Readers' Submissions

Reality Checks

  • Written by Doc
  • December 18th, 2003
  • 14 min read


By An Old Codger



All of this talk about bar girls, Thai culture, marriage, sin sod, etc., has gotten my attention, and I figured that it was time for me to weigh in on the subjects and issues.

Bar Girls: Some of these people's fascination with bar girls seems to be a bit unhealthy — not only from a psychological standpoint, but also a health standpoint. No doubt about it, some of the bar girls are commensurate ego builders. That is what they do for a living — it pays the rent. They know that if they make the "John" feel good and stroke his ego, then they can find temporary security. You, as a farang, are viewed as a rich man, that will, with enough piss (booze for the non-Aussies, non-Kiwis, etc.) in you, spread the money around like there is no tomorrow. That creates some form of financial security for them, which given the Thai economy, is sorely needed with many of these girls. Once they get your ego firmly on a leash, they know how to keep on milking you for the simple reason that you are willing to go along with the program.

Wake up guys. You are not Professor Higgins and you are not starring in a remake of the Thai version of My Fair Lady. Your "quest" to "save" a poor soul that you feel sympathy for is a recipe for disaster. No relationship that is founded on the basis of you feeling sorry for the other person is going to survive. You have to have mutual respect for each other — and if you are paying for any of it, then the personal relationship isn't going to stand a chance of a snow ball in hell. All that you are doing is perpetuating the laws of supply and demand. The only difference is that she becomes the demandee and you become the supplier. When she keeps on asking (demanding) money from you, and won't see you, she is telling you that she has absolutely no respect for you. Now, in my book, if a whore didn't respect me, then I would have to take a real close look at myself in the mirror and try to figure out who in the hell I really am.

Thai Culture: Now this particular aspect of Thailand really takes a beating in this forum — especially from some of the ex-pats. When I read some of the slams on Thai culture, and life in general in Thailand, one thought keeps on going through my mind: You folks that are doing the slamming now know what it is like to be a minority in another country. To my way of thinking, if you didn't stand up and complain and push for equality on behalf of the minorities in your country, you really have no right to complain that your ox is getting gored now. That's part of that old theory of "what goes around, comes around."

Let's be realistic about all of this. Unless you have attained Thai citizenship, that means that you are a guest in LOS. As a guest, you really don't have any rights to complain about all that you see wrong in the "home" of your host. But, I can understand some of the complaining — it is part of Western culture. Thanks to the examples of America, most Westerner's believe that they owe it to the world to create a world just like that of their home country. It is also called arrogance.

Thailand — and the Thai people — aren't going to change just for you. The more that you fight them, the more they are going to fight you. The guy that wrote Stupid Farang Behaviour got it right.

In general, Thai people are very superstitious. If they cannot understand the phenomena of something, then their explanation is going to be that it is caused by spirits. It is much easier for them to "write things off" in this manner, than it is to go to a library and research something. Go ahead and ask a Thai where the public library is in Bangkok — or anyplace else you are in LOS.

There is a lot of superstition involved in Thai Culture. Claiming that something is "culture" is also much easier than trying to explain to a farang what they really mean. Usually, there is also a substantial language barrier that prevents an explanation. Ultimately though, Thai culture is not all that difficult to understand — nor is it all that difficult to ferret out the "true" Thai culture instead of the excuse.

A significant amount of Thai culture is found in the teachings of Buddha. Naturally, as is to be expected, some of the teachings of Buddha have been bastardized over the centuries, but that is the foundation for much of the culture. If you understand the teachings of Buddha, and are a bit conversant with the theories, then understanding and coping with Thai culture shouldn't be a problem for anyone.

My wife has tossed the Thai culture at me from time to time. She does it because she doesn't understand my culture — or believes that my culture is "different" than hers. That is a bit of arrogance on her part — thinking that her culture is all that matters — Imagine that! However, I have discovered that with a bit of patience and understanding, we can bridge the culture gap quite well and as long as we take the time to teach each other, we have no major problems.

And yes — when I see things that are alien to my culture, I keep my mouth shut. Police corruption? In LOS everyone gets hit by the coppers needing tea money. On the whole, I would venture a guess that most farangs avoid having to pay out simply by claiming that they don't understand what the copper is saying. Myself — I have never had to pay a single baht, and instead get a hand shake and a pat on the back — a secret that I will share with anyone that wants to send me 15,000 baht. (Back to that law of supply and demand…) It all comes down to understanding the culture, and finding a way to live with the culture instead of wasting a whole lot of energy and time bitching about it.

Let's all face it. Nobody in Kiwi Land gives a rat's ass about how we do things in the States. They in turn don't give a rat's ass about how the Aussies do things. Nobody in Thailand gives a rat's ass about how anything is done in any other country. They believe that they have the best possible system and way of doing things that there is. They believe that because it works for them. (Never mind the fact that us farangs can find all sorts of faults with things.) It is their belief system, and their life style. Unless someone specifically asks you how to do something according to your culture, then you have to learn to adjust to their culture. Of course — for those who are teachers — you can plant ideas, thoughts and concepts in your student's minds. But beyond that, you aren't going to change anything. Hence, the question that begs to be answered: Why get upset about Thai culture?

Marriage and Sin Sod: I've been married to a Thai girl for 2 years, and paid sin sod Isaan style. The sin sod in part, paid for the wedding. I didn't worry too much about the sin sod because if I had gotten married in the States, it would have cost me at least that much for the wedding. The way I see it, you have to pay one way or the other — so go along with the cultural thing when in Thailand.

This brings back a short cultural discussion. Isaan sin sod culture says that the sin sod is to compensate for the loss of the labor to the family of the girl you marry. In other words, you are taking financial means from the family. So, when my wife now hits me up for money to send to her family, I can use culture against what she claims is culture. In other words, I already paid. If you want to send money to your mother — get a job. But — and this is the key to dealing with these types of situations — I also give her another option: If she goes to school and finishes her degree, then I will give her 2,000 baht per month to send to her mother whilst she is in school. Then, when she graduates and goes to work, the responsibility falls back on her. Simple solutions to other wise complex problems — and no matter what choice my wife makes, she ultimately feels good about what she is doing.

I personally do not recommend anyone taking a Thai girl to their home country after they get married in LOS. When I first told folks — especially women in the States and Australia that I was going to marry a Thai girl, I created a "goal" for them. Their "goal" was to re-educate that poor girl. They had so many things that they wanted to "teach" her.

Ultimately, the culture shock — and their having to adapt to your culture creates all sorts of problems and conflicts within their minds. Just as Thai culture is not overly receptive to us farangs, our own cultures are not overly receptive to foreign cultures. I knew that unless she spoke excellent English, she wouldn't stand a chance in America — she wouldn't blend in. When folks don't blend in and can't cope with things, the first thing that they want to do is go home for a visit. Where I live, there isn't much of a Thai community — the closest Temple is about 70 miles away.

I figured that I could adapt to Thai culture much easier than she could, if for no other reason I have travelled around the world many times, and have taken the time to understand other people's cultures. She, on the other hand, has never had that opportunity. So, I decided to move to Thailand. That works out better because she didn't really want to leave Thailand because of the family ties.

Money: Money makes the world go 'round. Let's face it — it is important in every culture. In Thailand, money is important — the problem is that Thai people do not quite understand the concept of saving money for a rainy day. They do live for today — it is their culture. I have tried to explain the concept of insurance to my wife but she didn't grasp it all until she saw my medical insurance at work when I got sick and had to go to hospital emergency room.

Thai people will try to bleed you if they get the chance. It isn't necessarily because of a personality flaw — they just believe that "sharing" is the way to go. When one marries into a Thai family, one is expected to share with everyone else so that everyone is "equal." It's that Thai culture thing again.

My wife's family tried that route. They hit me up for 4,000 baht to plant the rice crop. I gave it to them with the understanding that they would pay me back, plus give me a bag of rice as "interest." Naturally, they didn't pay me back — but when I still took the bag of rice, that told them that I was going to do things in a business like way. Now when the family needs something, I contribute only as much as the rest of my in-laws contribute. That in turn makes us all equals and everyone can save face — including myself.

What has happened is we have "merged" our cultures and reached some understandings. When they discovered that I wasn't going to support them, nor feel sorry for them because they did not have much, they started being more open with me and showing me what all they actually did own. My brother in law sold me his house for 30,000 baht when he started getting his housing supplied by the government with his job.

Sure — on occasion I will give "momma" some money — but I do it in a way so that everyone saves face. Instead of openly handing it to her, I will quietly give it to my wife, who in turn will quietly hand it to her mother. That way, no one sees what is happening — and it is not a big deal. One does have to learn when to say no.

One of the biggest mistakes that new farangs make when they go to Thailand and get involved with someone is they act rich. Think of the message you send to your girl friend if you are running to the ATM machine and pulling out 10,000 baht every day or two. She will think that plastic card never runs out of money. If you have to get money from the hole in the wall — do it when she isn't around.

My wife has no idea at all of how much money I have. If she knew that I was, in baht, a multi-millionaire, that would create major problems. All that she knows is that we must live on a budget of 30,000 – 40,000 baht per month. That is more than she has ever had to live on and she thinks that she is in hog heaven. My goal is that over the years she will learn business skills and about savings and planning ahead. Then, when I die — hopefully she will have learned enough to manage the money that remains and be able to take care of herself. If she doesn't — well, it is doubtful that it will bother me.

In many respects, Thailand is 20 to 30 years behind the rest of the world (OK, maybe only 5 behind NZ ;-D….). Things are done simple in LOS. Sure, many of the things that Thai people do are recipes for continued poverty and disaster. But, no matter what — everyone is trying to survive one way or another. If you expect Thailand and its people to change for you, it isn't going to happen on a wholesale basis. In one on one relationships it can change as long as you take the time to exercise patience, understanding and diplomacy.

You can holler about a lot of the things that you perceive to be injustices exercised against you because you are a farang. But, for much of what you complain about, there are ways around the problem if one exercises a bit of creativity. Things aren't going to be like they were back home — and that is one of the things that drew you to Thailand and gave you the incentive to stay there. As long as you are there on a visa, and not a permanent resident or citizen — you are a guest in the country. Negative attitudes can show — that old body language thing. That in turn can result in a negative experience.

Those who try to impose their values and concepts of the "ideal life" on others will always be disappointed. Thailand isn't going to change for you. That means that you have to change a bit for Thailand. Living in enclaves with other farangs can give you your own society within a society — and ultimately, dealing with Thai society will be that much harder for you. Myself — I will take Thailand over any other country in the world. It has its faults — but then again, so do I.

Stickman says:

I agree with some things that you say but I strongly disagree with others. The west is in many ways a meritocracy, where we are rewarded for the positive things and gain little or no reward for the negatives. Things are generally fair. In Thailand it is seldom like that, and many a farang can see themselves as being the source of so much but the benefactor of little, enough to make anyone feel that something not quite right is going on. Yeah, things like police corruption are something everyone living in Thailand suffers from, but other issues seem exclusive to farangs. What's more, if a farang tried to treat a Thai the same way that some Thais treat them, the Thais would scream their head off!

I agree that we do have to do our best to fit in with the Thais, but that does not mean accepting all that happens as part of Thai culture. It is not about imposing our values and concepts on to the Thais, but rather about standing up for our convictions, which is something quite different.