Readers' Submissions

More Miscellaneous Musings

  • Written by Sawadee2000
  • December 24th, 2007
  • 18 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


If you’ve managed to make it through my last submission “How it all began” without falling asleep, perhaps you’ll make it through this one as well! I had intended to end the last piece with some more observations on this marvellous land of contradictions, but to be honest, I simply ran out of steam. I’ve been able to write what I have because my daring wife has been visiting her family in Buriram. But she’ll be back in a few days, and as much as I’ll be happy to have her back, her return will effectively put an end to my writing. It’s really hard to write about some rather delicate subjects with your spouse looking over your shoulder! With that introduction, here we go!

Part 1. The future of Thailand

Let me say from the outset, that I truly love this place I’ve made my new home. Can it be frustrating to live here? Absolutely! Hardly a week goes by without an incident or two that makes me shake my head in disbelief and mutter to myself that old mantra, “Welcome to Thailand” Despite the fact the government of LOS can barely tolerate my presence, despite the fact it’s almost impossibly difficult to earn a living, and despite the fact that Thais insist in putting Nam Pla in everything, I love this place! So, until the government makes the final change to the visa laws that drive us all away, this is home. I may be the black sheep in the family, but I am part of the family through marriage, and though they might not much care for their Farang brother-in-law, they’re stuck with him. And because I do consider myself a “member of the family”, I feel I have to right to criticize how the family’s doing from time to time. With that in mind, here’s my take on the future of the family.

From my last piece, you know how I feel about the Thai education system. It is sadly letting down the next generation who must soon pick up the mantle of responsibility and lead Thailand into a new era. But the very idea of leading is an anathema in Thai society, in fact one is nurtured in this culture is to do the exact opposite. Shut up, do as you’re told, don’t make waves. Don’t be an innovator. Follow the crowd. Be a “yes man”, and maybe you will collect a government pension someday. Above all, NEVER express a contrary opinion, or criticize a superior!

The stranglehold of “face”, combined with its education system, and the all pervasive system of corruption are keeping Thailand an unimportant (no trivial!) member of the Asian community. Are Thai’s inherently less intelligent than the Japanese, South Koreans, Taiwanese and Singaporeans ? I don’t think so. Why are they lions and Thailand a mangy cat? Let’s examine the self-inflicted wounds that Thailand are suffering from.

1. face: Most everyone in every society wants to act in an honorable way. No one likes to humiliate themselves. But Thais have carried the concept of “face” to a pathologic extreme. They are unwilling or incapable of expressing an opinion. They are so afraid of embarrassing themselves that they would rather go down in flames rather than risk even the possibility of losing their precious “face”!

For those of you are teachers in Thailand; how many times have you asked your students after you’ve been explaining something, “Khun kow-jai? Do you understand? <Never ask this question as a teacher. You should rather ask concept checking questionsStick> It’s a simple enough question, but apparently an unanswerable one! No student will dare to say that they don’t understand! I’ve always made it clear that I will never be upset or angry if they don’t understand something. If they don’t understand when I explain something this way, I am happy to try another way, and another way, until they do understand! It doesn’t do any good. They are paralyzed with the prospect of humiliation or punishment. So they silently plod their way to failure. When many of my classes were not understanding their assignments, I had my darling wife translate the homework into Thai. After I slowly read the assignment in English, I called a student up to read in Thai to read it in Thai. Immediately the quality of the work improved dramatically. Students were enjoying my classes. I was sparing them the loss of face. Hell, I knew they weren’t going to admit they didn’t understand, so I took the initiative to help them. Were my Thai superiors please with the students’ improvement? No they were not! “Why are you explaining something in Thai! They are supposed to be learning English!” (Wecome to Thailand!) Yes, they are supposed to be learning English, but I need to start at their level. They do not have the vocabulary to understand me, get it? Let them understand the concept, and then try to fulfill it. “Old fashioned educational philosophy” indeed!

This fear of losing face has greater ramification at every level of Thai society. When you are surrounded with yes-men, the consequences can be disastrous! Important decisions about economic, political and social policy need to be debated. Flaws need to be pointed out before implementation. When your only goal in life is to avoid criticizing anyone failures are inevitable. If a Thai was driving to an important meeting with his boss, and his boss told him to turn left, when he should be turning right, the Thai would rather go the wrong way and miss the meeting than tell his boss that he is wrong! The famous phrase, “Failure is not an option” is not applicable in LOS!

2. Corruption: Corruption is hardly unique to Thailand. You can find it in every country on the planet. In America, members of Congress are routinely bought off by lobbyists to influence legislation. But you rarely see serious corruption on local levels. Envelopes of money being passed may happen, but it is the exception rather than the rule. Thailand has taken corruption to amazing levels. It permeates every level of society. Children learn, practically at their mother’s breast that the way to succeed, is by slipping an envelope of cash to the right person. Suddenly all doors are open! A bit like paying ransom to a kidnapper, or “protection” money to an extortionist, once you start down that road, there is never an end to the payments. No matter what your level of competence or expertise is, you cannot advance in any Thai organization without envelopes being passed on a regular basis. (Some of them will be fat envelopes!) Want to get your child into a top high school? Want to change a poor grade into a perfect one? No problem! Want a bureaucrat or a policeman to “look the other way” No problem! In LOS, money doesn’t just “talk”, it sings, dances smiles and wais!

Some of the results of this level of corruption can be deadly. There is a parking garage in Lampang that I will not enter! The vibes of poor construction have told to stay far, far away from this place! Whoever built this place did more than cut a few corners he whittled it down to a mere shell! Thank whatever deity you like, or just plain luck, that Thailand has never built a nuclear power plant. Think cracks in the tarmac at Suvarnapumi, but on a much more horrendous scale. Specially require hardened concrete would have as much strength as a sand castle! Precision welds? “We don’t need no stinking precision welds”! And the “professionals” operating the place? Products of a piss poor education system that didn’t even “earn” their degree, and got their jobs through bribery and patronage? Man, if I ever hear plans to build a nuke in Thailand, I am heading for the hills pronto!

Because of the inability to risk face, Thailand will never have to worry about “whistle blowers. Let me give you an example right next door to me. Remember The Monkey? Oh yes, he’s still around, even thought he leaves me alone! Well last year he hired a sleazy builder to build two houses here at H*****y H***s. This guy is a real piece of work. Let’s call him the Shoemaker. (No disrespect for real shoemakers!) Anyway, one day the building inspector, who you might remember became a friend when building our home, came by to warn us the structure holding on the roof next door wasn’t up to snuff. In fact, he advised being on our guard if a severe storm ever hit. (Luckily our car port is between us and the defective roof) The inspector confessed over a Chang or two that he wanted to do something when the roof was being constructed, but his hands were tied by the powers that be. The owners, who live in Bangkok, and are rarely there, are oblivious to the problem.

As to the house on the other side of us; during foundation work, the hole was not filled with sand and compacted before concrete was poured. Instead the Shoemaker filled it with construction debris, rubble, broken bits of brick and concrete, and covered with a thin layer of sand, which masked the junk underneath. The whole thing was unstable and eventually will shift as time goes by. Now my wife and I had met the folks whose home it was, and they are very nice folks. I wanted to warn them about what the Shoemaker was doing, but my sweet wife wouldn’t let me! Shut up and mind your own business. She was genuinely afraid of serious repercussions (shall we say revenge) if we “blew the whistle”. Maybe her concerns were founded, since “the Farang is always wrong”, but I galled me to let these poor people down!

3. apathy: Apathy, like corruption is hardly unique to Thailand. As the next American election cycle approaches, I’m depressed know I can count on an appalling low number of citizens to exercise their privilege and actually vote! (While the good folks in Burma are ground once more under the heal of despotism) But compared to Thais, Americans are paragons of concern. Apathy is a truly an insidious condition. Life, by its very nature demands action, and we ignore the world around us at our peril.

Unfortunately the longer you live a life of no concern, the harder it is to respond to danger, no matter how imminent.

So, what is your apathy level? How much is too much ? What does it take to get you up and off your ass? How about a military coup? I mean if a bunch of guys with guns suspend the constitution and throw out your elected leader, would that rile you up a little bit? What would you do about it? At the very least, would you take to the streets in protest? Not if you’re Thai. I suppose that after the 8th or 9th time this happens you learn to just go on with your daily life. Apathy along with concern about loss of face; what a combination! I really don’t much about Thai politics, and I don’t much care if Mr. Thaksin was corrupt or not corrupt. Certainly most Thais didn’t care. To them all politicians are corrupt. I once asked a Thai friend if he truly believed that. He replied, “Do fish swim in the water?” Thais think, “well besides the fact that a politician is corrupt, can he do anything for me?” The overwhelming majority of Thai people seemed to say yes concerning Thaksin. The fact that Thai Rak Thai was banned didn’t make a ripple through out the land. Can you imagine what the outcry in your country if something similar happened? Granted that the police and the army have all the guns, but to just lie down like a dog and silently take it? Not likely back in Farangland!

And the future? What will happen when HRH passes away (May he live a hundred years!) Will the disparate factions unite under their new monarch? Who knows? Perhaps apathy will rule the day and life in Thailand will continue to stumble on. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Part 2. Lets Talk about Sex!

And on a lighter note…everybody’s got an opinion or two on the subject, and so here is my highly biased, completely unscientific take on the world of P4P in LOS.

Man is not a monogamous animal by nature. Like the rest of the mammals, men want sex, and plenty of it! Hopefully with as many partners as possible. That is nature’s way of mixing up DNA and spreading variations far and wide, and in the long run improve the species. That’s the scientific basis for why men are hopelessly horny 99% of the time. So much for the intellectual pursuit of truth.

Some Thais would have you believe that is the “dirty farangs” that are responsible for Thailand having the reputation as the sex capitol of the world. Granted that a hell of a lot of farangs regularly enjoy doing their part to help the Thai economy, those Thai critics give is far too much credit for creating the sex industry.

Long before the first pale-faced pot-bellied, beer-swilling Farang turned up on the Siamese shore, Thai men were doing yeoman’s effort in supporting the “world’s oldest profession.” As I write this I’m looking at in my Jumbo English-Thai Dictionary by Gordon H. Allison (I highly recommend it) at the listing under the word wife. There is a note that says, “Note. These terms should be used with care, because the understanding is that there are one or more ”minor wives” Under polygamy there is a notation: There are many puns regarding the “minor wife”. For example, a tongue-in-cheek question is to ask a man is "Do you like having few wives or many wives?”

At this moment, in every city and village in LOS, Thai men are happily getting “a piece”. And guess what, they are paying for it! I have no idea where in Lampang they are going, and I don’t want to know! For Farangs, Lampang is strictly a destination to visit temples or elephants. There are plenty of drinking establishments. There are a few karaoke bars. There are many places to get a massage. But if you walk into any of them looking for P4P, you will be disappointed. Oh, the pretty karaoke hostesses will happily snuggle up to you while you enjoy a drink or two (for a fee), but under no circumstances will they be going home with you! <Are you sure?! – Stick> And yet I have no doubt in some out of the way places the Thais are getting it on.

Stickman once threw out the number 29,265 as the possible number of working girls in LOS. I know that even he thinks that this figure is ridiculously low. (Hey Stick, in your calculations you forgot to factor in the massage girls and escorts!) He of course was only looking at the major destinations that farangs visit. I can’t even imagine the true number if you factor in the girls servicing the Thais exclusively. It’s got to be off the scale! So those holier-than-thou Thai critics should stop sneering at us, and start looking among themselves for someone to hang the term “dirty” on!

I wasn’t joking when I talked earlier about Farangs doing their part to help the Thai economy. Don’t believe me? Let’s imagine a scenario where there was no P4P for Farangs. A decree comes from the highest level saying that all this must end now. The boys in brown go out and permanently shut down every go-go bar, massage parlor, etc. Every working girl is rounded up. Suddenly P4P is history. What would happen to the Thai economy? Well how much money do Farangs pump (no pun intended ) into the economy? I haven’t the foggiest idea. Hopefully someone out there more knowledgeable than me will venture a figure, but it must be a pretty damned large figure!

Okay, let’s “follow the money”. Even though TAT would cringe to hear the truth, a lot of guys are here for the girls, period! How many of them fly Thai Airways? Let’s start our hypothetical tally with the money spent with TA. Next our hypothetical mongers need to take a taxi to their accommodations and back to the airport, and while we’re at it, let’s factor in taxi fares while they’re in town. Then you have the money spent on hotels. A guy’s got to eat, so factor in restaurants, street vendors, runs to the supermarket etc. A guy gets thirsty too, so calculate the money spent on alcohol. If those drinks are being consumed in a go-go bar, those are going to be some pricey drinks! Oh, and don’t forget the lady drinks! Before we leave the bar there are bar fines to pay. And in some massage establishments there is a farang surcharge. Then there is the money paid directly to the girls. If you and your lady are getting along, you might take her out for an evening’s entertainment. Dinner, dancing, drinks etc. If you’re having a real GFE you might spend the day sightseeing, so you have admission fees to pay, and souvenirs to buy. If your new girl friend has been really nice, you might want to buy her a gift or two. Gold is always popular with the ladies! Speaking of gifts, even though you’re here to play, you’re going to have to do some shopping for friends and family. If you’re at the ocean, there are lots of ways to spend money during the day, boat tours, jet skiing, scuba or snorkeling etc. All that sex might necessitate a genuine massage or two to get the kinks out. I’m undoubtedly forgetting a lot of other ways that a monger might drop some thousands of baht in between close encounters of the erotic kind.

How long does the average monger spend in LOS? I have no idea, but id you’re coming from a distance, he’s probably here for at least a week to ten days?

Where does the money go? It goes everywhere! It percolates through the whole economy. What would happen if that money dried up? Nothing very good. Like it or not P4P puts a lot of bowls of rice on the table! And of course we are still talking about Farang money. Oh, and we still haven’t mentioned the millions of baht that Farangs, whether through generosity or stupidity, send their little darlings each and every month! How much cash is the Thai contribution to the P4P economy? It must be enormous!

Okay, I’m waiting to hear from some mongering CPAs out there! How much does a little fooling around mean to the GNP of LOS?

Is it no wonder that the “powers that be” tolerate the naughty night-life? How many prominent officials are not only enjoying a little piece of a** themselves, but also a piece of the action? In addition to actual investment in naughty establishments, we’re talking a serious amount of “protection money”.

I was only joking earlier about a theoretical shut-down of P4P. It ain’t never going to happen! There is just too much money involved. And besides, the government is mostly made up of men, and men understand that the “privileges” of being a member of that gender! Oh for show, they need to issue condemnations. (always of the Farangs. The Thai factor is never mentioned!) Once in a while the boys in brown will be sent out to make life miserable, just because they can. Now the politicians can point “actions” they’ve taken to stamp out a great evil. Give me a break!

Thailand is positively schizophrenic when it comes to sexuality. On one hand, being a Buddhist society, it condemns promiscuity on the other it heartily endorses it. For example, take a look at school uniforms. From grammar school through high school, girls are required to wear matronly uniforms. Skirts are down to the ankles, and blouses are smocks are designed to hide the fact that girls actually have breasts. Thus the virtue of Thai maidens is protected! However when these same girls start college, all don short tight skirts, and tight blouses! Overnight their sexuality goes from being hidden to being flaunted! And what kind of outfits are even those smock-wearing high school girls wearing when their not in school? Some pretty sexy stuff! And why not? Look at what they see paraded across Thai music videos, TV shows and the pages of those ubiquitous gossip magazines. Sexy girls, not wearing much and shaking their booty for all the world to see! So sex is both a forbidden fruit and one that’s widely available in the marketplace. Welcome to Thailand!

Stickman's thoughts:

A lot of really good, keen observations. Hard to disagree with much at all.