Readers' Submissions

Family Matters

  • Written by Professor
  • February 23rd, 2012
  • 5 min read

Recently my Thai girlfriend got sick and had to spend an extended time in a hospital in Bangkok. Her mother got on the first bus from the village and was there when my girl checked in. Her older sister, who lives and works in Bangkok, took time off from her job to settle my girl in. The hospital provided two beds which were put in her room, and both mum and older sister slept every night for the next week in the hospital with my girl.

Her older brother came by every afternoon after he finished work to bring food for dinner and for breakfast the next day, as the hospital food was not considered tasty enough.

After a few weeks my girl was released, but then had a relapse and had to be re-admitted. This time her other older sister, who had been working up country, came to stay while mum stayed in the village to look after dad and the kids. So now every night the two sisters slept next to my girl, and helped her when she had to go to the bathroom.

My girl was eventually discharged and moved back to her place in Bangkok. Both sisters and the brother stayed with her, and took care of her 24/7, taking off time from their jobs as needed. The sister who lived up country ended up taking close to two months off.

What’s the point? It is a truism that “You don’t marry the girl, you marry the family”. Men are expected to take care of the family as well as their girl, and many foreigners complain bitterly about this.

I don’t. To me it is quid pro quo. I knew that during the past seven years that I have been taking care of my girl, much of my monthly payment was going to her family. It didn’t bother me then and it doesn’t bother me now.

But now I have started to understand it. When my girl got sick, there was no question at all that the family would all chip in to support her. I don’t think this was merely a payback for the money she had given them. It was a natural response to a family member in need. They would have done this even had she not given them anything. It is their job. She is their family.

The Thai (and especially the Isaan) family is strongly knitted together. They may not have much, but they have each other. With a lack of financial resources, the glue that binds them is their caring for one another, in times of trouble. Sure they fight and scream and can be pretty nasty to each other. All families all over the world are like that. But they pull together when one needs something, and there is nothing more needy than a serious illness.

The oldest sister has racked up immense credit card bills. Not from frivolous wastage, but you try living in Bangkok on 11,000 baht a month, and support a kid back home. The bills mount up, and older sister never once set foot in a bar nor attempted to charge a guy for sex. My girl has mentioned the credit card issue to me on occasion, and I kind of shook it off. Now I will look into it, and see how I can help out. I didn’t sleep on the floor of the hospital room for a month, but I can see how my money can help a little bit.

I am well aware that many Thai women take advantage of their foreign boyfriends, and often make unreasonable financial demands in the name of the family. When I first starting taking care of my girl, we put together a monthly budget, and I added a sum for her family. I told her that any money her family needed would come out of her monthly payment, and that she was not to ask me for more. She never has in seven years. But I know she has been sending substantial amounts home. Her decision. Her money. But it was great to see her family support her in her time of need. The cynical among us might say they were afraid of losing their source of income, but I don’t believe that. The love that binds this family together is more important than money.

The purpose of this submission was to comment on the importance of family in the life of the Thai, and how we foreigners need to respect that. But a slightly different issue also comes to mind.

There have been many submissions relating horror stories in Thai hospitals, and my heart goes out to those who suffered. Luckily, I had the funds to put my girl in a private (not public) hospital in Bangkok (not up-country). The service she received was superb.

I watched and timed to see how quickly the nurses came after my girl rang the call button. Usually it was under 30 seconds. Sometimes it was under 10. People regularly came to check on her. The nurses were thoughtful and caring. Visitors were allowed 24/7, and I was able to stay as long as I wished. No one complained that I wasn’t officially family, and everyone was kind to me.

Both her primary doctor as well as some of the specialists went out of their way to communicate with me (in English) and her primary doctor sent me emails every day I was out of the country detailing my girl’s status. By the way, this was not a hospital for foreigners, it was a Thai only hospital and I was the only foreigner I ever saw there.

The doctors also communicated well with both my girl as well as her family. The doctors clearly explained the medical issues, despite the fact they were dealing with “up-country peasants”. There might have been some anti-Isaan bias but I never detected it.

So that’s my submission; nothing horrific, no one cheats, steals or otherwise acts inappropriately. Other submissions are far more interesting. But I learned, unfortunately due to my girl getting horribly ill, that there is kindness and decency in Thailand, and that, in the end, family matters.



Stickman's thoughts:

Here's hoping your girlfriend makes a full recovery.