Readers' Submissions

The Thai System



My relationship with a Thai girl led me to ponder a number of basic questions. I couldn't really understand the behaviour I was experiencing from her and hearing about and I think to just say that Thai girls "are plain bad" is too simplistic. There must, fundamentally, be solid reasons for any behaviour so I decided to try to get a better understanding of the whole issue and try to find answers to some basic questions I had.

In the end I came to the conclusion that the answer to the questions I posed was related to a combination of the belief and social system in Thailand. No surprise there really, but the reasoning is quite interesting and can help to explain certain behaviours, so I thought I would share my thinking here.

I have travelled very widely in the world and lived and worked in several foreign countries. Even so, I must admit that I have been taken completely by surprise by the huge cultural differences between Thais and westerners.

Just to recap, some of the basic questions were:

  • Why do Thai girls seem to be notorious liars?
  • Why do they seem to be so unfaithful?
  • Why are they so interested in westerners?
The Buddhist belief is, in its raw unadulterated form, a path to enlightenment and not a moral code per se. In other countries, Buddhism exists in parallel to other philosophies that provide a moral component. Confuscionism for example in China. So, what provides the moral dividing line in Thailand? Is there one? This doesn't mean of course that every Buddhist in Thailand is immoral, simply that they may follow a Buddhist lifestyle more freely and more truely than many others. The danger of course is, without the moral code, you can end up with a "do anything you like" attitude – not that this is necessarily the case in Thailand.

Buddhism promotes a freedom from external constraints, a freedom in thinking and doing and a reliance on internal feelings of what is right and wrong and of course, not everyone gets the same result.

Thai girls always bring to my mind the following snippet from a Buddhist poem:

When hungry, eat.
When tired, sleep.
When walking, just walk.
When talking, just talk.

The idea so cleverly captured in this poem is the idea of following ones natural rythms. Doesn't it just sum up a Thai girl? Next time u r in BKK look at the Thai girls walking a long, or sitting in a restaurant eating :) Then watch some farang girls doing the same activities. Very different! :)

I remember one incident with my Thai ex-fiancee, we had a picnic by Windsor Park lake one evening. Unfortunately, we both got bitten by the midges that are around the lake in early summer, me on my arms and her on her legs. The bites are very itchy, but if you just leave them, within an hour or so they don't cause discomfort. I told my g/f not to scratch them, it would make them worse, but she just couldn;t help herself! Stickman was right, when a Thai girl gets an itch – she just has to scratch it! :) I've noticed my Thai girl wasn't very good at coping with any sort of physical discomfort – usually she would tolerate it for a while and keep smiling – and then the tantrums and sulks would start and the fascade would all fall to pieces. Of course, it goes without saying, that "itch" may often be sexual or emotional in nature, leading to the all too common extra-marital activities, that we read about on these pages.

The other part of the equation is of course the concept of face. Again, although I was aware of the idea of face, I didn't really appreciate the extent to which this seems to dominate every aspect of a Thai's life. I don't think this can be underestimated. For example, one of the things that my ex-fiance said to me when we split up was "but everybody knows we've had sex!". This really struck me as odd, because it was obvious that she had many lovers in the past! Of course, after thinking about it and knowing a little of her history, I realised that the men in her past, had to various extents been "very, very secret" boyfriends. Perhaps only known or introduced to a close circle of friends, if that. So when she had said, "I only ever had one boyfriend before", she was talking about "non-secret boyfriends" – because the secret ones don't count! If a Thai girl says "I don't have a boyfriend", she again is talking about a non-secret b/f, one that she could potentially introduce to her parents, because, yep, you guessed it, the secret b/fs don't count!

To my ex, when she split with me, there was loss of face because everyone (her family, friends and work colleagues) knew we'd lived together and had sex. Living with a farang and having sex before marriage are just things that "shouldn't be done". Whereas with previous boyfriends, they could come and go freely because, as they were secret, there was no loss of face associated with having sexual relations with them and then moving swiftly on when things didn't "go to future". So you can see, in the one case sex was not a problem and could be given quite freely, but in the case were a loss of face was at stake, sex was a very big issue. In UK we would say, "what the eye doesn't see, the heart can't feel"…in Thailand this concept is taken to a whole new extreme!

It seems that as long as face can be preserved, then what goes on behind this fascade is quite flexible and the Thai girl will be quite happy to "follow the Buddha spirit within". :)

So, face is kind of like the missing "moral component", as mentioned in the first part. It isn't a moral code as such, more like a surrogate in the absence of one.

I think this goes some way to explaining Thai girls, often to us, suspect behaviour. It is their way and there isn't a damn thing we can do about it. We either have to accept it or move on from it. I doubt we can change it at all. But, of course, not all Thai girls are the same, so some may on the surface appear to be a much closer match to our western ideals about relationships and conduct. These are the fabled "Good Thai Girls".

I think this combination of Buddhism and face explains the first two questions listed above. I think the answer to the question "why do Thai girls like westerners?", is less of a mystery and probably more to do with relatively mundane issues like money and the security and possibilities offered by a new life away from the pollution of Bangkok in a developed western country. But I think it's also a case of Thai girls instinctively knowing that something is "wrong" with the system/way of life in Thailand. Their overriding instinct is still towards creating a stable family, but they know enough about Thailand and particularly Thai men and the fairly widespread system of minor-wives, mistresses and girlfriends that is generated by the "Thai system", to realise that their "dream for a warm family" is a tall oder. They are part of it, actors in the great "play" that is Thailand, but at the same time they instinctively want "out". There is a yearning for something better, and something different is often seen as something better.

So this raises an interesting question: is the Thai system just different, or fu ndamentally "broken"? This raises a further, and hugely contraversial question: does the above mean Thai people are fundamentally broken, as they are a product of a broken system? I would be interested to hear peoples' views on this. Personally I don't think we can draw that conclusion, I feel we can simply that Thai people are different. Not necessarily better or worse, just very different – because they have a different culture/religion/social system and way of life.

Like all theories though, evidence may be presented that blows holes in it. :) But at least these ideas help me to try to understand some Thai girl behaviour. I think some Thai girls are very good, but there seem to be a lot of girls, like Helen in my previous article, that no matter how you analyse it are downright dishonest or at least "loose".

If anyone knows of a Thai girl who bucks the trend I would love to hear about it. I know that Thai Good Girl is out there somewhere!

Stickman says:

A lot of good points made. Many Thais have secret lives and they would be horrified if those close to them were aware of what they had got up to. In extreme cases, the loss of face might be so bad that they might just top themselves…

I however do not buy into the "they are different argument". To me, it is a very clear case of 1+1 equalling 3, and I personally do not accept that. Many are victims of the broken system you refer to, a system which is more and more being looked at by learned Thais as seriously flawed.