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Memories

  • Written by Anonymous
  • December 9th, 2005
  • 8 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I am 51, my first Thai girlfriend was a Thai girl of pure Chinese blood I met on my first day of engineering college in 1972, 33 years ago when I had just turned 18. She already had a quarter of college under her belt and had skipped two grades. She introduced me to Thailand and Thai culture.

We were together for 5 years and we are friends, she has always been quite close to my parents, long married to a jerk who lives off her money, two kids now out of college, my parents were their acting grandparents.

She ended up getting two master's degrees, one in engineering and one in math, before she was 21 and is now about to retire as a professor at my alma mater, never having gone out into the real world to work. She is quite Americanized as well. Once her parents died her links to Thailand became rather slim.

While we were together, one of her girlfriends was at a nearby university and we visited them often. At that university there were a lot of "older" Thais who were married and even had kids who were there on Thai government scholarships to study things like forestry, fishery, agriculture, etc. So many of the folks we hung out with on those many weekends were not at all interested in becoming Americanized and so I got to, in a way, be in Thailand without leaving the USA. We were all good friends, my girlfriend and her girlfriend's girl roomates. They trusted me, I even slept with them in a big bed, all of us together.


Later, one of my girlfriend's girlfriends who was studying at that other university offered her family's home in Bangkok as a place to stay when I went to Thailand for the first time in 1976 for a month after I graduated from school. When I got there, I found her younger sister was a university student then living in the same house with various older sisters, brother-in-laws,cousins, etc. The house was about halfway to the airport in Bangkok but the family was from Northern Thailand but not so north that they could speak the northern dialect.

To cut to the chase, we married in 1979, 26 years plus now, we have two daughters 18 and 22. We left in 1982, I having spent 5 years in Thailand teaching English at Berlitz, working in the advertising business and even starting my own ad agency for two years. This with an engineering degree. Thailand will do that to you. I missed most of Jimmy Carter and disco (yes, I know how lucky I was to thave that happen). Wife was pregnant with first child, back to the real world I swore I would never go back to.

A year of odd jobs because I no longer wanted to be an engineer. Yes, I was dumb. But in 1984 I got a got a job with the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer. They liked my good Thai (I had Thai reading and writing too) and all my experience. They measured my Siamese language ability then, 21 years ago, as a 3+ on a scale where 0 is where you can't say a word and 5 is native college educated Thai (so most born in Thailand Thais would be 4+). I retired recently with 21 years and am doing a lot of other things but still reside in the Washington, DC area..

So what's my point? It seems your readers are experiencing and learning about Thailand predominently through contact with only the Northeast Thai, the Issan sub-element of the Thai populace. The reasons why are many and obvious. It is worth noting the Issan out number all the other Thai sub-groups (northern, southern and Chao Praya River basin folk). So the Issan are actually the real Thai of Thailand.

What engendered this note was mention of "sin sawt". I didn't pay a dowry to marry my wife. I'm pretty sure nobody called it sin sawt at the time, but don't remember what it was called. It may be the Issan term but it is in my dictionary as dowry paid by the groom at the engagement ceremony (which my wife and I never had). I did send an emissary (a tow-gaa) to my father-in-law to ask as my representative for his dowry terms. My tow-gaa was a senior member of the big Thai ad agency I worked for at the time and he was much respected by all because he had been a monk for 8 years. I had been saving about 10,000 Baht a month back then to build up my stake. That was when it was 20 to the dollar and an engineer in the States of my age was making $12k a year and living high on the hog).

My father-in-law was quite well off then, a Chinese-Thai who was not Chinese at all in his manner, very generous and good guy who everybody loved. So he said just take good care of my daughter. My wife was number 10 of 11 kids, the second youngest of NINE daughters. She was and is the pick fo the litter and Dad planned for her to stay with Mom and Dad for years once she graduated and went to work for the local bank for 3,000 baht a month. He didn't know me from Adam and was not inclined to give his consent which we had to wait at least a few years for. The sister's finally ganged up on him and got me the permission after about 1 and a half years of waiting.

So no dowry. Since my-in-laws and most of their children (my wife's older sisters and brother) were all pretty well off for Thais I have never sent anybody in the family a dime. Over the years a neice stayed with us for a year and a neice with her husband and daughter came to the States and settled here. A 26 year old nephew is here now studying English even though he has a Masters degree in mechanical engineering from Chulalongkorn University! My wife went home more or less every year, with the kids too. My kids speak good Thai and are very good looking, take after my wife Thank God.

I and my family were posted in many places around the world and we made it to Thailand in 1993 and stayed 3 years. That was the first time I had been back since the end of 1982. Long time, many changes, but still the same too.

In sum, my advice is to marry a Thai of equivalent social level and education level. Any marriage is tough, believe me, and a cross cultural marriage is damn tough. If your wife has only a 4th grade education and comes from a poor family it is even tougher.

This is not a slam at the Issan people. When I was in Thailand in 1977, Patpong bar girls were all from the extreme North of Thailand. There were only about 2 bars on Soi Cowboy. The girls were all from Chiang Rai and such. No tan Issan girls. Only years later did they take over. I believe the bar owners expected farangs to like the white skinned girls Thai men prefer. Remember, this was only a year after all American soldiers left Thailand. The GI's hung out on New Petchburi Road. There were maybe 50 hotels all built to the same design along that road and that's where the GI's stayed on R&R. Bars were all up and down. The hotels were all turned in to businesses. The ad agency I worked for was in one, we had a big pool and everything.

So, that is my two cents. I have been crazy about Thailand for 33 years. I worked it professionally as a diplomat. I know a LOT about Thailand. I realize though that I know only about 10% and that gets lower each year. NO MAN will ever understand Women, and Thai women are the most women of women in the world. Don't even try, it is a path that leads only to ruin. Just keep them happy and they will take care of you superbly. Compared to a farang wife, my wife spoils me silly and is still beautiful at age 52, no kidding.

I remember when there was only one Thai restaurant in the Washington DC area. People called it "Thigh Land" like your leg or a piece of chicken. Or mistook it for Taiwan. I was into Thailand before Thailand was cool.

My plan for a few years from now is to find a nice little house for rent somewhere in Lampang, Lampoon, Chiang Rai or Udon, very low key, nice and quiet, not too close or too far from town, with good music and good whiskey. There would be four or six carefully selected girls to take care of me, along with maybe a visiting American friend or two. The girls would be not be difficult to find or convince – Thai women value men who are stable, mature and know how to treat them very well. Each would have to be unique and complement the others. Perhaps one Shan Burmese, two from Chiang Rai or Maa Sot and 3 from the NE, perhaps sisters. We would have a lot of fun. It would be something like Hemingway's house in Cuba. Can be done. It's a fun plan to work on in ones head!


Stickman's thoughts:

Interesting memories.