Before I was a naturalized American citizen, my husband and I would enter Thailand through different customs’ counters: he for foreigners and me for Thais. Being separated at the customs’ gates made me realize that our nations’ governments did not see us as a couple, as husband and wife who for the last dozen years spent every day together.
The immigration officer was an older Thai man, with cream adding a sheen to his black hair, in a uniform similar to that of a policeman. I was in front of my husband, and walked first to the counter, where I waied (praying hands greeting) to the officer, and said in Thai,
"Sawasdeekrab. How are you?" he asked in Thai.
"I'm fine, sir. Thank you."
"How long are you going to be in Thailand? Did you come to Thailand by yourself?"
"I will stay in Thailand for three weeks. I came to Thailand with my husband."
The officer smiled and stamped my passport."Next time, please don't bring your husband with you."
"Sorry. I love my husband. He is always with me."
We checked in at the Centara Central Hotel in the Hualampong area, near Chinatown. We refreshed our selves, changed clothes, and walked to Chinatown.
A tuk-tuk driver stopped and asked if we needed his service.
"How much to Chinatown?" I asked.
"About 100 Baht."
"That is too expensive. Thank you, but my husband and I will walk."
"How about 80 Baht?"
"Still expensive. I know Chinatown is not far from here."
I looked at my husband. "He offered to drive us for $2.00."
"Sounds great. I'm hungry and ready to eat."
We climbed in the tuk-tuk, the famous covered, three-wheel motorcycle with a bench seat. My husband is a little over six-feet, so he had to lean extra low entering and exiting. Fortunately, we arrived in under 3 minutes.
My husband asked, "Why didn't you tip him?"
"The way he charged us, he had already included the tip."
We walked around Chinatown for a few minutes, but it was close to eleven o’clock, and many cafes were closing for the night. We stopped between two outdoor seafood restaurants. At one restaurant, the workers wore red shirts and at the opposite restaurant they sported green shirts. They advertised similar dishes, but we chose the red shirts—they were the most welcoming.
We ordered five dishes, plus steamed rice, a bucket of ice, and two bottles of water. The food was served quickly, and it was delicious. Two of the servers asked if my husband and I needed anything, and after we said "Thank you, no," they started a conversation.
"You're very lucky. You husband is so nice and can eat Thai food. Can he speak Thai?"
"Thank you. He can speak a little, but understands more."
"How long have you been married? Do you have a baby?"
I knew this conversation would be long.
"We have been married for 12 years. We don't have a baby."
"Why don't you have a baby? If you had a baby, your baby will be beautiful like a Thai superstar. Don't you want to have a baby that can be a superstar?"
My husband and I smiled. We never thought about having a baby just so the child could become a Thai superstar. But what the lady said was not simply a dream. Unlike many other Asian countries that favor ethnic purity, Thailand extols mixed persons, especially if one of the parents is a white Westerner.
"No, we don't have a baby and we don't care to have one just so the child can become a superstar. We’re just happy with our life. Also I am the youngest in my family, and my husband is the youngest in his family. We’re happy being the only two babies in the family. Plus, we are auntie and uncle to several dozen nieces and nephews. And by the traditional Thai family structure, we are already grandparents."
"Too bad, you have opportunity to have beautiful baby but you don't want it. If I was you, I would have many babies. The most beautiful babies in Thailand."
We smiled. Then the woman asked more questions, but I only answered a few questions, then listened to them talk about their lives. The first woman was from Laos and the second was from Myanmar. They had lived in Thailand many years. Both of them could speak Thai very well—we switched between Thai and Laotian often. They didn't like having to speak Thai all the time, but due to their jobs, they had to.
"How much salary do you make in America? Does your husband make big money?"
This question is normal for the country people to ask, but I felt uncomfortable. Living in America taught me that this question was not polite, especially of a customer in their restaurant. I feared that if I told the servers my thoughts I would hurt their feelings.
"We don't make a lot of money but we have a good life."
"You and your husband probably make good money. That’s why both of you are able to travel to Thailand."
"Are you going to go visit your family?" the second woman asked.
"I bet your parents will be very happy to see you and your husband," the second woman said.
"My parents passed away a long time ago."
My answer momentarily silenced them.
"Do you have brothers and sisters?"
"Yes, I will see some of them soon."
"Are you going to stay with your family?" the Myanmar woman asked.
"No, we will stay in our house in my village in Si Sa Ket Province."
"You have the house in Thailand too?" the Laotian lady asked.
"Just a small house. It’s good for us. Better than staying in a hotel or staying with other people. Sometimes we love our privacy."
"Good for you. I bet your parents’ spirits are proud of you. You are a lucky woman. You husband is very handsome and kind."
"Thank you. We worked so hard to have the house."
"You have everything. Why don't you have a baby?" the Myanmar woman asked.
"We want to travel, eat good food, and learn about other cultures. If we’re lucky, we might get to learn another language too. Most importantly: we want freedom in our life."
"But when you and your husband die, what are you going to do with your house?" she asked.
"Life is too short. When you die you can't bring anything with you. When you are alive you need to enjoy life."
The Myanmar woman nodded, but in her eyes we looked weird for not having children.
I understood her point of view; in Asian cultures, every married couple is expected to have a baby. If you don't, they think that something is wrong with you.
I saw many bad parents in this world who didn't take care of their children. It was sad when I thought about the bad parents. Choosing not to have children does not make me or any other woman bad.
I love children, and worked from 2010-2014 in the Lawton, Oklahoma Public School System, and the last three years were spent in Special Education Pre-K. I saw how hard life could be for certain students and their parents. In school, I worked with the students for six hours a day five days per week, but as a parent, I would work 24 hours/seven days a week.
In my youth, I thought like these ladies. But living in America, I saw many couples who didn't have children but had fantastic lives. I know I looked strange to the servers and to other Thais and Asians in general, but America changed me. Not only had the U.S. helped me decide not to have children, the Land of the Free taught me to feel comfortable with my decision.
Hardy Jones is author of the novel Every Bitter Thing (Black Lawrence Press, 2010) and the memoir People of the Good God (Mongrel Empire Press, 2015). His fiction and creative fiction have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and his creative nonfiction has been awarded two grants. His short stories were anthologized in the 2009 Dogzplot Flash Fiction Anthology, The Best of Clapboard House Literary Journal, Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South, and Summer Shorts II. He is the co-founder and Executive Editor of the online journal Cybersoleil (www.cybersoleiljournal.com), and he is the Flash Fiction Editor for Sugar Mule (http://www.sugarmule.com/index2.htm). Hardy Jones is an Associate Professor of English and the Director of Creative Writing at Cameron University (firstname.lastname@example.org). His website is www.hardyjoneswriting.com and he is on Twitter @HardyJonesWrite. Hardy splits his time between Lawton, Oklahoma and Si Sa Ket Province Thailand.
Natthinee Khot-asa Jones is a country girl from the Thai side of the Thai-Cambodian border. She grew up speaking Cambodian, Thai, and Laotian. In 2001, she graduated from Sophon Business School in Thailand, and later attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Auburn University. She worked at Wal-Mart in Lafayette, Louisiana from 2004-2006. While she was Wal-mart associate, in 2006 her Phad-Thai recipe was featured in the Wal-Mart Family Cookbook.
Natthinee has published three books in Thai. Her short story "Puppy Love" was published in the anthology High School Love in 2007. Her memoir Wal-Mart Girl was published in 2008 by Nokhook publishing. Later that year her novel The Heart of Time was also published by Nokhook.
She and her husband author Hardy Jones have translated and co-authored the English language version of her memoir Wal-Mart Girl. In January 2015, an excerpt, “My Talking Dic,” was published in the Red Truck Review (http://www.redtruckreview.com/jonesn.shtml.)
In March 2015, her travel essay “Mardi Gras: Family Holiday” was publish in Jambalaya Magazine. (http://thejambalayamagazine.com/2015/03/16/mardi-gras-family-holiday/.)
In addition to presentations at American universities and corporations on Thai and Khmer culture, Natthinee has given two readings. In February 2015 she was the Featured Reader at the Free Speech Open Mic and she was invited to read it at the Howlers and Yawpers Creative Symposium at Seminole State College on April 23, 2015.
In 2008, her webblog, Roslita-bloggang, was voted the third best literature blog on the Pantip website. She worked in the Lawton Public School system for four years. Currently she works in the Accounting department at Sam’s Club, and in November 2011, she was named Associate of the Month.
In addition to being a writer, Natthinee is an avid photographer. One of her photos was used for the cover image of the "Family Secrets" (Issue #44) Sugar Mule Online Magazine. In 2006-2007, she was a Laotian translator for Louisiana’s Folklife “New Populations Project.” For this project, her husband received a research grant to write about Songkran, the Buddhist New Year's celebration in the Laotian community of Lanxang outside of Lafayette, Louisiana. The essay and photographs from their research are on the Louisiana Folklife website. http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/laotian.html.
To see more examples of her work, please visit her website: http://www.natthineeandhardy.com