From Denver, With Love

Page 5 of 14

Richard got back into the car business, buying and selling wholesale with Seow's assistance. More than a decade before, he'd gotten to know his daughter back in Indiana, and he didn't plan to have another child now. Seow was taking birth-control pills that a friend at the Chinese restaurant had given her when she was trying to get pregnant. Instead, it was Seow who gave birth, to a girl named Venus.

Richard and Seow decided to take a family trip to Malaysia. Seeing how happy they were, two of Richard's friends asked if Richard could help them find wives as loyal, loving, serving and caring. Unfortunately, no one in Malaysia struck either Seow or Richard as good wife material.

On the way back home, Richard decided to check out some beach property in Thailand as a retirement possibility. But in the airport alone, he saw a half-dozen women who might work out for his friends.

Women in Thailand know all about sex tours, and they fear sex trafficking; as a bald, middle-aged white man, Richard might as well have had "sex tourist" tattooed on his forehead. But mixed baby Venus worked like a magnet with Thai women, many of whom asked Richard and Seow to find them a Western husband. Thai men were butterflies, they said.

Richard started thinking about all of the American men he knew who'd been destroyed by divorce, and he started Thailand Romance Tours in July 2003. "It's a mutual rescue mission," he says.

The first four tours consisted of men from Colorado and Wyoming, but word of mouth and the Internet soon helped recruit clients from across the country, as well as a few civilian employees in Iraq. Seow was skeptical of the business at first, but she's finally starting to feel the magic of matchmaking.

Of the 41 men that Richard and Seow took to Thailand before this twelfth tour, sixteen got married. Although one is now separated from his wife, Richard says he was against that marriage from the start. According to him, nine men are awaiting their bride's arrival in the States. Eleven are not yet engaged but are still talking with women they met on the tour. Some have returned to Thailand to visit their sweethearts.

Just four of the men have given up on the Thai bride idea.

On the second day, the six men meet at the same bar for a buffet breakfast of eggs and ham, hot dogs and chicken, rice, yogurt and fruit, sweets, cheese, coffee and juice.

Richard has arranged for five women to meet them this morning.

"Dude, this is so hurting, not at all what I'm used to in Colombia," Bobby says. "I'm going to concentrate on seeing some sights and the houses." In Colombia, there wasn't as much competition, he adds, pointing to the five men now circling two women.

One of those women is Teeraporn, a forty-year-old telephone operator who has a twelve-year-old son and met Richard online. This is her first time on the tour. "I have learned enough about Thai men," Teeraporn says. "Eighty percent of Thai men like to have many, many wife. Selfish."

Many Thai women want a farang because Westerners have more money, she says. It's also difficult being a divorced single mother in Thailand, because Thai men wouldn't give her a chance even if she wanted one.

Ben likes Teeraporn's honesty. "So what do you like to do?" he asks.

"I like to go shopping, but when I have man's money to buy," she replies.

"You must know my daughter," Scooby interjects with a laugh.

Soon everyone piles into three of the women's cars and heads for the Grand Palace, a complex built in 1782 as the king's residence. It also houses the sacred Temple of the Emerald Buddha, where Thai people come to pay respect to the Buddha and his teachings. They bow and pray, while the surrounding flowers sweeten the incense-laden air.

The Thai women teach their American companions to bow their heads three times and then pray, hands together.

All of the men but Scooby have a woman on their arms as they stroll the palace grounds, but everyone keeps looking at Bobby's date, a floral arranger named Eve with light skin and high cheekbones. She's 37 but looks much younger, has no children and has never been married -- just like Bobby. She tells Bobby that she has two houses as well as the brand-new, four-door Honda with Hello Kitty paraphernalia inside that they drove to the palace.

The day is hot, so everyone buys mango juice or cold green tea. And despite the "Do not take canoe rides" sign at the palace's exit, they all head over to the canal and get into one of the long wooden canoes powered by engines.

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Luke Turf

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