A Delicate Beauty


Bob Bergin


I see one on the street sometimes; a girl of such delicate beauty, that I think my heart will stop. It always happens to me in Asia.

The most delicate of all the Asian beauties I’ve ever seen was quite rambunctious as well as delicate.  Yes, I did meet her.  I knew her for a long time – we got quite close.

You remember the massage parlors – as they were a while back?   A scrub and a rub – a hot bath and a massage.

It could get quite intimate – that was up to you.  The general idea was to get the standard Thai massage, which by itself was quite refreshing.  But for many it was the girls.

You remember that, eh?  The massage girls, all sitting there together in this glassed-in fish bowl of a room, all wearing white smocks.  Each had a number, and you picked one - and sometimes you found that what was under that smock was quite interesting. 

Anyway, it was Yiim I was starting to tell you about.  Yiim was her name.  It meant “Smile!”  And she had a wonderful one.  It was all nicknames, you know, they get them soon after birth – to protect their real names from spirits.  Yiim got her name, she told me, because a smile was all that could be seen of her in her crib – like a Thai Cheshire cat.  And she kept that wonderful smile – had it when I first saw her.  It made her look happy and full of life.  It could make your heart stop too.   But there was much more to her than that.  

I had been going to this massage parlor off Sukhumwit Road for quite a while.  It was a regular thing. I had a standing appointment on Saturday afternoons with one of the older ladies, a good masseuse, if not otherwise exciting. 

On this particular Saturday, she was not there when I appeared – the standard sickness in the family excuse.  As I was a regular, the manager already had someone else lined up for me, a new girl.  I started to say that it could hold until the next week, when the substitute was brought out for my inspection.  For once, I had the sense to look at what was being set before me, and accept what someone else suggested.

  She was absolutely gorgeous, a real stunner.  She seemed still a child - 15 or 16, I would have said - but she was actually 19.   She was not in her white smock, but in the working clothes she wore underneath – a small red skirt under a tiny white blouse that showed this magnificent cleavage.  I knew the cleavage couldn’t be real – Thai girls did this push-up thing - but then it was her long legs I was looking at, real masterpieces of form and function.  It took my breath away.

It was only then that my eyes moved on to her face and stumbled into that smile.   “Yes,” I said immediately to the manager, “number whatever she is will do just fine for me today.”  I couldn’t take my eyes off her.  Just standing there, perched on these impossible high heels, she was quite still, and yet not still at all – but just bubbling over with the vibrancy of youth and life.

Well, she didn’t know anything about massage – you couldn’t expect her to, not yet.  It didn’t take much to get her to take off her little blouse – that was sort of generally allowed by the house rules as I understood them – and eventually I talked her into taking off that little skirt. My real accomplishment came when I talked her into doing both.  We didn’t do anything intimate – not that day – I just enjoyed looking at her, touching her now and again.

It was her youth, I guess.  I felt as though I had never seen anything quite as beautiful – and that I probably never would again.  She had this long, sinuous body, well-curved, and everything firm.  A small mound of a belly and a finely curved bottom.  It came from exercises she told me.  Her breasts were small – she was embarrassed by their size – but they were exquisitely shaped.  I always remembered to tell her that, and eventually she came to believe me.  And like all Thai girls, her skin was flawless and smooth, a glowing honey gold.   On that first day, after all her clothes were off, she asked:  “What would you like me to do?”

She was so beautiful – so delicately beautiful!  And I felt so sorry for her. 

Well, you know how it goes for those girls:  They won’t be doing this long, the new ones always tell you - a month or two, till mother’s hospital bill is paid.  The unattractive ones never do leave, of course - they have nowhere else to go.  The attractive ones quickly find that their beauty can be turned into hard cash.  And there’s the celebrity their beauty brings them among their clients in that very small place. They become rather special there, and it’s very difficult for them to leave - even if they want to.  But the attractive ones, who are also very smart, quickly see the trap - and each works out her own plan.  But, of course, the plan never works.   

You know the cycle:  Beautiful young girl of 19 makes big money, but keeps growing older. The sheen wears off soon after she turns twenty.  By twenty-four she’s beyond any hope of marriage, and by twenty-six she’s practically ancient - and who will call her number then?   What’s a girl to do?

Yiim figured it out very quickly.  She was already working on her plan by the third time I saw her.  She had noted the old women working in the place - over thirty, can you imagine?   They couldn’t leave because they didn’t have any money - although they had made good money while they were young.  Yiim actually told me what she had made on weekends.  I was astounded.  I understood now why most of the young massage ladies drove new Hondas.  Yiim eventually bought a Volkswagen – not the squat Beetle thing, but a long-looking car, and red, of course – just to be different.   

Yiim told me the reason a Thai massage lady could reach thirty and not slide into comfortable retirement.  It was family pressure:  school fees for younger siblings; motorbikes for the older ones; new teeth for mother, good whiskey for dad.  And when you finally had a lot of money, the whole family needed a new house.  A woman’s work was never done. 

Yiim explained her plan:  She would give half her earnings to her family - that was fair - the other half she would keep.  When she reached thirty, she would have amassed enough to buy a small building with a couple of flats.  She would retire as a land lady and live happily ever after.  She actually showed me the calculations on how much money she would have.   

I helped her set up her first bank account.  Over the years she worked hard, and faithfully put half the fruit of her labor into her bank account.

She had a strong sense of self-worth and a sense of humor.  She looked out for her friends.  Japanese clients often brought their own whiskey along, premium stuff.  Yiim talked them into leaving the bottle behind for her dad – then shared it with me and her other special clients.

 She became the star in that little massage parlor, and she knew it.  She was not to be pushed around.  She was someone to be reckoned with – by staff and by guests.  A “player” we would call her now.  She was always fair, but when it came to the fine points, it was her way or the highway – and a guest she didn’t favor might find himself standing out in the alley, wondering what happened to his massage.  Her English got to be quite good her Japanese seemed almost fluent, and she even learned a bit about massage.

I don’t know how it happens, but the families of girls like Yiim get to know about every penny the girls earn.  Yiim could have had a numbered account on some remote desert island and her family still would have known the balance.  And Yiim had a very big heart.

Over the years the demands of her family increased.  Siblings entered university; dad needed expensive treatments for his liver.  The extended family started making demands – down to cousins twice removed.  The worst came from an uncle.  He had to go to America.  “What in god’s name for?” I asked.  “To open a Thai restaurant,” Yiim said.

“They’re taking advantage of you,” I told her.  “Every one of them.  And that guy is not even your proper family. Why does he have to go to America?”

“Thai restaurants are famous there now,” she said, simply.  “He must go and make money.”

It was nearing the end of my days in Thailand in any case.  I became more preoccupied with what was in store for me and had less time for massages, but I clearly remember the last time I saw Yiim.  She was within a few years of turning thirty.   She told me she didn’t have a tenth of what she needed to leave there – and that amount was diminishing. 

I wished her luck, and – with all honesty – said that I hoped we’d meet again.  I really didn’t think we would.   I was quite sad that last time.

  I was gone from Bangkok for some years, never even returned on a visit.  And then one day, destiny brought me back.

It was nice to be here again.  Some things had changed, most hadn’t – everything felt quite familiar.   I was re-familiarizing myself with the town, poking around some shops down by the river.   There were a good many people on the street.  I wasn’t really paying attention to them, when this woman stepped up in front of me, brought her hands up in a wai, the traditional greeting, and called me by name.   “Khun Bill,” she said.  “I can’t believe it’s you.” 

It took me a moment - Yiim!

I could never have imagined her like this:  She looked like a contemporary business woman, in a suit, but with a very short skirt, showing off those wonderful legs.  In her hand, she held an expensive-looking leather thing, a fancy ladies brief case, I suppose.  

“Yiim,” I said, “You look wonderful!”   

She replied by throwing her arms around me.  When she released me, she stepped back and looked up at me with that Thai Cheshire cat grin. I bent over and kissed her nose – astounding myself by doing this in public on a Bangkok street.   Any witness must have thought that it was a meeting of two very good old friends – which I suppose it was.  I couldn’t get over how good she looked.  She was over thirty by then.  If I hadn’t known, I would have put her in her early twenties. 

“Let’s go have a coffee or something.” 

She looked at her wristwatch.  “I have a meeting now,” she said, “but let’s have lunch tomorrow,” and named a fancy hotel.  “I’ll see you in the lobby.  It’s my treat.”    

I watched her as she walked off, my eyes on that gorgeous bottom.  By the looks of her, she must have found a nice English or American banker to keep her – perhaps even marry her.

I got to the hotel early, stood in the lobby near the coffee shop.  She took my hand when she arrived, led me to the hotel’s elegant Chinese restaurant, the most expensive in town.  I had only eaten there once or twice before.

Over coffee - after the grand meal that she had arranged and paid for – I finally had to ask:  “Yiim, we’ve talked old times and old acquaintances, but you haven’t told me what I really want to know  – what are you doing now?  Are you married?”

The Cheshire cat grin reappeared.  “Bill,” she said, “You know I would never marry.  There is no man in my life now.  I am just doing business, my own business – and I am very happy now.”

“Then you did it,” I said.  “You succeeded in your plan.  Does that mean that you are actually a landlady now?”

“No, that was something I was never able to do.”  She said this somewhat wistfully. “I never had enough money to buy even a small building.”  She didn’t seem inclined to explain further, so I asked:   “What kind of business are you doing, then?’

“I think you would call it a service business.”

Visions of escort services flashed through my head, pretty girls, part time college students, maybe.   This was Bangkok after all.  She showed a small smile this time; she knew what I was thinking.  “I solve problems for people,” she said.   

“What kind of problems?”  I asked.

“Oh, Big problems,” she said, and held out a business card.

And that’s what the card said – in English and Thai:  Big Problem?  No problem!  Call Yiim.  There was a single phone number.       

She looked preoccupied all of a sudden - remembering another appointment, perhaps.  “Come see me at my office,” she said.  “I will write the address.” 

I would call first.  “I am often outside the office with clients,” she explained.    

Her office was in one of those low-key, very expensive buildings just off the main street in the financial district.  It probably hid expensive lawyers, highly discrete financial operatives, and a few big-buck private gem dealers – but you couldn’t tell.  There were no names on any of the doors, just numbers. 

A secretary let me into the suite.  Nice-looking girl, expensively dressed.

“Ah, Khun Bill!”

Yiim was standing in the doorway to her office.   It was big, professionally decorated:  lots of chrome, leather and rich wood.  It looked very efficient. 

We sat in comfortable chairs at a low table.  “Whiskey Black Label?” she asked.  

“It’s early,” I said, “but a special occasion.  Make it a double.”   She poured a large measure for me, another for herself.

“Well,” I said, after we clicked glasses and had big swallows, “This is really something.  You have your own business, a fantastic-looking office – and look at you!  You look like a hundred million Baht.”  

“I’m a business lady now.”  She caught me nodding agreement, too quickly perhaps.  “A real one,” she added. “I have a business degree.” 

“My uncle, maybe you remember?   He needed money for a Thai restaurant in the States.  You were very upset that he wanted to use my money.”  

“I do remember that,” I said.  “Goes to show you,” I said.  “I suppose he made his fortune in America, and paid you back at an exorbitant rate of interest.”

“No, he went bankrupt in the States.  He lost all my money, and then he came home.  I was very angry.  I said I would kill him.  ‘No,’ he said. ‘I have an idea.  I learned a lot about business in America.  You and I will make business together, Yiim.  You are very smart, and we will do it the American way.’”   Yiim paused to take a big hit of her whiskey.

“And then he said I had to go to school and study business.   I enrolled in the commercial college, and got my degree.”

Then he told me he had a business in our home province.  It was doing very well, but he knew it could do much better if he could expand it.  It needed marketing, something he knew nothing about.  Now that I had a degree, I could help him.  And that’s what I have been doing for almost three years.”

“Well, that’s incredible,” I said.  “And looking around this office, you’ve been very successful.”

“Yes, very successful,” she said.  She stood up then and filled out glasses with ‘whiskey black,’ as the Thais call it.  We held our glasses up and actually shouted the Thai war-cry:  Chai-yo!  Victory!   

It felt like the days in the massage parlor, when the two of us secretly shared her Japanese clients’ premium whiskey.   I felt really good just then, and it wasn’t just the whiskey.  Yiim had done it - not according to her plan, perhaps, but she had made something of herself.  I could see she was feeling pretty good too.  I started to wonder where all these good feelings might lead.

“Yiim,” I said, “I can’t say how pleased I am for you,” and I really meant it.  We sat quietly, just sipping our whiskey and looking at each other.  After a while, sort of conversationally, I said, “So what kind of business are you guys doing?”  

She looked at me. No smile, this was serious now.  She set her glass on the table, leaned toward me.  “Bill,” she said.  “Do you remember where I come from?”

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugged my shoulders, “Some place up north, I suppose - where all the pretty girls come from.”

She laughed.  “Not all the pretty girls come from the north – you told me that once.”

“Ah, yes,” I said, “I remember that.   Oh!  And now I do remember where you come from.  You come from the province of Phetburi.”

That earned me a smile; she was quite pleased I remembered.   “And do you remember what Phetburi  is famous for?” she asked.    

  “Rice?” I said.  “Every Thai province must be famous for rice.”  When she frowned I knew that wasn’t the answer.  “Beautiful  women?”  I added.   

And even as I said that, I remembered what Phetburi was famous for.  It almost made me laugh.  

“Well,” I said to Yiim, “I know what people used to say Phetburi was famous for.  But that was a long time ago.  I’m sure you have something new - a new product that’s putting Phetburi right on the map.  I held up my glass:  “Phetburi Black,” I joked, “the whiskey that made Pherburi  famous!  So tell me, what is your product?”

She didn’t say anything at all, at first.  When she finally spoke, there was something like sadness in her voice.  She said, “There is no new product.  Phetburi is still famous for the same thing.”

“Well, I said, I don’t see how that matters – it can’t relate to you….”

 And then I realized that it most obviously must relate.  It was like a kick in the chest.

“Assassins?”  I said, “Phetburi  is famous for assassins!  You can’t be dealing in assassins!”

But she could be – and she was.  I could see it in her eyes.

How does one deal with learning something like that?   Well, I can tell you how I dealt with it – how Yiim and I did - with a good deal of whiskey.   She had more than the one bottle, thank god.  Can you imagine how I felt?  Here was my friend Yiim - my protégé, practically – and she was essentially the chief operating officer of Thailand’s Murder Incorporated!

I knew Yiim as a pragmatic person, but a very sweet and gentle one.  I often remember her rescuing a spider or some other creature from the tub in the massage parlor as the hot water was rising.  It was all so incomprehensible. 

Well, you remember Bangkok then.  There were always murders.  Most often, the victims were politicians.  If it wasn’t a national political figure, the English-language press didn’t even bother to cover it.  The vernacular press played up the carnage with gruesome front page photos.  If you walked past the newspaper vendors, you didn’t have to read Thai to figure it out.

And, of course, none of the murders were ever solved.  Often the victim was driving somewhere, moving slowly through traffic.  A motorcycle came alongside.  There were motorcycles everywhere, but the pillion rider on this one swung a big pistol toward the driver.  It was always a big pistol with a heavy bullet.  Blap! Blap! Blap!  The car veered off the road, hit a pole; the driver was quite dead.  Nothing was ever again seen of the motorcyclists, no witness ever remembered a single useful detail. 

Everyone knew, of course, that the shooters were professionals from Phetburi.  They were favored because their rates were good – mid to high five figures in Thai Baht – and they never missed, and they never got caught.  Well, yes, a figure of some national prominence would be more expensive, of course.  Some of those employed bodyguards – who also had big guns.  Yiim actually had a price list with a graduated prominence scale.

Anyway, as Yiim related it, her uncle in Petburi had become one of the principals in the business.  He had started as a pillion rider, a young shooter.  He became quite proficient, not only in the technical aspects of the trade, but also in planning.  Eventually, he moved into management.   Actually, he only made that move after returning from his failed restaurant in America.   His travel there was … required, shall we say - by a prominent affair involving a rich businessman who met with an unfortunate accident.  It didn’t even happen in Bangkok, and it soon blew over.

The uncle had started to become innovative by the time Yiim got involved.  Popping some minor politician from a motorcycle was still the gold standard, but there was a need for new ways and new markets.  At the rate they were being seen off, Thai politicians weren’t going to last forever.  At the same time, the Thai economy had started its boom, and competition in the business community was growing fierce.  Yiim saw opportunities right away.

It’s not just pillion riders and politicians these days.  Perhaps you have a business rival – or some annoying chap you just don’t care for.  And you don’t have to look for a lurid photo on the front page of a sensationalist vernacular paper anymore.  It’s all more discrete now:  a small piece on the inside pages of the English-language press:  “An unfortunate accident has occurred”.  It’s quite well done.

The long conversation Yiim and I had that first night in her office really made me think.  We talked about every aspect of the business, looked at it from all angles - until we were both totally exhausted.  In the end, Yiim said to me, “But, you know Khun Bill, sometimes, for some people, this is the only answer.  Think of it: If there was some annoying little person in your life, who threatened you or your family’s well-being, or who just kept you from enjoying life the way you should – think of how good, how complete your life would be if he weren’t there.” 

And I did think about that.  And you know what’s funny – what came into my mind was this terrible little shit Franklyn Feeney.  Remember him?   He always hung around us, on Patpong, on Soi Cowboy - wherever we went, he was there.  And he didn’t like me, remember that?  He always nattered on about why wasn’t I home with the kiddies, and didn’t I love my wife, and shouldn’t I quit smoking and drinking.  Natter, natter, natter.  Well, I did love my wife, although we’re divorced now.  But it all came back in one big rush – what a terrible little shit that Feeney was.  Suddenly, I completely understood what Yiim meant. 

I’m sorry, what did you just say about Feeney?  He’s gone?   Oh, I didn’t know that.  He wasn’t that old – no older than you or me.   Oh, it was an accident!  Up north?  He slipped on a wet rock, fell down the waterfall, and broke his neck.   Now isn’t that something.  Had he been drinking?  Oh, that’s just what they think – the wet rock.  They don’t think his wife might have pushed him, do they?   Although I’m sure she would have had good reason to - that little shit.   Ah, well, accidents do happen. 

Anyway, as I was saying:  When our long night of searching our souls was over, I started to think that Yiim had some very good points – strictly in a Thai context, mind you.  There are problems in the world that cannot be solved – that’s something we have all come to realize.  And how do you deal with a problem you can’t solve?  Well, you simply eliminate it - you take it off the board.  You see the logic of that, I’m sure.  As I’ve said, this is not the Western way.  But here in Thailand it works.

All the old habits come back – and all these pretty girls always ready with another whiskey black.  I must say it is good to be back in Bangkok, back in the fray.  Good to see old friends.  I still can’t get over how good Yiim looks.

And where is Yiim now? Well she’s in Tokyo, actually – looking for new opportunities.  Her Japanese is quite good you know, and she always got along fabulously with her Japanese clients at the massage place here.  She looked quite cute in those schoolgirl uniforms that the Japanese men like so much – still does in fact.