“Experiences from ‘The Flow’ (10): Farangs and Asians – Polarized Views.”
By Carl “J.C.” Pantejo, Copyright February 2008
(Author “My Friend Yu – The Prosperity Mentor,” Copyright August 2007. Pantejo – Y.N. Vurce Publishing.)
“Prosperity: The eternal flow of all that’s good in life…”
*Below is the tenth episode in a series of real life events experienced by the author. The only deviations from the truth may be the names of people and places. These stories are also incorporated in “My Friend Yu – the Prosperity Mentor: Book II,” Pantejo – Y.N. Vurce Publishing. Release Date: 2008.
Last week, a distraught Farang (Thai: foreigner) friend of mine called me. He had just broken up with his “nth” girlfriend. He asked me over for a couple of beers. Confused, hurt, and angry, he didn’t know why every relationship he’s had in Thailand has ended up in shambles.
During the course of our conversation, I explained some important differences between Asian and Western cultures to him. After our “beer and bullshit” session, he realized that he’d been blind to the many cultural differences I pointed out. He also saw that many of his relationship problems were the result of his cultural ignorance.
It was plain to see that he was still trying to live his life, especially in the relationship department, as though he were still in the West.
The following article outlines the points I raised during our discussion.
Please Note: Although the words “Thai” and “Thais” appear frequently, the cultural differences depicted in this article can be generalized (justifiably) to most other Asian countries (e.g., the Philippines, Malaysai, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.).
– Invisible Comfort Zones –
“Personal Freedom and Independence” are very difficult concepts for Asian people to understand.
In the West, avoiding unwarranted physical contact is the respectable and courteous thing to do.
Most Westerners have an invisible, 3’ x 3’ “comfort zone” of privacy around them. Others respect this zone and will enter only with the permission of its owner. Even when circumstances preclude maintaining this zone (e.g., subways, buses, and rock concerts, etc.), most Westerners still try to avoid any casual physical contact.
Physical contact (outside of the contact sport’s arena) is reserved for close relatives, friends, and lovers. In fact, it’s a supreme way of showing affection and regarded as a highly private action.
But unseen sectors of privacy do not exist in Asia.
From an early age, especially in big cities, Asians are sandwiched together (in a way that would be totally illegal in the West) in cars, buses, vans, jeepneys, taxis, trains, motorcycle taxis, etc.
It’s not uncommon to see four or five people riding on tiny scooters.
– Claustrophobia? Not in Asia –
From the tiny apartments filled with a dozen people to the overloaded elevators and jam-packed supermarkets, Asians take hordes of people and physical contact between strangers as a normal part of life.
A Westerner not accustomed to this cultural fact can easily decide that all Asians are rude – disrespectful to persons and property. In fact, anyone who has been in Asia for any length of time will tell you to chill out when you inevitably find a stranger comfortably sitting on YOUR parked motorcycle and behaving like it’s his!
That’s just the way it is.
Accept it and move on (or fight it and attract misery).
– Affection or not, significant or not? –
Because of this fundamental difference in the core belief of privacy, interpersonal relationships can be fraught with miscommunication. For example, just because a woman is sitting close to a man (or in some kind of physical contact) does not automatically mean that they are romantic partners.
This becomes a difficult situation for a Western man dating an Asian woman. He seeks out and permits entrance into his “comfort zone.” But what he believes as some strong signs of affection and interest may mean nothing at all to the woman.
Of course, getting the attention and immediate physical contact from a beautiful Asian woman is delightful and VERY significant to the Western man.
“This woman MUST really like me,” the man thinks.
But the level of significance is usually NOT a mutual feeling, especially since physical contact (even among strangers) is considered so commonplace in Asia.
In fact, as radical as this may sound to Westerners, the “act of sex” can be as significant to an Asian woman as brushing her teeth or doing her nails – just something that “has to be done” and might be “semi-fun.”
Also, as insensitive as it may sound to Westerners – because of the widespread poverty, lack of personal privacy, dissimilar sexual and social mores; and most importantly, the totally different view about money in Asia, etc. – an Asian woman will feel more “loved” by receiving some cash or an expensive gift instead of a satisfying romp in the sack! <I really do think this is a wild generalisation that is valid with the type of women that I personally would not want to date. Plenty of Thai women balk at the idea of money wasted on frivolous things – Stick>
Again, this goes against the grain of most Westerners. In their countries, those kinds of women would be considered “suspect” – gold digging mistresses or even cold-hearted prostitutes.
And if the Westerner does not accept these basic cultural differences in most core beliefs (i.e., privacy, money, and sex) AND decides to remain in Asia, he / she will be forever confused, disappointed, taken advantage of, or chronically paranoid and angry.
The differences are neither good nor bad. They just are.
– The Big Mistake –
The BIG MISTAKE that many Westerners make is this: In spite of their surroundings and personal interactions, they forget that Asia IS NOT the West. Sure, many Asian countries are becoming more and more “Westernized” every year; but ASIA IS STILL ASIA.
Asian countries have developed their cultures over thousands of years; an ingrained culture that is resistant to any quick, drastic changes.
Farangs who never forget that they are foreigners and that “ASIA IS ASIA, NOT THE WEST” do well. They are professionally successful and make many friends.
Farangs who stubbornly try to live their life in Asia as though it were the West suffer greatly. They are turned down for jobs and are quite alienated from the people around them (Asians and Farangs alike).
– Respect or Dependency? –
From an early age, Thais are taught to “fit” into a deeply ingrained system of cultural dependency.
Children depend on their parents well into adulthood. It’s common for an adult Thai person (even in their mid-twenties or early thirties), especially unmarried adults, to remain in their parents’ home; saving a lot of money by avoiding big rent bills and large appliance purchases.
But, whether the Thai adult is living with his parents or not, he / she will almost always give a portion of the monthly salary to the parents. The only exception to this rule is the minor percentage of affluent Thais who don’t need the financial support of their children.
So, as soon as the child can earn money, Thai parents expect money from them. Parents setup their personal budgets assuming that their children will provide monthly financial support for them – in perpetuity.
If the money doesn’t materialize, the parents throw in the “ultimate guilt factor” (something shunned in the West) and quickly remind the adult children of all the sacrifices made to raise them.
In this way, the familial bonds are further “strengthened.”
– Family Bonds of Steel –
Over the millennia, Asians have survived overpopulation, poverty, and wars mainly by maintaining a culture that fosters firm familial bonds – bonds that are outrageously rigid and obligatory by Western standards.
In the West, as soon as children become adults, they are expected to provide for themselves. Unless they go to college, the children are no longer the responsibility of the parents. The parents are relieved of their parental duties and revel in their children’s independence.
The adult children enter the workforce and begin to support themselves. THEY ARE NOT OBLIGED TO SUPPORT THEIR AGING PARENTS.
– Wise Advice to all Westerners –
Never get between an Asian woman and her family – YOU WILL LOSE.
“Saam Nuk Bun Khun” is an integral part of Thai culture. This is the unbreakable connection and respect for the parents. Because of conditioning and culture, children will go to great lengths to show their parents how much they love and respect them.
They will work at any job (including prostitution) until exhaustion to send money to their parents. They will live miserly – eating cheap food and living in a stifling, small apartment – to send money to their parents.
Furthermore, if a suitor is equipped to support her and her family, an Asian woman will tolerate an unfulfilling relationship (for years or even a lifetime) with someone they absolutely DO NOT LIKE OR LOVE.
In a less dramatic fashion, younger siblings are treated (and supported) the same way as parents are.
– “Significance” in a Nutshell –
- Asians survive mainly through Family connections
- Logically, if you are not considered “Family,” you are not significant to their survival; therefore, not of any vital importance.
- To be fully considered “Family,” financial support is expected.
- Money is not just “money” in Asia; it can mean EVERYTHING (life / death, love / hate, marriage / bachelorhood, happiness / sadness, etc.)
So don’t be surprised when your Asian girlfriend expects you to “show your love” by supporting her, her parents, and her younger sister or brother.
– Hope for Love? –
The combined effect of all the cultural differences proves insurmountable to most – leading to the quick, but common, demise of the Western / Asian relationship.
Stated bluntly, the vast majority (roughly 90%) of all Western / Asian relationships simply do not work out.
Regardless of the dismal statistics, thousands of people continue to enter into a Western / Asian relationship every year. To them, it (attempting a Western / Asian relationship) is not a hopeless venture.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
There truly is hope for my distraught Farang friend (or any other Westerner who has fallen in love with an Asian)…
– Continued in “Experiences from ‘The Flow” (11) –
“Until next time, find ‘The Flow’ and jump in!”
Your Friend in this Intrepid Journey called Life,
Carl “J.C.” Pantejo
Very interesting and I agree with most of the points you make. What I would say however is that for some time I have been telling guys that they should marry a Thai woman of a similar education level to them and who is somewhat Westernised. This reduces the inherent cultural differences and misunderstandings that you allude to. Anyone seeking out a "traditional Thai woman" is going to face the multitude of difficulties you have well described.