After I found my Thai significant other last year, some friends have come expressing to me their envy of my love life. Occasionally, the Facebook update I posted about us and the pictures I uploaded have also garnered many generous “likes.”
Yet in reality, things are not always like what it seems. Me and her are no Cinderella story. It’s far from that.
To tell you the truth, I’m a sucker when it comes to love.
My words are rough and I’ve got a bad mouth. She, on the other hand, can be hot-tempered at times. Our relationship isn’t always lovey-dovey because our ego often gets in the way.
Thankfully though, every time after a quarrel, we’re still able to find our cool and remind ourselves about our strengths; about the love and care we still have for each other; about why we got together in the first place.
So a year ago this time, I found her.
Yes, for the first time in close to ten years, I found love for someone when I was least expecting it.
Yet what’s odd about this relationship is that we have no idea when exactly we got into this relationship.
I met her at the same school we’re teaching. She joined the school as a teacher a month before I did.
When I first saw her, she didn’t appear to me as a colleague whom I’d interact too much with, never mind hanging out together. I didn’t dislike her, but she seemed more like a hi-bye colleague at school, that was it.
Another colleague, however, was trying to hook us up. But neither one of us was interested in each other at that point although we were both single.
Go ahead and try, I thought to myself, it’s gonna be futile anyway.
Having remained single for ten years, coupled with the fact that I loved freedom so much and was really passionate about my job, about what I was doing, I thought I’d be better off that way, without a nagging partner and an annoying marriage.
Like I’ve said many times, changes run faster than plans. There may be things you think you can decide for yourself, but ultimately it all lies in the hands of nature.
To be fair, the colleague who wanted to hook us up had nothing but good intentions, and for that I’m forever thankful because without her, I wouldn’t have found my now significant other. She was just worried that I might not be okay being in a foreign place with no friends and all, and wanted somebody to take care of me.
I wasn’t the type of my then “hi-bye friend,” but she obliged anyway and sent me messages every other evening over LINE, a messaging application popular in Thailand but not quite in Malaysia.
I wasn’t too fond of online messaging as I would prefer face-to-face communication. Yet I found the patience to reply her messages every time – in my broken Thai.
Did I like honestly appreciate our evening chats? No, I didn’t. Not after a tiring day at work. All I needed after arriving home was to relax and not crack my head thinking how to communicate certain words to someone who hardly spoke a common language as me!
Nevertheless, as days passed, I slowly got more used to receiving and replying to her messages. Maybe it was a good thing. Being able to break away from my usual habit of not wanting to entertain others kind of helped tone down my somewhat rabid, individualistic attitude.
So several days before the Sunthorn Phu Day – an important day falling on June 26 dedicated to Thailand’s best-known royal poet in the reign of King Rama II, she would drive me to the town to try out the traditional Thai costume, which I got to put on for the very first time in my life. That also marked the first time we spent time outside of school.
This was probably the only picture of us together in our traditional Thai costumes on the Sunthorn Phu Day:
Our friendship grew steadily. She no longer was the hi-bye colleague I thought she would be. I had grown more and more comfortable having her as a part of my life in Thailand, as both a colleague and a friend.
And then came the time when I had to travel back to Malaysia to do some important errands.
In Malaysia, things started taking a different turn. I began missing her presence, but without me realising it. When it comes to love, I’m just a little dumb and hopeless like that.
I spent a week in Penang and Kuala Lumpur and couldn’t wait to travel back to Thailand mainly because I couldn’t stand the atmosphere of deepened pessimism in Malaysia’s social, economic, and political landscapes.
Things had become so expensive especially after the implementation of Goods and Services Tax. The hustle and bustle of the city also proved to be a foe to me after I had stayed in and gotten used to the relatively more laid-back Southern Thailand for a while.
The first day I returned to work, I took our first ever selfie that I would make public. I uploaded it to Facebook with the caption that read, “So glad to be back.” That sent our Facebook communities into a little frenzy.
So on July 17, I asked her out for the first time.
We went to Swensens.
Unbeknownst to me then, she wasn’t much of a fan of Swensens. But we went ahead with it anyway, and that marked our very first date together, and with someone of a different nationality.
It wasn’t a date-date, exactly. I just felt that I she was a nice friend and that I wanted to hang out with somebody I could feel comfortable with since I didn’t have many friends to do so in Thailand.
We hung out a few more times after that. But every time she would drag her best friend, Jeab, along because she was a little shy with me and not used to just the two of us hanging out together.
Then came the two consecutive national holidays of Asahna Bucha and Buddhist Lent when she would invite me to travel to Phetchaburi with her.
I remember getting a little upset that she forbad me to post any picture on Facebook because she didn’t want our friends and colleagues to gossip about us unnecessarily. Not that I cared about showing it off to the world that we went travelling together, but that just had me feeling a little snubbed and unimportant as a friend.
Frankly, I didn’t have to feel upset over this and I didn’t have the right to, either. She had a point and I knew where she was coming from. But I just did, for some obvious reason I didn’t understand.
On the night of Asahna Bucha, I got to experience one of the most surreal and unforgettable moments in my life when she and I, together with a friend from Phetchaburi, participated in the traditional wien tien or candlelight procession at a local temple. We walked around the temple three times and prayed and radiated good thoughts.
I got back home from Phetchaburi thinking about her, and every time that I did, I felt butterflies in my stomach, just like when I was 15 and first fell in love.
On the night of August 4, I decide to tell her how I felt about her. Being typical Kenneth, I chose to hint at it rather than being completely transparent with her.
Yes, I was a jerk and just wanted to save my skin in case it went wrong.
My semi-confession to her, as I had predicted, sent us into a state of confusion and an argument. I immediately backtracked, thinking the feelings weren’t mutual.
Just when you think it was only a matter of me confessing to her, there was also the language barrier that came in the way, making things the more complicated. At that point, she spoke no English and my Thai was very limited.
Later that night, the whole incident took a different turn when, after a few hours of trying to explain things and fathom how each other felt, I finally got to know that she too had feelings for me but thought I didn’t feel the same way about her.
So I slept at 3am that night feeling so very special.
Special because I had not been in love or had a significant other for close to a decade. Adding to that special feeling was also because for the first time in my life, I had a crush on somebody of a different nationality and culture, who in turn in had good feelings about me as well.
What happened next was simply bizarre — we got together without even talking about it.
It was only sometime last month when I wanted to pen this entry that I realised we actually didn’t have an anniversary date!
A frantic search through my photo archive eventually concluded that August 8 was our first date out since my confession to her. After calling my better half to talk about this two weeks ago, we agreed that August 8 would make the most accurate date we got together as a couple.
On August 21, I decided it was time for the whole world to know about this. The rest is history.
Our love life isn’t always a bed of roses. There are thorny moments when we would quarrel due to our different habits and mindsets. There are also moments when I would worry about my future prospect and career growth opportunities in Thailand, about our future together, about where I was going to be two or three years down the road.
But then Yai‘s (her grandmother’s) wise words always hits my mind whenever negative thoughts run wild. She said,
“When two persons are in love, no matter where they are, no matter how harsh life may be, they will be able to pull it through.”
Since getting into this relationship, we’ve had quite a lot of our first times as a couple.
We celebrated our first Loi Krathong festival.
We travelled to my home country, Malaysia together.
It was her virgin trip out of Thailand. I remember driving her to Surat Thani to make her first passport a few days before we were due to travel out of Thailand.
In Malaysia, she got to take a flight for the first time, as we were to travel by air to Sarawak, the beautiful state on the island of Borneo where I was born and raised. As Sarawak retains its own immigration controls, upon arriving at the Kuching International Airport, my better half was issued a separate visa on arrival different from the one she was given at Malaysia’s Padang Besar immigration checkpoint, where we entered by train.
We were lucky that I had earlier purchased my better half’s onward air ticket because the Sarawak immigration was pretty strict with foreign travelers and demanded to see it.
We celebrated out first Valentine’s Day – a day I hate with a passion.
But then again, seeing her happy somehow made me forget about how overrated and uncool February 14 is. You know, sometimes in life there are certain “rituals” that you just have to follow, because you’re not living in Mars.
So that was our little love story. That was how bizarrely we entered each other’s lives without knowing exactly when we did so.
And, just like that, a year has passed.
While the past year was a year of change for me, as I had moved from being a lecturer to an otherwise long-term traveler then to a teacher in Thailand, during the first half of this year I have mostly learned to how adjust myself to live with a significant other of a different nationality, culture, and mindset.
It’s not always easy because sometimes there is something called ego that will get in the way. But then again every time it rises, it becomes a good opportunity for me to learn to bog it down.
You know you truly love somebody when sometimes out of no reason you feel blessed to even think about the fact that you have a better half in your life. Everything feels like a dream you don’t want to wake up from.
Happy anniversary to us.