Removal, Thai Style
Stick’s recent column about removing the unwelcome long-term guest from your life was spot-on as usual. I want to share with you a story that happened to me which is a little bit different in that it tells the tale involving Thai people only; I was mainly an observer of the situation.
Just over five years ago my sister-in-law, Bee, a mia noy to an army sergeant became widowed when the gentleman ended his mortal existence by driving into the back of a parked, unlit truck one drunken night.
Without means of support, Bee was immediately taken in by her next youngest sister, Ai, and given the job of ‘maae baan’ doing the housework and looking after Ai’s school kid while Ai and her husband were out at work.
Twelve months on, my family and I return to live and work in Thailand and Bee sees an opportunity to upgrade her lifestyle by moving in with farang. So Bee spins a sob story to my wife, Dee, about how she has to sleep on the floor of a one-roomed flat and receives no monthly allowance for the huge amount of housework she is expected to perform.
Dee takes pity and offers Bee a room in our house with an allowance of 5,000 baht in return for becoming our housekeeper. Ai is quite happy to let Bee join us which sets a little alarm bell ringing in my head.
I was right to be concerned because soon Bee is pulling rank over my wife as the older sister. Princess Diana once complained about a third person in her marriage but at least she didn’t have conniving Camilla actually living under the same roof twenty-four, seven.
If you live as part of the extended Thai family you’ll know what I mean. Bee had to be involved in every single decision. Whereas before Dee would discuss everything with me, now Bee became the de facto head of house simply because she was the eldest sister.
She was present every time we went out; to the movies, to a restaurant, shopping, even on damn Valentine’s night I couldn’t have even free time together with Dee. There on the other side of the candlelit table was Bee with her opinion on everything under the sun. Bee would try to veto what we were going to eat for dinner or what we were going to watch on TV if it was something she didn’t like. We couldn’t eat chicken because it hurt her knees, or beef because of her Buddhist beliefs. Though she saw no problem with eating other meats. She was a gossip among the neighbours in the moobaan and drove away Dee’s friends so that she could maintain control over her youngest sister.
Even the job she was supposed to be doing was becoming less than satisfactory as time went on. The housework was skimped, my daughter constantly scolded and whenever I cam home from work Bee would be sprawled on the sofa watching HBO.
I noticed that the household bills were increasing significantly since her arrival on the scene. The house phone bill went up ten-fold as Bee would wait until we were all asleep and then start phoning her friends around the country. Electricity bills rocketed as the air-conditioning remained on all day. Bee washed her own clothes daily, not everybody’s mind, so water bills increased. Taking into account her allowance, the extra utility bills, entertainment expenses, and medical charges, I estimated that it was costing me twenty-five thousand baht a month to maintain this freeloader. It was a very bad deal for me, my kid and the bad influence she was having on Dee who would never stand up to her older sister.
I wasn’t accepting this situation and constantly brought the subject up with Dee. But Thai blood is thicker than farang water and I would get my head bitten off every time I mentioned Bee. “You just don’t like my sister, do you?” Dee would hiss.
“Correct. I do not like her” and then I give my reasons as calmly and as rationally as possible. But Dee was not interested to listen. She had to maintain family harmony at all costs and I was becoming the problem in Thai eyes for ruffling
Well I’m a pretty patient guy and I put up with this situation basically by trying to shut Bee out of my life as much as possible even though we were living under the same roof. But everybody has a point beyond which they will not go. I felt a great deal of resentment and began planning my exit strategy. It wasn’t long before the opportunity presented itself.
School fees were due in the middle of December, my kid was at an international institute and the sum was no small matter. However, my annual bonus from which I would pay the bill didn’t arrive until the end of the month. I discussed with Dee what we could do to cover the two week period until the end of the month. She told me that Bee was willing to loan me the shortfall of forty-thousand baht if I paid her back fifty thousand when my bonus arrived.
I was furious at the suggestion. I had taken Bee in to my home when she had no means of support, clothed and fed her, and paid a good monthly allowance to boot. Now she wanted to loan me back the money I had given her at a twenty-five per cent interest rate over two weeks. Quite simply, she was screwing me.
I found my passport and walked straight out of the house and told Dee I was never coming back. Actually I only went as far as the park in the moo-baan and spent the next couple of hours drinking ice-coffee. I planned to stay put for a few hours and then go back to see if Dee had considered her options. If nothing had changed then I would pack a bag and leave for a few days. If Bee was still in the house then I’d make the move a permanent one.
My action had the desired effect. Dee came looking for me. She obviously knew me well enough to know where to find me, and straight away she apologized. Then the truth came. Or at least as much as I could expect. Dee really didn’t want Bee in the house for a long time. She’d seen how unhappy we’d all become but the pull of ‘grenjai’ and family and face had made it all too difficult to deal with. I told Dee she had to choose between her sister and me, and given the circumstances she may well have opted for Bee. However, she wasn’t that stupid as to realise where the money to support the family came from. I said I wanted Bee out of the house as part of the deal for me to come back but Dee said it was completely impossible just to throw her out immediately. Bee was family. What would the rest of the family think, what would the neighbours think? The loss of face to everybody would be unbearable. Instead she said, just leave it to her and she would sort it.
And sort it out she did in a totally Thai way.
I was to learn a lot about the way Thais operate from what happened and to the Stickman readers who’ve come with me thus far I’d like to share this with you as an insight into the Thai way of doing things.
We have a policeman friend, early thirties, very smart, intelligent, involved in crime investigation. He has a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend but like every Thai guy in the country he is on the lookout for extra sanook. Now the wife invites him round for coffee and during conversation drops a couple of hints that Bee is really interested in him. She then secretly tells Bee that Bobby quite fancies Bee. The Machiavellian maneuvering succeeds. It doesn’t take much effort. Bee chases after anything in a uniform. And the following day Bobby is phoning Bee for a dinner date.
Dee is a real schemer. She encourages Bee with subtle hints about the competition from Bobby’s girlfriend, and Bee being a few years older than the girlfriend has offered something extra in order for Bobby to take the bait.
Little does Bee realise that actually Bobby is the bait and Bee is the fish to be landed. It’s no surprise therefore when Bee fails to return that night from her dinner date with Bobby. They’ve obviously hooked up overnight somewhere. At this point I’m really curious where this is all leading. There’s absolutely no way that Bobby is going to drop his regular girlfriend and invite Bee to shack up with him. And if Bee becomes his mia noy it doesn’t resolve the issue of her being in the house.
Some time in the middle of the next morning Bee turns up at our house and my wife plays her hand. She has lined up my daughter and me as witnesses so I see what happens next.. Dee switches on her shrillest voice so that all the neighbours can hear in the surrounding sois and far beyond. “How can you stay out all night with a married man?” She wants to know. “We’re a respectable family in a respectable neighbourhood and you bring shame on all of us”. Dee lets rip with a tirade of damnation that stuns Bee into silence. Thinking that Dee had condoned her date she is totally confused and with her history as a mia noy and a chaser of men in uniforms she can hardly muster a word in defence.
The kill is swiftly made. Bee is left stuttering and stammering on the doorstep as Dee denounces her sister for being taken in by the sweet charms of the policeman Dee lets off two years of frustration and annoyance. But none of it is about the bad things Bee has done; her laziness, her indolence or her negative vibes. But it is all about how she’s let Bobby fool her into the family losing face. It’s all Bobby’s fault. Hook, line and sinker. Bee packs her bag that morning and makes a couple of phone calls until she finds someone who will let her stay for a couple of days. Incredibly as it may seem, she moves in with the widowed mia luang of the deceased army sergeant. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, they used to live together as a threesome.
Anyway, Bee is gone. Dee drives her to her new home. She gives her a little pocket money and continues to visit every few days bringing some food to eat. But Bee is out of house and the comfortable, well-paid life is over. She pushed her luck too far, even for family. And the story that has been spun to everyone else is that Bee had to leave because the policeman was coming on to her too strong and she needed a place to hide from him and his powerful friends.
It’s all a complete pack of lies but everything is resolved and nobody has lost face. It’s an irony. We all maintain the story of the bad copper but everybody knows the real reason. The real truth is never mentioned. It’s a lie but it’s Thailand so it’s not a lie, if you see what I mean. Well, I just had to ask the wife what would happen if Bobby ever heard the things that were being said about him behind his back. What would Dee tell him then. “Oh I don’t know, I’ll make up something I suppose”, which is a way of saying the net of untruth gets spun ever more denser.
So if Stickman readers find themselves in a situation where they want to get rid of an unwelcome guest then there is always the Thai way. After all, you are in Thailand and playing by their rules probably makes it easier..
Go ahead and make up a story to get rid of the lady in your life. Don’t need to bother with the truth. So she may be lazy and ripping you off, or you may be bored with her and looking for a trade in. It doesn’t really help the extraction process to put the blame on her. She doesn’t have to believe your story but it gives her a hook by which she can save face as she heads for the exit. As Stick says, tell her the problem is with you and not with her.
The best tactic is to say that you’ve lost your job or that your source of income has dried up whatever it may be. If you're in business tell her that the tax people are about to bankrupt you or your partner has ripped off all your assets. Money, and not your good looks or great personality, is the reason why she is with you in the first place and if she thinks you are skint she’ll probably be off like a shot.
Alternatively tell her you have some really nasty illness like HIV positive. If you think this is a terrible untruth and goes against your moral code, then you’re still thinking like a farang. You need to think like a Thai. As I have already pointed out, it isn’t always necessary for your teeruk to believe you, but you’ve offered her any easy exit door whereby she manages to save face in front of her friends and family.
Better still, tell her you’ve lost your job because you’ve developed AIDS and as much as you love her, for her own sake she’d be better off without you. Ease the parting with a little cash. Not too much, mind, you’re bankrupt, remember. Make sure her friends know the fabricated story, if they hear it from you it backs up her story, and then go fishing elsewhere. No big fights; cry a little when you’re waiting for the taxi to arrive that will whisk her away for ever. Put on a big act. In Thailand you do not have to deal with reality; you deal with a reality show.
An absolutely classic Thai story! ONLY IN THAILAND!