Stickman Readers' Submissions February 2nd, 2010

The Devil Made Me Do It!

All right children, let’s all climb into the Way Back machine and take a nostalgic journey back to the 1970’s. You remember the 1970’s don’t you? The Vietnam War was hot, and rock and roll, real rock and roll was even hotter. The ‘spirit of free love’ hadn’t yet intersected with the Grim Reaper’s “little gift” of HIV. What were we watching on the tube? Well I was tuning in to see the late comedian Flip Wilson put on an outrageous wig and a fluorescent mini-dress and become….. Geraldine! Do you remember Geraldine’s classic lines? “It’s not my fault! The devil made me do it!” Oh how we laughed!

Let’s fast forward to the year 2010 and the Great Mongering Debate. While no one has actually quoted old Geraldine yet, I’ve been hearing something similar in regards to why some Thai girls turn to the Oldest Profession. “It’s not their fault. Thai society made them do it!” I beg to differ with the notion that Thai society, despite its many faults, led anyone down the primrose path to ruin.

Thailand is not North Korea, where real brainwashing begins at birth, and individuality is subsumed completely in the name to service to its “Dear Leader”. This is not to say that Thailand is anyone’s idea (or at least my idea) of an open society where individuality is encouraged. The reality is that Thailand is a highly stratified society, where children are taught from an early age to not question the status quo. Keep your mouth shut. Do not question authority. Don’t make waves. Schools, including the one I teach at, do not teach critical thinking. That could lead to some embarrassing questions being raised about who holds power in Thailand, both political and economic…..and why. Come to think of it, most Thai schools teach very little about almost everything. The chances of even a well educated Thai rising to his or her full potential is much lower than a similarly educated person back in Farangland. Don’t even get me started about Thai “democracy”! A more appropriate description would be kleptocracy. I’ve written a number of pieces dealing with the effect of government corruption. Suffice it to say that it permeates and retards every aspect of life here. That being said, Thai corruption is relatively benign compared to many other places in the world, and your average Thai isn’t lying awake at night worrying that the police might break down his front door and haul him off to prison.

Life for many, notably people living in impoverished rural areas like Issan is tough….no doubt about it. The economic disparity between a poor farmer in Buriram and a high-so businessman in Bangkok is so large, that these two people might as well be living on different planets. The affluent businessman (and his family) certainly have more choices about what they can do with their lives. But is money, or the lack of it, the determining factor in the development of a person’s moral character? I think we all know many extraordinarily wealthy people who have the morals of a slime mold. (No disrespect to slime molds is intended!) I also personally know people in Thailand with barely two baht to rub together who are wonderful human beings.

So, what influences are most critical in moral development? Here we come to the age-old question of Nature versus Nurture. Are we born with genetic dispositions that determine our personalities? If we are, does the environment we grow up in play a factor in either encouraging or repressing tendencies that we are “hard wired” for?

I think the growing consensus among behavioral scientists is that our DNA and the environment we are raised are both important factors in what kind of people we become.

Family life in Thailand is quite different in many ways than it is in the west. Children here often grow up in extended families, with aunties, uncles and grandparents playing a large roll. The authority of a child’s elders is much greater than for western children. Thai children are expected to obey their parents, and to look after them in their old age. The demands made by parents on their adult sons and daughters can be enormous. Many times, sons and daughters must sacrifice personal goals to support their parents. Surprisingly, most children do not seem to resent this. They simply see it as part of the natural order of life. There is comfort I suppose in knowing that someday your children will be taking care of you! Who needs social security if you have children? The bigger the family you have, the better. My wife has five brothers and sisters. Theoretically, this should divide the responsibility for parental care six ways. Oh, that it were so! Everyone expects my wife, the daughter married to the “rich” Farang to shoulder the whole thing. Needless to say, I have given the whole lot of them a few unwanted attitude adjustments on that score! That is a subject for more than a few future submissions!

My in-laws will serve nicely though as a useful illustration of how siblings can have the same familial experiences, but end up quite differently as adults. What can I say about my father-in-law? He could serve as the textbook example for every bargirl who has ever uttered the phrase, “Thai men no good!” He is a good looking man, and must have been one hell of a handsome devil in his youth. He is also, without a doubt, NFG (No Fucking Good). While his wife slaved away under the hot sun on the farm for decades, he was also busy……..drinking, gambling, whoring, and sitting on his lazy ass. While his wife was up hours before sunrise, getting the children ready for school, he was sleeping off another hard night’s carousing. Even though his wife was working like the proverbial buffalo, with little or no time to spare for a well deserved rest, woe be it to her, if she was ever late getting dinner on the table for Mr. Big. Yeah, the guy was a wife beater as well as being a prince of a guy.

My wife has recounted for me what it was like growing up as a little girl. It was not much fun, for her, for her two sisters and for her three brothers. All of the children grew up in the same environment. They all took away completely different moral lessons. The eldest son took a good look at the kind of man his father was, and vowed to be the exact opposite. He has succeeded wonderfully in becoming as fine an individual as you could ever hope to meet. He is one of the hardest working men I have ever met. His diligence should serve as an example of what single mindedness can achieve. He received only a primary school education, but could teach a course in modern agriculture. His fields always yield bumper crops. He is married to a sweet, hard working woman who in addition to helping on the farm has a nice little restaurant outside the village municipal offices. Their home is a modest place to say the least, but it is clean enough to “eat off of the floor”……something which is a rarity in those parts! His children are well-scrubbed, polite, and the best students in their classes. His family does not possess a single luxury. Their only means of transportation are a couple of well worn motorcycles. What has all his hard work gained him? He and his wife have saved and scrimped ever baht that has ever come their way, and bought plot after plot of land. He may be cash poor, but he is a big time land owner, trying to give his children a better life. There is an excellent chance that they will go on to a university education and will never have to turn their “backs to the sky and faces to the earth.” If anyone asks you to give an example of how the cycle of poverty in Thailand can be broken in a single generation, well, here is at least one for your consideration.

Unfortunately, I now have a much less shining example to talk about. I wish I knew what the Thai equivalents for the expressions, “A chip off the old block” and “Like father, like son”, because my second brother-in-law is the living embodiment of both. I have to hand it this fine fellow. He has not only succeeded in adopting all of his father’s dubious “achievements”, but has achieved some amazing “accomplishments” of his own. Not only can this guy use the title NFG after his name, but SSOS as well. What does someone have to do to reach the level of Sorry Sack of Shit? I’m glad you asked. Well, it’s not enough to be merely lazy, be drunk most of the time or gamble away what ever money you can get your hands on. Even being a wife beater is not enough to get you on the membership rolls. Brother-in-law # 2 qualified for this fraternal order through some dedicated effort. He fathered not one but two illegitimate children, by two different women and has never contributed one baht or even a bowl of rice for these kids. By the way, the mothers of these kids are also SSOS, having abandoned their children for my mother-in-law to raise….if she didn’t have enough to do already! Knowing the sterling character (and appearance) of both women, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw them staggering around Beach Road in Pattaya.

Okay, so the guy’s a rotten SOB who was happy to screw around but won’t support his kids. Hell that is a common state affairs for many Thai men. What else does has he got going for himself? Yes he is a pathological liar, but what else? Oh, how about being a cheat and a thief? During some sporadic moments of sobriety, he occasional operates a so-called auto body repair business. Apparently having a few large hammers qualifies him to claim this. Whatever his dubious skills are at pounded out dents, his true talent seems to be in talking people into handing over money in advance. Yes, P.T. Barnum’s maxim is as true in The Land of Smiles as anywhere else on the planet. As soon as his pockets are stuffed with cash, Brother-in-law # 2 often has the urge to take a little “road trip”……in the car he is supposed to be fixing, if the damned thing is mobile. He may pick up a friend or three to join him on his joy ride, having baht to burn. Once the cash is gone, he may drive back home….or simply abandon the vehicle wherever it has ground to a halt. In any case if the owner of said car believed it was going to be repaired, by was he ever mistaken! The police stop by quite regularly looking for him, but he is as slippery as an eel. He will of course see the inside of a jail cell yet…….that is if his body isn’t discovered in a ditch with its throat cut. You see, Brother-in-law # 2 has a very bad habit of borrowing money from some rather tough monkeys, who take a very dim view of people who default on their “financial obligations”.

Okay, what is the moral of this story? (No pun intended) This pathetical tale is not just another Real Life Thai Soap Opera. It shows that two people, with a roughly similar genetic inheritance, and exactly the same family environment, can turn out to utterly different in their morality quotient. Why? Ha, psychologists and sociologists have argued about this question seemingly forever. Is there such a thing as a “Bad Seed”? Is it possible for someone to simply be born a rotten scoundrel? That is a scary thought. If you believe in reincarnation, I suppose you might think it possible. Maybe the “suitcase of karma” carried into this life is not filled with sugar and spice, but snakes and festering garbage. Whatever. Metaphysical speculations are beyond the scope of this submission.

Leaving aside family life, where else might Thai children get a “moral education”? We need to talk just a little about the role of schools and Buddhism in Thai life. Buddhism, which despite the ravings of Fox News’s Britt Hume, has a lot to say about leading a moral life. The fact that Tiger can’t keep his pants zipped is not at all relevant Britt. How many Evangelical preachers are hypocrites when it comes to fornicating? Buddhism in Thailand permeates the fabric of Thai society. Every Thai child hears Buddhist moral ideals not just at a temple, but in their classrooms. There is no separation of church and state here…..not that Buddhism is a religion anyway. My school may be run by a Catholic order, but Christianity isn’t taught here. Buddhism is taught though at every level, staring in Kindergarten. Monks come here frequently to perform ceremonies and to give lectures. Students frequently visit local temples on field trips. My school also holds what they call “morals camps” a few times a year. So, in addition to learning (or at least presumably learning) traditional academic subjects, children are at least exposed to the dos and don’ts of good behavior. Whether any of this becomes part of their lives, I have no idea whatsoever.

On a side note, it is interesting that while Buddhism expressly eschews alcohol and sex outside of marriage, no one is being hectored about it, or other vices for that matter. Walk right outside the grounds of many Thai temples and you will find both cold beer and lottery tickets. Right next door, (and kid you not), to a temple I bicycle past every morning, are two Love Motels. These are immoral establishments according to Buddhist stricture, but you won’t find any protesters marching in front of their doors.

Another surprising place to find Buddhist philosophy being taught is on Soap Operas. Really. Many Soaps often have a character turn to a revered monk in times of trouble. I don’t know the name of it, but there is a children’s comedy show that takes place in and around a temple. The kids are always getting into mischief, and a monk is always there to provide a lesson in morality. The point I want to make in talking about the role of Buddhism in Thai life is that even if they don’t get exposed to what constitutes moral behavior at home; children cannot escape being reminded of what’s considered right and what’s considered wrong.

So with all this all-pervasive moralizing going on, you might think that Thai society would extraordinarily free of bad behavior….that is if you wanted to completely ignore human beings’ tendency to do any damned thing they want to do, whether it is right or wrong. This as true in Farangland as it is in Thailand. People know full well that they shouldn’t do many things, but they can’t seem to help themselves anyway. Did “the devil make them do it”?

Whose fault is it? Some fuzzy-headed people think that all social ills are the fault of society at large. I don’t. Ignoring personal responsibility for one’s actions leads to anarchy. Please know that I am not a heartless bastard who doesn’t care about billions of people who are suffering from poverty, disease, oppression and other horrors. I do in fact believe that is our obligation to help those, who through no fault of their own are leading wretched lives. Despite what that asshole Pat Robertson says, the people of Haiti didn’t bring about the recent devastating earthquake by entering into a pact with Satan! These poor folks deserve the world’s support. But I also believe that there are many people, in Thailand and around the world who are in predicaments that they alone created. You and I are not responsible for their poor judgment! People do make bad decisions about what they should do or not do everyday, in Thailand and in Farangland……including you and I!

The decision for a young Issan girl to get on the bus to Bangkok or Pattaya and enter the P4P trade may very well indeed be the worst one she will ever make. I will not argue that a fair percentage of the girls who do will end up as damaged goods. What I will argue that the decision to do so was theirs to make. Saying that Thai society “limited” their life choices, and that is why they wound up in a bar is a cop-out as far as I’m concerned. They may not have realized how horrid that life might be, but most of them knew it was wrong……and went ahead and started down that particular path. Why?

There are as many individual reasons for entering the sex trade as there are girls. Can we generalize anything though? Certainly many felt that the possible financial rewards justified selling their bodies. Were there no other options to earn a living? It may be difficult to find a good paying job, but if someone is willing to work hard, opportunities do exist. What brother-in-law # 1 achieved is proof of that. He started out with little more than the clothes on his back. He didn’t own any land. He began by working as a hired farm worker. He did have a dream though, and the guts and determination to give 110% to make it come true. The fact that there are too many low paying jobs in Thailand is not enough to say that Thai society “drove” anyone to do anything! It is more accurate to say that the desire to have more…..more money, more material stuff, and a better “lifestyle” led many bargirls to hop on the bus. Even in a country which is poorer per capita than our homelands, it is not difficult to earn enough to eat decent food, have basic clothing to wear, and have basic (if not luxurious) shelter. How many people living in Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar would love to be living here in Thailand? Life here is all mangoes and cream compared with so many other places on Earth.

Having arrived in town, how many girls are dismayed to find out that the streets, or at least the mattresses are not lined with gold? How many thought that the gritty reality of what they were expected to do was more than they could stomach, and hopped right back a bus back to the countryside? I have no idea.

As for the ones who decided to stay and make a go of it, what were the determining factors in going from a wide-eyed innocent to an empty shell of a human being? Thai children know that a girl sporting a set of tattoos is not likely to get much respect. They know that drinking at all is forbidden by the Buddha, and drinking to excess is always a bad idea. They certainly know that drugs are addicting and that taking them will make life a living hell. Thai TV and movies show the effect of drugs. They know all this……but go ahead and, get an ugly set of tats, drink until they pass out, and snort enough Yaa-baa to kill a rhinoceros. The choices they made suck. The choices they made were theirs! Yes, it’s true that sharing a flat with some “experienced” girls didn’t help. Peer pressure can be powerful, but does that absolve them of personal responsibility to not do what they know full well is bad?

In the end, they wanted what they wanted, and damn the consequences of their actions. This is the thinking of adolescents, not only in Thailand, but in Farangland as well. Many young people are concerned only with immediate gratification…..not the results of their actions. Eat, drink and be merry, because who gives a flying fuck about tomorrow? Tomorrow may never come. Young people never give much thought to their own mortality. They think they will live forever. This way of thinking is not limited to Thailand. In Thailand you do see from unique consequences of this. Many Thais are, in my opinion, oblivious of the effect of their actions on anyone else. This is reflected in everything, from driving in an insane and reckless manner, to turning up the volume on their stereos to the point that everyone else’s ears in the neighborhood are bleeding. “I want what I want and the hell with you!” Hmm… is this a sociological factor which explains why some Thai girls turn to prostitution? Perhaps…. to some small degree, although mere self centered behavior doesn’t seem adequate to explain it adequately.

In an ideal world, children would be nurtured as babies, loved unconditionally by their parents, taught moral behavior by emulating the behavior of responsible adults. A wise and benevolent government would provide a good education. This government would provide job training for everyone who wanted to learn a trade. There would be counseling for anyone with alcohol or drug problems. In Thailand, there would be very little economic reason for becoming a prostitute, since everyone would be earning more than enough money to live a dignified life. Undoubtedly everyone would gather in town and village squares in the evenings and sing the Thai equivalent of Kumbaya as well. I hate to disillusion anyone, I really do, but this is not an ideal world. It is not a fair world. Injustice is much more common here on planet Earth than simple human decency.

Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their actions. This includes the Farangs who indulge themselves in the P4P world. (Undoubtedly you have been all been waiting with bated breath to get around to this, eh!) It has been mentioned by others in the ongoing debate that many mongers are truly the dregs of society. I am not going to get into the morality of exchanging sex for money in this piece. I’ve already stated my views on the subject. I am only concerning myself with individuals being responsible for what they do.

Whatever the motivation is for girls to be in the trade, there is no excuse whatsoever, for bad behavior by the men enjoying their services! Act like fucking gentlemen here guys…..even if you are not one at home! Take a god damned shower….often. Brush your teeth…..often. Use deodorant…always. Wear some decent clothing for crying out loud! Be polite…always. Treat the girls decently…..always. Don’t be a drunken lout! Be aware that many of these girls, especially the petite ones cannot tolerate excessive alcohol. Never, ever force, or coerce anyone into doing anything that they do not wish to do. Always, “party with a hat”!

Given the fact that Thai society is far from ideal, I still believe that most people have the wherewithal to live a life consistent with the morals in which they have been steeped since birth. Yes, it isn’t fair that many bright people do not have the opportunities they might find elsewhere. Still except in cases where people have severe mental illnesses, everyone still is free to make some choices in their lives. Thai society didn’t make anyone choose the life of a bargirl, and neither did the devil!

He Clinic Bangkok

Stickman's thoughts:

I like your second to last paragraph a lot.

What would be really interesting would be your lovely wife's thoughts on the matter. Given the background she grew up in and her determination to work hard to make something of her life (regular readers know that Sawadee's wife grew up in rural Buriram but battled hard to get a degree), her perspective would be fascinating!

nana plaza