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A Thai Girlfriend – The Real Deal

  • Written by TomP
  • December 29th, 2006
  • 9 min read



Being married to a Thai woman: just another typically Thai experience.

This is how Union Hill’s recent contribution ends.

Oh well. Is there really anything “typically Thai”, I wondered after reading it?

My situation is somewhat different from Union Hill’s, which certainly explains some of the differences in the behaviour of our respective partners. I am not married to my girlfriend but we have been together for almost 3 years now. I met her in Thailand but we are mostly living in two European countries (yes, I spend a fortune on visas). She didn’t speak a single word of English (or any other farang language, for that matter) when I met her so to this day we almost exclusively communicate in Thai.

My girlfriend doesn’t have a dodgy background or any tattoos, either. She doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t gamble. She is very thrifty and doesn’t even look at items unless they are discounted at least 50%. Both in Thailand and in my country.

But this is about as far as the obvious similarities go.

If Union Hill’s wife is conservative, then my girlfriend surely is much more progressive. Yes, she did the towel thing, too, for a couple of weeks. But nowadays, she chooses from her drawer full of lingerie rather than the towel stack. She likes to wear high heels, short skirts and sleeveless shirts. She likes to be beautiful and sexy. Once, when we visited one of Bangkok’s famous temples, it was her, the Thai, and not me, the farang, who had to borrow some “decent” clothes in order to be allowed in. She doesn’t mind holding my hand in public, nor my hugging or kissing her. She would like to watch sex movies – but unfortunately for her, *I* don’t like them.

She does not pray, and the fact that there are no Buddhist temples anywhere near our home doesn’t seem to bother her much. She does have a little idol, though, whom she takes with her whenever she expects difficulties of some kind. And she is not entirely free of “typical Thai” superstition. For example, she strongly believes that dreams will tell her something about the future.

Not only by Thai standards, she is an honest, direct, and outspoken person. She never made it a secret that she would not even dream of staying with me or any other farang were it not for the money. But at (back then) 31 years of age, with a younger sister who one day would inherit her parents’ home, with increasing difficulties to find a job as a seamstress or waitress because of her age, and with a family to take care of, she did not see any other possibility. She does not hide that she values her family more than me, that her most important duty is to bring in money for the family, and that she would do almost everything necessary to meet these obligations. I guess that this is the norm for any Thai girl from a poor background, whether they openly admit it or not. It is also the reason why I will never marry her.

But she does take care of me. Good care. No, she doesn’t put the toothpaste on my brush but would certainly do so if I asked her. She does all the cooking, washing, cleaning. She polishes my shoes every morning, which must be a big deal for her because little time as it takes, it is what she always mentions when she wants to point out how well she takes care of me. (My mother had done the same for my father, so maybe I wasn’t as appreciative as I should have been…)

I must admit that this “taking care” thing initially rather bothered me. I am a strong believer in male-female equal rights — the only problem being that many women don’t seem to realize that equal rights come with equal obligations. I am a grown man. I can take care of myself perfectly well.

I have never had a girlfriend who “took care of me” before. It is generally not the relationship model I am looking for. But I had to change my mind. She is a very industrious person – you might call her a workaholic – and would love to work and make her own money, but due to legal restrictions, a lack of any formal education to speak of, as well as language barriers, she can’t. So deviating from what I had considered a normal, “modern” relationship before, I am paying an awful lot of money for her – for her living, for her family, for her flights to and from Thailand, for her visas, for her language school. So I might as well get something out of it. And admittedly those household chores have never been my favourite pastime anyway…

She is blissfully unaware of many things outside her immediate environment. At 12 years of age, she went to Bangkok for work, and has spent much of her adult life there. But she never made it beyond the industrial suburbs. She had no idea that there was a major river running through Bangkok. She had never visited any of the temples or other sights. She didn’t know any of the big shopping malls in the Siam square area. She had never ridden the skytrain. She didn’t even know that there were lots of farang in that town. She had never heard of Pratunam market, either.

She owns a number of “typically Thai” fake items but has no idea what they are. She had bought her “Louis Vuitton” bags for a few baht because she liked their look but has never heard of Louis Vuitton. Consequently, she had difficulties to understand why I suggested to her to hide these bags inside her suitcase when passing through European customs. She knows that shirts “with the crocodile” are the most expensive, but when I asked her how much they were, the answer was 200 baht. So she was obviously referring to fakes and has no idea what the real stuff would cost.

Before she first visited me, she had never seen a ceramic cooktop, a vacuum cleaner, a steam iron, or a European-style washing machine. But despite her lack of formal education, she is quite intelligent and the quickest learner I have ever seen. I only had to explain these household items once to her, and she began to use them as if she had never done anything else all her life.

(Obviously, she hadn’t seen snow before, either. So when we went sledging for the first time, I had to run after her sledge because she had had no idea that it would run downhill without her if she didn’t hold on to it. But she learned so quickly that already on the second run I had to fight hard to come in before her.)

Contrary to common “typically Thai” clichés, I had to tell her something about hygiene, too. For example, that it can’t hurt to wash one’s hands when coming home or before preparing food. But given that she comes from a dirt-poor Isaan family and had not enjoyed the benefits of a bathroom or a toilet when she was a child, I guess she can be excused. I don’t want to begin to imagine what this must have been like – the entire family sh..ting and peeing in the backyard. They didn’t have the money for shoes, either, so they must have been walking in each other’s dirt… Fortunately, things have much improved since then. While they are still far from rich, her parents at least have added an Isaan-style bathroom now, and I actually find their house quite comfortable.

Her first visit must have been a huge culture shock. She was amazed to see that not all farang are rich. That there are beggars in the streets. That we have to work for our money, too. It took her some time to accept that I usually don’t come home from work before 8 pm. She laughed out loudly when she first saw a man wearing a suit (indicating a good income) on a bicycle (indicating a very poor person). She could not see why I was walking 6 km to and from my office every day when I had both a car and a motorcycle. She still doesn’t fully understand why my father, whose income is just a fraction of my own, usually gives me money when we meet. She almost collapsed when I first took her for a short hike that covered an altitude difference of a mere 300 m. She could not believe that I didn’t have a TV.

This was not the sabai sabai farang life she had imagined. Everything seemed to be upside down from what she was used to in Thailand.

But she adapted quickly. I have a very active life and she goes with me everywhere. Business trips, business dinners, opera, concerts, theatre, museums, movies, sailing, bicycle tours, motorcycle tours, mountain hikes in summer and winter, swims in oceans, rivers and lakes etc. etc. You name it. Everywhere. She knows how to behave in all those places and if she is uncertain, she asks me. Sometimes she has difficulties to hide that she would never do these things were it not for me, that she would rather spend her days comfortably in front of a TV. But generally she takes it with a good sense of humour. “I am most likely the first Thai woman to ever walk this path.”

She has excellent eyes and a great understanding for nature. We once visited a museum of natural history, and she could name pretty much every exhibit. Boring. She only needs to look at a river and can immediately point out all the fish in there – fish that I would never have noticed myself. The same with birds in a forest.

But don’t get me wrong: She is no nature lover. Not at all. Nature is a means to provide her with food, nothing more. Hiking a mountain trail? What for? Complete waste of time. Going for a walk in the forest? To look at what? Trees? They are all alike anyway. But she can spend hours, days, even weeks picking fruit, nuts, or mushrooms. She still doesn’t understand why people are buying fruit in the supermarkets while plenty of it rots in the fields and forests. And I guess she does have a point there.

She is the most wonderful women I have ever met.

Stickman's thoughts:

It is great to hear about a guy who is happy with his woman.