told my Thai girlfriend that I was making one more attempt at a relationship with my wife,result.,my ex wifes departure five days after her arrival!
So I contacted K she was thrilled and I attempted to re design (re shape?) my whole life.The only thing in my hand were these Yao paintings.

I had made acquaintance with an American who was renting a house out on Chiang Kiang close to the Chiang Mai Zoo, he was dealing in antique Lao Sarongs and textiles, some really beautiful stuff, old Lao royal things.

I remember him showing some examples to a Chiang Mai craftsman weaver and they said they could not duplicate the type of weave today.

When you held some of the sarongs up and turned them 45 degrees the color would change dramatically, some of these sarongs were 300 to 500 U.S each! That was 10 years ago now.

So I've got these Yao paintings,but no money!

However,my Italian friend,who I had actually bought some antique ceramics from a year prior and auctioned in Canada for a modest return (beginners luck?) was planning to leave for Italy. I entrusted the paintings to him...hell I knew the guy for almost 2 years I knew his Thai wife. Selling the paintings in Thailand was not an option,there was far better money to be made in Europe. So off he went...and actually in dribs and drabs I slowly got back close to 80%my 110,000 baht investment(back then a Canadian dollar got you 18 baht!). He even even sent me this beautiful brochure from some Venetian Art Gallery where some of the paintings were being exhibited. As to tidy profits and champagne all was not to be!

What can you say?...I had been gently burned..the guy scammed me but at least sent me something,how much he made I'd rather not think about it!
Eventually his wife stopped hearing from him as did I, apparently he settled into a Heroin fog in Nepal.

So now I was really whittled down financially!
However I still had my American friend,who was also involved with antiques.
Surely things had to get better!

I had known "S" for a couple of years, I learned a fair bit about antiques with him and had an opportunity to travel, mostly by myself, with my trusty Honda Dream to many interesting and sometimes remote places, it was also the beginning of my role as "herbologist" for many things one does in a lifetime...

"S" and family had gone back to the U.S a few months after my wife(X) had left!(early 96).

A year and a half prior,I had drove(driven?) down to Eugene, Oregon to meet "S" from Vancouver Island with about 30 antiques sarongs, Going through American customs .."You have no guns..get going sucker!"

When I arrived in Vancouver Airport Canadian customs gave me a rigorous drug to the sarongs..."what are those?"

"Bought them at the night bazaar,great deal!!" never needing to show my "Thai" receipt for $300 for the lot.

Short of it is..I spent about three months in Eugene Oregon helping my American friend. I had also managed to get up to Canada and sign my house over (paid house) for a buck!!in lieu of alimony!

Now "S" wanted me to head back to Thailand, present business was almost done, so I went, and waited in vain for the next 4 months until I finally realized that I was F***D!

It gets better (worse).

Let me pour another first!

Quote Originally Posted by stroller View Post
Quote Originally Posted by garye
and waited in vain for the next 4 months until I finally realized that I was F***D!
For what? Him to join you, or the money from the sales?

Oh yeah! I was royally screwed I am waiting for approx 50G U.S...and waiting and waiting, in the meantime,rent for the shop house I rented (in Santitaam area) needed to be paid, my then girlfriend's flower/wreath shop was not cutting it.

I continued to find ways to generate an income, always with an innate realization that I must always remain a small, inoffensive, non-aligned operator! and then ......after numerous phone attempts (remember 11 years ago not everyone had cells) A friend of "S" finally answers the phone...and explains F**K ALL!

A day a slap...5000 crummy baht arrive in my bank!
Have I learned anything yet??

It took me a few months to get back to Canada! At that time my visa was still in order, I finally did manage to scrape together enough money for a flight to Toronto I remember there was some oddball seat sale, the ticket was cheaper than one to Vancouver and it went Bangkok, Seattle, Toronto, with a stopover in Seattle allowed.

So I got on a bus and headed for Eugene Oregon to find "S".

When I look back on it now I am amazed ,what was I thinking!

One Canuck going there ALONE.

When I arrived in Eugene I stopped at a mutual friends place first, she was a nice person and she tried to phone "S" and then drove me out to the house I had been staying before, I had left a backpack there a few months prior. LUCKY I went with her..."S" wasn't around anymore we were informed by an associate of "S" who I could tell was none too pleased that I had returned, so I got my backpack and we left, had I gone there alone....well...not sure if I'd be sitting here writing this right now!

It was pretty apparent that nothing was to be gained by my staying in Oregon! I still had a plane ticket from Seattle to Toronto.

So off I went to Toronto,in the middle of winter to work for my square head uncle Siggy.

He has a small painting business and had a spare room at his place.
I disliked being there right from the start...regardless of some of the difficulties that I had encountered (created?) in Thailand...the crazy place still beckoned me. I still had a girlfriend over there ,and a few months prior to my going back to Canada I had also started to play with fire!!!!!!!
The most delectable,beautiful,extremely dangerous,wicked,vixen..the Lady From HELL....I will call her Pen
I house painted my ass off for Uncle Siggy! And about a month later I left for Victoria.

Luckily,I was able to contact a friend of mine in Victoria before I left and was assured a place to stay for a month or so. He is a Native Indian antique dealer often going on buying expeditions in Canada and U.S and needed someone to go along on o trip to the U.S. down to Wyoming and back, and do some of the driving, plus he was carrying a mittfull of cash and didn't want to travel alone!

So I flew back from Toronto to Seattle where H. met me and after a week of going to Indian reservations(he buys very high end Indian masks, artwork, textiles, cradles at the source and resells on the International market, we drove back to Victoria.

And Thailand still beckoned......

There was one bank account that I still had from my "normal" days, H also paid me a few hundred for driving and said "Take Off Eh!!!" H could see how kind of lost I was and felt.

My X-wife was not allowing me to see my kids (at the time) I was still reeling from all of the changes in my life that I had gone through in the last year or so!

I just wanted to go back to Chiang Mai....go figure!!

After the plane ticket I think that I had no more than $2500.Canadian when I arrived back in Chiang Mai.

Now things start to get interesting...

I realized quickly how important it was to get an idea of what was being said around me, I remember getting someone at the Guesthouse I was staying at the time to say the numbers up to a hundred, from there it was easy to 1 thousand were it changes a little and the same for 10,000 etc. After listening,and jotting down some notes, I proceeded to walk around the moat in Chiang Mai, counting each step..neung, sawng, saam, sii........sawng roi, yiisip etc, sawng roi yii sip sawng, .....neung paan samm roi sii sip haa.... etc ..At the end of it I could count in Thai..a rudimentary first step but a first step at least.

The question word came next How, where, when, what, why.

Now..where were we?...Oh yes!

It's around Feb 97.. and I land back in Chiang Mai with a couple thousand dollars.
My relationship with K is done,after a couple of letter exchanges,two months before I arrived.

She was actually a really nice girl, but lets face it she had her agenda as we all do.
At that point I was just beginning to learn about Thai relationships, I know she really cared for me...but I also once discovered a Thai-French and a Thai-German Dictionary, Hmmmm? And it was not like we were married, nor had I left her destitute, in fact I had sent her to floral arranging school and payed money to a florist shop in order to secure her a job..

It is fair to say that I was not an innocent either, as I mentioned before I had begun to play with fire, I had met her in 96 at a bar in the old Night Bazaar Bar Beer center, which was actually not outside but sort of inside the main Pavilion on the very far side on the 2nd floor, A little alley way, with crazy little bars all on one side, and when it rained you might have to move your seat a little, quaint and cozy nothing at all like the Sex and sin centers in other parts of Chiang Mai.

I had actually met her at a mutual aquaintance's home a couple of days before, she was enchanting yet aloof, witty, sensual, mysterious.
At the bar that evening the conversation was at times delightfully wicked, sometimes reflective,she was constantly surprising me.
It was also clear that she did not work there, at first she bought her own drinks and I knew enough of the Thai world to see that they deferred to her, Respect or fear? I wasn't sure and it intrigued me.
The beginnings of our relationship were steamy to say the least, she was a passionate woman.
She started to set the clock back when I was asleep so that I would be late getting home to K. Fun things like that!

But now I was back, just for her, I will call her Pen. A lot of my motivation in returning quickly had to do with the fact that she had had a motorcycle accident about 1 and a half months before I got there, when she told me on the phone I just wanted to go back.

When I got to Chiang Mai she was still in a Bangkok hospital, a really good one.
Her leg(femur) had been badly broken while riding with a friend(?) thats all that she told me on the phone but she also made some mysterious comments as to this not being an actual accident.

When I was first getting to know her she implied without directly revealing anything that she was in contact with some fairly nefarious people.
It made me wonder how she, without apparent job, was able to go to a top notch hospital.
When I met her at the airport in Chiang Mai they wheeled her off in a wheelchair.
At that time I think that, in her own way, she truly liked me. However,in hindsight it is possible that she may have screwed something up in her life and I was the best option at the time.
Either way, I promptly rented an apartment on Huay Kaew Road prepared to nurse her back to health.

Now, only one to generate an income?

For whatever reason, she was happy in our little apartment.
Her leg really was broken, that was one thing that I was sure of. I bought a lot of anti scar cremes and did all the shopping for food and whatever (what a putz)

The first night that we were back together she tells me the story of her accident.
Yes, she confesses she knows someone big. However, that day a rival took it upon himself ,when the opportunity arose, to even a perceived score.
She, and the unwitting Swiss friend, pulled up at a small intersection when the pickup truck ahead instead of going forward,backed up over them intentionally and then left the scene.

To this day I do not know 100% what the truth was.
She also told me that she didn't want to be in debt to anyone, they owed her the repair on the leg but she didn't want any more.
That little bit of money wasn't going to last long.

I had made contact with a friend at the Australia Center and through him and one other contact found a couple of clients who wanted to learn English, and then more and more people.

I have to confess teaching rudimentary English takes great patience, which I found that I did not always have.
I became much more selective, choosing only mature students who were beyond basic English and were interested more in colloquial English, conversational English.It was far easier,in my opinion,to take a Thai comic book and give it to my student(s) and point to one cartoon, allow them to read it, and then ask "okay, I want to join in the fun as well, explain this cartoon to me in English, what's so funny " Suddenly I had motivation, because they wanted to explain the joke to me, and we had a comfortable medium in which to do it.

Allow me to digress for a moment
Here is a Thai joke
The actual words are L(R)oot fai..gaap huu.. gaap haan
In English Train with head with tail

What it actually means when said at the right moment is "your(her) pussy is so big ,a train could go in there,turn around,and come back!

All that from just a couple of Thai words

As most people know, teaching English in Thailand does not generate a huge income.It was clear that other methods were needed.

I knew already that many Ex-Pats were always in search of some good "Herbs" particularly mountain"tHerbs".

During my time exploring for Yao paintings I had had the opportunity to go to some lovely remote provinces.
Nan is a beautiful place and there are still a number of Yao people living in the vicinity.

My earlier searches a couple of years before had been relatively fruitless.
Even ten years ago, whatever good paintings hadn't already been sold, were rotting! I finally was able to see on set one...he started to unroll was beautiful until he got to the middle and then you could see it was all water and smoke sad..what a shame,the whole set was too damaged.
However they had good "Herbs" and there were folks who needed some good "Herbs".

That is not to say that there not some great Yao (they actually prefer to call themselves Yu Mein) paintings still around,and good full set are quite valuable,if you can find them.It is not something that they would show you right away,often taking many visits.I really enjoyed those treasure hunting days .One of the reasons that I had a bit of success in those early days was probably my willingness to do things their way ie multiple visits,gifts

But that was the good old days!

Now I needed to find some ""Herbs", And the mountain areas were familiar.
By bus or by plane I would go,check in at a Guest House rent a motorcycle, go somewhere a little out of town and purchase some nice "Herbs"
Then it was back to CM to distribute packs of "Herbs" to various people, sometimes even brash young English teachers who were working at the old British Consulate (I did go insidie to their little office but they were only small fry...nothing important).

I realized soon on that regardless of the availability of various things,to have any chance of survival I had to stick to a niche green tea .When cured properly green tea can take on a goldish quality.But for sure at at that point only "Herbs" .Other things were more portablebut then you got into thank you..a small niche business was all one could do considering the circumstances.

The closest to black tea was one lucky time when someone had brought some black Nepalese tea back via Kunming and I knew someone very thirsty. Mama mia that was one quick ,lucky money maker.

In fact with that one lucky transaction, we got out of the apartment.
In fact, we bought some wood and began building a house out on her property (past MaeTang).

Before the house was even built, I went one more time to Nan.
I rented the bike, as usual, and headed out to my Yao friends, and while heading back to Nan was suddenly flanked by two vehicles, a white pick up with four Thai guys with white T-shirts in the back, and a sedan pulling right beside me with one fellow.

They are all Thai and broken English...Yooot...Stop....Taam Ruet...Police....

My life began flashing before my eyes!

Here I am booting my "Dream" as fast as it will go with about 3 K of "contraband?" between my legs the white pickup truck pulls beside me at about 90km .one of the fellow in the back of the the truck yells...Stop ...Police...
It was quite clear what proper decorum was.

I went like a bat out of hell!

Down the Highway, it's amazing what a Honda Dream can do, (there should be a book about them), the pickup pulled ahead, squealed to a stop as the four fellows jumped out, the green sedan flanking me I had to make a decision.!?

As the four men scrambled out of the pickup I could see at least a couple of rifles starting to point my way.
Bear in mind,that all of this was happening in a few seconds.
Before they could properly set up, I decided to punch the old Dream down to 3rd..give it some juice...and hope for the best...hey what else are you going to do under these circumstances.
I had to pass between two of the fellows, one of them tries to knock me off of the bike with his rifle off I fly hoping to get lost in the city. At one point I went between a truck and a bus going in opposite directions at 90 km, my handlebars clearing by a proverbial "moi" hair.So close.
Cutting sharply left and through a couple of intersections, I lost them and found myself on a more rural road, and promptly relieved myself of my rucksack and began to slowly put distance between myself and the offending item.

Quote Originally Posted by stroller View Post
Why drop the gear when you shook off the pigs?

Because I was in Nan, not that many ways out, still had to return the rented bike, and I wasn't really sure if I had really lost them.
I managed to get about a km away from initial stopping area when lo and behold a green car appears, he climbs out and I slowly try to drive past him, no way, he grabs for the keys of my "Dream" and says" kapao dam,dem ganga,tii nai??
At this point ones life doesn't flash by your eyes, no time for that as every nerve is alive and tingling as you try and figure out how to not vanish forever.
How do you answer this question? where is the bag?
To say to him, "what bag?" with both him and I both knowing that he indeed saw a black knapsack between my legs earlier would be tantamount to calling him a liar, "sia naa" for him, bad for me.
To tell him where I threw it.......silly question.
So I did the jai yen thing looked at him, smiled (not too broadly) and tried to give my best Gallic shrug as if to say, "I don't want to lie to you and I don't want to confess" kaap.
At first he poked around the cul de sac road where he had cornered me, looking fruitlessly for some evidence.
He then got on my bike and ordered me to drive to a couple of restaurants, presumably to find the other cops in the truck, thankfully no success.
It was a Friday evening and dusk was dissolving into evening.
We went back to his parked car.
In Engish and broken Thai (never let the cops know you speak Thai) I said..."I'm sorry I was driving so fast, I didn't know who you were, Perhaps I could pay a speeding fine!"
My plain clothes friend sucks some wind through his teeth as I make a show of going through my pockets,earlier I had stashed about 8000 baht in my underwear.I pulled out 2370 baht from one pocket and said "this is what I have for you", and reaching in my shirt pocket pulled out 500 baht and said "and this is to get on the bus and out of your sight forever".

10,000 he says first.

Sorry this is it,it's all I have.

He looks at me and in school book Thai says "Pom kit wa khun poot Thai kaeng na kaap..le ...khun kap lot keang duay"
In slow English I answer, "thank you sir you are a good man" and reach my hand out western style to shake...2370 baht firmly in my palm to be handed over.

Pai loey he says

When I first got clear of them, on the outskirts of town I found myself mercifully alone, not even a chicken in sight, beside a clump of some trees and brush.I tossed my bag into the midst of it and then drove as far away as possible,the one guy cornered me about a km away.
That was a long bus ride back to CM
I'm thinking ...what to do now ???

To Be Continued

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