By Alan Prendergast
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Meanwhile, Ben meets Boom, a 27-year-old with a two-year-old son and, unlike Joy, one of Richard's tour girls. There's instant chemistry between Ben and Boom. "It's not manipulation," Ben insists. "They just want to love someone. They're not just fooling around; they want to show you they care for you intimately. I wasn't prepared for that, and I'm not complaining. It's flattering."
Lee is talking to Kung, a widow with two grown boys. A retired X-ray technician, she's now studying massage. "She may start up the first Thai massage parlor in the U.S.," Lee says with a wink, as the two hold hands.
Greg shows a young woman his album, complete with pictures of his trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He asks if she's heard of Dolly Parton. He points to a photo and tries to explain the humor of finding bears digging through a restaurant dumpster.
The girl smiles and nods.
Greg quickly moves on to Aoy, a 31-year-old nurse technician with a young son. Greg would prefer a woman without a child, but Richard thinks Greg and Aoy are a match. Aoy has reasonably good English skills and she's ambitious, wants to go back to school to become a full-fledged nurse. "I might consider that as an option," Greg says.
Bobby sits back in amazement, watching the progress of his fellow tourists. "Everyone becomes instant players on this trip," Bobby says. "That's why the women in Bangkok say 'No Udon.'"
Bobby starts talking to Aoy's sister, 29-year-old Aom. She's never been married and has no children, although she's been cheated on. "Thai man very butterfly," she says. Aom speaks good English, which she learned on the Internet and at work. She quit her last job to get a master's degree in marketing and isn't working right now. She could find a job in Bangkok but wants to stay close to her family in Udon Thani -- although she's ready to move if she meets the right man.
"I like USA, big country," Aom says. She'd like to see snow, and Bobby says Colorado is perfect for that.
Bobby and Aom, Greg and Aoy, Lee and Kung, and Ben and Boom have dinner.
As if Seow had never said anything to him, Lee lets his date order a steak.
Bobby's trying to move slow with Aom. Greg is still considering Aoy. Lee is quickly falling for Kung. And Ben, who seems to have forgotten all about Joy, is discussing a possible future with Boom. "She agreed to come to America with me, and she's agreed to bring her son so we can be one family," Ben says later.
After dinner, Bobby and Aom and Greg and Aoy join Scooby for a trip to a club called Mambo. The club is empty at first except for the four-piece band and six backup dancers, who change costumes with every song. One of the male singers dresses in drag for one song; even in high heels, he's athletic enough to jump off the stage. For his next number, he changes into gangsta garb, sporting fake bling but still wearing blush as he covers Black Eyed Peas in English. The next song is a Dr. Dre cover with Thai lyrics.
All the men have fun, but this time it's Sammy's turn to wake up in the middle of the night. He asks himself what the hell he's doing.
"I don't need no nine-month-old baby and four-year-old," he says. "Viant is really nice and pretty, but no English would be a problem."
When Viant shows up for breakfast, Sammy breaks it off. That leaves him free to meet 35-year-old Yuvaree, a teacher and administrator at the elementary school where the men are going today to pass out gifts and clothes they brought from the States. The school is rural, but this countryside looks very different from the countryside where Sammy lives. It's lush and quiet, but dotted with palm trees and patches cleared for farming.
Sammy had picked Yuvaree off of Richard's website as his number-one choice. Yuvaree had helped a cousin translate her own profile, met Richard and helped him come up with a plan to donate gifts to the 145 students at the school, then wound up on the marriage tour herself.
Yuvaree grew up on a farm, 25 acres of rice fields that her father plows with ten water buffalo. Yuvaree's father worked hard to put her through college, and Yuvaree has dedicated her life to the school. She was married once. Her husband started drinking heavily and she heard around town that he was cheating, but he denied it for five years.
Then one day he came home and told Yuvaree that his girlfriend would be moving in with them, an acceptable Thai practice until recent generations.
When Yuvaree objected, he beat her.
In order to get a divorce in Thailand, the husband must agree. After Yuvaree accepted responsibility for the $25,000 debt they'd assumed to pay for land and a car, her husband agreed. But he kept the land, and the car, too. Yuvaree has been tutoring two students to help pay off the debt. Of her $300-a-month salary, $200 goes to the loan.