Laughter in the Land of Violence
Recently on the Stickman website I have read some comments about how Thai people can attack in packs and that violent Thais should be avoided at all costs. I completely agree with this, but sometimes it just isn’t possible to avoid violence in Thailand. I couldn’t have avoided risking harm to myself and retained any self-respect had I walked away from a situation in Bangkok earlier this year.
The incident discussed here occurred in Bangkok while I was celebrating Songkran 2009 with my girlfriend, her brother, sister and sister’s boyfriend. I unfortunately don’t know where this incident occurred because I have spent most of my time in Chiang Mai and I’m not very familiar with Bangkok. I was just tagging along with my girlfriend and her family. My girlfriend is a bargirl, but she dresses respectably, is very polite and rarely drinks when she isn’t working. On this occasion we were both on our best behaviour because we were spending time with her family. I don’t believe that she did anything that might encourage untoward behaviour except for being with a young farang.
The sun was setting in Bangkok and the streets were packed with Thai people. The five of us had seen enough of Songkran so we decided to catch a taxi out of there and go back home. We left the main celebrations but couldn’t find an available taxi. The streets were chaotic and I assume that taxi drivers were avoiding the area. We walked through a nearby bar area with packs of young, drunk Thai males dancing in the street. The soi was busy but had a seedy feel about it. A group of about four men came up to us and rubbed clay over our faces. Two of the men vigorously rubbed clay into my eyes. I couldn’t see anything and tried to push the guys away but they kept rubbing clay in my face. They eventually left me alone. I wiped the clay from my eyes but was disoriented.
I was left standing in the street by myself and couldn’t see my girlfriend or her family. A group of at least a dozen Thai men were standing in a circle in front of a bar about twenty metres from me. I walked towards them feeling confused and uncertain. A couple of Thai men stepped out in front of me and tried to stare me down. One of them puffed out his chest and tried to block my path. Now I knew something was really wrong. I tried not to show any uncertainty and I pushed past them to the larger group of Thais. When I reached the circle of men, I saw that my girlfriend was hunched over in the middle of them. The men were grabbing at her breasts and other body parts. One guy was trying to kiss her face and neck but she was doing her best to cover herself. I put my arms around her. She clutched on to me. I made my small frame seem as big as possible and walked her out of there. Fortunately, none of the men tried to stop us. It seemed like one guy was about to fight me but he seemed too unsure of himself to make his move. My girlfriend came out of it basically unscathed. You might be wondering what my girlfriend’s brother, sister and sister’s boyfriend were doing during this incident. It turns out that they stood back and watched it all from a safe distance and only reappeared after the threat was gone (it seems that Thais really do avoid confrontation). This whole experience made me remember an earlier incident in Sukhothai.
It was my first trip to Thailand a few years ago and the rose-coloured glasses hadn’t come off yet; Thailand still seemed like a strange but peaceful country. After learning a bit of Thai and spending a few months in Chiang Mai without incident, l travelled down to Sukhothai for the weekend. On my first day in Sukhothai, I hired a bicycle and rode around the old city and some nearby villages. The countryside was beautiful and peaceful. That night I took a stroll around Sukhothai new city. The streets were busy because of a Buddhist festival. Some locals were fishing from a bridge in the centre of town. I chatted to them for a few minutes and had a beer with them. A woman let out a shrill scream from somewhere nearby. Pedestrians stopped to have a look around. A Thai woman in her thirties got out of a car that was parked across the street from me and began to run. A Thai man went after her. He caught her, dragged her back to the car, pushed her inside and climbed on top of her. By this stage, most of the women who had stopped to look went about their business like nothing was happening.
The Thai man began to beat the living shit out of her. She escaped from him again. He dragged her back into the car. I couldn’t see her through the car window. All I could see was his fist going up and down while he pounded her. If this happened in Farangland, I would certainly step in and help the girl. Somebody would come to her aid. But this is Thailand. The fishermen laughed. I heard a couple of other onlookers laughing. I didn’t understand their response. I still don’t understand it. I walked away and decided to put this down as a random but disturbing event that is best forgotten.
The laughter from some men who were watching a woman being bashed in Sukhothai while others walked away disturbed me back then, but I find it far more disturbing now. I don’t want to imagine what might have happened to my girlfriend if I hadn’t stepped in to help when she was attacked in Bangkok. Would the Thai people have ignored a sexual assault in the middle of a busy Bangkok street? Would her family have watched and done nothing to help? Would some Thai men have stood around and had a laugh about it? I don’t have the answers to all of this and the avoidance of confrontations combined with public displays of violence is an aspect of Thailand that I can’t quite get my head around. The response from my girlfriend’s family when she was in danger is all too representative of the lack of respect they seem to have for her, and unfortunately their self-centred behaviour has caused our relationship to disintegrate to the point that it seems beyond repair. I still appreciate some aspects of Thai culture, but the incident in Bangkok has made me feel very cautious. Thailand seems to be not so much the Land of Smiles as it is the Land of Violence.
The first incident is a good example of why so many expat residents don't like Songkran. I lock myself in the condo, literally!
The second incident is also very nasty and as much as it pains me to say it, a farang is generally best advised not to intervene. Crazy, I know, but ANYTHING could happen if you got involved.