#RoiEt #Thailand: A Lake Sits in it, Collecting Tears… and Rainwater

Roi Et's Lake: Like a Rohrschach Test

Roi Et’s Lake Phlan Chai: Like a Rohrschach Test

Not so many cities have a lake sitting smack dab in the center of them, literally, so to find one, in my one-time sometime adopted ‘home’ is something special. The odd thing is that I knew none of that when I landed in Roi Et, itself somewhere smack in the center of Thailand’s vast little-traveled northeast ‘Isaan’ region. I’m here simply because it’s here, and I’m on a quest to see everything. I’ve seen the name on the map many times, but never stopped, maybe never even been through it, not sure. As for the surprise lake, well… you don’t expect me to read guide-books now, do you? Yeah, right…

The place is a revelation. Not only is this a pleasant, attractive mid-sized Thai city in the heart of Thailand’s poorest most desolate region, but there are other surprises in store, too, like vegetarian restaurants—Thai food, of course—but more than I usually see, all without even trying. There’s even one in the produce market, which also doubles as a ‘night bazaar’, common in Thailand by now, thanks to Chiang Mai, but this is a new twist. Okay, so there’s always some joker wants to be Johnny Friggin’ English to come along and spoil my fantasy, but that comes with the turf. Welcome to Thailand…

Roi Et's City Pillar Shrine, on Lake Phlan Chai

Roi Et’s City Pillar Shrine, on Lake Phlan Chai

Okay, so there’s another reason the city’s been on my map all these years. That’s where Nam Fon is from. The name means ‘Rain Water’. All Thai girls have diminutive nicknames BTW, many guys, too. I met her in Songklha, Y2K-ish. That’s where I was, for no special reason. So was she, for a very special reason. Songkhla is a special case. Many of the people here are from somewhere else, coming to find their fortunes in the relatively sparse south. There are many foreigners here, too, but they’re not tourists; they’re offshore oil workers. Cue drum roll…

Nam Fon showed up all of a sudden in one of the bars I’d begun to frequent; let’s call it ‘The Dark Side’. We both tried to look elsewhere around the room, but then our gazes locked, as if by electromagnetism. It was like watching a cartoon, our eyes circling around until finally meeting at the center. All it needed were wood-blocks and rim-shots from the drum kit. We chatted. We hit it off, out of the park, in fact. Then I ran into her in town, during the day. We hung out. We became fast friends.

Typical Bus Station in Thailand

Typical Bus Station in Thailand

We became inseparable, but just friends, all in the space of a few days. We took day trips, then I’d see her at the bar at night. The only time I tried to hold her hand, she freaked and ran off. She came back. I asked what she was doing there, but she brushed my questions aside. She mentioned her grandmother was sick, but I never put 2+2 together. That’s math. Other guys flirted with her at the bar, of course, but that’s to be expected. She was cute, and it was a bar… in Thailand.

Then she disappeared for a couple days, I worried sick, and none of the other girls at the bar forthcoming with information. I retraced all of our steps, looking for a clue, as if the beaches or the hills might whisper something to me. Finally—FINALLY—she left a note at my hotel, something about her grandmother’s situation worsening. When the dust had cleared, it turned out that she had been a special order for one of the local oil-field helicopter operators, subject to his approval, of course, and brokered by one of her ‘big sisters’, all to pay Grandma’s hospital bills.

Tot on a Train in Thailand

Tot on a Train in Thailand

That explained the guy at the bar. But why didn’t she just ask me for the money? I’d have given it to her in a heartbeat, no strings attached, no questions asked… okay, so maybe a few questions asked. We met again. She had a new cell-phone. I guess her grandmother already had one. She seemed to like the new one, lots of bells and whistles. That did it for me.

Everything’s different all of a sudden. She’s gone, lost to me forever, worshiping the twin gods of consumption and consumerism, I impaled upon the horns of a dilemma, she impaled upon the horns of someone else’s… fantasy. Ow, that smarts, even if he’s nobody. And that’s not too smart of me, either. But that’s okay. I’d rather be hurt a thousand times, than hurt someone else even once.

So I left, precipitously, figuring to cut my losses. That phone was the symbol; otherwise I’d have given it another try. Dark Side: 1, Jedi Knights: 0. Little Luke’s gonna’ need a light-saber—that much is obvious—or maybe even a life-saver. I forgot to wear protection. Thailand’s gonna’ need more than that. Its moral compass, or lack thereof, has always been a subject of concern for me, something about the algebra of need and the slide-rule of shame. Life is a compromise, I guess. You can say that again. Life…