We and the Girls of Thailand
I like Thailand and the people; I also don't buy into the idea that Thai men are no good, that they are poor husbands, or that they don't care about their wives and families. The vast majority of married Thai men I've known care deeply about their wives and families, and would never allow themselves to be distracted by a female to the detriment of their family, unlike many, many Westerners. Also note that my familiarity with the country is NOT based on the nightlife of the country. I had lived in the country for over three years before I ever had a drink at a bar in a farang nightlife area, and while I've met many Thai women over the years, before 1988 I had talked to less than 5 women who to my knowledge had ever worked in the sex industry. My introduction to Thailand then is definitely not from a tourist or sex enthusiast perspective.
I've met dozens of regular Thai women over the years and I've had a 'handful' of Thai girlfriends; it was one or more of the five factors below that kept appearing when I would become serious about a long-term relationship which would ultimately result in our break up. While most of these factors are not exclusive to Thai-farang relationships, I believe that they are more common to Thai-non-Thai (especially farang) relationships and so my thoughts may provide some degree of insight about the different ways that our two cultures see the world. The order in which these factors are listed is based on the size of the problem they became in my relationships, but none of them singularly resulted in the demise of the relationship.
Note that I am not saying that the practices noted below are not found in western culture, they are, but they are far more prevalent in Thai society and to a degree that I have found to be incompatible with my interests in a spouse.
Above all else, I appreciate honesty and integrity in my close friends and my spouse. As most of you know, these traits are hard to find in LOS, perhaps because they are also related to the important issue of face and the significance of duplicity common in Thai society. While there is also plenty of dishonesty and lack of integrity in my own culture, what I am discussing here is the way in which these actions are manifested in Thailand and the rationalization and inability to accept truth when it conflicts with other important issues such as face. This is the most difficult portion of the paper to write, as there are so many examples I could discuss and so many ways in which the Thai can be seen by farang as dishonest. I don't think that there are many more divergent ways of distinguishing among Thai and farang than how we view honesty. There are few Thais in whom I can place my trust or rely on.
Part of the problem is that Thais try and accommodate every one with whom they come in contact and perhaps because they are always in search of their own identity, they try hard to be all things to all people. This is very different from the NW European culture that I grew up in, which suggests that compromising your integrity for the sake of others is tantamount to making a pact with the devil, and there are clear firm lines of demarcation between right and wrong and honest and dishonest behavior.
In spite of its Buddhist basis that alludes a strong moral ethic, in practice Thai culture has been very lenient in condemning actions that may seem incongruous with the religion. Right and wrong is certainly a matter of interpretation and there are few easy hard-and-fast rules that apply. Everything is transient and everything is flexible. More appropriate to this section, however, is that the Thai try very hard to be all things to all people. They befriend everyone with the goal that they can play one group off against the other as the need arises. WWII is a good example, while officially at war with the allied powers, the Thai ambassador to the US declined to deliver the formal declaration of war and instead helped to support the Thai anti-Japanese effort to fight the Japanese. In other words, the Thai want it both ways, they choose to play both sides of the game because they want to be on the winning side. The morals or ethics of the situation are really irrelevant because it is more important to be on the winning side. Read up on what happened after WWII, what did the Thai do? This is why the Nana Hotel is always full. Never place your trust or faith in the individual to come through, but rather befriend all and you maximize your chances.
One of the things that really annoys me about Thai 'friends' is that they are only your friends when things are going well, while in bad times, they will desert you for the other side. Are these friends? Thai 'friends' often ask me to do some sort of favor inferring that I am the only one whom they have taken into their confidence or who they have asked. Many years of experience with these situations has taught me that it is never the case that I have been the only one they ask the favor of. When a Thai asks a favor of you, it is nothing special; basically they have asked several people hoping that one of them will come through. To many Westerners this seems like a breach of trust as our culture teaches us not to be greedy when asking favors and if we do ask we must really be in need. In addition, if we say yes, then our reputation is on the line. For me, this situation combines the importance of trust-integrity with reliability, which is important among friends and paramount in a spouse; failing to follow through on this type of agreement signifies unreliability and lack of trust. Unfortunately, it does not have the same connotation in Thai, who for a variety of reasons will commonly breech this type of agreement. To me, this breech is another form of unscrupulous behavior by a duplicitous individual, but that is not how most Thais will view the situation. They have an impressive ability to rationalize actions that seem to Westerners to be in contradiction with their cultural - ethical system.
Thais are particularly good at using their skills to mislead or deceive others, especially us farang; and often times we are either too ignorant, too blind, too stupid to see what is happening, or just simply in denial. I think one of the major concerns any Westerner should have when marrying a Thai is to determine why she is marrying you, love, economic gain, no other options, etc. There is no way to tell what her motives truly are before marriage; in fact I would go so far as to say that she probably has many motives for marrying you, and is just waiting to see which opportunities present themselves. This statement shouldn't be seen as necessarily something negative, as all women probably have many reasons for marrying a particular person, but given the basic view of honesty in Thai society, the lack of remorse, and the exceptional ability to rationalize unscrupulous acts, the potential for dishonesty, manipulation, and deceit is very high.
The Thai seem to think that they will never be caught in a lie and even if they do they believe that they can either sweet talk their way out of the situation or their countrymen will take note of the lie but try gloss over the situation, once they both realize that the lie has been caught, in order to help the perpetrator from losing face. Because this type of recognition is not present when dealing with a farang, or it is not a concern, the Thai are very willing to take their chances to see if you, a farang, can catch them. If you don't catch them in the deceit, then no harm done! If you do think you have caught them, rather than fess (face) up to the indiscretion, they will do all in their power to find a way out of it, by fabricating an even bigger lie. Thais have, or pay little attention to the ethics of these situations as we do in the West, which is tiresome for me as I dislike dealing with individuals who are such blatant liars, not just from my perspective, but their actions also breech the basic tenants of the religion to which they profess adherence. This situation ultimately eliminates as friends or spouses most of the Thais I have come to know over the years. If I can't trust them, then they cannot be my close friend. A friend is someone whom I can trust, which doesn't seem to be an important problem for Thais.
In my formative stages of studying Thai, Thai culture, and Thailand, I came across one scholarly work which argued that Thais don't really have friends in the same sense as Westerners, as Thai friendships are more like foreign relations among countries. This is because Thais never fully trust the individuals whom they refer to as friends; in fact they may not even like the folks in their 'phuen fung' (circle of friends), but that they make certain to maintain contact and some sort of relationship with these individuals. This is because they never know when someone's assistance might be needed. It is best to never completely sever ties with anyone, but rather keep in contact (minimal) with as many people as one can, while the 'circle of friends' will be constantly in flux.
While I've known many Thais, I can't say that I trust any of them implicitly, which is not necessarily a condemnation of Thais, as there are very few westerners I've met who I would trust implicitly either. But my dilemmas with trust sometimes come down to silly little things that a Westerner believes a true friend wouldn't do, because they are so small we wouldn't risk a friendship by doing these minor things. Perhaps to the Thai they see things a bit different, if we are friends, then I shouldn't be bothered by the little things. Unfortunately for me, I am bothered by them.
Perhaps the best example of this situation is the friend who used to let me keep some clothes and other household items at his house when I was out of the country. Over the years I began to notice certain items missing, and thought it odd that they should disappear since my friend didn't have use for them. I later learned that he was 'loaning' these items out to his Thai friends, which of course made him more important in their eyes. I discovered this when I would return unannounced to find some things gone and he would tell me that they were at his office, etc. He never once asked if his friends could use these things, and he knew that I wouldn't have wanted them to, but as long as I was away and wasn't using them, I guess he felt it was alright to lend them to others. Of course, when they were lost, wore out or broke, I was the one who had to replace them.
Except for my Thai mother, there are only two Thais who I really feel I can take into my confidence and whom I believe I can count on if needed. One of these people is a Thai woman whose personality seems to run counter to Thai culture. While quite attractive and well proportioned, she might seem at first glance to be every western male's dream faen, but most men are very surprised at how bright, outspoken, quick witted and quick tempered she is. Much more important to me than her physical attributes, is that she is someone I trust. I am often asked why I never married this female friend, and the reason is simple, we learned years ago that we would not be a suitable couple, as we wanted very different things out of life. She once told me that she would probably never be married for any length of time as she was too difficult to get along with, but that she would take a series of lovers throughout her life (only one at a time-serial monogamy as it is now known under the politically correct term in the U.S.), which would allow her to travel the world, meet new people, and she wouldn't have to change much because she could always split from her lover when he tried to get her to change. I guess she is very characteristic of Thai women in one way, as she is cunning, stubborn, and expects her men to do accede to her requests. She has now had 3 long-term lovers since we met and each time I meet the new boyfriend, I get a bit of amusement out of wondering how long they will last as a couple. I have a deep amount of respect for this woman because she is honest almost to a fault. Just like she told me 20 years ago, she also tells her lovers what her intentions are. Those who enter into a long-term relationship with her should be fully aware of what to expect. My friendship with her is built on honesty. She has no pretense, does not care about 'face' (part of my next topic), and she will always respond to my inquiries with the absolute truth. She doesn't come up short on any of the issues that I discuss in this submission, but we never married because I knew that she wanted something very different out of life than me. My respect, admiration, and appreciation for her honesty is immense and I wish there were more people (everywhere) like her.
Years ago, my Thai 'mother' told me that I was no longer farang, but Thai, because I could discuss just about anything with her in Thai and she felt that Thai women would love this ability. Well, it didn't exactly turn out this way. Knowing the language well does have advantages, but today it also has some big disadvantages, which in the past 10 years (since the Asian Economic Crisis) has meant that more foreigners are coming to Thailand who are sufficiently stupid (ignorant-to be nice) and rich to attract almost any attractive woman seeking the upward mobility of having a rich farang boyfriend. Fifteen-20 years ago, I frequently met Thai women who only wished their farang husband could communicate with them in Thai like I could, and I often met Thai women married to farang men who would say how nice it would be to finally be able to really understand their spouse when they talked to one another.
Now in 2005, when Thai women hear me speak Thai, I certainly don't get the same response as a decade ago. What changed? In my opinion, it was the Asian Economic Crises, which exposed many European and Japanese to Thai women, due to the impressive foreign exchange rates that were found at the time (Hey, I don't belittle these fellows' interest in being with Thai women. In fact, I'm impressed with the tenaciousness and abilities of many foreign men who come to Thailand seeking a spouse). The result is that today, Thai women can find lots of men that (as I've been told by many Thais) are just stupid foreigners. Increasingly Thai women don't want you to know Thai, because they want to be able to mislead you and because they want to be able to talk about things with their 'friends' that would not put them in a favorable light in your eyes. Maybe this is why you hear Thai women say that Thai men are no good. Why? Because Thai men can see through the deceit? NW European style honesty has never been a big factor in Thai relationships and if you can't understand the language (speaking- reading) of your spouse how will you ever know what she is saying to her friends, or emailing to others on the computer? This lack of knowledge on your part is desirable for all Thais, not just bargirls. Within the past decade, the farang (pejorative) have increasingly shown how na´ve they are and how easy they can be deceived. (Thanks to Stickman for providing the forum to point out these many frauds). Why would any gold-digger want to waste her time dealing with someone who understands her culture and what she is saying or writing when there is a 'lonely-sex crazed' idiot just down the next block who can be easily misled and who will give into just about any request?
These days I still meet and talk with many Thais, only to find out that when I speak Thai, they become very cautious and concerned about what my interests are in the country. Today it seems as though the women are certain that I am a *****monger or worse, have either been married to a Thai (and divorced-for shame). What used to be an asset, language, is almost a handicap. In my mind, though, I am one of the lucky ones who had the fortune to meet real Thais before the stupid (sex tourist) language/knowledge issue became a problem. I am lucky, because now I know how to separate the gold-diggers from the legitimate interests. It can take a VERY long time to convince a Thai that their ignorant beliefs are wrong, for no other reason than because Thais are NEVER wrong, and because it is difficult to overcome cultural-intellectual handicaps.
I also feel sorry for the legitimate Thai women that are seeking friends on-line or through dating services, and who want to meet farang men. These women have to compete against the unscrupulous male (idiots) and female (gold-diggers); and for a farang who doesn't know Thai or Thai culture, this is a problem. Personally, I don't understand why Thai women seem to be inordinately attractive to western men. Mainly I think Thai female's main relationships with non-Thais are often based on a sham (money-looks-superficiality), which in the end will do them in, but perhaps not before they have schemed their way into their faen(s)' finances.
I think that this is especially true for the relationships initiated over the Internet. In most cases, these relationships seem to me to be based on the idea that the women felt that they could 'mould' their man into something that they want (see my later discussion on compromise). Many Thai women today seem to be desperate to get out of their relationship and figure out the way to 'deal' with it is by looking for a replacement. In short these women are incredibly immature and na´ve in how they approach their relationship with the farang. I would add again, though, that the situation is not helped any when one partner is not honest with the other; this very important to most farang relationships, but is not as important in Thai relationships. I wonder what proportion of Thai-farang relationships have actually succeeded? I believe most of the failures can be traced back to a lack of honesty, where at least one partner misled the other into thinking that they are something they are not. This is something that is very common in both societies, although it seems to have been elevated in Thai society to an art form (next topic).
Although the basic tenants of honesty in Thai culture are similar to Western culture, Thai culture seems to have taken the rationalization of actions without apparent consequence to a level that westerner culture has yet to master. Thailand is way ahead of the West in some ways. Amazing.
2) Intellectual Curiosity, Style v. Substance - The pursuit of the superficial, an inability to distinguish among salient and insignificant information and issues, and the need to be entertained.
There is a long held joke in U.S. society about the dumb blonde that has been around for so long that today the caricature is a standard form of saying someone may look nice, but they are stupid. To be blonde is to lack intellectual substance. In a way, the Thai are the blondes of Asia. The Thais are wonderful people and the women are pretty, sexy, and fun (suay, sexi, sanuk), but they are also not an intellectual force... in any way. You may enjoy looking at them, and having fun with them, but long run commitments to them soon become tiresome as there is little intellectual curiosity that creates a long-term interest; the longer I am with them the more I feel that I'm taking care of a child, not dealing with someone who is supposed to be an adult.
One of the things about Thai 'culture' that I noticed after living in the country for about a year, and after I had begun to understand Thai customs and the Thai mentality, was how different Thai intellectual interests were than mine. Thais have very astute observational skills, but they are not focused on things that Westerners consider to be significant. Thais often fail to notice a driving force that would result in an accident or a potential future development that would result in a major problem in their life. They are, however, masters at the art of the superficial; if I needed a haircut, hadn't shaved, or I was wearing a pair of pants and shirt that didn't match (according to Thai fashion) it would be noticed by everyone. I could be a brilliant scientist, but this ability would not be recognized by the Thai if I did not have the right LOOK.
If my work is viewed by Thais as requiring a necktie, or wearing the most current fashion, then presentation is usually far more important than ability. If I look right, then I must have the ability. I agree that in the business world, and some other places, appearance can be important, but the Thai have taken this type of superficial appearance to a level that places it above any other factor, and to which few Thais can see beyond. Apparently, if you look the part, then there is no reason why you are not that person. The idea that appearance is the most important component in one's life is something that I can't fully understand, as my western-Greek-logical tradition suggests that looks can be deceiving and it is not looks, but works that matter most. In this regard, Thai and western cultures are almost diametrically opposed.
Thais also love to gawk, not because they have a passionate desire to analyze, but rather their passion is confined to the superfluous; they want to see the accident, but never wonder how it occurred or how it could have been avoided. They are far more interested in the form or style of something than the components that make up the object of interest; initially I tallied this mentality up as a lack of an intellectual tradition that rewards insight, forethought, and forward planning, and the inability to identify problems before they smack you in the face. I have now come to believe that this perspective is a result of two things, an educational system that basically teaches rote memorization rather than analysis, and a general lack of interest in learning for its own sake (keep in mind what our Western word for education came from the Greek word [schole] that meant leisure; yes, learning was a leisure activity!), instead what the Thai will more frequently tell you is yaa kit maak (literally-don't think too much). This last comment may be a bit harsh, because the statement is normally used in situations that would be more appropriately translated as 'don't worry about it', but it underscores my point about how differently the Thai language is from English in its use of the concept of thinking, thought, and analysis. Fortunately for Thailand, some of the population are able to escape from the initial handicap that their tradition and education has provided and have gone on to provide the intellectual capital that the country needed as they grew economically, even if not intellectually. Unfortunately, though, this component of the culture represents a rather small proportion of the overall population, while the Thai elite (an even smaller proportion) come from a different intellectual tradition, as they were either born into a family tradition where the goals of higher education were understood and/or they were educated in Hong Kong or the West where they acquired the analytical abilities that would make them successful wherever they lived.
Individuals without the same options as the rich or fortunate will struggle their whole lives to catch up with the rest of their Asian counterparts, but only a few will ever succeed. Over the years, I worked with several Thais possessing a very high level of education, and it was clear which individuals had the benefits of both the education and the intellectual curiosity. One of those individuals who did not have both of these benefits even came from a wealthy family and had never wanted for much. In spite of his doctoral degree from a very well known Western university, he had almost no curiosity about anything intellectual outside his field. He spent most of his time working, and when he did have free time, chose to watch TV, watch movies, or go to a club. He barely learned to drive, could not do any repairs on his car, would not cook for himself, could not fix anything in the house, and even eschewed changing a light bulb if it burned out; although he did know how to wash his own dishes and clothes, but had never ironed his own clothes. This fellow's response to inquiries about his lack of ability or interest in basic household (life) chores was that he could always pay someone else to do what ever he really needed to be done. (He would ask a friend to change his burnt out light bulbs). The only area where he seemed to excel was in his work. In spite of all the movies he saw and the music he listened to, he never bothered to find out much about either the directors of the movies, his favorite bands, or the evolution of the music he liked.
While we would occasionally go out together, usually to the latest trendiest restaurants so he could see who was there and be seen, there really wasn't much to talk about because we had almost nothing in common. He had no interest in politics, world events, or the economy (he was from a wealthy family, why should he be concerned as his parents could always help him if the need arose), he never watched the news, never watched a documentary film (too boring), had never read a novel (Thai or English) since his high schools days when it was required (I've probably read more Thai novels than him in the past 15 years), and he had no interest in playing any game that required general knowledge, intellect, or ability to analyze (i.e. Scrabble, Boggle, and Trivial Pursuit) - the only exception was poker. It was after I met this man that I fully realized the great intellectual gap between the Thai and myself. I am not especially bright, but I am very curious about the world and why things work the way they do. I love taking things apart and putting them together, my upbringing instilled a curiosity about the world, his did not. As a result, I would just as soon fix something myself as pay someone else to do it, not because I don't want to pay the money, but because I really want to know how things that are integral to my life function. I can't imagine going through life uninterested in the world around me and I am surprised by the lack of interest the Thai have in understanding the world around them.
There are some true Thai intellectuals, but to my regret I've never had the benefit of getting to know them very well. I've known lots of Thais with a higher education, but very few of these people could be considered intellectuals. They had a degree that gave them a certain status and a job, but they were not particularly curious about the world and their analytical abilities were minimal. Thailand is not without people with this curiosity, as I've met several Thai women who were as bright as anyone I've ever known (only one of whom attended the country's 'best' university), and I would have loved to have developed a relationship with these gals, but I was unsuccessful.
When I think of Thai intellectualism, I am reminded of a dear European friend who was as well read as anyone I've ever known. He could read and write 4 European languages, in addition to English (which was not his native tongue), and he had read a far greater volume of classic English literature than I will likely ever read. He had traveled the world and had lived in Thailand for many years, yet the only Thai he had learned was sufficient to order a meal, get the check, find a restroom, and give directions to a cabby. When I asked him why he didn't learn more Thai he said that it would only increase his frustration with the country, as he never found a Thai whom he would really want to or could have substantive conversations with, in Thai; the Thais, he said, "had almost no interest or perhaps ability for in-depth discussion or capability to analyze an issue, they are too interested in the superfluous". While I thought this might be a bit of an overgeneralization, he did have a point. Any Thai that my friend would want to get to know would probably speak better English than him and he would never be able to learn Thai as well as a Thai intellectual would know English, so there was no real reason for him to learn Thai, as anyone with whom he would want to converse would soon, be able to converse with him most effectively in English. He was a very generous man and almost every Thai who met him enjoyed being around him. He also had an incredible ability to make everyone comfortable, and he had a gift for communicating with people, even if he couldn't speak much of their language. This latter point was perhaps the only thing about the country that we didn't agree on.
While I don't necessarily agree with my friend's lack of interest in learning Thai, I do concede to his argument and keen sense about Thais, Thailand, and Thai culture. In the 2+ years I attended school in Thailand (high school and university), there were perhaps less than a dozen occasions when I had a substantive conversation with my classmates, yet I spent hours each day talking to them before and after class, during lunch, etc. By the time I finished my studies at the university, I had become tired of the superfluous, meaningless, inconsequential, and incessant chatter that passed for conversation, and I slowly became less and less interested in engaging Thais in conversation.
Interestingly, my friend's lack of Thai language skills did not seem to hinder his ability to find girlfriends, as at one point I was rather envious of him because his girlfriend was one of the brightest Thai women that I've had the pleasure of meeting; I would have loved to have her as my girlfriend. Unfortunately, however, even though my friend was a gifted intellectual, he still made stupid mistakes on occasion, such as when he cheated on this girlfriend and she dumped him. Som nam naa [serves him right!].
When I first arrived in Thailand, I was continually surprised to see how often Thais would tout and flaunt their education and the numerous titles that they had acquired over the years, especially if it involved graduate level university degrees, schooling abroad, or some type of government rank. It didn't take long to realize just how meaningless these degrees and accolades usually were. In many cases, the recipient of a degree must have been lucky to have just graduated, much less learned anything.....or perhaps these people didn't really do the work themselves. Several years ago, I met a woman from another country in Southeast Asia who had received her doctorate from the U.S., she mentioned how she had two fellow Thai students in her doctoral program neither of which were terribly competent, in fact they would often get 'sick' before every exam and then ask their fellow classmates about the exam before they took a make-up. These two students did graduate with doctoral degrees and one of them became Dean of her faculty at a prominent school in Thailand. My friend was surprised at this situation because she thought that scholars who rose to the level of academic prominence of 'Dean' in her country would be considered top scholars in their fields, and she knew that her former classmates simply didn't have the intellectual rigor to be the Dean of a college in her country. Since I had attended school in the country, this Asian woman asked me what I thought of Thai students. I relayed an experience from my second year of graduate school.
While working on a graduate degree at a well-known university on the U.S. west coast in the 1980s, I was assisting with an undergraduate course in my field and had almost no input into the grade. On one occasion, I was invited to dinner by a Thai student in my class who was living with her Asian boyfriend. I decided to accept the invitation, and at the end of the night, the gal and her boyfriend made their pitch by talking about what it would take to improve their grades in the course and trying to suggest that maybe I could help them out. I got a real kick out of this blatant attempt to get a higher grade, as there was no way I was going to divulge anything about an exam, and the only thing I could provide was help in studying for the exam. Neither the gal or her boyfriend, ever bothered to invite me out after that, she (nor her boyfriend) ever dropped by to ask for help on the exam, nor did either one of them receive the grade that she was hoping for in the course. School for this gal didn't seem to be about learning, but rather a necessary requirement for receiving a college degree from the U.S. and since no one would ever know the grades she received in her courses, it would be easy to lead others into thinking that she was a stellar student.
Because there was an active international student's organization at my university, including a number of Thai students, it was easy to get to know many of these people and learn about their relationships, much easier than at my undergraduate institution where the Thais seemed to be rather stand-offish and had almost no interest in talking to me, especially in Thai. One Thai gal at my graduate institution, stood out among the others as she was both quite pretty and also seemed to change boyfriends every year, both Thai and farang. In three years I knew her, she had three separate boyfriends. Later, I learned from one of the boyfriends (farang) that at first he couldn't believe his good luck in landing this gal, but over the course of the year he found that she was increasingly asking him for help with her school work, and by the end of the year he had written about half of her Master's thesis before he graduated, moved, and they broke up. No worries though, as the next year this gal had a new boyfriend and was finally able to finish up that pesky thesis and return home triumphant in her 'educational' success! I know her last boyfriend (a Thai) felt a bit used by the situation, which just goes to show that it isn't just the farang who can be duped by the pretty face and great smile. These reflections are just a few examples of the Thai students whom I have met over the years, and I am amazed at how adept many of them were, especially the women, at obtaining 'help' in their studies.
I don't believe that this lack of interest in learning and the focus on getting the degree by any means, is an isolated example of a few Thais; take a look at the minor scandals that have arisen among Thai politicians over the past 20 years and involve the legitimacy of the degrees that they have received; there are several. This situation is also not unique to Thailand, though, as by the time I finished my formal schooling, the type of superficial learning experience I am talking about had become a major factor among many of students I met at school (here is an area where perhaps Thailand was leading a trend rather than following); it is probably also reflected in the type of westerners that increasingly seek to live permanently in Thailand.
A related issue to intellectual curiosity is face, which is so important that to the Thai it negates the importance of issues (that I believe should be) of greater concern - remember this is my view of what is important to a relationship. A Thai friend once told me that she had to spend a lot of time and money to dress well for her work, because how she dressed expressed what she was. Thais do seem to live life on the surface and appearance is perhaps the most important element in this quest. Unfortunately for me perhaps, I see things a bit differently. To take my friend's argument to a logical conclusion, if I choose to dress a certain way does that really make me the kind of person that my dress mimics? In my very narrow Calvinist/Puritanist view of the world, if I try to appear as something that I am not, then I am a charlatan, and this issue has very important consequences to society. Suppose that because of the way I have presented myself, as a specialist in some area that I am asked to help. What do I do? The charlatans have considerable time perfecting the art of diversion, by claiming to either be busy or tied up with something else. How many Thais have you met who can talk all day about their abilities, but have never been required to demonstrate them. Some of you may not agree with this view, but I abhor pretense. Even if I were rich, I wouldn't show it off, and if I were not, then I damn sure wouldn't pretend to be rich or affluent. To me this is not just dishonest but ridiculous and embarrassing. Yes, I know this type of activity is a handicap in Thailand, to making Thai friends, and to attracting Thai women; however, my view is that I would rather not have a girlfriend or spouse with whom I have to live my life on the surface, or as an imposter. At some level, I think this is the issue what most people are addressing when they talk about the basic dishonesty among Thais.
Thais are very conscious of wanting to be all things to all people, and they spend incredible amounts of time and energy working and hoping that they are never pinned down to prove or manifest their abilities in an area that they have superficially made claim. This is why Thais have become masters of deception and duplicity, which helps them to avoid embarrassing situations while still allowing them to come off looking good. I think this is also one reason why Thais often seem to hire Westerners who are among the least capable farang I have ever met, as all it seems to take to impress a Thai is an easily acquired superficial appearance, rather than the much more difficult to acquire, ability, capability, and expertise that takes time to acquire and to ascertain in an individual. Thailand has attracted an assorted hodge-podge of underachievers over the years who have been able to 'con' their way into employment simply because they pass the 'form-superficiality' test.
Face also plays a factor in the issue of style v. substance - Thai women place themselves on a pedestal and are only interested in marrying up, not down. When was the last time you met a Thai woman who married a man either younger than her or less educated than her? There are some, which shows that some Thais are able to accept this potential loss of face, but the vast majority of the women would never consider marrying below their station in life; and even when they do marry someone with the right pedigree, they are usually highly driven to insure that they will never have to bear the unsightly loss of face that comes from living below their 'perceived' status. The gatekeepers of status, class, and hierarchy in Thai society are the women, the wives who benefit from the wealth, status, and respect that is a result of their husband's occupation. Because traditionally Thai women didn't have many opportunities to generate or expand this status on their own, they now make damn sure that everyone knows how important they are. I sometimes think that if the men had it their way, Thailand would be much more egalitarian, but the simple fact is that the wives can't control the need to flaunt their status. When was the last time a Thai man told you how much he spent on something, a trip he took his wife on, or a present he gave her. He doesn't have to, or doesn't get the chance because his wife makes sure to tell everyone who will listen, ad nauseum.
I've had a number of male Thai co-workers over the years and one of the things that I found interesting was how much these people's lives changed when they married. One fellow told me about the time when he was still dating his wife; she was not particularly demanding and never really asking for anything. They both had careers and he felt that when they wed, this aspect of their lives would continue on in a similar vein. He mentioned how it wasn't long after marriage that his wife began to ask that he begin buying more and more items, expensive cars, a second home in Chiang Mai (a middle class Thai mark of success?), etc. because their position in society now demanded that they show their success. It didn't seem to matter that they already had two perfectly good older cars, they needed at least one new vehicle every few years, and even though they already had a large mortgage on their house, and only visited the north maybe once each year, they still needed a second home in Chiang Mai.
Another fellow (farang) whom I knew over 20 years ago told me how after meeting his wife during the Vietnam War and setting up a home in northern Bangkok, things were fine for while, but in the mid-1980s, his wife began asking him to buy a car. They didn't own a car, and as any old timer in Bangkok can tell you, traffic was horrendous in the city and most people could easily get by without one, especially if you didn't have to commute to work. The wife couldn't drive and the couple really had no need for a car. They were next to a major bus line that connected them with routes throughout the city and taxis were cheap if you could speak Thai and knew the price. However, because he was a farang, the wife had told him that she was losing face in front of the neighbors because some of them were buying cars, so in order to keep her from being embarrassed about marrying him, he had to buy the family a car. In 2005, a car in Bangkok might make sense, but in the 1980s, it was both incredibly expensive (200-300% tax) and the lack of roadways was so sparse that it wasn't practical to own a car back then, if you didn't need one to commute to work. Remember, no expressway when you drove from the airport to Siam Sq., today's major roadway (Viphaowadi Rangsit Rd.-now the expressway) was only completed in 1976. Phaholyothin Road was THE north-south connection and traveling from Bangkhen to Siam Sq. and back was about 2 hours each way. A trip to Lard Phrao Road and back was about as far as anyone usually went in a day. To stop his wife's continuous complaints about a lack of personal transportation, he bought a car, and it sat in his driveway for years as the wife never learned to drive, and he only drove it when they went upcountry, about once each month. However, it did provide face. I kept wondering if the $20,000+ (1980 dollars 25 baht/dollar back then) was worth it.
It is not always the wives who complain about money-face related issues though. I've also had several male acquaintances that needed a car or a mobile phone (in the early 1990s cell phones were as big as a shoebox, weighted a kilo or more, and cost a fortune), and strapped to their side like an old West gunslinger, they provided an obvious form of face. My colleagues were broke, but they had style. While I think it is generally a waste of money trying to keep up with the latest style, what really bothers me about the practice is that it is often placed above what I feel are more important issues, such as ability and capability.
At this point some of you may suggest that this superficiality is also common to western society. I agree, it is increasingly prominent as westerners are becoming too lazy to teach analytical skills to their children, to demand them in the workplace, and by their unwillingness to demand much from the books they read, the movies or TV they watch, or the kinds of things they do to pass the time. Western society is becoming increasingly focused on the superficial rather than the substantial. However, an important difference still remains between the Thai and farang, which is that if you confront westerners about their lack of substance, and its value, they will generally concede that we have increasingly focused on form, but that it is the substance that really is more important to the system which allows us to have our superficial lives. Thais usually can't even understand this argument, and sadly, an increasing proportion of westerners can't either.
While some people may suggest that my intellectualism - style v. substance factor is not so important, I suggest that you reflect on your perception the next time you have to rely on someone for something important, for your personal safety, to finish a task you need to accomplish in a timely fashion for your job, or to complete something that needs to be done in a very specific way so that you don't have to undertake repairs a month later to fix what should have been done right the first time. I don't care how the engineer dresses, as long he/she is competent. I want a doctor who can correctly diagnose a medical problem, and a 'specialist,' in any important matter regarding my life, to be able to analyze, explain, and solve the problems that I've asked for their help with. I don't want a smooth talking visually appealing caricature of the real thing.... and I want a wife who recognizes the difference. I also want a wife who will keep quiet about my/our personal finances.
3) The role of a husband.
This section is based on my observations, and my discussion with former girlfriends and Thai female friends over the past 20 years; (note that some Thai women will occasionally change the order for the benefit of the potential or actual spouse).
The order of importance of individuals in the life of a married Thai female seems to be: a) children, b) her parents, c) extended family/maybe husband, d) the neighbors, etc.; note I would be, at best, third on the list. Secrets are also important; keeping them from me is annoying. I think the general tendency about secrets is: (correct me if I am wrong here Stick as I last discussed this issue ten years ago with a very close Thai female friend, in which case this would be a change among current Thai women aged 20-30) that while the Western male tends to see their spouse as someone whom they can both trust (control) with most household matters, they are also someone with whom you can discuss issues in confidence, and share secrets. That is NOT the case in the traditional Thai family.
The average Thai woman will tell her closest girlfriends many more secrets than she will tell her husband. Why? Well simply, her husband is not her top priority in life, she controls the household budget and related matters, is equally, or more, attentive to her parents than her husband, whom she may or may not love, and she has not married her 'best friend'. The wife's best friend(s) are her school chums, her mates, or those whom she knew from the neighborhood she grew up in. Each of these groups has a greater chance of finding out her secrets than her husband. Furthermore (as Stickman has admirably noted in his web posts) Thai women have many secrets that they will not share with anyone else. Compare this to the European tradition; my parents always shared everything. There were NO secrets, of that I am absolutely certain; same for my sister and my extended family. It is counter to the NW European (Calvinist?) tradition that I grew up in, that spouses have secrets.
Now, as the husband of a Thai woman, some suggest that I am supposed to do several things. Provide a dowry, provide for her, provide for her family, produce children, and provide for her parents. Well, how about my cultural background, doesn't it matter? (more about this later).
I think that one of Stick's earliest submissions stated this issue quite well. In his submission, the fellow's problem with the girlfriend was that she saw him as not a particularly important priority. Apparently I am only there to produce offspring and to support her, the offspring, and the family of the person who gave birth to her. Sorry but this is a real problem for me, leaving the Thai cultural issues aside for the moment, but to which I will return later.
To be a bit direct, as a husband in the SE Asian tradition, I am apparently there only as a sperm donor and financial support. My job is to provide genetic material and a dowry to the wife's family (which in the Thai tradition is really supposed to be returned to the wife, as a means of support in case of divorce - got that guys? I've lived throughout most of Thailand, except the south, and NONE of the families I discussed the dowry issue with have intimated otherwise. In the past 20+ years(?), however, there seems to be a growing knowledge among poor, especially NE Thai, families of how 'ignorant' farang are willing to pay exorbitant dowries for their daughters and maintenance to the in-laws (Shame on them and you desperate idiots who pay this ridiculous type of extortion!).
Thais know when the family is really in need, and then it is ALL the kids of the parents that chip in to help, not just the richest siblings! This issue varies somewhat, by region and income level, but that is the main idea. In short, if your potential in-laws, are asking for a dowry that they aren't going to return to the wife, then they are nothing short of greedy gold-diggers.
I've had the wonderful opportunity to live with Thai families for more than one year on two separate occasions. My Thai 'mother' who was raised in central Thailand, educated in Bangkok, married to a central Thai government official, and sent six kids to university that included the top three universities in the country and Ramkhamhaeng-apparently the last kid was a disappointment, have taught me a lot about Thai society. These experiences have allowed me to meet many wonderful Thais for which I am very grateful. This 'Theravada Buddhist' Thai family also firmly believed that it was important to speak the truth. Yes, they were a very unusual and an amazing family, to whom I will always be indebted. The mother of this household also told me that a common dowry for her university educated daughters would be 50,000 baht (@1980), which would either be returned to her daughters and/or used for the reception, depending on circumstances. There would be NOTHING else. They didn't expect that their son-in-law would provide anything else (got that guys? - I can't believe how many of the people to Stickman's site say they are avid readers of his site and yet willing give in to this Thai brand of extortion. Why are some of you [idiots by many of my Thai friends perceptions] still giving money to your in-laws? Stick has already noted this in his column). This is NOT a standard Thai tradition, although it appears to perhaps be an up and coming 'Thai' tradition among a certain section of gold-digging families upcountry, only because so many desperate farang are willing to support the practice.
I lived in NE Thailand for over a year in the mid-1970s, and no one mentioned a monthly check to Mom and Dad to me. Of course, I knew Thai pretty well before I moved there, and I also took the time to try and learn the language and I didn't have much money at the time. The Thai wife craze was also only common to Udorn, Ubon, and Korat, where U.S. military were stationed, so perhaps I missed out on something, but I still believe that this monthly allowance to the in-laws from the husband is not as common as one might expect. I'm also curious if these (clueless farang) westerners willing to give these large monthly allowances to their families also give to all the charities in the West that seek donations by showing a 'destitute' child on the tele? Did they assess the real need here, check out the aid organization, its financial status, and the amount of donations that went for administration v. actual aid or did they just say heck, these people look destitute in need of care, and the kids seem so needy that I should really give? Thais excel in their ability to sense desperation in others and are seldom loathe to take advantage of this, so I often wonder how desperate some of the farang men are to land a Thai faen. Desperation = Baht to most Thais.
My Thai mother would have never asked for financial help other than perhaps help in times of absolute, incredible, and dire need. She was also the Thai who first told me that 'you don't live beyond your means', (I guess she really was an oddity in Thailand based on Stick's reader's submissions.) My European cultural traditions see this exactly the same way. You help family when someone is really in need, you are close enough to them to understand when they need help and you provide it, without them asking. You don't require them to ask (beg), so that they have to appear destitute, you give it to them because they are family and you know that what they need and what is necessary. When you provide help, you also don't do so, in a way that will make them out to be beggars
A few years ago, I met a gal that I was interested in but who soon told me that not only would I have to pay a dowry that went to her parents, while they also expected that I would be giving them something every month for as long as they lived. I asked why this was the case and how much they expected from their other children? The answer was of course most disappointing, as I was informed that because I was richer than the other potential 'luk kery' (son-in-law), I should paying the most, of course her salary was going for her 'needs'.
This is also the first gal that surprised me not long after we became a couple by stating her love for me, using English. Please note that this is not what it may seem on the surface. Thais 'love' to use ideas (concepts) in English that they are uncomfortable with or unable to say in Thai, curse words for example, or anything that sounds sophisticated or 'modern'. Sorry but my gal will have to do MUCH better than this. She must be willing to tell in Thai, the proper way. On another occasion she expressed this love using the phrase (nickname, rak khun); well those of you who know Thai understand that this is a ridiculous way of espousing one's love for someone. The Thai language has a very succinct way of stating someone's true love for someone they consider as a spouse, 'chan rak ther'; NOT (nickname or chan) rak khun, and for someone who is relatively competent in Thai (taken university exams and regularly done simultaneous Thai-English-Thai interpretation as part of my job), her ridiculous expression was an insult. It also violates other aspects of my criteria for a spouse as it is not honest, and tells me that that this gal thinks of me as perhaps just another idiot farang.
I told this gal that she either had to express her love for me properly or not say anything at all. If she wanted to show she loved me, she should demonstrate it and also say it correctly in Thai, and if I ever heard that ridiculous statement again our relationship would be over - I realized at that moment, that she really didn't think I understood Thai very well, as she always wanted to speak English-more about this later. If she was either too stupid or incompetent to appreciate my ability in Thai, then we had no future together and if she ever insulted me again, that way, then I would leave (We did end our relationship soon afterwards, not necessarily because of this statement alone, but it was a signal to me that this gal thought of me only as an idiot-farang).
My view is that if your girlfriend expresses her love for you in Thai, in the inappropriate way noted above, forget her. She may say, "I love you" in English, but this is easy to say in a foreign language that doesn't begin to provide the same connotation and meaning to her as when expressed in her native tongue and in the proper way. You really need to understand Thai in order to appreciate the significance of the language nuances, in this context. How many of you have learned a little Thai and tried to show off by interspersing Thai words in your sentences, e.g., the food is ped, or something is sabaai? Now you think you've gotten the hang of the language and you have learned some Thai slang and tried to show of your expertise using these terms only to find your Thai friends shocked or laughing at your statement as it was used in appropriately. How many of you have heard Thais use English slang phrases and thought how ridiculous they sounded? (Hint: one of the quickest ways to undermine your credibility in a foreign language is to misuse slang phrases; which are very difficult to learn to use in an appropriate context; if you don't think so just reflect on your last English language conversation with a bar girl who was using a lot of slang. It is not just the words that matter, but also the context, and in Thai there are many ways to state feelings that may all seem to be the same, but which have radically different meanings. The use of the word love (rak) is one of these. In short, if your gal really loves you and knows that your Thai is pretty good, then she should be willing to espouse her love for you in Thai, the proper Thai way. A Thai's unwillingness to do this for me is a giveaway that she doesn't respect me, AT ALL. (I shouldn't need to discuss the issues related to referring to her older 'faen' [boyfriend] - either to your face or especially her friends or anyone else - as lun, [Uncle]...dump her you fools!!!). Also, keep in mind that Thais will VERY seldom express their intimate feelings for another. When your Thai gal expresses her love for you, you may learn more about her feelings for you than you expect, especially if she says this in public, as a Thai (male or female) would NEVER state this love in public, as it is too embarrassing. ONLY *****S/GOLDDIGGERS DO THIS!
My devotion to my wife is above EVERYTHING else, the kids come second, and then maybe OUR parents, etc. If I can't have a similar commitment, I want her to at least be willing place me just after the kids. If my wife were Thai, she also better be able to espouse her love to me properly.
4) Accommodation and compromise...or just giving up
In the movie, "When Harry Met Sally", Billy Crystal explains to Meg Ryan that there are basically two types of women, high and low maintenance, which is determined by what the woman felt were the necessities in life, what they could do for themselves, and what others should provide. Meg Ryan said she was low maintenance, while Billy Crystal responded that Meg was the most difficult combination of the two as she was a high maintenance gal (because she wanted things the way she wanted them) who thinks she is low maintenance. Most of my Thai faens were this latter type of high maintenance, who like to believe they are low maintenance. I've had many female friends over the years, and many of them were truly low maintenance, at least it seemed this way to me. Fun loving people, who didn't require much to make them happy. Most also seemed to be fairly independent, which is both a characteristic of low maintenance people and a trait I admire in all my friends and seek in a spouse. Unfortunately, something happens to Thai women when they get a faen. They quickly transform themselves into rather needy and demanding high maintenance women, who don't think they are much of a burden on anyone, or at least think they can smile and connive their way into getting what they want. One day you wake up and wonder what happened?
Even Thai adults still often remind me of stubborn self-centered children, who need instant gratification and have to get their own way most of the time. The idea of compromise, especially with a farang, is difficult in the best of circumstances as it almost becomes a contest of face and will that is often engaged in for the superficial reasons of being able to beat the foreigner at something.
How many times do you say no to your gal about something she wants and then shortly afterward are asked the same thing again? How many times does she have to ask before you give in? Does this seem childish? It is not just poor uneducated country girls who do this, as my experience with middle-class gals is similar. Apparently, the man is supposed to give in, and she is supposed to be able to get her guy to do things her way. If not she will pout, sulk, won't talk and of course, no sex. Sometimes it seems like everything with a Thai woman requires a great deal of negotiation, although if your wife is relatively 'educated' and can appreciate western style logic then it is much easier to deal with these things. I would be happy to try and learn her Thai system of logic and use that, but I have yet to meet a Thai who can explain their system of logic to me in a way I can understand as a philosophy that seeks consistent reliable outcomes. I still have much to learn about Thailand and Thai culture. Anyway, if you have trouble dealing with the supposedly easy compromises in Thailand, here are my extreme examples that I try to point out to my girlfriends what I could be asking to negotiate when they think that they are really going overboard in trying to accommodate me. How many of your faen will understand these issues?
I come from a NW European background (my parents were immigrants to America) where the bride would bring a dowry into the marriage. So why should I be the one to provide the dowry for my Thai wife? A logical point to make is that since both Thai and European cultures have contrasting views about this issue, then we could split the difference, i.e. have no dowry at all. It is equally reasonable for me to ask for a dowry as for her to ask, so why should I be the one to give in? Why should the Thai tradition take precedence over mine? Now you say that I come from a wealthier background, or that I am one generation from my European roots, or that the husband should concede to the values of the wife in this case. Why? None of these points are any more valid or logical than my argument as to why we should have no dowry all. My father was the first man in his family not to ask for a dowry, he made a decision to lose this cultural trait when he moved to America because he wasn't in his home culture anymore and the woman he was marrying was not of the same cultural background. If I am asking a Thai woman to come live with me in America, why can't she be willing to forgo this tradition since she is marrying into, and would be living in, a different culture?
Also remember that the purpose of the Thai dowry is NOT for the parents but for the wife, her 'nest egg,' in the event of a broken marriage. The parents are not supposed to be receiving any of this. Any divorce in America would reward her with much more in the long run than any dowry I would provide. It should also be relatively easy for her to find a job in America, that is if she is really as well educated as she claims. Why is the tradition of sinsot so important? I once asked a girlfriend if we married and moved to America how she expected me to provide for her parents. I then asked what she would do with her salary if/when she started working. Of course, she (the same person who couldn't adequately express her 'love' for me) explained that my income was for the 'family', for the kids, and for her parents, and that if she made any money it was hers. Sorry, but this doesn't work for me. Several years ago, I remember reading an article written by a prominent Thai businessman who addressed this issue. He noted that when he married, since both he and his wife worked, they decided that the best way to handle this is was that 10% of each of their salaries be given to their parents, it seemed reasonable that they should each contribute to helping both parents (of course they also both came from similar economic backgrounds).
So now my question is raised about taking care of parents when one is farang and one is Thai. What is the most equitable distribution of income? If my Thai wife is working, how much should she be contributing to supporting the family? Keep in mind that my cultural tradition suggests that, what ever my gender, I still have responsibility to my parents, even if helping them in their old age can be costly. So what about my parents? My girlfriend innocently inquired why the U.S. government wasn't taking care of my parents. Sorry, but this gal was sorely misinformed; in the U.S. the government provides only a small amount of assistance in this regard. Families should have pensions or retirement income from work or savings to cover most of these costs, or equity in their houses, which they often have to sell, either to pay for care of the elderly or in order to lower their financial assets so that the government will provide increased financial assistance.
For several years now, my mother has been in an assisted living center. My sister and I had to put her there because Mom can no longer take care of herself. Mum needs someone to keep an eye on her, and my sister simply cannot do this on her own as she has her own family and a job, and I don't live in close by and also travel frequently. So, my sister and I decided that an assisted living center would be best for Mom. Mother loves it there, as she doesn't have to cook, she has lots of new friends, they do all sorts of fun things, show plenty of movies and take trips, and she never has to worry about being looked after in case she falls and breaks her arm again, etc. Perfect, but it ain't cheap! Between my father's pension and Mom's social security, Mum still doesn't have enough monthly income to pay all the bills. So where does my Thai 'faen' get her wild ideas about marrying 'rich' farang? It is perfectly clear to me, between my sister and myself we split the difference of the portion my mother's bill not covered by mother's income.
So now, am I also supposed to take care of my wife's family? How much support is my wife required to provide and how much support from me? My position is this, I will take care of my mother's assistance (my income is higher and my mother's care costs are higher), if my wife is working at a decent job in America, then she can take care of her family using her own income. This seems reasonable to me, but in reality Thai women I've known don't seem to see it this way. I am supposed to take care of her parents... as well as my own. Well, sorry but this Thai perspective doesn't work for me. First, I am supposed to cave in on the dowry, and now be the sole supporter of her parents? What is my wife going to compromise on, and what else am I suppose to give in to?
Well, here's what else. How much Thai do you speak at home? It seems to me that this issue should also be something of mutual benefit. In the past, it was no question with my girlfriends that my Thai was better than their English. However, over the past 10 years, many Thais have really become proficient in English. This is great, as I like to speak the language in which we can best communicate, English, Thai, it doesn't matter, although I think spouses should be willing to help each other learn their native language.
One of my problems with Thais today, is that they have this incredible need to be able to show me how well they speak English. I am impressed at the speed with which many Thais have improved their English language skills in the past 30 years. It used to be that whenever I was in Thailand, I used only Thai, except when speaking to high-ranking government officials or leading businessmen who had to work with English on a regular basis. This is no longer the case. In fact, most Thais who I now work with speak much more grammatically correct English than I do. I'm impressed by these individual's abilities and I am happy to use English. However, I also want to keep up on my Thai.
If you know a Thai who wants to learn English, though, you are apparently supposed to be their private tutor. Twenty years ago Thais would frequently tell me how well I spoke Thai. Today, however, due to my lack of opportunity to speak or need to read the language and the sheer number of gifted young farang who now reside in the country my Thai abilities are almost never complimented when I speak in Bangkok, although I do receive compliments upcountry, but my Thai abilities are declining because I don't get to speak the language as much as I used to.
So the question to my girlfriend/spouse is, "what language do we speak at home"? Can we speak both languages so that we both become or stay fluent in the language foreign to us? Does this ever happen? Here is how it has worked for me. My Thai girlfriend says "I don't have the chance to speak English", as I can't afford either the cost of English lessons in Thailand or a trip to America. OK, so we can speak English in Thailand so you can practice, but if we are in Thailand all the time, when do I get a chance to speak English? Well silly, I'm suppose to speak Thai with everyone else....all the other Thais, but of course these people all want to speak English with me as well, for the same reasons. How about when we are in America, what language will we speak with each other then? Well silly, she says, "when we are in America I will speak English with you because that is the language used in America". So, I ask, when we will have a chance to speak Thai with one another? This, of course, hasn't dawned on her because this issue isn't about helping one another, it is all about her. She wants me to be her private English language tutor, because after all, I speak Thai so well that I don't need to practice. Well, sorry but that is crap as she usually just wants to make me feel good by feeding my ego. Thais don't want me to be able to know the language really well anyway, because they are threatened by a foreigner who can understand their language well. If I don't continue to practice the language, I won't speak well for very long.....and of course that is the point; you only speak Thai well when you have a chance to practice, but apparently not with your faen, you are supposed to be speaking Thai with everyone else. You are there to serve her education in a foreign language and your interests are tangential to her wants.
So why can't we divide our use of the language equally? When in Thailand we speak Thai to each other, when in America we speak English. If we are at a social event, no matter where we are, then we will most likely speak English, unless we are out among our close Thai friends or relatives. If we do not live in America that much, then we can do it this way. Three days of the week we speak English with one another, three days of the week we speak Thai, and the other day, we speak in our native language with each other. This sounds like a 'fair-reasonable' logical argument to me, but NO..., not for Thais. While they may start out speaking with you in Thai, as they learn English and communicate with your friends in English, they want to use English, almost all the time. They don't want me to keep practicing Thai, as this issue is about them learning English, not about me maintaining my proficiency in Thai. Am I unreasonable?
Now suppose I did not speak any Thai. It seems reasonable to me that if my girlfriend/spouse wanted me to help her learn English then she should be equally supportive in helping me to learn Thai. How many of you readers with Thai wives can say this is the case in your homes? I doubt that many wives have been willing to take the time to help their spouse learn her native tongue, but it seems reasonable that your teeruk should be willing to help you learn her native tongue to the same extent that you will help her learn yours. In 30 years, I've only met 2 couples (out of more than 20) where the wife was making a substantial effort to help her husband learn Thai. Why is this the case? She doesn't have to be a language teacher to be able to help her spouse, just someone who is willing to talk to you and provide input on the correct words to use. Perhaps this is too much trouble.
In defense of many Thai women with farang spouses, though, this omission may not be the result of the wife's lack of interest in helping her husband, but rather the lack of the spouse's interest in learning Thai. This is something that I don't understand, why wouldn't a husband be interested in learning his wife's native language? Sure it isn't easy but remember, she has put a lot of effort into learning her husband's language, so why can't her spouse reciprocate by trying to learn her language and why isn't she willing to help him learn Thai? Well, she can, or should, but often she doesn't want you to learn her native tongue to the same degree that she knows yours!
A final example in the difficulty to compromise can be seen from the idea of prenuptial agreements. Similar to the first example I noted under this section, why should my faen's cultural traditions always be paramount to mine? My family's NW European culture dictates that the woman should bring along a dowry when she married, so I once asked my Thai girlfriend why it was important that I provide a dowry when she didn't think I should be asking for one? Why should her traditions take precedence over mine? How about this; I'll provide a dowry, but in lieu of a dowry for me we will draw up a prenuptial agreement so that my assets cannot be taken from me upon the possible demise of our marriage. This way I am also protected financially, why should I be the one engaging in the financial risk? Isn't her traditional view of a dowry about minimizing financial risk in the event she loses her husband? Unfortunately, I doubt her family would be willing to agree to a similar situation for me.
By my comments, you'd have thought that I had just farted in a room full of neighbors. My girlfriend's jaw dropped, and she was aghast that I would be so concerned that she would be marrying me for my money! (Yes, a woman-any woman-would never do that!!!). I told her that this document would also double as protection for her, because any divorce in the U.S. (and it is almost certain we would have a residence in the U.S.), would naturally look into how to divide up the assets, and the agreement would make everything much simpler, and hopefully keep the divorce from becoming both a drawn out fight as well as something that would take money away from our settlement. Am I being unreasonable? Any Thai woman who has a stake in her family business would be certain to separate and protect her families financial interests, so why isn't it prudent for me to do the same? Why is my request so outrageous? Well, it is not outrageous, it is just the Thai problem with 'compromise'. The term compromise among most Thai women seems to mean 'my way'.
At this point, some of you may wonder if I am unwilling to compromise at all. I am happy to compromise about many things in life and in marriage, but I am least willing to compromise about issues of honesty, integrity, or idiocy. I believe that honesty and compromise are integral to any long-term relationship, although I also need intellectual curiosity and basic integrity, which are two of the most rare traits in Thailand.
Another matter, related to the issue of compromise is gratitude; Thais will seldom thank one another and it is not just a matter of training, or perhaps it is; it is often important to recognize that someone else's interests are at least as important as our own. I believe that Thais express gratitude so seldom partly either because they don't want to recognize the opinions or contributions of others or because they want to avoid obligation (krengjai), something that most Thais would rather avoid. Situations where westerners think would be important to recognize the help of another are often not responded to unless they are public gatherings when someone other than the beneficiary of the act can see what is happening. For example, when I am willing to send in a letter in support for a permanent visa (green card) for a Thai married to an American, I would think the woman would at least be willing to thank me in person. It's been almost five years now and I doubt she even gave the matter a second thought after she had the letter. Maybe she thinks I was somehow obligated to helping her anyway, since her husband was older than me and he had done me favors in the past. Unlike her, though, I did take the time to personally thank her husband on the occasions he has assisted me.
The Thais I have talked to about this issue are split between saying that this act (especially given its importance to her) showed a real lack of gratitude on her part, and those that don't have an opinion, as they would need to more about the particulars (perhaps the same non-committal attitude that one finds when a Thai doesn't want to say something negative to your view). In my mind, this example is similar to the lack of gratitude that some of the women I've talked to when their marriages/relationships ended. Many Thai women in this situation usually like to begin by saying how difficult it was to live with the person because he was so much older, or because the culture was so much different than hers, or that she had to do some unsatisfactory thing in the marriage like keeping house, cooking, cleaning, while she thought that the husband should have someone else to do those mundane chores. They seem to forget about all the places he took them they would never be able to travel to by themselves and all the things he bought them so they would look nice, not just clothes, but skin lightening care, plastic surgery, straighten her teeth, etc. all those physical attributes that make her more appealing to other men. Lady, unless your husband is abusing you, there is no room for complaint. To most of these women I just say it's too bad that he didn't divorce you before you got the surgeries and the green card.
5) Sex - in the long run.
Some of you may say well I know that my sweetie doesn't measure up to my criteria for the initial factors, but she is wild in the sack and that this expertise makes up for her shortcomings in other areas. My view has always been that I want my wife to be someone who is both a dear friend as well as my only sexual partner, and who can also 'go the distance' when it comes to sex. To me, sex is as important to a marriage as anything else. This doesn't mean that she needs to be willing to do it twice-a-day, everyday, every week, or just once a month (really pushing it), 69, doggy-style, or 'Dana' style, but she does have to be engaged in the act and a handjob doesn't count. I also want my wife to be interested in sex and in pleasing me sexually, as I should also want to please her (which I think most of you will agree is almost as good/sometimes better as the receiving end), even when we get older. I lived in Thailand for over 4 years before I first had sex with a Thai, so I think I can speak about this aspect of the culture from a fairly levelheaded perspective (pun intended). I'm not marrying for sex, but it is an important part of the marriage, even when we get old.
My parents had, by my account, a great marriage. I never heard them yell at one another, never heard them argue, they worked as an incredible team, and they never were apart in their 30-year marriage-dad's death ended it- for more than a week, except when my father had to go on business. Us children were important to them, but they were not my parent's top priority, the most important person in their lives was each other, while the kids came second. One of the things that may have made my parent's marriage great was sex. I remember one day, dropping by the house after my father had been away on a business trip. I was eager to see him and hurriedly ran into the house and inadvertently realized that he was in the bedroom... with Mom. It was at that moment I realized my parents were still sexually active (my father was in his late 60s and my Mum in her early 60s). WOW, what a revelation! Yes old people still have sex! Thinking about it now, why wouldn't they?
While I believe that people from a European tradition generally tend to think of intimate physical sexual relations as a life-long pursuit, I don't think that this is the case in Asia, and certainly not in Thailand. Ask your Thai girlfriend, ask your male 'Thai' friends, how long they expect Thai women to be sexually active. In general, I think traditional Thais tend to view sex as something for the young and that it is demeaning for 'old' people, especially women, to engage in this activity. I can't speak for the first family I lived with in Thailand, but in the second family I lived with, the mother was even sleeping in a separate bedroom than her husband and she had told the father no more sex. He wasn't expecting any either. I have mixed feelings about this subject because I think it is very important to be faithful to one's spouse, but if my wife had no interest in sex, then I am not sure what I would do. It would be VERY difficult not to consider fooling around, which creates my dilemma about this issue. It is not a problem if the wife is willing to at least have some sex, but if she is unwilling/uninterested in her spouse in this regard, then it does become problematic, and is the same if the husband were not willing to sexually satisfy the wife. Would he be willing to allow her to have an affair, if he were not sexually interested in her? Perhaps this is an area where having a Thai wife is an advantage because even if she is no longer interested in having sex with you, she does care about her husband enough to try and keep him sexually satisfied, as long as the family (her) 'resources' are not compromised.
At this point maybe you should ask your girlfriend or wife how long she anticipates she will be having sex. This may seem to be a strange question for a potential spouse, but I'm pretty sure that Thai women have thought about it much more than western women, and it is a very legitimate question.
Maybe this example will prompt some of you to learn more Thai; I only became interested in phone sex when a Thai girlfriend recommended it to keep me company while I was away. While this submission mainly addresses some negative aspects of a relationship with a Thai woman, this item is something that I really adore about the Thai faen I've had. I love the way Thai women talk sexy to their boyfriends, especially when they do it in Thai in that sweet soft, innocent voice that is full of nuance coming from the wonderful combination of affectionate terms and endearing particles that gives Thai a much greater depth of emotional language (for sweetness, love, endearment, anger, scorn and embarrassment) than English has yet to muster. While I soon get tired of listening to the same whiny voice of the female newscasters on the telly day-in day-out, I am yet to tire of the quiet musings from my faen, especially when I'm away from home and we talk on the phone. The greatest phone sex in the world comes from your Thai speaking faen, if you understand the nuances. It can be a real kick for both parties.
Unfortunately, once most women are married and certainly after they have children, the amount of sex diminishes and by the time the kids are in their teens or the wife is in her 40s, Thai women tend to see sexual relations as either demeaning or at least a very, very low priority. Thai female friends (not just my girlfriends and not bar girls) have stated this position to me on more than one occasion. Once the kids are capable of supporting their mother there is no reason for them to keep having sex. (After all, at a basic level they don't really need anything else from their husbands).
I think one reason for this view of sexual activity for older females is related to the Hindu-Buddhist tradition that nurtures the idea that toward the end of life one should seek spiritual, otherworldly, goals that don't relate to the yearnings of the flesh. Almost counter to contemporary western culture, Thais tend to view sex among older people as either shocking or deviant, and in either case something that no decent woman would admit to engaging in. On one occasion, a western acquaintance married to a much younger Thai woman, even asked her husband if I thought that he and his wife were having sex. Amazing! Of course I assumed they were actually having sex, they were married!!! In Thailand, older women (especially) and perhaps younger women married to older men aren't supposed to be having sex.
Many years ago, when I read the wonderful Thai novel 'Letters from Thailand' I remember how the author states that after a long marriage, the wife, concerned about the husband's morose behavior, asks him if it wouldn't help some to go out and find a young gal who might help bring zest back into his life. I couldn't help wondering why the wife wasn't doing anything to help. It seems to be accepted among Thai women that at a certain age, they will not be having sex with their husband, but that to keep the husband satisfied, he can go play around a bit, so long as he remembers that she is the 'mia luang' (major wife), i.e. who gets the money; the wife is fine with a 'fling' as long as the mia noi doesn't get any of the husband's fortune.
Awhile back a girlfriend told me she would probably not be interested in sex around the age of 40. What she was trying to tell me, if I was listening properly, is that if we were married she wouldn't be having sex with me after age 40. I asked her why she felt this way, but she had no specific answer. I asked her if her parents were still having sex; she laughed and said, NO, of course not. I think her parents were in their early 50s. She said that Thai people don't have sex when they are older, especially the women. Sorry, but this attitude doesn't work for me.
Now some of you will say great, if your wife cares about you, she will accept your indiscretions with a young short time diversion. The problem for me is that when I marry I expect us to both be faithful to one another, and an important part of the relationship is having sex with one another, even when we are old. While most Thais may not understand this, I think most farang will not think it unusual. A few years ago I had a western girlfriend who was older than me-in her late 40s (arghh you say); this gal was GREAT in bed. The longest she had been without sex since age 18 was about one month. She loved sex and she really knew how to please. I was captivated by her abilities in this area and in many others too, as she was also intellectually bright and had great social skills. She taught me a lot about sex and many other things, and surprisingly, I started thinking about a life with her. Unfortunately, however, after about 6 months together I had to return to Asia for work, and she was unwilling to accompany me (she had a very satisfying and good paying job) or to wait until I returned. I'm sure she is now keeping her current beau (age @60+) very happy in the sack.
I enjoy sex immensely, but it is not my top priority, and because I have been to Thailand, I know that it shouldn't be. To me great sex is a result of being with someone who you know well, care about, and are committed to pleasing. To me the physical part is small (but very crucial), while the mental part is huge, and I really need to have a commitment to the gal and feel she has a commitment to me in order for sex to be great. Just getting my rocks off with her is one thing, a silly matter that satisfies a basic instinct (the main focus of sex tourism), but I want more. I've tried threesomes but these situations don't work for me as I find them distracting [apologies Eden Club] and while I enjoy watching genuine girl-on-girl action (not the pseudo shows you see in Nana or Patpong), when I want to become physical with someone I love, I really just want it to be with her, with no one else messing around to divert my attention, I don't like or need the distractions. Basically, I've never been with someone sexually that I really cared about who I wanted to share with anyone else. I know many of you readers have different preferences than mine and I respect that. In fact, I've learned a lot more about sexual fetishes, fantasies, and fixations from Stickman's readers postings than anywhere else; these posting have been very informative and I really thank Stick for making this type of discussion available, so please understand that for me, I want my wife to be my life-long sexual partner (yeah I know, I'm probably boring).
One of the things I enjoy about Thailand is how different the culture is from my own, and how this forces me to reflect on and reconsider my beliefs and how they came about. One of the many things that I only began to ponder once I came to Thailand and had learned more about Southeast Asian and especially Thai culture, was the question "what is a prostitute"? There are plenty of gold diggers in the U.S., but the Thai girlfriend takes this idea to a different level that brings about some curious questions that I can only answer for myself. Often there is NOT any easy or clear differentiation between a girlfriend and a prostitute "Classic sentence this, SO TRUE - Stick". I love the way Thai culture forces us westerners to reconsider all the values that we grew up thinking were universal. Thai and Chinese culture seem to be the most contrary cultures to NW European traditions that I have found in the world, which makes these places fascinating to me.
But....back to the question I always ponder about my girlfriend: "Can/will she go the distance"? If not, how many of my other criteria does she fulfill and where am I willing to compromise?
There seems to be a very small group of people in Thai society who exemplify the positive aspects of the traits I have noted above. In general they seem to be middle class families where the parents were able to complete formal public schooling, while their children were able to obtain a degree at a four-year college. If they haven't had a lot of formal schooling, they have held a legitimate job in the 'modern' industrial economy and understand the value of hard work to earn one's way in the world. They are not looking for a handout. While these criteria don't necessarily mean that these children will have the intellectual curiosity or integrity I am interested in, but it certainly raises the chances that these individuals, or their offspring, will possess the capacity to both understand how their own, and other cultures, understand right and wrong, as well as an ability to critically reflect and perhaps examine their own culture in a methodical manner, which I also do to mine. Traditions or practices that can't the pass the rigors of scrutiny should be discarded, no matter what tradition they come from.
I've met several Thais who are especially bright, even if they have not met the formal schooling criteria, but these individuals seem to be exceptions to the norm. One individual was a girlfriend of my European friend, and although she had only a high school education, she was one of the brightest Thais I have ever met. Unfortunately, though as bright, perceptive, and smart as she was, she had still not acquired the integrity or face that is important to me for a long-term relationship. Perhaps a good example of this is a situation that happened with this gal. She was great looking and had an incredible petite figure, very sexy, and was someone who would have been a natural in a porno video. The three of us (I had no girlfriend for most of the time that they were a couple) often went to clubs together, traveled around the country, and generally just hung out together whenever we both had free time. Although my friend occasionally told me how much and how great the sex was with this gal, it never entered my mind to sleep with her, as he was my best friend.
One night after a lot of drinking the three of us returned to our separate rooms (3 doors away on the same floor) in the same apartment complex. I had just lay down to sleep and there was a knock on the door and the girlfriend asked to come in because my friend was really drunk; in his state, I knew he could get angry if he had to listen to her whine about something, and that night she had seemed to be in a whining mood. When he got angry it would hardly show, he might yell a bit, but he would never hit her; instead he would just tell her to leave his place and go home. So I assumed that he had told her to return home for the night. She looked far too drunk to be able to get home safely by herself and it was a long way, so I told her to just stay in my room that night. No big deal. I grabbed a pair of baggy 'fisherman's' pants similar to what the backpacker on Khao San Road like to wear, and a T-shirt and gave them to her to sleep in. I turned out the lights, rolled over and was trying to sleep when she crawled on top of me. It took several seconds before I came to my senses and realized that I couldn't have sex with my best friend's faen. She had her arms around my neck and was pretty intent on not letting me go and the only way to end things without getting violent was to cover my face so she couldn't kiss me and to roll onto my stomach. She caught the hint, and stopped. My telling her to stop didn't work, probably because she could tell I was physically ready to go and what I was saying to her didn't really reflect what my body was doing. I was torn, but I finally got her to put her clothes on and I then led her back to my friend's room and told him that he had forgotten something before he locked his door for the night.
I talked to the gal the next day, trying to try and find out why she had wanted to have sex with me, and I came away very disappointed in her, as I found out she had been cheating on him for at least once a month with former boyfriends while he was out of town on work. I decided that my encounter with her might have been an attempt at another side fling. It wasn't just what his girlfriend said to me, but what she would say in Thai to her girlfriends or to other men, and which her boyfriend couldn't understand, but which I could - perhaps another reason to learn Thai - that confirmed my suspicions. She rationalized her actions by saying that she was sure my friend was cheating on her. This was rather ironic, because while my friend did have a bit of a reputation in the nightlife areas as a bit of a womanizer at one time, I was pretty sure he had not been with anyone else while they were a couple. I later learned that he did have absolute fidelity to this girlfriend. To him, she was his last great shot at marrying the 'ideal' Thai, as it wasn't likely that he would ever find another gal as smart as this one, and in my opinion no where near as sexy, she was incredible. My friend was considering marrying her, and I have to agree that she initially seemed to be everything he could want. I discussed the indiscretions with his girlfriend who initially looked shocked, and then tried to feign crying. She didn't want to believe me, but ultimately she was convinced that her boyfriend had never cheated on her; she also seemed to show some remorse and concern that he not find out what occurred between us. I told her that I had no intention of saying anything to him immediately, because she should be the one to tell him what was going on. If she didn't he was sure to find out eventually and then he would be unwilling to forgive her, but if she told him now, then she had a good chance of keeping him.
That day she apologized (a big surprise) about the situation and swore to me that she would tell him about all her indiscretions. Days dragged into a week and then weeks and my best friend was still clueless about his girlfriends actions with me and her previous acquaintances. This situation began creating problems for me because one of the reasons my friend wanted me to meet this gal was because he really wanted my opinion of her. One night he cornered me with questions and wanted to know what I thought about the woman he loved. Because he was my best friend and he knew that I would not lie to him, I finally told him what had happened between myself and his faen, and that I was sure she was seeing others behind his back. To try and lessen the shock of my statements, I suggested to him that given his past history, he had also probably fooled around on her. That's when he told me that she had been the only one since they had met, for two reasons; first, he really loved her and was trying to figure out how to marry her, and two, that she may be a nymphomaniac because she wanted more sex than any gal he had ever been with, so he was usually too tired or satisfied to want to go with anyone else. He thought he had found the perfect wife, a bright, witty, beautiful, sexy, and intelligent Thai woman, a very rare commodity in the country; the only thing that could be more rare were if she were also trustworthy. Because we were so close and understood each other so well, he knew I was speaking the truth. After that, my relationship with this fellow became like brothers, while unfortunately, his relationship with his girlfriend began to shatter and with me it broke entirely, because I couldn't be 'trusted' to keep a lie or deception from my best friend. Well, I guess I am not that Thai yet!
To conclude, when people ask me what I think of Thai women and why I never married a Thai, my short response is that I never found a Thai woman that met my expectations for a spouse. I am sure that one exists, but I never met her. (I have had two Thai girlfriends that did meet my expectations, but they were not interested in me as a spouse, which perhaps shows just how bright these women were.) The Thai view of what is important in a spouse is very different than my own, and ultimately the factors I've discussed above outweighed the many pluses that are also common in Thailand and to Thai women in particular, e.g. manners, compassion, zest for life. I wish more westerners could learn these wonderful traits, which for me makes Thailand such a wonderful place to visit.
There have been many successful marriages between Thais and farang and I think that the vast majority of the successful marriages were the result of both spouses' agreement about the important factors in a marriage where I think at least four of the above criteria would be present. I am happy for those couples who have found the love of their lives and/or a successful long-term commitment. My time and experiences in Thailand are generally positive, but I think it is important to recognize that there are many significant distinctions between Thai and western culture, traditional and modern Thais, and Thai - farang perspectives that create important differences important to long-term successful relationships.
One of the great differences between our cultures is that Thais (and an increasing number of my own countrymen) have many similarities to children in that few have ever developed the patience or work ethic that results in satisfying rewards. Immediate gratification is the goal. These people can see that you are wealthier, and they need to have clear boundaries set if you want to remain friends. If you let them get away with something, then they will keep trying. They need to be told the first time that their actions are not appropriate.
While it takes time to earn the respect of Thais, it can happen, but it does not come by being stupid, or by a lack of knowledge about their culture or their country. I am no longer surprised when I read about a farang being taken by the Thais, especially when it comes to romance. In dealing with the Thais a good general rule I've found is to think of your interactions with them as possible economic transactions, they sure do. In fact there are probably few cultures in the world that tend to equate their actions with monetary gain or loss, and who affix a price to their person as much as the Thai. If you were going to buy a car, but were tempted to buy one from a stranger living in a strange place, wouldn't you be a bit conscientious about giving the car a pretty good check? You'd probably want to know how many miles it had gone, whether the odometer had been tampered with, the engine maintained, etc. and you might also want to have a good idea about the way the price was determined. I doubt you would arrive in the country, go to the dealer and say, I am rich and have so much money that I enjoy spending it with abandon, so how much do you want for your cars? Why would you be surprised that the dealer would rip you off? Well, you wouldn't, but many farang admit that they do basically the same thing with a Thai woman, who was probably brought up in an environment where she came to view her worth in monetary terms, and when she meets someone who appears to have a larger supply of income that she could ever dream of having otherwise, why wouldn't she and her family be interested in testing how deep this stranger's pockets are? After all, Thais have all heard the stories about the rich and stupid farang, so why not test the waters? What do they have to lose?
Perhaps the following thought that my Thai mother mentioned many years ago will be helpful to all foreigners interested in learning about the country, and may also be something to use as a guiding principle, "if you are Thai-ignorant and money-foolish, you will always have Thai 'friends'".
Over the past 30 years, I have known about two dozen farang-Thai couples. Five of these couples have been together for more than 10 years, 8 of these couples have split. In two cases the wife divorced and left their husbands to raise their children shortly after obtaining permanent residency in the U.S, and neither of these women had ever been involved in the bar scene. I sometimes wonder how the other marriages turned out.
For those Thai-farang couples who are in long-term (>10 years) relationships, I applaud you, and I am curious about what made your marriages last for so long?