Stickman Readers' Submissions April 30th, 2012

Not One of them Is Named Somchai

I wrote a submission about 4 months ago, and never sent it in to Stickman because I didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading it. The submission was prompted by my disgust at continually reading submissions casting all Thai men (“Somchais”) as losers, living off the earnings of their girlfriends. As I have several close Thai male friends who are nothing like that, I thought to write about them.

I put the submission in a drawer until a few days ago. Then I read a sub where the author listed the various questions a bar girls asks (“how old you?”, “where you live?”, “what you do?” etc and then wrote “These are questions nearly all Thais ask irrespective of class or region”.

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What nonsense, I thought. Nearly all Thais talk like? Irrespective of class or region?

Excuse me, but that is just plain horseshit.

Thais of a certain class absolutely do not talk like that. The author (and I don’t mean to denigrate one person as he is only representative of many others) seems to assume that uneducated Isaan bargirls are what all Thais are like. They are not.

In fact, I know Isaan girls (who are not bargirls) who don’t talk anything like that. And Bangkok office workers don’t, and airline stewardesses don’t…you get my point.

There is a whole group of people out there in Thailand, the overwhelming majority in fact, who are nothing like the girls you meet in bars.

So I dusted off my original submission, and submit it here. It still probably has no point, and you might be bored reading it. But it made me feel better to write it.

Thai Friends

How would you describe a “friend”? To me, a friend is someone who is happy to kick back with you, going to dinner or watching a football game, with no expectations.

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How would you describe a “close friend”? If I had an emergency, a girl in trouble, the police at the door, money problems, I would expect a close friend to help me out, no questions asked.

I would say I have 5 Thai friends, three of whom I would describe as “close”, that is, I am pretty sure (90%?) I could count on them in an emergency. The other two I would say would be 50/50 to help in a crisis.

Let me describe them.

The Family Man

TFM is in his 40’s. He used to work in private enterprise but now is in the government, in a high ranking position. He has been married for 15 years, and has 3 kids, who he dotes on. He often takes off work early, and buys a snack to take home to them. Being in a government position (he is often in the newspapers) he is deathly afraid of being caught in a compromising position, so does no public “fooling around.” He is keen to have an affair but won’t due to his fear of being exposed. He will sometimes check into a hotel and have a service send him someone, but that is as far as he will go. He is committed to his family and to the government.

The Bachelor

The Bachelor is in his 30’s, the son of a rich professional. He runs a number of companies that he starts-up, more to stave away boredom than to make money. He is always starting some new venture, but he usually moves on to something else before the previous one gets going. He loves flying around the world doing deals. He has numerous girlfriends, but is afraid they want him for his money only. He likes having affairs in other countries where they don’t know his wealth. He is ready to get married but won’t accept the matches his mother puts up for him.

The Entrepreneur

He is also in his 30’s, and runs several start-ups. Like the Bachelor, he comes from a family with money, but prefers to do his own thing. Educated in Australia, he runs a company of 20 people in Bangkok, and is looking to start another. He is engaged to a long term girlfriend, but prefers not to marry until he has successfully built his business. I have never seen him fool around; although I don’t think he is a prude, I think he has other interests. He enjoys hearing me tell about my adventures.

I am fairly certain in a crisis any of the above three would help me. When my girlfriend recently got sick, all three offered medical recommendations, and the doctor I ended up using came from one of them.

The Divorcee

In his early 50’s, the Divorcee has been married 4 times, and is currently on a new girlfriend (half his age, whiter skin, hi-so Bangkok family). He also comes from old money, but my suspicion is that it is now all gone. He has over his career worked at companies and also done some start-ups; he is now working at a small foreign owned business. He dotes on his grown children and seems very committed to his girlfriend. I have gone drinking in bars with him but he always leaves alone.

As I have only known him less than a year, I would never ask for help in an emergency, although I am fairly certain he would come through.

The Elder Statesman

Mid-50’s, the ES has never been married, but has a long term relationship with a rather unattractive (but highly intelligent) Thai lady. He runs his own company, to an average degree of success. He always seems to be in financial difficulty, and always finds a way out. He is serious, and never seen to be out partying, although he does enjoy a beer every now and then. Mostly he just focuses on his job.

I have known him almost 2 years, and am getting to the point where I might consider him a close friend.

Please don’t misunderstand; I am not in the habit of mooching or making demands on people. It is simply the way I have of judging them… It’s an intellectual exercise only…how would they respond to a request?

More importantly, these 5 are all people that anyone would feel comfortable having a serious conversation with, be it about sports, world affairs, politics or business. They are all highly articulate and highly intelligent.

I will grant that these 5 may not be typical of an average Thai man. They have all been educated abroad, speak excellent English, and are all comfortable with foreigners.

But just as they might represent an extreme, the Somchais of this world, boyfriends of Isaan bar girls who live off their girlfriend’s earnings, are also not representative. Thai society, like every society, is made up of many different types.

Just as Thais are wrong for assuming that all foreigners are fat, lazy, drunken slobs who come to Thailand for sex, we are wrong for assuming that all Thai men are layabouts.

Understanding is the first step to acceptance.

Stickman's thoughts:

To touch on what you say in the first part of a submission – as has been said many times, you don't learn jack about Thailand in the front row of Angelwitch. You'll learn plenty about the bar industry, but that is but a very, very small part of the country.

When it comes to Thai friends, irrespective of how close they are, it is my experience that they will almost certainly help you out if you ask them. Even if you don't know them well, they will often offer to do more for you, or provide a greater degree of assistance than someone you had a similar friendship would back home. However – and this is the clincher – if you called them at 4 AM and said you had knocked a bargirl around and she and the police were demanding 20,000 baht otherwise you'd be formally charged, or you got caught with drugs and needed 200,000 baht for bail, they might be much less reluctant to help for fear that your bad behaviour could end up reflecting on them in a negative light.

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