The Story of Phai

The funeral, the big parade and the rocket festival are over, the kids are in school and three year old Fa Mai is in day care. It gives me time to ask Phai some additional questions about her history. Much of this I knew but some additional information she had not shared before came out. As her English improves she is able to explain more to me. 

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Phai's mother had ten kids. Five girls and Five boys. 

When Phai was 6 years her brother, who was a year older than her, got sick (she thinks food poisoning) and died. The family had very little money and the nearest doctor was 60 miles away in Udorn. At that time the Thai government did not provide any health care funding like it does now. Phai's two oldest sisters dropped out of school and went to Udorn to earn money taking care of kids for families that could afford to pay and sent what they could back home to the family but it wasn't much. 

After 4 years in school Phai had to drop out to help at home. At age 13 she got a job as a nanny with a local family that paid her with with rice and she would give the rice to her parents to feed her younger siblings. She told me that the family loved her and really helped as much as they could.

Phai met the father of her three children and her first child Ning was born when Phai was 20 years old. When Phai had her youngest son five years later she nursed him until he was six years old due to lack of money for food. That was a healthy supplement to his diet at no additional cost. Her husband had pretty much abandoned them and she really struggled. She had managed to acquire a water Buffalo. When water buffalo give birth they normally want to be alone but Phai's stood outside where she was living and bellowed so Phai went out and rubbed the buffalo's stomach and helped it give birth. She later had to sell both her buffalo just so she could feed her kids and said she cried for days. 

When she was 35 and her kids were older she was able to go to Bangkok and get a job in cement factory. She noticed the others would carry one bag of cement at a time so she started carrying one bag on each shoulder. Her supervisor took notice and gave her all the overtime she wanted. When the other workers would go out and party after work she choose instead to save her money and used it to buy property and build a house in the village so she was able to come back home. She also worked other jobs including collecting  bird nests used to make bird nest soup.

Her older sister had married an American soldier who was serving in Thailand as the Vietnam war wound down and he brought her to the States. They met when he went to the Taylor Shop in Udorn where she worked as as a seamstress. They have helped the family immensely over the years and brought Phai's mom to United States to live with them for seventeen years. Phai's mother was then able to bring Phai and her younger sister to the states about 9 years ago. She also got one of Phai's brothers over but he returned to Thailand after a few years. Phai's other older sister was brought to the United States with her two young children after a friend of Phai's oldest sister and husband saw a picture of her, flew to Thailand, met her, married her and brought her and her young son and daughter over. He passed away two months before I met Phai but took good care of them and both kids have graduated from college and have great jobs. In fact the daughter recently bought a Thai restaurant in downtown Tampa and owns some rental properties. That is why many Thais desire to come to America. Education and opportunity, not for government handouts. Both the King and Prime Minister of Thailand (a female) were educated at universities in the United States. 

After Phai came to the United States she got a job as a cook in a Thai restaurant in Brandon Florida named "Ploy Thai". The first thing she had to do was figure out how she could fill the food orders that were written in English when she could't read english and Thai alphabet is completely different than ours. She took the menu home and studied it and memorized how the names of the dishes looked, what additional instructions like Mild or Spicy or No Onions looked like and began 8 years of successful cooking in that restaurant where she still works. Phai works Monday through Friday from 10:00 am until 10:00 pm and on Saturdays from 11:00 am until 10:00 pm. There is no vacation pay or sick pay or overtime pay but she goes to work everyday with a smile on her face and comes home still smiling. I personally do not think I could do the same and I am in awe of her. She is one of the happiest people I know. 

If all that isn't enough she made the decision to get a drivers license. Now remember, she cannot speak or read english. She had never driven a car before even in Thailand. Well, with the help of family and friends she did it. The tester even allowed her Thai friend to verbally translate the questions and multiple choices answers into thai and Phai would state the number of her choice and passed the test. Then on the road test her friend rode with her and translated the instructors directions into Thai. If he said Turn right she translated to Thai and Phai would make a right turn. The final step was parking and the tester praised her skills. So Phai now had a drivers license and with the help of the credit union and her sister she bought a brand new Honda Civic. Keep in mind that all the street signs are in english. She learned to navigate her way around Brandon via landmarks and by the time I met her she could get about anywhere in Brandon and knew where everything was. I think about how I struggle here, even when most signs have Thai and english language and most packaging in stores have both languages. When she shops for anything in Florida she relies totally and the look and color of the package and buys only what she knows. You might ask why hasn't she learned english? Try learning a new language when you work 12 hours a day 6 days a week and everyone speaks Thai where you work. She had no time, nor could she afford to go to school. When we got married I started paying her car insurance and bought health insurance coverage but she paid her car off herself. We are able to live off my income which allows her to send money to Thailand to educate her grandkids, help her daughter open a restaurant and make improvements on the house like installing an American type toilet and hot shower for me.  She bought the sugar cane farm and I bought the rice farm when we here two years ago which further helps the family gain financial independence. Prior to that she had leased farm land for the family to work.

Phai has amazing business sense and believe me, you do not want to negotiate price with her. She will Win. I have seen her walk away from purchases of things she would like to have if she feels the price is too high. I have seen vendors chase us down the street still trying to get her to buy. If they meet her price she buys, if not she keeps on walking. That is why I trust we will be able to build our new house for the best possible price. She orders the materials personally to be used in the construction. 

Phai and I celebrate our 4th anniversary on May 29th and I fall more in love with her everyday. She is amazing, her family is wonderful to me and I am a very lucky man indeed. She may have a 4th grade education but I believe she is smarter than some of todays college graduates. Everyone here in Thailand loves Phai and her friends she had as a young girl visit all the time. She is constantly smiling and joking and loves to tease me but also takes great care of me.

How did I meet this amazing person? Well about 5 1/2 years ago I read an article about a Buddhist Temple in Tampa that had a Thai Market on Sundays. I went and was eating Thai food at a picnic table by the river when a Thai woman and her American husband overheard me speak some Thai to a lady that came to pick up my tray. They invited me to sit with them and after a long conversation she asked me if I would like to meet some of her Thai girlfriends. Being single I said yes. Well, it took her over a month to get Phai to agree to meet me. Phai told me later she was afraid to meet any American men and kept saying no. She finally agreed to meet me on her friends commitment that they would point me out to her and drive away if she choose not to be introduced. Well, I drove to Brandon and waited outside Chili's  Restaurant. Then I saw Phai and her friend walking towards me. Phai had a big smile on her face and I was in instant like. I thought it was going to be double date but her friend said something had come up and left. We went into Chili's and I ask Phai what she liked to eat. She said "you eat, I eat." After lunch I asked her what she liked to do and she said "shopping" so we walked around the mall and when she held my hand I was thrilled. As we left the mall she asked "you go home now?" I said I don't want to and she said "you want meet my family?" I was shocked because I knew Thai women never introduce a man to their family until things are more serious. Turns out they were having a party at Phai's sister's house and I met the entire family. That was December 2nd, 2007 and we have been a couple ever since. 

Well, I could go on gushing about Phai but let me conclude with this. When I was stationed in Thailand in 1969 my mother was afraid I would bring home a Thai wife. When she met Phai in 2009 she fell in love with her. Phai and my mom loved each other dearly a I am so glad my mother got to know Phai before she passed. I think my marrying Phai was the greatest gift I could have given my mom and mom passed knowing her "little boy" was happy and would be well cared for. 


Phai Dancing surrounded by friends honoring her for her contribution to the village in 2011 when she had a section in front of a sacred spot paved.
She told me she did it to thank Buddha for bringing me into her life among other good things that have happened to her. 

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