Farang In The Countryside
By Another Anonymous Farang
This is a story about living in the Thai countryside.
Yes, I fell in love with a bargirl. I now live in Thailand with her for two years and some months. The first six months in Bangkok and now almost two years in the Thai countryside. For several reasons my Thai is quit good. First of all, I live between Thais, so for social interaction it was necessary for me to learn Thai. I surely didn’t want to depend on my wife for the most futile things all the time. Also I wanted to take part in conversations. It’s definitely no fun when you are only capable of giving a big, stupid smile every time a Thai starts talking to you. Secondly, I have a talent for learning a foreign language, it’s a gift. Thirdly, I think Thai is not that difficult.
Because my Thai is ok and because I live between Thais I can say I really learned a lot during my stay so far in Thailand. Not only as an outsider, but in many cases as an insider. Surely they sometimes still see me as a foreigner in this village, but slowly they see me as the person I am. There are several reasons for me writing this. The most important one is to warn every farang who wants to make a living up here. Life is definitely not paradise uphere, so don’t decide hastily to come over. It doesn’t matter if you are retired, young, rich or poor. I will handle different subjects, but don’t see it as some kind of guide. It simply isn’t. It’s what I experienced, nothing more, nothing less. I live in the central plains, so things could differ a bit when you, for example, live in Isaan or in the south.
The importance of learning Thai.
“Me no go market with you.” A typical sentence of a typical bargirl. Anyway, it’s the way my wife talks whenever she tries to speak some English. After a month living with my wife my English slowly degraded to the same level, so I would probably react with a sentence like this: “Ok you no go market with me, me go alone”. When I realized I was making a complete fool of myself talking like this, I decided to stop this ridiculous way of communicating. Because we were planning to live in Thailand anyway, it seemed right just to talk Thai. In the beginning communication went rather slow with help from all kinds of dictionaries. Now we seldom need a dictionary. Sometimes, just to refine my Thai, I ask my wife to help me with some linguistic details.
Why is it important to learn decent Thai. Lots of reasons really. It makes your world ‘bigger’. It makes you independent. It gives you confidence. You can go anywhere in Thailand. You can take care of yourself. You never pay too much. You can buy the food you want. You can make a living. You can have fun. You can curse. You can express yourself. Thais cannot handle you like shit as they mostly do in tourist areas, although you’re probably not even aware of this. Most important perhaps, you can really communicate and understand your sweetheart. She’ll probability have four to six years basic education. So if you really want to understand her ‘heart’, you will have to understand her mother language, her little knowledge of English is simply not enough to express herself fully. Furthermore you will become closer to really understand Thais. What are their motives, their values and standards. If you want to have a ‘normal’ life up here, knowledge of Thai is essential. I will come back later on this subject several times.
Nightlife in the banok (term for outer countryside areas, sometimes used in a derogitary way, sometimes not – Stick)
Is there nightlife in the Thai countryside? Yes, there is. Can you go short time in the banok? Yes, you can. At daytime you (and I) probably will not recognize these places. But after dark, you will easily recognize these places of sin. The name of the game is ‘karaoke’. Lots of karaoke shops on every major road. Probably every five kilometer there is such a hell lighted place. Short time prices are from two hundred to five hundred baht for an absolute stunner. Three hundred baht is about the standard price, including a room and condoms. Please use your brains and always use condoms, especially in the Thai countryside: desperately poor, working girls and mostly drunk Thai customers. Yes, there is AIDS up here. The only AIDS victims I ever personally met in my life are Thai. If you don’t speak a little bit of Thai, this isn’t a place for you. They simply don’t speak any English up there. Also, you most likely will have to deal with drunk Thai guys sitting at the next table who want to show off their (pathetic little) knowledge of English to their friends. At your expense. This can be fun but it can also be annoying, depending on your mood and their state of drunkness. Because those places do not have walls, just roofs, it’s a place were lots of mosquitoes will most likely give you a hard time. So don’t forget to bring your anti-mosquito spray or whatever. In general I can say I find the atmosphere in these places very depressing. Drunk Thai customers and very bored, tired and not too good looking working girls.
Dealing with Thai police.
I could easily write a book about my experiences with Thai police in general and with Thai policemen especially. In a way they are funny people but in another way they are a frightening bunch. Rule number one, two and three: never loose your temper with them, always smile and be polite. When you have a car and you have to travel a long distance, changes are about fifty percent the police will let you stop at least one time. It doesn’t matter really if you did something wrong or not. They just make up all kind of ‘wrong doings’. If they say you were driving too fast, you can deny that, but then they’ll say you drove on the right side of the road far too much. Just smile and ask them if fifty baht is enough. One hundred baht is definitely enough. Always carry small money with you. If you are driving your car alone, only speak English or whatever non-Thai language. Chances are about one hundred percent you can continue driving without paying a single baht. It’s a well known fact that most Thai policemen have minor wives to take care of. A cop’s salary is by far not enough for that, so your hard earned money will probably end up in the hands of a policeman’s minor wife.
I remember a trip I made to Isaan. Between Saraburi and Khorat the left track of the highway is at some places so damaged, it‘s just impossible to drive you car on that side of the road. At the end of such a bad lane, the police ordered every car to stop. Accusation: you were driving in the right lane all the time. Now you can get angry and tell them about the abominable state of the road. But they already know that. That’s exactly the reason why they are standing precisely at that point. Don’t get angry, smile, give them a few baht and continue your trip. Forget the western concept of justice. There isn’t such a thing when it comes to the Thai (traffic) police. Sometimes they are too embarrassed to ask for money and want to give the farang the impression that the Thai police is ok.
A member of my wife’s family has some problems with his land. After his parents death it was not exactly clear which child got which part of the land. A common thing in the Thai countryside. These problems started some twenty years ago. This family member was now ‘invited’ by the local police to come to the police station one day to sort things out. The problem was that this family member lives six hundred kilometers away. He received an official letter from the police stating that if he didn’t show up at the given time and date he would be arrested. So he showed up. But the police officer who sent him this letter just wasn’t there at the given time and date. So he came for nothing. When this family member made his complaints about this he was about one inch from getting arrested. How did he dare to criticize the police? He had to make his apologies, as he finally did. He also had to pay a five hundred baht fine. Of course, no receipt.
The Thai police operate above the law. They can do whatever they want. To be honest, I despise the Thai police. Not only because of them being extremely corrupt. I also despise them for not being able to read my expired drivers license (“is this your passport?”). But a smile and a ‘cool heart’ will help you to get along with them in most cases. In the end the Thai police are a lazy bunch. They just want to make money out of you. But if you keep low profile, don’t do anything wrong there’s nothing to win for them.
This is a typical Thai and probably South East Asian phenomenon. I understand the concept of prostitution but I do not fully understand the ‘mia noi’ concept. Anyway, it’s not my piece of cake. I really cannot see the ‘fun thing’ about it. It has something to do with status. The principle is that having a mia noi will increase it. It tells that you have the money to take care of two wives (perhaps two families). But what I see around me is that it just brings pain, tension, fear and sometimes death. About half a year ago a local policeman committed suicide because he couldn’t handle the pressure of having a mia noi. His major wife, after understanding her husband had a mia noi, refused to sleep and talk with him anymore and his minor wife was pressing him to end his marriage. But he felt responsible for his children. So for him a divorce was out of question. He had a nervous breakdown and killed himself.
A good and rather wealthy acquaintance confided in me after drinking lots of whisky that he has two minor wives, but also that he now has trouble falling asleep. He lives with constant fear that his wife will find out and will kill him or at least chop his dick off.
Would you like it if / when your wife has a minor husband? Probably not. So, she’ll not be too happy either, to say the least, when she finds out you have a minor wife.
For anyone who is not impressed by the above: you can have yourself a mia noi for about three thousand baht a month.
Dealing with the fact that my wife is a former bargirl.
After living more then two years with my wife, a former Patpong bargirl, I can now look at the fact that she once sold her body from a distance. Especially in the beginning of our relationship, I felt very uncomfortable with the fact she once sold her body. It made me feel angry, upset and insecure. I threw the fact (very irrelevant in most cases) that she once was a bargirl at her feet every time we had an argument. I know I was wrong, but I simply couldn’t look at her past in an objective way. Now I can. It just took me some time. To make things clear: I never was her customer and never paid for her ‘services’. We just fell in love, without the money thing getting involved. It would perhaps have been a different story if I had paid for her services. At this moment her past is a non-subject. Why? Because we have lived together now for more than two years and she has been totally faithful and honest to me all this time. She tells me to judge her by the two years we are together. That’s according to her the only thing that counts. What she did before she met me is, according to her, totally not my business and talking about that will bring us nowhere. We both cannot change her past, so at one moment we decided to close that book forever.
Although my wife is a former Patpong bargirl, she probably is the finest, nicest, most unselfish a.s.o person in this world. She really is. She once made the choice to work in Patpong and sell her body. I know her motives and I disagree with them. What more can I say. She has to live with that fact, I don’t. What matters to me is the fact she stopped selling her body the moment we met.
Do I have Thai friends in the banok?
No, I don’t. I get along fine with most Thais, they are fun to be with, but I wouldn’t call one of them a friend. I think the Thai concept of friendship differs quit a bit from the western concept. I simply have nothing in common with any Thai living in the Thai countryside. They, for example, always ask the same obligatory questions: where do you come from (after I give them an answer I always ask them where they come from. “Thailand of course” is their very serious reply, irony is definitely not invented by Thais), how old I am, how many children I have, if I like Thailand, if I like Thai food, if I like Thai people, if I have children with my Thai wife (“no, but we are trying very hard every day”, now this is the kind of humor a Thai really appreciates). They can’t go any deeper then this kind of conversation. So forget discussing the meaning of life with a Thai. Forget discussing American foreign policy. Forget discussing the emotional crisis you are going through right now. Forget discussing anything that’s outside their village border. They don’t have a clue where you are talking about.
What annoyed me quit a bit the first period while living here: the Thai way of greeting. In Europe we greet each other with something like “hello” or “good morning”. The Thai way of greeting: “where do you go?” or “what are you doing?”. None of your fuckin’ business, I thought. Later I understood it’s just a harmless way of saying hello and it doesn’t matter really what your response is. By the way, at this moment there’s no one in the village who greets me the Thai way anymore. They just say “hello”. On the question / greeting “where do you go?” I always answer “I go to see my minor wife”. On the question / greeting “what are you doing?” I always answer “I am masturbating” (never make these kind of remarks towards children or elderly people, it can cause you big trouble). I know it’s rather childish, giving these kind of replies, but I can’t help myself… So they finally gave up.
I have just one Thai friend and that’s my wife.
Other farang living nearby.
After not seeing a farang for almost two years in the region where I live, I suddenly met an older guy from Ireland in the provincial capital, who happened to live in a small village about fifty kilometers from our home. Sixty-three year old Peter invited me to his place and so we made an appointment. Sitting on his veranda he told me that there were seven other farang living in this small village. All the wives and girlfriends of the eight farang once were working ladies in Pattaya, where they met their farang husbands and boyfriends. Now the farang live in their newly built houses in this small village (let’s call it Little Pattaya). We’d kind of liked Peter and also we liked his wife, so we were seeing each other more often. I once asked him if he liked staying in Thailand. He answered that it was one big holiday for him. After a few beers however, he referred to his house and Little Pattaya as a bloody prison. He has no car and doesn’t speak any Thai. Without the help of his wife he is totally helpless. He watches UBC (cable TV) thirteen hours a day. He starts drinking whisky at breakfast (“a little drop in me coffee”), every day. He has a major problem with the Thai climate, it is simply too hot for him. He has the feeling that every Thai is after his money, but he cannot lay his finger exactly on it. He has no money left, just the monthly income of a small pension. He and his Thai wife lived in Ireland for about three months. His wife told me that Peter hardly drank alcohol in Ireland. Only during the weekends and never before 6:00 PM.
Another farang, also living in Little Pattaya. Forty-four years old Steven from down under. Steven has no income but some savings. He bought land. Of course in his wife’s name. He wants to make a living building rice and sugar cane. He is now planning to build a home. His wife told me, the minute the house is finished she will kick him out of her life. Also, there are two other farang sending her money every month. Of course Steven is unaware of this. And of course Steven doesn’t speak any Thai, mostly because his wife doesn’t let him (“when he understands Thai, he knows too much”). Most Thai ladies cannot keep something like that for themselves. Anyway, she told me this, with Steven totally unaware, sitting next to us. Unfortunately they don’t see me as a one hundred percent farang, because I speak Thai. In their eyes I am more Thai than farang. How wrong they are. For me it’s a moral dilemma now, should I tell Stephan what I know? If I do, chances are real that family members will come after me with a shotgun. You think I am over reacting? You’re wrong. Every house in the banok has at least one gun. Shootings are quite common up here. It’s more or less the Wild East.
Working in the Thai countryside.
It’s very possible to make a good living up here, but you have to be creative and flexible. Personally I don’t like having a boss, especially a Thai boss. Having a Thai boss must be worse than hell. So, just enterprise and use your common sense. You can start whatever small business you want, without the ‘western’ paperwork and taxes involved. I started investing in computers. Later I started teaching English. My wife has some land (seven rai). We grow sugar cane on that. At this moment we own a restaurant, the only one in this province where you can buy hamburgers and french fries. I also do some copy writing for a foreign company. Sometimes we buy and sell fruit (yes I am sell the stuff at Thai markets). We breed fish. Sometimes the provincial government invites me. They don’t want me to do anything, they just want me to be there sometimes when big shots from Bangkok visit them. I put on my best suit, lots of pictures are taken and after two hours I go home, at least one or two thousand baht richer. The fun thing is that work is developing. At this moment I am very bored with our computer department: always people in our home who buy computer time. Too little privacy. I bought the computers and random stuff one year ago for about 100,000 baht, I have made a decent profit, so now I sell the whole lot. My first period teaching English: too many children, too little money (twenty baht per student per hour) and too tired. So I changed everything. Now it’s one hundred baht per hour per student. Five students maximum. Not too much work, good money and not tired at all. I also use my car as a taxi. People can call me twenty-four hours a day. If some grandma from this village is seriously ill, I can transport her to a hospital, fifteen baht per kilometer. At this moment we are making about 40.000 baht a month, and that’s good money for Thai countryside standards. Believe me, there are many possibilities to make solid money up here. But again, if you don’t speak Thai, forget it.
The amount of money you have up here is number two, the amount of land you have is number one. In this province: four rice harvests a year, two sugar cane harvests a year. This is the most fertile part of Thailand, thanks to the Chao Phraya river. At this moment one rai (1600 square meters) will cost you about 50,000 baht. It sometimes pisses me off when Thai say they don’t have any money. They don’t have any cash, that’s right, but some of them have land, lots of land. I remember this one guy who had a very small debt with me (three thousand baht), several months ago. I knew the fucking bastard had about one hundred rai of land (100 x 50,000 baht = 5,000,000 baht = 125,000 Euros = 130,000 $). He came to me with a sad face and told me he wasn’t able to pay off his debt, anyway not this month. I asked him why. Just ran out of cash, was his reply. Ok, I suggested, sell some of your land, I know you have a lot. We had a discussion and it became clear we were talking about differences in culture. I was talking about a man a man, a word a word. He was talking about the fact he really didn’t have any money and selling his land was out of the question. Technically the land was his, but he bought the land for his sons, he told me. No social welfare in Thailand, so his sons have to take care of him and his wife eventually, by making money out of the land. Selling land was just out of the question. I mellowed, as he did, mostly because we really tried to understand and respect our different views. We parted as friends and he promised me to give me the money as soon as possible. The next day he gave me the money and some interest also, three bottles of beer. After a few days I learned he had taken a small loan by the bank to pay off his debt with me. For me this guy is a poo yai, and he knows I think about him that way.
Nice story, but never ever buy land in Thailand. You simply cannot own land in Thailand. It’s not yours and it never will be. It’s as simple as that. Ok, you say your wife loves you and surely she will take care of you. But if your wife dies tomorrow? Or the day after tomorrow? Who will take care of you then? Her seven year old son, who is then probably the legimate owner of the land? Hmmm…
Bottom line: don’t buy land in Thailand. The same goes more or less for building a home in Thailand. Once you build a home, the money is gone, forever. Definitely a bad investment. Yes, I did build us a home. The reason I did so was because I wanted to have a decent roof over my head. But I am (I was) aware of the fact that the money spent on the house is gone and won’t ever come back.
Everything you can pick from a tree up here is delicious. Thai fruits are the best in the world: taste, freshness and variety are probably number one in the world. But everything a (countryside) Thai prepares, is to be honest, quite boring. Lots of people think Thai cuisine is superb. I disagree. There’s no variety whatsoever. It’s all about ‘naam plaa’ (fish water). Whatever you eat, it’s A) unnecessarily spicy and B) it always has the taste of naam plaa. You can eat chicken, pork, beef, snake, rat, fish or whatever, and it all tastes the same. Lots of peppers and naam plaa. That’s about it.
For insiders: what goes in hot, comes out hot too. Don’t be upset and don’t see a doctor, it’s just the spicy food that makes your rectum seriously hurt after disposing yourself. After ten minutes it’s over.
So I make my own food. I eat Thai vegetables and meat, but I prepare it the way my mum taught me. A long time ago I tried to teach my wife to make food the way I like it. I very soon found out however, she cannot cook at all, not even Thai. She must be the only Thai female who cannot cook properly. To be honest, she hates cooking. She is rather embarrassed by this and doesn’t let me makes jokes about that in public. So, please keep this information to yourself…
According to my wife and according to myself also, at least eighty percent of Thai people are obsessed with money. The reasons are probably poverty related. But I am not a sociologist, so I won’t go any deeper into the causes. By money I also mean land. Land means money and money means land. Thai people think every farang is rich, having truckloads of big, big money. You have to deal with the fact that they think that way. Two years ago my wife went to a temple for about one week. Her mother was seriously ill at that time and my wife, yes she is one hundred percent Thai and Buddhist, thought it would help her mother if she stayed in the temple some time. The first thing the head monk told her after he learned she was having a relationship with a farang was to give a real big donation to the temple (‘tamboon’) because she now could afford it. He was totally not interested in the relationship itself. So, even if a monk thinks that way, you can imagine that’s about what most other Thais think too.
Three weeks ago I went to the local market. I saw Peter from Little Pattaya sitting in a restaurant, nipping a beer. Accompanied by his wife and the principal of a rather big secondary school. In the eyes of Thai people a principal is a ‘poo yai’, a big person, who should be an example for other people. The principal was ordering and drinking lots of beer, although it was about ten in the morning. Also he ordered and ate rather expensive food. When it was ‘check bill time’ he’d let Peter pay for the whole lot, although the principal didn’t ask Peter permission for his beer and food orders (a Nana bargirl wouldn’t have done a better job). I told Peter not to go along with this, but Peter didn’t want the hassle arguing with a Thai, so he paid, although Peter’s wife was not exactly smiling (understatement). “Is this the way a Thai ‘poo yai’ treats a friend?”, I couldn’t help asking the principal, whose head became red very fast and whose exit followed almost as fast. He knew exactly what I meant. He’d lost lots of face, especially because the restaurant was filled with people, who all smiled. Moral of this story: they treat you like shit, don’t hesitate to treat them like shit. Although it wasn’t me who paid the bill, I really felt personally insulted by this guy, because his attitude towards a fellow farang was in my eyes totally unacceptable.
The funny thing however is that many ‘poo noi’ (small persons) are not like this at all. They are happy to share whatever they have with you. The most generous people I know in Thailand are poo noi. In general I can say it’s more fun for me to hang out with poo noi then with poo yai, not only when it comes to money.
Just follow your guts, even if you don’t speak Thai. If you have the feeling a Thai takes disadvantage of you, you’re probably right. Be very clear to them. When my house was being built, I gave the working people six bottles of beer every Saturday evening after work. They knew I wouldn’t pay for a seventh bottle, so if they wanted more beer, they had to buy it themselves as they often did. No animosity or ‘kineaaw’ (cheap charlie) crap. During the time my house was being built, I was very satisfied the way the working people did their jobs. No exceptions. You can give a Thai any adjective you want, but you definitely cannot call them lazy. One day I found out one of the working guys was feeling really sick. I asked him why he showed up at work. He smiled and told me: no work, no money. I sent him home while I still paid him every day. After three days he came back to work. From then on he worked even harder. Moral of this story: they treat you good, don’t hesitate to treat them good.
Considerations and doubts.
Will I stay in Thailand forever? No, probably not. I cannot point out exactly why. It’s a feeling. The next few years I will no doubt stay here. But for example, the visa thing every three months is getting to me sometimes. I hate going to Laos, Malaysia or where ever in order to get that bloody stamp in my passport. I hate the fact that officially I have no permission to work, that I have to keep a low profile. I remember about half a year ago I was standing in line in front of the Thai consulate in Vientiane, of all bloody places in the world, in the burning sun. For me always a very depressing and even humiliating experience. In front of me was this German bloke who bragged about being very successful in Thailand. He had a nice family and made good money. He referred to himself as being a poo yai in his Thai hometown. I told him as long as he has to go to the People's Democratic Republic of Laos for a visa every now and then, stand in line in the burning sun and draw a number, he definitely is not a poo yai. The guy wasn’t amused. Perhaps the German guy has no problems with it. I have. This could be one of the reasons for me to go back eventually.
On the other hand, life is definitely good up here. Lots of freedom, lots of space and lots of variety. Living the way I do up here is just impossible for me in ‘farangland’. Also the atmosphere is very laid back. Although I criticize Thai people a lot in this story, I really like them in the end. Where in the world do you get so many genuine smiles for free? I guess nowhere. Also the ‘live and let live’ attitude of Thai people appeals to me.
Also, I think Thai women are the most beautiful creatures in the world. Although I am not the ‘butterflying’ kind of type, I surely will miss their presence when I‘m not here. Their beauty is uncompared. They are a blessing for the eye, a God's gift.
The problem is that it’s not only me who is involved in getting back home. Will my wife be able to live there and be happy? And what to do with her son? The little sucker loves to be around me and his mother. He‘s totally in balance now, after being with us these years. Although he‘s not my son, he definitely is a soul mate. Can he adapt to life abroad?
What I really miss around here is the lack of (western) culture. There’s no theatre to go to, no decent newspaper, no political engagement of any kind, no bookshop, no decent TV programmes. Bangkok is probably a little bit (yes, a little bit) different. Sure I have access to the internet at home, but sitting hour after hour behind the computer screen is not exactly what I want from life.
I guess the most essential question I have to ask myself: will I ever be able to pick up life in ‘farangland’ as if nothing happened? I don’t think of myself as being Thai, but I don’t think of myself as being one hundred percent farang either anymore.