FROM BALI TO THAILAND
(Further Trouble with Models , New Thai Wife)
Hua Hin, being a coastal town, was blessed with lovely sea breezes. Theo was often seen sitting on the beach behind his easel-with the high mountains punctuating the background. Most days offered clear blue skies and sometimes billowing white clouds rolled in. Theo was happy and contented in Hua Hin, but, as could be expected, it was not without incident.
He had planned to stay only three months but three months turned into a three-year sojourn in Southern Thailand>His troubles began, as usual, with his choice of models. In this case it was the 13-year old daughter of the caretaker of the property. She was an attractive, pretty girl, willing to pose for him. But as time passed, she turned into a very lovely, desirable woman. Before long she was spending nights with Theo in his bed.
The arrangement, however, did not sit well with the caretaker and his wife. The caretaker was in a difficult predicament being in the employ of Prince Sandith, but he had no choice. He approached Sandith and explained that Theo would have to mend his ways.
But Theo had grown attached to the girl. “What does his age to do with it?” Theo said to Sandith when Sandith confronted him. “She is happy with me, and she makes a good model.”
Sandith could only shake his head. He was as James Michener labeled him, an irredeemable reprobate, but a most likeable reprobate.
The caretaker had no choice but to send his daughter back to the rice fields, but he did come up with a solution. He brought in from the fields the young girl’s older sister, sixteen-year-old Yattlie.
With Yattlie taking the place of her younger sister, Sandith thought it best that he send them away, off to Chiang Mai to live. Theo had no objection and he and Yattlie went to the northern city by train to look for a place for them to live. They found an old Thai house near Wat Suan Dok that pleased Theo very much. Built high above ground on teak posts, it had verandahs that surrounded the entire house. It was ideal for painting. Theo and Yattlie moved in.
One would imagine that the problem was settled, but it wasn’t quite that simple. Yattlie’s mother followed her and Theo to Chiang Mai.
Yattlie’s family was not typical Thai. They were Chinese-Thais with deep-rooted traditions. When Hans Oplander, Theo’s German businessman friend, came to Chiang Mai for a visit, Theo asked him for his advice. Hans would know. He was married to a Thai Chinese girl.
“You have to marry her,” Hans said. He then explained Theo couldn’t possibly live with her unless they were married, and the Chinese custom was that a man had to buy his wife from the girl’s parents. Theo would have to buy Yattlie and then marry her if he wanted her to stay with him.
“Buy her,” Theo ranted. “I can’t afford to buy her.” “Then send her back,” Hans replied.
“I can’t do that,” he answered. “Why not?” Sandith asked.
“I like her,” Theo admitted.
“Then you have no other choice.”
The next time Sandith came to Chiang Mai, Theo told him he wanted to marry Yattlie.
“Are you out of your mind?” Sandith screamed. “Maybe, but I still want to marry her,” Theo replied. “But she is not pretty. Her youthful figure, yes-“
Theo interrupted. “What do I care about her looks? She makes a good model.”
“Yah, she’s a farm girl from up country. Look the way she squats, the way she eats, no dignity,” Sandith shouted.
“But by god she’s natural. What do I care for a pretty face?”
“But you can find another, someone else.” “I don’t want another.”
Sandith knew Theo, and he knew he was fighting a lost cause if he tried to talk Theo into something that he was opposed to. Theo was hardnosed and once he made up his mind there was no changing it. Theo in this case was adamant, very adamant. Sandith knew there was no need to tell his friend that he would be an outcast if he married this girl. To paint her, yes; to make love with her, yes; to even keep her as a mistress, yes; but to marry her, no. To parade her around as his wife, that would be folly. So let him take her, let him be the fool, and then he will see. Theo is a friend, Sandith reasoned, a good friend, and when Theo comes to his senses, he will understand.
So it was decided, by all, that Theo and Yattlie would marry. Hans agreed to go to Hua Hin to see Yattlie’s family as a negotiator, a matchmaker, to ask for her hand in marriage. He went to Hua Hin to meet them.
Yattlie’s parents agreed, but Theo would have to pay the going rate for a wife, 5,000 baht. Hans said, “Look he is a foreigner, a painter and he doesn’t have 5,000 baht.”
“He is your friend,” Yattlie’s father the caretaker said, “and you are a foreigner and all foreigners are rich and have money.”
It was useless for Hans to argue so he bargained with Yattlie’s father to reduce the sum down to 3,000 baht. Once agreed, the date was set and Hans made the wedding arrangements.
“We all went down to Hua Hin,” he said. “It was a marvelous day. Yattlie is Thai-Chinese. Her father and grandfather were full Chinese. Anyway it was a gathering of the whole family and they had to pay respect to their ancestors and line up at the altar. They were all lined up and I was the only one, a white man, on Theo’s side. Theo had learned his lessons very well, and he bowed three times to an ancestor. When he did his trousers split up the back, and he didn’t have underwear on. He couldn’t have cared less. Yattlie was dressed like a Thai actress, long silk dress, golden shoes, and Theo in his torn trousers. Fortunately, he had his long Balinese shorts to put on. We all got terribly drunk, and in the evening we were about to send them off down south on their honeymoon when Theo insisted I go on their honeymoon with them. I did and I was to learn something about Yattlie I didn’t realize before. She was no simple Thai farm girl.
“We were in the dining car heading south,” Hans continued. “Theo had the whole compartment in stitches, everyone, yelling and shouting, holding up their glasses filled with Mekong whiskey, shouting ‘salute’ with each toast. Theo was getting a little too tipsy to suit Yattlie so she told him to take it easy. Theo flared up.
“One thing you must learn,” he scolded his new bride. “You don’t tell me to take it easy. You understand?”
“Yes, me understand,” she replied, “and you no tell me same same.” With that she reached for a Mekong bottle on the table, bit off the cork with her teeth and filled a glass to the brim. She began to drink. Tears flowed down her cheek. Theo attempted to take the glass from her but she resisted. She drank until it was empty. “Salute,” she said wiping away the tears. It was the first hard liquor Yattlie ever had in her life.
“Hey, you can’t do that,” Theo said and snatched away the empty glass from her hand.
“I don’t want you to get drunk.”
“Me same same. No want you drunk.” Theo cut out his drinking that night.
Prince Sandith, with his Thai wife at his side, met Theo and his wedding party-which had been gathering momentum-in Phuket and they all carried on for another three days.
- Photo caption on page 209 of the book: Theo and Yattlie married in Hua Hin. They didn’t have cell-phone cameras then. I took this photo several years later.
Theo and Yattlie were married and living in Wat Dorn in Chiang Mai when I finally met Theo in person. I was most anxious to get to know him after having seen his wife Pergi in Bali many years before. She was beautiful and I never could understand why Theo had separated from her and why he had left Bali that he loved so much. When our mutual friend, photographer Willy Mettler told me about Theo living in Chiang Mai, I had to go with him to met Theo. This was the chance, my golden opportunity that I had waited for. Captain Dekoning of the Northwinds had written on several occasions asking if I ever found out about Theo Meier, why he had left Bali. Now I could write and tell him.