It’s funny how my life and the books I read are often intertwined. While I was reading Life of Pi I briefly dated an Indian, who introduced me to an ashram in Chiang Mai where I could pop by for free food every Wednesday at the end of the chanting. When I read Dave Eggers’s The Circle, I ended up dating a guy working at Google. Now I am wondering what would happen if I picked up The Hobbit.
I was reading When Breath Becomes Air, a memoir written by a Stanford grad, American neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, when I matched with a cute Singaporean neurosurgeon on Tinder. Matin was visiting Bangkok for the weekend. I had never matched with a doctor before, I thought I could broaden my circle to Singapore and even have thoughtful and intellectual conversion with this doctor. But right away he asked me if I was horny.
Normally I would unmatch the person if the first thing they say were ‘Hi! Sex?’ or ‘Fun now?’ but Matin was an exception. Maybe it was his cute, professional doctorial looking photos in his green hospital gown or I just wanted to keep him in my circle. I said, ‘No, not really.’ And tried to steer the conversation away from the topic of sex and asked, ‘What are your plans for today?’
‘Not much.’ As if he doesn’t realize my intention he then sent another message. ‘Need a Thai uncut cock in my mouth.’ Strange he assumed my penis was uncircumcised from the pictures on my Tinder profile. They are photo of me on various vehicles; car, plane, boat, train and me wearing Nike shoes. I am alone in all of these photos and I thought they could bespeak my single-life and semi-intrepid-but-within-my-comfort-zone persona. Then I thought he might have seen the statistic because he’s a doctor but, no, he wrote on his Tinder profile that he is a neurosurgeon. Circumcision has nothing to do with brain cells and his area of expertise, and the way he assumed all Thai penises were uncircumcised was racist except that we’re the same race. Little did I know about the training required to become a doctor, maybe he had gone through this kind of information, a foundation course perhaps, to advance into the next step in his profession. After a pause, a message came through, ‘Big?’ ‘N stinky?’
I was done with the conversation and just as I’m about to turn off the app, the last message from Matin reads ‘I like it dirty’ shot through the bottom of the chat box. I was annoyed by what he was after—a dirty, big, uncut penis, and, he assumed that I was it. But, nevertheless, I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to know a neurosurgeon who drives a Mercedes (one of his Tinder photos shows him driving a Mercedes) from Singapore. I thought I would drop him a message when he was in a less frisky mood.
There was a big international education expo on the weekend and I went there to do some university shopping. This was where I realized that education backgrounds, like accents, bespeak what you’re made of.
Most people realized this before attending the event. It’s the reason why they want to have a degree from foreign university; so they could use a piece of paper to get hired from one of the top companies and earn 401K base salary and just hop to another job when things didn’t work out. When you tell the university representatives that you graduated from Chiang Mai University, they see picture of men with uncircumcised penises, messy haircuts, even a group of students wearing thongs to attend a class. (My dry sense of humor may have gone way too far here but I want to make thing clear that I am PROUD of my architectural degree from Chiang Mai University.) The university representatives may have seen me for what I really am, but, as a salesperson approaching a prospective client, they were all went like, “Wow! That-is-a-great-university.” They spoke with dashes between words and try their best to sound excited that I graduated from CMU.
One of them was a Singaporean woman. I would call her ‘Sarah’. She was representing a Business School based in several locations across the U.S. She was the most energetic representative I met that day and despite approaching me with a sales-pitch I’ve heard a thousand times, she sounded genuinely interested in my goals and was the only one who told me attending Chiang Mai University wasn’t a great start.
“But I don’t blame you.” She said with such heavy Singaporean accent; the flat, chop-off tones without enunciating the words fully. “You were young when you chose Chiang Mai University, am I right?”
I just nodded, acknowledging the truth. She was right. I was a stubborn eighteen-year-old kid from an island in the South of Thailand trying his best to escape life in the big city. So attending university in Bangkok or Singapore wasn’t an option. The year before I began freshman year, Thailand received the first pair of Pandas from China and they were (and still are) in Chiang Mai Zoo that was walking distance from the university. So xiè xie nĭ! I can’t really blame my young and naïve self, really, for choosing to attend Chiang Mai University so I could visit the Pandas whenever I wanted.
Sarah went on, “But now you are a grown man. You know yourself better. Why don’t you tell me which course you want to study?” I talked to her, repeating the same conversation I just had earlier with the other representatives, even though I could have snatched a study guide and run away to another booth. I saw myself slipping into the mould of their ideal prospect. I am one of those Thais who speak English well and have a good GPA and want to obtain an MBA Degree abroad. I am an easy target, but one catch is that I can’t afford the tuition fees and that was the excuse I used in order to escape.
“Well, Mister Sam.” Sarah knew I would reveal this card eventually. “We offer scholarship for students who really want to get better and become successful. Seeing you GPA and your career track records, I am sure we can offer you up to $8000 per semester.”
“Wow! That’s awesome!” Sarah would notice how fake I was but she didn’t seem to care. She was a master of persuasion. Who knows how well she knew about me before I even opened my mouth. Like Matin who assumed my penis was big, dirty and uncircumcised. “Mister Sam, the difference between our course and other universities is that we focus on practice rather than theory. You can work while you’re studying with us. The salary in the U.S. is different from Thailand and believe me, a lot of Thai students have been in your position before and now they are very successful.”
Then a young Asian girl appeared from behind me. “Hey, Sarah!”
“Hey, hey!” Sarah spoke with excitement as if she had run into a childhood friend. “This is Sam. Sam, this is Katie. She’s one of our college graduates.”
“Hi, Sam! Nice to meet you!”
Maybe it was because I was also work in Marketing for an education company that I thought the whole thing was staged. ‘Has Sarah signaled Katie to show up before she continues the third act?’
“Your name, please.”
I left the study abroad expo feeling numbed and didn’t remember how many times I had left my contact information with representatives. I had to carry twenty kilograms of study toolkits on my way home. I made a mental note to bring a stroller and keep my excuses fresh the next time I attended this sort of event.
That evening I went for a run at Lumpini Park when I received a new message on my Tinder. It was from Matin. ‘You are near.’ I checked the distant and saw that we were indeed closer to each other than the morning. Another message followed, ‘Need to suck your uncut cock.’ I texted him back that I was running and he could join me if he wanted. Instead he persisted. ‘Yummy’ ‘Sweaty.’ ‘Run here I’ll lick you up.’ ‘Hurry! I’m checking out at 8.’
‘Yes, so it’s a quickie ‘k?’
I quickly declined the offer. I had thought about making a connection with Matin even if it was just an afternoon coffee in a café. I need to broaden my circle to Singapore if I want to study at the National University of Singapore, which is ranked at number 12 according to the QS standard in 2016.
A lot of Thais dream about traveling to find something to do in Singapore. I often hear stories about Thais that make it and live well in Singapore. But if this is what it takes—the struggling parts are often left out from the success stories— if your whole day consists of hassles to the extreme level and making other people feel uncomfortable, I don’t want to be part of it. I texted him ‘God, you make me feel like a prostitute.’
I thought briefly about the expensive tuition and cost of living in cities like New York or Berlin or London. Maybe I should take every opportunity to earn some extra income. If he were going to treat me like I was a male hookers at least some cash would be nice. Not to mention the benefit of the blowjob. There was no cash offer, but instead, I received a bunch of relentless persuasive texts, ‘Don’t overthink it Sam’ ‘You’re hot.’ ‘I want to sniff your sweaty balls.’
‘OK’ I texted him. I reminded myself I wasn’t on my way to get my dick sucked. I was curious, plus I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to get to know a Singaporean neurosurgeon and practice the medical vocabulary I’ve learned from reading When Breath Becomes Air.
Matin was waiting for me at the security post of the hotel when we met. An awkward moment ensued when I realized our eyes weren’t going to meet. He was checking his phone as he led me into the lobby and then the elevator hall. My eyes studied the impeccable interior. When we were at the front door of his room, something unexpected happened. The door was chain-locked from the inside. I peeked into the room and couldn’t believe what I saw, a middle age woman watching television with two children running around. ‘Who are they?’ I asked.
Matin then talked to the people in the room in Chinese and the metal door chain was unlocked. ‘They are on the balcony now. We can go to the bedroom for a quickie.’
At that point, I felt myself taking few steps back toward the elevator hall. ‘You are unbelievable!’
Matin walked towards me but I told him not to. ‘What are you thinking? Do you think it’s a good idea to give a blowjob to a stranger with your family sitting inches away? I’m out! This was a very big mistake.’ I was making my way to the elevator but Matin keep following me. ‘I’m not interested anymore.’ I told him, almost raising my voice to yelling.
‘I know hottie. But you need to use my keycard to get down in the elevator.’
It never occurred to me that maybe I was using Tinder for the wrong reason. The ultimate culprit or person to blame was me. But who would have thought a neurosurgeon from Singapore would have turned out to be such a sexual predator. On holiday or not, a doctor who’s craving for an unhygienic penis was strange. His straightforwardness and fixed goal kind of amazed and terrified me at the same time. I thought for a second that maybe there was something wrong with the brain of this neurosurgeon. ‘Surgeon your fucking brain first.’ I sniffed.
I ran to the nearest bookstore to calm my head. Bookstores are like a sanctuary where my failed attempts to change people’s minds with words would be pardoned. I ran my finger across the classics section, the books with names like Ernest Hemingway, C.S. Lewis, and Leo Tolstoy on the spine, and wondering what I should read next.