Readers' Submissions

Dispelling Myths



I’m going to throw some dirt around, because I am sick of Thais thinking they are better than anyone else when, in fact, often the opposite is true.

I have a UK-based Visa card. When it came up for renewal, despite the fact I had used the account for 25 years, they told me they were going to close it. Why? Because I had changed my address to one in Thailand and they refused under any circumstances to send the card here. They told me the country is one of the worst in the world for credit card fraud. Go, Thailand!

How about the myth of how close Thai families are. Some who might disagree are those tens of thousands of girls who have had babies and then been dumped by their husbands, or who have dumped him because of his drinking and womanising. There appear to be far more single mothers here than anywhere else I've encountered, and far more mothers prepared to dump their offspring on someone else (mother, grandmother). I don't call that close. Many make the excuse that they have to go to Bangkok / Pattaya to make money, but the greater number who do not expose that as a sham. Still, many do end up in the farang bars looking for a new start, believing that foreigners are not only able to take care of them much better financially, but they are far more trustworthy.

Oh, and let’s not talk about the poor girls having to sell their bodies to survive. They probably often earn far more than their customers. How many of you earn US$100 an hour? That’s what some of them demand, and often receive, from idiots with more money than sense. Most charge $50 or more an hour for short-time, and that’s a pretty good wage too. That’s not even taking into account their collection of ‘sponsors’ from overseas who send them ridiculous amounts each month so they don’t have to work in the bars any longer. Sure they’re going to give up the chance of $50 plus an hour, plus salary, plus drink commissions. Sure. ‘Just for you, darlink’.

It is not unusual, to say the least, for husbands to have a woman on the side, either as another wife or during ‘leisure activities’. Remember, farangs only see a tiny fraction of the sex scene in Thailand, the tip of the iceberg. Usually it is all very discrete, but extremely widespread. Even in the smallest towns there will be somewhere, a flea-pit hotel perhaps, with a bar or cafe where ladies of the night hang out for customers. But it’s often not just behind closed doors, in hidden away side streets, or behind the curtains of the short-time hotels. The enormous massage parlours sometimes employ hundreds of girls, and the multi-floored places are lit up at night with thousands of lights. Who are the customers, hum? You can be sure most of them have a wife at home, who often feels she has no choice but to accept it, outwardly at least. Because women are still largely second-class citizens. Domestic violence is common, especially after the husband has been out drinking.

On that subject, it is absolutely ridiculous that whisky and other strong alcohol is so cheap, resulting in such a drink problem in Thailand. The government's answer? Ban sales between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. Yep. That’ll do it. You really have to wonder at the utter stupidity of the people who sat around a table and thought that one up.

According to a social researcher, Penchan Pradapmuk, who obtained figures from various agencies including the police and the Public Health Ministry, there has been a dramatic rise in injuries and deaths from domestic violence. She came to the conclusion that a third of married women are victims of domestic crime. She also quoted the Children’s Rights Protection Foundation as reporting that over 30 percent of children receiving help from them were victims of domestic violence. And that’s before we even look at the number of times we read that a child has been sexually assaulted by a relative or school teacher. Often, the school even tries to cover it up by saying the child is lying. How do you fake a sexual assault?

How about all those girls who go off to the cities leaving their kids behind for someone else to look after. Maybe, maybe, that indicates closeness insofar as there is a family member willing to take on the job. It also indicates a lack of responsibility to bring up your own child. I have a sister-in-law who married a Chinese and later threw him out for no real reason other than she got tired of him. They had a daughter, who she promptly sent off to her home village for others to take care of. Then she had a fling with someone she met through the internet, had another baby, split from the guy and sent the kid off to her village too. She has him home in Bangkok when it’s convenient. The daughter is now being brought up by her ex-husband and his new wife. At least he has a sense of responsibility.

My wife gets on very well with all members of her family, even the black sheep sister. But when they come to visit she locks any valuables in a drawer. ‘Just in case’, she says. How is that a representation of close family ties. I believe that would be unheard of in the west. How can you be close when you don’t trust someone.

And what other countries have you been to where so many homes have bars at the windows? It’s because no-one trusts anyone. We farangs know we are always a target for the cheats, but we shouldn’t take it personally. Thais cheat and steal from everybody, including their own. It’s a national pastime. What must it be like to live in a society where you can trust no-one?

Maybe that is because of the wonderful example set by the biggest criminals in the country, the police. Extortion is normal and everyday, but they also get involved in drug dealing, assassinations, fraud, protection, harassment, running or supporting supposedly illegal businesses like prostitution or gambling. If a country cannot trust its police force, the very people they need to go to for protection, then the whole fabric of society breaks down. Combine that with the politicians who are largely in the job not to help their fellow citizens and country but for their own image and to milk it for as much so-called prestige and kickbacks as they can, and it is little wonder the people think that if those people have no respect for the law, then why should they?

Tell me one thing, one thing, the Thais have ever given to the world. The famous silk industry was rescued from obscurity by an American, Jim Thompson. The food is famous and well-liked, but is largely based on Chinese and Indian. And, actually, much of it is very unhealthy. Have you seen how much is deep-fried? And everything has so much sugar in it. No wonder so many Thais have such awful skin. It must be the acne capital of the world. Thais cannot compete on the world stage in anything. The Thai footballers who got a chance at Thaksin City Football Club certainly got a wake-up call. They are returning home, homesick after finding they couldn’t communicate with anyone. Perhaps someone should get the Thais to pick up a book, without pictures if they can find one, and look at the page. Then look at a full stop. The page is the world. The full stop is the number of people who understand Thai. If you want to communicate with anyone outside of the country, learn English. Thais are, though, I believe, the world’s largest producer of rice. Big deal.

Thais not only cheat their own, but they must be one of the most racist people in the world. Not just in the way they have so many restrictions against foreigners, but the way they set up barriers amongst their own if they come from the wrong part of the country, the wrong level of society, have the wrong (dark) colour skin, have the wrong kind of job, are the wrong age (you cannot question your elders). You are discriminated against and despised if you are poor, no matter what kind of person you are. The poorest are often even exploited, by gangs who control and steal from the beggars in the street (including those sweet and pathetic little kids who sit on the bridges at midnight wai-ing everyone). Or the motorcycle taxi guys who often have to pay a fee to those who lurk in the shadows. And so on. And so on.

Other things just plain annoy me. Why, in some areas of the centre of the capital (Sukhumvit, for example), are there virtually no street lights to help you avoid all the obstacles such as hanging wires, holes, uneven pavements and even old street signs that have been removed, except for the bottom foot or so left sticking out of the ground? Why are Thai models always termed supermodels, when none of them are? How do so many people get to sing on TV when they can hardly hit a note and would be laughed off the stage at a village fair? Why do people stand in the rain 100 metres in front of a bus stop that provides shelter? Why can the government not provide clean drinking water to its citizens, instead of making them struggle from stores or burn up energy using cars or taxis to get the bottled stuff home? The appalling service in many stores, from people who haven’t got the slightest interest in either what they are selling or in helping you buy it. I have lost count of the number of times I have walked into a store ready to spend, and simply given up. People telling you what you want to hear to avoid conflict instead of giving you the correct information, which at best gets you nowhere and at worst can lose you time and money as well as your temper. And let’s not even start with the inability to provide the future of the country with a decent education and the opportunity to compete on the world stage in anything at all.

A South Korean colleague was here once, and after a few days trying to cope she summed up the country perfectly in one sentence. ‘The standards here are so low’, she said. It’s sad. Really sad.

Because the country could have so much more to offer. There is such wonderful scenery, and if the Thais can be educated to maintain it instead of strewing it with rubbish or destroying it in the pursuit of the tourist dollar it would be even better. So many of the people, especially outside of the cities, are wonderful and honest.

And, of course, there is the royal family. The inspiration they provide, particularly to the poor who have so little else to brighten their lives, is staggering. I cannot help but compare the Thai royal family to that of my home, England. One is so obviously in touch with the people, and one isn’t. I don’t need to tell you which is which. One is always out and about, observing, studying, advising, inspiring. One isn’t. Some observers will feel it is silly that no one is allowed to be critical of the royal family (as if any criticism was due!), so it was wonderful to hear His Majesty himself say that he is not above criticism. There is not a wiser man in the entire Kingdom. He and his family supply in abundance the inspiration the Thai people cannot find anywhere else, so it is little wonder they are so, quite rightly, admired. And if everyone paused to think of His Majesty before asking for a bribe or cheating or mis-treating their fellow citizens, showed the honour he and his family has shown, the country would be a far better place.

Stickman's thoughts:

Your observations may come as something of a surprise for anyone new to Thailand, but it would be very hard to argue against them.

What people need to understand is that observations like this are made because we know that with a little effort, things could be better in Thailand for almost everyone. It is sad that there are so many problems which could be solved if people were prepared to face up to them.

at: bangkokbarry@bangkokbarry.com.