My First Sit Down
My First Sitdown
I. My First Sitdown.
First, thanks to Stickman for having the vision to see the need for this website. Nearing the end of my third visit to LOS, roughly 18 months ago, a fellow American, who was married to a Thai lady, turned me on to this site when he suspected I had a potentially perilous fascination with LOS. I have no regrets except I wished I had found it before I ever first set foot on that JAL jet. Though I have visited this site at least twice weekly since learning of it, this is my first submission.
Now at last I have taken time out from this horse-race of a society to have a sitdown and share a few of my thoughts. At this sitting I will not discuss the naughty nightlife; for the moment, the often tabled matters of Thai-Farang friendships and allegations of Thai racism and intellectual vacuousness merit discussion.
II. Thai/Farang Friendship
A good solid friendship based on integrity and respect is probably not easily attained in any society. Many people may insist that one reason Thai and Non-Thais don’t click is that on the one hand non-Thais see themselves as being culturally, and perhaps even racially superior to Thais, while on the opposite side of the coin, others contend the problem is that Thais consider themselves superior in most respects to non-Thais. Well folks, welcome to the human race with all of its eccentricities. Even a mite of reflection will remind you that nearly any group of people will think themselves superior to those they deem outside that their group. It doesn’t matter that this belief may be pure illusion; such sentiments may be deeply rooted in the many, and often conflicting, instincts to preserve one’s group integrity.
For those people who believe whites cannot, or will not relate to people of color, remember that not all whites relate to each other, nor do all “people of color” become friends automatically based upon the variety and quantity of the pigmentation in their skin.
Some years ago, I was a military man stationed in the Eifel Region of Germany. This area which is 110 Km west of Cologne and about the same distance north of Kaiserlautern, is the farming belt of northern Germany. Well, I learned a fair bit of German,
and was able to make my way around the local communities. In my wanderings about amongst the Germans, I was something of an anomaly. You see the vast majority of American servicemen and women chose to keep to themselves, except for that 25+ percent
of males (maybe several hundred) who dated German women. Now among these guys, I know of no one who had a German male friend. In fact, they often spoke derisively of Germans (Surprise??). They derided the German culture, which they considered
inferior. Furthermore, and most shockingly to me, these Americans spoke in the most disparaging manner of the intellectual capabilities of the locals. Mind you, Germany has for the past two hundred years, produced many of the world’s finest
scientists, engineers, philosophers, while pulling itself out of the ashes of the Second World War to become a first-rate economy, and so on. So while many of my fellow soldiers were running about the countryside trying to get laid, and even occasionally
marrying a German lady, they nonetheless, considered themselves so far above the Germans, that they would not even bother to learn the basics of the language, which is far more similar to English than is Thai. Would it surprise you to know that
many of the local German men resented the fact that American men, who had more disposable income, and many of whom appeared “exotic” to German woman, could come into their towns and make off with the prettiest girls?
It appears that just as many American military people did not want to get along with the local Germans. Many of the locals knew it, and started a reverse discrimination against the Americans, though they were more civil about it than were the Americans. Likewise, many Thais, perhaps thinking that many farang do not want anything beyond a business or casual relationship, might not be willing to invest heavily into forging a friendship.
Of course, I have encountered serious trust issues with a few Thais (think “BG”), and I believe the idea of saving face at all cost, may at times yield enormous consequences. My solution to this is simply to avoid major disappointment by not expecting to get blood from a turnip. In Farangland, only about 1 out of every five-hundred women I meet will satisfy my standard for a relationship that could lead to marriage; further, only about 1 out of a hundred men I would count as a friend. Why would I expect more in Thailand when culturally, historically and linguistically I have less in common with Thais then I have with Americans, Germans, or any other whatever western nationality? This is not to say I have nothing in common with Thais. By virtue of our being human, and perhaps having a common ancestor somewhere back a few thousand years ago, I (being educated in biology) believe I share more with other people than I don’t. But culture does change us to a degree.
III. Racist Thais?
Charges of racism have been hurled at Thais. First reconsider what I said above. Now, I wonder how, in a world where the most industrialized, and so called Christian nations, have condoned and even practice race-based slavery, apartheid, segregation, and even genocide, can people feign surprise if it appears to them that Thais are non-accepting, or leery of them based on race? As far as I know, the Thai nation, as a whole, has not ever committed wholesale crimes against humanity based on race.
Let’s look at this phenomenon beyond the very narrow context of western-people and Thais. In many parts of the United States, which is quite racially and ethnically diverse, how common was it fifty years ago – or even today perhaps – to find white men who would say openly that a black, Hispanic, or Asian American was a real friend? How often would you find a black man to say his best friend was white, or Hispanic or Chinese? Of course, casual acquaintances happened, but I suspect that outside of San Francisco, New York, or other cosmopolitan areas, they are and have been the exception. Even today, I have personally witnessed instances where a person of one group was so uncomfortable with a person of another as to outright shun that person, or deny him or her some benefit or right. I have had, and yet have friends from many different backgrounds, many of whom would go “the proverbial last mile” for me, and I for them. I also realized that people may be friends for a reason, friends for a season, or friends for life. The real truth seems to be that in life, we all will find that most friendships are for a reason. How many of us have relatives with whom, were it not for blood ties, we would never associate?
From my experiences in Thailand, while they may support some notion of “racism,” I have found that, at least on the surface, Thais have been polite to me (I don’t give a rat’s butt what they might think behind those beaming smiles). I have had numerous conversations with the ladies, bargirls and university students, and have shot the breeze with quite a few males. I had heard before going to Thailand that if they think a black person is Nigerian, they will shun him for certain reasons; I will spare you the reasons. I had also heard that Thais are not too keen on Arabs and Indians for other reasons; again I won’t elaborate. My sense is that Thais have dealt with western whites much longer than they have other groups, so from this lengthy relationship comes some familiarity: They probably believe they know what to expect from the western Farang, and are not so sure about other races or ethnicities with whom they may have had much less exposure. The bottom line seems to be that if you don’t disrespect any aspect of, Thai culture, keep your body clean, flash a smile once in a while, they don’t have a problem with you. These sentiments can hold true if you visit Italy, Greece, England, the U.S. or practically anywhere else.
IV. Acceptance as One of the Locals in LOS
I have a few Thai friends in the US who sometimes jokingly say I’m really Thai. Knowing that many farang who have worked decades suffering through a tough marriage, and are apparently denied that appellation, I take such statements with a generous dose of salt. If you are seen as an outsider to a particular group, it can be nearly impossible to step across the boundaries that separate. Being somewhat linguistically versed, my hunch is that language is one of the aspects of human hood that binds us one to the other. The more similar the language (even dialects within the language), the tighter the bond. But there is more to it than linguistic kinship. Consider: my Japanese-American friends, whose grandparents, or parents, might have been born in Japan, tell me that when they (my friends) go to Japan to visit their relatives, the Japanese (even their relatives) don’t see them as Japanese! Some years back when a student in London, I had a teacher who was an American ex-pat. He had been living in England for 25 years. To me and every other American student he looked, acted and sounded like a Brit, but he assured us that the Brits could “sniff” him out in a milli-sec and treat him as a non-Brit. (Ok, you Brits, come on and admit it: you do have at least a small problem with Yanks?). As for me, a male, many of my friends are women. We may have the best of friendship, but I have not once complained that they don’t accept me as one of the girls. I am being ridiculous again, but you get the point. So if you have put your whole heart and soul, along with a million baht into Thailand, and feel you are not being accepted, get over it for this lifetime and arrange to be born to Thai parents in the next.
V. Thai Intelligence
Just as many of my soldier buddies would too often decry what they thought to be the lack of intelligence among the Eifel Bauren (the German farmers), people sometimes wonder just how far on the left of the bell curve the average Thai should be placed. I would say be careful here. The intelligence, or even intellectual, capability of our fellow brethren is an area where fools generally dare to tread. While we all might be entitled to bring our mix of ideas to the market place, it behooves one to first understand that the skill of analytical manipulation (I.Q. testing) is not, and cannot be the sole determinant of “intelligence,” nor is a cursory observation of a person’s behavior. Each of us is capable of ”stupidity” at any given time (Just read a few of these submissions on this site that address farang/bargirl relationships, and the frequency of war in the western (highly intellectualized world). Much too often we see stupidity in others because of our inability to grasp the programming of their “operating system.” The “operating system” I have seen amongst certain Thais, for instance, is very similar to those I have witnessed up close among certain groups of economically disadvantaged people elsewhere in the world, particularly in the US and England. Which do you think came first: the “operating system” or the economic/social stratum in which they exist? This is not an easy question, for anyone. In spite of what we might consider our marvelous accomplishments or natural attributes, speaking disparagingly of, or mistreating others is not the best use of the limited time we have here on earth.
This submisson was written nine months ago. Now in Aug 2005, I have just finished my fourth visit to LOS within the past three years. I am not a “sex tourist,” (although I have had “serious” female companionship while there). I am a law student who visits Thailand as part of my degree curriculum in international studies. While I am not a “white-skinned” man, I have never felt the people of Bkk, Nong Khai, or Laos had an issue with that. In fact I have sensed that many are drawn to me because I am closer in complexion to many of them, because of my sense of humor, and because I smile easily. I have also found that what is most appealing to me about LOS is the relative gentleness of the people in general, and that of many of the ladies in particular. Finally, it especially appeals to me that the women are not out to prove they can be a bigger or better man than I am. This last statement is politically loaded I know, but there there does seem to be such a thing as “male energy” and “female energy,” and I am drawn to women who show the latter.
I have enjoyed this sitdown. Of course, my sentiments have been filtered through my own personal and cultural lens of experience. Your positive comments are welcomed, and so are the negative, but if you want to slam my piece, or me, do so with good taste and grace. There is already enough ugliness in the world.
An interesting collection of thoughts.