Stickman Readers' Submissions May 12th, 2010

Jayson Debate and Ignorance

The debate that Jayson has begun shows just how much ignorance there is in Stickman submissions. I don’t mean ignorance as stupidity, but ignorance as not having knowledge on the subject under discussion. Stick himself, made it very clear in his comments to one submission – and that was ‘how can you know what a Hi-So Thai girl is like if you have never spent a significant amount of time around one?’ It is very much the point. Has Jayson spent time with normal Thai folk, and not just his servants? Can Jayson’s detractors claim Hi-So’s amongst their closest friends? If not, then the submission writers are basing their work on an awful lot of assumptions and little on fact..

Stick’s question can be expanded to include all types of people in Thailand, and not just the Hi-So group.

He Clinic Bangkok

Do you think you know what ‘normal’ Thai people are like? If your main experience of this country is gained from a few visits per year, then I suggest that you are unlikely to meet so-called ‘normal’ Thais. Those Thais working in farang-oriented services businesses, whether it be hotel staff, or taxi drivers serving the lower Sukhumwit areas, whether it is shop staff or Thais selling fake goods in tourist dominated areas, all become tainted by their exposure to westerners. They pick up on western habits and lose their Thainess. It’s one of the reasons I avoid the central and tourist areas as much as possible because this is not normal Thailand. Of course, this phenomenon is not an exclusively Thai feature. If you were to travel to most of the popular tourist destinations around the world you will find a similar situation; people working in those environments do not behave in the same way as the rest of their country. They do not extend the same set of cultural courtesies to the visitor.

So farangs coming in on business or as sex tourists are quite unlikely to find the ‘normal’ Thailand in the short period of time that they are here. You can only really begin to know about Thailand by living in the country and amongst the people, away from the farang ghettos. Even then, there is a limitation to how much knowledge and understanding you have of the local culture and society. Living in a small Issan village is more likely to give you an insight into ‘normal’ Thailand than a sex tourist can find while hanging off a bar stool in Soi Cowboy. But if you cannot communicate with the locals in their own language then there is so much you will miss. There is a limitation to what you can learn. Jayson makes this point and it seems so self-evident that one wonders why it necessary to point this out. Communication skills are of the utmost importance. Surprisingly Korski, to quote, “simply cannot fathom out all that you and Stick and Jayson and a few others make of fluency in Thai”. I would like to know how, for example, would you gain knowledge of the Thai world around you if you cannot speak Thai? How would you express your opinions and understand that of others, how would you seek to influence someone if you cannot communicate verbally. Korski describes a “one hell of a conversation with a hi-so Colombian as well as a Bogotá hooker” with six hundred words of Spanish. I venture that with six hundred words one could hardly express emotions, concepts and ideas beyond the merely superficial with such a small subset of the language, without reverting to non-verbal communication. Could one really expect to understand such great cultures as Spain and Thailand in a pocketful of words? Or look at this in another way, could you have enough insight into the English-speaking world, could you claim to know what is normal in the English-speaking world, could you pass judgment on the English-speaking world if you were in possession of just six hundred words of the English language? In truth, you would be quite ignorant about the English-speaking world and you would be unwise to make a call on what is what, with so very little information at your fingertips. After all, to a two-word bar girl, we are all ‘Hansum men’! <A point I have made over and over again which seems to be lost by those who refute my argument is that there are concepts in Thai which are truly unique to Thailand and which a high degree of mastery of the language is required to even start to understand. Language is not just words but concepts and, in the case of Thailand, a unique way of thinking. 600 words of Thai would give bugger all insight – Stick >

This doesn’t deter Korski, who makes the startling claim that “if you are as dark as the women who come from Isaan, you are excluded from all kinds of employment in Thailand” and goes on to say “And that exclusion is clearly based on skin color. Skin color in Thailand goes hand in hand with social class, position in a caste system. All this is racism.” Well, I would have at least expected Korski to have qualified these statement with ‘in my opinion’ or ‘as far as I can see’. But they are presented as though they are incontrovertible facts. They are the opening statements of his piece entitled ‘Caveman Korski’, after the pre-amble, and the Professor goes on to expand on this statement in the rest of the submission. Before I comment on them, there are a couple of equally strong claims in the submission that ought to be pulled together to highlight Korski’s thrust. <Such blanket statements suggest a misunderstanding of the issues surrounding skin colour and prejudice in Thailand. Yes, while most Thais would rather be lighter skinned, irrespective of what shade their skin is, there are some VERY dark-skinned high society types. It is when the person is dark AND hails from a rural area that prejudice occurs. Skin colour ALONE is not the issueStick>

CBD bangkok

“all those normal light or lighter-skinned women of Thailand, would not dream of marrying a successful and well-educated dark Thai from Thailand’s northeast”

“social class is in the first instance all about skin color”

“Beauty and ugliness and related words are code words for color”

“You and I […] subconsciously and unwittingly entertain this idea that white or light-skinned and beauty are more closely correlated than are brown or black or dark-skinned and beauty”

wonderland clinic

Now on reading these statements, my first reaction to them was ‘How does Korski know this?’ On what basis does Korski makes these judgments? The gentleman is well-known for his many writings on Stickman site and from what we can tell he is a visitor, and not a resident, to these shores. He does not speak the Thai language. As I pointed out at the beginning of my submission, if you are a casual visitor to Thailand you really cannot know very much beyond the superficial. If you do not speak the language the depth of your understanding cannot be anything other than shallow.

So I looked carefully into Mr. Korski’s submission to find out on what basis he makes these statements. Perhaps some empirical data would be presented (after all, he did ask Jayson for similar), but I found none. Some anecdotal evidence maybe? Conversations with locals, or experiences in Thailand that have led him to the conclusion that racism exists in Thailand based on skin colour? All these would have been useful to back up his claim. But there was nothing in the submission that was offered in the way of evidence, except for one small paragraph.

“White, as I noted in my long critique of Jayson, is the preferred skin color in the world. Light and dark-skinned women in Thailand use toxic whitening creams”

Is this it? So Korski comes to Thailand, sees some commercials for whitening creams, and from this jumps to the conclusion that Thais must therefore be racist when it comes to colour. That's quite a leap!

Let’s imagine some Thai walking down Main Street in Farangland. He doesn’t speak English, he’s on a one week visit, and he sees some advertising hoardings for sun tan lotion. Perhaps he wanders into a beauty salon and sees some strange machine that he figures out is a skin tanning machine. And later he is watching TV in his hotel room and notices that the Hollywood movie stars are all a tanned shade of skin colour when compared to those ‘normal’ folks he saw out on the street. We wouldn’t be too surprised that our Somchai, using the evidence of his eyes, reports back home that farangs see beauty in a darker skin than a white skin. And more, if they want to be movie stars they have to alter their skin with sprays and lotions – otherwise they’d be excluded from all types of employment. Well that’s if Somchai applies Korski’s logic, of course.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. With only a few pieces of information to hand, it is all too easy to draw the wrong conclusions. And in trying to understand what is going on, it is all too easy to frame a situation within one’s own framework of reference. So when Korski says “social class is in the first instance all about skin color”, I can’t help but feel the professor is transplanting the social situation in his own country to that of Thailand. But the USA is the USA, it is not somewhere in South-East Asia. It’s like our hypothetical Somchai thinking he can understand the breadth of western culture from watching music videos of Lady Gaga.

If you think that Thailand is racist based on colour, then take a look next time Thai parliament is screened on your television set. As the camera zooms around the auditorium you will find a sea of dark-skinned, often sun-gnarled crinkly faces. Representing your country in parliament, present troubles not withstanding, must be somewhere near the peak of ambition in any realm. Do we find the highest offices of state excluded to dark-skinned Thai people? We do not. Are the corridors of power, the educational establishments, the police force, the military filled with light-skinned people? Check your local news outlets, if you are unsure. Look at the pictures in the newspapers, follow the news bulletins. The fact is, they are not. You will find a rich mix of colours at the very top of Thai society.

I live and work with Thai people on a daily basis. There is no caste system based on colour. Employees are not denied access to jobs, or promotion or entry into society based on skin colour. I have a typical dark-skinned Buriram girl working in my office. She makes 50K per month and was appointed because of her job skills. She studies law at night school with the intention of entering the judiciary. There is no barrier to this Issan girl entering one of the highest professions in the country other than her desire to work hard and the ability to pass her law exams.

There are so many examples that I could offer to refute Korski that Thais discriminate against their own kind by way of colour. Let me offer just one more. My daughter went to Chula with a very dark skinned Issan girl. Her colour was no bar to Thailand’s greatest, and some might say, elitist university. On graduation, this Issan girl has just been accepted onto Thailand’s Ambassadorial trainee scheme. Only twelve students are selected per year. If Thailand is discriminatory based on colour, as Korski claims, then one would hardly expect dark-skinned people to be selected to represent their country at the highest political levels.

The plain truth is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you see your partner as beautiful then to you she is beautiful and it matters little how others judge her. If Jayson sees your Issan girl as less than beautiful in his own eyes, then it just tells me that he is trying to defend his own preferences by putting down someone else’s. But, it’s not evidence of a racist country. And to those who rush to defend the honour of their Thai partner against Jayson, they’re doing little other than justifying why they’re with the person they’re with. It doesn’t make them losers if they prefer a different type of woman to Jayson, on that Jayson is wrong. It’s inherently possible for one’s person preference not to be another person’s preference. There is no one single perfect beauty to everyone. But above all, let’s not turn this discussion into something it’s not. Let’s stop the ‘it’s all racist’ nonsense. Let’s stop arguing from ignorance. Let’s offer up those things we know, and not pretend to know those things we don’t.

Stickman's thoughts:

I agree entirely. To have some understanding of society you need to get out of the bars and you need to interact with the people in their own language. Even at a very basic level, the language gives insight into the people.

I will give a very basic example. Years ago, in my naughty boy days, when I was very much the new boy on the block, I brought a working girl back to my place. She complained that she was "hiw khao", the translation of which into English would be "hungry", but a literal translation would be "hungry for rice". We got back to my place and I offered her whatever she wanted from what I had in the condo which was some fresh fruit, some canned fruit, some breakfast cereal or some packet noodles. She was not impressed! She wanted rice! "Hiw khao" translates as hungry for rice. When a Thai is really hungry, what they really want is rice! Not a steak dinner! Not phat Thai! Not fabulous New Zealand lamb! But rice! Ok, so this is a very basic example but perhaps it gives just a tiny insight into how understanding the language helps you understand the culture more.

nana plaza