The Girl From The North Country - Thailand
See for me if her hairs hanging long,
Tumbling down upon her breast,
See for me if her hairs hanging long,
Cos that's the way I remember her best
(Bob Dylan - Girl From the North Country)
This is a story of love found and love lost. Set in the night bars of Bangkok, home to some of the loveliest temptresses in the world.
For many western men, either in the city on business or on holiday, they are just too much to resist.
Our story follows an unusual girl who joined me for a drink one night in the old open bar at Hilary One on Nana.
Anyone familiar with the series of opening lines will know what comes next 'What's you name, where you from, you on holiday'?.
Its standard practice and some of the bar girls can go no further with their conversation than that.
But this girl was different. When she asked me my name, it was quickly followed by 'What do you do?' I always answer truthfully, and try not to be something I'm not.
Besides, if I say I am the CEO of a big multinational the assumption would be that I have pots of money, and that would never do.
So, I said " I'm a writer". Her reply haunts me to this day
"One day you will write my story"
Perhaps this is the day and now I can write about a girl whose life has been one of tragedy and success. Her name is Boonwa and she comes from Sakhon Nakhon.
Over the time I knew her she told me things about her childhood and her life as a teenager which brought tears to my eyes, but she would quickly say "But its OK"
It was her way of dealing with traumas which will probably be with her forever. It could not be made up, and the information came in spurts, from nowhere.
I listened and sometimes felt helpless. Every bar girl has a sob story, and some are just stories, but Boonwa told it from the heart.
We always met when I was on one of my Asian work excursions which usually lasted about 6 weeks.
I wasn't always in Bangkok, but when I was, this girl was a rock on whom I came to depend.
There are tales abound of theft, double crossing, drugs and all that is bad about the bar scene.
I can honestly say I have never been robbed, had things taken from my room, been doped or had drinks spiked.
The majority of bar girls are honest, and are the cleanest, tidiest people I know.
Ok they offer sex as a service but then I know a few English girls who do that for a few beers.
They do what they have to do to get money and if that means sex with strangers then so be it.
But Boonwa was slightly different, and although I gave her money on a regular basis, she did as much for me outside of the bedroom as in it.
Money was not always the issue, which in itself is fairly unusual in Thailand.
Her childhood, in Isaan, was tough, with an overbearing authoritarian father and a fairly domicile mother. She got into trouble on a regular basis.
Her punishment would be to have one leg tied to a post for the day.
You would not treat an animal in such a way. When she was 13 years old she was abused by her uncle, if not fully raped.
She came to Bangkok as a 15 year old girl with a worldly experience even at that tender age and worked full shifts as a house maid.
Then, after a year, she went back to Sakhon Nakhon.
By this time her father had become unbearable and was ill treating her mother. She knew she had to get out, and if nothing else she is / was a survivor.
At 18 she had her daughter, not by normal birth and not even by normal caesarean section.
The scar down the front of her stomach shows the basic emergency surgery performed to get the baby out.
Once the child was born the father, half Chinese and half Thai disappeared to Malaysia, only to return 12 years later to lay claim to the daughter.
In 2005 Boonwa had not seen her daughter for 5 years and was barred by the fathers' parents.
In the meantime, her own father had brought an 18 year old girl friend into the family home and the mother was living in a house Boonwa had acquired through her work.
It's not the normal 'run of the mill' series of events and is only a glimpse of the life of someone who has had more than her fair share of bad times.
But to contrast that background Boonwa was funny, clever, spoke good English and was incredibly helpful.
She helped me in many ways which cut out the 'Farang' crap. She got me treatment in a good Thai hospital and at Thai prices, she joined me on jobs in Thailand and Vietnam She bought me clothes and gifts, and even today I wear with pride my socks 'No money, no honey'.
A small gift, with a suitable motif. In some cases she worked as my secretary making calls to Thai companies I would had have no chance of communicating with. I paid her accordingly.
So, where did it all go wrong?
I loved her as much as anyone I have known, and on one very tearful night in the Bush Garden she admitted she loved me, but couldn't wait forever for me to make up my mind and come to live with her in Thailand.
We had been together for almost four years.
We spent the night at my apartment in Lad Phrao, not even touching each other.
I knew it was over and the next morning she told me she had a dream that the bed had split in two. In her dream we were each side of this bed and we couldn't reach each other.
It was a statement of intent, but more subtle than 'I'm off, sod you '
I have heard lots of rumours about where she is now. Some say Phuket, others say Samui. Her ex boss says The Temple.
Needless to say her phone number has changed. I still pass along past Bush Garden in the hope that maybe she has returned to Bangkok.
Of all the girls I have known, she remains my Girl from The North Country.
Have I told her story? Not really, there are some things which will always remain just between us.