Not What She Seemed
Here's another story of how you can take a woman out of the Thailand but cannot take Thailand out of the woman or "you can lead whores to school but you can't make them think". First let me say that my ex-wife was not a prostitute, not a bar girl, but she was from a poor rice farming family near Chiang Rai. She was in college when I met her.
I met Pim while trying to place a international phone call to a friend in Laos, from a popular hotel/restaurant just inside the Ta Pae gate in Chiang Mai. I had studied Thai language for a year before this trip and was communicating well enough in my travels in and away from the larger cities in Thailand. However the challenges of an operator assisted phone call to Laos in 1988 required me to seek assistance from the hotel operator. Pim was working as the receptionist /telephone operator and I showed her my notes with details of the phone call, in my best hand written Thai. She later told me that she thought a five year old had written the notes, probably consistent with my skill level with the written language. We both eventually failed in trying to complete the call to the residence in Laos but in the mean time I had spent quite a bit of time with Pim.
I spent the remainder of my time in Chiang Mai, courting Pim, and usually accompanied by one of her friends. Before I returned home, I made the obligatory visit to her parents house, sending her father into near cardiac arrest on seeing that she had brought home a farang. The family house was traditional Thai style, elevated, and made of wood by her father. It was large and sturdy, with a separate toilet and separate kitchen area. After the initial shock of finding I would be sleeping on the floor next to this giant 'thoke-tho' that had free roam of the house, I came to love the house. The smell of sticky rice in the morning. Benches beneath the house provided shade from the hot sun, nearby water buffalo were more pets to her father than the traditional beasts of burden used in the rice fields, her grandmother's lam yai trees, and 'vegetables' for meals seemed to grow everywhere. I briefly helped her father beat the harvested rice off the stalks, receiving much heckling from the group of men when I declared the activity as 'sanuk'. Her family seemed nice, especially her grandparents who seemed to exude the most Thai-ness of my preconceived notions of the Thai people. Everyone in the village came to see the farang and unfortunately my ability was limited to head nods, wais, and hand gestures, as the local 'pasaa neua' was nothing like the Thai language I had studied.
After several more visits, many letters, huge phone bills, and about a year of time, we talked about Pim coming to the US. Her parents gave us permission to wed and we had a huge wedding and party at her parents house in her village. Her parents asked for an unreasonable dowry, in my opinion, as well as party expenses. I gave a pot of money which they could spend on the party or keep for themselves. Being poor Thai, they spent over $2000 on the party (see moral #7 below) buying about 5 pounds of meat for every person in the village, and other similar extravagances. Pim and I had talked of saving a bit of money in the US and coming back to live in Thailand. Her parents reluctantly let us marry with the promise that we would soon return. Pim fed this dream of mine until the very end.
We seemed to have a nice life, enjoying each other and our life. We travelled in the US quite a bit and in Europe once. I truly believe she loved me for the first 4-5 years. We sent very reasonable amounts of money to her family, about $200/month. I never heard a single thank you from family and occasionally there would be request for additional money for whatever they could think of. Once when I was in Thailand on business, I asked a Thai co-worker to deposit 8000B I had given him into their account. Again, never a thank you or acknowledgement from the family. Eventually I stopped the regular money to her family and just waited for the inevitable 'special requests'. By the time our first visit back, after about 2 years, her family was begging her to leave me.
After about 5 years, we moved states and bought a house, which was to be a savings tool for our eventual migration back to Thailand. I eventually gave in to her requests and spent $5000 on orthodontics for Pim, only because the money was available and I wanted to do something to make her happy. I had no problem with her teeth but after her being bombarded with western TV role models, she felt they were not good enough. Note: she elected to spend this money on her teeth and not use it to support her family. I bought a nice platinum/diamond wedding ring for Pim out of some bonus money I received, something we both thought was an unnecessary extravagance. Rather than scold me for not saving the money or supporting her family, she started asking for matching earrings. I also recently bought (financed) Pim a brand new Mazda Miata, again $25000 that she agreed to spend and not use to support her family.
I was paying for Pim to go to school, non-stop from the year she entered the US. I knew her dream was to get a college education and I wanted to give her that dream. English language classes, a two year professional certificate program in business management at a University of California school, two years at a community college, and finally 4 years at a state university where she obtained a bachelors degree. I must have spent over $35000 for her education only to be thanked by finding out she had started seeing a boyfriend during the last semester at school, within sight of the goal of emancipation and in a position of financial independence. (The fact that she is a college graduate despite somewhat still pidgin English and extremely limited vocabulary, says something for the state of our institutions of higher learning.)
Suddenly, her Thai family was the only thing that mattered. No more talk of migrating to Thailand, she had to stay in the US and support her family. Our family did not matter, she would sacrifice everything to meet her Thai family's demands. After almost 9 years of marriage, she filed the divorce papers on my birthday, took half my 401K, half my company's accrued pension, and half our other assets. The true Thai woman finally showed. My dreams of going to Thailand are shattered, my financial support to make it happen are significantly weakened, and the person I loved and supported abandoned me.
In fairness to Pim, she is a single child and received heavy pressure to support her poor uneducated family, not only from her family but from her Thai friends and the whole village. Being now educated, I expected Pim to balance our supposed dreams against setting fair expectations and bounds with her family. It became clear that 'our' dreams were only my pipe dream and she had other plans. The fact that most of the village has daughters working as prostitutes in Japan and Bangkok, sending money back home does not seem to matter to her parents. They expect the same lifestyle as the prostitute-supported families in the village.
Morals of the story:
1. Unless you are Asian/Thai, you will never be fully accepted into her family. However, your wallet will be (unless empty).
2. Understand that any Thai woman that marries you in order to leave Thailand is doing it solely for that reason: to leave Thailand. You may or may not figure into her future.
3. The longer you keep your wife out of Thailand, the more Thai-ness that is leeched away and replaced with local accepted ideologies (western feminism, or whatever).
4. Like any human, a Thai woman can be just as callous and viscous as she can seem sweet and loving. Don't be fooled by the demure exterior, resentment and hate still builds inside where it eventually comes bursting out.
5. As stated elsewhere on Stickman's site, family status is very important to Asians and Thais. If you are travelling to Thailand, you will probably not meet a Thai woman of similar social stature. Any Thai woman you meet there will be looking to 'marry-up' the food chain. You could probably have a similar experience by going to rural Arkansas.
6. Marriages are hard enough due to the different cognitive processes and values between men and women. (Do yourself a favor and read "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus", John Gray, if you have never read it.) Throw in a unhealthy dose of communication issues and a financially draining family, and you have a recipe for disaster.
7. Poor people typically have poor money management skills. They spend what they have to be comfortable that day. (look at how many poor people waste money smoking). They have no concept of planning, budgeting, or saving money. Thais (at least the poor ones) live for the day and assume tomorrow will take care of itself. Imagine how easy you would spend /waste money if you won the lottery. Easy money in – easy money out. You are the potential lottery for that poor Thai family that expects to receive money on demand.
8. The poor Thai people I met have no respect or appreciation for any durable goods as most are obtained as gifts or paid for by someone else and they assume after the thing they have is destroyed by neglect that it will be replaced by another new one. I have personally had children toss photos into the dirt after looking at them [thought process: I have viewed it, I am done, it is trash]. Someone else on Stickman's sight mentioned the lack of taking care of motorcycles, TV, vcr, etc. That's because they were free and they expect the replacement to be free. Expect no appreciation for any good you try to do for poor Thais.
pasaa nuea = northern dialect of Thai
sanuk = fun
thoke-tho = large lizard / small kimoto dragon looking thing
In a recent reader's submission, the author, DS, made a strong recommendation that when one is selecting a potential wife, that person should be of a similar educational and socio-economic background. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it is easy for me to sit here in my comfy chair and pass comments on what you could have done to avoid disaster. The big issue here appears to be the disparity in income – and just as importantly, the lack of potential that your wife had to earn a similar income to you, in the future. Marrying a poor Thai girl, be she a bar girl or not, is NOT the only issue to consider. The issue of money will never die, and will often divide. Having worked as a prostitute throws up all sorts of other issues, but a girl from a poor, rural country which places great emphasis on the children looking after the parents will in turn place a burden on a foreigner who marries such a girl. Remember, money and communication are the two biggest causes of relationships going sour…and it would seem that money was the issue here.
On the issue of thanks and folks being grateful, this is one of my pet hates about Thailand. I REALLY hate it when you do someone a good turn or a favour and they fail to acknowledge it. "Thank you" is ALL that is required, yet it is seldom forthcoming.