Stickman Readers' Submissions May 30th, 2003

Coming Home

I've read a lot on this site about adjusting and understanding Thai culture. But for those of us that have lived in Thailand for an extended period of time, what is it like coming home? For this article, I’ll describe my first impressions of the US, my thoughts on Thailand and dating Thai women (this is Stickman’s site after all!)

The following were my first impressions of the US. I realized that I was looking at the US as a foreigner and not as a native son. Inevitably, you assume your home country (Thailand) is "right" and everyplace else is "wrong." This is, of course, a silly notion but it is in human nature to initially feel this way.

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I've lived in Thailand for two years either teaching English or traveling around South East Asia. Yesterday, I arrived back in New York. This is the first time I have been on US soil in two years. When I stepped off the plane, it was 13C and cloudy. I've been in –10C weather before, but I never felt so cold in my life. I’m slowly acclimatizing myself, but I did spend my first night covered in three layers of blankets while my roommate walked around in shorts laughing at me. If any of you are planning to bring your teeruk back to the West, please don’t go back in the dead of winter. It is difficult to adjust to cold weather after living in 35C year round for two years. For someone who has never experienced cold weather, it must be quite a shock.

After adjusting to the vibrant, tropical landscape of Thailand, everything seemed gray and drab here. It was like watching color TV for two years and then being forced to switch back to black and white TV. But at least I could take a deep breath and not choke on tuk-tuk fumes here. Although Thai food is one of the best in the world, Thai attempts at American food are inept at best and inedible at worst. I was looking forward to my first real American meal. I eagerly ordered a sub sandwich with extra hot peppers and a side of fries. I tried to stifle a laugh when my ordered arrived. A mountain of fries and the thickest sandwich I've seen in two years. Now I know why Americans are so fat. After eating spicy food for so long, the sandwich tasted like Styrofoam smothered in cheese.

There are many good points about the US though. One, I didn’t have to speak like an 8 year old to be understood. I can feel myself using vocabulary I had abandoned in Thailand. Instead of saying "can" all the time, I could say "able to." Also, the past and progressive verb tenses are alive and well in the US. I would love to show my former students how much information can be conveyed when you employ verb tenses. I was fascinated by the way traffic flows here. You don’t have crazed motorcyclists trying to run you over on the sidewalk. No songtaews belching out black smog in your face. No non A/C bus drivers hopped up on speed trying to kill everyone that gets in their way. Instead, it looked like one of those driver safety videos I watched in high school. (Motorist A follows at a distance of two car lengths. Motorist B, using proper defensive driving techniques, allows Motorist C to turn left even though he has the right of way.) You also don’t feel like everyone is trying to squeeze every last cent out of you. Even if they don’t realize it, everyone in the US seems like a rich bastard after living in SEA. Not happier, mind you, just rich. In addition, time isn't an abstract concept here. When I asked a subway official when the next train was, he said, "In 26 minutes." Not half an hour. Not "It come." Not a shrug and a smile. But 26 minutes. I’m still not sure if taking time so seriously is a good or bad trait yet.

They say you go through three phases when you live abroad. First everything seems so wonderful. Second, you start to see the darker side of a place and think you are in hell. Finally, you either reconcile the good and the bad and stay or you decide to leave. I think that I saw both sides of Thailand but decided to stay for an extra year anyway. I don’t see Thailand as a paradise like those of you that come here for two or three weeks and then leave. But I am not as jaded as those that have had horrible experiences here and have an aversion for the Thai way of doing things. I had my ups and downs. I almost lost myself in Pattaya for two weeks sleeping with two or three girls a day and never seeing daylight. I had a two-month relationship with a crazed gold-digger when I first arrived. It ended in her stabbing me and then me giving her 9,000 baht to stay the hell away from me. Any notions of romantic love died right there (I’m still 25). I had to live off of $200 for a month. Which wasn’t bad in retrospect, because I found out who my real friends were and experienced what it really means to live like a Thai. A/C buses, food courts, and drinking in bars were an unimaginable luxury. Actually, I still wasn’t living like a Thai. At $125, I’m living like the average Thai. That’s just brutal. It sounds bad, but it helped me understand their carefree attitude more. Basically, life sucks. You can either get depressed or try to have fun and be pleasant. Then you don’t care if your life sucks. In America, it’s you can either get depressed or do something about it. But doing something about it requires work, which is no fun. But it might lead to a better life. Or an even worse life filled with stress and conflict. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? I don’t know anymore. It’s that eternal schism between the West and East.

I notice some people become overly critical of Thailand and the way things are done here. On one hand, they want everyone to smile and be carefree. On the other hand, they want their food on their table THIS GODDAMN MINUTE. I want a girl from a poor background to fuck me every night and treat me like a king. But if she asks me for too much money, I’ll show her the door. I want everyone to tell me the truth. Of course, if they tell me the truth they have everything to lose and nothing to gain. No one states his or her complaints like this. But these are the general complaints I hear. Simple solutions. If you want efficiency, get out of Thailand. It’s not a cultural value. Sabai Sabai is more important. When you ask a Thai person a direct question on something that could cause loss of face or money, they will give you a blank look for a second. It means, you’re clueless if you don’t know the answer. Now I’ll tell you what you want to hear so you’ll go away and I can think about more pleasant things. Look at the facts and figure out the answer for yourself. The truth is self-evident. The way this is handled in the West makes it easier to efficiently deal with situations, but it makes interaction much less pleasant and mai sanuk.

Finally, a few words about dating Thai women. I’ll base this only on my personal experiences. My friends have told me about their experiences, but I have no way of confirming what they say. So this only based on one man’s experience with Thai women. Needless to say, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

First, determine what you want. Do I want to forge a lasting relationship with a girl from a different culture? Or do I just want to have sex when I’m horny and live alone the rest of the time?

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If you answered yes to the second part, you’re time here will be a lot more pleasant if a bit less rewarding. Sleep only with bargirls and others who sleep with men for a living. Insist on paying. Never take a freebie. Treat the girls nicely, like you would a date back home. The sex will be a lot better. Simply think of it as a girl that knows how to please her customer. No matter what she says, that’s what you are (the truth is self-evident). If you work, never mention your indiscretions. The Thai staff (including the women) won’t care and will laugh about it, but you won’t become part of the group (to the extent a farang can be). Why does it matter? The trips you take with the Thai staff and home invitations are some of the most memorable experiences you will have living here. You won’t receive any because they are afraid you’ll bring you’re lower class GF with you. Under no circumstances allow a girl to stay with you for a few days. She won’t leave. You are using the girls bodies for sex and companionship. They are using you for money. Use and discard the girls. They will use and discard you in turn. Throw all that Christian morality in the trash. You can’t "rescue" the girls. They like their culture and will adopt and ignore Western ideas when they feel like it. The day of the white man’s burden is over. Only right wing nuts like George W Bush thinks he can save other civilizations "for their own good." It doesn’t matter what you do, she will be Thai until the day she dies. Just like I will be American until the day I die. Nothing you do can change this.

What if you want a real relationship? First, live in Thailand. Living on and off here doesn’t work. You must live here on a permanent basis. Stability and a pleasant life are important values to Thai girls. They are not adventurous people. My GF told me about an ex that took her traveling around Thailand, staying in 3,000 baht hotels, eating superb food, and buying her fancy gifts. I spent my time with her in my bedsit watching TV, eating Thai food, talking to our friends, and smiling like idiots the rest of the time. Aside from renting VCDs and a few hundred baht for knick-knacks around the house, I didn’t give her any money. She preferred my company. Why? I lived in Thailand, I lived like a Thai, and I never tried to change her. Everything was sabai sabai. One final note. If a girl tells you she doesn’t like a man who speaks Thai, avoid her. My GF sometimes joked around about it when I heard her talking on the phone about me, but she preferred speaking Thai with me. Any girl that is hostile to speaking Thai with you or teaching you some words has something to hide. I won’t involve myself in the good and bad girl debate. If you live here, it should be obvious which is which. And a "good" girl does not mean smooth sailing. Just use common sense and don’t ignore any suspicions that you have. No relationship is easy, and a multi-cultural relationship is even more difficult to sustain. The majority of relationships don’t last. Don’t be too upset if you fail. Just remember the good times you had together and move on with your life.

To those of you starting your journey, you’ll experience highs and lows you never thought were possible. But you’ll feel alive. Everything is so safe and sanitary here that I want to scream sometimes. But I’m ready to start my life here in the US.

Stickman says:

The thought of returning to the West scares me, and I wonder just how much I have changed – and how much I'll cope with my "homeland" when I return, be it for good, or even just a holiday. As Westerners we try to cling to our convictions but the longer we stay in Thailand, the harder it is to keep them. And as we change more and more, the harder it will be to adjust back to life at "home".

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