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Escape to Thailand. First chapter free. Available on Apple, Amazon etc

10/01/2014

Chapter 1  We’re airborne

Get off this plane now.

But it was too late. Thai Airways Flight TG 911 was preparing for take off. Rather an unfortunate flight number given the events in America in 2001.

The 747 jumbo let loose the power of its four engines with a roar. With the brakes released, all 340 or so passengers, including me, were forced back into their seats as we gathered speed down runway 2 at London’s Heathrow Airport and started the ascent into the mid morning sky.

Thoughts of what would be awaiting me after 3 hours in the airport lounge and 13 hours of flying time were beginning to worry me. Had I really thought my situation out properly?

I gulped down yet another complimentary double scotch and hoped these would help me relax on what I was beginning to think would be a boring and tedious flight into the unknown.

I was embarking on a 12000 mile round trip for a blind date with a young woman, much younger than me, that I had met only on an internet-dating site. She had invited me over to Thailand on two previous occasions. I declined them all. This time, for reasons I was still uncertain of, I had decided to take up her offer. But was I thinking straight?

After 16 years, like so many other marriages it would seem, mine had suddenly hit a brick wall. With a divorce finalised and a major slice of my working life completed, I was facing a financial and personal crisis that I could not see my way around.

The only matter that remained following the divorce was the sale of the matrimonial home, and this was becoming a very protracted and tiresome issue. I was lucky to some extent. The house was large enough for both of us to lead separate lives. I lived in the self-contained granny annex. It became my sanctuary after the decree absolute. She lived in the main house. I was able to lead a near-normal life, returning home late into the evening after a long day at the office. Like many fathers, I saw my young son only at weekends.

My wife, however, seemed to be making sure that my son was fully committed in doing something else whenever I was around. She was leaving me very little time with him. I could see that this was going to be the pattern for the future. The only opportunities she allowed me to have with my son were when she decided she wanted to socialise and go out on the town. In her eyes, I was just the convenient unpaid baby sitter.

If I was ever delayed through being caught up in a traffic jam, she was always quick to point the nagging finger and say that I did not care a jot for my son. If it spoilt her planned excursions into the night, it was always down to me.

My neighbours, whom I had known for years, could often see me driving at break neck speed to return home, screeching down our drive just as she was bundling him in the car to dump him at a friend’s home for the evening. Nothing was going to spoil her own pre-planned evening soirée; and Michael would be left, without company of his own age, with an elderly couple he hardly knew.

She could do as she wanted. I could not be even two or three minutes late. My neighbours were sympathetic and could see what was going on. However, there was nothing anyone could do to counter the devious game she was determined to play.

My ex wife was 10 years younger than I was. Although she was always a little spoilt, we had had some good times together, and she did not lack for anything a young bride could wish for. I had a good job and every penny of my salary was spent on our home. She had every modern expensive appliance she wanted, mirroring the life style she was leaving behind at her parents’ home.

She wanted everything that I had provided for our lives together to remain solely with her. And that included Michael. She did not want me to be part of our son’s life. That was the rub. I was seeing a side of her that I had never seen before. I still don’t understand why she was so scheming and had so much venom in her blood. Were her friends egging her on to cause trouble?

The days passed by as we waited for a buyer to be found for the home. She appeared to be disinclined to sell and always put on a sour face when potential buyers were viewing the property. The days turned to months, and the months into years.

Living in this way and trying to hold down a job at the same time was not easy. My health began to suffer. I collapsed in the office twice in as many weeks. I got up and carried on with the job. I was never one to give in. My colleagues told me I needed to see a doctor. I made an appointment for the next day.

I had never seen my doctor so concerned. After taking my blood pressure and checking my pulse, he asked me questions about my life style and what problems I had. Without saying a word, he wrote out a prescription to help with my obvious stress, and insisted I stop work for at least a month.

My lodgings now became my prison. I diligently took the medication prescribed but found myself sitting alone staring out of the window into the garden for hours at a time. My mind was in turmoil and I needed to do something as this was the first time in my thirty-four year working life that I had ever been signed off by a doctor. I was used to working a normal 7 hour day. Now my life was at a standstill. I had pleaded with my doctor not to keep me from work. This was my only outlet for normality,

During my forced incarceration, I sought refuge in my computer. It was to become my lifeline. Music from my CD collection was my sole companion. Sport and news on my small television set was my only contact with the outside world.

Surfing the net one day, I stumbled on a travel site about countries in the Far East. It was most interesting. There was a clip of people enjoying what seemed to be a very hassle free and happy existence. No worries, no stress, everyone appeared to be living a life without a care in the world. How I wished my life could be like that. Why can’t everyone live in that sort of harmony? Totally different from my situation: sitting in front of a computer, not knowing what the future was holding for me, nothing to look forward to. I surfed a bit more in my boredom. Then, somehow, I got onto a Thai social networking site and started chatting with some people. I started feeling less lonely, that someone out there was caring enough to talk to me.

A lady called Tasanee was on line. Obviously Thai, but I had no idea how you would pronounce her name. I laughed aloud when she wrote that she also had a nickname and was called Toy by her friends. We have nicknames in the West, of course. I had one in school but I’m not telling you what it was. Apparently, in Thailand everyone has a nickname and they use it in place of their given first name, which is really only used for official documents.

That was my first contact with Toy and the first time I had laughed aloud for a very long time.

Even now, I find it difficult to express the affect that my first excursion into Thailand, albeit a virtual excursion over a computer connection, had on me. It was a very positive experience. My life was returning. Or was I clutching at straws?

Toy was a 39-year-old teacher from the Northern Thai province of Chiangmai. She had one daughter; I had one son. I did not know the detail at the time, but I sensed she had gone through a rough patch in her marriage prior to her husband’s premature death in a road accident. Being 10 years widowed, she had thrown herself into her teaching and bringing up her daughter, Kanya. From our exchange of messages over the internet, she came across as someone who genuinely wanted to settle down and enjoy once again living in a warm family environment. And at the time I didn’t think I was wrong in my judgment.

Family is very important to a Thai. The strong bonds within the family are not easily understood by Westerners who are more self-dependent and don’t feel family ties so strongly.

A year or so later, I found out that it was Kanya, who was now in high school and preparing for university, who had encouraged her mother to “find a new husband for yourself and a father for me. Let’s be a family together again.”

Slowly, Toy began telling me about her married life with her late husband, Somchai. Her marriage to a Thai man had not been without its problems. She was going to be cautious about any future friendship and not make another mistake in her life. Realising that a life without Kanya as her companion was fast approaching, she saw the logic of what her daughter was saying. Kanya was becoming more self-confident and sooner or later would be making her own way in life. Toy had to start looking at her future.

She seemed intrigued in chatting to a foreigner over the internet. Thais have this perception that all farangs (white foreigners) are rich, not appreciating that high wages also come with high taxes and a high cost of living. English men particularly are seen as more honest and caring than Thai men – the Thai expression is poo dee angkrit. It has no direct translation but implies a feeling that Westerners are trustworthy and malleable. That they can be easily manipulated and persuaded to be fairly compliant with a wife’s demands. Very unlike the way a woman is able to treat a Thai man.

It was with Kanya’s help that Toy had found this social networking site. Actually, it was more like a dating agency.

Toy and I chatted a lot over the next six months, getting to know each other better. Behind the scenes, I later found out, Kanya was vetting some of the contacts on her mother’s behalf. Sometimes, when Toy was busy, Kanya was replying to e-mails and instant messages herself. Including mine!

Perhaps I should have seen that as a possible red light and thought more deeply about it; but I did not.

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