In the backpack that Lee bought for the trip, he found a white Valentine's Day teddy bear with a heart that says "I Love You." He doesn't know how the bear got in the bag, but he hopes to give it to someone special on this ten-day marriage tour. "I fully intend to come back engaged. It's an awful lot of money not to," he says, thumbing through about two dozen profiles of women that he printed off Richard's website.
Fifty-six-year-old Sammy Gallant isn't so sure he'll get hitched on this trip. Sammy, who smiles a lot and likes to wear black, was born in the Indiana countryside and moved to the Washington countryside when he was thirteen; today he's a corrosion specialist for a pipeline company.
He was married for 27 years -- until the day his eighteen-year-old son called him over to the household computer, where he'd found pornographic photos of Sammy's wife with a man in his twenties. Sammy says he lost about $190,000 in the divorce. Sammy started dating again but complains that the scene back home is filled with lazy, 45- to 55-year-old women who are set in their ways.
Sammy's always been attracted to Asian women, so he thought about finding a wife in China. A woman he got to know online seemed like she might be right, so he hired a Chinese attorney to help him with the paperwork and bought a plane ticket. But when the woman said that a wedding would cost between $15,000 and $20,000, Sammy canceled the trip and told her to forget it. She kept writing back, dropping the price, but Sammy had moved on. A second Chinese woman he met online looked like good wife material -- until she sent Sammy an e-mail addressed to another man.
After that, Sammy responded to a woman's online ad and wound up on Richard's site, looking at the Thai women profiled there. He signed up for a tour.
So did 58-year-old Thomas "Scooby" McClenon, a chain-smoking New Yorker with a thick accent who loves to dance and is always telling jokes and cracking himself up -- until the smoker's cough kicks in. Scooby says he's had three heart attacks and was once declared clinically dead.
He works in construction now, operating a crane, but he's worked a variety of jobs, including deejaying at a strip club. He says he's prepared for any scams these Thai women may bring to the table.
Scooby had planned to come on an earlier tour but had to postpone the trip when an ex-wife sued him for back payment of child support last year at the last possible moment, when their child turned seventeen. (He insists he'd paid support informally all along.) Scooby's been divorced twice and has an adopted daughter with cerebral palsy, a situation that's often a deal-breaker with women back home. Like the others, he feels he's been beaten up emotionally by American females.
One man on this tour, a conservationist from the East Coast named Ben, was physically beaten up by his American wife, a kickboxer of Filipino descent. "The kind of attack like a tiger, where they come in to kill and don't stop unless you can get out of there," Ben explains. "If I wouldn't have left the house one night, she would've killed me."
Seven times during their eleven-month marriage, simple disagreements spiraled out of control. She'd scratch and claw him, Ben remembers, pull out blunt objects and knives. Ben would retreat to the other side of the house and hide behind a locked door. Sometimes he had to call the police.
Three years and $60,000 later, Ben was again a single man. His ex-wife got the 3,000-square-foot house he'd paid for, but he got full custody of his now-three-year-old son. "After all that, I just have to keep the faith that there's a good person out there for me," he says. "And that's why I decided to come here."
The sixth man in the group, Bobby, is a California native now living in Colorado, where he works in telecommunications. At forty, Bobby is the youngest man on the tour and the only one who hasn't been married and doesn't have a child or stepchild.
Bobby has already been to Colombia eight times. He was looking for love, he says, but wound up a sex tourist. "When I'm on vacation, the red-light district is my exercise," he says. In Colombia, he saw so many women attractive in so many ways that he couldn't commit to just one. Bobby describes himself as the loner type, an independent person who isn't needy, which is why he's never been married. Although he prefers Latina looks to Asian, Bobby thought it was time to try somewhere new and signed on for the Thailand tour because he thinks he's ready to settle down if he finds the right woman -- one who's fun, likes to dance and responds well to his silly ways.