Cut Loose at Fifty: Chapter Seventeen – "Pick a Leaf, Any Leaf"
By Chris Clancy
A week or so after returning from Thailand the new semester began.
I got back into the swing of things very easily. Two girls who I'd taught the previous semester agreed to come and clean my place once a week. Their English names were Becky and Alien. After a few weeks they'd whipped the appartment into some sort of shape.
It was still a shell, but now at least, a clean shell.
Thiti and I talked on a regular basis – usually in the evening. Unlike me, she was a chatterbox – so there was always things to talk about – even if most of it came from her.
After we parted in Thailand she said she'd gone to a temple and asked for advice and guidence from a monk. She said they talked for some time. At some point she confided in him that we each had a mole on our respective nether regions.
Why she would want to mention such a thing I don't know.
The monk was particularly interested to know the positioning of the moles. When she told him he said this was a very good "sign".
Being superstitious, she was very happy with the news. I can't say I was exactly ecstatic, but, when it comes to happiness, I suppose every little bit helps – even if it's only a mole on your ass.
Things went reasonably well. We had a few blow-ups, but that was to be expected and, in some ways, welcome – it meant that there was no play-acting or games going on. Before the internet, relationships like this were fraught with all sorts of dangers. But the fact that we could not only speak to each other live, but see each other as well, kept the thing fresh and buzzing along.
The weeks began to zip past. We, or should I say she, started planning where we would go in May and what we would do. She said she'd make enquiries about getting a holiday visa for China. If all went well she'd return with me and we'd give it a try.
While this was in the mix I was busy teaching, seeing groups, giving talks and reading – especially reading – about all things Austrian. At times it became almost voracious. I can only liken it to being put in a race and then told that I had to start well behind the others. The distance behind represented the unlearning I had to do before I could get to the starting line.
I tore into it.
Before I knew it, the time had passed and I was on my way back to Thailand.
We went straight to a seaside town called Rayong – her choice - about four hours drive from Bangkok. One of her aunts had a bar and restaurant there. She had organized a place for us to stay.
I wondered why Thiti had chosen Rayong? It was pretty nondescript really.
I also wondered why she'd chosen a place where this particular aunt lived? She'd already told me that they hardly knew each other.
The answer to these questions soon became clear.
Once we'd unpacked and settled in, we headed for her aunt's place and something to eat. On the way she just happened to mention that her aunt was said to have a"gift", a reputation for fortune-telling and stuff like that.Thiti was a firm believer in such things - I wasn't.
OK. I got it now. Before she made a final decision she wanted to get me checked out astrologically – if that's the right word for it.
I was very skeptical about this sort of thing – mediums, seances, horoscopes, tarot cards, crystal balls and all the rest of it. If you want to get my interest just provide me with some credible evidence – that's all.
I felt the same way about UFOs and extraterrestrials.
Mind you, on occasions when I've found myself staring up at a clear night sky – I just couldn't help wondering - given the unimaginable vastness of it all?
A great line from the movie Contact puts it very well – something like …
Well … if there's nothing else out there … then it seems to me like an awful waste of space.
We had a nice meal with her aunt. The conversation seemed to wander here, there and everywhere, as if looking for a place to park. I think Thiti lost patience and decided to shove it into its desired location.
As if out of the blue, she suggested we have a "reading" – "Just for fun!" she said.
But of course
I played along. Why not? I knew her aunt wouldn't say anything bad - which is what it's all about I suppose - sending people away feeling a bit happier than when they arrived.
Her aunt pointed to a bush and told me to go and get a leaf. I went, and then found myself inspecting the bush. Yes, even though I knew it was all nonsense I was actually looking for a "good" leaf. She called across for me to just pick a leaf, any leaf, it didn't matter.
Even inspite of this I still picked what looked like a strong, healthy-looking leaf.
I felt ridiculous.
I sat down beside Thiti – across the table from her aunt.
She ran her fingers over the leaf in a rather laid-back and thoughtful way. And then began:
"You look very alike … "
… are you serious? … I thought to myself … I'm European, she's Asian. I'm thirteen stone, she's seven. I'm five feet nine, she's four feet ten …
" … you think the same way about things … "
… couldn't be more different, actually …
" … and I can see something very clearly … "
… oh yeah, what's that? …
" … your auras have bonded."
… no kidding? …
I assume she now felt she had our attention.
Her "performance" became a bit more focused at this point.
She gathered herself slowly – and then launched into it.
Her pronouncements were just the usual things - telling us what we wanted to hear with a few caveats thrown - just to add a bit of realism.
Overall prediction – keep going, stay strong, don't weaken - and your dreams will come true!
I just wish she'd stuck to the script.
But no, she finished the so-called "reading" by adding a little something extra.
She said we would have two children. She was quite specific – two. I looked back at her blankly. Thiti smiled
This is where the session finished. Her aunt went back to running her business. But things didn't stop there.
Unfortunately, there was a problem with her last "prediction" – Thiti couldn't have kids.
She'd been married before. When no kids appeared the tests started. Then the treatments - the full gamut – finishing with IVF. In the end her docters made it very clear to her. She would never be able to have her own kids.
Later on when we were alone I brought it up.
She said that deep inside she still held a hope. That her aunt had helped her to hang on to that hope – no matter what the doctors said – and what was wrong with that?
Nothing, I thought, as long as you don't take it too seriously – but plenty if you do.
We'd talked about kids before. When she told me she couldn't have any we didn't mention it again. I assumed she had come to terms with it. I was wrong. She still had that yearning – something no man would ever understand – but I knew it was a bridge we were going to have to cross at some point.
The next morning we met our neighbors at the place we were staying. They were a couple of Chinese girls on a package tour from Shanghai. Both taught English at high school. One was a lovely girl – an excellent representative for her country. Let's call her Ann. The other was the opposite. Let's call her Lin. Nothing was right for this girl – not the travel arrangements, the locations, the tour guide, the accommodation, the shopping, the weather, the food – nothing!
She bore the permanent expression of someone who had just walked in something nasty – or someone who had just put her finger through the toilet paper.
Ann invited us to join them for lunch. She was so nice we had to say yes – in spite of her friend.
We met. Lin was still huffing and puffing. She wiped the table with her finger and inspected it with a look of disgust. She held the menu between pinched fingers as if she were holding something dirty. She said, shooting an angry glance at Ann, that Thailand hadn't been her idea in the first place! Furthermore, this would be her first and last visit – never again!
It's very easy to underestimate Thai people. It may be known as the "Land of Smiles", but if you insult their country, or even more so their king, you are no longer welcome.
The response to such insults is proportionate to their size. But, one way or another, they will rarely go unpunished.
Thiti ordered the food in English. She finished with a few words in Thai. The waiter nodded.
I had gone for a simple sandwich – Thiti and Ann went for some kind of omelet-noodle thingy - Lin wanted seafood.
Our orders arrived fairly quickly except for the seafood. After about ten minutes it still hadn't come. She called the waiter over and complained angrily. I assume he pretended not to understand her English. He looked at Thiti for a translation. She asked Lin to just be a little patient – the food was on its way.
Again, she finished by saying something in Thai to the waiter.
He returned to the kitchen -I heard some laughter. I was reminded of the old adage: never upset a waiter or a journalist. Ten minutes later we'd finished our food. Lin was still waiting - positively fuming – steam coming out of her ears!
Thiti said we had to be going. She went to the bar and settled the bill for all four of us.
Lin was still waiting for her food as we left.
Sounds a bit childish, I know, but I had no sympathy for her. If you visit another country and behave like an obnoxious pig you deserve whatever bad treatment you get.
This gave me the opportunity to say something to Thiti about living in China. I said it was not like other countries in Asia. With few exceptions the rest had become Westernized to some greater or lesser extent. But China was different. She had never visited China before and thought it would be like other Asian countries she had been to - like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – or countries like Brunei and Singapore, where she had worked.
To put it bluntly, Chinese people, in general, do not like foreigners. And I'm not just talking about people from the West. It's no exaggeration to say that many consider themselves a cut above their Asian neighbours.
The exception is Japan. The animosity which many Chinese people still feel towards this country and its people really needs to be experienced to be believed – it is an entire subject in itself – for this reason I'll pass on it.
Lin had given Thiti a taste of the kind of arrogance which she would have to learn to deal with if she wanted to live in China.
She just didn't realize it at the time.
The rest of the week panned out nicely – we spent most of it in and around Rayong. Just the two of us.
She'd received a few mobile calls and texts – but not many.
In the end she said she'd made up her mind. I suspect this happened after a brutal blast of reality from one of her oldest friends. Probably her only real friend at that time in her life.
If there were any doubts, that call tipped the balance.
The holiday finished.
We boarded a plane together and headed for China.
Another journey was beginning.
For better or worse - we couldn't have known.
Chris Clancy lived in China for seven years. Most of this time was spent as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He now lives in Thailand where he spends his time reading, writing, lecturing and, whenever he gets the chance, doing his level best to spread Austrian economics.