Stickman Readers' Submissions August 5th, 2008

Why Do They Hate Us So?

Farang or falang, say it anyway you want. For most of us it’s nearly impossible to go through an entire day without hearing someone whisper that word as you walk down the street. No matter how many years I’ve lived here, whenever I hear that word I still feel as though I might have grown an extra head during the night or have toilet paper stuck to my shoe.

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Like it or not we are a presence here in LOS. Sometimes we are liked, sometimes despised, sometimes tolerated with amusement (or bewilderment). In places like Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai we may barely turn a head. “Up Country” people may openly stare. Even after 10 years of visiting my wife’s village in Buriram, children still stare at me like I just stepped off a flying saucer!

In any case there are often a whole lot of assumptions that Thais rightly or wrongly believe about farangs in general. Trying to sake many of these ingrained myths is like trying to shake off a determined soi dog. Thais still believe that;

All farangs are wealthy. (My in-laws are still convinced I have a secret cache of money stashed away somewhere!) <You mean you *don't* have such a stash?! I would suggest many do!Stick>

All farangs (that is to say men) are sex starved and enjoy the company of prostitutes.

All farangs cannot speak or understand a word of Thai, therefore can be talked about right under their noses.

All farangs “do not understand our culture”, that is to say we actually question how and why things are often done in a slip-shod manner.

With all the supercilious smiling and waiing that Thais are so fond of doing, it may not be all that obvious that many Thais really don’t like us very much. The question is why?

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that for quite a long time. That’s what I intend to talk about in this submission. Undoubtedly my take on this will generate a comment or two. Please feel free to e-mail me with your opinion. I actually answer all letters. While it's impossible not to generalize to some degree, I hope that I will not come off as simplistic.

I should say from the get go that apart from “The Monkey”, no one that I know here in Thailand hates me, at least not enough to wish me (or do me) any harm. Oh, perhaps the English department at Lampang K********e School, where I first taught, has no great love for me…..or any other farang who is not a brown-nosed lapdog. I will in fact have more to say about that “fine group of educators” a bit later.

So who exactly are the “they” and the “us” that I referred to in the title of this piece? Let’s start with “us”, the farangs. There are so many types of farangs who come to the shores of Thailand that it would take a doctoral thesis to even scratch the surface of who comes here, let alone why. For simplicity’s sake, let’s concentrate on two major groups: tourists and ex-pats.

Once again there are many types of tourists who come to Thailand.

First there are the tens of thousands who might serve as the poster children for the Thai Tourist Authority. Singly, in couples, in whole families and in tour groups, these are the kind of visitors that Thais salivate over. They’ve come here to experience a unique and exotic culture. They adore visiting temples, shopping, laying on golden beaches with a cool drink in their hand, shopping, eating spicy food, shopping, seeing cultural shows, Muay Thai, elephants, and oh, did I mention shopping? These folks generally stay in nice hotels, eat at expensive restaurants, hire tour guides to show them around….and spend a hell of a lot of money. Many are generous tippers. Most are unfailingly polite. After a week or, with fond memories in their hearts, zillions of pictures in their cameras, and suitcases bursting with Thai silk and other souvenirs …….go home! If they were sufficiently enchanted, and many are, they may return for a second or even third vacation in “The Land of Smiles”. Many will give glowing accounts of exotic Thailand that will convince many of their family and friends to make a trip of their own. And the Thais will be there to welcome them with open arms and beaming faces.

Then there of course other varieties of tourists. There are other “conventional” tourists who perhaps are not quite as polite as those I’ve just described. Okay let’s get real and say that these folks are obnoxious louts, and they come from every corner of Farangland. (They also come from places like the Middle East and the rest of Asia, but they aren’t the topic of this piece.) Your rude tourists have no respect for anyone’s culture, including the Thais. They are loud. They complain about everyone and everything. They expect the Thais to run about and cater to their every whim. They think every Thai is out to cheat them. They are notoriously cheap. It’s not hard to imagine that every Thai is happy to see these assholes go far, far away.

There are many backpackers who visit Thailand every year. They range from nice folks looking to get off the beaten track and have a real adventure to your stereotypical unwashed hippies. And let’s not forget your basic bums. And whether they are simply careful with their money or just plain cheap Charlies, the locals are not likely to be putting their kids into universities based on their trade.

Last but hardly least are those who come here for the seemingly inexhaustible supply of pretty available girls. These folks run the gamete from basically nice guys out simply to enjoy a frolic or two with the local lasses, to drunken barbarians who don’t behave much better than animals. In any case, although the T.A.T. would rather choke than acknowledge it, the P4P industry is a huge economic engine that shows no sign of slowing down. Without it the country would be hurting. That is why it will never be shut down by the Thai government. While some mongers may be stingy, the majority of them drop enormous amounts of hard cash while here in the Kingdom.

What does the average Thai think of a bunch of over the hill, pot bellied white whales strutting around with young Thai girls in tow? While many might secretly disapprove of this public display of lechery, in the end they know what side of their bread is buttered. Hence all those smiling faces as another fine specimen of Caucasian humanity plunks down thousands of baht in the local gold shops buying a little trinket or two for their “special friend”.

And lest the Thais get too indignant about the pale skinned farangs “corrupting” Thai culture, let’s not forget that at least 90% of working girls here cater exclusively to Thai men!

So all in all I think that while Thais may not entirely “love” all of the tourists who flock here each year, they would sure be crying into their som tam if the white hoards stopped coming. (And given the soaring price of fuel, those numbers may drop dramatically real soon! $200 barrels of oil are on the way!)

So much for tourists. Now it’s on into the other half of “us”, namely the ex-pats. We are a motley group, coming from every corner of Farangland to these tropical climes for a myriad of different reasons.

Some are here working for our respective governments. Some are here representing large corporations. Most of these folks are centered in Bangkok and a few other locations around Thailand. While some may be living here long term, many are just here for a year or two at the most. Some earn large salaries. Some are big spenders, and of course there is much posh stuff to spend your money on, in Siam Paragon or the Emporium. There are of course many sexy if not entirely posh young ladies to spend one’s hard earned baht on.

Some, like your humble author are here not only because we love this crazy place, but because we have Thai wives or girlfriends. Whether relatively young or retired, and for better or worse, we have decided to call Thailand our home. We are scattered all over the country. Many of us choose not to live in Farang “enclaves” but have built homes right alongside our Thai neighbors. Quite a few of us, including those approaching a “certain age” have young “leuk kreung” children running around.

So what does your average Thai think of their farang neighbors? I certainly have been well received. I’ve made many good friends over the years. Even as I write this my wife is chatting with our neighbors and our little Sam is busily running all around with some of the other young children living here. I’ve gained lot of respect all over town just by being a regular guy. I make offerings at various temples. I shop regularly. I occasionally raise a glass or two with the locals. I do volunteer work from time to time. My Thai is quite basic, but I do make an attempt to use what I know. If my pronunciation is off, no one seems to mind. I always “blame” my accent on being married to someone from Buriram. That always gets a hearty laugh!

As for the many thousands of other farangs who’re making a life here with their families, I can only speculate. If you’re living in a tiny Isaan village, there’s no doubt that you’re going to get stared at a lot. Hell even after ten years of visiting my wife’s village people still look at me as though I just stepped off of a flying saucer! I think many Thais are simply curious about us. They may show some initial shyness, but eventually after the ice gets broken, (or plunked into a glass of Chang or two) are soon eager to be friendly.

There are a fair number of farangs living here to party long term. Nothing wrong with that I suppose, although for me the novelty would soon begin to pale after a few months. Some have good paying jobs that allow them to continue on here. Some have good investments or plenty of money in the bank back home to support their lifestyle here. And yet some are your garden variety drunk, misfit or loser…..just like they were back in their corner of Farangland. There are just so many reasons not to go back home! Not surprisingly the pretty girls are happy to have them around, at least while the cash is flowing freely.

While perhaps affluent by western standards the farang ex-pats are incredibly wealthy by Thai ones. We pump a lot of hard cash into the Thai economy, every day of the year. Just looking at
my own situation, the amount I’ve spent here is staggering. The home we built, while certainly less expensive than a comparable than one back in the U.S. still cost millions of baht. Our Toyota pickup came in at close to a million. I’ve
spent well over a million at Chiang Mai Ram hospital. Our everyday shopping adds up to a tidy sum each month. While the average ex-pat might not spend in the same way I do, overall the amount we contribute all over the country is considerable.

And so we return to the question that I posed in the title of this piece. Despite the fact that most of us are not disreputable cretins, why do some Thais hate us so? The average Thai’s
feelings range from apathy to genuine affection; from bewilderment to annoyance. But I think all in all Somchai and Somporn certainly don’t hate us.

The hate surprisingly comes from some of the nominally “better educated” Thais. Those are the ones who know just enough about the outside world to realize how much better most farangs live back in their homelands. I don’t just mean having more money, although money is a tremendous status symbol here. It’s often our freedom to think and do as we please that raises these folks' hackles. That’s when mere envy turns to real dislike. And let me tell you some folks just plain hate our guts.

Okay who exactly are “they”? Well the Thai government to start off with! You would think that most of the time and effort they spend putting obstacles in our way to simply be here would be far better spent in actually encouraging farangs to settle here in LOS! The authorities want the money we spend here but wish we would simply spend it and go the hell home! Why? Here’s where I start speculating. Feel free to disagree.

What farangs represent as a whole is a constant reminder to the Thai people of everything their country is not, especially their government! Gees, I can hear some people moaning about my “western prejudices” again.

I would be foolish not to admit to western society’s many failings. I could cheerfully go on for page after page for hours about all the areas in which our respective countries fall short. But that being said there are some positive things I can confidently say about Farangland.

1. For the most part we do have functioning (or at least semi-functioning) democracies. Yes I even mean in a land where idiots elected “W” not once but twice! And don’t start ragging on me about him. I voted against the guy twice! If nothing else people do get to go and vote for who they want, even if that person is a scoundrel. And what’s more, we have an orderly transition of power even in the most bitterly contested elections. One side just throws the other side out. Then every politician can do what he or she does best, talk, talk, and talk some more, alternating with spend, spend and spend. Contrast this to Thailand where the tanks roll in so regularly that you can almost make book on when the next coup will begin. Notice that I said “when” NOT “if”. Is there anyone out there that will give me odds that the present regime will last another year?

All of us to one degree or another enjoy freedom of speech. Aside from inciting to riot or shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre, we can pretty much say any damned thing we please about anyone we please. We can mouth off 24/7, without the slightest fear that we will end being thrown into a prison cell….or worse. That “little luxury” simply does not exist here in The Land of Smiles. You open your mouth and speak at your peril. Most Thais take this as an article of faith. Things may not be as bad as say next door in Burma, but they ain’t all that good either. Thais know that back in our homelands our mouths are not clamped shut. So does the government. They would prefer that somehow we don’t put “ideas” into people’s heads. They might actually start demanding that freedom as well.

2. Despite the worldwide economic woes that everyone is feeling the pinch of, it’s still possible back in Farangland for someone with a good idea and the willingness to bust
his ass to pursue it to still become a self made success story. It really does happen all the time. Many immigrants come to our shores with little more than a dream and a prayer, but wind up doing phenomenally well. Contrast with the situation
that prevails in Thailand. You have all pervasive corruption and endless miles of red tape that snuff out any good idea before it can even get off the ground. Success is often doomed from the start.

Our mere presence here day after day runs counter to the government and media propaganda machines that Thailand is a “success story” Well perhaps compared to Laos, Burma and Cambodia, but that’s not saying much. In this information age any Thai with an internet connection knows what the living standards are in Farangland. They know we have better houses, more cars, luxury goods etc. Hell, even the fact that we can take expensive vacations here regularly, whereas they most likely will never be able to afford to go anywhere abroad has to rankle just a little bit. A rancorous populace is not what a non democratic government wants.

However we farangs do fulfill one extremely useful function. We are the ideal scapegoats for any “immoral behavior”. Yes it’s the old blame it on those pale skinned devil ploy again. Did you know that we farangs are responsible for: prostitution, drunkenness, disrespect for Thailand’s sacred institutions, political unrest, corruption, gambling, sexually transmitted diseases, and the list goes on and on. One thing you can count on here is that when things go from bad to worse it’s always convenient (oh so convenient) to direct attention away from the source. That is to say from a corrupt and incompetent government and towards little old you and me. Unfortunately once the masses are riled up they are likely to be unpredictable. Stick recently told me of some advice a Thai friend gave regarding the day when HRM passes away (May he live a hundred years.) Farangs should whole up somewhere for a week or two. Any farangs who are seen simply smiling are likely to have the stuffing beaten out of them.

Okay moving away from the government hates us; let’s talk about why Thai businesses don’t hold us in any high regard. By business I’m referring to large companies that employ farangs in important supervisory or managerial positions. There have been many submissions posted here over the years talking about the frustration of trying to manage Thais. For one thing, Thais do not appreciate being told what to do, or sometimes to get just off their butts and do anything….especially by a farang. Thais are not known for taking personal responsibility for their work. There is always the fear that if things are not done correctly, they may lose face. It’s much safer to do nothing. The idea of planning
a project from start to finish before executing it is a quaint western notion that is easily ignored. They don’t not like being told that “half assed” just isn’t good enough. Why can’t we just shut up
and let things happen the Thai way? They especially don’t like the fact that their farang boss is paid so much more than they are.

Of special interest is a group of farangs that truly annoys many Thais. I am of course speaking about myself and my fellow English teachers. Let’s immediately discount the farangs “teaching”
here that are not even vaguely qualified to do so. Let’s instead talk about professional, highly qualified, English teachers; real English teachers who actually know their stuff.

Many Thai teachers resent that we are generally much more highly educated than they are (or will ever be!) I’m not just talking about our knowledge of the English language. It is our
mother tongue, so it’s no surprise that we know that better than they do. They hate that our knowledge of pedagogy and educational theory is light years ahead of theirs. Our university degrees generally mean a whole lot more than
theirs do academically. Just having made it through your average Thai university does not mean that you have learned anything close to what is recognized worldwide as proficiency.

Often college courses here are far less rigorous than those taught in a decent high school back in Farangland.

Then of course there is the annoying fact that your average Thai English teacher earns a fraction of what we farangs earn just waltzing in the door…..and we do not have to do all the “scutt work” and butt kissing that they have to do every day.

Some Thai teachers insist that they know more than we do about teaching in a Thai school. I suppose that’s correct if by that you mean we haven’t learned the art of looking busy while doing little or nothing. And forget about suggesting something other than what they have been doing since the days of writing cuneiform on clay tablets. At the first school I taught at here my extremely modest suggestions for improving the EFL syllabus were rejected out of hand. “You don’t understand our culture!” was the refrain I heard over and over again. Gee, I didn’t know that commitment to excellence through hard work was a “farang concept”! Here in the cloud cuckoo land that is Thailand the motto is more like: “Do the absolute minimum. Fake the rest and strut around as though you had actually achieved something.”

Some Thai teachers, like the rest of the co called “educated” Thai society is so ignorant about what is happening in the world that it is almost laughable. That being said however, lack of knowledge never stopped one of these fools from lecturing us on any subject you’d care to name. It’s not easy being polite when your eyes are rolling around and you are biting your tongue to keep from bursting into laughter.

Well, try as they might to convince themselves of the “superiority” of their methods of English instruction, deep inside many know that their so called “system” is a sham. That of course is why the vast majority of university bound students need to take intensive remedial courses before they can even begin to study university level English. Usually it’s only students who have attended a good international school who have a prayer of passing the alphabet soup of qualifying tests like A-net, O-net, IELTS, TOEFL etc.

As farang teachers in their midst we are a constant reminder of how poorly they measure up on an objective scale. Naturally some of them don’t like that one little bit. It may be all smiles in the staffroom (or not) but beneath their false grins is a silent wish that we would all just go away. Then they could go back to the serious business of paper shuffling until retirement day.

One group here in LOS that has a unique love / hate relationship with farangs is that which run the bars, massage parlors and other such venues. They say that they love us and encourage us to walk through their doors. Once inside however you would never know that by the shabby way they treat us. They collectively think that we are “the goose that laid the golden egg” We are the reason for their existence. Without us they would simply dry up and blow away.

And as for how the “ladies” feel about us, well that subject has been hashed out here so many times that it’s hard to add an original thought. Undoubtedly that theme will be revisited thousands of times more, since it’s endlessly fascinating. Let’s just say that for the most part we are merely walking ATMS and leave it at that.

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Thais are to one degree or another fascinated with farangs. Some are merely curious, some are green with envy, many genuinely like us, (and NOT just for our money!) and some have no use for us whatsoever. I am fortunate in that I have many good Thai friends. I may not have the language skills to carry on “deep” conversations with them, but I know that if I ever have an emergency I can count on them to be there for me. I sincerely hope that many of you have at least a few close Thai friends.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that some people here are most definitely not our friends. But for now life goes on and smiles are still in abundance… least while the cash keeps

Stickman's thoughts:

It is my experience that generally well-educated Thais are in favour of decent foreigners playing a part in Thai society. There are of course some well-educated Thais who loathe us, but on the whole, I would say they are a small minority. You often hear comments that the wealthiest Thais despise us. I don't actually believe that. They know what we don't and can't compete with them so they have little to be concerned about.

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