From Denver, With Love

For American men tired of American women, Richard Beals knows how to Thai the knot.

But for now, he has some warnings for the men.

"You have to be real careful about your generosity, because in this culture they cater to the man," he tells the six men sitting at the bar, sodas and water before them. (Only Bobby drinks alcohol regularly.) He talks about how he loves eating food prepared by Thai street vendors, how the culture emphasizes hygiene and cleanliness, how he never gets sick. Once he even tried chicken butts on a stick, and they were gross -- all fat and bone. Nonetheless, Thai women eat them up, Richard notes, "so if you start feeding them caviar..."

It's all right to be gentlemen, to pull out chairs and open doors, he continues. But in Thailand, the women expect you to be dominant, to wear the pants while they wear the aprons. "If you make a doormat out of yourself, they will walk on you," he cautions.

Wed alert: Greg and Aoy seal their engagement with a 
traditional Thai ceremony.
Wed alert: Greg and Aoy seal their engagement with a traditional Thai ceremony.

At Richard's suggestion, the men have brought photo albums dating back to their baby pictures, which will show the women where they come from and help communications, since few of the women speak good English. And then there are the universal languages of love and money.

"In Thailand, love's not blind -- it's blind, deaf and dumb," Richard warns. "On the back of my card, it says, 'If she asks you for money, do not date her, do not marry her.'"

Richard is expecting about fifteen women on this first night. Sometimes women who are invited don't show, and sometimes uninvited women do. In Bangkok, Western faces are fairly common, and foreigners -- farangs in Thai -- aren't as hot as they are in other parts of the country. That's why Richard includes two more stops on his ten-day tours.

One of the first women on the scene is thirty-year-old Wan. But she's not available; she met a postal worker from Texas on one of Richard's previous tours, and she thinks their future looks bright. Wan says she's given up on Thai men because they are unfaithful. They are "butterflies," going from flower to flower.

Da, who came with Wan, lost her Thai man when she lost her job. Now she wants a farang because they like smart women, whereas intelligence intimidates Thai men, she says. Also, Da has dark skin, and she says Thai men prefer women who look Chinese.

Women like Annie.

Twenty-three-year-old Annie, who speaks English well and serves as the evening's translator, is popular with the American men, too. She has a bachelor's degree from a Thai university and works for Target as an executive assistant, coordinating a team of twenty people. She likes working for a Western company and wants a Western man, she says, because Thai men are infamous for cheating on their women.

Annie has brought her younger sister along. She's hoping to get her to dump her Thai boyfriend and go for a farang. But the sister speaks no English.

Annie says she knows that most Westerners who visit Thailand are just after sex. But she trusts the men who tour with Richard and went to dinner with one member of an earlier tour. While she's skeptical about the odds of falling in love in just a few days, she's also open to the idea of moving halfway around the world to let a relationship grow. Although Western men have asked Annie to come home with them before, she's always passed. "If the guy's not right to me, I don't want to go with him," Annie says. "That's why it takes a long time to get the right guy for me. He could be a good husband, and a good dad for my children."

Annie makes a date with Ben for two days later.

Except for Annie, the men think the women they've met so far are a bust. Lee and Greg flirt with two women in their forties who aren't too shy to touch the farangs. Each woman knows exactly one English phrase.

"Welcome to Thailand," says one.

"I love you," says the other.

Richard Beals's father was a butterfly.

When he was growing up in New Jersey fifty years ago, Richard sensed that his father was cheating; so did his mother. But in those days, Richard says, a bad husband was better than no husband at all.

Richard's mother, who'd been a mechanic in the Women's Army Corps, wound up playing the role of father, teaching her son to rebuild an engine when he was ten. Four years later, Richard's father went to the Indianapolis 500 and bought a bar. He moved his family to Indiana but didn't spend much time with them. He was too busy with cocktail waitresses, barflies and whoever else he could get his hands on. "He was after George Washington's title -- 'father of our country,'" Richard says.

After high school, Richard went to Indiana University for three years, where he studied business and psychology. His mother finally left his father and bought a bar of her own. Richard worked there as the daytime bartender. Now 58, Richard says that his father's behavior has always made him more sensitive to a woman's situation, that he's been more friendly with women than men throughout his life.

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